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Spring Home and Garden

McCook Daily Gazette Thursday, April 7, 2011


Avoiding 10 common gardening mistakes SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

2 – McCook Daily Gazette

DEAN FOSDICK FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gardening is a forgiving hobby. You can always right any wrongs next growing season. The best way to prevent problems, though, is with good planning. "Designing from the top of your head may work, but things most likely will work better if you write it down and do a simple drawing," said Jack McKinnon, a garden coach from San Francisco. "Think before you plant." Most gardening failures result from simple things, he said, "like people who don't fertilize, or if they do, put on too much. The same goes for people who don't understand watering, or add too much. Many tend to do their pruning with power tools and then overdo it." Here are 10 common gardening mistakes and ways to avoid them: 1. Neglecting soil preparation.

Test the plant beds before you begin, and again every few years to see if soil conditioners are needed. Add sand or peat moss to compacted, poorly drained ground, to improve its structure and encourage root growth.

2. Overplanting. Design with the size of mature plants in mind. Try succession planting, in which early, cool-weather crops are harvested before later, less hardy plants reach maturity. 3. Flawed feeding. "Mulch plants and they'll be so much happier," said Tia Pinney, adult program coordinator at the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, in Lincoln, Mass. "Supplement your soil, don't just fertilize it." 4. Improper watering. Too much water can be just as damaging as too little. Do a finger-inthe-ground test to ensure that the soil around the roots is moist. Vegetables

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need about an inch and a half of water per week. 5. Wrong location. Growing conditions change as trees and shrubs mature, creating different shadow patterns. Most plants need six to eight hours of sun per day to develop.

6. Improper pest control. Don't kill the good bugs, like pollinators, in an effort to eliminate the bad. "One thing we hear a lot is an attitude of: 'All I have to do is spray and that will cure it'," said Mary Ann Ryan, master gardening coordinator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Adams County, Pennsylvania. 7. Faulty maintenance. Don't set your cultivator (or hoe) too deep, damaging plant roots. Pull some weeds by hand. 8. Over-pruning. As a rule, don't remove more than

Thursday, April 7, 2011

30 percent of the foliage from shrubs in one cutting. And don't "top" trees to control their height. "That reduces their life span rather than improves their health," Ryan said. 9. Botched planting. Choose the right plant depth. "I know of one property where they put a tree with its root ball on the surface of the ground, and then mulched around it up to the level of the trunk," Ryan said. "People don't know how to plant." 10. Failing to start over. "Oftentimes, people let diseased things grow that should be pulled out, and it affects the health of the entire crop," McKinnon said. Start with a small plot so you can correct mistakes more easily, the experts say. And look to your county extension office for support if you run into trouble. Garden coaches also can diagnose problems and suggest remedies, as can master gardeners and landscape designers.


Protecting your patio from wear and tear SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

Patios are typically the go-to spot for warm weather outdoor meals. Whether hosting friends or simply enjoying a relaxing meal under the evening sky, homeowners tend to spend as much time as possible on the patio once the weather warms up. Because it's such a high-traffic area, the patio should be protected from wear and tear. Wear and tear on the patio can result from Mother Nature or be a byproduct of all those spring and summer evenings spent relaxing outdoors. Fortunately, there are a handful of ways homeowners can keep their patios looking pristine through the summer party season.  Stain the concrete. Staining concrete protects it from natural elements, which can cause the color of a patio to peel or flake. Concrete stain penetrates deep and infuses the concrete with a permanent color that's less likely to fall victim to the elements. Stains are generally solid-color stains or acid stains. Solid-color stains, as their name suggests, provide a more even and solid look, while acid stains provide a more marble-like appearance. While neither are likely to fade or peel quickly, over time an additional coat or stain might need to be applied to counter natural factors like sunlight.  Cover the furniture. Patio furniture can vary significantly in price and quality. Homeowners who picked up a few plastic chairs at the nearby grocery store might not feel furniture covers are worth the investment.

