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Archives for June 6, 2014

Curb appeal that’s low maintenance

Curb appeal and low maintenance: sounds like an impossible combination, doesn’t it? Homes that have the former seem to be fussed over like a new-born baby. Homes that are the latter sometimes appear one step away from the wrecking ball.

Turns out, though, that you can have the best of both worlds if you invest a bit of time — and in some cases, money — up front.

We asked the pros for their ideas on transforming homes into easy-on-the-workload belles of the ball.

It’s all about community

Front yards can be much more than just a lawn and a tree and a garden bed, says Jay Ladell of Ladell Landscaping Gardens.

“They’re an opportunity to create a public/private space, to recreate community. It’s about family and meeting your neighbours and creating a sense of welcome.”

Create a public/private space with a seating area and a water feature.

Create a public/private space with a seating area and a water feature.

Ladell Landscaping Gardens / Ottawa Citizen

Small informal courtyards, Adirondack chairs, a water feature: all create that neighbourly curb appeal, he says. Use the right kinds of plantings, and they also minimize maintenance.

Ornamental grasses, for example, look lovely, are drought-tolerant and don’t need a lawn mower.

Ladell suggests planting an early season grass such as allium (flowering onion) with a later variety such as miscanthus (feather grass). The latter will grow to six feet or more, so position it carefully.

Making an entrance

A front door needs minimal maintenance but demands maximum curb appeal if your home is going to stand out from the crowd.

“It has to have that pronounced sense of entry as you walk up to it and when you get there,” says Chuck Mills of Chuck Mills Residential Design Development.

Try this test: Pretending you don’t know who lives there, look at your house from the street. Is the front door clearly defined, does it invite you to approach and does it say anything about who lives there?

If it fails the test, your options range from a quick paint job (as little as $20) to installing a new door (up to $4,000 or even more if you get ultra-fancy).

Boost curb appeal with a door that stands out, like Chuck Mills did with his own.

Boost curb appeal with a door that stands out, like Chuck Mills did with his own.

Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen

Mills devised a clever solution for his own entryway. He found a door with a stained glass insert but didn’t like its clear sidelight. So he commissioned a stained glass panel that matches the insert and hung it inside the sidelight.

For inspiration and information on door types and styles, visit and

Change your garage door for visual pop.

Change your garage door for visual pop.

Chuck Mills Residential Design Development / Ottawa Citizen

Another idea from Mills: give your garage visual pop by trading that yawn-inducing Colonial-style panel door for a carriage style. A single-car door at Ottawa Garage Door Systems is $500 plus installation. Maintenance: occasional washing with mild detergent.

The TV gurus

Television home-show personalities such as HGTV’s Scott McGillivray (Income Property) and Carson Arthur (Critical Listing) bubble over with curb appeal ideas.

McGillivray, for example, has suggested transforming a front porch into a street-friendly outdoor room with comfy chairs, an outdoor rug and a side table. Drapes or blinds add privacy when you want it.

Says Arthur, “Instead of just big gardens in the front, make it inviting by adding a bench and garden art.”

Floating benches, which can be attached to architectural structures such as walls or have barely visible legs, lend an attractive lightness to their setting.

But be realistic when it comes to easily transportable benches and other front-yard accessories: high-end items look great, but some thieves have discerning taste, too.

Going green

Artificial grass eliminates everything from mowing to dandelions. It also thrives, if that’s the right word, in tough-to-grow spots such as under leafy trees. Figure $4,000 to $7,000 to carpet a front yard, says Larry Roy of SYNLawn Ottawa, an amount he says is quickly paid back in water, fertilizer and other savings.

He carries 22 varieties of LEED-certified artificial grass and has covered yards from Orléans to Kanata. The product comes with a 15-year warranty against UV fading.

Other visually appealing alternatives to maintenance-heavy grass include white (or Dutch) clover. It needs less water than grass, rarely requires cutting, grows well in poor conditions, and fixes nitrogen in the soil.

To replace an existing grass lawn, overseed yearly until the grass is gone. One pound of seed, $8.99 at Ritchie Feed and Seed, will do a standard front lawn. Clover is soft underfoot but does attract bees when flowering.

Minimize maintenance by choosing the right kind of plants, even replacing your front lawn with them for a softer, inviting look.

Minimize maintenance by choosing the right kind of plants, even replacing your front lawn with them for a softer, inviting look.

