Author Archives: Kelsey Savage

Kelsey Savage

About Kelsey Savage

Kelsey Savage writes about home and garden care in between doing her crafty best to update her small New York space. She has worked for Martha Stewart Living and Country Living. Check her out on Google +!

The Basics: Building a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed


For the soil- and drainage-poor gardener, a raised garden bed offers the opportunity to perfect your environment and control many of the factors that are otherwise left up to nature. Building a raised garden bed allows you to optimize soil nutrients and drainage, even as you prevent soil erosion and save your back from added strain during weeding and harvesting.

The first step to building a raised bed is choosing a location that fits the needs of whatever you choose to grow—usually a spot that receives full sun, about six to eight hours. And while a bed can correct poor drainage, don’t set it in a marshy area. Many materials can form your framing, depending on how much you choose to spend. On the inexpensive side, concrete blocks work well, as does pressure-treated lumber, usually cedar. Pricier decorative stone or brick work well, too.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed - Detail


If using lumber, build the frame with posts that that can stabilize in the ground, or create a trench at least a few inches deep. Lay out the plot no more than three or four feet wide, keeping in mind that you need to be able to reach all the plants to harvest or water. The raised garden bed should be about a foot deep, although for plants with deep roots, go up to 18 inches. (When using any kind of treated wood to build a bed for edibles, be sure to line the lumber so as to prevent it from leaching toxins into the soil.)

For ambitious gardeners, installing an irrigation system can make the raised bed even lower-maintenance—microsprinklers or soaker hose systems work best and don’t wet the foliage (which can cause mold). Put an irrigation system in place before adding soil to the bed, or just rely on hand-watering through the dry season.

Fill the bed with a sandy clay loam soil that’s been well-mixed with compost or other organic matter. After planting, you can add mulch (try pine straw or mini pine bark nuggets) as the finishing touch, an especially important one to raised beds, which can be prone to drying out.

Succession planting for crops allows for the most efficient use of your new space and simply means planning the layout of the bed so that all the plants that harvest at the same time can be replaced.

For an raised garden bed that’s ornamental—to be planted with flowers and other beautiful plants—aesthetics are of course the most important consideration in plant selection and layout. Trellises and stakes will help conserve space, as plants climb instead of sprawl. Once you’re ready to plant, add seedlings of various varieties and next year, you’ll have a bonus: The soil in raised garden beds heats up faster than the rest of the landscape, so you get on average a two-week head start in planting.

For more on gardening, consider:

Landscaping Made Easy
How To: Lay a Stone Patio
11 Sensational Rose Varieties

How To: Mow Your Lawn Properly

A chore though it may be, mowing your lawn properly will do more than just improve its appearance.

How to Mow Your Lawn


When it comes to your landscape, one of the most time-consuming summer chores is mowing. At this time of year, under the right circumstances, the grass puts all its energy into growing, leaving you struggling to keep a tidy lawn. But mowing is not just a chore–done right, it’s one of the most effective ways of maintaining healthy turf. Here’s how to mow properly…

Related:  5 Common Lawn Care Problems—And How to Fix Them

Mow more often
It might be more convenient to wait for the lawn to get straggly before mowing, but doing it every 4-5 days during the growing season will keep you from cutting too much off for healthy growth. Aim to take off no more than one-third of a blade’s height at once. This leaves enough leaf tissue so that the plant can continue photosynthesis. If you get behind one week, raise the mowing height to keep from cutting off too much at one time.

Don’t bag the clippings
Assuming you are mowing often enough so that the clippings aren’t excessive, leave them on the lawn to decompose and fertilize the soil. If it looks untidy, redistribute with a rake.

Sharpen those mower blades
Start the season with a sharp blade and replace as necessary. Help maintain sharpness by mowing when the grass is dry to keep wet leaves from clinging to the blades.

Switch directions
It doesn’t actually matter whether you mow in rows or spirals, but switching it up will help reduce soil compaction and turf wear.

How to Mow Your Lawn

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

Get the right mower for your lawn
- Manual-reel mowers: The best for the environment but requiring a lot of manpower, reel mowers demand keeping the grass quite short, which means cutting more often. They are easier to store for those lacking garage space and are perfect for those with small lawn space.

- Electric mowers: With an electric motor that pushes a rotating blade are second best in turns of minimal effect on the environment because they don’t produce exhaust. They are best for homeowners that have level lawns. Try a cordless one with a side or rear bag to catch the clippings if you chose to bag, otherwise get one that cuts finely enough to let them settle on the yard.

- Gas-powered mowers and lawn tractors: The exchange for power and usability does come with a heavy toll on the environment, so please choose a newer model that produces less exhaust emissions. Also part of the exchange for convenience comes the required maintenance—regular tune-ups, refuels, and oil changes. But for larger yards, they are the most practical solution.

