Grab some bargains. In a recent visit to the big-box store garden department, I chanced on a bin of goodies that were 75 percent off.  I saw summer bulbs (glads, dahlias, lilies), perennial flowers (bleeding heart, phlox), and vegetables (asparagus, rhubarb, potatoes in a variety of colors, and onion bulbs).  A happy bargain, until I started poking around inside the boxes and bags. A word of warning: If they're 75 percent off, there's a 75 percent chance they're lacking something. I opened the asparagus box to find nothing left but peat moss; the dahlia bulbs were shriveled and dry. But the purple potatoes were bursting with life, as were the lilies and the gladiolas, which were starting to sprout. Use big caution and you can get away with little money.

Learn the difference between 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine oil for lawn mowers.  Lots of YouTube videos later, the 4s have a separate chamber for engine oil, and need to be kept full as indicated on the dipstick (check before each use). The 2s need the oil to be combined with the fuel, and are not separate. To mix 2-stroke oil, check for the proper ratio in your owner's manual — I'm sure you keep that handy with your seed packets. Or, like the rest of us, look it up on the internet.  Most common gas-oil ratios are 32:1, 40:1, and 50:1.  Get the smallest reusable bottle of oil possible (unless you have lots of gas tanks to fill). Add the correct amount to an empty gas can, then add the gas, then close the cap, and shake vigorously to mix.  Err on the side of too much oil rather than not enough — your engine will smoke to burn off the excess, but it won't seize up!

Mulch.  Mulch some more, then mulch again.
Sally McCabe is associate director of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society ( and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (