Time again for a lesson in Homeownering 101. Today, because it's finally that time of the year, let's go outside and look at the gardens.

Frugal collars

You probably know enough to put collars around the stems of young tomato plants to prevent cutworm damage. For years I used strips of newspaper, which lasted just long enough for the vines to get tough.

Even handier, I've discovered, is the very plastic pot the tomato comes in from the nursery. All you have to do is cut an X across the bottom so it fits around the stem.

Squarely timed

Sow spinach and lettuce seeds in blocks or short rows to allow for repeated harvests. That way you'll have continuous supplies for several weeks.

Figure about one foot of row per person per week for fresh salads.

Of course, eventually summer heat causes those spring greens to bolt: They send up seed stems and the leaves become less palatable.

Fight that by sowing those same salad greens again in September for a fall harvest. They will be ready for picking by the end of October.

What to do to keep that bed producing between spring and fall? Replace the leafy veggies with heat-lovers, such as green beans.

Light your way

The plastic stakes that come with solar landscaping lights are easily breakable, especially if you live in northern climes where they become even more brittle with the cold.

You can replace them with 3/4-inch black pipe, whose diameter conveniently matches the most common size of light tubes.

I cut mine 16 inches long, which was enough to let me drive 5 inches into the ground, sufficient to give the lights real stability.

My neighbor, whose tubes were square and narrower, used lengths of rebar.

Paint with plants

Think of your landscape as a photograph or painting, with your plant selections forming a sort of visual frame.

Place trees and tall shrubs in the back of the garden; smaller bushes and medium-height flowers in the middle of your visual field; and short flowers, ground covers and lawn in the foreground.

Harder and hardier

Seedlings must be acclimated to the outdoors before you put them in the ground.

Keep flower and vegetable transplants -- your own or those bought in the nursery or hardware store parking lot -- in a shaded, sheltered spot during the day and bring them indoors at night or, even better, onto a covered porch. Do this for a week before setting them in the garden.

Planting on a cloudy day will further minimize transplant shock.

Sun to the rescue

Soaker hoses -- all hoses, as a matter of fact -- wind up frozen in shape after a winter in storage.

To get hoses flexible again, stretch them out on a sunny driveway or patio, fill them with water and plug both ends. They'll soon be flexible enough to go back to work in the garden.

Tape to the rescue

One last word about hoses: If your hose leaks where you attach it to the hose bib, try wrapping a piece of plumber's Teflon tape around the threads before tightening. You'll find it in any home center.

Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, NE 68501, or email: houseworks@journalstar.com.

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