10 Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Adjusting the thermostat

Making changes to your home with the goal of saving energy is not only beneficial to the environment, but to your wallet as well. As the cost of energy continues to go up, you can save money on your monthly bill by making a few simple, cost-efficient changes to your home. Sometimes the smallest changes can translate to big savings over time. Here are the top 10 ways to turn your home from an energy-consuming monster to an energy-efficient machine.

1. Get a Home Energy Audit

It is hard to make energy-efficient improvements when you have no idea where to start. Scheduling a home energy audit is one of the best ways to locate your home’s weaknesses and identify exactly what steps need to be taken in order to stop wasting energy. This is an especially important step if you feel like your energy bill is unusually high and you aren’t sure why.

2. Choose Energy-Efficient Lighting

CFL

Have you ever walked through a hardware store and gawked at the huge selection of light bulbs? While it may seem daunting to try and choose the most energy-efficient bulb on the market, you really don’t need to put too much thought into it. Simply look for light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Both options are capable of delivering significant energy savings over time when compared with incandescent lights. In fact, some research suggests that CFLs utilize up to 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.

Such a large improvement in energy usage can translate into significant savings over the course of a year. Just make sure not to break your CFL bulbs–though they only release trace amounts of mercury when broken, it is better to avoid any potential hazardous situations and take extra care not to break them.

3. Adjust Your Thermostat

Rather than keeping your home extremely cool during the summer and extremely warm during the winter, it is best to raise or lower the temperature on the thermostat by a few degrees along with the change in seasons. If no one is in your home during the day, consider adjusting your thermostat temperature so that your HVAC system doesn’t have to work so hard to keep your home warm or cool while you are gone. Some newer thermostats, such as the Nest, can even be pre-programmed to turn off while you are gone and then turn back on when you are scheduled to return home in the evening. Pulling your shades and curtains closed while you are gone is a great way to compound the energy-saving effects of turning down your thermostat.

4. Wash Full Loads of Dishes

Ridiculous amounts of energy can be wasted by frequently running your dishwasher when it is not full. Instead of washing small loads of dishes throughout the day, wait until you have completely filled up the top and bottom racks before running your dishwasher through a cleaning cycle. If you find yourself constantly running out of clean dishes, it may be time to add a few more plates and bowls to your cupboards in order to avoid frequently washing partial loads of dishes.

5. Don’t Preheat Your Oven

This may come as a surprise to many people, but preheating the oven is unnecessary in most cases and is actually quite wasteful. You can save energy, time and money by eliminating the preheating period and simply adding in a few minutes of overall cooking time to your meals. The main exception to this rule is if you are baking cakes, breads and other pastries, since they can be quite finicky and may not respond well when baked in a non-preheated oven. The kitchen is a great place to begin when assessing and limiting your energy consumption.

6. Update Your Old Appliances

Outdated appliances can be a ridiculous drain on your energy bill, and they are typically bulky and awkward-looking as well. If you have been hanging on to that 20-year-old freezer or ancient stove from your grandma’s house, you may want to consider replacing them both with more energy-efficient models. Not only will you notice the difference in your monthly energy bill, but your entire kitchen will look refreshed and updated as well!

7. Seal Attic Gaps

Attic gaps are some of the most common culprits of excessive energy loss, but they can be difficult to detect. If you have any suspicions that you may be losing energy through your attic, hire professionals to come and conduct a blower-door test. This test pinpoints sources of leaking air so that gaps can be sealed to improve efficiency. Some professionals will conduct the blower-door test for free if you end up utilizing their services to seal the gaps in your home.

8. Replace Single-Pane Windows

If you have single-pane windows, you are actually putting a lot of pressure on your HVAC system and wasting energy. Many experts recommend that all single-pane windows be replaced with low-e (low emissivity) windows listed as U.40 or higher (also commonly referred to as R-3). In some cases, energy bills can be cut by 20% or more once single-pane windows are replaced with more energy-efficient units. Your home will also look more attractive once you replace cheap single-pane windows with sturdier window units, and outside noises will no longer be heard quite as easily within the home.

9. Beef Up Your Wall Insulation

Wall Insulation

Many homes lose a significant amount of energy directly through the walls, especially if they are not adequately insulated. If you built your own home then you probably already know how much insulation is in your walls, but if you purchased a pre-built home you may be left wondering if your walls lack the recommended amount of insulation. Hiring professionals to check out the status of the insulation throughout your home is a great way to identify any problem areas.

10. Plant Shade Trees

When it comes to energy-efficiency, improvements need not be limited to the interior of your home. A carefully-developed landscaping plan can cool your home during the hot summer months so that your air conditioning system doesn’t have to work so hard. While it is important to make sure you don’t plant trees so close to your home that the roots or branches will damage your house, you should plant them close enough to benefit from their shade once they are fully grown. For the quickest benefits, choose trees that are known for rapid growth and have large leaves for maximum shade.

Saving energy is a goal that every responsible homeowner should try to attain. By following these 10 simple tips for making your home more energy-efficient, you can rest assured that you are doing your part to protect the environment while also enjoying substantial money-saving benefits over time.

5 Ways to Protect Your Plants From the Summer Heat

Summer sprinklers

It is easy to forget or ignore how the summer sun can affect plants over an entire season. Prolonged heat stresses garden plants and lawns out, and can quickly undermine all of the hard labor you put into your vegetables and greenery in the spring. To enjoy the beauty and bounty of summer flora all season long, it pays to take some precautions to protect plants from extended periods of heat. Round out your summer garden care with these tips for keeping it green.

1. Mulching Matters

Plants that have shallow surface roots will typically do just fine in warm weather. A true heat wave, however, can turn the top layer of soil to dust, stressing root systems beyond their capacity to cope. The answer is mulch. The benefits of sufficient mulching are threefold (at least). First, mulch reduces the amount of direct exposure soil has to the sun, helping it to retain some surface moisture even as the mercury climbs. Secondly, mulch reduces evaporation, increasing the effectiveness of your daily watering sessions. Due to its moisture-retaining qualities, mulch potentially reduces the frequency that plants need watering. Thirdly, mulch protects against wind, which combines with hot temperatures to over-dry soil. When selecting mulch for your vegetable garden or bedding plants, go for light-colored mulches. They tend to work best because they reflect heat better than darker materials. Effective mulches include:

  • Grass clippings
    For vegetable gardens, let cut grass dry out for a day or so after mowing to reduce the amount of nitrogen. While nitrogen is an important nutrient, it can support plant growth at the expense of fruit and vegetable production.
  • Straw
    This makes excellent mulch due to its light, reflective color. Be sure to get straw and not hay, which may carry and introduce unwanted seeds into your garden.
  • Bark
    This is a great choice for moisture retention and weed control around shrubs and other landscape plants. However, it may be too acidic for vegetables. Some bark mulches have been shown to carry weed-producing seed, but in general, it forms an effective and attractive layer for beds and borders.

