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Archive | Home and Garden

Back to Basics: Low maintenance flower garden care

SPR-Low-maintenance-flower-Ageratum

By Melinda Myers

Grow a beautiful flower garden with minimal care by investing a bit of time at the start of the season to reduce on-going care.

Always match flowers to the growing conditions and the care you are willing to provide. Low maintenance plants need minimal or no deadheading and staking. This means you’ll be growing good-looking plants with little effort on your part. And if the plants are suited to the growing conditions and resistant to common pests you’ll be doing less work managing insect and disease problems.

Further reduce your workload by selecting self cleaning or free flowering annuals and perennials and those bred for long bloom and compact growth. You’ll enjoy more colorful flowers with less pruning and grooming.

Ageratum, angelonia, calibrochoa and many of the newer petunia cultivars are just a few of the annuals that do not need regular deadheading for continual bloom.  Include perennials like willow amsonia, bugbane, Solomon seal, turtlehead and sedum autumn joy for lower maintenance and big results.

Prepare the soil and provide proper fertilization before planting. Work several inches of compost or other organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil to improve drainage and water holding ability. Incorporate a low nitrogen organic fertilizer like Milorganite (milorganite.com) at the same time. The slow release formulation provides needed nutrients throughout most if not all of the season. Plus, it promotes slow steady growth that won’t interfere with flowering, is less susceptible to pests and is more drought tolerant.

Properly space the plants, making sure they have sufficient room to reach their full size. Overcrowding means you will be thinning or dividing plants more often or battling disease problems instead of enjoying the full beauty the plants provide.

Consider removing flowers on annuals at planting. This allows plants to focus energy on establishing roots instead of flowers. Can’t bear to do this? Then remove the flowers on every other plant or every other row. Then a week or two later remove the flowers on the remaining plants. You will soon be rewarded with full compact plants that will produce more flowers throughout the season.

Pinch back long and leggy transplants. Use a hard pinch to remove the tip and several inches of stem. Use your pruners or fingers to remove stems just above a set of leaves. The remaining plant will still look good while you wait for new leaves and stems to grow and produce new blooms.

Encourage branching on single stemmed plants with a soft pinch. Remove just the uppermost portion of the stem where the leaves and tip are starting to develop. Soon you will have a well branched plant and more blossoms.

Improve plant posture and reduce the need for staking with early season pruning. Keep mums and asters compact by pinching them back to six inches throughout June to encourage compact growth. Eliminate floppy growth and the need for staking on late bloomers like Boltonia, Autumn Joy sedum, Russian sage and Heliopsis. Revive catmint and perennial salvia that flop open in the center with pruning. Cut flopping plants back halfway once or twice a season as needed.

And don’t forget to mulch. Covering the soil surface with an inch or two of shredded leaves, evergreen needles/pine straw or other organic material will conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they decompose.

Always water new plantings often enough to keep the top few inches of soil moist. Once established water thoroughly and only as needed. This encourages drought tolerant roots, so you’ll need to do less watering in the future.

With proper planning, plant selection and soil preparation you can keep your ongoing care to a minimum. That means more time to relax and enjoy your beautiful garden.

Gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden MomentTV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and spokesperson for Milorganite. Myers’ website is http://www.melindamyers.com.

 

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Top 2016 trends in outdoor living

_SPR-Top-trends2(BPT) – Take a deep breath of fresh air. Feel the warm sunshine on your skin. Kick back and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature. There’s a reason people are investing in spaces that allow them to spend more time relaxing, dining and entertaining outside.

In addition to expanding livable space, outdoor enhancements also offer a strong return on investment at the time of sale. Convinced this is the year you’re going to jump on the outdoor living bandwagon? To refresh your space and start enjoying the outdoors from the comforts of home, consider the top outdoor living trends of 2016.