Ladell Landscaping Gardens / Ottawa Citizen

Odds ends that add up

Broken mailboxes, faded house numbers and tired front door hardware are a visual turnoff when you’re selling your home, so why are they acceptable when you live in the house?

Replacing them is easy and inexpensive, says Brent Conley, a real estate agent with Royal LePage Team Realty in Ottawa.

Another Conley tip: resurface your driveway. “There’s nothing like pulling up and seeing a nice, black driveway,” he says. Liquid sealer starts around $25 at big box stores.

Wind chimes glint prettily in the sun, sound lovely, and require no maintenance. Ritchie Feed and Seed has a good selection. Do check with your neighbours, though: the sound drives some people batty.

Window boxes add a homey touch.

Window boxes add a homey touch.

Water’s Edge Landscaping/ / Ottawa Citizen

Add a homey touch with decorative shutters or window boxes. Ivy leaf geraniums — trailing plants that bloom in a rainbow of colours — work well in window boxes, according to Landscape Ontario. A drip irrigation system like the one at minimizes maintenance.

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Bethel makes progress on police station

By Eileen FitzGerald

BETHEL — One closet holds police records. Another was turned into a jail cell.

Such is life in the overcrowded Bethel Police Department on Plumtrees Road — which also floods in heavy rain.

But last week officials got good news in the form of positive soil test results on the proposed location of a new station, a project on the drawing board for years.

The new station would have about 18,000 square feet — more than twice the size of the building it would replace — and on an 8-acre parcel at the corner of Judd Avenue and Whittlesy Drive.

The design calls for tucking the building into a hill adjacent to Bethel High School and the Bethel Educational Park, with a driveway on Judd Road and an emergency entrance on Route 302.

“It’s about a $10 million project,” First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said. “This has been very carefully planned in a sequence. It will be bonded when other debt has been retired so that the project would not add any extra tax burden.”

The town will apply for grants to help offset the cost of the facility, Knickerbocker said, adding that expanding the existing station would raise too many complications.

The project needs approval first from the Planning and Zoning Commission, and if approved would be presented to residents at informal informational meetings, said John Menti, the chairman of the town’s Public Site and Building Committee.

The goal would be to hold an official public hearing in late summer and a referendum by October so the town could break ground next spring.

Menti said the committee looked at every piece of town-owned property between 2 and 2 1/2 acres in size before settling on the proposed location, which occupies part of an 8-acre site in the geographic center of town.

The existing station was built in 1974 and expanded in 1989. It now totals 8,200 square feet.

The police staff has grown meanwhile from 18 to about nearly 60, including 37 uniformed officers, eight dispatchers, two record clerks and 11 ranking officers.

The new building was designed by Jacunski Humes Architects, which specializes in public safety facility planning and designed the Danbury Police Department.

The proposed building will be two stories.

The main floor, which will be on the second story, will have a classroom, a records department, a dispatch center and offices for the chief of police, the captain, the chief’s secretary and three lieutenants, as well as dedicated space for the detective and youth bureaus.

The lower floor will have locker rooms and a physical therapy room as well as six cells, twice the existing number, plus rooms for processing, loading and unloading prisoners securely.

In addition, the new firing range will be 75 feet long, 30 feet longer than the existing range, Menti said.

The public site and building committee will consult with the Energy Commission next week on how to make the building as energy-efficient as possible.

In addition, Knickerbocker said, as part of a long range plan for the town, the station could become part of a future micro-grid at the educational park powered by a fuel cell.

Menti said he expects informational meetings could be held as early as July and August.

“We will have as much information as possible for the public to review,” Menti said, with renderings of the buildings, the floor layouts, the elevation drawings and proposed landscaping.

Menti said that once the public information meeting is set up, Police Chief Jeff Finch said he would give tours of the current station residents can see why there is a need for a new station.

Knickerbocker said there are some ideas being considered for use of the current station, once the police department moves to its new home.; 203-731-3333

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An extra step by home builders could lead to better yards

Before home construction begins, builders remove the topsoil and stockpile it to the side. When the house is completed, the topsoil is put back.

That provides some boost to a new yard, though not nearly enough, because all that stripping, stockpiling and respreading is disruptive. “The topsoil is not remotely the same quality as what was there before,” said Vincent Verweij, an urban forester with Arlington County Parks and Recreation.

But the biggest factor in the problem, Verweij said, is what happens to the subsoil after the topsoil has been removed.

