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Archive | Home and Garden

Bringing Indoor Comfort Outside

DIG-Outdoor-spaces

Make outdoor space an extension of your home

 

(Family Features) The arrival of summer, along with its sunny skies and beautiful weather, beckons homeowners to create a space to entertain guests and enjoy the great outdoors. Design an outdoor living room that merges style and function, and incorporates elements of indoor comfort.

Whether entertaining for two or 10, the warmer weather provides an abundance of opportunities to lounge in peaceful, open-air surroundings. New offerings in decor and design breathe indoor inspiration into your outdoor spaces, creating a beautiful extension of your home for all to enjoy.

“It’s easier than ever to bring the comfort and style of your favorite indoor spaces into your porch, patio and other outdoor areas,” said Aimee Beatty, in-house stylist with Pier 1 Imports. “From comfy throw pillows to trendy rugs, colorful artwork and cheery curtains, new outdoor products boast durability and so much style that your patio will be the neighborhood’s go-to summer hot spot.”

Beatty shares some of her stylish secrets to make your outdoor space an elegant living space worth sharing.

 

Arrange away

Treat your outdoor area as you would your living room. If space is limited, use sectionals to create seating in whatever arrangement fits best. If there is more room, add an investment piece, such as the Echo Beach Dining Table from Pier 1 Imports. This high-quality piece is made from handcrafted, all-weather synthetic rattan and offers plenty of space to arrange chairs just as you would in your dining room. Finish the look by layering your favorite accessories, such as handcrafted trays, detailed lanterns and a colorful floral arrangement to create a cheerful centerpiece that makes your guests feel welcome.

 

Tie it all together

To let you in on a little secret — outdoor rugs tie everything together and really bring a space to life. Simply layer a rug, such as Pier 1 Imports’ chic Wavy Geo Rug, with a beautiful seating collection, colorful cushions and pillows, and you’ve got an outdoor area that makes everyone comfortable and happy.

 

Embrace the bold

Some might be afraid to create a statement outside because — it’s outside. But an outdoor living space lends itself to adventures with color and pattern, providing the opportunity to be bold and to go beyond your comfort zone. When shopping for the outdoors, remember — anything goes.

 

Make it uniquely yours

Mix and match with color and patterns, and personalize your space with accents such as outdoor artwork, planters, umbrellas and more. A smart combination of accessories really transforms an outdoor space from simple to fabulous.

 

Be bright, all night

The sun may still be shining when the guests arrive, but you’ll need something to light up the night and keep the party going all evening long. Create a delightful, welcoming atmosphere with a variety of outdoor lighting options, such as string lights, paper lanterns or floating LED candles placed around the patio. Fashion an elegant glow with lanterns in various sizes, such as the Scroll Trim Lanterns from Pier 1 Imports.

 

Serve in style

Al fresco entertaining always focuses on food, drinks and friends. A self-service food station or bar enhances the casual tone, freeing guests to grab refreshments whenever they please. This also allows you, the host, to focus on the fun at hand. Look for serving and drink carts that maximize space, such as the Rania Serving Cart from Pier 1 Imports, which has three levels so there’s plenty of room to stash an ice bucket, drink dispenser, snacks, lawn games and more.

 

So let the warmth of the season bring many memorable moments to your life and stylish elements into your outdoor spaces. For more great decorating ideas, visit www.pier1.com.

DIG-Outdoor-service

Outdoor-Friendly Materials

Have you ever wondered how some products are suitable for the outdoors while others can only be kept inside? Various processes and materials give outdoor furniture and decor durability and weather-resistant appeal.

 

Synthetic Fibers

Ever think about all the abuse from the elements outdoor pillows, seat cushions and umbrellas suffer? Between the sun, rain and everything in-between, fabrics made for outdoor use are designed to withstand the elements, keeping your newly designed patio fresh for all the parties to come. Synthetic fibers used in these fabrics are designed to bead water, resist stains and maintain their color. With this in mind, you can lengthen the lifespan of such materials by covering them when not in use and avoiding prolonged exposure to rain or sun.

 

Acrylics and Melamine

Outdoor drinkware and dinnerware made of acrylic and melamine provide much of the same great style as their glass counterparts without the breakability. A nice set of acrylic drinkware and melamine dinnerware, such as Summer Quench Turquoise Goblets and Trellis Dinnerware, both from Pier 1 Imports, will keep your outdoor soiree safe and fun throughout the evening.

