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Archives for April 9, 2016

Contemporary tranquility

But while the 5,000-plus-square-foot house, with its distinctive double A-frame wings connected in the middle by a one-story space, had plenty of room for the Dyson family of five, the layout was awkward. Also, a barn was smack in the middle of the front yard.

Tim Dyson was concerned that the large house had a very small master bedroom, which was “why the house had difficulty selling,” he said.

Also, much of the bedroom wing felt like a basement with its long hallways and low ceilings.

So goal No. 1 was to create a new master suite, No. 2 to increase the headroom on the lower level and No. 3 to redo the pool and landscaping.

“So many things we liked and didn’t want to touch, but other (things) needed work. We spent about a year in design,” Tim said, noting that his downtown Palo Alto office is near their architect’s — so he could pop in often to discuss new ideas.

Although the kitchen was essentially sound, the Dysons moved the concrete island outside, creating an entertaining space near the pool. The cabinets were refaced and new white quartz countertops added, but they kept the appliances.

“The old island wasn’t terribly functional and had little counter space,” Tim says. “Now we have acres — more to tidy up.”

They moved the master bedroom, which had occupied the connecting area between the A-frames, into the bedroom wing, freeing up space to create a family room. Upon entering that room, there’s a large cube of light on one side (large enough to house this year’s Christmas tree, after some masterful rewiring) and a NanaWall of accordion-pleated glass on the other, facing that burbling creek.

“It felt strange having the master bedroom in a fishbowl,” Julie recalled of the original placement, but a family room bathed in light suits them just fine.

A floor-to-ceiling bookcase lines one wall, with a metal ladder crafted in Germany reaching the higher shelves.

In the bedroom wing (down seven steps), a guest suite with its own kitchen, bedroom and bathroom was created for extended stays by visiting grandparents. Another full bathroom is adjacent to the door leading to the pool.

Half a flight up are the three children’s rooms and two more bathrooms. The small rooms, all with views of nature, incorporate built-in cabinets and shelving.

Half a flight down is the new master bedroom suite, with a NanaWall leading outdoors and a bathroom featuring a solid resin bathtub (“It weighs an absolute ton,” Tim said), white double sinks, a wavy wall of white tile, plus dark gray tile on the floor and in the glass-enclosed shower.

Off of the bedroom is a small office.

The landscaping was done in phases; first, the old kidney-shaped pool was replaced with a large rectangular one that could be fitted with a cover. The hot tub, which had been located on a deck under a redwood and overlooking the creek, had to be removed. Today the deck provides another seating area outside where they can continue to enjoy the sound.

Because the house was located so close to the creek, the footprint really could not change.

“We were very constrained with what we could do in terms of required setbacks,” architect Carl Hesse said.

But the city did allow them to move (and rebuild) the barn, thus freeing up space for landscaping the entrance to the home.

During the year of construction, the family hunkered down in the public wing, with the three kids sharing the loft space above the kitchen.

Asked if she’d do anything differently, Julie looked around her naturally lit space, listening to that creek, and said it might have been nice to add a fireplace to the family room. Then she just smiled.


Architect: Carl Hesse, square three design studios, Palo Alto, 650-326-3860,

Building contractor: Fred Reynolds, Reynolds Construction, Aptos, 415-385-6239

Concrete: Fu-tung Cheng, Cheng Design, Berkeley, 510-849-3272,

Tile: Porcelanosa, San Jose, 408-467-9400,

Goal of project: Create a larger master bedroom, bring in more light, move barn

Year house built: 1957, remodeled in 1999, 2014

Size of home, lot: About 5,300 sq. ft. on a 1.4-acre lot; 6 bd, 6.5 ba

Time to complete: One year to design; one year to build

Budget: $1.3 million

This article appeared in print in the Spring Home + Garden Design 2016 publication.

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More thoughts on the cost of water to So. Utah residents

(Editor’s Note: All blogs on are personal blogs. The opinions and views expressed in all blogs on this site belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spectrum Media.)

In my March 16 blog, “2016 Utah Water Users Workshop reveals some new tactics,” I expressed concerns about information being presented to justify the “need” for new water projects and how citizens are being “persuaded” to accept the idea that they should pay their hard-earned tax dollars for these efforts.