For those with more expensive patio furniture, durable furniture covers that can withstand year-round weather are a sound investment. Waterproof and heat-resistant fabric is ideal, as the furniture will be vulnerable to spring rains, summer showers and high temperatures during the summer party season. Covers should also fit snugly around the furniture to provide optimal protection.  Consider installing retractable awnings. Retractable awnings might cost a little money, but they can also pay homeowners back over the long haul. First and foremost, retractable awnings protect patio from sunlight and ultraviolet rays in hot weather. A retractable awning can also protect friends and family members should an unexpected summer shower appear or keep them safe from sunburns during summer afternoons when the UV index is high. When placed near a window, retractable awnings can lower energy bills. Such awnings can keep sunlight and ultraviolet rays from entering the home. This lowers the temperature indoors, which reduces reliance on air conditioning units to maintain a comfortable temperature. These awnings can also extend the life of furniture, which tends to fade when placed inside windows that get heavy sun exposure.  Plant trees. An eco-friendly way to maintain and add to a patio's aesthetic appeal is to plant trees around the patio. Trees can protect the patio from sunlight and ultraviolet radiation while providing some shade for friends and

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A few simple measures can provide your patio with the kind of protection that will save you time and money in the future.

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Wanting to soften landscape edges? Consider vines 4 – McCook Daily Gazette

IANR NEWS

LINCOLN, Nebraska – There are plenty of structures in our lives… houses, garages, fences, clotheslines, mailboxes, compost bins. Vines meld and soften all the hard edges, blurring the boundaries between garden and fence and gutter and house, extending green far into places where no garden exists. They can provide quick privacy, screen buildings or parking lots, give shade – some of them within just a month or two – and define and separate distinct areas in a garden. Areas that are awkwardly shaped can be softened with vines. Many vines have beautiful blossoms and good fall color; a few are evergreen in Nebraska. Though vines tend to be used as climbers, they also work well as groundcovers, twisting around rocks and through low-growing perennials and shrubs, adding dramatic bursts of color when blooming. Like any groundcover plant, they function much like a mulch, shading the roots of perennials and competing with weeds. Vines extend themselves in a variety of ways and the differences are important in deciding which plant to put in a particular spot or to climb an existing structure. Twining vines like honeysuckle and morning glory wrap around their support so they require fairly thin surfaces like wire, string, netting, small poles and slats. Clasping vines like clematis, grape and porcelain berry also require thin wire or netting for support but in their case the entire stem doesn't spiral but has tendrils, specialized stems, that

SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

wrap around the structure. Clinging vines, on the other hand, cannot attach themselves to netting or string. Their aerial roots or "holdfasts" adhere to almost any flat surface but they prefer slightly rough surfaces like unpolished stone or brick or rough bark (e.g. Boston and English ivy). It's also important to know the eventual size or weight of the vine. The trunks of some clinging vines, like climbing hydrangea, can require strong support in just a few growing seasons. *** Some of the vines listed below are very aggressive (sweet autumn clematis, porcelain berry, perennial pea, etc.) so do some research before planting! Actinidia arguta, hardy kiwi. White flowers in May; male and female plants required for fruit set. Akebia quinata, chocolate vine. Purple flowers in spring. Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, porcelain berry. Bright berries through summer. Aristolochia macrophylla, dutchman's pipe. Small, inconspicuous greenish flowers. Celastrus scandens, American bittersweet. Crimson berries in fall; male and female plants required for fruit set. Clematis alpina, Alpine clematis. Early, profuse blossoms in a variety of colors. Clematis macropetala, downy clematis. Blue flowers early summer; silvery seedheads. Clematis maximowicziana, sweet autumn clematis. Small, white flowers late summer and early fall.

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Clematis Montana, clematis Montana. Light-colored flowers in early summer. Clematis tangutica, golden clematis. Yellow flowers late summer/fall. Fluffy seed heads. Clematis terniflora, sweet autumn clematis. Varied color flowers in early fall. Clematis texensis, scarlet clematis. Red flowers midsummer to early fall; more tolerant of dry soils than most clematis. Clematis viticella, Italian clematis. Purple flowers midsummer to early fall. Clematis x jackmanii, Jackman clematis. Varied color flowers June to September. Fallopia 'Lemon Lace', lemon lace vine. Golden leaves with red stems in early spring, foamy white flowers in fall. Hedera helix, English ivy. Evergreen; foliage turns purplish with cold temperatures. Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, climbing hydrangea.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

White flowers through summer; good fall color. Lathyrus latifolius, perennial pea. Multi-colored flowers with small green pods. Lonicera sempervirens, trumpet honeysuckle. Scarlet-orange flowers and red berries summer into fall. Lonicera x heckrotti, goldflame honeysuckle. Fragrant, reddish flowers through summer. Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper. Scarlet fall color. Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Boston ivy. Leaves are brilliant red in fall, dark berries. Polygonum aubertii, silver lace vine. Fragrant varied colors in early summer. Vitis species, grape. Edible fruits. Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria. Varied color flowers April to May. Wisteria frutescens, American wisteria. Flowers June to August; needs strong support.