2. Watering in the Heat

In a period of extended high temperatures, thoughtful and responsible watering is essential to keep plants thriving. Water is lost at the surface of the soil as well as through the leaves, so sufficient watering is critical. Timing plays a large role. Effective summer garden care during a heat wave involves early morning watering. There is less loss of moisture to evaporation in the earlier, cooler part of the day. In addition, with morning watering, you can avoid the scalding damage to leaves that can occur under the hot midday sun. Morning watering also reduces the slug population and the growth of fungal disease, as conditions stay drier overnight. That said, there are times when you may need to water again in the evening.

Watering Can

Water conservation is an important consideration in a heat wave, and certain states have water restrictions in place during the summer. For this reason, hand watering may be a better option that sprinklers. Ambient heat causes water from a sprinkler to evaporate more quickly than water directed from a hose. Soaker hoses are often the best choice, as water is channeled directly where it needs to go. Soaker hoses may be placed under mulch and out of sight, and regulated on a timer just like a sprinkler.

3. Made in the Shade

Garden centers package and label protective coverings by size and shade factors. A shade factor indicates how much sunlight the material blocks. Typically, shade cloths can protect plants from 25 to 90 percent of the sun’s rays. The choice depends upon the hardiness of the plant. The object of a shade cloth is not to completely cover the plant, but to limit its exposure to all-day sun. It is important to maintain good airflow around the plants, and to make sure the shades can stay put under windy conditions. Thrifty gardeners may rig their own shade covers with netting or row covers, although these homemade versions will lack the shade factor of the ready-made material.

4. Help Plants Help Each Other

Transplants are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat. To give transplants a fighting chance in hot and dry conditions, use the buddy system. Find a spot in the garden where tender starters may get a little shade from a taller, more established neighbor. The larger plant can provide some protection from the wind, too.

Ideally, the plant you use to provide protection for the transplant will be one that you will pull out after the smaller plants become mature enough to benefit from more direct exposure to the sun. In this way, early vegetable crops such as peas can give way to the midseason delights of summer squash and beans. You can even plant successive crops of the same vegetable, pulling up the mature plants after production slows down. A staggered planting schedule may require a bit of planning, but you will be rewarded with continuous growth throughout the season.

5. Let Lawns Go a Little

This can be a tough one for homeowners who like a fairway-fresh lawn. Holding off on the mowing and leaving your grass a little taller helps the soil retain the moisture it needs to keep the lawn lush, even in the heat. Three inches is the minimum to provide enough shade to be of benefit. Set the mower to six inches during a drought.

Try to avoid the temptation to overfeed your lawn during a hot spell. The ability for root systems to take in nutrients is greatly diminished during a heat wave. Fertilizing in the heat is not only a waste of product, it may also more harm than good. You are much more likely to get the results you are after if you wait until the temperature drops a bit before you supplement the soil. With some preparation and patience, summer garden care will yield a full season of enjoyment under even the warmest conditions.

6 Tips for Downsizing Your Home

Moving

Whether you are an empty-nester, looking for less house to maintain or just yearn for the simplicity of an apartment, downsizing from a large home to a smaller one can require a lot of work. Not only do you have to cull your belongings, you also may have a hard time with severing the emotional ties you have to some of the items you have accumulated. However, most people who downsize report afterward that they feel freer with fewer things and were glad they went through the process. Here are some tips on how to get going on your downsizing project.

1. The Upside to Downsizing

If the motivation to get started seems to be eluding you, think about what you could gain by moving to a smaller space. If your mortgage is reduced or eliminated, you could afford that trip you’ve always wanted to take or start investing more each month in your retirement fund.

Even from the nonfinancial standpoint, there is plenty to be gained by downsizing your home. Who doesn’t want to have less square footage to vacuum or yard to maintain? Your time could be free to do some of the things you really want to be doing instead of what you have to do.

2. Take Inventory

First, take a look at what you’ve got. Imagine what you would take if you had to choose just 10 items. This exercise will tell you what’s most important to you. The list should not include things you could easily replace, such as furniture, or items you have not used in years.

You can start by writing three lists: what you must keep, things you can let go and items you can donate. The first list must be the smallest if you want to fit it all into a smaller space. Things you can let go can be sold in garage sales, on the Internet or elsewhere. For items with little value or that you just don’t need, plan to donate them to charity. Don’t just dump the whole lot at Goodwill, however. Plan to give specific items to nonprofit organizations that might need them, such as bedding to a homeless shelter or toys to a charity for low-income families.

3. Storage Study

Now, go to the spot in your house that is full of boxes. It might be the attic, the garage or a spare bedroom. Think about how long it has been since you opened some of the boxes. Now, many of them might be things you want to pass on to your children, such as high school yearbooks, grandma’s embroidered pillow or that hammer that belonged to your great-grandfather. But for the purposes of downsizing, you might want to pass them on now instead of waiting until you are older.

For all the other boxes you haven’t look in for a decade, it’s probably time to let go. The belongings inside haven’t been needed in a long time, so you likely won’t need them after a move. This is a tough process, but be realistic about what you really need and how much space you will have in the new place.

4. Kid Space

If all your children have left the house, it’s likely that you are thinking of downsizing your home now that you do not have to accommodate for their space anymore. Resist the urge to maintain their bedrooms for return visits. If they have their own homes now, you just don’t need the extra bedrooms, and you certainly don’t need those old band posters they had as teens. If there are items your children would like to keep, let them sift through the rooms to choose what they want. The rest can be donated or sold.

5. Prepare for a Sale

Yard Sale

Once you have chosen the items you’d like to sell, choose what will do fine in a garage sale versus the larger-ticket items that you might put on Craigslist or on consignment. It can be tough, but you have to price items according to what other people might realistically pay, not the value that you put on the object. Just because you spent $200 on those boots does not mean you can price them even as high as $50. If you get 10 percent of what you paid, you are doing well. Remember, any amount of money is better than nothing when you are looking to downsize.

