5 Great Ways to Kill Your Houseplants

Poor, innocent houseplants. African violets brighten our tabletops, English ivies freshen the air in our living rooms. And Peace lilies (Spathiphyllums) decorate dark corners.

What do we do in return for the beauty and pleasure they give us? We kill them.

Not intentionally, of course. Sometimes we neglect them. Other times we’re guilty of loving them to death, giving them more attention (usually water) than they require. Still others starve to death from lack of fertilizer, or slowly strangle in outgrown pots.

Death by brown thumb is never a pretty sight. Here are the top five most common way to commit planticide -- and how to avoid it in the future.

Step 1: Overwater.
We mean well when we water that new cactus every single day and twice on Saturdays. Overwatering is an easy trap to fall into, and it’s probably the No. 1 cause of houseplant murder. Few plants can survive constantly soggy roots, so wait until the soil in the pot feels slightly dry before you give your plant a refreshing drink. After the water drains through the pot, dump any excess from the plant’s saucer. If you can’t get the hang of how often you should water, it’s worth investing in an automatic indoor watering system. Bonus: The system will pinch-hit for you while you’re on vacation, so you won’t come home to find a desert landscape on your windowsill. Tumbleweeds aren’t a good look for anyone.

Step 2: Keep Your Plants In Their Original Pots. Forever.
Remember how you kept outgrowing your shoes when you were young? You’re not wearing the same tennis shoes you had in high school, so remember that plants are also living, growing things. After a while, they’ll outgrow the pots they came in. Don’t let them become root bound. Once a year, lift your plants out of their pots and check their roots. Have the roots grown into a tightly wound ball? If so, gently knock off the soil and unwind them. Then replant, using a slightly larger pot and fresh soil. 

Step 3: Give Your Plants Direct Sun.
Plants need light to grow, so the more the better, right? Not quite. It’s not healthy for people to be exposed to direct sunlight all day every day, and it’s not good for most houseplants either. Read the tags that come with your plants. If they need a southern exposure, give them a sunny window, but don’t place them close to the glass, where soaring temperatures can burn them. If your plant likes low light, try a north-facing window. Many other houseplants will enjoy an eastern exposure, where the light is typically bright but cool.

Step 4: Put Up With a Few Pests.
You might have to put up with a pest in the office cubicle next to you, but don’t let things get out of hand at home. A few bugs can multiply quickly and spread to the rest of your indoor plant collection, so go ahead and treat a problem when you spot it. Try knocking the pests off with a gentle spray of water from the kitchen faucet, or check with your local nursery for the right plant spray for your problem.

Step 5: Never Fertilize.
While it’s true that houseplants grow more slowly than most outdoor plants, watering will eventually cause the nutrients to leech out of the soil. Replace them with a houseplant fertilizer made especially for indoor growing conditions. You can use a diluted, water-soluble fertilizer, applied each time you water, or convenient fertilizer stakes that you insert into the soil (check your local plant store).

Perennial Buying Guide

Perennials are living plants that continue to bloom and thrive year after year. Because they do not require replanting annually, they save you time, effort and money.

Typically, perennials have a shorter blooming season, ranging from two to three weeks depending on the type. By carefully planning your garden, you can arrange for your perennial flowers to peak at various times throughout the season for a continually changing landscape with a fresh, new environment every few weeks. You can also group early, mid-season and late-blooming perennials together to provide a continual backsplash of color.

Before selecting the right perennials for your garden, consider the following questions:

  • Where do you plan to locate your perennials?
  • Is the area exposed to direct or indirect sunlight? Is it shaded?
  • How much time do you have to devote to gardening tasks?
  • How long is the growing season in your region? What is the climate like?
  • What are the unique characteristics of certain popular perennials?

Planting, Maintenance and Selection

Whether you are the type of gardener who likes to spend a lot of time or only a little in the great outdoors, you're sure to find just what you need with the wide range of available types and varieties of perennials. Before you get started, take some time to think about your layout. You'll want to select specimens that match your climate, soil and growing season. Also consider light, as some perennials will not bloom in shady locations.

Because perennials are planted and left in the same spot for many years, location is important. Familiarize yourself with the types of plants that are best suited to your area. You may even want to observe the plants in your neighborhood, taking note of ones that appear to be growing well.

Planting Tips

Taking time to properly prepare your soil is one of the best things you can do to ensure your perennials continue to thrive over the years. Check for proper soil drainage and test pH levels to ensure that the growing environment is conducive to the plants. Most perennials are planted in the spring, though some bulbs and spring-blooming perennials can be set out late in the summer or early fall.

