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Archive | Home and Garden

Want to teach your children to be good stewards? 

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Time to get your hands dirty

(BPT) – Growing your own garden is a popular pastime that cuts grocery bills and puts fresh produce within arm’s reach. But to parents it’s so much more than that. Gardening is a trending family activity that provides plenty of teachable moments, and it also promotes positive characteristics like self reliance and stewardship of the earth.

“You don’t have to be a green thumb to start a garden at home,” says Kevin Bryant, a garden enthusiast and director of national marketing at Tractor Supply Company. “It’s a fantastic activity for families to do together that also lets parents teach valuable lessons to their children. Whether it’s just a few garden boxes on the deck or a full plot with backyard chickens, families everywhere are embracing the adventure of gardening together and learning so much about nature and each other in the process.”

BLOOM-Garden2The recent self-reliant movement sweeping the country is highly appealing to families. Plus, growing basic vegetables, fruits and herbs at home is a viable option whether in the city, suburbs or rural areas. In fact, 29 percent of Americans obtained locally grown food in the past year from a home garden, according to a national Tractor Supply survey – and interest appears to be on the rise.

Furthermore, many families have a deep desire to improve their children’s comprehension of nutrition and food resources. A whopping 89 percent of American parents agree with the statement “My children need a better understanding of where their food comes from,” the survey found.

Now is the ideal time to start planning your garden. Consider these four steps to ensure your family gets the most out of their gardening time together:

1. Research plants

The region where you live will dictate which seeds you should plant and when. It’s best to select high-yielding plants that you know will be successful, particularly if you have a small garden. Your local extension service is a great resource.

2. Decide on size

If you have a large backyard, a bigger plot might be a good option and allow you to grow a wider variety of plants. If you live in the city or a restricted area, container gardens or garden boxes are a great option for herbs, flowers and some vegetables. Don’t bite off more than you can chew during the first year; starting small increases the likelihood of success, and you can always increase the size next year.

3. Go shopping

Once you have a general idea of your garden’s size, location and types of plants you’d like to grow, it’s time to take the family shopping. Visit a store, such as your local Tractor Supply, for seasoned advice, tools, soil, seeds, fertilizers and pest control. You can also find all the supplies necessary for raising backyard chickens, which offer a great way to eliminate backyard pests and boost the health of your garden. Additionally, the kids will love tending to the flock.

4. Make time together

Children love to get their hands dirty, so involve them in every step of the gardening process, from tilling the soil to harvesting the produce. Set a schedule for watering and weeding to teach kids responsibility. Be sure to keep an open conversation about their observations and try to answer their questions. If you don’t know all the answers, explore and learn together.

“Getting outdoors, growing a garden and learning about the land is one of the best things families can do during the warm-weather months,” says Bryant. “Plus, kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they help grow them in their own backyard. That’s a win all around.”

Gardening tips for every season are available online at TractorSupply.com/KnowHow.

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Mulching Can Keep Your Lawn Healthy

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(StatePoint) When working in the yard, you may be tempted to simply bag your yard clippings and set them out to the curb for pick-up. But experts say that mulching grass clippings is a much better alternative for the health of your lawn and the health of the planet.

“Mulching is hands down one of the best ways to maintain a beautiful, low-maintenance lawn,” says Daryn Walters, at Exmark Manufacturing, a manufacturer of turf care equipment. “It’s free and it’s great for lawn health.”

Furthermore, mulching can help you greatly reduce your family’s contribution to landfill waste, points out Walters. Of all the municipal solid waste collected in the United States, 13.5 percent of it is comprised of yard trimmings, according to the EPA.

For best results, try these lawn care tips:

• Practice the 1/3rd Rule: Never cut more than 1/3 of the length of the grass blade when mowing, to avoid clippings accumulating on the surface and making your lawn susceptible to disease. Additionally, this will improve the productivity of your mower, as cutting more than that can bog it down with clippings.

• Use a Mulching Mower: Consider investing in a commercial mower to regain productivity that can decrease when mulching. Manufacturers such as Exmark offer mulching-specific blades on both their walk-behind and zero-turn riding mowers, designed to deliver maximum productivity and cut-quality when mulching.