If you have large items such as furniture or antiques, you might want to research the consignment options in your area. Though these shops usually take a portion of the sales price as a fee, items for sale tend to go for a higher price point, which can offset this additional cost. Keep your goal in mind: You want a little money and a lot more freedom from “stuff”.

6. Big Picture

A lot of the items you have in your home you might have purchased because you expected to need them sometime in the future. Well, the future is now. If you haven’t used these items yet, you likely won’t in the coming years. You need to be brutally honest about whether those extra things–such as those wine glasses you’ve been holding on to for when you host a giant party, or that piece of exercise equipment that is gathering dust in the corner–are going to be moving with you to your new place.

When it comes to future purchases, resist the urge to buy lots of something just because it is on sale or because you think your children might want some. You have to be selective about what you bring into your home now that it is smaller.

On a related note, if you can’t cull your belongings enough by moving time, have a plan in place for where you will be storing things in the meantime. If you choose a storage unit, sign a three-month lease at the most. This will give you a deadline for cleaning it out. Or, you may want to give some of your items to friends or family. If this is the case, be sure they really want the gift. Many people also are struggling to reduce clutter at home, and they might be too polite to refuse your offer.

You may have lots of reasons for downsizing your home. If you are methodical about the process and realistic about what you truly need, paring down your belongings can be a relatively simple and freeing process.

5 Tips for Starting a Compost Bin

Compost Soil

Compost soil, a dark organic matter created by a compost pile, is an environmentally friendly and economical way to feed your garden. The food scraps from your kitchen, dead flowers, yard waste, animal manure, and shredded newspaper combine to make rich, dark-colored soil that is nourishing for your plants and flowers.

By composting, you’re not only saving money, you’re also keeping organic waste out of the landfill. Using compost instead of conventional fertilizers is also better for the long-term health of your soil. Both organic and conventional gardens can benefit from compost and most people who use compost find that they don’t need other fertilizers. Compost adds nutrients to your soil, helps your plants retain moisture, and introduces microscopic organisms to your garden, which help to aerate the soil and break down organic material.

Starting a compost bin is easy, and maintaining it only takes a few hours a week at the most. Read the tips below to get started on creating a rich compost that will help your garden flourish.

1. Choose Your Bin

The first thing you need to do is establish a place to grow your compost. Although you can create compost without a container, if you want to keep your compost pile compact and tidy or protect it from rain, it’s a good idea to make or buy one. The two things you need to keep in mind are the importance of aeration and the ease of turning the pile, both of which can impact both the time it takes for your compost to finish as well as the amount of time you’ll spend turning it. Some bins make rotating the pile easier, which is useful if you don’t feel like muscling through it with a shovel every few weeks. Below are some options for compost bins:

  • Build Your Own

    There are plenty of economical ways to build your own compost bin, whether you want to build a sturdy wood and chicken wire enclosure or modify a large plastic garbage can.

  • Buy a Rotating Bin

    A rotating bin or a tumbler is a free standing container that can be spun in place to mix and aerate the compost. These can be a bit more expensive than a standard compost bin.

  • Buy a Standard Bin

    A standard compost bin often doesn’t have a bottom, making it easy to open and use. These bins usually hold more volume, so if you have a large garden and don’t mind getting in there to turn the compost, they are a good value.

2. Know Your Greens and Browns

There are two essential elements that will create the perfect chemical balance in your compost pile: carbon, known as “brown” material, and nitrogen, known as “green” material. You need a mix of these in order to feed and grow your compost pile. In general, you need more browns than greens. Don’t get too hung up on the color, though, as this isn’t an exact rule. For example, nitrogen-rich used coffee grounds belong in the green category. Here are a couple more examples:

  • Carbon/Brown Material

    Straw, shredded newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, wood chips, paper bags, husks and nut shells all qualify as brown material.

  • Nitrogen/Green Material

    Vegetable peels, fruit rinds, coffee grounds or tea leaves, grass clippings, and even weeds if they have not gone to seed are all good green material.

3. Layer

Layering is important for correct drainage and interaction of your materials. You don’t want your compost pile to be too wet, as it will rot, but too dry and the organic materials won’t have the moisture they need to decompose. It should have the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge for the best balance.

Start with a good layer of browns, about five or six inches, and then add two or three inches of greens. If you want to get your compost kick started with a good dose of microbes, you can sprinkle a layer of existing compost, garden soil, or manure on top of this layer. Lightly water it–remember, you don’t want it completely wet, just a little moist. Then continue in the same way: browns, greens, microbial, water, repeat, until you have a pile about three feet high.

There are a few other materials you can also add to your compost pile. Composting is an aerobic process, so if you live in a humid climate or your compost bins don’t have air holes, you can add wood chips to improve the aeration. If you want to keep them out of the landfill, egg shells are abundant in calcium and also have trace amounts of other minerals. Make sure they are completely clean and dry to avoid introducing salmonella. They can take a long time to decompose, so crushing them or grinding them to a powder first is ideal.

Never put meat or fish, inorganic materials, or waste from carnivores into your compost pile.

4. Turn Your Compost

Compost Pile

Once you have your nice compost cocktail, you can sit back and ignore it for a few weeks. Then you need to give it a good stir. If you bought a tumbler, this is pretty easy. If you didn’t, rotate what’s inside the pile to the outside and what’s outside to the inside. Your compost pile should have a distinctive earthy smell and should be hot–especially near the center. The heat is a sign that good decomposition is happening. Once you’ve given it a good stir, leave it alone for another couple of weeks. Repeat this process until your compost is ready. You’ll know it’s done when the pile is no longer generating heat. Once you get to this point, let it cure for another month or two. There might still be a few bits that haven’t decomposed entirely. Screen those out and save them to start your next pile.

5. Feed Your Garden

Now that you have some fresh and rich compost, it’s time that you let your garden benefit from it. You can spread it about an inch thick around your flower bed or your garden, or mix it into your soil before you plant. If you have more than you can use, you can store it in clean garbage cans or plastic bags–or perhaps even give it to your other gardener friends! They’ll appreciate it.

Nothing beats the satisfaction of feeding your garden with compost you made yourself. Once you get started, you’ll be thrilled at the alchemy of the process, and you’ll be eager to feed your compost pile year-round.

10 Ways to Storm-Proof Your Trees

Storm damaged tree

Trees benefit your property in a multitude of ways. They bring beauty, depth and character to a landscape, as well as offer shade, stabilize soil, mark time and provide shelter for wildlife. Trees support our lives, so it is important that we support their lives too.

