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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Keeping garden lizards out of the house, getting rid of morning glories and downy mildew of impatiens

Impatiens plants infected with downy mildew on the

Impatiens plants infected with downy mildew on the underside of the leaves. Photo Credit: Cornell University / M. Daughtrey

DEAR JESSICA: Last year, after a five-year hiatus due to blight, I again planted impatiens. They did great, blossomed and bloomed until late September. Encouraged by my success, I again planted impatiens this year. They again blossomed beautifully in June, July and into August. Then I noticed a few stems starting to get asparagus-y. Within a week, half the plants were looking like asparagus. I can only surmise that the blight is back again. Is there anything I can do short of waiting another five or six years to once again enjoy this beautiful plant?

— Tom Occhiogrosso,

Floral Park

DEAR TOM: What happened here is that you took a gamble and got lucky. Then gambled again and lost. The pathogen that causes downy mildew disease and has plagued impatiens for several years, Plasmopara obducens, is still alive and well on Long Island. It lives in the soil and is also carried by airborne spores, just waiting for a host.

Taking a chance, as you have, only serves to feed the beast and can unwittingly prolong the presence of the disease in the region.

I strongly urge you to avoid planting impatiens until the disease is no longer a threat on Long Island. If you unknowingly bring home an affected plant (which, as you can attest, will appear healthy at the nursery), the pathogen will spread from your garden and exacerbate the problem for everyone.

There’s a hybrid species of impatiens called Bounce, which isn’t susceptible to the disease and has grown very nicely in my own garden these past three summers. The plants have the same habit and flower count as your beloved Impatiens walleriana, and they even bounce back from severe wilt after a simple watering, hence their name. You might look for them or New Guinea impatiens, which also are immune to the disease, next year instead. Vinca is a nice substitute, as well.

DEAR JESSICA: My neighbor is inundated with lizards in her garden. So am I, but I’m fairly tolerant of them except for the occasional adventurous baby that sneaks into my kitchen when I go back and forth into my yard. My neighbor would like to know how to get rid of them, if that’s possible. I know they hibernate in the cold weather, and my concern is that they might start hibernating in my basement, which isn’t sealed tightly. I haven’t noticed them down there yet, but the population is growing fast! Any suggestions?

— Valerie Baxter,

Middle Island

DEAR VALERIE: Lizards are wonderful helpers in the garden. I can’t really understand why anyone would want to eliminate them. They gobble up harmful pests, often including slugs, and typically pose no threat to flora or fauna.

Having said that, I can certainly understand the desire to keep lizards out of the house. Doing so simply requires the same basic precautions used to discourage mice and insects from entering: Ensure window screens are in place, seal foundation cracks, plug visible holes and install weather stripping around air conditioners, doors and windows. In addition, keep wood piles and debris that can be used as a reptilian shelter away from the house.

I’ve never had a lizard in my house, but I do sometimes get crickets, and when I do I simply catch them barehanded and escort them outdoors. If the thought of that makes you squeamish, you can catch them with glue traps, but please take them outside and pour vegetable oil on their feet to release them safely.

DEAR JESSICA: I need your help. My perennial flower garden is being invaded by morning glory vines. I dig them out but may not get the whole root, plus they are coming in from under the fence from my neighbors’ yard. I was thinking of trying a controlled application of vegetation killer. Can you give me some advice?

— Jerome Cavanna,

Massapequa Park

DEAR JEROME: The best thing to do is rip them out now, before they drop seeds. You still might get babies next spring, but pull them out when they’re young seedlings, and you’ll see their population greatly diminished.

You don’t say what your relationship is like with your neighbor, but if you’re comfortable doing so, ask him or her to keep the plants clear of the fence line. If that’s not possible, and your neighbors’ plants invade your side of the fence again next year, pull them out before they take hold.

Remember, they are annuals, so the plants you see now will have completed their life cycle by spring. It’s those pesky seeds that survive in the soil and sprout up a new generation every year.

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