“The builder is legally required to stabilize the subsoil to ensure the stability of the foundation, basement floor slab and walls and the grading around the house, and he does this by compaction,” he said. “But the compaction degrades the soil quality, increases its acidity, kills microbes and significantly reduces the ability of the tree roots and other roots to take hold and have access to nutrients.”

Although necessary, the compaction creates a type of soil so firm that experts call it hardpan. Mike Goatley, a turf specialist at Virginia Tech, said that trying to landscape in a yard with this type of subsoil is “like trying to grow plant materials in concrete.”

There is a solution, which requires a builder to take an additional step.

Typically, at the end of the job, a home builder engages a landscaping contractor to “scarify,” or lightly till, the surface of the compacted subsoil before spreading the stockpiled topsoil. Then the yard is sprayed with a mixture of water, green paper mulch, seed and straw. (In late fall or early spring, sod might be used instead.) The extra step would require the landscaping contractor to spread a two-inch layer of new compost and thoroughly rototill it to a depth of 4 to 5 inches before the spraying. To be effective, a high-quality compost from a reputable source, such as a local municipality’s compost-producing facility, must be used.

Breaking up the uppermost layer of subsoil greatly increases the soil’s ability to absorb rainwater, and adding the top-grade compost gives a huge boost to everything planted in the new yard.

For the past two years, Mark Carroll, a turf specialist at the University of Maryland, has run a pilot project in Howard County that enhances the yards of new houses in exactly that way. The treated yards look superior to those that did not get the extra amendments, Carroll said, and the treatments reduce lawn maintenance. They will not need fertilizer for at least three years, and very little after that, because the soil amendments have long-lasting effects, he said.

The biggest plus of Carroll’s program is not a homeowner’s enhanced landscape, however. The entire region can potentially benefit. When more rainwater is absorbed in individual yards, less runs off and eventually enters the Chesapeake Bay. When far less fertilizer is used, the quality of the water that does run off is higher because it contains very little nitrogen and phosphorus, pollutants contained in fertilizer that have negatively affected marine life in the bay as well as in streams and rivers that drain into it.

Every local jurisdiction is concerned about runoff, and Fairfax County recently took action to address it. Beginning July 1, the county will require builders and developers of new-home communities to reduce both the volume of storm water runoff and the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in it. Soil amendment is one of 15 approved ways that can be accomplished.

What would Carroll’s soil treatment add to the cost of a typical new home in the Washington area? He estimated that rototilling and adding high-quality compost to the 5,000 square feet of exposed yard in a typical 60-by-120-foot lot would run about $2,355.

On the other hand, Carroll’s program could also save a builder money. If the volume of runoff is reduced enough, the builder might be able to install a smaller, less costly system to handle the storm water runoff that is not absorbed in each yard, suggested Jim Baish, a landscape architect and land planner in Frederick who designs land use plans for many new-home communities in the Washington area.

Of course, grass, shrubs and trees do grow in the yards of new houses with poor subsoil. And homeowners can add soil amendments to a new lawn on their own.

But, Goatley noted, it’s much more difficult to do that after the turf is established, requiring much more effort and several applications to produce results.

Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have questions or column ideas, she can be contacted at or via

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Friends of Sunset Memorial Gardens creating ballot issue for cemetery district – Journal

STERLING — The Gary DeSoto Building was packed full of people Thursday, anxious to hear an update on Sunset Memorial Gardens.

  The Friends of Sunset Memorial Gardens (FSMG) have decided to develop a ballot issue to create a cemetery district. Those that were at the meeting, agreed that that is the best option for now. 

A handout, developed by the city of Sterling, was shared at meeting, showing it would cost the city approximately $2, 208,000 to restore the cemetery – $205,000 for personnel, $600,000 for buildings; $305,000 for equipment, $150,000 for water wells, $168,000 for sod, $500,000 for irrigation, $50,000 for landscaping/trees, $30,000 for headstones/monuments, $100,000 for attorney fees, $50,000 for a survey and $50,000 for miscellaneous expenses. The handout also noted an ongoing yearly budget of $200,000 would be needed.

“Personally the board does not agree with those numbers at all,” said Friends board member Larry Propp, and a number of people at the meeting agreed with him that that the figures were not realistic.

  The FSMG also shared a handout comparing what it costs to operate Riverside Cemetery, $228,311, with what the Friends think is a fair cost to operate the Sunset Memorial Gardens, $102,440. Though Propp noted that estimate is probably a little bit high.