My March 27 op-ed, “Impact fees will not cover pipeline costs,” provided further evidence that citizens are being led down an expensive and convoluted path to an unnecessary project, the details of which change depending on what population projections are (way down from when project was conceived), what the pipeline’s cost projections are (way up since project was conceived), and how much money the State of Utah will be willing to pony up (interest by some is waning). But, no matter what the projected population, LPP cost, or how it will be paid, it’s always needed according to proponents.

I’d like to share some additional information from the second day of the 2016 Utah Water Users Workshop and thoughts on that information.

Ari Bruening with Envision Utah (EU) began the day with a review of the 2015 “Your Utah-Your Future” poll results and the assertion that Washington County residents support the Lake Powell Pipeline. Although he noted that over 50,000 Utahns participated in the poll (either online or via phone), he failed to be clear that not all 50,000 residents answered all questions and that includes those questions about the LPP.

In October 2015, I posted a blog detailing the results of the EU survey. Here is an excerpt from that blog posting:

“It’s important to note while reviewing the EU results, that not all 53,000 participants provided input to all issues. For example, with regard to the issue “Willingness to Make Tradeoffs – Agriculture” only 4,875 of the nearly 53,000 participants responded, and yet, EU claims, “Utahns are very willing to use less water on their lawns and spend money on infrastructure to avoid taking water from agriculture.” This seems a very “general” conclusion when a mere 4,875 of our 2.9 million are driving future plans, and we have no knowledge about Washington County’s level of participation. Infrastructure, of course, refers to the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Add to that the fact that the survey team membership appears to be very biased, and the results become highly questionable. EU’s water ‘Water Action’ team of 43 was made up of 20 members with ties to water districts or the State Division of Water Resources while only 5 were from organizations that promote water conservation over development.

Even direct support for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project is questionable. Under “Statewide Support for Lake Powell Pipeline” only 3,899 survey respondents of the 52,845 were reported. Of those, 16 percent “strongly agree to build” and 34 percent “somewhat agree to build” totaling 50 percent. But, 13 percent “neither agree nor oppose,” 20 percent “somewhat oppose to build,” and 17 percent “strongly oppose to build.” Those total 50 percent.

So, 50 percent either oppose or are borderline on the issue. But, whether you support or oppose the project, how were these figures derived? What is their validity given that the 3,899 respondents represent a small portion of the larger 52,845 respondents reported by EU and only 0.13 percent of our total 2.9 million population?”

After Ari Bruening’s EU presentation, several managers from a variety of Utah’s water districts and Utah State Rep. Timothy Hawkes (co-sponsor of recent water funding bill) spoke on the issue of water strategy. Tage Flint, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District manager, said we don’t want to create a perception of water shortage that would hurt our economy but offered no ideas as to how to change that perception other than developing new water projects, which will themselves face the same “shortage” perception at some time in the future lives of Utah’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. But really, who is thinking about them, right? Flint noted that conservation is first and foremost and yet neither he nor others were able to change legislation last year and this year, legislation that lists new projects above conservation efforts, nor were they able to get conservation legislation with real teeth sponsored in the legislature. This was in spite of the fact that they had about thirty-three paid lobbyist at the capitol, which does make one wonder what the lobbyists were promoting.

As for conservation and the “importance” of that according to these presenters, here’s an interesting observation. Having attended several Utah Water Users Workshops in the past, Day 2 sees a significant diminishment in attendees, and yet, the workshop organizers placed the “Water Conservation” session on day two this year – a day when far fewer participants would attend. That speaks volumes to me about the real priority being placed on conservation.

The Utah Water Users Workshop was attended, to a great extent, by those in the agricultural community, and thirteen of the forty-seven workshop sessions related directly to agricultural water while most of the other sessions related indirectly. It makes sense, therefore, that much of the efforts to get more water through new projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River Project would be looked upon favorably by the group.

With 80 percent of our state’s water going to agriculture that produces only 2 percent of our state’s GDP tied to agriculture, and those water rights being senior to others in many if not most cases, they want to protect what they have. Workshop speaker Warren Peterson emphasized the need for agriculture’s food but most of our agricultural water doesn’t even go to food, at least not for humans; alfalfa and hay make up the bulk of it.