• Ditch the Chemicals: There’s no need to pay for chemical fertilizers to give your lawn what it needs to thrive. Mulching feeds the lawn nutrients and organic material, and can even help with moisture retention — which can significantly reduce the time and expense you spend on watering the lawn.

More information about mulching, lawn care and mowers can be found at www.Exmark.com.

“Your yard trimmings are not trash — they are an effective, natural and free fertilizer,” says Walters. “For a healthy lawn, drop the bag and let the mulch do more for you.”

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Simple tips to get growing at home 

Burpee offers a wide range of flowers, vegetables and herbs to grow at home.

Burpee offers a wide range of flowers, vegetables and herbs to grow at home.

(NAPS)—There may be few things more satisfying than growing colorful flowers or eating vegetables picked fresh from the garden. That might seem ambitious if you haven’t gardened before, but getting started this year need not be difficult. Just follow these simple gardening tips to enjoy the benefits of fresh air, gentle exercise and healthy produce:

1) Pick your spot with care. Plants need sun and water to survive. Vegetables and most flowers need full sun—at least six hours of sunlight every day during the growing season. Plant close to an outdoor water source to make hot weather watering easier.

2) Start with the soil. Because plants live by their roots, the most important part of any garden is below ground. Most soil around houses isn’t ideal for plants but can be improved by adding nutrient-rich organic matter, usually in the form of compost, shredded leaves or composted manure. Bagged soil mixes marked specifically for growing vegetables are ideal for containers.

3) Keep your first garden manageable. For beginners, try a plot 4 feet by 8 feet, or half a dozen good-sized (24–36”) containers. That’s enough to provide a satisfying harvest of herbs, greens or a few tomato plants while you get a feel for the amount of time and effort it takes to water and weed. Pots are the easiest to control soil, water and light. Creating a container garden of vegetables, herbs and patio flowers is a good place for novices to start.

4) Get a head start. Some vegetables and flowers may need to be started from seed 6–8 weeks before it’s safe to plant them outside. You’ll need to do this for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and petunias. But other favorites like zucchini, cucumbers, beans and sunflowers are easily sown in the ground with seed. You can learn more about starting and sowing seeds at www.burpee.com. Planting time will vary in each growing zone, but is generally best in the late spring.

5) Watch your garden grow. It’s fun for the whole family to observe seeds taking root and growing into plants. Be sure to water and weed regularly as you wait for the bounty of your first harvest.

Burpee’s free Garden Time Planner app makes planting in specific garden regions easy. To download the app, buy non-GMO seeds and plants, or to access helpful “how-to” articles and videos, visit www.burpee.com or call (800) 888-1447.

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Old fuel can be hard on lawn mowers

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(BPT) – Nothing says summer like neighborhoods coming alive with the sounds of lawn mowers and the smell of fresh-cut grass. But getting the lawn mower out of the shed and running properly can be a struggle early in the season.  You turn the key and the riding lawn mower roars to life. Then the engine promptly sputters and dies. Before tearing apart the engine or calling a mechanic, look inside the gas tank.

“Every spring, we see issues with mowers caused by homeowners using gasoline left over from the year before,” says Dwight Grosz, a small engine mechanic near Bismarck, N.D. “Over time, untreated fuel begins to break down, which leads to hard starting, poor performance or an engine that won’t start at all.”

Why gasoline goes bad                                                                                          

What causes gasoline to break down? The first thing to go is gasoline’s volatility. The lightest chemicals evaporate first, leaving a heavier gasoline that doesn’t combust properly. The engine will probably still run, just not as well.

“A more serious problem is oxidization,” says Paul Herskind, a refined fuels expert at CHS, which refines and sells Cenex-brand fuels at more than 1,400 fueling locations. “When inspecting fuel that has sat unused over the winter, watch for signs that it is darker in color and smells sour. It might have small pieces of gum floating in it. These are all signs the fuel has oxidized. You don’t want that in your engine.”

