Don't give pests a lift. April is Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, timed to coincide with when agriculture is most vulnerable.
What does this have to do with city dwellers? Our actions can spread unseen pests far and wide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has these tips to leave hungry pests behind:
Buy local, burn local. Invasive pests and their larvae can hide and ride long distances in firewood. Don't give them a free ride. Instead, buy firewood where you burn it. If you must move firewood, make sure it has been heat-treated.
Plant carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species.
Don't move trouble around. Don't bring or mail fresh fruit, plants, vegetables or any food or agricultural items into or out of your state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand. In California, avoid moving those items from southern to northern sections of the state, and vice versa.
Cooperate with quarantines. Observe agricultural restrictions and allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
Keep it clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires so they're free of soil before leaving fishing, hunting or camping sites. Check vehicles for egg masses and other signs of insects. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items before moving.
Learn to identify potential pests. Report signs of an invasive pest or disease to the USDA or local agricultural offices.
Speak up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel. Visit the USDA's international travel website at www.aphis.usda.gov/travel for guidelines on what you can bring in and for phone numbers to call if you have questions. For more tips including pest identification and how to contact your local USDA office, click on www.HungryPests.com.
Happy tomato planting day! Sunday is Sacramento's unofficial tomato start time. Plant seedlings deep clipping off the lower leaves and leaving only the top leaves and branches above soil. This promotes more root growth along the buried stem and faster development of tomatoes.
Besides tomato transplants, start setting out seedling eggplants and peppers.
Now is prime time for planting summer vegetable seed, too. Among those you can plant now from seed: Lima and snap beans, carrots, chard, corn, cucumbers, melons, okra, pumpkins, soybeans, squash and watermelon.
In the flower garden, plant seeds (or transplants) for alyssum, aster, celosia, cleome, cosmos, four o'clocks, marigold, morning glory, periwinkle, rudbeckia, salvia, sunflower, verbena and zinnia.
Watch out for snails and slugs. They love tender new growth. Go snail hunting with a flash light an hour after dark. Hand-pick the critters and dispose of them.