 

Synthetic Rattan and Wicker

Wicker may be the traditional material for outdoor furniture, but this new generation of synthetic wickers and rattans is not your grandmother’s porch furniture. All-weather chairs, tables and more are woven of synthetic rattan or wicker over durable, rust-resistant frames, making them durable and easy to clean. This approach offers the flexibility to incorporate a woven look into furniture of all styles — from traditional to global, modern to whimsical — without sacrificing durability and longevity.

 

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It’s strawberry season!

DIG-Fresh-market-strawberriesFresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

 

In our state, we look to the robin for the early announcement of Spring. These brave, hardy birds often appear when the snow is still on the ground. They bring us hope and a promise that winter will soon loose its grip and warmer days are ahead—a promise that the earth will again yield new growth. For the Seneca Indians, the strawberry is linked with Spring and rebirth, as it is the first fruit to ripen in the season. The Seneca believe that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that strawberries bring good health as well.

Modern science supports this belief, as studies have shown several benefits to the consumption of the fruit. Among the findings: eating the berries can help prevent memory loss and reduce heart disease and cancer, aid to resist infectious diseases and counter inflammation. Components of the berry aid in absorbing calcium and contribute to healthy bone structure. One test concluded that subjects who ate nitrate rich foods such as strawberries before exercise burned, on average, about 100 more calories than others who did not. This may be because consumption of nitrate rich foods can increase the blood flow to muscles by as much as seven percent, increasing oxygen and making it easier to exercise.

The goddess Venus was said to have cried strawberry tears upon the death of Adonis. The association with the goddess of love probably arises from its heart shape and red color. It is said that if one splits a double strawberry in half and shares this with someone of the opposite sex, love will grow between them. Strawberries were considered an aphrodisiac in France and a soup made from the fruit was served to newlyweds.

The Brits used crushed strawberries and the juices to reduce sunburn and mild blemishes and, in parts of Europe, the fruit is considered sacred to the Virgin Mary. The Romans considered the fruit a cure-all—it was believed to relieve depression and to cure inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, gout, fainting spells and diseases of the blood, liver and spleen. It was also used to mask halitosis.

The strawberry is a member of the rose family. It is the only fruit whose seeds are on the outside. An average strawberry contains approximately 200 seeds. It is low calorie, containing about 45 calories per cup. Its fresh, tart/sweet flavor makes it a favorite to many and its nutritional value makes it a favorite to moms and health providers.

Look for strawberries from mid May to mid to late June. Check local farmers markets or food markets that cater to local produce for the freshest berries. Enjoy these treats as they are for a guilt-free snack. Toss them into salads or cereals or muffins. Or try out our recipe for a refreshing summer drink. Any way you slice them, you can’t go wrong with strawberries. Bon Appetite!

Strawberry Lemonade Smoothie

1 large can frozen lemonade

1 16-ounce tub frozen strawberries in syrup

Fresh strawberries (about 2 cups), rinsed, caps removed

1 cup vanilla or strawberry yogurt

1 ½  cups water

Ice (about 8-12 cubes)

Sugar to taste

Blend first five ingredients. If mixture is too strong, add additional water. Add sugar to taste. Add ice and process until desired consistency.

 

 

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Fruitful container gardens

DIG-strawberries-in-a-potBy Melinda Myers

Picture yourself harvesting a few fresh strawberries for your cereal in the morning or perhaps picking a few apples from your own backyard tree to cook up into a pie. It is possible, even if you garden on a balcony or small lot. And even if you have plenty of space, you will still appreciate the fun and convenience of reaching out the backdoor and harvesting some homegrown fruit.

Strawberries are excellent container plants. Grow everbearing or day neutral varieties, so you will be harvesting strawberries throughout the growing season. Reduce your workload and increase success with a self-watering hanging basket (gardeners.com). Or dress things up a bit more with a decorative container. The haystack hanging baskets have the beauty of the coco fiber lined planters, but require half the watering. The AquaSav™ liner is a combination of coir and recycled plastic designed to conserve moisture. This means better results with less watering.

But don’t stop there. Add some dwarf fruit trees to your patio plantings. A dwarf apple, peach or pear will provide beautiful spring flowers, nice foliage for the summer and fruit for you to enjoy. Select self-fertile varieties, those that only require one plant to produce fruit, if space is limited. Grow your dwarf trees in large weather-proof pots with drainage. Those in cold climates will need to provide some winter protection, but the first harvest will make that extra bit of work well worth the effort.

