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September 20, 1998|Robert Smaus

Things to do in your garden this week.

Fire safety begins at home. The fire season is upon those living near the chaparral. Dry grasses and weeds should be cut back to stubs and brush piles removed.

Prune out dead material from inside plants and trees. Make sure ground covers such as ice plant are not full of dead material.

There should be little or no growth right next to buildings, or it should be low, like a lawn. Leave wide spaces between large shrubs and trees so they can't spread fire.

Although brush must be cleared (by law) to 200 feet from structures, don't remove or completely cut back brush without thinking it through. If slopes are to remain stable in winter's rains, they must be covered by something. It's better to trim back shrubs, pruning out dead wood and widening the spaces between them. A thin layer of litter under the plants will also help control erosion.

Make sure irrigation systems are working and keep plants watered.

September lawn surgery. In late September, when it's hot, you can renew a fescue lawn that has been invaded by Bermuda or St. Augustine grass. It may sound radical, but kill these creeping, spreading grasses with Roundup, which works best when it's hot. It will kill the entire lawn, but then you can reseed.

When it browns, mow as close to the ground as possible (or rent a vertical mower that shreds grasses) and sow fresh seed of fescue. It germinates quickly in warm weather. Make sure to keep seed moist by watering each day in the morning and around 2 p.m.

A fall finish. Asters are one of the last true perennials to bloom, with masses of little daisy-like flowers, usually in blue, pink or white. According to Chris Rosmini (who has grown most kinds in her L.A. garden), the small-flowered ericoides type, such as 'Monte Casino,' do best here. It grows to only 2 feet, but other varieties can easily make 6. Search for the plants at nurseries while they're in bloom.

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