Oxidization is the result of hydrocarbons in the fuel reacting with oxygen to produce new compounds, explains Herskind. This results in gum, which can clog gas lines and filters and create deposits in the fuel system. Gummed-up carburetors can be expensive to fix and may not run properly until deposits are removed.

“Finally, there’s the issue of water contamination,” adds Herskind. Water usually finds its way into fuel tanks through condensation caused by fluctuating temperatures. Water in your engine will lead to hard starting and sputtering.

How to fix it

If your mower won’t start because you’ve been using old gasoline, you’ll need to remove the old fuel and any built-up residue in the engine. Begin by referring to the owner’s manual for service procedures.

Next, siphon out the old gasoline into a container for proper disposal. Then, if the lawn mower runs for a few seconds and dies, the carburetor might be clogged or have old fuel in the float bowl.

“When the volatile ingredients in fuel evaporate, it leaves a sticky, varnish-like substance that clogs the small jets in carburetors,” says Grosz. “Once that happens, the only solution is to use a carburetor cleaner to remove varnish deposits.”

After cleaning the carburetor, add fresh fuel and a fuel stabilizer to help keep the system clean.

After treating the fuel

Grosz advises going through a quick checklist to ensure your mower’s ready for the season. Consult your owner’s manual for maintenance recommendations.

First, change the oil to remove contaminants, sludge and acids. Drain the old oil out and refill the crankcase. Grosz recommends using oil manufactured specifically for smaller engines and lawn mowers, such as Cenex 2-Cycle Oil. Consult your owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations.

Next, replace the air filter. Last, don’t forget to sharpen the mower blade and remove any grass that’s caked to the underside of the motor deck.

How to avoid future issues

“To avoid future issues with stale fuel, try not to store gasoline in tanks or containers for more than two months,” says Herskind. “If you know gasoline will be sitting for longer than that, add a fuel stabilizer. This will help prevent oxidization.” At the end of the season, use a fuel stabilizer rather than draining the gas tank, which exposes carburetors and fuel lines to water and air.

“A quality fuel stabilizer can keep gas fresh for as long as 12 to 15 months. But the stabilizer needs to be added to new gasoline,” says Herskind. “It won’t bring stale fuel back to life.”

For more helpful information, Herskind recommends reading the blog on cenex.com. “Readers are also given an opportunity to nominate someone they know for free fuel,” adds Herskind. “It is always easier to get the lawn mower started with a fresh tank of gasoline, especially if it’s free.”

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Ten ways to help bees and butterflies thrive

 

You can help bees and butterflies thrive by creating natural habitats.

You can help bees and butterflies thrive by creating natural habitats.

(NAPS)—Here’s news that’s created a buzz. Three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants and food crops rely on pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies to help them reproduce.

Unfortunately, bee populations are being threatened by a range of issues, such as colony collapse disorder, pesticides, mites, disease and climate change. Butterfly populations are also at risk.

The good news is that gardeners can help restore balance by creating habitats that encourage pollinators to thrive.

Bees and butterflies need places to live and breed in, and food to eat. The plants that provide this food also need pollinators to help them reproduce, so planting gardens that are friendly to bees and butterflies is a win-win situation.

Pollination occurs naturally as small creatures forage for food, carrying pollen from plant to plant as they go. That is why it’s important to offer them a “buffet” of attractive flowers throughout the seasons, and to have sufficient natural habitats so that they don’t have to travel far to find what they need.

Here are 10 easy ways to help:

1) BEE friendly to bees! Honeybees are not aggressive; they sting only as a defense mechanism.

2) Plant trees, shrubs and flowering plants to increase food and shelter for bees and butterflies.

3) Create a seasonal buffet for pollinators by planting perennial flowers with a mix of colors, shapes and scents in containers, window boxes and plant beds.

4) Choose perennials with simple, single rather than double flowers to make nectar and pollen more accessible to bees and butterflies.

5) Cut and use garden flowers for bouquets to encourage re-blooming and to prolong the foraging window for pollinators.

