Thursday, May 31, 2012

Great Looking Landscaping for Less

I have been fortunate to have lived in a house for my entire adult life, and with a house includes outdoor spaces that must be maintained and worked in to keep the outside presentable. There are several tricks and tips I have learned along the way, as well as a few mistakes.

The first year I lived in a house with my husband I was very excited to be able to create the landscaping as I saw fit. I planted many annuals that looked beautiful. I planted petunias, geraniums, and other flowers. The problem with this plan was that I had to remember to water them almost daily through the summer or they would die or look terrible. Then, once fall came around I realized that all my hard work planting and keeping those flowers alive would have to be done all over again the next year!

Plants and flowers cost money to purchase and to keep alive. I very quickly learned that I wanted to create my landscaping but not have to “re-invent the wheel” each year with planting. I have many favorite plants that give texture, dimension, and color to my yard.

My first favorite plant that only requires water in the first few weeks after planting from a pot are ornamental grasses. These plants are great because they provide a tall plant that grows quickly in the spring/early summer. After summer once fall and winter approach they dry out but remain a plant that can be left through the winter. Just remember to cut down the dry grass as early in the spring as possible so the new green growth can be seen the next year. This plant grows in diameter after it has been established and can be divided and transplanted (again in early spring). I don’t find the need to water these plants through the summer.

My second favorite plant are hostas. Like the ornamental grasses, this plant will grow in diameter after it has been established in one spot for a year or two. In the early spring, this plant can be divided and transplanted. Hostas typically like to have some shading during the day, but my variety does fine with sun from sun up to around 4-5 p.m. I don’t find the need to water these plants unless it has been very hot with no rain in the middle of the summer.

My third favorite thing (not a singular type of plant) is to use pots for the pops of color through the landscaping. This is great for a few reasons. You can plant those flowers that only last one season and you can minimize the number of areas that need watered on a near-daily basis. This year, I didn’t even use flowering plants, but I used a single spiky plant for height and color, then surrounded it with two varieties of coleus.

Another favorite plant of mine are day lilies. This plant is much slower to grow in diameter, but once it does they do need to be thinned out every couple of years and can be divided and replanted. This plant can be in full sun, but the plant looks and stays healthier if they are planted under trees. They give landscaping a medium height plus the pop of color from the flower. This flowering plant is a perennial, so it will come back year after year!

As you can see from the picture, pots can look very nice when put IN the landscaping beds, they don’t have to only be for porches, decks, driveways, or corner markers. I had a rather large mound that was the previous home to an ornamental tree that had to be removed, so rather than trying to plant on the top where there were still many roots, I opted to take the focus to the green pots with coleus.

Be wise how you spend your landscaping dollars. Perennials are the plants that will live on through multiple years. Finding plants that can be divided down the road will help you keep consistency of plants throughout your entire yard and will not cost anything in additional plants. It is a great idea to ask friends or family who have a mature yard or growing plants if you can have a small start of their plants. Just make sure you think about it in the early spring before the plants start growing above ground! If you do the work for them, it is likely they will not mind.

Photographs used in this post are from,, and personal photos

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fun Free-For-All

10 free (or almost free) things to do with your family and friends this summer...


I am on a budget. Everyone I know is on a budget. In this economy there are few words I hear as often as BUDGET. So I like to find things that will easily fit into my budget. There is a surprising amount of available options. Some of them might seem like common sense, but honestly, most of these I would not think about on the fly. When I try to think about things to usually means my 3' long to-do list on the fridge.

1. Go on a wandering walk. Just head out your front door and go in whichever direction looks the most interesting. As long as you have some basic navigational skills, you won’t get lost, and you can turn around or backtrack whenever you get bored or hit a dead end. Along the way, who knows what kind of interesting stuff you might find?

2.  Make Christmas gifts in advance. If you know already that some people will be on your Christmas list, why not spend some time now making them interesting gifts and saving yourself some money over the long haul? Make them some homemade soap, some homemade hot chocolate mix, and maybe a bottle of homemade beer as a gift. Prepare all of these items, then go ahead and box and wrap them, since they’ll stay good for months. Not only is the gift less expensive than what you’d spend at your local department store, it’s also more thoughtful, and it’ll save you time during the harried Christmas season.