Whether the trees on your grounds are hundred-year-old oaks or freshly planted saplings, it is wise to take care of and protect them from the potentially devastating effects of high winds and heavy storms. By ensuring that your trees stay rooted in the ground, you can also safeguard your house from potentially devastating damage from a falling branch. The following tips address both new plantings and established growth.

1. When Planting New Trees, Think Small

Smaller-sized trees take hold and develop healthy root systems more easily than larger trees. The stronger and deeper the root system, the better equipped the tree is to handle high winds and rain. In addition, you can promote tree health with some focused pruning to develop a sound canopy with well-spaced limbs and branches from the start. It is much easier to avoid some structural challenges than to try to fix them later.

2. Allow Adequate Room for Growth

The canopy, or the above ground spread of a tree, is one of several considerations for determining how much space is enough to plant a hardy tree. A healthy tree needs room to grow, and that means below ground as well. For roots to remain vital, it is important to limit soil compaction around the tree. Lighten foot traffic around the tree by putting in some bedding plants or shrubs, or by adding a walkway that provides drainage while dispersing above ground weight more evenly.

3. Consider Grouping Varieties

There is research to show that trees of the same variety weather storms better when they are planted in groups. Groves of similar trees that are planted roughly 10 feet apart from each other are 66 percent more likely to survive high winds in a storm. The stability comes from root systems that grow together.

A similar effect can be achieved with supplementary plantings of a larger shrub or two in proximity to a single tree. The type of tree you choose to put in counts, too. While stands of evergreens appear to make an attractive and uniform wind block, the fact is that they do not survive heavy storms as well as hardwood and deciduous varieties. Trees that tend to hold up include:

  • White oak
  • Hickory
  • Red maple
  • Birch

Be careful to avoid planting fast-growing varieties like birch near your roof or any utility lines.

5. Prune Proactively

Prune young deciduous trees with an eye toward developing a strong leader, or central trunk. Allowing the trunk to grow in two parts creates a “crotch” that leaves the tree vulnerable to splitting in high winds. When the tree is very young, remove up to 25 percent of limbs that exceed more than half the diameter of the central trunk. For optimal tree health, do this every year until the leader is fully dominant and stable. Early and attentive pruning is essential for creating a strong architecture for the tree.

Many people are intimidated by the task of pruning a young tree. They worry that they will take off too much or cut the wrong sections. However, trees ultimately benefit from thoughtful pruning in their first few years, and it tends to help them survive extreme weather better.

A good tactic is to picture a spiral up through the center of the tree. Branches should be spaced approximately 12 to 18 inches from one another as they climb the trunk, and face out in different directions. This design forms an attractive canopy and increased stability. When pruning, it helps to keep your ultimate vision for the tree in mind, and work toward that. Have an idea where you want the lowest branches to be, and cut back limbs that grow below that point. Do not remove them completely, though, until the tree is well established.

Supported tree

6. Anchor Trees with Stakes

Small, young trees may need to be anchored in a storm. Before the weather hits, put three or four 3-foot stakes into the ground around the trunk and secure them to the tree with twine. Be careful to allow some flexibility for the tree to bend a bit with the wind. Tying the tree too firmly will actually make it more vulnerable to damage.

7. Remove Stakes

Use staking to protect new plantings, but take them out as soon as the danger has passed. Root systems develop better when the trunk can move in the wind a bit. The trunk itself will ultimately be stronger with a little flex room.

8. Wrap Trunks

Young tree trunks can benefit from a little TLC in extreme weather. Use burlap or row cover and heavy twine to wrap trunks to protect them from severe temperatures. For even greater protection from wind, you can construct a burlap tent around the tree. Embed stakes around the trunk that are a foot or so taller than the tree, then wrap the material around the stakes from top to bottom so one layer overlaps the next. Secure with twine.

9. Materials and Tools to Keep Handy

Be prepared for stormy weather by having a store of materials ready to go when you need it. A storm damage prevention and emergency kit should include:

  • Garden stakes
  • Sledgehammer
  • Burlap
  • Floating row cover
  • Heavy twine
  • Sharp knife
  • Folding pruner or buck saw

10. Watch the Weather

Even if you live in an area that is prone to sudden storms, you can minimize damage to plants and trees by staying alert to weather changes and thinking ahead. It is a good idea to construct protective scaffolding you can just pull out and hammer into the ground before the wind really starts whipping. Do not attempt to do too much in an actual hurricane or tornado situation.

If worse comes to worst, a heavy storm will clear out weaker growth and make room for stronger plantings. As upsetting as it may be to lose a tree to a storm, learn what you can from the experience. Stay safe and take the precautions you can to foster tree health. With care, your landscape will stand and flourish through the tests of time.

7 Tips for Hosting a Summer Pool Party

Pool Party

It is the peak of the warm months, and the sun is sweltering. All you can think about is nostalgic warm days at the pool as a child. Revisit these memories by hosting an exciting summer pool party, but with a little more adult flair. However, before you invite your friends over for the perfect refreshing summer bash, there are several things to consider during the planning process.

1. Decorate to Impress

First, you want to work on creating a fun summer backdrop that clearly transports your guests to paradise. With a pool party, it is important to think more fun and simple rather than extravagant and elegant. Pops of color can quickly add excitement to the décor. Pick vibrant shades of pinks, greens and purples and place them around the pool. Use small paper lanterns or bunting in bright colors to add the sense of an outdoor fiesta or barbecue. If you want to go with a theme, you could add touches of tropical elements like vibrant flowers and subtle bamboo details, or hang beach balls from tree branches and awnings to add a fun childhood element.

If you want something a little more grown up and sophisticated, you could use a nautical theme with deep blues and reds accompanied with white details, adding touches of anchors and sailboats.

2. Refreshing Cocktails

Sangria cocktail

Make vibrant fruity cocktails that are reminiscent of tropical pool cabanas in the Caribbean. Mai tais, mojitos and margaritas are perfect refreshing poolside drinks that will leave people impressed. You can easily find recipes and add small touches of your own, such as adding hints of watermelon or mango. Sangria is also an excellent refreshing option for wine drinkers.

If this is a family event, don’t forget the kids. You can easily make virgin versions of poolside cocktails and punches that will have them coming back for more.

3. Summer Wine

While wine is often ignored at outdoor barbecues and events, don’t be so quick to count it out! Many people are not liquor or beer drinkers, and it is important to have something for everyone. As you select wines for the event, consider light refreshing options that will be optimal for the heat of the outside setting.