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With fruit plants, sometimes you need two SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

KANSAS STATE RESEARCH AND EXTENSION

MANHATTAN, Kansas – Planning to plant a single fruitproducing tree, shrub or vine this spring may not be enough – even for gardens with ideal growing sites. Some fruit-producing plants are called “self-pollinating” – although bees usually do the actual pollen-carrying and the plants may prefer not being a “lonely only.” Nonetheless, a self-pollinator can serve as its own source for the pollen it needs to produce fruit. So, home gardeners only have to grow one plant, said Ward Upham, horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension. In contrast, other fruit-producing trees, shrubs, brambles and the like require a pollen source that’s a second cultivar

– a different variety that produces the same general species of fruit. Among these are the cultivars that produce pears, blueberries and elderberries. “You’ve got to remember that when planning what to buy. Otherwise, you may be awfully disappointed,” Upham said. “A Fuji apple tree, for example, can’t pollinate another Fuji and enable it to set fruit. To produce, a Fuji needs a different variety nearby – one that blooms at about the same time, such as the Braeburn apple.” Nursery catalogs often recommend varieties to use as pollinizers or include compatibility charts. University of Missouri Extension also provides charts for most apple varieties, Japanese plums and most sweet cherries in its “Pollinating Fruit Crops” guide.

Although apricots will produce fruit without a pollinator, a second variety helps insure larger crops. Just one plant is adequate, however, for both pollination and fruit development with the Golden Delicious apple, blackberry, tart (pie) cherry, Stella sweet cherry, currant, gooseberry, grape, peach, European plum, nectarine, raspberry and strawberry. “Even so, when they’re growing fruits that don’t need one, some gardeners still will plant a second cultivar. They’ve found that many of our selfcontained plants will also cross-pollinate whenever they can. These gardeners believe providing for that helps keep self-pollinators from becoming too inbred,” Upham said. Gardeners who’ve already planted a single cultivar that truly requires a pollinator can fool Mother Nature, though, he

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The trees that produce Fuji applies like the ones pictured above are among the plants that require a second – and different variety – fruit tree or plant in order to be productive.

added: “Find another gardener who’s growing a different cultivar of the same species. The two of you can then exchange bouquets of blossoms every two to three days through prime bloom time. You’ll

need to place each new bouquet in a container of water and hang it on the sunny side of your tree. Bees will visit the bouquets’ flowers and take pollen from there to flowers in the tree.”


SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

Thinking of an electric car? Get your garage ready 6 – McCook Daily Gazette

TOM KRISHER AP AUTO WRITER

With gas prices rising and instability in the Middle East, the thought of an electric car in the garage might be getting more appealing. Before you jump for the new technology, though, make sure your garage is ready to be a refueling station. Depending on which car you buy and how old your home is, it could cost a couple thousand dollars to prep the garage so you can charge a car quickly enough to take off for work in the morning with a full battery. Then again, it could cost nothing at all. Start with the age of the home. Older houses may not have enough juice to handle an electric car. Fifty years ago, who would have thought we'd be plugging in cars at night? So the garage may have to be rewired. According to experts, you need at least a 12-amp circuit to charge a car in a reasonable amount of time. You also need a circuit in the garage with little or nothing else on it. Anything else drawing power from the same circuit can slow the charging. Even if you have a dedicated circuit in the garage, it still may not work for you. Most garages have standard 120volt outlets. But a dedicated 240-volt outlet, similar to the kind that powers an electric dryer, can cut the charging time in half. That's important depending on the electric car you buy. Two mass-market electric cars, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, have different power systems and different charging needs. The Leaf is all electric and can go up to 100 miles on a single charge. But it needs more juice than the Volt to refill the batteries. It takes eight hours to recharge a Leaf