6) Use beautiful native plants such as echinacea, coreopsis, sunflowers and butterfly milkweed for at least 75 percent of your garden.

7) Water, weed and fertilize soil appropriately to create a healthy garden that minimizes pests and diseases.

8) Provide clean water for insects in shallow bowls, birdbaths and ponds, or let fresh water drip over stones.

9) Imperfection is OK! Bees and butterflies may damage leaves and flowers while breeding and feeding. Create areas of natural habitat with old stumps, fallen branches and tall grass for nesting.

10) Help convert small parcels of land into community gardens and green spaces to create closely linked areas for bees and butterflies to visit.

Burpee offers a wide range of seeds and plants that are attractive to bees and butterflies. All of Burpee’s seeds are Non-GMO.

To learn more about protecting pollinators, visit the website www.burpee.com/pollinators or call Burpee at (800) 888-1447.

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Elevate your garden game with raised beds and planter boxes

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(BPT) – What’s stopping you from gardening today? Do you live in an urban area, have a small yard or is your soil rocky and full of clay? Any of these challenges could make you believe that planting a garden simply isn’t in the plans this year, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You just have to get a little more creative and turn to raised beds and planter boxes to enjoy the vegetables, herbs and flowers you crave. An amazing 78 million U.S. households grow gardens, according to the Garden Writer’s Association. Wouldn’t you like to join them?

If you’ve never considered using a raised bed or planter box to garden before, these tools offer many advantages such as high yields, easy gardening and a longer overall gardening season. Before you get to work on this rewarding DIY project, though, ask yourself these questions:

Where will I place my garden beds?

This may be determined by the specific space you have available. If you have a few options, though, look for the sunniest spot possible. Remember that larger beds will have greater yields, but they also require more work. It’s best to build your beds to match the gardening time you have available.

What material will I use to build my beds?

There are many options in today’s market; however, many experienced gardeners build their beds from untreated Western Red Cedar because it is naturally rot resistant. This provides instant longevity without treatment. And for new builders, Western Red Cedar is affordable, lightweight and easy to work with – all important considerations when starting your first project. Plus, if you’re an environmentally conscious gardener, Western Red Cedar is sustainably harvested. The harvesting, manufacturing and transportation of this material all generates fewer greenhouse emissions than other types of materials, so you can go green in every stage of your project. You can learn more at Realcedar.com.

What’s the right size bed for my space?

As you’re planning your bed size, remember you’ll need to work in the space as well. The garden bed’s width can range from 2 to 4 feet and the ideal length is 8 to 12 feet. No matter the dimensions you choose, make sure your beds and planters are at least 6 inches deep; 12 inches is optimal for allowing the roots to grow deep and strong.

Is my soil ready?

Before you start digging around, make sure your soil is ready for success. Dig down 6 to 8 inches and loosen the soil. Then create a mixture of top soil and organic material – such as compost or manure. Once the soil is ready, it’s time to start watering, weeding and fertilizing.

All of these tasks become much easier with garden beds and planters because you will be working with a smaller space and won’t need to do so much bending. You may discover your garden quickly dries out in the sun, and if this is the case, a layer of mulch can be just the solution to help your soil retain moisture.

What are my plans for next year?

Harvesting is one of the greatest joys of gardening. Once you’ve finished this year’s harvest, you can set your focus on next year. Prep your beds for winter just as you would a traditional garden, and if you’ve built your garden beds from Western Red Cedar you don’t need to do anything to prep the boxes for the colder months. Western Red Cedar resists warping and twisting, ensuring your beds will look and function just as well next year… and beyond.

For more information on building a garden bed or planter box and to find project plans that will work for your space visit www.Realcedar.com/outdoor/project-plans/.

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Let it grow

Permanently improve the structure of your garden’s soil for successful results. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Permanently improve the structure of your garden’s soil for successful results. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Tips and tricks for a lush garden

(Family Features) Whether it’s a just a vibrant pop of pretty petals you want added to the front of the home or a raised bed full of delicious fruits and vegetables, the return of warmer weather has many homeowners reaching for their gardening gloves.