For more how to’s and quick tips, consider:

30 Days of Easy Summer DIY
10 DIY Step Stones to Brighten Any Garden Walk
10 Inspired DIY Planters to Dress Up Your Garden

How To: Care for Roses

Roses need special care to reach their full potential. Follow these guidelines to get the most our of your summer blooms.

How to Care for Roses


Like most stars, roses are divas. When left to their own devices, they get tangled and produce only when they feel like it. They need special care to live up to their star potential. Follow a few guidelines and you’ll secure bountiful blooms, no matter the variety.

Watering: Most areas of the country need to provide additional water for their roses. Water the soil around the rose providing about one or two inches of water every week—more in dry times. Rose root systems go quite deep, so make sure to water long enough to get 15 or so inches down. The best time to water is in the early morning, so that any residual moisture left on the leaves burns off, preventing fungal infections.

Fertilize: After each flush of blooms, feed your flowers. Any general-purpose fertilizer will do. Stop only in August to keep from encouraging new growth that will struggle come fall. In addition, mulch will deter excessive weed growth and moisture loss and will enrich the soil as it breaks down. Lay down two to four inches and continue replenishing as the season continues.

Deadhead: Trick your re-blooming roses into continual flowering by removing spent blossoms, so that the plant keeps trying to reproduce (rather than ending the season with rose hips, the fruit of roses). This means cutting back the bloom stem down to the first or second five-leaf set—do so by keeping a 45-degree angle and sloping away from the outside of the cane.

How to Care for Roses - Diagram

Pruning: After blooming has finished, you can do some pruning to ensure next year’s harvest. Take out all the dead branches and cut away any damaged canes first, before shaping the shrub to open up the center for better circulation. Cut back any old canes until they show healthy green tissue. Invest in a sharp pair of good quality pruners. Don’t forget to remove suckers or that new root growth sometimes crowds out the established canes.

Don’t miss Roses: 11 Sensational Varieties to Consider for a slideshow of rose varieties certain to add color, beauty, and fragrance to your yard and garden this summer.

Want more How To? Browse all projects in 30 Days of Easy Summer DIY

Air Plants: Growing Tillandsia

How to Grow Air Plants


Air plants—or tillandsias—are one of my favorite indoor plants. I bought my first little pup about a year ago and since then, I’ve divided it into three larger versions of the tiny original. Some growers choose to let the plant grow undivided for years, but I like the idea of having a large group of easygoing friends.

While the vibrant green spikes look a little complicated, they require minimal care. Because they don’t grow in soil, you can stick them in hanging glass globes, mount them on any sort of untreated lumber, or stick them into any other decorative item—a souvenir set of wooden shoes from Holland, for example.

Not only does the foliage excite, but every once in a while, tillandsias put forth a lovely tubular flower that makes the plants all the more appealing. Could there be a more versatile, maintenance-free houseplant?

Tillandsias require direct sunlight through the winter and a slightly filtered light during the summer months to avoid getting burned. Mine seem to be thriving in a west-facing window that gets about four hours of strong sunlight a day.

While the instructions they came with suggested a good soaking in filtered water weekly, I usually only do this twice a month and then mist thoroughly with water every other day. I always use filtered water, as the plants are sensitive to chlorine. Tillandsia International, a great source for the plants, suggests also using a bromeliad fertilizer twice monthly, which I should probably start doing to initiate another blooming cycle.

I divide when the new growth is about half the size of the original. After soaking you can feel when the plant is ready to divide, and the new growth can be wiggled loose.

For more on gardening, consider:

How To: Care for Roses
5 (Nearly) Kill-Proof Houseplants
7 New “Must-Have” Annuals

Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes


There’s really nothing better than a vine-ripened tomato plucked from the plant in your vegetable garden and still warm from the sun. Well, that will come later this season. Now it’s time to get your tomato seedlings into the ground, so that you’ll have a plentiful harvest in a few weeks and you can start serving all your favorites: BLTs, caprese salad, homemade tomato sauce… better start growing!



Make sure they have good drainage: Tomatoes need well-draining soil or a raised bed for proper drainage. They grow best in slightly acidic soil that’s been enriched with compost.

Keep them in the sun: Tomatoes need 8 hours of strong light a day.

Give them plenty of water: Keep them watered, especially as the summer months dry out the soil.

Provide an early support system: Be sure to introduce support even when the plant is still short, so that you don’t accidentally damage the roots. Tomato cages are the easiest to use—try galvanized steel for high yielding plants. Or get stackable tomato ladders for tall, indeterminate breeds.



There are hundreds of tomato varieties out there. What’s the best for your needs? Here are five picks that will satisfy.