Or try your green thumb at growing lemons, limes and other citrus in a container. The fragrant flowers and glossy green leaves are a beautiful prelude to the tasty fruit. Even cold weather gardeners can put their green thumb to the test by growing a Meyer lemon, Kaffir lime or other citrus in a container. Just move the potted plant indoors for the winter and back outdoors next season once the danger of frost has passed.

And don’t forget the blueberries that are high in antioxidants and flavor. These nutritious beauties require moist well-drained acidic soil. Something most gardeners do not have. This makes growing them in containers, where you control the soil, a good option. Blueberries provide seasonal interest with their nodding white bell-shaped flowers in spring, colorful fruit in summer and yellow, orange or red color in fall. Though only one plant is needed to bear fruit, keep in mind that your harvest will more than double if you grow two.

So survey your patio, deck, balcony or garden for space to add a container or two of fruiting plants that are sure to add beauty and flavor to your garden and meals this season.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

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Fresh Market: Rhubarb

By Vicky Babcock

DIG-Fresh-market-rhubarb

It is January. In an old shed near Wakefield England, a group of men move carefully among the rows of rhubarb, plucking the pink stems by candlelight.  Most of the shed is in darkness and the atmosphere is hushed.  There is an air of reverence here, as if some rude cathedral.  If one listens quietly, states the farmer, Janet Oldroyd-Hume, one can hear the rhubarb grow.  Is this some sacred rite from pagan days gone by—some obscure celebration of the solstice?  No.  It is the harvest of the forced winter crop, cast in darkness to encourage rapid growth.  Oldroyd-Hume relates the tale that led to this remarkable scene.  In 1817 or thereabouts, the legend goes, workers digging a trench in Chelsea inadvertently covered some rhubarb roots with soil. Upon removing the soil, they discovered that the rhubarb, seeking daylight, had grown long pink stems. “Luckily, it was Chelsea,” Oldroyd-Hume quips, “so they tasted them.”   Ian Jack-the Guardian, January 2008.

Welcome to the Rhubarb Triangle—a 9 square mile area between Rothwell, Morley and Wakefield famous for its forced rhubarb.

Most rhubarb, as is Michigan’s crop, is grown naturally and harvested in the early to late Spring.  The bright red stalks, native to China and dating back over 5,000 years, add a festive look to pies and jams and its tart distinctive flavor makes it an excellent choice for sugared desserts. Rhubarb was given the sobriquet, “pie plant” as it is a vegetable, but is treated as a fruit.

Before sugar’s introduction to the world, rhubarb was treated primarily as a medicinal plant—its roots are a powerful laxative that is still used today.  As sugar became more available and popular to Europeans, so too did rhubarb.   The vegetable lost favor during wartime sugar shortages—people grew tired of eating the plant with little or no sugar and so turned to other more costly fruits to round out their diets. It’s been reported that, for a brief time during WWI*, it was advised to use rhubarb greens as a food source in Briton—this was quickly rescinded as it became abundantly clear that the leaves are toxic to both humans and animals.

Ben Franklin was said to be responsible for the introduction of rhubarb to North America in 1772.  And Marco Polo wrote extensively about this medicinal herb.  In the late 1800’s, Russians brought the stalks to Alaska to treat scurvy as the plant is rich in vitamin C. Rhubarb is low in calories and high in fiber, making it a highly desirable plant for our diet as is.  However, few of us can tolerate the bitter stems without a touch of sugar.

*Note:  Although many sources state WWI, others state WWII.  I even found a reference to Americans being advised to eat the leaves as opposed to the British.  One of the sources that I would have trusted most contradicted itself within the same article.

Rhubarb Bread Pudding

3 cups bread cubes

3 cups chopped rhubarb

1 ½ cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

3 eggs, beaten

1 stick melted butter or margarine

Combine—spoon mixture into 8×8-inch pan.  Bake at 375º 40 minutes.  This is delicious warm from the oven, but can be reheated or eaten cold.

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718.  Like us on facebook for updates.

 

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Asparagus—the Prince and the Pauper

Three kinds of asparagus are shown here: white (rear), green (middle), and wild asparagus (sometimes called  Bath Asparagus) at the front.

Three kinds of asparagus are shown here: white (rear), green (middle), and wild asparagus (sometimes called Bath Asparagus) at the front.

Fresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

 

The earliest of our Michigan crops, asparagus usually appears in area Farmers Markets in early May through mid to late June.  A fast growing member of the lily family, asparagus can grow as much as ten inches in a twenty-four hour period.