Rosés are an excellent option for a hot summer day. While traditionally they were extraordinarily sweet, many new dry rosés are light and refreshing. Lighter white wines, such as the floral Viognier, can be ideal picks for your gathering. Overall, look for wines that are off-dry with a hint of sweet that come from cooler climates and are derived from lighter grape varieties. These qualities will help you find the perfect summer wine.

If you have the space, consider installing a wine refrigerator in your kitchen. This will help you store your collection of wine for your pool guests and ensure that the wine is perfectly chilled in time for the party.

4. Pool Side Beer

Nothing screams warm summer day like a crisp cool beer. As you begin to select beers for your party, you want to look for beers with lower alcohol by volume. Because your guests will be hanging out in the warm sun all day, you want beers that they can sip on throughout the afternoon without getting a little too intoxicated. Remember that safety should always be your first priority!

Secondly, you will want to consider lighter refreshing options. A number of breweries release summer editions that will add an excellent touch to your event. There are a wide variety of summer wheat beers, blondes and ales to choose from. Select a range of refreshing options to satisfy even the pickiest beer drinkers.

If you have an outdoor kitchen, you might want to invest in a kegerator for your guests. A kegerator will allow you to serve your favorite beers on tap in your very own backyard.

5. Expert Grilling

Laguna Grill Smoker

A summer party would not be complete without some delicious food hot off the grill. There are a variety of options when planning your menu for the party. You can go with more casual burgers, hot dogs and sausages, or you could go with something a little more impressive like steaks, fish or kabobs.

Whatever you may be putting on the grill, there are some important steps to follow. First, you want to make sure that you are not putting the food on the grill too early. You need to let the grill sit for at least 30 minutes before cooking to ensure the best results. Also, avoid babysitting the food. Every time you lift the lid of the grill, heat and smoke is lost and your meat loses flavor. In addition, over flipping the food can result in flare-ups which can cause your food to burn. Look up appropriate cooking times and set a timer so you only have to check on and flip your food once. You can also ensure perfectly cooked meat by using a meat thermometer. Finally, you want to wait until the end of the grilling process to add your sauce. If you add it too early, it will simply burn off onto the grill.

6. Delicious Salads

The sides you serve along with the barbecue are just as important as the main course. Consider providing a spread of light summer salads. There are many options that go beyond a traditional green or potato salad. Bring back memories of corn on the cob by creating a light refreshing concoction from the kernels. There are also a variety of salads that use bright green asparagus, broccoli or kale.

Consider serving fruit salads, which can provide a sweet and refreshing touch to your summer soirée. Adding a hint of vibrant herbs to your fruit, such as lavender, mint, basil or rosemary, can make for a truly unique dish. You can even bring a little bit of influence from the grill to your salads. Grilling more obvious vegetables like squash, eggplant or mushrooms create a savory dish, and grilling more adventurous items like avocado or fruit provide an element of surprise.

7. Fun and Games

Games are not just for the kids. On a hot summer day, the adults want to spend just as much time playing in the pool. Throw some fun floating tubes and lounges for people to relax in the pool. This not only provides a place to cool off but also adds to the décor. If you want to incorporate more active games, get a beach ball and set up a net for some pool volleyball. Get everyone involved and create a little competition while enjoying the water. If you’re feeling a bit more nostalgic and adventurous, purchase some inexpensive water guns and water balloons for a water gun battle. Fun activities such as these will ensure that everyone has a fantastic time.

You have a lot of options when hosting your party. Just try to be creative and have fun with the process. Vibrant decorations, delicious barbecue, impressive drinks, and fun activities will have your guests talking about the event for weeks and months to come.

10 Plants that Repel Mosquitoes

Mosquito repellent plants

Summer means barbecues, pool parties, and evenings spent relaxing on the porch. Unfortunately, it also means visits from certain unwanted guests. Mosquitoes and other biting insects can make your outdoor gatherings a huge pain.

How do you get rid of these pesky mosquitoes? One way is to eliminate any and all standing water on your property, from your rain gutters to bird baths. But in some places that is not entirely feasible, and it only prevents mosquitoes from breeding on your property–there’s nothing to prevent them from wandering in. Another option is store-bought repellents, but many people are wary of dousing themselves in artificial chemicals or have other objections. So how do you keep mosquitoes away?

Why Plants Work

There are a number of different plants that can help keep mosquitoes out. These bugs are attracted to certain odors found in your skin, which become especially prominent if you’re sweating in the heat. Certain plants will repel mosquitoes because their scents are thick. This works even if humans find these scents pleasurable. There are many plants with odors that can help mask your own scent and/or dissuade the insects from getting too close.

How to Use Them

In some cases, just growing these mosquito repellent plants can help keep bugs down, but in others extra steps may need to be taken. The smell needs to be in the air around you, if not directly on your skin. For some plants, you may want to rub the oils into your skin–crush the leaves in your hands to release the aroma, and then rub them over yourself. If you have a fire while you’re outside, you can also often benefit from throwing a couple of leaves into the flames. The incense-like smell will help repel bugs.

You can plant many of these herbs and flowers directly in your garden, or you can keep them in pots that can be moved around your porch, patio, or wherever you’re relaxing outside. Many plants can help you keep away mosquitoes naturally; here are 10 of the best.


1. Citronella

Citronella

Citronella is one of the most popular choices when it comes to bug-repellent plants. You may have heard of it before, since it’s a common ingredient in most artificial mosquito repellents–but the plant itself has a much stronger aroma than many of these chemicals.

This perennial clumping grass is very easy to grow, and can reach a height of 5 or 6 feet tall.


2. Marigolds

Marigolds

Another chemical often found in commercial repellents is pyrethrum–which is one of the main compounds that gives marigolds their distinctive smell. Mosquitoes find this scent repulsive.

Marigolds can be planted around the borders of your property or in smaller pots to keep bugs away. These hardy annual flowers also make a beautiful addition to any flowerbed, with their vivid yellow, orange, and reddish blooms.


3. Basil

Basil

Many edible plants are great at keeping mosquitoes at bay–the strong scents and flavors that make them so appealing to humans are revolting to the bugs.

As an added bonus, these herbs and spices are great for cooks who want to grow their own ingredients: there’s nothing quite like fresh herbs to flavor a dish. Basil is one great edible choice that both deters insects and makes your meals shine.


4. Mint

Mint

Another excellent herb for helping you keep bugs away is mint. Most bugs despise the smell and will give the plant a wide berth.