3.  Build a giant blanket fort. If you have kids, there are few things more fun than an afternoon spent building and playing in a gigantic fort in the living room. Use chairs, blankets, and tables to make an enormous hidden structure, then hide in there and play games, read awesome blogs, watch funny videos on your laptop, and read books. If they’re a bit older, build two forts (on opposite sides of the room) and have “fort wars” – toss small beanbags and pillows back and forth. No cost, but an afternoon that’s a ton of fun. (Picture courtesy of  The Shoes We Wear)

4. Make some homemade greeting/birthday/Christmas cards. All you really need for this is some card stock or some cheap blank cards from your local dollar store, plus some photographs (or a desktop printer). My stepson loves making pop up cards! Just use pictures and other elements to create unique greeting and holiday cards, then save them for the appropriate occasion.

5.  Practice origami. All you need is some scrap paper and a bit of time. Start with the simple things, like cranes and frogs, then you can try harder stuff like an origami iris. A well-made origami piece constructed from interesting paper can be a beautiful decoration. If you are a Star Wars fan like my husband you might even want to try something like this awesome Yoda!

 6. Have a quilting bee. All you need is a bunch of spare cloth (old shirts will even work, as will old curtains, old sheets, and so forth), some needles, some thread, some scissors, and some friends. Just get together, cut out squares of interesting cloth, and start sewing. You can stuff the inside with soft excess cloth, like tee shirts and such, instead of buying batting, and you’ll create a warm and interesting quilt over time.

7.  Do some puzzles. I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, sudoku puzzles, and crossword puzzles. You can find a huge number of these puzzles online for free. They’re a great way to stretch your mind a bit at the kitchen table for a half an hour or so, solving a problem with just your intellect. If you are not a puzzle person you could have a family game night with boardgames or video games.

8. Volunteer your time. There are countless volunteer projects out there that need nothing more than your time. You can always volunteer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter, weed your elderly neighbor's garden, build with Habitat for Humanity, or spend a weekend sorting clothes at a family services store. A Saturday spent working for a volunteer cause is a Saturday well spent – it gives you a full day spent making a positive contribution to society, working your body and your mind for the benefit of others, and leaving you at the end of the day knowing you used your gifts to provide for others.

 9. Build some paper airplanes. Design and build a bunch of different paper airplanes, then have a competition in the back yard to see which one flies the best. There are many different designs to choose form if you want the "professional edge". This is a great way to use up some scrap paper, particularly old newspapers. You can easily turn it into a contest – the winner gets to pick what activity to engage in next, or gets to choose what you’re having for supper.

10.  Turn on the water sprinkler. This is another great one for family fun with kids. Just run out a hose in the backyard, attach a sprinkler to the end, and turn it on, jetting the water up in the air. Then run around in the water. Lots of fun for the kids – and it can be a ton of fun for the parents, too, if they run through the sprinklers.

Don't forget to check your local library or city website to find free festivals and activities in your town. Sometimes you can even find good stuff by simply googling "free things to do in [insert your city and state here]."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kill 5 Minutes with Funny Videos

When I continue thinking along the lines of what to do with myself when there is no good t.v. on during the summer, I think about randomly searching YouTube videos. This yields many horrible videos and can amount to huge amounts of wasted time on nothing good. I thought I would share a few of my favorite videos that can be found on the internet and provide you with a few good laughs.

My first favorite video originated on Tosh.0. and shows a young girl around 3-4 years of age, trying to take her bowl to the sink after eating. I was in stitches watching this video!

I just was shown the coolest music video of the group "Walk Off the Earth", which is five people playing on one guitar (all five were doing something on the guitar at the same time) and they also sang with the song. It is the song "Somebody that I used to Know" by Gotye.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Have we forgotten Memorial Day?

How ironic is it to suggest we have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day? After all, the word comes from the Latin memoriale, which is the neuter of Latin memorialis meaning, "related to memory".

Memorial Day used to be a solemn day of mourning, a sacred day of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. Businesses closed for the day. Towns held parades honoring the fallen, the parade routes often times ending at a local cemetery, where Memorial Day speeches were given and prayers offered up. People took the time that day to clean and decorate with flowers and flags the graves of those who fell in service to their country.

On May 3rd, 2000 The White House's Press Secretary announced that a "National Moment of Remembrance" should occur at 3 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day.

 Please take a moment to remember the men and women who have given their lives for this country.