It is a relative newcomer to the New World, arriving around 1850.  Yet it has been enjoyed for thousands of years, appearing in an Egyptian frieze dating 3000 BC.  Ancient Greeks used it as a medicinal herb for cleansing and healing.

Romans loved asparagus so much they had runners take the produce from the Tiber River Valley up into the Alps to be frozen and preserved for the Feast of Epicurus.  The emperor, Augustus, coined the phrase, “velocius quam asparagi conquatur”—quicker than you can cook asparagus.

Asparagus, long loved by the royals and nobility, was considered the “delicac[y] of princes” and was in constant demand (Asparagus—Sense and Non-sense).  The French King Louis XIV kept hot houses of the plants in order to enjoy them year-round and Madame Pompador dined on the points d’amour on a regular basis. In England, the poor gathered the tender tips and hawked them on the streets.

Likely due to its shape, asparagus was considered to be a phallic symbol in the 19th century and girls in girls schools were prohibited from eating them lest they increase their sexual appetites.  Victorian women were trained to detect the smell in their husband’s urine, a sure sign of depravity.

The urine scent of asparagus eaters has long been debated and studied. Early botanists suggested that the odor was proof that the plant was not fit for consumption. In truth, the odor is the result of aspartic acid, a compound that is largely indigestible, and thus eliminated through kidney function. There are no harmful effects associated with the consumption of asparagus.

On the contrary, asparagus is a low calorie powerhouse, providing vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as bata-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E. vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.  It’s a very good source of protein and dietary fiber as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances insulin’s ability to transport glucose into the cells from the bloodstream.  Ninety-three percent of asparagus is water, making it great for bowel function. It is heart healthy and components of the spears may slow the aging process. Want more reasons to try asparagus? Check out our recipe below.

 

Asparagus with Lemon Pasta

2 ½-3 cups whole grain penne pasta

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 ½ cup milk or half and half

2 T. Dijon style mustard

1 T. plus 2 tsp. flour

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 tsp. olive oil

4 T. minced garlic

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, chopped (reserve some for garnish)

Lemon peel for garnish (optional)

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, mustard, flour, salt and pepper. Set aside. In medium saucepan, heat oil over med-high heat; add minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly until tender and lightly browned—about 30 seconds. Add milk mixture to pan. Stirring constantly, cook until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add lemon juice and one-half of the Parmesan cheese. Cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce is thick. In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions al dente. Drain and set aside. Cook asparagus in small amount of water until tender crisp—about 2 minutes. Drain and add to pasta. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to coat. If necessary re-heat to desired temperature. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Garnish with basil leaves and lemon peel if desired. Enjoy!

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718. Like us on facebook for updates.

 

 

Fresh Market

By Vicky Babcock

 

Asparagus—the Prince and the Pauper

 

The earliest of our Michigan crops, asparagus usually appears in area Farmers Markets in early May through mid to late June.  A fast growing member of the lily family, asparagus can grow as much as ten inches in a twenty-four hour period.

It is a relative newcomer to the New World, arriving around 1850.  Yet it has been enjoyed for thousands of years, appearing in an Egyptian frieze dating 3000 BC.  Ancient Greeks used it as a medicinal herb for cleansing and healing.

Romans loved asparagus so much they had runners take the produce from the Tiber River Valley up into the Alps to be frozen and preserved for the Feast of Epicurus.  The emperor, Augustus, coined the phrase, “velocius quam asparagi conquatur”—quicker than you can cook asparagus.

Asparagus, long loved by the royals and nobility, was considered the “delicac[y] of princes” and was in constant demand (Asparagus—Sense and Non-sense).  The French King Louis XIV kept hot houses of the plants in order to enjoy them year-round and Madame Pompador dined on the points d’amour on a regular basis. In England, the poor gathered the tender tips and hawked them on the streets.

Likely due to its shape, asparagus was considered to be a phallic symbol in the 19th century and girls in girls schools were prohibited from eating them lest they increase their sexual appetites.  Victorian women were trained to detect the smell in their husband’s urine, a sure sign of depravity.

The urine scent of asparagus eaters has long been debated and studied. Early botanists suggested that the odor was proof that the plant was not fit for consumption. In truth, the odor is the result of aspartic acid, a compound that is largely indigestible, and thus eliminated through kidney function. There are no harmful effects associated with the consumption of asparagus.