even with a 240-volt circuit, double that at 120 volts. The Volt can only go about 40 miles on battery power, but it has a small gas motor on board that can keep the car going when the battery runs out. With its smaller battery pack, it can be recharged in 10 hours even on 120 volts, five hours or less at 240. GM estimates that recharging the Volt will add no more than about $1.50 per day to your electric bill, based on the national average electricity cost of 11 cents per kilowatt hour. AeroVironment, the company that makes charging stations for Nissan, recommends outfitting your garage with a special 240-volt station. The basic station begins charging when you plug the car in; a smart station can start charging later in the evening when the load on the power company grid is lower. Either way, you'll need an electrician who knows about car charging to figure out your needs and hook the 240-volt station to a dedicated 40-amp circuit, said Kristen Helsel, vice president of electric vehicle solutions for AeroVironment. "This is no different than installing an appliance or something else," she said. "We need to take the power from your breaker box and run it to where you want the charging station installed." Charging stations also are available from other manufacturers. Helsel said it will cost about $2,000 to buy the dock and standard installation services by an electrician when done through AeroVironment and a Nissan dealership. The Volt, however, may not need anything. If you have a dedicated circuit in your garage, General Motors, which makes the car, recommends

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charging the car first on 120 volts before spending the cash on a 240-volt charging station. "Most cars are parked more than 10 hours," said Britta Gross, GM's director of electrical infrastructure. "If I were a consumer, I would always try 120 first, and if you're not satisfied, then you can consider the 240-volt upgrade." The Volt has a setting that lets the owner pick the time by which the car has to be recharged fully, and the car can wait to start charging. The Leaf has a timer so the owner can set on and off times for charging based on the day of the week. The Volt charger from GM costs $495, and about $1,500 to install, although it could be more depending on how much work is needed at the house, Gross said. And whether you need a special charging station depends on how far you drive. If you go only 20 miles a day, a 120-volt outlet will work for either car because the battery doesn't have to be fully charged every night. Gross said she's working to change building codes so that all garages have

Thursday, April 7, 2011

240-volt outlets to charge cars, but she conceded that will take years. Many auto industry analysts say it will be years before electric cars are in a lot of garages because cars powered by internal combustion engines will continue to get more efficient. A 120-volt outlet wouldn't work for James Brazell, 84, of Asheville, N.C., one of the first people in the country to buy a Volt. He didn't want to use any gasoline, yet he makes several short trips per day, and on some days, when he attends class at the University of North Carolina Asheville, he will drive 51 miles, more than the Volt's electric range. At first, he used the standard outlet in the garage of his home at a retirement community, but he ended up using a half-gallon of gasoline in four days. Then the charger he ordered from GM arrived at a cost of $530 including shipping. An electrician in his community installed it for an estimated $300, although he hasn't received the final bill. Now he plugs the car in after short trips. "Pretty much I top it up every time I bring it into the garage," he said.


Paving stones versus concrete: a comparison SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

Homeowners have a variety of needs around the landscape that call for pavers or concrete, including driveways, patios and walkways. Deciding on a material means assessing needs and desired features as well as the cost of the project. In general, pavers are interlocking tiles of stone, brick or molded concrete. Concrete is poured in large, solid blocks with flexible spacers to allow for contraction and expansion depending on the weather. Pavers Pavers allow flexibility in color and pattern. They can also be dug up and moved around at a later time. Different types of blocks can be interwoven to create a unique pattern. Because pavers are individual pieces, homeowners may find that installation is a

do-it-yourself project. There are many different price ranges for pavers, depending on the size and material. Some range from a few dollars a block to much more than that. Many home-improvement stores sell an array of pavers, or homeowners can order from a specialty retailer. Pavers are often individually set with sand and leveling gravel. This means that over time they can settle and become uneven. Furthermore, because there is only sand in between, weeds may grow through the pavers over time, requiring added maintenance.

do-it-yourselfer. This means that a hired mason will have to be called to pour concrete features. This may make concrete a more expensive purchase than individual pavers. Concrete is a continuous, poured substance. This means that weeds will not grow through so there is less maintenance involved. But it's important to know that even concrete that has been properly laid may shift or crack over time from the settling of the ground. Thanks to innovations in concrete, homeowners who like the look of pavers without the work can investigate stamped concrete options, where a pattern is embossed into the concrete before it dries. Colors, stains and etching procedures are also available. There are a few other distinctions between these two materials that may also influence a homeowner's decision. Pavers provide immediate gratification

Concrete Poured concrete is a permanent addition to the landscape. It cannot be poured and then reconfigured without major demolition. Also, because concrete requires precision and mastery, it is not something easily done by a

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Pavers, like the brick in this walkway, allow for flexibility in color and pattern, but they can shift and settle over time. in that they can be enjoyed shortly after installation. Concrete, on the other hand, will require days to dry and cure. Some town codes require a permit for pouring concrete because it is a permanent change to the home. Pavers may not require a permit because they are not permanent and can be removed.