Volunteers spent two days working on cleaning up Sunset Memorial Gardents in April, but there is still work to be done.

  Those at the meeting suggested someone needs to come up with a more realistic estimation of what the cost will be, so the public has a better idea of the true cost. Propp agreed.

  He informed the group that Baxter Arnold helped to work out an agreement with the company that owns the cemetery, Prairie Moon, LLC. The owner, Richard Lawler, has signed the agreement and, “so, we are at this point in time trying to operate underneath that agreement to do some things,” Propp said.

  Part of the agreement states that the cost of the quick title action in Logan County Court will be paid by the Friends committee. Propp said they have a law firm they’re working with that has agreed to give the committee their time to do that and they’re one step away from having the quiet title.

  “It could be very short coming or it could take a little length into the summer at this point in time,” he explained.

  The agreement also states that Prairie Moon agrees to cooperate in necessary legal actions, the company will upon completion transfer title and other properties to a governmental entity, until transfer of title Prairie Moon will continue to operate the cemetery, the company will surrender records relating to the operation of the cemetery and water rights, Prairie Moon will terminate all leases or rental agreements that relate to the cemetery, the company will execute all bills of sale and documents to a governmental entity (including the trust fund) and Prairie Moon agrees to dissolve the LLC when completion of the transaction occurs.

  “Our main problem right now is getting this title through a government entity,” the Friends said.

  They have been talking to the city and the county as the governmental entities the title would transfer too. Propp said they’ve had some good conversations with the city manager that he felt went well, but they haven’t been able to talk to the city attorney and they’ve talked with a couple of commissioners, but one hasn’t been willing to talk.    

  Propp said some people have said the city shouldn’t take over the cemetery, because it’s not in city limits, but Riverside Cemetery isn’t in city limits and it was owned by a private organization before the city took over.

  “I hear debate going that sunset is a different breed of cat, it’s a different situation, really it’s not,” he said.

  After meeting with the city and county, on option the Friends looked at was for the non-profit they’ve created, Friends of Sunset Memorial Gardens, Inc., which now has an account setup at the Bank of Colorado, to run the cemetery. However, the Friends didn’t support that idea, because it would require raising $300 a day, or $110,000 a year to keep it going.

  So, they decided instead to work on a ballot issue. Propp explained that in counties that have district cemetery boards, county commissioners appoint an individual from each of their districts to the district cemetery board and the board makes the decisions about the cemetery, what to charge for plots and so on.

  It was pointed out that other counties – Phillips, Washington and Yuma – have created cemetery districts, but Propp noted not everyone in Logan County is in favor of creating a cemetery district, “some folks say we don’t need a cemetery district and I don’t need additional taxes.”

  Propp noted the real downside to creating a district is other towns that have cemeteries – Leroy, Merino, for example – could be included in the district and if so, they would get a share of the budget.

  The Friends plan to meet with the Logan County Commissioners on June 17 to develop the ballot issue.

  Propp said they should know shortly what one mill raised would look like, he estimated around $184,000. He also said they should have something from the county by Monday saying what the tax increases would be if the cemetery is created. The mill levy would be run off land taxes; if that’s the way the commissioners choose to go.

  The ballot issue needs to be ready to go on the ballot by July 25; the committee is aiming to get it done by the first of July. With that in mind and because the original committee has gone down from 12 to four, Propped asked for four to six volunteers to join the committee to help out.

  It was asked if the district takes over, will they be liable for previous “stuff.” Propp said they won’t, because clear title “wipes everything out.”

  There was also a question about consideration of a membership fee.

  “If we go down that road, we need $100,000 a year to do it right. We’ve got 1,600 bodies out there, I don’t know how we’re going to get money out of some of those bodies,” Propp said.

  Additionally, he gave an update on the trust fund, which has been located and is in motion to be moved, but it won’t be moved until the Friends know they have the quite title. There is $62,000 in the trust fund, but only the interest can be used to maintain the cemetery.

  Propp pointed out there is some concern that the $62,000 could disappear, but he said the committee doesn’t think that’s going to happen, because that would result in criminal charges.

  There was a question about liability. Propp said the county attorney has told them if the governmental agencies become involved, they will not take on the liability of pre-paid plans, because they would no longer exist.

  “However, we have learned that if you bought a pre-paid plan in the 70s, or 80’s or part of the 90s, that your headstones are sitting in inventory at one of three or four places,” he said. “So, look at your pre-paid plan and see if there is name there for that headstone.”