On the contrary, asparagus is a low calorie powerhouse, providing vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as bata-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E. vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.  It’s a very good source of protein and dietary fiber as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances insulin’s ability to transport glucose into the cells from the bloodstream.  Ninety-three percent of asparagus is water, making it great for bowel function. It is heart healthy and components of the spears may slow the aging process. Want more reasons to try asparagus? Check out our recipe below.

 

Asparagus with Lemon Pasta

2 ½-3 cups whole grain penne pasta

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 ½ cup milk or half and half

2 T. Dijon style mustard

1 T. plus 2 tsp. flour

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 tsp. olive oil

4 T. minced garlic

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh basil, chopped (reserve some for garnish)

Lemon peel for garnish (optional)

In medium bowl, whisk together milk, mustard, flour, salt and pepper. Set aside. In medium saucepan, heat oil over med-high heat; add minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly until tender and lightly browned—about 30 seconds. Add milk mixture to pan. Stirring constantly, cook until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add lemon juice and one-half of the Parmesan cheese. Cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce is thick. In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions al dente. Drain and set aside. Cook asparagus in small amount of water until tender crisp—about 2 minutes. Drain and add to pasta. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to coat. If necessary re-heat to desired temperature. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Garnish with basil leaves and lemon peel if desired. Enjoy!

Fresh Market is brought to you by Solon Market located at 15185 Algoma Avenue.  For more information call 616-696-1718. Like us on facebook for updates.

 

 

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Spring into fresh produce faster with early season gardening tricks

DIG-Spring-into-fresh-produce-faster1(BPT) – Warm weather begs green thumbs across the country to break out their gardening gloves and till the soil for the season’s plantings. Whether this is your first year tending a home garden or it’s something you’ve been doing for decades, gardening offers many rewards, including time spent outdoors, the ability to feel closer to Mother Nature, and of course, the fresh fare plucked just steps from your kitchen.

DIG-Spring-into-fresh-produce-faster2Anyone can have a successful home garden no matter where they live by following a few steps from professional gardeners. Consider these three important tips for starting your garden right so you can enjoy fresh produce faster, thanks to the experts at Outdoor Essentials – makers of garden beds, compost bins and other gardening necessities.

Step 1: Research appropriate early plantings

Springtime is ideal garden time thanks to milder weather, and a good place to start is by researching proper plants for your region’s early season. If you have questions, consult your local nursery or call your local extension office for specialized advice.

In general, good early plantings include brassicas, a family of plants that includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. Additional cool-season crops to consider include radishes, beets, peas, potatoes and carrots. These plants will thrive early in the season and produce yields quickly.

In addition to quick-producing plants, the early season is the best time to plant other varieties that take a long time to mature. Onions, for example, require a lengthy growing season and should be planted early so that in late summer, gardeners can enjoy the maximum yield possible.

Want produce quicker? Consider purchasing starter plants, also called plant starts, rather than relying on packets of seeds. These are the small plants that have already germinated and have a basic root system. These are easy to transfer to your own garden and, with proper tending, will grow quickly and produce fruit faster.

Step 2: Prepare garden spaces for accelerated growth

After months of not being used, your garden’s soil is likely compact and will require some tilling to loosen the dirt and encourage plant growth. You can do this with a garden rake; for large gardens, some people prefer to rent a power tiller.

People who live in smaller homes, a townhouse or condo might prefer to use raised garden beds. Stylish and functional, raised garden planters from Outdoor Essentials eliminate the need to bend over to tend garden, a benefit that has made them vastly popular. Raised garden beds can be used virtually anywhere outdoors, including on a deck or patio, and they can be moved, too, if necessary.

Whether you create a garden plot in your yard or add a few raised-garden planters to your patio, make sure the dirt is nutrient-rich and ready for your plants. Typically it’s wise to mix black dirt in with your soil to ensure that plants grow strong. If you’ve had trouble growing in the past, consider getting your soil tested to verify pH levels.

Step 3: Tend daily and enjoy the fruits of your labor

For best results, tend your garden on a daily basis. Check for soil moisture and water as necessary. Make sure to pluck weeds and watch for pest infestations. If done daily, it should only take a few minutes to verify the health of your garden. Plus it’s fun to watch plants grow and flower.

As fruit and vegetables mature, it’s time to enjoy the season’s first harvest. The healthy fresh fare tastes even better knowing you grew it yourself, plus it cuts down on grocery bills. If you find you have too much of one type of produce at once, share with neighbors, coworkers and friends—everyone loves fresh garden delights.

