Tuesday, August 27, 2013

REPOST: Readers' Top 10 Gardening Mistakes

We all make mistakes in our home gardens, but take note of these common blunders and learn some tips on how to prevent them to save your plants from imperfection. This RealSimple article has the details.

Digging up flowers instead of weeds. Drowning the tulips. Real Simple readers reveal their growing woes and garden design pros plot out the solutions.

Flower boxes with gloves and shovel - mistake 1
Image Source: realsimple.com
Mistake 1: Planting a Garden in the Wrong Spot

"Last year we built raised garden beds. They looked beautiful—with fresh mulch all around them and even a new spot watering system. But the mulch around the beds is always soggy—even in hot, dry Colorado." Stacie Perrault Staub Arvada, Colorado

Garden Fix

Good news: You don’t have to tear out the beds entirely, says Ivette Soler, a Los Angeles-based garden designer and writer of The Germinatrix blog. Empty the raised beds (dig out the plants and lay them on a tarp while you work) and spread a four-inch layer of gravel evenly over the underside of the planters to improve the drainage. Then refill the planters with fresh fluffy organic compost.

Mistake 2: Accidentally Pulling Up Flowers Instead of Weeds

"I planted some lovely perennials one summer. The following spring all the flowers sprouted along with some weeds. I pulled the weeds and lovingly tended to the flowers. I even staked a tall lanky plant that I was certain was going to produce a beautiful bloom. Then, one day my neighbor asked me why I had staked a weed. Turns out, I had pulled out the flowers and left the weeds. Oops." Lisa Benter Rich Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada

Garden Fix

Tracking plants can be tough for any gardener, says Andrew Keys, a Boston area landscape designer and writer of the Garden Smackdown blog who cops to mistaking crabgrass for ornamental grass in his own garden. "The most efficient way to mark your plants is to use the nursery tags your plants come with." Another option: Label popsicle sticks and insert them into the ground near your varieties.

Mistake 3: Not Preparing the Soil

"We neglected to prepare our soil last year and, as a result, we ended up with a whole vegetable patch of plants that either never gave fruit or died." Lydia Harris San Angelo, Texas

Garden Fix

Since soil varies dramatically by region, Keys recommends testing your soil annually to find out what type of soil you have and what it needs based on what you want to grow. (You can pick up an inexpensive at-home soil testing kit at the hardware store; watch this video to see how it works.) Then amend the soil as suggested. No matter what, says Soler, it’s a good idea to mix your soil with an equal amount of organic compost. "It’s the best foundation for your garden—it gives your plants the nutrients they need without overloading them with chemical fertilizers which can deplete the microbial activity needed for healthy plant growth."

Mistake 4: Overwatering

"I kill everything. I never know when to water and when not to water. Help!" Kelli Baker New Philadelphia, Ohio

Garden Fix

Overwatering drowns plants roots, causing them to rot; underwatering, on the other hand, can dehydrate it. The no-more-guessing approach is to invest in an irrigation system with a "smart" controller, meaning that it automatically adjusts watering levels based on historical data and moisture sensors, says Rebecca Sweet, who designs gardens in the California bay area and writes the Gossip in the Garden blog. If you can’t afford a system, pay close attention to your soil. When the soil is rock hard, it needs watering. When you can grab a handful, squeeze it together, and form a loose ball, it’s just right. One trick: Plant a so-called indicator plant—one that wilts much more quickly than the others—such as a hydrangea or lettuce. "One look at them on a hot day will tell you whether or not you need to water your plants," says Sweet.

Hanging flowers - mistake 5
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Mistake 5: Planting an Invasive Variety

"We planted a horseradish plant in a corner of our garden and were pleased with the crop we harvested the following season. We pulled it all up, tilled the garden in spring, planted for the season, and there it was—popping up all over the place! I never knew how invasive a plant could be." Cynthia Sadowski Lawless Southington, Connecticut

Garden Fix

Plants like horseradish, English ivy, Mexican feathergrass, and spiderwort are notoriously invasive in gardens and are best grown in containers, says Pam Penick, an Austin, Texas-based garden designer and writer of the blog Digging. If you order seeds from a catalog, look for words like prolific reseeder and vigorous growth, which often indicate invasive tendencies. If you do choose to plant an invasive variety, weed diligently. And consider solarizing: Dampen the soil, spread a black plastic tarp over the weeds you want to kill, and secure the tarp’s edges with rocks. Leave the plastic in place for a few months while the weather is hot. The plastic will heat up the soil and kill off the weeds.

