Author Archives: Jennifer Noonan

About Jennifer Noonan

Jennifer Noonan is a writer (and home improvement lover!) living in Delaware. Check her out on Google +!

Plant More, Spend Less: Shop Nurseries Off-Season

If your gardening budget normally doesn't equal your enthusiasm for the hobby, be sure to shop the deep discounts offered by nurseries in the off-season.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Browsing the local nursery, you may find yourself wanting to bring home half the store: There are so many beautiful and exciting varieties to choose from. However, your budget may not match your enthusiasm. After all, plants are expensive—most of the time, that is.

Related: 3 Keys to Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden

Experienced gardeners know that at the end of the season— once they’ve finished flowering—perennials, bushes, and trees are offered at deep discounts. If you know what species you want and are content to wait until next spring to see their blooms, now is the time to sweep in and take advantage of sale prices.

If you wish to buy plants off-season, here are few things to keep in mind:

1. Avoid Annuals. As they are likely not to last much longer, and since they won’t come back next year, it’s not worth it to buy annuals late in the season. Instead, focus on finding trees, bushes, and perennials that you like. With some care, these selections can be planted any time, so long as the weather isn’t extreme, and most important of all, they can be expected to flourish when warmer weather returns.

2. Be Flexible. At the end of the season, garden centers are clearing old inventory, and their stock has gotten pretty thin. Save yourself some heartache; don’t count on getting that hydrangea in the color you adored four months ago. Approach off-season sales with flexibility and open-mindedness, and you’ll no doubt find many things that would work well in your garden.

3. Dole Out the TLC. After a summer spent in a pot at the nursery, any plant you buy now is probably going to be stressed and root-bound. Before putting your purchase into the ground, detangle and trim its roots. (Depending on the extent to which you trim the roots, it may be necessary to restore balance by pruning the top of the plant as well.) Remember to water liberally until all or most signs indicate the plant has been successfully established.

So don’t miss the opportunity to shop at the nursery off-season, or to stalk the sale rack at your local home improvement retail chain store. With prices slashed by 50% or more, you can afford to take some chances!


5 Things to Do with… Garden Hoses

Even if they've been punctured or torn, garden hoses can be repurposed to serve practical or decorative roles both indoors and out.

How many times have you dragged your hose into position only to discover that it’s sprung a leak? Fear not! Even with a hole or a tear, that lanky length of rubber can be put to work in myriad ways. Scroll down to see how repurposed garden hoses can serve practical or decorative roles, both outdoors and in.

 

1. WEAVE A BASKET

Repurposed Garden Hoses - Basket

Photo: apartmenttherapy.com

Repurposed garden hoses, a few handfuls of zip ties, and an impressive degree of patience: These are the keys to assembling a quirky basket for towels, yard toys, or garden tools. Before you begin this project, remember to let the hose lie in the sun for several hours to make it more pliable and easier to work with.

 

2. HANG A WREATH

Repurposed Garden Hoses - Wreath

Photo: createcraftlove.com

Wind up an old hose to make a garden-inspired wreath in under five minutes. Decorate your creation with thematically appropriate accessories like flowers, work gloves, or a small watering can. Complete the look with a bow and you’ll have the perfect accent for a storage shed door, or to announce the arrival of spring.

 

3. IRRIGATE A GARDEN

Repurposed Garden Hoses - Soaker

Photo: yellowswirl.com

If you’re looking for a cheap DIY drip irrigation solution, look no further than repurposed garden hoses. Use a hammer and nail to poke holes every inch or two along the tubing, then run the hose through your garden. Plug the end of the hose with a clamp or simply tie it off by securing a kink with twine or a zip tie.

 

4. CUSHION A HANDLE

Repurposed Garden Hoses - Bucket Handle

Photo: lifehacker.com

Heavy buckets—always hard to manage—are even more difficult to lift and transport if they have wire handles. Fortunately, you can add cushioning with repurposed garden hoses. Simply remove the wire handle and sheath it with the proper length of hose, then reattach the new and improved grip.

 

5. FIX IT!

Repurposed Garden Hose - Fix It

Photo: instructables.com

Assuming your garden hose is not too far gone, chances are that you can easily fix it with only a few inexpensive tools and materials. With a utility knife, cut off the damaged portion, then use hose clamps and a mender (a short coupler, commonly sold with clamps as a kit at hardware stores) to bridge the two properly functioning hose lengths.


Is an Electric Lawn Mower Right for You?

If you're in the market for a new mower, you may want to consider a battery-powered model. But first make sure that it's the right choice for your lawn.