When choosing among pavers or concrete around a pool or water source, it is important to select a texture that will not be slippery when wet. Otherwise accidents may occur. The choice between concrete and pavers is largely one of personal preference. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages to consider.

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Adding organic matter OK in spring 8 – McCook Daily Gazette

KANSAS STATE RESEARCH AND EXTENSION

MANHATTAN, Kansas – For years, gardeners have been producing first-hand proof that adding organic matter can improve almost any soil. They commonly do so in fall, when organic materials are readily available. But, improving soil in spring before sowing seeds or putting out transplants can be a good practice, too. Spring additions simply require more care, according to Ward Upham, Master Gardener program coordinator for Kansas State University Research and Extension. “To get started, you need to choose a material that won’t burn plants. If it has an ammonia odor, for example,

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the material is still too fresh to use. If it looks ‘halfcooked,’ it may still be releasing burning fumes. That’s often the case with rotten silage that didn’t break down enough over winter,” Upham said. Typically, good organic matters for spring use include peat moss, finished compost and well-rotted leaf mold. The one that gardeners choose, in turn, will determine how much they should add, the horticulturist said. Peat moss and leaf mold, for example, don’t contribute much nitrogen. So, soil can handle a 2-inch layer of it, spread out and tilled in as deeply as possible, he said. With compost or another nutrient-rich material, however, gardeners should only add a half-inch layer before tilling. Otherwise, plants may have

lush foliage, but no fruit. In his own garden, Upham extends the process with an extra step. “Actually, I till as deeply as possible, then add the organic matter and till again. This gives me a couple of extra inches of prepared soil,” he said. “With this approach, however, you have stay alert, so you don’t overtill. You want particles that are Grape Nuts size or a little larger. When soil ends up looking like flour, you’ve destroyed its structure, and getting it back to normal will take time and work.” In water-draining sandy soils, added organic matter helps hold moisture and nutrients, Upham said. In heavy clays, it builds structure, improves friability (tilth), increases aeration and improves water use.

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Metro Creative Connection

Although more commonly done in fall, improving soil with organic matter in the spring can also show good results.

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Create an affordable and attractive garden shed 10 – McCook Daily Gazette

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

Home gardeners and lawn enthusiasts generally accumulate a number of tools of the trade in order to successfully manage their gardening needs. As a result, many homeowners build a garden shed to store all their tools and lawn care accessories. A garden shed presents an ideal way to store all of the tools and appliances needed for the weekend hobby. Plus, it enables homeowners to clear out clutter from the garage or basement. A locked garden shed can be a safe place in which to store sharp tools, fuel and some chemical products. Just because the shed will have utility doesn't mean it has to be an eyesore on the property. There are ways to create or purchase garden

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sheds that are aesthetically appealing and will blend in with the landscape or the main house. Do-it-yourselfers who have decided to build a garden shed and want to do so affordably can shop around for lowerpriced material. It may be a good idea to purchase a framing kit from a home-improvement store or online retailer and then shop around for exterior materials. Individuals can also find used sheds from auction sites or newspaper classifieds and simply retrofit these structures to meet individual needs. Although sheds will be exposed to the elements, because they are not liveable structures they don't require the same level of construction as a home or addition, like a garage. This means that a homeowner is able to save some money with materials.

Pressboard may be durable enough and less expensive than plywood. There's little need for insulation or expensive windows. In fact, unless it is for a decorative standpoint, windows are unnecessary altogether. It is likely that people who have had recent upgrades made on their homes may have leftover materials that can be put to use on a garden shed. Roofing shingles, extra aluminum siding and wood trim can be used on the shed. Even leftover latex paints and stains can be use on the shed. Homeowners should visit a retailer of prefabricated sheds to see how they are made. This can provide insight as to the size and structure and the type of construction that will be needed. If budget is not a concern, homeowners may want to purchase pre-made sheds that can

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Metro Creative Connection

Whether built from the ground up or purchased fully constructed, any garden shed can be utilized to provide storage and security for equipment and other gardening matierials.

be customized to mimic the architecture and color of the person's home. Stained glass and cottage features can make a shed seem like an intimate retreat nestled in the yard. In addition to being a fine