Eclectic design 

Homeowners are embracing the same eclectic trends that they love indoors and bringing this same design approach to their outdoor spaces. Mixing materials is at the heart of this trend. From all-weather wicker and teak to concrete and aluminum, using different materials means creating durable spaces with one-of-a-kind looks. Beyond the hardscape, using a variety of patterns, textures and shapes adds visual appeal.

SPR-Top-trends1Upholstered soft seating 

This year, homeowners are revamping patios and decks by bringing the comforts of indoors outside. The perfect example of this movement is the use of upholstered furniture for the outdoors. Arhaus Furniture offers a variety of upholstered sofas, sectionals and chairs that look just like the classics used indoors, but are specifically designed to withstand the elements outside.

Outdoor cooking 

Summer entertaining is enhanced when meals are cooked outdoors. Home chefs are thinking beyond the grill to incorporate other useful mediums for al fresco cooking. For example, hearths and stone ovens offer undeniable outdoor ambiance while providing a unique way to cook pizzas, bread and other baked goods. The finishing touch: add an herb garden for quick access to the fresh flavors of the season.

Customization 

Customizing helps create outdoor spaces that are a reflection of the homeowners’ personalities. More than just personalized decor, the customization trend is evident in outdoor furniture. Expert stylists at www.Arhaus.com offer complementary design services including space design, product selection and customization with a wide variety of outdoor fabrics so they can get the exact look they desire.

Evening entertaining 

Outdoor entertainment shouldn’t be restricted by daylight, so homeowners are making thoughtful additions to ensure when dusk arrives the party can go on. Strategic deck lighting on posts and stairways illuminates gathering spaces. Torches, pathway lighting and string lights are great for landscaped areas. Finally, propane and citronella gel fueled fire pits are the ideal gathering place and bugs will stay far away.

Reconstructed stone 

Reconstructed stone is in demand for tabletops on dining, coffee and accent tables. When researching options, it’s important to remember not all reconstructed stone is created equal. For example, Arhaus makes reconstructed stone out of composite concrete so it’s lighter, less brittle and withstands weather well. Even when left outside year-round at the company headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, there was no cracking, color fading or changes to material.

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Barrels and Brews with Trout Unlimited

Sign up to create a rain barrel to store rainwater to water your plants and garden and keep stormwater out of the lakes and rivers.

Sign up to create a rain barrel to store rainwater to water your plants and garden and keep stormwater out of the lakes and rivers.

Rain barrel workshops on tap

What do rain barrels and a business making great beer have in common? Clean water for the Rogue River. A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater (stormwater) from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Stormwater is the leading source of water pollution in West Michigan. The average rain barrel will keep 1,815 gallons of stormwater out of our lakes and rivers each year. Saving water not only helps protect the environment, it saves you money and energy. A rain barrel collects water and stores it for when you need it most—during periods of drought—to water plants, your garden, or wash your car. Additionally, rainwater is naturally soft and devoid of minerals, chlorine and other chemicals found in city water, so it is a better alternative for your plants.

This year, Trout Unlimited is working with Rockford Brewing Company and Cedar Springs Brewing Company to host a rain barrel workshop series—Barrels and Brews—to help protect the Rogue River. Trout Unlimited has been conducting rain barrel workshops in the Rogue River watershed since 2013, successfully distributing around 250 barrels to the local community. Trout Unlimited is partnering with Plainfield Charter Township, the Cedar Springs Community Building Development Team, and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council to conduct these workshops. All workshops include everything you need to set up your barrel and take around 45 minutes. Rain barrels are $30 apiece and you must sign-up for a workshop at rainbarrels.wmeac.org.

Rain barrel workshops will be held at:

Rockford Brewing – Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. on: May 10, June 21, July 19, August 16 (12 E. Bridge St., Rockford)

Cedar Springs Brewing – Monday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. (corner of Main and Maple, Cedar Springs)

We look forward to seeing you there!