Mistake 6: Not Taking Wildlife Into Account

"My daughter and I planted 200 bulbs in our yard as a secret garden that would bloom in spring. To our horror, the squirrels came at night and feasted on our bulbs. That spring only four lonely daffodils grew and we had some very fat squirrels." Jennifer Goldberg Bellevue, Washington

Garden Fix

There’s a good reason the squirrels left the daffodils alone; daffodils contain poisonous crystals, says Keys. Other rodent-repellant (read: poisonous) bulbs include snowdrops, winter aconite, and fritillaries. Critters from raccoons to deer to the family dog will inevitably try to eat your produce, and the only failsafe way to protect your precious plants is to install a fence around the garden. As for your dog, Penick suggests tossing a few chew toys into the garden to tempt him away from your plants.

Mistake 7: Not Giving Plants Enough Sun

"I planted tomatoes on the east side of my backyard. They bloomed, and then the flowers would fall off. According to friends, tomatoes need the morning sun, which was blocked by my fence. Who knew?" Laura Stites Plano, Texas

Garden Fix

Tomatoes are sun worshipers that thrive in direct sunlight. The plants need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight, says Soler. Similarly, vegetable plants such as chiles and eggplants and most herbs should be planted in the sunniest part of your yard. Others, like lettuces and peas, can stand to be in shady areas.

Mistake 8: Spreading Too Many Seeds

"I wanted a little pumpkin patch so I planted some seeds. The patch spread all over the yard and my husband had to lift up the vines to mow!" Heidi McCarthy Somers, Connecticut

Garden Fix

Vining plants like pumpkins, cantaloupes, and watermelons can quickly grow to mammoth proportions, says Soler. If you’re set on planting a patch, Keys suggests surfing the Web. “A plant’s Latin name is the key to everything you could ever want to know about it,” he says. “Just Google the Latin name in quotes and the word invasive or aggressive and see what gardeners are saying.” Another resource: PlantFiles from Dave’s Garden, a Wikipedia-like database of user-contributed data.

Mistake 9: Using Too Much Pesticide

"My first year gardening I found a spot that I wanted to use for flowers. Problem? Grass. Solution? Grass killer, which unfortunately made the area free of grass and useless for growing anything else. Whoops." Tashmica Torok Lansing, Michigan

Garden Fix

Chemical herbicides poison the soil and can remain in the dirt for years, says Soler. Instead, get rid of grass and weeds by pouring an earth-friendly mix of equal parts hot water and vinegar over the selected area once a day for a few days until the offending plants turn brown. The vinegar will kill the leaves and most of the plants’ roots, making it easy to pull up the grass.

Pots of plants - mistake 10
Image Source: realsimple.com

Mistake 10: Planting Too Close Together

"I planted too many plants in a pot and they grew in odd shapes and weren’t edible. Next year, I’m only planting one plant per pot." Jessica Saunders Dayton, Ohio

Garden Fix

It’s important to follow the planting directions on seed packets and seedlings. But if you choose to plant more aggressively, experiment with layering plants, suggests Soler. Growing shrubby plants such as basil under tall vining plants like tomatoes yields two plants in one space.

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REPOST: Teach your kids how to save money

Teach your children on how to save money as early as now. This GoodHouskeeping article has the details.

Image Source: goodhousekeeping.co.za

Money-savvy teens are more likely to turn into financially smart adults. We ask the experts for their lessons on how and what to teach them

Save first, then spend the rest

Paul Roelofse, a certified financial adviser, consumer advocate for the Financial Planning Institute and presenter on Radio 702’s A Word On Personal Finance, offers his advice:

‘I’ve raised two daughters, so I’m no stranger to teen financial issues.’

‘Expose them to the benefits of saving early on so they get to see how rewarding it can be. I gave my daughters an allowance that we all agreed on and out of that they were obliged to save 20%. A negotiated and involved approach to helping them learn how to budget was vital – teens don’t take kindly to dictatorships. We took a hard line when they mismanaged their budgets, so if they blew their money in the first week, they had to tough it out for the rest of the month.’

‘Having a dad as an investment adviser stood them in good stead – their money grew. I invested it in long-term products to ensure the best returns. As they witnessed their money growing they tried to save even more and avoided the instant gratification of spending for the sake of it.’

‘The other important thing is to ensure that teens understand the negative consequences of debt. It’s heartbreaking to see young adults drowning in debt. Another important lesson for teens is to live within their means. If they can’t afford it, credit is not the answer. Saving up is.’