But demographics are changing – more people in urban areas need water. Rep. Hawkes noted that moving agricultural water to municipal and industrial (MI) use is a challenge. More than a 139-mile Lake Powell Pipeline? Robert Glennon, author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It” wrote recently, “Because it’s the cities (and their people and businesses) that need more water, municipal interests should finance the modernization of farm infrastructure in exchange for the water conserved. It’s a win-win. Farmers grow the same crops but with less water, and cities and businesses get a much-needed boost in their supply.” It seems that this is where our state leaders should be putting our money rather than indebting us with massive new infrastructure costs. If our agricultural community can learn to do more or the same with less water, we will all benefit and the investment worth it.

The ongoing water challenges facing the Southwest and West will need thinking outside the box but some ideas seem less worthy than others. Every year our taxes go to pay for “cloud seeding” in an effort to produce more precipitation by dispersing silver iodide from planes or cannons but the scientific community continues to be skeptical. A National Research Council report in 2003 concluded that “there still is no convincing scientific proof of the efficacy of intentional weather modification efforts.”

And, yet, here and elsewhere money is spent on this effort. When it comes to getting more water, apparently no scheme is too outlandish while conservation demands are too harsh.

I cannot believe how many times I’ve heard, “The easy things have been done for conservation. We’ve picked the low-hanging fruit.” No, folks, we have not. We have not even started. Many conservation opportunities are out there – many involving our commercial, institutional and industrial usage, which our business-friendly state and area have been unwilling to tackle.

And, yet, I see good things happening which give me hope. The ward house in Ivins, next to the city offices, has ripped up all their lawn and is putting in desert landscaping. The newest ward house in Ivins, built several years ago, put in desert landscaping to match their beautiful and unique-for-LDS building style, and my hat is off to both organizations for making changes. Hope abounds!

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Southern Ideal Home Show offers home improvement ideas

Southern Ideal Home Show begins in Raleigh (WNCN)
Southern Ideal Home Show begins in Raleigh (WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – People hoping to do some home improvement and remodeling can find all the answers they need this weekend at the Southern Ideal Home Show, which runs through Sunday.

The expo returns to Raleigh to offer expertise remodeling advice.

“The Southern Ideal Home Show is the only place you can touch, feel, actually talk to an expert face-to-face you can’t do that any place else,” said Debbie Ball, the executive show manager.

More than 300 area companies set up displays at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds where people can shop and brainstorm new ideas for their homes.

This year’s highlights include celebrity guests like HGTV host Chip Wade and a prize of a $10,000 dream closet with the chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree from the Crabtree Valley Mall.

Organizers say they know people are excited and have their minds on particular renovation area.

“The number one thing is landscaping and outdoor living,” Ball explained. “Outdoor living is such a huge part of the home. They may still be remodeling their kitchen but the outdoor living is huge at the show.”

For more information, visit here.

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Carmichael ‘rain garden’ overflows with native flowers

Lynn Sargent’s backyard used to look like a lot of others in the Greater Sacramento area.

“It was a big pool and lawn,” recalled Sargent, who has lived in her Carmichael home for 43 years. “But the pool was a lot of work; there’s so much expense and upkeep, all the chemicals and the water.”

That backyard lawn-pool combination served her well while her three sons were growing up, she noted, but didn’t make much sense later, especially with rising water bills and four years of drought.

“So we ‘sunk’ the pool,” she said, noting it’s now under the new garden.

In its place, a rain garden carpets the backyard with California native plants. Instead of filling up an unused pool, Sargent lets her new backyard “harvest” rain to supply its landscaping needs.

“I really, really like it,” she said. “It’s beautiful. Something is blooming all the time. It’s like new every day.”

Sargent’s rain garden is one of almost two dozen private gardens featured in the Gardens Gone Native tour hosted by the Sacramento Valley chapter of the California Native Plants Society. Displaying mostly home landscapes in Sacramento and Yolo counties, the gardens will be open Saturday, April 9, during the free self-guided tour.

“Since the tour began (five years ago), our attendance has doubled every year,” said Colene Rauh, one of the tour’s organizers. “We had 1,000 people last year. It just shows people are interested in native plants.”