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Early spring = feeding time for flowers SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

KANSAS STATE RESEARCH AND EXTENSION

MANHATTAN, Kansas – Flower-garden staples – the colorful perennials and springflowering bulbs – tend to benefit most from fertilizer applied just after the plants send up their first shoots of spring. The safest way to decide what and how much to apply is to test the plants’ soil first, according to Ward Upham, horticulturist, Kansas State University Research and Extension. “K-State’s Soils Testing Lab has found, for example, that regularly fertilized Kansas garden soils can build up phosphorus levels that are much, much too high,” Upham explained. “Unfortunately, excess phosphorus can interfere with plants’ uptake of other essential nutrients. So, in the absence of

soil test results, the prudent choice might be to apply a fertilizer with little to no phosphorus. Still, having to guess is always a risk.” Nitrogen is the nutrient most likely to be lacking each year, he said. But, actual nitrogen need depends on the plant – another reason for fairly regular soil tests with samples taken from different parts of the landscape. Once established, for example, many flowering perennials don’t need food every year. Gardeners without test results won’t know when perennials require more nutrients, however, until the plants signal their problems with light yellowishgreen foliage and/or plant weakness, Upham said. At that point, a 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet can be a fairly safe bet.

“But, this rule of thumb doesn’t hold with certain perennials,” he warned. “The heavy feeders include the astilbe, chrysanthemum, delphinium, lupine and summer phlox – which also may need a summer meal. If you gave other perennials that much nitrogen, they might specialize in lush foliage at the expense of flowers.’” Phosphorous is essential when planting spring-flowering bulbs. It helps them establish strong roots, Upham said. With that kind of start, however, bulbs’ getting more phosphorus in the following seasons can be risky. At the same time, to be able to bloom their best next year, spring-flowering bulbs need fertilizer every spring – well before they’re ready to produce the current year’s flowers. That’s when their roots are most active, the horticulturist

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Mtero Creative Connection

Flower-garden staples benefit most from an early spring feeding.

said. “If you know their soil needs phosphorus and potassium, you can use a complete fertilizer at the rate of 2.5 lbs. per 100 square feet. That’s equal to about 1 rounded teaspoon per square foot,” Upham said. “If you don’t know the soil’s P and

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K, you can try a lawn fertilizer (e.g., 29-5-4 or 27-3-3) – but only if you cut the recommended rate by a third. If you want to avoid the whole P-K guessing game, however, blood meal is always an excellent choice, applied at 2 pounds per 100 square feet.”


SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

12 – McCook Daily Gazette

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Today’s hardwood flooring offers numerous options for homeowners METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

Nowadays, homeowners renovating their homes often look to wood flooring to replace existing floors. Hardwood is coveted by buyers, and its clean, inviting look makes it a neutral design element that goes with many different types of decor. Today's hardwood flooring is not the hardwood of the past. There are many options from which to choose, including varied colors, types of wood, patterns, and inlays. In addition, innovations in sealants enable hardwood to be durable and hold up better against the daily grind. About 25 years ago, a homeowner basically had to settle for wood flooring that was solid oak strips at 2.25 inches wide. The strips were nailed in place by a carpenter and finished on site. Now, more than half of hardwood is fabricated and prefin-

ished at a factory and is much easier to install – even by the homeowner himself. The range of styles and colors is also very extensive. Planks can be chosen in thin strips or wider options. Native hardwoods are available, as are offshore woods from different countries. Finishes can also be customized with higher gloss or matte choices. For homeowners interested in going green, hardwood flooring also presents many options. A growing trend is using reclaimed wood that is recycled and then refinished into new items. Lumber may be reclaimed from old buildings, railroads, barns, homes, and even river bottoms. The varied history of the wood adds to its aesthetic appeal. It's important for homeowners to know that the price point for hardwood will vary depending on species and finish. However, the way the boards are cut will also be a

consideration for homeowners. Plainsawn or flatsawn boards have growth rings that run at anywhere from 0 to 45degree angles to the wide surfaces of the board, with lots of loops and swirls. Quartersawn boards have rings that run from 45- to 90-angles and are not as lively in pattern. Quartersawn boards will expand in thickness depending on moisture and temperature. Plainsawn will shrink and swell widthwise. Quartersawn tend to take wear better and more evenly, contributing to their typically more expnesive price tag. Homeowners can also choose among engineered wood products, which are essentially several layers of wood veneer adhered to a solid backing of plywood and sealed. This layered construction can make engineered flooring more stable and durable than traditional hardwood flooring. That means it can be used in rooms where

Metro Creative Connection

Hardwood flooring options have greatly exapanded over the last few decades.

hardwood was long frowned upon, like basements and bathrooms. Wood flooring will continue to garner mass appeal and be

the preference of many homeowners. With new innovations and availability, there are more options than ever for discerning homeowners.