If you’re ready to try out your green thumb or dust off the gardening skills you long ago acquired, there are plenty of ways to achieve the lush vegetation you desire. Check out these tips and tricks for cultivating a thriving and productive garden of any variety.

Start with a plan. Different flowers and plants require different sun, soil and water needs. Keep these factors in mind and consult the seed packets to plan out where each should be placed. Many apps are available to take the guesswork out of gardening, helping you create a perfectly organized plant or flower bed. Some even offer reminders for watering, fertilizing and more.

Keep water in mind. Make sure your plan includes a close proximity from plant bed to the water supply.

DIG-Let-it-grow2-webBe smart with soil. Whether it’s a flower or vegetable garden bed or containers, the secret’s in the soil, where roots develop and sustain life. Invest in the proper tools to keep this foundation strong, such as Professional Soil Modifier from Profile Products, which improves water and nutrient retention, keeping vital elements in the root zone longer. For more information, visit www.profilegrow.com.

Plant close to home. If you have room, try to grow your plants as close to the home as possible. This makes watering less of a task, and also makes it easier to get to your precious vegetables when it’s time to harvest.

Opt for a permanent solution. There’s no doubt that gardens require seasonal upkeep, but you can find some ways to ease the tasks. One such solution is Professional Soil Modifier from Profile Products, which permanently improves the root zone by adding air- and water-holding capacity in all types of soil (unlike peat that needs to be tilled into gardens each year.) The result is better drainage when it’s wet, better water-holding capacity when it’s dry, deeper root growth and healthier plants.

Label away. Know exactly where you planted each seed with cute, natural labels. Simply use a permanent marker to mark each plant name on stones in front of each plant row.

Be a green gardener. Always opt for eco-friendly, pesticide-free products to use in your garden, when possible. Products filled with chemicals can be harmful to animals when carried through the air with wind.

So, dust off that shovel, tighten up the hose and get to growing. Once you have the right plan in mind, you’ll be on your way to achieving the flower or fruit and vegetable garden of your dreams.

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Conserve time and water 

While growing beautiful and productive gardens

By Melinda Myers

Drip irrigation systems apply the water directly to the soil, which reduces water lost to overspray, evaporation and runoff.

Drip irrigation systems apply the water directly to the soil, which reduces water lost to overspray, evaporation and runoff.

Reduce your workload, increase productivity and be water wise, whether you are planning, planting or already harvesting produce or enjoying beautiful floral displays from your garden.

Container gardeners may want to invest in self-watering pots. These containers have built-in reservoirs to reduce watering frequency. Commercial and homemade self-watering devices can also reduce watering frequency. Just make sure to test their effectiveness before leaving town. Or consider a one-time investment in a drip irrigation system designed for container gardens.

Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are also a great way to water in-ground plantings. These irrigation systems apply the water directly to the soil, which reduces water lost to overspray, evaporation and runoff. They also reduce the risk and spread of disease by preventing water from settling on the leaves of the plants.

Opt for a micro irrigation system if your water has a high mineral content. These minerals can build up and clog soaker hoses. Micro irrigation systems experience fewer problems and the nozzles can be cleaned to prevent clogs. Because the nozzles can be clipped onto stakes, tomato towers or other supports, this system makes it easy to deliver water right to the plants.

Raised bed gardens will also benefit from irrigation systems. Elevated gardens often dry out more quickly than their in-ground counterparts and need more frequent watering. Some, like the Raised Bed Snip-n-Drip soaker system (gardeners.com), are easy to assemble and allow you to water when needed. Further save time by using preformed corners with built-in spigots when constructing raised beds. Simply slide the boards into the metal corner pieces to create the raised bed. Some corner systems, like Aquacorner, have built-in spigots to make irrigation even simpler.

Correctly installed irrigation systems can help conserve water by ensuring you water properly and only when needed. Plus, using a timer and an irrigation system allows you to apply water at the best time for the plants. Just set the timer for early in the morning, when less water is lost to evaporation, and the plants will be watered even if you are not home.