Avid gardeners and enthusiasts may consider starting perennials from seeds. This method is quite cost effective but requires a bit more effort. Follow the planting directions on the back of the seed packet for best results.

  • It is recommended that you prep your soil in the fall for best results
  • Add fertilizer and rake soil smooth in the spring to prepare for new plants
  • If soil has poor drainage, consider planting items in raised beds
  • Gently untangle roots and place in a hole slightly larger than the root ball
  • Plants should be positioned at the same height they were at in the container
  • Be sure to allow plenty of space between plants to encourage better growth
  • Plant late summer or fall blooming perennials in the spring
  • Plant spring flowering perennials in late summer or early fall

Maintenance and Care

Put frequent and thorough watering at the top of your maintenance checklist. An effective watering strategy hydrates plants and promotes good root development. You may want to add mulch to your garden for its water-retention capabilities. Mulch also provides protection during the harsh winter months and creates an attractive and orderly appearance in flowerbeds.

After blooms have withered, remove dead flower heads and cut stems down to the ground. Fertilize perennials in March, then repeat every six weeks to carry the plants through the summer. Apply another treatment to late-blooming plants at the end of summer. Always water plants after fertilizer has been applied to prevent burn.

When perennials reach their growth threshold, use a sharp implement to divide the mature plant directly down the middle. Place the split sections in their new beds; and replace the soil around the "mother" plant. Rooting or transplant hormone can be added to minimize shock.

  • Plant perennials where light, wind and soil conditions are suited to them (consult information provided when you buy plants or seeds)
  • When watering, moisten the entire plant bed, but not so heavily that the soil becomes soggy
  • If possible, wet only the soil around the plant, not the leaves and bloom, to avoid making the plant susceptible to disease
  • Apply mulch after several frosts have occurred to ensure soil temperature remains low
  • Don't apply mulch too early as the warmth can cause new growth, which may freeze and damage the plant
  • Stake tall perennials to prevent stem damage using stakes that measure 6 to 12 inches shorter than the plant
  • Tie the plant by making a double loop, with one loop around the plant and the other around the stake

Selecting Perennials

When it comes to choosing the right perennials, many factors come into play. You need to consider everything from the look and color of a plant to its peak blooming time and ideal soil conditions. Also, make sure that the plant is compatible with your region's climate.

Location plays an equally important role. Check the height, size and growing preferences of each type, and locate plants to their best advantage. For example, gladiolas provide a tall, colorful backdrop to shorter plants, and hostas may be perfect for ringing a tree in a shady side yard. Most perennials are sold when they are in bloom, allowing you to select the colors you want. Choose plants that are compact and dark green before flowering. Avoid plants with thin, pale, yellow stems and leaves or visible signs of mold or mildew.

Characteristics of Popular Perennials

Characteristics

Plant

Bloom once per season

·         Astilbe

·         Baptisia

·         Eupatorium (snakeroot)

Cool temperatures

·         Aconitum (monkshood)

·         Delphinium (larkspur)

·         Lupine

Drought resistant

·         Asclepias (butterfly flower)

·         Gaura (wand flower)

·         Russian sage

Fine foliage

·         Hosta

·         Japanese painted fern

·         Tiarella, "Jeepers Creepers"

Long bloomers

·         Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)

·         Salvia (meadow sage)

·         Shasta daisy

Long-lived perennials

·         Hosta

·         Iris

·         Peony

Short-lived perennials

·         Columbine

·         Foxglove

·         Hollyhock


Features

Live Plants: Live plants are usually grown in 1- or 5-gallon containers, although some plants are sold in smaller containers. These plants are already matured and are ready to be placed into your garden for immediate aesthetic enhancement.

Seeds: Seeds are less expensive than buying live plants but require more time and maintenance. For best results, follow the planting instructions included on the back of the seed packet.

Bulbs: Some perennials are sold as bulbs, such as daylilies. Follow the instructions included with your bulbs to ensure proper planting and maintenance. Many bulbs are planted in the fall and bloom the following spring and summer.

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How to Grow Cool-Season Veggies with Ease

When the fall and winter seasons hit, green thumbs tend to go into hibernation. But if you feel that horticultural itch year round, you have options beyond the basic perennials’ upkeep: You can grow vegetables.

