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This past summer I spent the better part of an hour with a gardener trying to figure out what had happened to his melons and cucumbers. It seemed that despite his sprays of sevin, the plants turned yellow, then brown and finally died.

After much conversation and thought, we figured out that the plants did not start to die until after he had sprayed. The big breakthrough came when I asked how old was the sevin and where it was stored.

It turned out that the sevin was several seasons old, and it had always been in the garage, where it easily froze during the winter. Is it important where and how gardeners store their pesticides? You bet it is.

All pesticides should last for at least two seasons if they are stored correctly. The ideal situation, of course, is for there to be little or none left over. Gardeners should do their best to buy only as much as they will need for one season. Then an effort should be made to use the older stuff first the next season.

Very old pesticides should either be sprayed out as needed if they are still working or dropped off at one of the municipal chemical-pesticide drop-off days.

Here are some general rules for storing pesticides to keep them at their peak performance:

Never let them freeze. Check the unheated garage today for any products left on shelves. Powders may be better able to withstand freezing than liquids, but neither should freeze. This is especially true of liquids in glass containers, as they may burst.

Liquids will often separate after they freeze, and there is no effective way to get them reunited.

Similarly, pesticides should not be stored where they will be subject to heat or sunlight. A window sill or garage attic in the summer is not the place for them.

Lock them up if possible. Not only does this keep pesticides all together, but the lock will keep them away from children and pets.

Always keep pesticides in their original containers. This is essential if the diluting and spraying instructions are to remain with the product. Pesticides transferred to other containers are soon forgotten by name and become a horrific hazard.

Check all of the containers to be sure they are tightly sealed. Always wear gloves, preferably pesticide-resistant gloves, when handling used bottles.

Pines, arborvitae shed needles

As the oak and maple leaves fall, the inner needles of pines and foliage arborvitae and rhododendron fall, too. Gardeners are often distraught, however, when they first notice the yellow.

It is not unusual for the novice to swear it's the first time it has ever happened. Not so. These evergreens lose their old foliage every year; it never fails.

The key to identifying this annual fall is that it is limited to the older needles. On most pines, it is the needles that grew last year or the year before. They are always on the inside of the tree. The trees may look sick while the yellow needles are on the tree, but once a big rain or wind brings them down, the trees look perfectly normal again.

There are other problems that cause the branches to yellow all the way out to the end. This is often much more serious. Pitch mass borers, pine gall rust and other insects or diseases can be to blame. Samples should be taken to the Cornell Cooperative Extension office or a local garden center for identification. Take an entire branch where possible.

New hollyhock

An interesting new variety of hollyhock will be available from Thompson and Morgan.

"Peaches 'n' Dreams" produces spikes up to six feet tall and are tightly packed with large, fully double blooms in shades of creamy peach. Occasionally, the blooms will be spiked with a tinge of raspberry pink.

As with all hollyhocks, these plants will benefit from full sun and good air circulation to keep rust to a minimum.

Alcea rosea "Peaches 'n' Dreams" will be available from Thompson and Morgan, P.O. Box 1308, Jackson, N. J. 08527-0308.

For answers to your gardening questions, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Ken Brown, in care of the Features Department, Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. Brown is a horticultural consultant specializing in integrated pest management.

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