Whether you grow peppermint, spearmint, or lesser-known members of the family such as lemon balm, this edible plant can be used in your cooking, to make tea, or simply to help an area smell wonderful. Plus, the leaves have mild itch-relieving properties in case you do happen to get bitten.


5. Garlic

Garlic

Everyone knows that garlic can keep blood-sucking vampires away, but what about blood-sucking bugs? A common urban legend says that eating garlic helps repel mosquitoes, but studies have shown this only turns out to be true if you eat a lot of it, meaning several cloves a day. The easier way is simply to grow the garlic in the area you want bug-free. This helps keep the scent in the air without you having to worry about having stinky breath.


6. Sage

Sage

Sage is another great edible plant that can help prevent bug bites. It has an intense scent that is only increased when it’s thrown on a fire. Burning a little bit of sage can help keep mosquitoes from invading your outdoor gatherings.


7. Rosemary

Rosemary

Rosemary is another excellent burnable herb. Even better, this plant is a great addition to many different dishes, such as lamb or steak, and it’s usually cheaper to grow your own than to buy it. Plus, there’s one insect that this plant attracts: butterflies! This herb is a great way to attract the bugs you want and keep away the ones you don’t.


8. Lavender

Lavender

While we’re talking about edible herbs, lavender deserves an honorable mention. While this plant is almost never used in cooking, it is occasionally used in tea, and the scent is so soothing that it’s found in everything from soap to air freshener. You can grow your own lavender to fill your home and yard with a wonderful aroma that will keep mosquitoes far, far away.


9. Catnip

Catnip

Do you have any feline friends who wander your yard? If so, they’ll be happy to find out that catnip is great at keeping mosquitoes away. It’s very easy to grow, and one 2010 study showed that it can be up to 10 times more effective than DEET, a major ingredient in many bug repellents.

If you do have cats, though, don’t plant this herb next to other flowers or vegetables. Your pets may smash your prized plants in order to get to the catnip!


10. Geraniums

Geranium

Finally, geraniums are another beautiful flower that can help keep mosquitoes from invading your space. This easy perennial comes in all sorts of colors, from delicate peach to firetruck red to pure white, and has a nice smell that will ward off the bugs.

You can plant them in a regular pot or in a hanging basket, creating a beautiful cascading focal point for your yard.


As you can see, there are a lot of options for naturally repelling irritating insects. These are just a few of the most effective mosquito repellent plants. Don’t let pesky and harmful mosquitoes ruin your outdoor gatherings during these warm months–these ten easy plants are sure to save the day.

Top 11 Gifts for Your College Freshman

college dorm

So your child isn’t so little anymore, and the time has come for you to send him or her off to the exciting new world of college. While you might have a hard time containing your own nerves, you can help make the transition as easy as possible for your kid.

If you want to help set your freshman up with some of the comforts of home in their tiny college dorm room, there are some key items that can make their transition to self-sufficiency a little smoother. Because space and access to electricity might be limited, it’s best if you can carefully narrow down your list of potential gifts to the most practical and useful. Here is a list of the top 11 gifts for college freshmen to get you started.


1. Bedding

bedding

Your college student’s dorm room will more than likely come with a bed platform and a mattress. However, you’ll need to purchase your own sheets, pillows and blankets for your child. This is one of the best gifts you can provide your college-bound child because you know they will need them and use them every single night.

Be sure to choose a collection made of light, breathable fabric because you never know if the heating and cooling systems in the dorms will function properly. Also, see if you can find out if extra-long twin sheets will be needed. This often is the case for college dorm beds. Many students use their beds as places to study, so include several pillows of different sizes and firmness levels.


2. Computer

laptop

Although your student might have had a serviceable laptop that got them through high school, now might be the time to upgrade. A college student is likely to need more memory, computing power and certain software that an older machine might not come with.

When picking out a newer model, make sure to get something durable–multiple daily moves in and out of a backpack, plus routine bumps and bruises can really take their toll on the lighter versions.


3. Bicycle

bicycle

For kids that will be attending a large college, a fast mode of transportation can be crucial for getting from one end of the campus to the other before the next class starts.

Unfortunately, bikes are one of the most stolen items at any university. Make sure you also provide a hefty bike lock, and consider a seat that has a quick release mechanism so that it can be removed between uses to help dissuade thieves. If your state has a helmet law for adults, new head protection should be part of the gift.


4. Mini Fridge

Mini Fridge

Where will your student store his or her leftover slices after a late-night pizza run? It’s times like these that a mini fridge can come in handy.

If there is space in the dorm room and an ideally placed electrical outlet, provide your freshman with an appropriately sized fridge so he or she can keep their soda and perishable foods cool and safe to eat.


5. Extra Storage

extra storage

Under-the-bed space and other nooks and crannies are prime real estate for additional storage in a small dorm room. Look for shelf or drawer units that will fit in these spaces in order to inspire organization in your student.

Consider getting something portable for your kid to use as storage. College students do a lot of traveling and always need a sturdy trunk to keep their belongings in. When they are not traveling or moving, they can use the trunk to store items under their college dorm room bed or in their closet. They come in all kinds of materials, but you want to purchase one that is light enough to carry up the stairs if necessary. In some cases, a trunk can be used as additional seating or as a coffee table in a pinch.


6. Small Appliances

Coffee maker

Depending on the rules of the dorm, you might be able to provide a variety of small appliances to help out your freshman. A coffeemaker or compact espresso machine might be vital to some students, while others may prefer a toaster oven or hot plate for times when they can’t make it to the cafeteria.

Irons and light vacuum cleaners could be smart options as well, depending what kinds of resources the kids can expect to be provided for communal use in their college dorms.


7. Comfy Chair

Desk Chair

Your freshman likely will spend a great deal of time at his or her desk, either working on the computer or studying for exams. Even on down time, you still want your child to have a comfortable place to be when hanging out with a roommate or other friends. A cushy rolling desk chair could be a good fit, or else they might want a large bean-stuffed loveseat for extra seating space.

Be sure not to get a chair or mini loveseat that is too big though–we all know that dorm rooms can be criminally small. Before your purchase, be sure to take thorough measurements of their room to make sure this item will fit.


8. Decorations

wall calendar

Help turn your kid’s dorm room into a home away from home with fun and festive decorations that match their style. However, there may be college dorm room regulations that dictate what kinds of things can be hung on the walls of the room, so it’s important to be aware of the rules before making any purchases.

You might also want to stick with serviceable wall hangings such as dry erase boards, rewritable calendars or hanging mirrors. There likely won’t be a lot of space for knick-knacks, so don’t choose those for gifts unless you know for a fact there will be a place for them.