  He named JASH Madams Co., in Pennsylvania, as one of the companies.

  Propp was also asked about the cemetery’s water rights. He said it has six shares of Springdale Ditch rights, with each share being equivalent to about nine hours of water. But, he pointed out that they watched the ditch last summer and it was dry, so the cemetery wouldn’t have gotten any ditchwater.

  An audience member questioned that, saying they farmed near the cemetery last summer and didn’t have much problem getting water.

  Propp noted there is concern that the owner could sell the ditch rights with the clear title.

  He also pointed out that the water and irrigation systems have not improve, so something will need to be done. Plus, decisions will have to be made about whether to use buffalo grass or something else.

  “We’re not quite to that point though, we can’t make decisions on that because ownership isn’t where we want it to be yet,” Propp said.

   Additionally, he was asked if the county has sprayed for weeds yet. The Friends met with the commissioners in April to request the county spray for weeds, but they haven’t yet and Propp said he doesn’t think they will, because they’ve already budgeted what they’re doing for weed control this year and that wasn’t part of it. He also noted the Friends are still trying to determine what types of weeds to spray for.

    There was talk about holding some fundraisers raise money for trees, or something like that. Propp suggested if people decide to hold fundraisers a committee should be formed to determine what that money is to be spent for.

  He also told the audience that Home Depot, which has contributed over $10,000 to cemetery at this point, will be contributing even more in the future.

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Callie Jones: (970) 526-9286; Follow cjones_JA on Twitter.

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UI horticultural explorer Stephen Love’s discoveries featured in field days …

ABERDEEN, Idaho – June 3, 2014 – Tucked in among research plots of grains, potatoes and other crops at the University of Idaho’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center are research plots of native wildflowers and plants to test their garden and landscape appeal.

A Native Plant Field Day, the center’s sixth, is planned June 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. to give native plant lovers, nursery operators and others a look at using native plants to reduce water use and pest problems in landscaping.

Led by UI Extension horticulture specialist Stephen Love, the tour through colorful arrays of wildflower and shrub evaluation plots will feature grasses, penstemons, mints, columbines, buckwheats, Syringa and many others.

Another field day is planned the following day, June 13, in Twin Falls by the Idaho company that is taking the lead on bringing Love’s finds to gardens and landscapes. The Native Roots LLC Field Day is planned from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the company’s production farm at 2475 E. 3600 N. in Twin Falls. The farm is south of Twin Falls along old Idaho Highway 24, a half mile east of U.S. Highway 93.

Love has explored the wilds of Idaho and other western states searching for perennials and shrubs. After collecting seeds from hundreds of species to grow at Aberdeen, Native Roots is beginning to distribute plants to nurseries.

The Native Roots lineup grew from Love’s quest and his expertise as a plant breeder. The company now is selling seed of its first 30 native species products. It has 80 more products in the wings with more than 300 under development.

The company will offer visitors the chance to see its native seed production facility and wildflowers, grasses and shrubs that are suitable for home gardens and larger landscapes. Organizers will offer tips on how to create beautiful landscapes with native plants.

More information is available from UI horticulturist Stephen Love at (208) 397-4181 or Rich Drick of Native Roots at (208) 329-4790.

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June garden tours

Bloomin’ Backyards: Sonoma County Master Gardeners, who are specially trained to help and educate home gardeners, share their own gardens in this biennial event June 8 themed to “Gardening in a Summer-Dry climate.” This year’s tour features four home gardens in the Sonoma Valley and the Sonoma Garden Park. Specialists and demonstrations will be set up at the various stops. Shuttles push off from Hanna Boys Center on Arnold Drive at West Agua Caliente Road and from Sebastiani Winery at 389 4th St. E., Sonoma. A plant sale featuring only drought-tolerant plants, a craft market, visits with The Garden Doctors and a low-water-use info center will be at Hanna Boys Center. Hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased at all Copperfields Books and Reader’s Books in Sonoma as well as at the shuttle stops. No online sales after June 6. or 565-2608.

Western Sonoma County Spring Home and Garden Tour: Food for Thought, the AIDS/HIV Food Bank, hosts this tour June 8 of eight different properties in the West County with features like old growth redwoods, edible landscaping, a labyrinth and garden art. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $45 for the self-guided tour, and include a map and a guide with descriptions of all the homes and gardens. they’re available online at or by calling 887-1647 or at Food for Thought’s offices at 6550 Railroad Avenue between First and Forestville streets in Forestville.