Keep in mind that as plants grow, you need to make sure they don’t overcrowd each other. This can limit growth and yield production. If your garden starts to look overgrown, you may need to pluck out a few plants to open up space and encourage proper growth and healthy root systems.

Spring to it! The mild, moist weather and longer days of the early gardening season make the conditions ideal for plant growth. With a few simple steps and a watchful eye, you’ll be enjoying fresh produce at almost every meal. For more garden inspiration, visit www.outdooressentialproducts.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Secret to a Bountiful Garden and Beautiful Landscape

Iris and Columbine can add beauty to the landscape, but before planting anything it’s important to make sure the soil is properly prepared.

Iris and Columbine can add beauty to the landscape, but before planting anything it’s important to make sure the soil is properly prepared.


by Melinda Myers

Spring is here and the garden centers are filled with beautiful plants. Many of us are making our way to one or more of our favorite garden shops.  We leave with a car full of beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables with hopes of a bountiful harvest.

But before that first plant goes into the ground, make sure your soil is properly prepared. Though not the most glamorous part of gardening, it is the first and most important step in creating a beautiful and productive garden.

Start by adding some compost, aged manure or a garden soil labeled for flowers and vegetables to this year’s shopping list. You’ll need about two 2-cubic-ft bags of soil additive to cover 25 square feet of garden two inches deep. Calculate your garden size by measuring the length times the width, so you are sure to purchase all you need.

Once the car is unloaded the fun begins. Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet. A simple test can help with this. Grab a handful of soil and gently squeeze. Then gently tap it with your finger. If it breaks into smaller pieces, it is ready to work. If it stays in a wet ball, wait for the soil to dry slightly before digging in. Otherwise you will compact the soil, reduce drainage and create clods and crusty soil that you’ll be fighting all season long.

Start by digging several inches of compost, aged manure, or a product like Schultz garden soil for flowers and vegetables into the top 12 inches of soil. These materials improve drainage in heavy clay soils and increase water-holding ability in sandy soils.

Spread the organic matter over the soil surface of the garden bed. Use a shovel or rototiller to blend the organic matter into the soil. Rake the area smooth and level or make a slight crown in the middle of the bed.  Crowning the bed slightly can increases visual impact of flowers and can help keep soil in the bed and out of the surrounding lawn or mulch.

Don’t skip this step even if you applied these materials last year. Yearly applications of organic matter continue to build quality soil and improve your gardening results.

Apply the type and amount of fertilizer recommended by your soil test report. If this information is not available use about three pounds of a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden. Check the back of your fertilizer bag for more details.

Once the soil is prepared it is time to plant. Carefully slide your transplants out of their container. Gently loosen any circling roots. Plant flowers and vegetables in the prepared planting bed then water thoroughly.

Mulch the soil surface with a one to two inch layer of pine straw, evergreen needles, shredded leaves or other organic material. These help suppress weeds, conserve moisture and improve the soil as they decompose.

Seem like too much work?  Investing time preparing the soil at the start of the season will save you time throughout the season. You’ll spend less time watering, managing pests and replacing struggling or dead plants. This gives you more time to harvest beautiful flowers for bouquets, vegetables for your favorite recipes, or just to sit, relax and enjoy your landscape.

Make this the year to start building a strong foundation for a healthy and productive garden.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

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10 reasons to love your lawn

DIG-10-reasons-to-love-your-lawn(BPT) – As summer approaches and your thoughts turn to home improvement and the outdoors, you’re probably considering a variety of ways to make your home more comfortable, more attractive and more environmentally sustainable – while hopefully increasing its value as well. One feature that can achieve all these goals is a healthy lawn.

Perhaps surprisingly, installing and maintaining a natural turf lawn is one of the best home improvement investments a homeowner can make. If you’re weighing your options and wondering whether a lawn is worth the effort, consider the following 10 benefits.

1.  Outdoor recreation: An inviting, low-maintenance outdoor space can provide a significant boost to your quality of life. From picnics and games to lounging in the shade with a drink and a good book, a lawn offers the perfect setting for outdoor entertainment and relaxation.

2. Increased home value: Grass makes a home more appealing. A well-maintained lawn is recognized as such a desirable feature to potential homebuyers that it can boost a home’s value by as much as 15 percent, according to a Gallup survey.