Choosing an Electric Lawn Mower - Neuton CE6

Neuton CE6 Battery-Powered Lawn Mower

Many people are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, driving more efficient cars and improving the energy efficiency of their homes. But there’s another way to reduce emissions, and it involves something that is probably sitting in your garage right next to your car: your lawn mower.

Battery-powered (cordless electric) mowers have been enjoying a surge in popularity, and as more people buy them, manufacturers are improving the technology and features of each new model.

Related: Need a New Mower? 10 Top-Rated Grass Guzzlers

There are many advantages to electric mowers. They are quiet, they won’t choke you with exhaust, and they start with the touch of a button—literally. They are also simpler to maintain, with no tune-ups or oil changes required and no fuel to store.

But they do have some drawbacks. Obviously their performance declines as the battery runs down. And they are not powerful enough for rough mowing conditions (e.g, tall weeds or hilly terrain). That said, there are plenty of yards for which an electric mower is an excellent choice.

You can seriously consider a battery-powered mower if your property meets these conditions:

Choosing an Electric Lawn Mower - Neutron Battery

Photo: neutonmotor.com

Small Yard Size. Because electric mowers decrease in performance as battery charge decreases, they are best used on small- to medium-size yards (a half acre or less). No one wants to wait for the battery to recharge before being able to finish the chore of mowing.

Flat Terrain. A rechargeable battery has plenty of power, but it cannot go up and down hills with the same facility that a gas-powered engine can. For that reason, electric mowers work best on flat terrain.

Short Grass Heights. The blade on a battery-powered mower does not have the level of torque boasted by gas-powered mowers. That means an electric mower cannot handle tall, thick grass or weeds as effectively as its gas cousin.

So if you have a relatively small, flat, manicured lawn, think about giving your old gas mower the boot. Choose an electric lawn mower and you can enjoy many seasons of lightweight, quiet grass cutting. What do with your old gas can? Use it to fill something else—perhaps an ATV or jet ski!


5 Things to Do with… Milk Crates

Thanks to clever crafters, these humble plastic boxes have begun taking on some surprising new roles.

Everyone has at least one or two plastic milk crates hanging around the basement or garage. Although expressly designed for the transportation of glass bottles, milk crates can be used in many other (much more fun) ways. Scroll down to see five favorite milk crate DIY projects discovered around the Web.

 

1. CONSTRUCT SHELVING

Uses for Milk Crates - Floating Shelves

Photo: how-to-recycle.blogspot.com

In the past, you’ve probably relied on one or more milk crates as a temporary storage solution. But you may not have considered this approach: Use zip ties to arrange your milk crates in a pattern along the wall. This installation provides as much visual interest as it does shelving for books and other small items.

 

2. MAKE A PLANTER

Uses for Milk Crates - Planter

Photo: jiachi.tumblr.com

Lined with burlap or landscaping fabric, a milk crate instantly turns into a portable planter, perfect for serial renters and homeowners testing configurations. As if made for the purpose of container gardening, these plastic crates withstand all weather, and their mesh construction provides excellent drainage.

 

3. ASSEMBLE A CHANDELIER

Uses for Milk Crates - Chandelier

Photo: kikisbff.blogspot.com

In a high-ceilinged space, create a chandelier using different-colored crates. Outfit each with a bulb socket, lash the crates together, and hang your assembly with wire or chain link. Then watch as playful patterns of light hit the walls. Another thing to watch: the look of surprise on your guests’ faces!

 

4. BUILD A STOOL

Uses for Milk Crates - Seat

Photo: chappell2nd.blogspot.com

With some light upholstering, a milk crate can offer both storage and seating. First, cut a piece of plywood to fit your crate, then add some foam or batting. Finish by covering the seat with a coordinating fabric, stapling the fabric to the wood on the underside of the seat. You can even add feet if you want. It’s an ottoman, it’s a stool, it’s a cabinet—all in one!

 

5. CRAFT A STORAGE BIN

Uses for Milk Crates - Slipcover

Photo: lauragunn.typepad.com

If you love the storage potential of milk crates but don’t love their look, why not sheathe yours in slipcovers? All it takes is a few yards of fabric (inexpensive to buy) and some straight seams (easy to sew). When the covers get dirty, just take them off and put them in the wash. For a minimal investment of money and time, you get a versatile hold-all in the pattern and color of your choice.


The Importance of Deadheading

If you want to keep your garden filled with riotous color all season long, don't forget to nip off those spent blooms.

Deadheading

Photo: shutterstock.com

As your garden flourishes over the summer and your springtime planting efforts are rewarded with beautiful bursts of color and foliage, it’s tempting to think the work is all behind you. But plenty of garden chores remain to be done at the midsummer mark. The most important? Deadheading flowers and shrubs.