Rain Greywater Urban Oasis Tour: Daily Acts, a Petaluma nonprofit that promotes sustainable living, will lead a free daylong tour of five homes and gardens that use rain and graywater to support their landscapes on June 14. The tour will incude the home garden of Daily Acts Executive Director Trathen Heckman, which produces 500 pounds of food a year on a modest water budget. The tour will be co-hosted by professional landscaper and permaculture expert Damien McAnany, who also is a certified arborist with an master’s degree in environmental education and expertise in greywater systems. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. To register call 789-9664 or visit

Resorts in Bloom: This is a chance to spend leisurely time exploring 10 different resort, winery and spa gardens in Western Sonoma County and along the Russian River. Among the choice spots are the Osmosis Day Spa’s Japanese garden in Freestone, The Applewood and Village inns, and The Inn at Occidental. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 14 and 15. $30 for a one-day pass. Tours can be started at any of the participating resorts. VIP reception June 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for $50 (includes a day pass. VIP Wine Tasting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. June 14 for $50 and includes a day pass. Tickets can be purchased online at or call 869-5977, ext. 3313.

Garden Conservancy’s Mendocino Open Garden Day: Frey Gardens, a one-acre sustainable, habitat garden in Hopland. and Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, welcome visitors. The Frey garden is filled with native plants that attract and support a variety of insects and birds, and are all planted in a naturalistic style. There also is a small vegetable garden and rustic structures from a hermit’s hut and chicken coop to a bar and whimsical gate posts. $5. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 300 Ralph Bettcher Dr. Digging Dog is at 31101 Middle Ridge Road, Albion. For directions and more information visit

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Horticulturist gives tips for dealing with storm-damaged trees, gardens

MANHATTAN, Kan. — A late-spring stretch of stormy weather may mean damaged trees and gardens for homeowners. Kansas State University horticulturist Ward Upham provided tips for pruning damaged trees and assessing and helping garden plants survive the weather.

Storm-Damaged Trees

“If a tree is damaged, you often will have to decide whether it can be saved or not,” said Upham, who is the coordinator of K-State’s Horticulture Rapid Response Center. He provided five tips for the care of storm-damaged trees.

1. Be safe. Check for downed power lines or hanging branches. Don’t venture under the tree until it is safe. If large limbs are hanging precariously, a certified arborist has the tools, training and knowledge to do the work safely.

2. Cleanup. Remove debris so you don’t trip over it.

3. Decide if it is feasible to save the tree. If the bark has been split so the cambium – the cell layer underneath the outer and inner bark – is exposed or the main trunk is split, the tree probably will not survive and should be removed.

The cambium is the growing part of the tree trunk. If so many limbs are broken that the tree’s form is destroyed, replacement is the best option.

Topping, where all the main branches are cut, leaving only stubs, is not a recommended pruning procedure. Though new branches will normally arise from the stubs, they will not be as firmly attached as the original branches and are more likely to break in subsequent storms. Also, the tree must use a lot of energy to develop new branches, leaving less to fight off diseases and insect attacks. Often, the topped tree’s life is shortened.

4. Prune broken branches to the next larger branch or to the trunk. If cutting back to the trunk, do not cut flush with the trunk but rather at the collar area between the branch and the trunk. Cutting flush with the trunk leaves a much larger wound than cutting at the collar and takes longer to heal.

Middle-aged or younger vigorous trees can have up to one-third of the crown removed and still make a surprisingly swift comeback.

5. Take large limbs off in stages. If you try to take off a large limb in one cut, it will often break before the cut is finished and strip bark from the tree.

Instead, first make a cut about 15 inches from the trunk. Start from the bottom and cut one-third of the way up through the limb. Make the second cut from the top down but start 2 inches further away from the trunk than the first.

The branch will break away as you make the second cut. The third cut, made at the collar area, removes the stub that is left.

“Pruning can be dangerous,” Upham said. “Consider hiring a trained arborist to do major work such as this.”

He noted that a good arborist knows how to prune trees so that storm breakage is less likely to occur. Preventing damage is better than trying to fix it once it has happened, he said, noting that the Arbor Day Foundation maintains a website with detailed information.

Storm-Damaged Gardens

High winds, excessive rainfall and hail can wreak havoc in any garden. Upham provided tips to assess damage and help fragile plants recover.