How We Recall
©2004 Roger J. Robicheau (Sp 5, US Army)
The Poetic Plumber


How we recall that day we swore
To serve our country to the core
That clothing issued brought a view
Of raw recruits, this showed so true
Remembered hair was cut away
This look for quite awhile would stay
Our trek before too long did show
New GI’s marching, row by row
And then one day emerged a form
Each proud trained troop in uniform
We followed orders as we should
To do our best, in pride we would
Some served in peace, some went to war
Brave heroes passed through Heaven’s door
We cherished friends who served with us
Great buddies all, how we’d discuss
So many thoughts will never wane
For what we shared, let closeness reign
Our bond was tight, the best to see
For when we served, this had to be
The purpose was to keep you free
God Bless the brave, deservedly


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Great Summer Books

I am not, by any means, a knower-of-all when it comes to literature, but I do enjoy reading for pleasure. Almost exclusively I enjoy fiction, but I like non-fiction books when they have to do with Egypt, the American Civil War, and colonial America.

My favorite genre to read is crime/mystery. James Patterson is among the top of my list for reading for pleasure. His books are fast paced, short chapters (2-4 pages), and have interesting topics. If you are a reader who enjoys reading series books my first pick to you for summer reading would be:

James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. To date, there are ten books (perhaps now an eleventh) in the series and each book has it’s chronological number as part of the title (1st to Die, etc).

Ten books for summer reading can sound like a lot. I typically find myself able to finish two books per week. This is in part because they are so interesting I take time from television to read, or incorporate my down time into reading time.

If 10 books sounds too ambitious, or if murder/crime mysteries are not your thing there is another trilogy that is all the rage right now. It is “Fifty Shades” (Grey, Darker, Freed) by E. L. James. This series will total up past 1,600 pages but it will have your full interest. 

The “Fifty Shades” trilogy is the last set of books I have completed and it was sad when I came to the last book because I wanted to continue reading. One disclaimer, this series is for adults only.This topic for a book is completely outside my reading interests, but it was very well written. The series has been on the New York Best Seller’s list and in my opinion deserves to be there!

If series or trilogies just aren’t your thing there is another book that is well worth the time to read and it is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

This book is about the circus coming to town and an old man in a nursing home going back in time and recalling his days working for the traveling circus when Barnum and Bailey’s and Ringling Circus were traveling across the country by train.

Utilize your time by the pool, camping, traveling in the car for the family vacation, and during your evening when you would have watched t.v. and read a good book...or books!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mulching Landscaping Beds

I finished my front yard about two weeks ago by weeding and mulching my landscaping beds. 90 bags later, I had about 2-3 inches of mulch surrounding my plants and making a very clear edge between grass and the beds.

Two weeks later I have very few weeds. There are several reasons this happened. The first being that I did pull almost all of the weeds before mulching so not many seeds were left to continue making more weeds. Another reason is that the weeds have a more difficult time growing when there is a substantial amount of mulch. This amount of mulch also allows the beds to retain moisture and water so that it doesn't evaporate as quickly and your plants will need far less watering through the hot summer.

I have done my beds both ways-very little mulch that barely covers the dirt, and now the recommended 2-3 inches. The beds look better than ever, and the continued upkeep is far less. I am going to predict that the amount of mulch I will need to add next year will pale in comparison.

I have lived in my home for almost 6 years now, and the backyard has remained untouched for that time period. We have cut down some large trees that were dead or had grown for years un-trained. The shade is amazing over my porch and patio, but the shade brings problems of its own.

Today I power washed my deck, patio, house, rocks, and paver stones. It was AMAZING to me how green everything was back there. because it all turned green together it was hard to tell, but once I got that pressurized water taking it off I had no choice but to do everything. It took me four power washer tanks full of gas to complete the project. My hands were tingling for hours after because it vibrates so much when you hold the handle.

My goal with this untouched space is to cut down all the green growth, mulch with likely 30 bags of mulch, and plant hostas.

Hostas are one of my favorite plants. There are many varieties to choose from and they grown in sun/shade areas. I have the lucky advantage of some very sturdy plants that I divide in the spring and they bounce back to full size by the end of the next summer.

Gardening 101 with transplanting and dividing plants is that this time of year is NOT the right time of year to do that. So, for now my ugly between deck-house space will only see mulch unless I buy a few potted hostas at the nursery.

Friday, May 25, 2012

No new t.v. for the summer...

It is the time of year when all of my favorite television shows are bidding farewell for the summer as they air their season (and some series) finales. This is going to leave a lot of time for most people in the evenings.

The first, and most obviously wonderful way to spend your time is by gardening and caring for your outdoor space. For my house this includes watering my vegetable garden and potted plants, weeding, and keeping up with my grass. Being diligent in doing these things will actually mean spending less time doing it as the summer goes on.