Deadheading refers to the process of snipping off withered blooms. To do it properly, use a sharp pair of pruners to cut the spent flower either below the flower head or above the closest set of leaves.

Related: 9 Essential Tools for Every Gardener

Deadheading - Buddleia

Photo: fiestfarms.ca

Why is it important to deadhead? First and foremost, it keeps your plants looking their best, but if that’s not incentive enough, here are a few additional reasons to deadhead diligently.

1. Plant Health. Deadheading strengthens your plants because when you remove those flower heads, the plant stops spending energy creating seeds. Instead, it channels that energy into the roots and foliage, to the benefit of your plant’s overall health.

2. Second Blooms. Cutting off the old blooms encourages the plant to produce new ones. After all, plants set seeds in order to propagate themselves. If a bloom is removed before going to seed, the plant can’t help but try again with another flower.

3. Seed Harvesting. Deadheading makes it especially easy to save seeds for next year. Toward the end of the season, take the blossoms you’ve removed and let them fully dry out. Many of those flower heads will be ripe with seeds you can put away for spring.

As you walk in your garden, get in the habit of taking a pair of pruners and a small bucket with you. Deadhead as you go, just a little bit each day. It’s not hard to do, and if you approach it the right way, the chore never becomes overwhelming. Your plants are sure to display their gratitude!


Save Seeds, Save Money

The budget-smart gardener saves seeds to cut costs on replanting in the following year.

Saving Seeds

Photo: indianapublicmedia.org

Many veteran gardeners save seeds almost compulsively. Why? Because if you harvest the seeds from your own garden, you not only save money but also ensure that you enjoy access to the varieties you love. There’s nothing especially complicated about saving seeds: With little time and preparation, it’s simple enough for most beginners to do. These straightforward tips will help you stash some of summer’s bounty for next year’s garden.

Choose the nicest specimens as a general rule. Next year, you’d hate to see a repeat performance from specimens that fell to disease or proved themselves weak over the course of the current season. Remember to harvest seeds only from your hardiest and best producers.

Related: Ripe for the Picking: 10 Full-Bodied, Full-Flavored Heirloom Tomatoes

Another general rule: Don’t save seeds from hybrids. Although hybrids produce seeds, sewing them will give you a plant with characteristics of both parents, but it may not be the sought-after genetic split. Avoid that uncertainty and save seeds only from heirloom, self-pollinated, or openly pollinated plants.

For Flowers: Cut flower heads once their seed pods have dried out (or shortly before), then hang the heads upside down in a paper bag to dry. Having allowed enough time for drying, remove the seeds. Separate them as much as possible from chaff and other plant material.

For Fruits and Vegetables: Harvest fruit seeds once the fruit has become fully ripe or overripe. Before setting the seeds out to dry, give them a thorough wash. Adjust your approach with podded vegetables like beans and peas: Let these seeds dry in their pods on the plants before you gather them.

Saving Seeds - Drying

Photo: indianapublicmedia.org

Drying 
Dry seeds away from direct sunlight, on a ceramic or glass plate. Before storing them away, make sure your seeds are completely dry.

Labeling
Store dried seeds in paper envelopes, labeling each with the name of the seed and its year of harvest. You might think you can remember what is what, but some varieties look nearly identical. Many seed types remain viable even several years after being harvested.

Storing
Put your seed-stocked envelopes inside an airtight container. Store the container in a cool, dark, and dry location (some people use the refrigerator). To absorb moisture, you might add a packet of desiccant (from a pill bottle, let’s say), or fold a little powdered milk into a tissue.

Saving seeds is fun once you get the hang of it. If you end up with extras, trade seeds with friends and neighbors, or give some away as gifts. Next spring, you can still place an order with a seed catalog if you want, but the point of saving seeds is that you won’t have to buy new ones. Unless of course you’d like to experiment with a new variety—or several—and who could blame you?


3 Keys to Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden

Even in autumn you can plant, grow, and enjoy fresh vegetables, so long as you know which varieties to put in the ground, and when.

Fall Vegetable Garden

Photo: motherearthnews.com

As summer wanes, gardeners turn their attention to such “cleanup” activities as removing failed plantings. But while cooler weather may be on the horizon, the months of August and September are perfect for planting a host of edible crops. Extend your vegetable growing into autumn, and with a little diligence, you can reasonably expect to harvest fresh produce for your family’s Thanksgiving dinner!

Pick the Right Crops
Many greens thrive during this time of year. Take spinach and lettuce, for example: They do as well or even better in the cooler, shorter days of fall than they do in the spring. In addition, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, beets and radishes all perform dependably and productively late in the season. Choose a few of your favorite varieties, planting them according to the directions listed on their packaging—just as you would do in March or April.