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4 steps to a safe deck for summer

SPR-deck1(BPT) – Now that the weather is warmer and you’re spending more time outdoors, it’s the perfect time to check that your deck is ready for outdoor entertaining. Just as you take your car in for regular maintenance to avoid bigger problems, a little deck maintenance goes a long way to ensure your peace of mind and to give your deck a longer life. Here are four tips to keep in mind as you prepare to enjoy your backyard oasis:

1. Inspect your deck every year.

Ideally, you should inspect your deck each year by going underneath it to make sure posts, beams, joists, deck boards, railings, fasteners and connectors are all in good shape, and nothing is unstable. “The ledger connection is where the deck connects to the house. It is one of the most common failure points on a poorly built deck. It’s very important to use structural screws rather than nails to secure your deck ledger board to your home,” says David Finkenbinder, a branch engineer with Simpson Strong-Tie.

2. Build it right.

Like a house, a deck should be designed to support the weight it will need to carry – think people and furniture, as well as the forces of Mother Nature, such as wind and snow. A safe deck needs load-tested, structural connectors and fasteners throughout the entire structure, spanning from the house to the posts in the ground. Your local county building department or a licensed contractor are both great resources to check that your outdoor structures are up to code. If you’re a DIYer, you can also check out the DCA 6 – Prescriptive Residential Deck Construction Guide.

3. Combat corrosion.

Decks – and the metal connectors that keep them connected and safe – are exposed to the elements. Over time, metal connectors, screws and nails can corrode and weaken the structure of your deck. When choosing connectors, take into account where you live, and how weather and the environment may affect your deck. In many cases, connectors with a zinc galvanized coating and hot-dip galvanized fasteners provide adequate corrosion resistance. If you live along the coast or near bodies of water, it is recommended that you use stainless-steel connectors and fasteners.

SPR-deck24. Maintain for beauty and safety.

Just like other parts of your home, regular maintenance is needed. You should keep your deck clean from debris, and every deck should be cleaned once a year. If needed, you can apply a water-repellant sealant or stain.

“Wood is a natural choice for outdoor living projects – it’s easy to work with, affordable and its beauty can’t be copied,” said Wood, Naturally’s Cees de Jager.  “What you might not know is that wood products are responsible for lower air and water pollution, and have a lighter carbon footprint than other commonly used decking materials.”

Remember, no two decks are exactly alike. If you are unsure about the safety of your deck, consult a professional who can help inspect your deck, provide suggestions and let you know how much a project or repair should cost. Then, make sure to get out and enjoy your deck all summer long!

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Low Maintenance Vegetable Gardening for a Bountiful Harvest

Low maintenance gardening. Intensive planting rows.

Low maintenance gardening. Intensive planting rows.

By Melinda Myers

Increase your harvest without increasing the size of your garden or workload. All you need is a bit of intensive planting, along with some low maintenance techniques.

Invest some time upfront to prepare the garden soil. This will save you time throughout the growing season.  Add several inches of organic matter and a slow release fertilizer into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil.  The organic matter improves drainage in clay soils and increases moisture retention in sandy soils. The slow release fertilizer feeds the plants for several months, reducing the number of applications needed.  You’ll have healthier plants that are better able to fend off pests and outcompete the weeds.

Match the plants with the right growing conditions. Tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables that produce fruit need full sun. Leafy crops like lettuce are more tolerant of shade. Check plant tags and seed packets for planting details or download a free gardening app, like Homegrown with Bonnie Plants, for plant information, maintenance tips, weather reports, and more.

Plant seeds and transplants in blocks with fewer pathways.  Give each plant enough room to grow to its full size. Your rows will be closer together with just enough paths for weeding, watering, and harvesting. You will be growing more plants and pulling fewer weeds with this strategy.

Interplant to further maximize your planting space. Plant short-season vegetables like lettuce and radishes in between properly spaced longer-season vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes.  By the time the longer-season plants start filling the space, the shorter season plantings will be ready to harvest.  You’ll be pulling radishes or cutting lettuce instead of weeds. Plus, you’ll harvest two crops from one row.