In addition to caring for your outdoor space (who doesn’t love entertaining?!!!), many people grill out and cook with fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

The summer’s bounty will require more preparation, care, and frequent trips to purchase to ensure everything is fresh, but this is part of the joy of summer. Search for local city and farmer’s markets in your area. When I did a search I was surprised at the number of markets available within a 15 minute drive. Many grocery stores now get produce from local farmers and even post signs with it as to the origin of the food, but there is just something so much more intimate about going to the farmer’s market or even the farm it came from! So, after all this shopping and cooking you might want some down time.

My typical go-to chill-out activity is t.v., but we already established it is gone for the summer. The next best thing is reading! That is my excuse for missing several days in a row from posting. I finished a trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey) within less than two weeks-it totaled to more than 1,600 pages. Books are important for so many reasons. We are able to use our imagination more with books than t.v. It also sends a wonderfully important message to others too…that reading can be fun.

Studies show that children who come from families that see their parents read are much further ahead in school and will also have a love for reading. This is sort of the “do as I say, not as I do” principle. If parents hassle their children about reading because “it’s good for them” or “it’s fun”, the children will be much more likely to do so when they see their parents reading for no reason other than pleasure.

Some tips for getting your child to enjoy reading: *Allow them to choose reading material they are interested in *Take them to the library several times a month to choose books *Trust their ability to read-they just might surprise you *Take time to read and pick literature with them Enjoy your summer, and remember being outdoors is fun! Fresh air can make anyone’s mood happier :-)

**All photos in this post are courtesy of

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Beneficials are insects that feed on common garden pests, like aphids and caterpillars. Less than 2 percent of the insects in the world are harmful, most are beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are considered the good guys and are why gardeners are cautioned not to spray insecticides at random. Here is my handy dandy table on some of the more common Beneficials in North America.


How they help

How to attract them

Assassin Bugs

As a group, assassins feed on everything from beetles to caterpillars.

Improve your chances of having assassin bugs by planting Queen Ann’s lace, alfalfa, camphorweed, plants in the carrot family, goldenrod, Mexican tea, and oleander.

Big-Eyed Bugs

Both adults and nymphs feed heartily on mites, aphids, leafhoppers, and insect eggs.

Bigeyed Bugs are attracted to soybeans, pigweed and goldenrod.


Damsel bugs

Adults feed on aphids, caterpillars, thrips, leafhoppers, and other soft-bodied insects. Nymphs, too, are predators, and will feast both small insects and their eggs.

Damsel Bugs really love to live near alfalfa fields. You can plant alfalfa to attract them or bring a butterfly net to your nearest alfalfa field and scoop them up!


Extremely beneficial to the soil and plants by increasing air space in the soil and leaving behind worm castings.

Always keep garden beds mulched.  Instead of blowing the fall leaves out of your beds (the perfect deep burrowing earthworm food), mow them up and use them as a free, earthworm friendly, mulch along with grass clippings and other compost.

Green Lacewings

Larvae hunt for soft-bodied prey, especially aphids.

They are attracted to Prairie sunflower, Queen Anne's lace, Dill, Tansy, Coriander, and Fennel.

Ground Beetles

Ground beetle larvae prey on slugs, root maggots, cutworms, and other pests on the ground.

Ground beetles like to hideout underneath rocks, leaf litter, and woody debris—so adding a nice layer of wood chips or shredded leaves to ornamental garden beds and pathways provides plenty of habitat.

Hoverflies/syrphid flies/flower flies

They feed on aphids, mealybugs and others.

They are attracted to  Lavender globe lily, Dill, Spearmint, Pennyroyal, Parsley, Sweet alyssum (white), Gloriosa daisy, Zinnia (liliput), and Purple poppy mallow

Lady Beetles

Lady beetles eat aphids, scale insects, thrips, mealybugs, and mites.

Attract ladybugs to your garden with nectar-producing plants such as parsley, dill, cilantro and fennel.

Orchard Mason bees (I never knew there were green bees!)

Excellent pollinators.

Attract them to your garden or orchard by providing nesting blocks.

Parasitic mini-wasps

They do not sting. The stingers have been adapted to allow the females to lay their eggs in the bodies of insect pests. The eggs then hatch, and the young feed on the pests from the inside, killing them.

Attract them by planting Lavender globe lily, Dill,  Coriander, Sweet alyssum (white), Parsley, Tansy, Zinnia (liliput), Crimson thyme, Marigold  (lemon gem), Caraway, and Queen Anne's lace.

Praying Mantids


Praying mantids are generalist predators, meaning they're just as likely to eat a helpful lady beetle as they are to catch a caterpillar, but they can handle even the largest pests in the garden.