Growing Tomatoes - Beafsteak

Hook Mountain Growers' Bush Beafsteak Tomato

An early-ripening variety: With an average ripening time of only 60 days, Bush Beefsteak is a great choice for those with a short growing season. It’s a small plant that yields satisfying, hearty fruit.


Growing Tomatoes - Sun Gold Hybrid

Burpee's Sun Gold Hybrid Tomato

A great container choice: ‘Sungold’ is an apricot-color cherry with round, 1 1/4″-large globes that are as sweet as you could ask for. The determinate plant is bred to grow to a compact height.


Growing Tomatoes - Anna Russian

Landreth Seeds' Anna Russian Tomato

Best tasting: A lovely indeterminate plum, ‘Anna Russian’ plants produce through even the hottest summer and are crack-resistant. The juicy fruit is delicious and shaped like a heart.


Growing Tomatoes - Cherokee Purple

Burpee's Cherokee Purple Tomato

A color other than red: The rich, namesake color and its sweet taste make ‘Cherokee Purple’ stand out among the traditional reds.


Growing Tomatoes - San Marzano

San Marzano Tomato

Paste tomato: Great for making sauce or for canning whole, ‘San Marzano’ is a plum determinate variety that is very meaty and dry.


For more on landscaping and gardening, consider:

38 Ideas for a Peaceful Garden Refuge
Bob Vila Radio: Garden Journals
Landscaping Made Easy

How To: Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

Preserve live Christmas trees from early December into the new year.

How To Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh


It’s the time of year when Christmas tree lots start appearing around your community, bringing with them a difficult decision–will bringing home your evergreen so early in the season mean having a Charlie Brown-style tree come Christmas Day? Luckily, Dr. Larry Kuhns, Professor Emeritus of Ornamental Horticulture and owner of Kuhns Tree Farm, has some tips on maintaining a fresh pine.

First off, pick the right tree. “True firs nearly always have good needle retention,” said Dr. Kuhns. That doesn’t include the confusingly named Douglas Fir, which is another species, and has less longevity. Frasier Firs are a better option. At the lot, give your choice a shake and watch the type of needles that fall. “Brown needles, which come from the center near the trunk, are fine, but fallen green needles means the tree has gotten dry,” Dr. Kuhns explained.

Related: Christmas Trees: Real vs. Artificial

Because trees are often cut several weeks before appearing on the lot, they have a lot of time to dehydrate—if they aren’t sprayed often with water or are stored in the sun, you’ll end up with more needles under the tree than presents. After getting a fresh cut on the trunk, rush your tree home to get it into water as soon as possible. If you don’t plan on putting it up right away, store your tree in a cool place, like the garage, in a bucket of water.

Once you’re ready to deck the boughs, find a good quality tree stand. Dr. Kuhns noted, “The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap tree stand that doesn’t hold enough water.” Those that require a hole drilled in the base of the trunk are good for providing stability, but they don’t affect the water intake. Keep replenishing with fresh water daily, and if possible, mix in floral preservative, which you can pick up at the florist, or at the Christmas tree lot. Make sure to place the tree in a cooler area of the house, away from heat sources and preferably away from the sun (or just keep the blind drawn). As long as your tree stays moist, it should last several weeks, maybe even until New Years.

For more on Christmas trees, consider:

Bob Vila’s Top 10 Artificial Trees
Real and Fake: A Christmas Tree Timeline
Bob Vila Radio: Picking a Tree

Christmas Trees—Real vs. Artificial?

The great debate continues.

Artificial Christmas Trees, Live Christmas Trees

Photo: Flickr

Christmas season is upon us so it’s time to dig around in the attic, the garage, and the basement for all that stored tinsel, and start decorating your tree. Will you choose a real evergreen or will you go faux?  More than thirty million evergreens are sold every year, but increasingly, consumers are choosing to purchase artificial trees. Last year, Americans bought about twelve million artificials, which means the debate between real and fake has only become more heated since Teddy Roosevelt declared in 1901, “It’s not good to cut down trees for mere decoration.”

The reasons to pick a real tree are numerous—the fresh scent that can’t be bought, the tradition of picking one out, and pure authenticity. An exhaustive, independent study released in 2009 by Ellipsos, a Montreal-based sustainable development consulting firm, even indicated that despite Teddy’s stance, on a year-to-year basis, a cut pine leaves a smaller carbon-imprint then its artificial copy-cat. Because Christmas trees are raised expressly for the purpose of being cut down, tree farmers aren’t destroying forests to get their crop. Additionally, the 400 or so million trees currently maturing (it takes 7-10 years before a tree is ready to cut) on farms generate oxygen and provide habitat for birds and animals, as well as preserve acres of farmland and green space from urban development. Artificial trees on the other hand, contain PVC and other plastics, and metals that can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, they are also often made overseas. Over time however, they end up having about the same carbon imprint as a living tree: As long as you use the artificial version for at least nine yuletides, the environment isn’t a reason not to get one. And the reason to purchase one are numerous—so much so that over half of Americans now choose to go with a fake.