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Rocks, certain plants could help fix trouble spots SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

There are many homeowners who aspire to have an award-winning landscape. The trouble is, not every yard is a perfect canvas for plantings. In most cases, there are one or more spots in a landscape that can prove troublesome and require different strategies. One such strategy is using succulents and rocks to contend with the weak areas of the yard. A rock garden accented with succulent plants can help make the most of dry patches or areas of steep inclines where planting lawn or other foliage is difficult. Other areas of the yard may be marred by tree roots or sandy soil. Providing remedies for these areas can be as simple as arranging low-maintenance plants and decorative rocks. Succulents are plants that thrive with minimal care and water. They store water in their leaves (cacti are a subset of succulents). Because they are drought-tolerant, succulents work well in sandy soil or areas that tend to be dry. They also produce shallow roots, which helps them thrive even in poor soil. Many succulents are perennial plants, meaning they will come back year after

year. They also work well in containers, which can be moved and rearranged to create different looks all around the yard. To accent succulents in the garden, homeowners can enhance them with rocks and other decorative items. Rocks will help improve water flow and prevent run-off of soil. Oftentimes, gardeners can take a clipping of a succulent plant and replant it somewhere else. This makes succulents an affordable addition to the yard because they can typically spread and prosper easily. Here are some popular succulents that can adapt to many landscapes. Hens and chicks: These spreading plants are low-growing green leaves that form rosettes. Each rosette can grow around 5 inches wide. Autumn Joy: This succulent emerges in very early spring and develops into a dense, cabbage-shaped plant. Late in summer the succulent will sprout stalks of pink-shaded flowers, which will darken to a russet hue as the autumn approaches. A perennial, this plant requires almost no upkeep. Yellow Ice Plant: A late-blooming, flowering succulent that features yellow

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full sun and drying out between watering. Aloe: This healing plant is a succulent that can be a welcome addition to the landscape. Troublesome areas in the landscape can be remedied with beautiful, lowmaintenance succulent plants.

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Beloved books: a special spring cleaning challenge SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

14 – McCook Daily Gazette

LAURA JOFRE FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's spring, and home improvements and cleanings are in the air. In the name of renewal (and family peace), my husband and I repurposed our rec room into a master bedroom and let our girls, ages 12 and 6, have their own rooms. In the process, we had to redistribute everyone's books. We shuffled them from room to room and set them on newly installed shelves, but we still had a lot left over. I was forced to admit it: I had too many books. And books can be harder to kick out than termites. "Of all the stuff I try to get rid of as an organizer, books are the most difficult," says Leslie Josel, owner of the home organizing service Order Out of Chaos, in Larchmont, N.Y. They are not usually worth much money, and they are heavy. My problem was, I still kind of wanted them myself. The first big hurdle of book purging: emotional attachment. Unlike termites, my books were invited into my house or bestowed as gifts. My kids had classics inscribed to them by their grandparents. I had important, canonical works. The problem was, some of them were never liked, or even read. Years of accumulation had resulted in unwieldy towers and double-loaded shelves full of novels, parenting books and travel guides, some from trips never taken or classes 30 years past. "The clutter in our houses becomes like another person living there — the most dysfunctional one," says Josel. OK, dysfunctional family member, time to stop taking up space.

I started with the children's books. Those below the youngest child's reading level could, except for a few sentimental favorites, be weeded out. Books that my older kids had enjoyed could be saved at the top of a closet for the youngest. That was a warmup exercise. On to the adult section. Books in foreign languages last studied in high school: out. Gifts that only revealed the bizarre taste of the giver: out. Books that were Important Prize Winners but too daunting to read: out. Mostly. Aww, look where I wrote Rolling Stones lyrics in my high school poetry anthology. Save. See, that's what happens. I had to stay strong. "Organization of books brings clarity into a person's life," says Nicola Walter, president of Nicola Walter Design & Decor, Inc. in New York City. She suggests arranging volumes by topic, and stacking those of current interest on a coffee table or nightstand. Then, "make a visual composition of the bookshelf." That means stacking books both vertically and horizontally, and giving them some air in between where you can place pretty bookends, photographs, sculptures or vases. "These objects act as a reminder of which books are where, and which books I use more frequently," she says. Once you've reordered your newly spacious shelves, you meet the second big hurdle of book purging: the sheer physical challenge of what to do with the castoffs. One key is using boxes small enough that you can carry them when they're full of books. Collect them in one pile placed so inconveniently that you're forced to do something about it.