Always water thoroughly and only as needed to encourage plants to develop deep root systems that are more drought-tolerant. Be sure to avoid high nitrogen, fast release fertilizers that promote lush, succulent growth, which needs more frequent watering.

Further conserve water and time spent watering by grouping moisture-loving plants together. You can provide needed water more efficiently and avoid overwatering nearby drought-tolerant plants.

And remember to mulch your garden. A thin layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic matter helps conserve moisture and reduces erosion. As the mulch breaks down, it helps improve the soil, while decreasing its water needs.

So make this the year you take a break from watering, while continuing to enjoy beautiful and productive gardens.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

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Project FRESH gets free Michigan grown fruits and vegetables to WIC recipients 

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The Kent County Health Department is offering clients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) the opportunity to get $20 worth of free food from area farmers markets beginning June 1.

In addition, participants receive a brief class about the program, nutritional tips, and recipes. Those who qualify for the program will also get an insulated grocery tote perfect for bringing fresh fruits and vegetables home from area farmers markets and participating roadside stands.

Applicants must make an appointment at the Kent County Health Department by calling (616) 632-7200 to sign up for one of the classes. Classes will be held at various locations in both English and Spanish until late July.

During the class, the funds will be electronically deposited on clients Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

Several Kent County Farmers Markets and Roadside stands are equipped to transact sales using the EBT or Bridge cards. Anyone who is eligible and attends the class will receive a list of those locations.

“The benefits of this program are two fold,” said Christopher Bendekgey, Director of the Community Clinical Services Division at the department. “We are able to get fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands of our clients, free of charge to them, and we’re able to keep the funding for the program in the local economy by supporting the farmers and growers of Kent County.”

The money—totaling $22,500 dollars—was made available for the program from the United States Agriculture Department.

As the continuation of a pilot program launched in 2012, Kent County remains the only county in the nation in which farmers and growers have been equipped, trained and authorized to accept EBT funds for this program.

While the program runs from June 1, 2015 until October 31, Project FRESH is a once a year benefit, meaning each recipient will only receive the $20 benefit one time this season.

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Bug Off

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Tips to help eliminate dangerous pests

(Family Features) A yard that is lush, green and free of weeds shows evidence of healthy lawn maintenance. However, many homeowners overlook an important aspect of lawn care that can affect not only the health of the yard, but also your family. Nuisance pests such as fleas, ticks, ants, spiders and more can transmit diseases and cause allergic reactions for both people and pets.

Your lawn is the perfect environment in which threatening weeds, diseases and pests can lurk, often with harmful consequences. In some cases, the primary damage may come in the form of these insects eating away at grass or the leaves of shrubs. Alternatively, grub worms or insect larvae may destroy grasses and plants at their roots.

DIG-Bug-off2-webOther lawn pests pose their greatest threat to you and your family. For example, Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the deer tick, is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. Currently, there are no protective vaccines for humans for tick-borne diseases.

Considering how quickly pest populations can multiply, being proactive in preventing and treating their presence is crucial. A regularly scheduled treatment plan is one of the best strategies to reduce your exposure to dangerous pests, and help defend your home and family from unwanted lawn visitors.

Look for a system designed to eliminate active pests and control successive generations. For example, the TruShield Lawn Pest Control Plan available through TruGreen includes a first application to significantly reduce the population of active lawn pests, and additional applications every four to six weeks for lasting control and ongoing protection.

“Using a professional to help control lawn pests should be part of a well-rounded, comprehensive defense program,” said Bob Mangan, TruGreen director of technical services. “Because ticks and other nuisance pests can congregate in backyards, it is especially important to help protect yourself and your family so that you can fully enjoy your outdoor time.”

In addition to a regular treatment program, these tips from the Centers for Disease Control can help reduce ticks in your yard:

• Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns

• Place a barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas

• Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked

• Stack wood neatly and in a dry area away from the house or lawn

• Keep playground equipment, decks and patios away from wooded areas and in a sunny location if possible

• Remove any trash or debris from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide

For more information on protecting your lawn from pests, visit www.trugreen.com.

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