Heavy rain: The force of rainfall pounding the soil can result in a thick crust that prevents seed emergence and partially blocks oxygen from reaching roots. A light scraping after the soil surface has dried is all that is needed to correct these problems. Be careful of deep tilling as it may damage young, tender roots.

Standing water: Standing water cuts off oxygen to the roots, which can result in plant damage if it doesn’t drain quickly enough. Most plants can handle 24 hours of standing water without harm. Hot, sunny weather can make a bad situation worse if the water becomes hot enough to ‘cook’ the plants. In this case, there isn’t much that can be done unless a channel is cut to allow the water to drain.

Hail damage: Plants should recover quickly as long as the leaves only were damaged by the hail as leaves regenerate quickly. The situation becomes more serious if the stems and fruit were damaged. Plants can recover from a few bruises but if it looks like they were mowed down by a weed whip, it’s time to replant with new ones.

Leaning plants: Either wind or water can cause plants to lean. They should start to straighten after a few days. Don’t try to bend them back as they often break easily.

More information about growing and maintaining landscapes is available on the K-State Research and Extension horticulture website.

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Living Smart: Swimming pool design ideas and tips

Are you considering taking the plunge to add a pool or update an existing one?

Do your homework before you dive in to making a hot summer’s daydream come true. Our team recently interviewed top-rated pool pros and gathered the following trends and tips to help your project go swimmingly:

Cost: The average starting price for installing a pool made of concrete or similar materials, such as shotcrete or gunite, is $50,000. The cost of additional pool components can range from $20,000 to more than $100,000.

Finishes: A pool’s interior finish material will make the biggest design statement. Popular choices include basic white plaster or quartz. Other options include pebbles and crushed abalone shells. The pool finish alone can cost $8,000 to $10,000.

Features: Options include sun decks, tanning ledges, waterfalls, bubblers, fountains, water arcs and zero-entry. When it comes to the pump, which can cost $1,000 or more, consider a variable-speed type that you can program.

Shape: At a 5 to 10 percent increase in cost, a pool can be custom-shaped to reflect your property and lifestyle.

Automation: Systems are available that automatically provide water-chemistry readouts and control temperature, lights, music, the pool cover and more. Automation features cost from $500 to several thousand dollars.

Lighting: LED lights in white or other colors are popular. They cost more initially than other bulb types, but can last at least six times longer.

Decking: The material surrounding the pool can be as simple as brushed concrete, at an average cost of $5.50 per square foot installed, to something more upscale, such as flagstone, which averages $26 a square foot.

Travertine tiles, at $8 to $11 a square foot, resist mold and heat and are slip-resistant. But because they’re soft, they need to be sealed annually if you have a saltwater pool.

Saltwater: Saltwater pools are popular because they offer high water quality and are relatively gentle on eyes, skin and hair. But be aware that saltwater can damage softer decking materials. If you want a sandstone pool surround, for instance, it will need to be sealed.

The cost to convert an existing system to saltwater ranges from $1,500 to $2,000, about the same price as including a saltwater system with a new pool. Be aware that the quality of a saltwater system’s cell, which converts salt to chlorine, can vary. The metallic coating on some cells may erode, requiring replacement that can cost about $900.

(Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Follow her on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.)

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Extension: Some tips on solving blossom-end rot – Winston

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Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2014 7:43 pm

Extension: Some tips on solving blossom-end rot

Mary Jac Brennan/Special Correspondent

Winston-Salem Journal

Q: My tomatoes are rotting at the bottom of the fruit. How do I treat for this disease?

Answer: It sounds like your tomatoes are suffering from blossom-end rot. It’s easily identified as a brown, leathery rot developing on or near the blossom-end of the fruit. It starts with a dry, brown legion the size of a dime, generally increasing in size as the condition worsens.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014 7:43 pm.