Related: On the Edge: 11 Garden Borders You Can Make

Get the Timing Right
The key to planning a successful autumn vegetable garden is figuring out when to get your seeds in the ground. Start by determining the average first frost date in your area. Circle that date in your calendar, then count back the number of days it will take your selected vegetable varieties to reach maturity. Whichever date you land on is the date by which you should expect to have finished your planting.

Fall Vegetable Garden - Digging

Photo: gardenguides.com

Let’s say that your local average first frost date is November 15. Let’s also say that you are planting spinach. Since spinach matures in 45 days, you’d want to you have it in the ground no later than October 1.

Hedge against an early frost by planting a week or two earlier than is strictly necessary. If there are no surprises and the frost comes as expected, you’ll simply have extra time to harvest.

Prepare the Ground
Pull up the summer plants no longer producing fruit, and repeat the soil readying process you went through in spring: Add fresh compost, and till and loosen toil. Do a soil test, and make amendments if necessary. Rake the planting area to create a smooth surface and finally, you’re ready to plant.

By mid-summer, most garden supply stores will have made way for winter season products. If you have trouble finding seed packets for cool-weather vegetables at this time, make a note of it. Next year, when you’re buying seeds for the spring, remember to get enough for your fall garden, too. In the meantime, you should have no trouble ordering seeds you want either online or through a catalog.


5 Things to Do with… Old Drawers

Creative do-it-yourselfers have repurposed drawers in surprising ways you might never have imagined.

Dusty suburban basements and chockablock urban thrift stores have no shortage of neglected old furniture with marred tops, broken runners, and chewed-up legs. If Aunt Mildred’s shabby hand-me-down dresser is occupying valuable space that you’d like to reclaim, hold off on dragging that thing to the curb. Take a minute to consider these creative ways to repurpose drawers into unique and useful pieces for today’s home.

 

1. BUILD A STORAGE OTTOMAN

Reuse Drawers - Ottoman

Photo: bec4-beyondthepicketfence.blogspot.com

Light upholstery and the addition of storebought table legs transform a dated drawer into a versatile storage ottoman. To make the cushy removable top, start with a board that fits the opening, then wrap and staple your choice of fabric over a layer of foam. Quick and easy to do; quirky and charming once done.

 

2. MAKE A PLANTER

Repurpose Drawers - Planter

Photo: brightnest.com

Drab and sad walls? Here’s an idea: Repurpose drawers as wall planter accents. Simply fasten the old drawers onto mountable boards; paint the assembly in a bold hue; and use appropriate wall hanging hardware to mount your handiwork. The final, most fun step is to fill the drawers with potted flowers or herbs.

 

3. CREATE A PET BED

Reuse Drawers - Pet Bed

Photo: houselogic.com

Creating a fashionable, cozy little bed for furry friends is another way to repurpose drawers. Because the project demands so little—only painting and placing in soft bedding or a pillow—this might be a wonderful adventure in DIY for kids. The only thing to worry about is that Fido may never sit on your lap again!

 

4. ADD UNDER-BED STORAGE

Repurpose Drawers - Underbed Storage

Photo: myhoneysplace.com

Where there’s one drawer, there’s usually more than one, right? So if you’ve taken a set of them from a vintage dresser, try fixing casters to their undersides. Done! That’s how readily and inexpensively drawers turn into under-bed storage units, infinitely more attractive than those clear plastic bins.

 

5. HANG A DISPLAY SHELF

Photo: olivebites.blogspot.com

Repurpose drawers with organizing inserts into quirky display shelves, which almost seem as if they were originally built for that function. To make yours even more visually interesting, adhere wrapping paper, an old map, or a fabric square to the drawer bottom. Now your tchotchkes will truly stand out!


Choice Apps for Garden Geeks

More and more gardeners have begun to rely on a set of tools you won't find stored in the shed.

Every gardener has a favorite tool. For some, it’s a trusty old spade. For others, it’s a pair of pruning shears that can do no wrong. And for an increasing number of people, a host of digital tools—that is, garden apps designed for smartphone and tablet devices—are becoming virtually indispensable.

 

GARDEN PLANNING

Photo: Vegetable Garden Calculator

One area in which garden apps can be very useful is planning. For instance, figuring out how many vegetables to plant can be tricky, but Vegetable Garden Calculator takes the guesswork out of the process. Meanwhile, if you want a garden app to help you with design, plant selection, and task scheduling, look no further than Garden Plan Pro, a soup-to-nuts tech solution for serious gardeners, which manages to earn its relatively high $9.99 price tag.