Once patrons register online, they receive a map of garden locations along with detailed descriptions of what they’ll see. Each garden is at least 50 percent California native plants. Docents and homeowners will be on hand to tell the story behind each garden, including its transformation and plant identification.

“We have a pretty good cross-section of private gardens,” Rauh said. “Half have never been on a tour before. They’re large, small, old, new. Most people who come out want to know what they can do in their own gardens. They’ll see plenty of representations on this tour.”

Since the tour began (five years ago), our attendance has doubled every year. We had 1,000 people last year. It just shows people are interested in native plants.

Colene Rauh, Sacramento Valley chapter of California Native Plant Society

Rodger Sargent, Lynn’s son, transformed his mother’s backyard into a rain-harvesting haven for birds, bees and beneficial insects. A 3,000-gallon cistern holds rainwater, collected off the home’s roof. A series of three shallow ponds and terraces allow water to seep slowly into the soil. A heavy layer of mulch retains that moisture.

“These plants are so happy!” Rauh said as she toured the rain garden, overflowing with bright orange California poppies.

Blue-eyed grass bloomed in low spots. On the surrounding terraces, blue flax and goldenrod vie for the attention of bees and butterflies. Black sage, white sage, flannel bush, lupine and other California natives will soon join the flower show.

“The plants all started small, but they grew!” Lynn Sargent said. “What I like best is it’s so calm and serene. I can come out here with a book, sit and read.”

Rodger Sargent knew what he was doing. He’s the president of Grow Water, which specializes in creating rain gardens and water-wise makeovers.

Since December, his mother’s garden has put more than 15,000 gallons of rain water into the soil, he said.

“It’s draining so well, I can’t keep it filled up,” he said of the garden’s collecting ponds. “Even with all the heavy rain we had in March, the water percolated right down. Under the mulch, the soil is amazing. It stays moist for weeks.”

Last year during the rain garden’s first full season, the new landscape needed no supplemental water until October, he added.

“The secret to a California native garden is to water it once a week – if that – then leave it alone,” he said. “A lot of these plants don’t like summer water at all.”

In addition to saving water, the rain garden and its assortment of native plants attract abundant wildlife. As Sargent spoke, swallowtail butterflies flitted from plant to plant. Magpies and blue jays took turns swooping in for a look.

“Listen to that hum,” he said, leaning in close to a large flower-covered shrub. “There must be 50 bees in this one plant.”

The backyard still has a small section of lawn that serves as a play area for Lynn Sargent’s dog and Rodger’s son Kyle. But the new grass is native, too.

“It’s native bentgrass,” he explained. “It’s sold as ‘California native sod’ from Delta Bluegrass. Its roots grow 12 to 16 inches down. It needs just a fraction of the water of normal lawn. It goes dormant in winter, but as soon as the weather warms, it greens right up.”

His mother said she’s also pleased with the real savings the rain garden has produced. Her water bill dropped from more than $100 a month to about $30. And there’s less work, too.

“Now, it takes 10 minutes to mow the lawn,” she said.

Rodger Sargent said native gardens take a few years to reach maturity and will look more beautiful each spring.

“In two years, it will be outrageous,” he said. “In five years, it will look insane. It takes about five years for a native garden to really get established, but it will be amazing.”

Gardens Gone Native

What: Self-guided tour of native plant gardens

Where: 23 home and school gardens in Sacramento and Yolo counties

When: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 9

Admission: Free

Details:; register at

Note: Map and garden addresses for self-guided tour available with online registration.

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Conservation communities grow in popularity

Winging through the heavy southern California sky, a Cooper’s hawk soars above rolling hills and a ranch where cowboys teach a colt to track cattle.

Down the road a piece, 5-year-old Billy Martin shares a farmer’s insight from the tiny neighborhood garden plot near his Rancho Mission Viejo home.

“You know what things really like this?” he asks as he plucks hot pink blooms off a pineapple sage bush to suck out the nectar. “Hummingbirds and bees.”

Tall in his treasured cowboy boots, Billy tosses the spent flower to the earth, where it will compost in the garden dirt that grows his food, steps from his front door, because he lives with his family in an “agrihood.”

The catchy nickname has grabbed recent headlines, but it’s actually a type of conservation community — a home development niche that’s been around for 40 years, says Randall Arendt, author of the community planning bible Rural by Design.

