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Gardening Newsletter - July 2007 Issue 2

Should a Yellow Jacket fly near you or land on your body, never swing or strike at it as this can often provoke attack and painful stings. Avoidance is the best policy. Yellow Jackets will not usually sting unless provoked. Wasp venom contains a chemical ''alarm pheromone,'' released into the air, signaling guard wasps to come and sting whatever gets in their way. Yellow Jackets have a lance-like stinger without barbs and can sting repeatedly without leaving a stinger.

It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction to a Yellow Jacket sting. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop difficulty breathing or swallowing (generally within 2 hours after the sting); if swelling becomes huge or spreads or if the sting begins to look infected.

There are several remedies to reduce swelling following a stinging incident. Apply a meat tenderizer, aluminum-based deodorant or a baking soda paste for 20 minutes. For persistent pain, massage with an ice cube for about 10 minutes. If the sting becomes itchy, give a dose of Benadryl (follow instructions on package). Severe pain or burning at the site lasts 1 to 2 hours. Normal swelling from venom can persist for 24 hours following the sting. The swelling generally disappears after 3 to 5 days.

When growing petunias in containers, pay close attention to watering. Water enough to nourish the roots but not so much that the soil becomes waterlogged. Too wet of a soil encourages root rot. Petunias like at least 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight daily.

Other Petunia maintenance chores include keeping competing weeds in check and deadheading or hand picking spent flowers. This includes pinching off both the flower and the flower's seed pod found at the stem end of the flower as a tiny ball. Leaving old flowers and seed pods on the plant encourages the plant to go into a seed production mode with little need to produce more flowers.

You can cut the plant back severely in mid to late summer if your Petunias start to get overgrown. Give the freshly pruned plant a good feeding with fertilizer and, in a few weeks, it will become a new blooming plant.

Have your tomatoes developed sunken brown spots or black rot on their bottoms? The likely cause is a disease called Blossom End Rot which can affect tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and watermelon.

This disease does not spread or affect the plant itself and usually occurs early in the season. The primary cause is a calcium deficiency. There is usually no need to add additional calcium to your soil. Often the problem has more to do with the moisture levels in the garden to regulate the delivery of nutrients than the amount of calcium available in the soil. Blossom End Rot will be more noticeable after periods of inconsistent watering. The problem is usually temporary although there is no way to save the individual fruits or vegetables affected.

The best way to fight Blossom End Rot is to make sure that your beds have plenty of organic matter to help maintain even moisture levels and by watering consistently during periods of low precipitation. Avoid cultivating too deeply so as not to destroy the tiny feeder roots that grow close to the soil surface supplying moisture and nutrients to the plants.

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