Veggies aren’t just for spring and summer gardens; some varieties actually thrive in cooler, crisper seasons. No experience with growing vegetables? No worries. Horticulturist, contributing editor for The American Gardener magazine and author of Homegrown Harvest Rita Pelczar offers some expert input on getting veggies to grow in cooler seasons.

What should you grow?

Choosing what to grow depends entirely on where you live. If the weather in your area is reasonably mild, spinach and lettuce are great options. In colder regions, opt for kale, turnips and mustard, which all grow well. And if you’re planning ahead for next season, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and parsnips started in late summer will last well into winter in many areas.

When should I start growing?

It’s best to get your fall/winter crops in the ground in late summer so that they get a good jump on their growth before the cold weather sets in. If the weather is still relatively mild in your area, start immediately if you’re hoping to plant for this season. The later you start, the lower the chances of survival are, but it never hurts to try!

Use floating row covers to protect your plants, both against late-season pests and against cold, windy weather. Keep your soil evenly moist and reduce temperature fluctuations by using mulch (think of it as a winter sweater for your plants). Dig root crops before the ground freezes -- store them in a sand pile for easy digging or in a root cellar.

Can I keep it indoors?

There are plenty of herbs that will grow well year round as long as they have a sunny window. If you want to grow veggies -- such as tomatoes or peppers -- you’ll need to do so in a very bright sunroom or a greenhouse. (Have room in your backyard to build one? There’s a DIY project for fall!)

Try these tips if you’re growing spinach, cabbage or carrots:

SPINACH: If you live in milder climates, in the fall, sow your seeds one month to six weeks before the first frost date and continue sowing them through the winter. For all climates, you can also sow your seeds up to two months before the last frost date in spring, then continue sowing every three weeks until just after the last frost date. Grow spinach in full sun to light shade (more shade in hotter areas), and provide consistent water without overwatering (moist but not mushy). Your spinach seeds should reach maturity in just over a month at minimum and 150 days at maximum.

 

CABBAGE: Cabbage is a great cool-season vegetable. To have a fall or winter crop for use in holiday cooking, you’ll want to plan ahead and plant seeds in late summer as they’ll take about 50 to 100 days to reach maturity. (Plant in full sun or partial shade if you’re in a hotter climate.)

CARROTS: If you have mild winters (at most an occasional light frost), you’ll be able to grow carrots from late summer through spring. Sow carrot seeds ideally in early spring -- sow them again in late summer if you have cold winters. They’ll take about one to two and a half months to reach maturity. Grow them in full sun and water regularly to keep them evenly moist.

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Easy Lawn Renovation Tips to Get Your Yard in Shape

Patches of grass die or thin out for a variety of reasons, but all is not lost. With a little work, some grass seed and water, your lawn will be looking lovely in no time!

Skill level: Intermediate

Tools & Materials:
Rake

Power rake (optional)
Core aerator
 (optional)
Grass seed
Spreader
 (optional)
Sprinkler

Before you get started treating your lawn, it’s helpful to have an idea of what caused a problem. A common culprit is overgrown thatch: the matted-down plant debris, such as clippings, leaf pieces or small twigs, found at the base of grass. Another culprit is having the wrong type of grass for your area. And of course, grass can also die if the lawn hasn’t been watered or fertilized properly.

Whatever the cause, taking a couple of steps will get your lawn back on track. Use the tips below to lightly break up the soil and spread the appropriate type of grass seed.

SOIL

Soil can be loosened in several ways. To renovate a small section of your lawn, use hand tools. In an area where the grass is completely dead, rake up and discard all the plant debris. Simply rake deep into the soil and you’ll be ready to spread the seed. If there are bare patches, just loosen the soil.

Removing thatch from your lawn protects your grass from disease, encourages proper air circulation and allows water to penetrate into the soil. Consider renting a power rake, which is useful for vigorously lifting thatch. The process also creates areas of bare soil where new grass seed can make their start. Run the power rake over the area twice, in different directions, and remove all the debris.

Aerating your lawn can also help grass grow. Aerating equipment, like a core aerator, punches through the thatch and into the ground to extract small cores of soil, which are then deposited on top of the lawn. This process will pep up your entire lawn by improving its ability to access water, boosting airflow and creating opportunities for new grass seed to thrive.

SEED

For seeding success, use quality seed that is right for your area. Also make sure the seed makes contact with the soil and keep the area moist.

Grass seed is developed for many different purposes and regions. For areas that get more than six hours of sun a day, select a seed suitable for a sunny area. Similarly, seed developed for shady areas will perform better with less light. Choose a fast-growing variety to fill in your lawn quickly. If drought has caused your lawn to fail, try planting a more drought-tolerant variety.