Over the decades, more than 3,300 conservation developments have helped to preserve 177,000 acres of land in the U.S., Arendt says.

“There’s more understanding now that land that was being converted to streets and lawns can better be used to exercise, preserve wildlife and open space and natural features that would otherwise be bulldozed,” he says.

Unlike traditional suburbs, conservation communities don’t pave paradise to add amenities like golf courses. Instead, they promote healthy living, close-knit neighborhoods and environmental responsibility by installing farms, ponds and walking trails that may loop through nature areas to nearby shops and restaurants. Homes are strategically positioned to preserve prairies, pastures, forests and — in the case of Rancho Mission Viejo — a ranch that is part of California’s western heritage.

Agrihoods differ not only in size but in how residents participate. At Rancho Mission Viejo’s tiny farm, you can get your hands dirty through gardening, composting or caring for baby chicks. Prairie Crossing Farm in Illinois, located within Prairie Crossing, boasts a 100-acre organic farm and 52 community gardens that residents and the outside community can rent. At Serenbe in Georgia, the landscaping is edible (think blueberry bushes), and a professional farmer runs the 25-acre organic farm that supplies the town farmers market, the Blue Eyed Daisy bakeshop and two other gourmet restaurants.

Billy’s family moved two years ago from San Juan Capistrano to their four-bedroom Spanish-style house in the Sendero (from the Spanish for “path”) village of Rancho Mission Viejo after reading about the development’s  focus on sustainability and building community.

The 23,000-acre master-planned development in South Orange County, Calif., is expected to include 14,000 homes by about 2030. Sendero, with 1,227 homes and apartments, is the first section to be completed and offers environmentally friendly options such as solar panels, tankless water heaters, energy-efficient lights and appliances, drip irrigation systems and other sustainable elements, says Diane Gaynor, spokeswoman for Rancho Mission Viejo.

To conserve open land, the homes are clustered together in a snug design that promotes community and also makes it possible to permanently preserve 17,000 acres of remaining open space. Overall, 75 percent of Rancho Mission Viejo property will be conserved via small community farms, acres of orchards, trails, ranchland where cattle graze and cowboys ride, and a nature reserve with rolling hills of ancient oaks and sagebrush where the endangered gnatcatcher bird nests.

To nurture a sense of community, the development hosts events at the neighborhood farm and organizes hikes, cowboy campfires and nature outings. Shared clubhouses, fire pits, fitness centers, pools and playgrounds further connect residents.

“Moving in here, we knew we were buying more than just a house,” says April Martin, Billy’s mom, referring to the agrihood’s sense of community, acres of open space and the three-quarter-acre Sendero Farm.

Agrihood living means that Billy and his younger brother, 2 ½-year-old Miles, have become adventurous eaters who chomp tomatoes right off the vine, their mother says. Lunch sometimes consists of whatever they nibble as they wander amid apple, tangerine and avocado trees and rows of beans, peas, lettuces and herbs.

The Martins pay $200 annually to participate as much as they like in farm work and they get to take home all the produce they can carry. Residents who don’t garden can still benefit from fresh produce at a farmers market twice a month. Neighbors get to know each other while digging in the dirt and sharing their bounty at monthly potlucks.

Farming helps to bring people together, says Gloria Broming, a self-titled “urban farm coach” who lives in nearby Laguna Beach and oversees Rancho Mission Viejo’s three farms, including the 21 fruit trees, row crops, planter beds and, very soon, chickens at Sendero.

“You really can grow strong roots when you grow food,” she says. “It brings people together when you break bread together.”

Martin believes the farm will help her boys understand that food doesn’t magically appear in a grocery store. And she hopes that living near the ranch, reserve, orchards and mountains will help instill a respect and gratitude for nature.

“We definitely try to give the kids a connection to the land, and I think that it’s really important that they see all this open space because we don’t see a lot of that in other places,” Martin says.

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Landscaping moves into the house

Robert Jimenez-McWilliams is a landscaper, but you won’t find his work outdoors.

The Palm Springs designer specializes in interior plantscaping. He works with interior decorators and general landscapers to bring leafy greenery to interior spaces, paying artful consideration not just to what plant should go where but to the lighting around it, the style of the home and how the plants might resonate with the landscape and gardens outside.