9. Laundry Supplies

detergent

If they are lucky enough to live nearby, your child may visit home most weekends to get a good meal and do his or her laundry. However, that won’t be the case for every family. Help your college freshman be prepared for long hours in the laundry room by providing a kit that includes a compact laundry basket, detergent, bleach, dryer sheets and rolls of quarters.

If they don’t already know how, it might be a good idea to teach them how to do their laundry before they move off to their dorm. This can help them avoid bleaching the wrong items or shrinking others.


10. Basic Tool Kit

toolbox

It may not seem likely that your child will need to make a lot of repairs in the college dorm room, but there will be times when a bike repair or broken chair can be remedied by having the right screwdriver on hand.

Having a tool kit allows students to be problem-solvers and take care of themselves in a self-sufficient manner. Tool kits may not be needed every day, but when you do need one, they are good to have on hand.


11. Reloadable Credit Card

reloadable credit card

You may want to believe you are done handing out cash all of the time to your student, but it may be a while before he or she gets used to managing money properly. In the meantime, it can be convenient to give them a prepaid credit card that you can load with money without a trip to the bank.

Be sure to let them know this card is just for emergencies, though, and won’t be refilled very often. Before you give them the card, it might be a good idea to set up a monthly budget or allowance for your freshman so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to their expenses.

8 Delicious Vegetables for Fall Gardening

cabbage garden

As the summer months draw to a close and temperatures start to decline, out natural tendency is to spend more time indoors and less out in the garden. However, this means that we are limiting ourselves from growing some delicious fall crops in our very own backyards! This fall, make the effort to stay outdoors a little longer and cultivate your very own garden of fresh salad ingredients.

There are some wonderful greens and root vegetables that grow happily in the cooler months and even taste better when they come to maturity in colder temperatures. Most fall vegetables are nutrient-dense, which is exactly what your body craves when the cooler months arrive.

The first thing you need to do when fall planting is have a general idea of when your first frost will be, then you can count backwards from there to determine when to plant. Below are some of the best vegetables you can plant for delicious fall eating.


1. Pumpkin

pumpkin

When to plant: Mid summer
When to harvest: 75 to 120 days after planting
Soil type: Any

Pumpkins might be the quintessential fall vegetable. Not only are they a staple of any fall holiday meal, but they are also a significant element of Halloween decor. They do take a lot of effort to grow, though, as they require a whopping 75 to 120 days to mature. Pumpkins thrive off lots of water, lots of space, and a healthy amount of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Pumpkin is packed with Vitamins A, C, E and B-6, stuffed with carotenes, and rich in minerals including calcium and potassium.

Not just for pumpkin pie and jack-o-lanterns, this plant makes delicious soups and can also be baked or steamed. Pumpkin seeds are dense with fiber and iron and some cultures will even eat the greens. There are dozens of varieties with adorable monikers like Cinderella, Baby Bear, Fairytale, and Aladdin, just to name a few. Choose your pumpkin based on what you are going to be using it for–some are better for carving, others are perfect for the fall tradition of baking a casserole or stew in individual little pumpkin bowls.


2. Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

When to plant: Mid summer
When to harvest: 90 days after planting
Soil type: Any; Neutral

Healthy and versatile, Brussels sprouts are cropping up in menus across the country with unique and tasty preparations that have made them one of the most popular vegetables on the market. Halved and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper they are a delicious side dish, or sliced thin and tossed with walnuts, pecorino, olive oil and lemon juice make for an amazing salad.

Brussels sprouts don’t hit peak growth until the weather starts to cool off, so don’t panic if your plants appear dormant. They’ll take off once the weather cools. They need to be planted in full sun but can withstand temperatures down to 20°. Brussels sprouts take 90 days to reach maturity.


3. Cabbage

cabbage

When to plant: Summer (indoors), transplant to outdoors once temperature cools
When to harvest: 70 to 100 days after planting
Soil type: Sandy; Neutral

Napa, savoy, bok choy, green and red–there are dozens of varieties of cabbages, most of which are ideal for fall gardening and all of which are delicious given the right preparation. With a little bit of extra care, you can maintain your cabbages well into the winter.

Cabbages dislike hot weather and sun, so if you hit a sudden hot spell, be sure to protect them, and keep your soil moist and cool with compost or bark. Most cabbages mature in about 70 days, although some take as many as 100. With this many varieties of cabbage, it would be wise for you to do your research or check your seed packet for more specific estimates.


4. Broccoli

broccoli

When to plant: Mid to late summer
When to harvest: 70 days after planting
Soil type: Sandy; Neutral to slightly acidic

Nothing beats the taste of fresh, home-grown broccoli from your garden. This versatile health food can be enjoyed raw, steamed, sautéed, roasted, or pureed into soups. Their dense heads soak up flavor and are especially good in a stir-fry.

It takes about 70 days for broccoli to reach maturity, and it’s important to harvest them before the buds start to flower or else they’ll turn bitter. After harvesting the large head, broccoli will continue to produce smaller offshoots, giving you delicious flavor throughout the fall months. Interestingly enough, broccoli is a member of the cabbage family. Use mulch to suffocate weeds and keep temperatures down around the shallow roots.


5. Beets

beet

When to plant: Beginning to mid summer
When to harvest: 50 to 70 days after planting
Soil type: Sandy; Neutral

Beets are known for their distinctive purple-red color but also come in golden yellow and pink varieties. Try them with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar for a wonderful combination of flavors. The dense flesh also holds up well to canning, freezing or pickling. These qualities make beets a sturdy plant to work with, which is great for beginners.

Beet greens have a higher nutrition value than the bulb and are delicious in a salad or cooked like kale and chard. They prefer neutral soil but need a high phosphorous level to germinate. Beets can tolerate temperatures as low as 30° F and mature in 50 to 70 days, depending on the variety.


6. Kale

When to plant: Early to mid summer
When to harvest: 60 days after planting
Soil type: Loamy; Neutral to slightly Alkaline

Kale is yet another vegetable that has developed a cult following over the last few years, and with good reason. Kale is a wonderful leafy green that is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. It’s perfect for marinated salads, where its firm structure stands up to the marinade without wilting, and it’s delicious stirred into soups in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. Kale also works well in smoothies and can even be misted with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and baked until crispy for a delicious and healthy snack.

Kale reaches maturity in about 60 days, and requires neutral or slightly Alkaline soil.