3. Excellent return on investment: When it comes time to sell your home, good landscaping can give you a much higher return on your investment than many other home improvement projects. According to a Gallup survey, you can generally expect to recover 40 to 70 percent of the cost of building a deck or patio, while landscaping can offer a 100 to 200 percent return.

4. Stress relief: Grass areas are naturally calming and stress relieving, and the visual appeal contributes to improved mental health and better quality of life. The healing power of nature can work its magic even in your own backyard.

5. Urban benefits: In cities, grass absorbs noise and provides a beneficial link with nature. Studies have shown that well-maintained lawns also promote greater community pride and deter littering and vandalism.

6. Cooling: On hot days, grass is much cooler than cement, asphalt and dirt, which trap heat. And grass doesn’t just stay cool to the touch – it cools the atmosphere as well. Each blade acts as an evaporative cooler, and by transpiring water to cool itself, grass also cools the environment, reducing the energy requirements for air-conditioning in buildings surrounded by lawns. According to the academic professionals with Grass Seed USA, the front lawns of eight average-size homes have the same cooling effect as the air-conditioning systems of about 20 homes.

7. Conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen: Trees may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but all plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. According to the academic professionals with Grass Seed USA, a lawn of just 50 square feet releases enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.*

8. Natural weed control: If you want a relatively low-maintenance landscaping option for an area of bare ground, try grass. A healthy lawn discourages the growth of weeds, and grass will easily outcompete other plants when you create the conditions that favor it.

9. Erosion prevention: Grass is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to prevent erosion caused by wind and water. A thick lawn absorbs rainfall, virtually eliminating any runoff, and the extensive root systems of the individual grass plants bind the soil more effectively than many other ground covers.

10. Self-repair: A lawn is naturally self-repairing. If you choose the right grass for your climate conditions and lawn use patterns, it will be highly resilient and regenerate quickly in response to stresses such as drought, frost or foot traffic.

“There are many reasons to love your lawn,” says Bryan Ostlund, executive director of Grass Seed USA, a coalition of American grass seed farmers and turf specialists. “Whether you want a safe place for the kids to play or a welcoming outdoor space for a barbecue, grass fits the bill. It’s a remarkably easy and budget-friendly way to add aesthetic, recreational and economic value to your home.”

 

 

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Eco-friendly Weed Control in Lawns

Photo credit: “Melinda Myers, LLC.”  
 Prostrate Knotweed is frequently found growing next to walks and drives or other high traffic areas.

Photo credit: “Melinda Myers, LLC.”  

Prostrate Knotweed is frequently found growing next to walks and drives or other high traffic areas.

by Melinda Myers

Don’t let lawn weeds get the best of you. These opportunistic plants find a weak spot in the lawn, infiltrate and begin the take over your grass. Take back the lawn with proper care.  Your lawn will not only be greener and healthier, but good for the environment.

The grass and thatch layer act as a natural filter, helping to keep pollutants out of our groundwater and dust out of our atmosphere. They also reduce erosion, decrease noise and help keep our homes and landscapes cooler in summer. And a healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds.

Start by identifying the unwanted lawn invaders. Use them as a guide to improve your lawn’s health and beauty. Weeds appear and spread when the growing conditions are better for them than the grass. Correct the problem to reduce the weeds and improve the health of your lawn. Killing the weeds without fixing the underlying cause is only a temporary solution. Unless the cause is eliminated the weed problem will return.

Here are a few of the more common weeds, the cause and possible solutions for managing them out of the lawn.

High populations and a variety of weeds mean you need to adjust your overall lawn care practices. Mow high and often, removing no more than 1/3 the total height of the grass at one time. Leave the clippings on the lawn in order to return water, nutrients and organic matter to the soil. This along with proper fertilization using an organic nitrogen slow release fertilizer with non leaching phosphorous, like Milorganite, can greatly reduce weeds.

Knotweed and plantains often found growing next to walks and drives or other high traffic areas can also be found in lawns growing on heavy poorly prepared soils. These weeds thrive in compacted soil where lawn grasses fail. Reduce soil compaction and improve your lawn’s health with core aeration.  Aerate lawns when actively growing in spring or fall. Or replace grass in high traffic areas with permeable pavers or stepping stones to eliminate the cause.

Nut sedge is a common weed in wet or poorly drained soils. Improve the drainage to  manage this weed. It may mean core aerating the lawn and topdressing with compost, regrading or the installation of a rain garden to capture, filter and drain excess water back into the ground.