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ited to three boxes, so I transferred the smaller boxes into three big ones. Other nationwide services with free pickup in many locations include Vietnam Veterans of America (www.vva.org), Goodwill (www.goodwill.org) and Big Brother Big Sister Foundation (www.bbbsfoundation.org). Some charitable organizations give books to shelters, prisons and schools. If you live near them, you can use their collection bins; otherwise, you have to pack up your books and pay to ship them. To send books to U.S. troops, contact Operation Paperback (www.operationpaperback.org) and Books for Soldiers (www.booksforsoldiers.com). If you want to try selling your books, BookScouter.com lets you compare prices at various book-buying websites. TextbookRecycling.com can help you buy and sell used textbooks. A last option: Play! At Bookcrossing.com, download a label for your book and leave it in a public spot. When someone picks it up, they can log on to say so. That way, it's not really saying goodbye.

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I thought it would be easy to find a good home for my beloved books, but I was wrong. I was turned away from a retirement home, a library and a day care center. There are no used bookstores near me. I started leaving books at the commuter train station, as if someone's commute would be improved with a little French existentialism. My town sanitation department will throw the books in a landfill but not recycle them, which just seemed wrong. I'd never had such a hard time giving something away. "With clothes," says Josel, "it is easy to donate them, as you can bag them up and have them picked up from your home. With books, you often need to bring them to a location. Having multiple steps in the donating process leads people to get stuck and therefore not do it." The Salvation Army is one service that does pick up in my area, so I gave most of my books to them. Call in advance to arrange pickups, or go to www.salvationarmyusa.org. I was lim-

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Learning the basics about home warranty plans SPRING HOME AND GARDEN

McCook Daily Gazette

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

Buying a home is arguably one of the largest purchases a person will make. It can also be one of the most stressful. Individuals take quite a financial leap when buying a home. Even after careful consideration of funds and budgeting, it's easy to become overextended. A home warranty can take some of the bite out of unexpected expenses. Although home buyers are urged to hire an inspector and check a property and structure from top to bottom before signing on the dotted line, a home inspector cannot foresee everything that may crop up after a person moves into a home. "When my home inspector reviewed the property he found only minor things that needed attention," says Jeannine in New Jersey. "After I moved in,

we shortly learned that the crawl space had flooding issues that would require a lot of money to fix properly." Home warranties can be a smart investment that take some of the financial pressure off of new homeowners. They can also be negotiated into the sale terms of the home so that the seller is responsible for providing the warranty to the new buyer. Home warranties do not negate the need for homeowner's insurance, but they can add protection against large monetary pay-outs to repair many items around the house. Policies may differ as to specific coverage, but most home warranties will cover major systems of the home, such as heating/cooling, plumbing, electrical, as well as certain appliances. To decide if a warranty is the right investment, home buyers

should consider the following: I Home warranties are only as good as the company backing them. Careful investigation into the trustworthiness of the warranty company and its track record should be completed. I Read the fine print of the warranty. Learn what exclusions exist, which may not make the warranty practical. I Keep in mind that the warranty company reserves the right to determine if a repair or replacement is adequate in a claim situation. I In general, warranty companies work with their own set of contractors. This means a homeowner may not be able to hire his or her own preferred contractors to do work. I There may be a deductible or a fee charged prior to having a technician assess a repair situation. I The warranty company may require inspection of the

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Thursday, April 7, 2011 – 15

Metro Creative Connection

Having a home warranty can be a smart investment.

house to be sure items are in good working order before offering a plan. I If a warranty is offered through a home seller, there may be no negotiation on the coverage or company used. Home buyers should keep

in mind that there are many unforseen expenses that can arise when purchasing a new home. Having some additional protection, such as a home warranty, could mean saving money on out-of-pocket repairs.


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Spring Home and Garden 2011