Complete your acquisitions for flower and vegetable beds and get newly purchased plants into the ground promptly - the solstice is barely four weeks away, when nights start getting longer, shortening veggie growing time. Wait until direct sun has passed the planting area. If hot sun is forecast for the following days, shade small plants for a couple of days (newspaper tent, upside-down clay pot, bushel basket). Water well.

Plant pepper, eggplant, and tomato plants once the soil has warmed; they'll be grateful you didn't subject them to the recent cold.

Plant bean seed in succession - several hills every 10 days through mid-June - so the crops don't come in all at once. Likewise with cucumbers.

Plant tender summer bulbs (caladiums, dahlias, etc.).

Be prepared for continued rampant grass growth. When the lawn is dry, mow, mow, mow. Often is better; set the mower on the high level. Clippings left on the lawn return nitrogen to the soil. (Translation: free fertilizer.)

Weed! When the ground is moist and soft, pull them. When it's dry, use a hoe - the thinner the blade the better. Place the blade parallel to the soil and slice the top quarter-inch of soil off, pushing it back in place for evenness. Leave the little weedlings to crisp up in the sun.

Control cabbage loopers and certain other caterpillars by spraying both ornamentals and vegetables with Bacillus thuringiensis (ask for Bt in the garden center). This natural organism - usually sold as a powder to be mixed with water - does not kill on contact. Instead, it does its work after the larvae ingest a bit of a sprayed leaf. It leaves no chemical residue.

Selectively prune summer-blooming shrubs - hibiscus, buddleia, crape myrtle - if they are getting leggy. There's plenty of time for them to put out new growth and flower from it.

Consider radical downsizing for "small" ornamental trees that have outgrown their space. With redbud, magnolias, witchhazel, and corylopsis (winterhazel), you can cut close to the ground (a solo trunk or the largest of a multi-trunk specimen); they will resprout with vigor, and for the next several years, you'll again have a small-scale tree (usually with multiple trunks).

Pinch chrysanthemums and asters to encourage branching (that means more flowers come September). Repeat at least twice before July 4. Pinch or significantly prune certain other perennials to achieve bushier growth and delay blooming until after others have conked out. Some candidates: daisies, hollyhocks, monarda (beebalm), summer phlox, sedum Autumn Joy, yarrow.

Prevent injury to houseplants when setting outside - do not place in direct sun. Put them in a shaded corner and gradually introduce them to more light.

- Michael Martin Mills

Read Michael Martin Mills' recent work at http://go.philly.com/michaelmartinmills.