Plant successive crops throughout the growing season. Plant cool weather vegetables like spinach, radishes, and lettuce in spring. Once these are harvested, replace with warm weather vegetables like beans, tomatoes, or cucumbers.  Finish off the season by filling any voids with a fall crop of cool weather vegetables.

Go vertical to save space, reduce disease, and make harvesting easier. Growing vine crops on supports lifts the fruit off the ground and increases the amount of light and airflow the plants receive, reducing the risk of disease. Plus, you’ll do less bending when it’s time to harvest.

Mulch the garden with pine straw/evergreen needles, shredded leaves, or other organic matter.  These materials suppress the weeds, conserve moisture and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. You’ll have fewer weeds to pull and not have to water as often.

Save time and water with the help of soaker hoses or drip irrigation. These systems apply the water directly to the soil where it is needed. Less water is lost to overspray, evaporation, and runoff.  They also reduce the risk and spread of disease by preventing water from settling on the leaves of the plants.

Try a few or all of these strategies this season for an abundant harvest without a lot of extra work.

Melinda Myers has over 30 years of gardening experience has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Bonnie Plants for her expertise to write this article. 

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Ease into gardening with a raised bed 

Raised bed gardens with benches make it easier to plant, maintain and harvest. Photo credit: Bonnie Plants  

Raised bed gardens with benches make it easier to plant, maintain and harvest. Photo credit: Bonnie Plants

By Melinda Myers  

Raise your garden to new heights for easier access and greater productivity. Raised beds allow you to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal growing mix, plus make gardening time more comfortable thanks to less bending and kneeling.

Whether you purchase a kit or build your own, there are a few things to consider when creating a raised bed garden.

Locate the garden in a sunny area if possible. Most plants require at least six hours of sun, and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and melons produce best with a full day of sunlight.

Select a long-lasting material such as interlocking block, fieldstone, plastic lumber or naturally long lasting wood like cedar. The material selected will influence the shape and size of your garden. Some materials allow for curved beds while others are limited to squares, rectangles and other angular shapes.

Design your raised bed to fit your space and your needs. A three- or four-feet width makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting. Raising your planting bed at least 8 to 12 inches improves drainage and provides an adequate space for most plants to root and grow. If you want to minimize bending, go higher. Add benches to increase your gardening comfort and ease. Bonnie Plants has free downloadable plans (bonnieplants.com/library) for building a raised bed garden with benches in just one afternoon.

Roughen or loosen the existing soil surface if your bed is built on compact, slow-draining soil. This will allow water to readily move from the raised bed into the soil below. Cover the bottom of the bed with newspaper or cardboard, if needed, to suffocate existing weeds and grass.

Line the bottom of your raised bed with hardware cloth to reduce the risk of animals burrowing into your garden. Lay the hardware cloth over the ground and bend it up along the inside of the raised bed walls.

Fill the bed with a quality growing mix that is well drained but also able to retain moisture and nutrients. This may be a mixture of quality topsoil and compost, a high quality potting mix, or a planting mix designed specifically for raised bed gardens.

Grow any plants that you normally would grow in ground. Just make sure the plants are suited to the growing conditions (such as sunlight, heat and wind) in your area. Since the soil mix and drainage is ideal in a raised garden, you will be able to grow more plants per square foot. Just be sure to leave sufficient room for plants to reach their mature size.

Keep your plants healthy and productive with proper watering. This is critical for growing any garden, but even more crucial in a fast-draining raised bed. The simple act of raising the garden height increases drainage, and a raised bed filled with planting mix means more frequent watering. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses for watering ease. Always water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.

Add some mulch to help reduce watering and the need for other garden maintenance. Spread a layer of evergreen needles, pine straw, shredded leaves or other organic matter over the soil surface. This helps conserve moisture, suppresses weeds and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. You’ll spend less time watering and weeding throughout the season.