 

GARDEN JOURNAL

Photo: Visual Garden Journal

Visually track the development of your garden with Photo Garden, which collects and organizes pictures of your garden and of the plants that comprise it. As time goes by, upload new photos to track progress over successive seasons, and you’ll find that a record of hits and misses enables you to repeat successes and avoid those mistakes you’ve made in the past. Handily, the app also makes it easy to shares photos with family and friends over email and social media.

 

PLANT AND PEST IDENTIFICATION

Photo: Garden Compass

Even the most experienced gardener occasionally encounters something new, be it an unexpected “volunteer” plant, a mysterious disease, or a pest that keeps coming back. Garden Compass helps you navigate this terrain effectively and for free. Simply take a picture of whatever it is that’s got you stumped, and the horticultural experts on the other end will email you an identification. Most of the time, responses come speedily—that is, within 24 hours. Wonderful!

 

HARVESTING AND STORAGE

Photo: AmpleHarvest

If you’re harvesting more than you can eat, AmpleHarvest locates nearby food pantries where you can donate your extras. It’s free, simple, and will make you feel good. Those wanting more information on canning vegetables are wise to download Mother Earth News. There’s much to admire about the app, especially the free peripheral download How to Can, which not only covers the basics, but also offers recipes for canning ten fruits and ten vegetables.

 

REFERENCE

Photo: Landscaper's Companion

The Landscaper’s Companion puts a plant guide in your pocket. Take it with you to the nursery or even into the garden. With extensive search capabilities and a library’s worth of information, this comprehensive garden app gives you instant details on over 26,000 plants in 17 categories. Looking for shade-loving species at home in your USDA zone? No problem. Want to know the growth rate and habit of Wisteria? Find it here with only a few taps.

So when you’re loading up your wagon or wheelbarrow and heading out to the yard, don’t forget to throw in (gently, of course) your iPad or iPhone. Soon, the latest garden apps may feel as essential to your gardening success as the trowel you’ve relied on for years.


Should You Convert from Propane to Natural Gas?

With the price of natural gas at least one-third less than propane, the opportunity to convert is enticing to many homeowners. But do your research.

Propane vs. Natural Gas

Photo: amerigreen.com

As energy prices continue to rise, we’ve become even more conscious of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our fuel sources. Natural gas, which is cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive than oil or electricity, is becoming increasingly popular. If you currently have propane and natural gas is coming to your area, you may be tempted to convert. There are a lot of great reasons to do so. There are also a lot of factors to take into consideration.

Appliances
Many appliances can work with either propane or natural gas (water heaters are perhaps the biggest exception). They will, however, require special gas utilization fittings for each fuel source, because propane and natural gas operate with different levels of pressure. Depending on the age of your appliance, you may have received a conversion kit when it was installed. If not, you should be able to order one from the manufacturer. There is more to it, though, than replacing a fitting. Since regulators and burners will most likely need to be adjusted, a licensed professional should do your conversion. If your appliances aren’t convertible, you will need to buy new ones that can accept natural gas.

Related: Tankless Water Heaters—Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Digging
Once natural gas is available on your street, it still needs to be brought to your house. A trench will need to be dug for the main that brings the gas up from the street; your yard will be impacted. In most cases, the gas company should be as non-intrusive as possible, even restoring your lawn with seed and straw if replacing the original turf proves impossible. Meanwhile, it’s your responsibility to clearly mark any underground utilities (or irrigation systems or septic tanks) in your yard. Call 811, the federally mandated “Call Before You Dig” number, and your underground utility lines will be marked for free.

Propane vs Natural Gas - Tank

Photo: propaneplus.com

Propane Tank 
And speaking of digging: Once you decide to convert to natural gas, you will need to address the propane tank buried in the side or back of your yard. If you own the tank, you could sell it, but you’ll have the cost—and work—of excavating it and restoring the area. If you don’t want the trouble, you can leave it in the ground, but you’ll need to have it emptied, following whatever codes your locality has for maintenance. If you are leasing a propane tank from your gas company, you will need to either buy the tank or pay them to remove it. If you have an above-ground tank, the process of removal is much less complicated and expensive.

The costs of conversion can really add up. But with the price of natural gas being at least one-third less than that of propane, the switch may pay for itself within enough time to make the investment worth it.

Most natural gas companies have calculators on their websites to help you estimate costs. And if natural gas is coming to your community, you can expect a representative from the company to knock on your door to give you a preliminary assessment.

As with any major home improvement decision, do your research. Think about how long you plan to stay in your home, and weigh the benefits and costs carefully to see if switching from propane to natural gas is right for you.