7. Spinach

spinach

When to plant: Late summer to early fall
When to harvest: 45 days after planting
Soil type: Loamy; Neutral

Spinach, which is known for being high in iron, is easy to cook and is also delicious raw. It is higher in nutrition than most garden greens, rich in Vitamins A, B and C and high in iron and calcium.

Spinach takes about 45 days to reach maturity, but large leaves can be bitter, so pinch off tender young leaves as soon as they ready, letting the inner leaves continue to mature. Be sure to plant your spinach seeds when your soil temperature is below 70° or they won’t germinate. Spinach can overwinter for a delightful spring crop.


8. Radishes

Radishes

When to plant: Early to mid fall
When to harvest: 25 to 50 days after planting
Soil type: Any; lots of moisture

Last but not least, consider planting a radish crop. Radishes are ready to be harvested in only 25 to 50 days.

Radishes come in several varieties and add a distinctive, peppery zing to salads. If you’ve only eaten spicy, woody radishes, growing your own will allow you to harvest them early when they are still fresh, crisp and peppery. They need plenty of moisture in well-drained soil, but are extremely tolerant to different types of soil.


Whatever you choose to grow, fall gardening is a delicious and fun way to enjoy the bounty of your hard work through the autumn months. Be sure to start your planning now in order to allow your plants enough time to grow to be enjoyed this fall.

8 Tips for Planning the Perfect Garden

Perfect Garden Planning

Whether you have just bought your first home or are excited to spend your retirement developing a green thumb, designing a garden can be an exciting but intimidating prospect. If you’re looking to infuse new life into your existing landscaping, you’ll have to decide what elements you want to alter and replace and how to plan around those that you wish to keep. If you’re starting with a clean slate, you are blessed with the freedom to do almost anything. However, that blank space can leave you paralyzed with indecision and fear of getting it wrong. These 8 tips can help you create the perfect efficient garden you didn’t even know you were dreaming of.

1. Consider Your Space

The first thing you must do is understand the potential of the land you are working with. Take a look at the area your garden will occupy. Using grid paper or a drafting program, you can create a blueprint of the space. Make copies so you can sketch in several different ideas.

When deciding what features you want to include in your perfect garden, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much space do you have to work with?
  • Are there existing features you’d like to highlight, downplay or remove altogether?
  • How will the layout influence your design?

Consider the elevation at various points–it will influence how the landscape looks, but also which plants will thrive, as some need more or less drainage and shade. Think about the view from your windows, both upstairs and down, and from your porch and other locations where you might sit and view the garden. Choose eye-catching trees, bushes or flowers for the most visible locations, then build around those anchor pieces.

2. Understand Your Climate

Do your research or visit your local garden center to learn which plants thrive in your climate, which ones will require some work, and which ones will simply not survive. If you already have certain species in mind, ask about their hardiness rating and how much sunshine and moisture they require. If you are open to suggestions, the staff can make recommendations specific to your area.

While careful watering and strategic covering can enable some selections to survive in warmer or cooler weather than they would normally be able to, this might be more work than you are willing to do. It’s best to know as much as you can about your climate zone, especially if you are new to gardening.

3. Utility

strawberry garden

It is important that you have an idea of the purpose your garden will serve. Will you grow fruits and vegetables for your family’s consumption? If so, you might consider raised beds or square-foot gardening. Are you hoping to create a beautiful backdrop for summer barbecues and family get-togethers? Incorporate insect repelling plants for beautiful, all-natural pest control. Do you have pets or animals that will live or play in the yard, and if so, how do you incorporate their needs into the plan? Some vegetables and flowers are poisonous to dogs or cats, while others can contaminate the flavor of free-range eggs. You may also need to protect your yard from your pets, so consider a fence or especially hardy flora. Do you want a lot of grassy space for playing or laying in the sunshine, or do you prefer a lot of vegetation? These questions will help you narrow your focus as you plan.

4. Choose a Theme

Think about scenery that you really love, and identify why it appealed to you so much. Try to figure out how you can incorporate those elements into your own landscaping.

For example, if you’ve always loved the clean lines of an English garden, aim for symmetry, strong geometry and monochromatic florals. If you prefer a cottage garden, fill your beds with fragrant, old-fashioned blooms and a quaint touch like a picket fence, bird bath or wind chimes. For a tropical look find bold, leafy plants with bright colors, dynamic water features and hand-crafted décor.

By focusing on a theme you ensure that the elements of your garden come together in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

5. Size Matters

When designing a garden, consider incorporating a variety of different sized elements to create a more interesting design. For example, if you want to have decorative stones in your yard, pick a couple large stones, mostly medium sized ones, and a few smaller ones. You can also do this with trees, flowers, and decorative grasses. Keep in mind that smaller features should be places in front of the taller pieces.

Think about variety in the height and circumference of your plants, as well as in their shapes, colors and textures. Try to repeat certain elements at regular intervals to keep the selection from looking too haphazard, but don’t be afraid to mix things up in between.

6. Think of a House

There’s another way to think about varying the elements of your garden: think of it like a house. The floor might be grass, ground cover, pavers or planting soil. The walls include vertical elements such as fences, trellises and even the outer walls of your home. The ceiling may be purely sky, but can also include awnings, an umbrella or the branches of a tall tree. Furnish your garden with patio furniture, potted plants, a bench, an umbrella or even a whimsical garden gnome.

7. Color Outside the Lines

Rose"

The right combination of colors can create the effect of a fine painting, but a hodge-podge keeps the eye from perceiving the garden as a beautiful, unified and whole. Most flowers are easy to move if you don’t like their placement, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

If you want to play things safe, there are a few tried and true combinations that look great every time. If you like bold blooms, try a selection of bright primary colors or hot shades of pink, red, orange and yellow. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel look great together–think orange and blue, purple and yellow or red and green. For a more romantic look, use soothing pastels and creams instead of white.

8. Friendly Flora

Variety not only looks great in the garden, but it can help your plants thrive as well. Many plants are natural allies and placing them near one another will help your blooms thrive.

Trees, bushes and anything tall with wide leaves can provide necessary shade for smaller vegetation. Marigolds are known to repel aphids and can protect your vegetable patch from being eaten up. Clover and nasturtiums can even protect cabbage from harm. Rue protects roses and raspberries. There are many beautiful and mutually beneficial combinations that can be incorporated into your landscaping.

The most important thing to remember when designing a garden is to be creative and to trust your instincts. Choose elements that speak to you and your garden will always feel like home.