Related: Bob Vila’s Top 10 Artificial Christmas Trees

Flickr Trekkyandy Artificial Christmas Tree Bob VilaThomas Haman, founder of Balsam Hill and one of the Directors of the American Christmas Tree Association ( says the most common reason people cite when going artificial is saving money. A good quality version can cost quite a bit up front, but over the course of many years, it works out to be a great deal, especially if you follow the growing trend of installing several trees in your home. Artificial trees are also much easier to set-up, most with those highly irritating lights already strung, and they don’t have any sap or carry mold to irritate those with allergies. “Another factor not to overlook is that artificial trees are less of a fire risk that a dried out real tree that has been under watered for several weeks,” says Thomas.

Paying attention to a few telling traits will secure you a good quality artificial tree. “Take a look at the warranty,” suggests Thomas. How can you center a yearly tradition on something guaranteed for only one season? Certain details in particular make for a more realistic tree, particularly the needle tips. High quality trees have hand-painted molded tips and a brown stem; others will have shredded tips and be completely green. Don’t neglect to examine the density of the branches—you don’t want to be able to see the pole when the tree has been properly fluffed out. Finally, get one made mostly from polyethylene, and that actually resembles a real species, not just taking the name of one.

To keep your artificial tree looking real year after year, store it in a plastic tree storage bag in a cool, dry spot. Garages, or basements are best, and a vented attic is ok too. But you don’t have to rush to put your artificial tree away—one of the nicest perks is that they will last as long as you decide to continue caroling.

For more on Christmas trees, consider:

Bob Vila’s Top 10 Artificial Trees
Real and Fake: A Christmas Tree Timeline
How to: Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh

5 Ways to a Greener Lawn

Here are five tips for achieving a fertilizer-free, greener lawn this spring.

Lawn Care


To achieve a greener lawn, you don’t have to layer on the artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Using natural lawn care tricks will help you maintain lush grass throughout the spring and summer.

Overseed By seeding your lawn regularly, you’ll help your grass edge out competing weeds. To give the seed the best chance for growth, prepare the soil first by top-dressing it with compost. Then protect the lawn from foot traffic and water gently on a daily basis.

Weed-control Spring is the best time to proactively prevent weeds by laying down pre-emergent herbicides. Apply corn gluten meal in late spring and activate it with water. The organic meal will remain effective for five to six weeks after every application. Keep in mind that herbicides will also prevent new seed growth, so pick whether the lawn needs more seeding or weed-control.

Compost Tea Home-brewed or purchased, either way, compost tea sprayed on your lawn throughout the growing season will invigorate your grass. The potent brew contains microorganisms that provide nourishment and other benefits to the soil. And because it’s liquid, it works faster than using dry compost. Be sure to water after spritzing to help the compost tea soak in.

Don’t be afraid of clover A green lawn requires nitrogen and nothing provides nitrogen better than clover, which draws it from the air and affixes it into the soil for your grass to access. Supplement grass seed with clover and the healthy mix will make your lawn pop with green.

Treat your soil kindly Don’t guess at what your lawn needs. Instead, visit your local extension agent for a soil test. The data will guide your choices when deciding how to prepare your lawn for the growing season. Also, don’t forget to aerate: Pulling plugs out of the soil with a specialized machine or hand tool will make the lawn more receptive to air, water, and fertilizer.

For more on lawn care, learn how to cool your home with smart landscaping.

Easy Ground Covers: 7 Varieties to Enhance Any Landscape

A great solution to those patchy parts of your landscape, ‘ground cover’ is a general term for perennials that are known for their ability to spread. Not only do they enhance the areas of your lawn where grass is difficult to sustain, but they often require less water than grass and are a great way to prevent erosion in hilly areas. Once established, ground covers are generally low-maintenance.

When picking your ground cover, consider light, water and soil requirements as well as how much foot traffic the plants will be subject to. Some plant brands—Stepables and Jeepers Creepers, for example—specialize in ground covers, making it easy to find the perfect plant for your property.

Here are a few standard groundcovers to get you started:

Ground Covers - Sedum

Sedum/Photo courtesy: HGTV

Sedum. The succulent Sedum is not only drought-resistant but especially great for erosion control. Try incorporating a few different varieties for a patchwork effect in a large space.
Read the rest of this entry »

7 Eye-Catching New Annuals

While there’s no need to dismiss those hardworking favorites with which you fill your garden year in and year out, here are seven of the most eye-catching annuals new on the market. Today’s introductions could be next year’s classics!

VLanai TwstrPnk verbena-flowering-annuals-rev

Verbena 'Lanai Twister Pink'

Read the rest of this entry »