Sometimes you can buy one or it’s egg sacks from your local nursery or online. sources also suggest that planting cosmos and raspberries might attract a praying mantis.

Predatory Stink Bugs


Most predatory stink bugs are generalist feeders, but the Spined Soldier Bug, feeds on caterpillars, sawfly larvae, and grubs.

Patented pheromones are sold online to attract the spined soldier bug. You should also plant permanent beds of perennials to provide shelter for this predator.

Soldier Beetles

Love to eat Aphids and Cucumber Beetles
Try planting goldenrod, milkweed, catnip or hydrangeas to attract this bug.

Tachinid flies

Parasites of caterpillars (corn earworm, imported cabbage worm, cabbage looper, cutworms, armyworms), stink bug, squash bug nymphs, beetle and fly larvae, some true bugs, and beetles.

They are attracted to Buckwheat, Pennyroyal, Parsley, Golden marguerite, Tansy, and Crimson thyme.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Garden Pests

You work hard on your garden and you expect to reap the benefits at the end of the season, but sometimes even with all your hard work and careful planing someone (or something) else comes along to eat the fruit of your labor. Garden Pests.

Here is a handy dandy table I made showing common Garden Pests in North America! Next I will make a table of Garden Benefiting Bugs! 

Gardening Pests

How they harm your plants


Drain all moisture from plants

Attract Lady bugs which love to eat aphids, or spray a concoction of a dormant oil spray (like Organocide) and a few generous shakes of Tabasco. **Do not apply the mixture during the heat of the day. Tabasco + hot summer sun may burn the delicate leaves of your plants.**
Blister Beetles
The adults sometimes feed on flowers and leaves of plants.
Hand-picking **Do not let them touch your skin! They secrete a toxic chemical that will give you blisters.**
Cabbage Worms (and other caterpillars)
The pests chew large, ragged holes in the leaves of cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.
Use a lightweight row cover in early spring as a barrier to egg-laying butterflies. Spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), especially when caterpillars are small. Be sure to direct spray to undersides of leaves.
Carrot Flies
Crop damage is caused by the creamy-yellow larvae feeding on the outer layers of the carrot root. Leaves turn rusty red to scarlet with some yellowing.
The best method of prevention is to erect a barrier around the crop at least 60 cm high. Also, plants such as Rosemary, Sage, and Marigold are used to deter the carrot fly.
They chew plant stalks until they are cut through.
Apply beneficial nematodes to soil just prior to planting. A protective collar of cardboard circling each seedling and extending 2 inches below and above ground is an effective barrier. A band of diatomaceous earth around seedlings may deter egg-laying adults.
Japanese Beetles
They chew leaf tissue from between the veins, leaving a lacy skeleton.
Deter feeding by adult beetles by spraying plants with neem oil. Use parasitic nematodes in lawns and garden beds for grub control.
Tarnished Plant Bug
As they feed they inject a toxin into the plant tissue that stunts or otherwise deforms growth.
Attract natural enemies to eat the bugs. Keep the garden area free of weeds, and remove organic debris from the garden at the end of the season.
Tomato Hornworms
Feed voraciously on the leaves and fruits of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.
Use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) when caterpillars are small. Hand-pick and destroy large caterpillars. **If you find a caterpillar with what looks like grains of white rice attached to its body, do not remove it. The "grains" are the pupae of a parasitic wasp that attacks hornworms.**
Stink Bugs
Stinkbugs feed by sucking plant juices.
Hand-pick stinkbugs in early morning when they are slow moving, or spray/dust with approved insecticides.
Snails and Slugs
Feed on leaves of plants.
Fill shallow containers with beer and sink them into the soil to trap slugs and snails. Surround plants with copper barrier strips -- they give slugs a slight shock on contact.
Spider Mites
Symptoms of their feeding show up as silvering or a stippled effect on the leaf top, but the precise symptom varies with the plant.
Keep plants well watered and wash them off frequently.
Squash Bugs
Adults and nymphs feed by sucking juices from leaves, causing leaves to wilt, dry up, and turn black.
Choose squash varieties resistant to the pest. Lay shingles or boards in the garden at night; bugs will hide under them during the day, and you can collect and destroy hiding bugs first thing in the morning. Crush any egg clusters you find on the undersides of leaves.
Suck plant juices from the leaves and stems.
Spray plants with a stream of water from a garden hose to dislodge the majority of the pests before applying insecticidal soap or other approved product.

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