Clover and black medic mean it’s time to get the soil tested and adjust fertilization.  Both thrive when the lawn is starving. Clover was once included in lawn mixes because of its ability to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil.  If these weeds are present, boost the lawn’s diet starting this spring with a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer. It feeds slowly throughout the season, promoting slow steady growth that is more drought tolerant, disease resistant and better able to outcompete the weeds.

Creeping Charlie, also known as ground ivy, violets, and plantains usually get their foothold in the shade and then infiltrate the rest of the lawn. Take back those shady spots by growing a more shade tolerant grass like the cool season grass fescue or warm season St. Augustine grass. Mow high and fertilize less, only 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per growing season, than the sunny areas of your lawn. Or replace the lawn with shade tolerant groundcovers. Adjust your overall care to reclaim and maintain the rest of the lawn.

Crabgrass and Goosegrass are common weeds that follow a hot dry summer. Mow high to shade the soil and prevent many of these annual grass weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent weed killer that can help reduce these and other weeds from sprouting. Apply in spring and fall applications to reduce weeds by as much as 80% in three years.

And, when mowing this year, consider an electric or push mower to manage your lawn in an even more eco-friendly manner.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

 

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Own your outdoors: Best practices for spring lawn maintenance

DIG-lawnmowing

(BPT) – The warming weather is Mother Nature’s gentle reminder that it’s time for plants to wake up from their winter slumber and for homeowners to begin yard maintenance again. Being proactive and preparing in the spring for the long growing season ahead will help ensure your lawn gets the best care possible and that you won’t work harder than necessary.

To maintain a healthy lawn, there are a few important steps to take at the start of spring. Consider these tips from the lawn equipment experts at Husqvarna – the world’s largest producer of outdoor power equipment – to help you achieve the best-looking lawn possible.

DIG-AWD-lawnmowerRead up: Every mower is different, so it’s important to check the owner’s manual for a list of recommended annual maintenance tasks and then complete them before the first mow.

Tune up: Handy homeowners may decide to tune up their mowers themselves, but many people choose to visit an authorized dealer for a tune-up. If you go the DIY route, remember to follow all safety messages and instructions in the owner’s manual. In addition, use factory-recommended parts and oil, and always inspect filters and spark plugs. This is a great time to sharpen the blade as well.

Gas up: If you have gas from last year, it’s probably a good idea to dispose of it properly and get a fresh supply. You’ll need only enough to last 30 days and should keep it in an airtight container. Make sure to use 89-octane gas with an ethanol content no higher than 10 (E10). Gas with a higher level of ethanol can damage power-tool engines.

Get a grip: Advances in lawn mower technology have made it easier than ever to efficiently cut and maintain your lawn, even if you have a challenging yard. All-Wheel Drive (AWD) mowers are gaining popularity, and Husqvarna now offers three new AWD mowers. For example, the HU675AWD is powered by a 675 Kohler engine, features a heavy-duty steel 2-in-1 cutting deck, a straight over-mold bail system, a full auto-choke and a mulch and rear bagging system, all starting at $299 at Lowe’s Home Improvement or online. Find a dealer nearest you at www.husqvarna.com/us/dealers/dealer-locator.

Cut one third: When it’s time for the first mow (and any mow throughout the year), it’s important to cut no more than one third of the grass blade. This keeps the root system strong and will help minimize weed growth.

Plant seed: Have a few bare spots? Spring can be a great time to plant grass seed before the hot summer months arrive. Mild weather and higher levels of moisture throughout the country generally make spring a good time for grass seed to germinate and thrive. Consider using a starter fertilizer when you plant the seeds to provide an extra boost of nutrients.

Safety first: Spring is a good time to revisit the importance of lawn mower safety. For riding lawn mowers, never give children rides or allow them to play on the mower, even when it is not running. Children must be at least 16 years of age to operating a riding mower, always monitor your speed and use extreme caution when going in reverse. Look behind and around the mower before proceeding. For walk-behinds, always push the mower away from your body, never mow wet grass and do not mow in the dark.

Use interactive controls: Many riding lawn mowers will stop the engine and cutting deck when the driver leaves the seat or put the transmission in reverse giving owners peace of mind. Additionally, Husqvarna’s SmartSwitch ignition – a new operator interface – lets users enter a keyless code for safe and simple engine activation. Furthermore, lighted icons indicate the status of the parking brake, battery, headlights and ROS (Reverse Operating System).  To learn more, join the conversation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/HusqvarnaUSA) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/HusqvarnaUSA).

 

 

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