Add an organic fertilizer at planting if your planting mix does not already contain one. Apply again mid-season if the plants need a nutrient boost. Always follow the label directions on the fertilizer container.

The time and effort invested in creating raised beds will be returned many times over with years of healthy and productive gardens.

Gardening expert Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Bonnie Plants for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is www.melindamyers.com

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Know what’s below before you dig this spring

It’s important to find out where utility lines are before you begin a yard renovation project.

It’s important to find out where utility lines are before you begin a yard renovation project.

(BPT) – With the snow gone and the ground thawed, many eager homeowners and landscape professionals across the country are rolling up their sleeves and reaching for their shovels to start projects that require digging this spring.

During the transition into “digging season,” Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the association dedicated to protecting underground utilities and the people who dig near them, reminds homeowners and professional diggers that calling 811 is the first step towards protecting you and your community from the risk of unintentionally damaging an underground line.

Every digging project, no matter how large or small, warrants a free call to 811. Installing a mailbox or fence, building a deck and landscaping are all examples of digging projects that should only begin a few days after making a call to 811. Calling this number connects you to your local one call utility notification center.

According to data collected by CGA in a phone survey in late February, more than half (46 percent) of American homeowners said they plan to do DIY projects involving digging this year, but 40 percent of them do not plan to make a free call to 811 before digging. Extrapolated to the full population of U.S. homeowners, approximately 51.8 million people will dig this year without first calling 811.

A utility line is damaged every six minutes in America because someone decided to dig without making a call to 811 to learn the approximate location of buried utilities in their area. Unintentionally striking one of these lines can result in inconvenient outages for entire neighborhoods, harm to yourself or your neighbors and repair costs.

As a result, CGA offers the following tips to make sure you complete your project safely and without any utility service interruptions, so you don’t become a statistic.

Here’s how the 811 process works:

1. One free, simple phone call to 811 makes it easy for your local one call center to notify all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig. Call a few days prior to digging to ensure enough time for the approximate location of utility lines to be marked with flags or paint.

2. When you call 811, a representative from your local one call center will ask for the location and description of your digging project.

3. Your local one-call center will notify affected utility companies, which will then send professional locators to the proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of your lines.

4. Only once all lines have been accurately marked, roll up those sleeves and carefully dig around the marked areas.

There are nearly 19 million miles of underground utility lines in the United States that your family depends on for everyday needs including electric, gas, water and sewer, cable TV, high-speed Internet and landline telephone. That equals more than a football field’s length of utilities for every person in the United States. With that much critical infrastructure underground, it’s important to know what’s below and call 811 before digging.

To find out more information about 811 or the one call utility notification center in your area, visit call811.com.

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Simple seasonal tips to keep plumbing operating smoothly

PHOTO CREDIT: (c) corbis_fancy - Fotolia.com

PHOTO CREDIT: (c) corbis_fancy – Fotolia.com

(StatePoint) – Proper seasonal maintenance can keep your plumbing running smoothly. Experts say that even those with no experience can inspect for issues and perform simple tasks to prevent costly repairs.

“You don’t have to be a crackerjack plumber to handle basics and protect your home,” says Jeff Devlin, host on HGTV and DIY Networks.

Devlin offers homeowners some key plumbing tips:

Kitchens and Bathrooms

Ensure drains have strainers to prevent debris from clogging drain lines. Check faucets for drips and leaks.

Inspect the toilet tank and bowl for visible cracks. Check for hidden leaks by adding six drops of food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, color will appear in the bowl within 30 minutes.

Ensure toilets flush properly. If the handle must be held down to flush, or jiggled to stop water from running, you may need to replace parts.

Clean mineral deposits from the shower head. Unscrew it and soak in vinegar overnight. Then gently scrub with an old toothbrush.