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A Smart Sensor That Quantifies the Soil in Your Garden

Edyn is a smart garden system that consists of a Wi-Fi-connected sensor and water valve. Both are solar powered and have a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery when not in full sun. Photo: Edyn

The smart water valve reacts to data gathered by the sensor as well as meteorological information from the surrounding area. It knows when your plants are thirsty and adjusts its watering schedule accordingly. Photo: Edyn

Founder Jason Aramburu thought up Edyn while trying to figure out ways to test Biochar, a sustainable fertilizer he developed. Here are the early prototypes, which are much clunkier than the final version. Photo: Edyn

The hardware is accompanied by an app that tells you the best plants to grow based on your soil. Image: Edyn

The big goal is for Edyn to gather loads of information for a massive database of soil research. Aramburu hopes more specific knowledge about what grows best where and why will empower more people to grow their own food. Image: Edyn


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Edyn is a smart garden system that consists of a Wi-Fi-connected sensor and water valve. Both are solar powered and have a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery when not in full sun. Photo: Edyn

The smart water valve reacts to data gathered by the sensor as well as meteorological information from the surrounding area. It knows when your plants are thirsty and adjusts its watering schedule accordingly. Photo: Edyn

Founder Jason Aramburu thought up Edyn while trying to figure out ways to test Biochar, a sustainable fertilizer he developed. Here are the early prototypes, which are much clunkier than the final version. Photo: Edyn

The hardware is accompanied by an app that tells you the best plants to grow based on your soil. Image: Edyn

The big goal is for Edyn to gather loads of information for a massive database of soil research. Aramburu hopes more specific knowledge about what grows best where and why will empower more people to grow their own food. Image: Edyn

There are plenty of ways to kill a plant without trying. Trust me. But even hardcore gardeners have a hard time knowing what’s really happening underground. Jason Aramburu created Edyn, a Wi-Fi connected gardening system, with the goal of doing for gardens what wearables have done for our bodies.

Call it the quantified garden. The system, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, consists of a Wi-Fi-connected sensor and water valve that assesses soil nutrition and waters your plants based on actual data. Stick the sensor it in the ground, and it gathers all sorts of information—things like ambient temperature, humidity, light intensity and soil electrical properties—which gets simplified, contextualized and passed along to you, the gardener.

It’s a smart idea, if not entirely novel. Soil sensors have long been alerting us we’re this close to drowning our tomatoes, but the end goal for Edyn is much more ambitious than a creating a clever piece of hardware, says Aramburu. The real intention is to create a massive database of what plants grow well in which climates—information that Aramburu hopes can someday be used to usher in a new age of sustainable gardening and farming.

The Seeds of Inspiration

The idea for Edyn came to the soil scientist a couple years ago when he was living in Kenya working on his last project Biochar, a type of sustainable fertilizer. Aramburu realized there were few ways to verify the effectiveness of his product outside of professional soil testing. Problem was, soil testing is slow, expensive and didn’t allow him to track what was happening in real time. So Aramburu made a rough prototype of a sensor and began testing the soil himself. “It was basically a box on a stick,” he says. “These were really more for a scientist to use.”

When Aramburu moved to San Francisco last year, he knew that in order to build the massive database he’s reaching for, he’d have to make Edyn’s industrial design more accessible for the everyday gardener. He turned to Yves Behar at Fuse Project, who created a cheery diamond-shaped tool that pops out of the ground like a flower and a water valve that can be connected to an existing water system like a hose or sprinkler to control when plants get fed.

The sensor, which has a microprocessor built into its body, works by emitting a small electrical signal into the soil. “We actually measure how that signal is attenuated by the soil,” he says. A significant enough change in signal (the result of humidity, temperature, etc) will spur the sensor to send you a push notification alerting you to the new soil conditions. At the same time, this data, along with meteorological information, is telling the valve if and when it should water each plant.

An App for Context

Gathering the data is one thing, but making sense of it is an entirely different challenge, which is where Behar and his team came in. They developed a smartphone app that contextualizes all of the soil data. The app will inform you on what to grow, when to grow it and what other plants would work well alongside it. It’ll also, for example, make sure you know when there’s too much humidity in the soil or if your dirt is too acidic and could use some lime or compost.


The Edyn sensor in the wild. Image: Edyn

Over time, this (anonymized) data is stored and aggregated with other Edyn users around you to form a more holistic picture of your area’s growing climate. “We’ll be able to say, ‘well, Katie is having success growing basil in Potrero Hill in San Francisco. That’s very close to you, so you might have luck growing it as well,” Aramburu explains. It’s easy to compare the Edyn system to the quantified self movement, but Edyn has the opportunity to actually build a robust, actionable set of data that personal health information could be used for because of its sensitive nature.

If adopted by enough casual gardeners, or as Aramburu hopes, smaller scale organic farmers, it could spur localized food production and actually have an impact on food supply. “We already do a really bad job of feeding the world and it’s only going to become more difficult,” says Aramburu. “I’m hoping this will become a tool to enable agriculture around the world, to help people grow their own food and increase food security.”

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