In other words, you won’t find him sticking a ficus in a basic pot in a forgotten corner of the living room. Instead, he might envision spiral juniper, statuesque in a modern concrete urn. Or maybe lanky exotic orchids perched in a planter custom-made from repurposed antique mirrors.

“You want things to meld together,” said Jimenez-McWilliams, a design consultant at Plantscapers, an Irvine company that installs and maintains interior landscapes. “It’s nice when you have a special container and a plant that together act like an art piece.”

The designer was trained in biochemistry, minored in horticulture and design and has worked previously as a museum consultant; he’s found that all of those disciplines come together in his vocation.

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His forte is discovering uncommon plants, or sourcing from the handful of replica-plant makers with whom he works, and hitting up his contacts in the antiques business in New England and Europe for unconventional vessels in which to house the plants. Predominantly, though, he says it’s about realizing the vision of his clients, who include Jennifer Aniston, Cher and Steven Spielberg.

“I might have a client who has come back from a trip to Versailles and was struck by the beautiful citrus trees there and wants to know how they can bring a sense of that into their home,” Jimenez-McWilliams said.

“Of course, sometimes we might have to improvise.”

He does, however, always strive for the unexpected. He favors using French handkerchief planters — they are often found in a rustic fiber cement — where the fluid lines of the piece, structured like a partially opened fold of cloth, provide an attractive counterpoint for all manner of plants; he once even filled the inside of one with gravel and turned it into a fountain.

“Some clients can be more eclectic,” he said. For them, he’s converted galvanized metal feeding troughs, originally used on farms in France and dating back to the 1930s, into flower-filled vessels.

He says he’s found new plant-holding uses for tables, fire pits and mirrors.

Jimenez-McWilliams is currently making entire walls filled with plants and flowers — a specially constructed plastic structure is bolted onto an existing interior wall, creating a series of small nooks, each one holding a plant.

“If one dies, you simply remove it and replace it,” he said.

“We’ve done entire walls of succulents as well. It’s a new avenue for me, and a new way of being artistic.”

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Gardening: Some tips for growing plants from seeds

By now home gardeners should be well into their seed starting schedules. This is a good time to remind you of a few pitfalls:

Retaining moisture in the starting medium is a good idea and often accomplished by covering the container with plastic. Remove the plastic as soon as the seeds sprout to lessen problems with fungus and mold.

While most seeds are not light sensitive, there are a few seeds that absolutely need darkness (calendula, centaurea, annual phlox, and verbena) or light (ageratum, begonia, browallia, impatiens, lettuce, and petunia) for proper germination. Check your seed packets for accurate planting instructions.

Air circulation is important. It assists in discouraging mold spores from settling on leaves, dries off excess moisture and strengthens the stems of the seedlings by simulating a gentle breeze.

Gardening tips

Those pesky weeds may cause you to think otherwise, but everything doesn’t grow everywhere.

Understanding that you live in the Midwest and certain plants prosper is one of the biggest tips to planning your gardening. While you may be familiar with what a cactus or palm tree looks like, you also know they’re not common in Illinois and there’s a reason for that. Thankfully, there are local experts that can assist you, answering your gardening questions and helping guide you through your efforts.

Once such professional started doing it when Coolidge was in office. As the cool weather makes way for warmer days in spring and summer, you’ll likely find yourself gardening. Visitng the Wasco Nursery is a great starting point.

Novices should start with easier plants. These won’t take nearly as long to grow so if they don’t take, at least your investment won’t be a substantial one both in time and money.

You should also plan out what you’re doing. It wouldn’t make sense to build a doghouse for a small puppy that will quadruple in size in a matter of months. You need to find out how big your plants will grow and space them out accordingly.

Learn how to water your plants. Such a mundane task may sound so simple, but recognizing how often you should be doing it and how much water you should provide each plant will be key to whether or not they thrive.

Don’t expect a beautiful garden to appear overnight. While you want to be rewarded for your time and effort, you have to be patient. It takes times for your garden to come to fruition and impatience could cause you to tweak your plants, overwater and do more harm than good.

Lastly, have fun. Being outdoors is healthy so enjoy your time gardening.