Water Heater

Carefully drain several gallons from the tank to flush out corrosion-causing sediment, which reduces heating efficiency and shortens the life of the heater. Consider replacing those older than 15 years with a new, energy-efficient model.

Appliances

Check your dishwasher, washing machine and ice maker’s supply hoses for bulges or leaks. Replace hoses showing signs of weakness or those older than ten years. Use stainless steel hoses, which are more reliable and less prone to bursting.

Clean your washing machine lint trap, and place a wire trap or a piece of pantyhose over the end of the hose that drains the washer.

General

Pour water into infrequently used drains to fill traps and prevent odors. Slow floor drains should be snaked to ensure they’ll carry water away during flooding.

Take a reading on your water meter before bedtime. The next morning, without using any water overnight, take another reading. If it’s changed, you have a leak that should be repaired.

Outside

Free yard drains, gutters and downspouts of debris. Check for bird nests in plumbing vent pipes. Check faucets and hose bibs to ensure water flows freely. If an outdoor faucet drips, or if there is leakage inside your home the first time the hose is turned on, you may have had a frozen pipe that cracked and needs to be replaced.

Be Equipped

Look for commercial-quality products designed with average consumers in mind. For example, Roto-Rooter, the number one brand in plumbing, with 80 years of experience, now offers a complete line of consumer products that contain 25 percent more active ingredients and clear clogs 50 percent faster than the competition.

“It’s stronger and faster which means you can get the job done right the first time,” says Devlin.

Devlin, who lives in an historic farmhouse, recommends the brand’s Septic Treatment, which contains twice the amount of enzymes to keep septic tanks in balance. More information about the product line can be found at rotorooter-products.com.

“Be proactive,” says Devlin. “A few minutes of prevention could save you tens of thousands of dollars in costly repairs.”

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Education is proactive

Laura VanDuyn, our Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent’s message to us in The Post of April 14 was filled with good news about our improving educational program for our youth.

An extended study of change in business and industry years ago showed production improved with each change in work environment, leveled off, and eventually decreased. I think it was called the Hawthorn effect.

Education is a proactive thing. It’s good that the program we offer our children is proactive.

Lyle Perry Jr.

Cedar Springs

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Five essential spring home improvement projects

SPR-Five-essential-home-improvement-projects

(BPT) – The arrival of spring means new beginnings and a fresh chance to tackle those home improvement projects you’ve been putting off for the last several months. Get your home ready for summer and make it more beautiful, efficient and functional than ever with these five seasonal projects.

  1. Keep, donate or trash. Your first step is to declutter the home. Separate items into three categories: keep, donate or trash. Here’s a tip: if you haven’t used something in the last year, chances are you can get rid of it. Items such as unwanted electronics, housewares and gently used clothing can be donated to charity. For everything else, check with your local recycling program before putting anything in the garbage.
  2. Get serious about spring cleaning. Give your home a fresh start by wiping down windows, countertops, electronics, appliances, doorknobs, furniture, light fixtures and ceiling fans. Also, be sure to mop floors and vacuum carpet. Never cleaned windows before? Find out how with our free guide.
  3. Bring your deck back to life. We think winter is hard on us, but just imagine how hard it is on our decks, which weather the bitter cold temperatures, snow and ice all season long. Take a close look at your deck and check for warped, loose or splintered boards. Sweep away anything that may have fallen between the cracks, make any needed repairs, scrub or power wash, and restain if necessary.
  4. Do a color refresh. Whether you’re adding a fresh coat of paint to your interior or exterior walls, or completely changing the colors of your home, spring is the perfect time to renew your home’s look. One 2016 color trend: bold entry doors like those from Pella. And pick out your new, colorful front door.
  5. Bloom where you are planted. Whether you are a homeowner, renter or sublessee, celebrate the end of winter by creating spaces for bright flowers and making the most of your garden. Apartment dwellers, bring the outdoors in with hanging baskets, potted plants or herbs.

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