When you’re ready to plant the grass, check the packaging for application rates. A spreader ensures that enough seed is planted while preventing waste. Walk the spreader through the area in two directions to seed evenly. It’s not necessary to cover the seed with soil. You can cover with a light layer of straw.

Proper watering is also crucial. Seed must stay evenly moist to germinate. Water daily for two to three weeks. In hot weather, water twice daily.

With a little attention, bare patches and thin spots will be transformed into a lush lawn.

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Photo: Corbis Images

Great Fall Gardens: How to Get the Look

Autumn brings spectacular colors to your landscape, whether it’s from the trees turning color, plants blooming in familiar fall colors of yellow and red, ornamental grasses that finish out the season with their feathery tassel-like blooms, or containers planted with frost-tolerant blooms that last well into the end of the year. You can make the most of your fall outdoor home décor with these inspirational ideas and tips.

FIELD OF DREAMS

Nothing sets the tone for fall color quite like drifts of native goldenrod (Solidago). Pair it with natural-looking bristle brush ornamental grasses punctuated with a blue-green-hued cedar tree. Plan ahead to achieve this look by planting a large area with perennial goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, a shorter, fuller version of the wild variety) surrounding a cedar tree -- or, similarly, a blue spruce tree planted in the spring. Edge the area with a large swath of ornamental grasses.

·         Get the Look

Prepare a sunny site by amending the soil with a rich layer of compost, tilling it in to the existing topsoil to a depth of about 8 to 12 inches. Plant the tree first, then give it a skirt of the goldenrod. Plant an area of at least 10 to 20 feet around the tree with plants closely spaced to about a foot apart for a lush, full look. Plant a large area with the Pennisetum sataceum “Rubrum” grasses nearby, perhaps in groups on either side or behind the goldenrod.

Water well during dry weather and stand back. By early fall, the goldenrod will start sprouting yellow buds, then burst forth with a wash of blooms as the grasses send up their bristle blooms. Leave the plants in place and they’ll reward you year after year with their spectacular display.















Credit: Peter Walsh

MIXED MESSAGES

Create a mixed border of small trees such as crab apples, Japanese maples or dogwoods, shrubs such as Berberis and boxwoods, plus perennials such as hardy yuccas, catmint and Heuchera. All of these will lend their colorful fall leaves and textures to the autumn display. Fall-blooming Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) sends up its tall stalks topped with creamy white blooms punctuated with bright yellow centers. If conditions are right, the cool fall air will encourage many perennials to send out a second wave of bloom that lasts well into the fall.

·         Get the Look

Select a sunny location in your yard, perhaps backed by a wooded area, a stand of taller evergreens or a fence. In the spring, till in lots of rich compost to the area to a depth of about 12 inches. Plant the trees first, giving them plenty of space to grow. Next, plant the shrubs in groups of three or five (odd numbers of plants will give the area a more natural look). Finally, fill in the spaces with odd numbers of perennials in groups, repeating as you go along the length of the border.

Be sure to include plants that drape, stand upright or can be trimmed into globe shapes for architectural interest. Give the plants plenty of water the first year or two until they are established. As the weather cools, the plants will delight with their changing hues.















Credit: Peter Walsh

INSTANT GRATIFICATION

Colorful pots in autumnal hues filled with frost-tolerant plants will add pops of color to your deck or patio. Scour garden centers in the fall for blooming plants such as asters, Montauk daisies, ornamental kale and chrysanthemums that you can plant now for instant blasts of color. Or pull out annuals that have finished blooming at the end of summer and replace them with plants that can take the cooler weather and still provide colorful interest. Create vignettes using pumpkins and squashes readily available at farm stands and garden centers. Group several pots together, then place the fall bounty nearby for a seasonal display.

·         Get the Look

For this seasonal look, hollow out a large pumpkin that can hold a six- or eight-inch plastic pot. Punch some half-inch wide holes in the bottom of the pumpkin to provide drainage for the plant. Fill the plastic pot with potting soil and plant with frost-tolerant Cool Wave White pansies (wave-rave.com).

Water well and let it drain, then place the pot inside the pumpkin with the top of the pot meeting the top of the pumpkin. You might need to place a brick or some rocks in the bottom of the pumpkin to raise up the pot. Place in a sunny location and keep the pot watered but not wet. Plant yellow pansies in a planter nearby. In the spring, plant the pansies near the edge of your garden beds.















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