Wasco Nursery GardenCenter
41W781 RT 64
St Charles, IL 60175
(630) 584-4424

Click here for additional articles sponsored by this business

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Growing Together: Too excited to wait? Try these early-season gardening tips

For those of us itching to do more in the yard than just raking the lawn, here are suggestions.

Soil preparation

Vegetable gardens and flowerbeds can be rototilled or “worked” when the soil passes the squeeze test. If after squeezing a handful of soil it crumbles apart easily, it’s ready. If it remains in a mud ball, it’s too moist and tilling or digging could damage its structure. Heavy clay soil can form hard lumps that adversely affect seeding and planting.

Early vegetables

Some vegetables enjoy cool temperatures. These cool-season crops can germinate in chilly soil and tolerate light frost as they grow. In mid-to-late April, plant peas, radish, lettuce, onion, carrot, potato, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage and broccoli.


Protective covering or winter mulch can be removed by now. If portions of canes were winter-injured, prune back to live wood. Healthy sections are greenish-brown, plump and pliable. Damaged parts are dry, blackish-brown and brittle.

New rose bushes can be planted now if they’re still dormant and not fully leafed out. Potted roses sold actively growing in full foliage should wait until mid-May, so frost doesn’t damage their new growth.

Trees and shrubs

Woody plants sold bare root or dormant potted types can be planted now. If garden centers offer trees or shrubs in full leaf, wait until the last half of May. Nursery stock is sometimes transported from warmer growing regions whose season is more advanced, and the material is susceptible to frost injury.

Remove tree wraps for the season to allow bark to breathe, expand and receive sunshine and fresh air for the summer. Tree stakes are no longer beneficial after one or two seasons, and spring is a good time to dismantle. Trees develop stronger trunk fibers if they’re allowed to sway in the wind, so release them from staking after a year.

Apply circles of wood mulch around trees following the 3-3-3 rule: 3 inches thick, stay 3 inches away from the trunk and apply a 3-feet diameter circle in a donut-shaped ring.

Last minute pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs can still be done, preferably if they haven’t leafed out. Evergreens are best pruned in May and June.

Dormant perennial roots and bulbs can be planted new. Dave Wallis / The ForumPerennial flowers

Last year’s dead tops should be cut off slightly above soil level before new growth makes removal difficult. Overwintered stalks of ornamental grass are best removed now before new grass blades emerge.

New perennials can be planted now from roots or bulbs that are still dormant, but greenhouse potted perennials that are in full growth shouldn’t be planted until there’s less chance of killing frost. May 15-25 is much safer.

If existing perennials need dividing, it can be done now as new growth is just beginning but before becoming longer than about an inch. Not all perennials should be divided in spring. Some types should wait until fall, and there’s an easy rule-of-thumb for remembering. Perennials that bloom in spring and early summer are best divided in fall, like peony and bleeding heart. Perennials that bloom in mid- to late summer and fall should be divided in spring, such as chrysanthemums or tall phlox. Division is best in the season opposite bloom time.

How often should perennials be divided? Types benefiting from spring division every one to three years include monarda, carnation, coral bells, delphinium, tall phlox and chrysanthemum. Every three to five years, spring-divide astilbe, campanula, coneflower and daylily. Hosta can remain in place five to 10 years, but divide in spring if needed.

Wait until late summer and fall to divide iris, lily, peony and bleeding heart. Some perennials are best left in place without disruption, including baby’s breath, Asclepius butterfly flower, Russian sage and Dictamnus gas plant.

Annual flowers

A few cool-weather types can tolerate temperatures as low as 28 degrees, like pansy, viola, alyssum and petunia. Before planting, “harden off” in a protected outdoor spot by gradually exposing to cooler temperature, a little sunshine and slight breeze. This toughens greenhouse-grown plants that might be lush and tender.

Outdoor containers can be planted anytime if you’re willing to move them indoors during freezing nights that are likely between now and mid-May. Some flower types are sensitive to chilly temperatures and are injured even if it doesn’t actually freeze. Impatiens and coleus are very sensitive.

The prime time for most outdoor planting activity is still the 10 days between May 15-25.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment at noon Wednesdays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether//

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Garden tips: propagating cuttings; ground cover; peach trees; mangoes

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