This Ingrid Callot Twitter page shares wisdom on marriage, home life, and more.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

REPOST: 6 Things You're Cleaning Wrong

Find out the six common mistakes that people constantly do when cleaning their homes from this Good House Keeping article

The cleaning habits you've been using for years may not be as efficient as you'd think. Correct these common mistakes and get a better clean with our tips, plus advice from Carolyn Forté, Director of the GHRI Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Department.

Image Source: goodhousekeeping.com
they touch. Never stack items, either, because the water spray won't be able to reach the dishes on top. Place extra-dirty items on the bottom rack facing the center so they're near the spray arm. And if you're using a detergent pod, place it in the dispenser—if tossed in, it'll dissolve too quickly.

2. Shower curtain liner

There’s no need to throw away your shower curtain liner once it's dirty, says Forté. Simply toss it in your washing machine, set to hot water on a gentle cycle, along with some old towels and a dose of bleach to remove any mildew. Hang it up to dry, or put it in the dryer for a minute or two to speed up the process.

3. Carpet and upholstery stains

Your instinct may be to spray cleaner right on the stain, but that can over-wet and damage the carpet or fabric and make it hard to rinse out. Instead, spray a cloth with the cleaner and gently dab the area until the stain is gone. Rinse the same way with a clean cloth dipped in cool water.

4. Windows

Don't make the mistake of cleaning windows on a sunny day—they'll dry too quickly and leave behind streaks. On a cloudy day, start by sweeping the window, frame, and screen with a brush; or, vacuum with the dusting attachment to eliminate dirt and avoid a mud pile-up. While some may suggest using newspaper as a cleaning tool, the GHRI doesn't recommend that since it can be messy. Stick to microfiber cloths for the cleanest clean!

5. Clothes

A common mistake is generously pouring laundry detergent or fabric softener into the machine—excess liquids won’t helping your clothes, appliance, or skin. Always measure carefully and follow the recommendations for the size and/or soil level on the load you are doing (most loads are medium to large), says Forté. If the load is extra-large or dirty, add a little more detergent and/or softener.

6. Electronics

Cell phones, iPods, and other handheld tech devices are bound to get sticky, but it's never a good idea to spray them with a cleaner. A microfiber cloth is best for cleaning LCD screens. Forté suggests using a dry Swiffer cloth to dust them and remove smudges.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit this Ingrid Callot blog site for more related articles on home keeping.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

REPOST: How to Stop Being Helicopter Parents

What is heliparenting and how does it affect the relationship between parents and their children? This RealSimple.com article may serve as an eye-opener to all parents.

Ground control to Major Mom: Helicopter parenting isn’t great for you or your kids. Get the facts.

Why Heliparenting is Harmful (and Not Just to Your Kids)

Photo collage of helicopter mom with son - 1
Image Source: realsimple.com
Moms and dads who try to anticipate every single threat to a child’s safety and happiness— sharp edges, viral superstrains, evil math teachers—are like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia: They beat back one enemy, and along comes an army of others. The price of this eternal vigilance? For one, helicopter parents are more likely to feel unhappy. According to one study conducted by the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, 23 percent of preschool moms who practiced “intensive parenting” had symptoms of depression. No wonder, says Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts With Worry, ($12, amazon.com): “Our society tells us that a good parent is constantly ‘on’—going to every game, whipping out flash cards. Also, we make anxiety contagious. When something bad happens to any kid anywhere, we assume that every single child is in danger.”

What’s more, the extreme measures that parents take to protect kids may actually leave them more vulnerable, according to child psychologist Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., the author of the upcoming book The Opposite of Worry ($13, amazon.com). “A child needs to learn gradually, with your help, what’s safe and unsafe,” he says. “If he doesn’t get that chance, he can take on a challenge that’s too big and get seriously hurt.”

American parents may be particularly inclined to get out the Bubble Wrap. “In many other countries, reasonable risk is considered crucial for a healthy, self-confident child,” says Christine Gross-Loh, the author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us ($19, amazon.com). She cites the research of Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter, an associate professor in the physical-education department of Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education, in Trondheim, Norway. Sandseter conducted research in Norwegian, Australian, and English playgrounds and found that kids are naturally drawn to risky play because it helps them learn to manage their fears a little at a time. Other research, adds Gross-Loh, indicates that when kids are confined to an overly safe playground, they become bored, create their own risks (like standing on the swings), and end up hurt.

Physical freedom isn’t the only kind a kid requires on the road to adulthood, says Cohen: “Children need to learn to negotiate conflicts on their own. I was of the generation where the mean kids clobbered everybody, and I wish there had been some supervision. But now if two kids are fighting over a toy, an adult jumps in and says, ‘Let’s set a timer.’ ” That might calm the ruckus, but it deprives kids of opportunities to learn social skills.

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