Friday, March 30, 2012

The guy's guide to mulch

(ARA) - As temperatures reach 60 degrees, one of the manly rites of spring, designed to impress the neighbors, is a fresh layer of mulch. But, did you know that it can also help prevent erosion and discourage weeds in the garden? Mulch is an invaluable ingredient to a successful growing season - so much more than shredded bark sprinkled around the base of an ornamental tree each spring. Get the facts on mulch to impress all the neighbors and have a great looking landscape to boot.

What is mulch?
Black Shredded Recycled Rubber Mulch
Just like the leaf layer found on a forest floor, mulch is a covering that can benefit both plants and soil. Consider the many different mulch types. Some contain leaves and bark that decompose, breaking down over time, while others are pebbles or shredded tires . The available varieties of materials are diverse and nearly limitless. The varieties of mulch that break down are beneficial to the nutritional make-up, or tilth, of soil. Ingredients commonly used for beneficial mulching materials are: bark or wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, straw or hay, newspaper, pine needles, cocoa shells and compost.

When selecting mulch, realize that not all mulches are the same. In the past, you may have laid mulch only to see it start to fade in a matter of weeks. This is a major frustration for gardeners. Scotts Nature Scapes Advanced with Color Guard technology retains its color for a full year backed by Scotts no-quibble guarantee.

Geobin Composting System
Where does it come from?
From recycling last week's newspapers or collecting grass clippings after mowing, to composting garden and kitchen waste , inexpensive mulch materials are readily available all around. The lumber and arborist industries often sell chipped wood products inexpensively. These wood chips tend to break down slowly and are sometimes used on garden paths and walkways. Many gardeners prefer the look of the woodchip or bark mulches that are available through local garden centers. Read the labels to determine the contents or sourcing of mulches before purchasing. Whether these mulches are sold by the bag or by the truckload, these tend to be partially composted and add a great, finished appearance to the garden while breaking down over time to add organic matter to the soil.

Why do I need it?
Leaves and bark mulch benefits run much deeper than beauty.
* A mulch layer can moderate the soil temperature reducing the effects of extreme heat or cold.
* Soil condition may be improved by the decomposing matter from mulch that provides plants with added nutrition.
* Mulching a garden creates the ideal environment for earthworms and beneficial organisms.
* If heavy rains or soil erosion is an issue, mulch can help reduce these effects.
* Weeds will find it more difficult to grow in a mulched area, as the mulch helps to block weed growth and access to the sun.

How much do I need?
It is easy to determine how much mulch you will need using the online mulch calculator from Scotts. Measure the bed size and the calculator does the rest. Then, when spreading high quality mulch, like Scotts Nature Scapes Advanced, take your favorite cold beverage, draw a line around the can about two to three inches from the bottom, and use it to spread mulch to the appropriate measured level.

When should I use mulch?
YARDWISE Landscape Rubber Mulch Pallet-Cedar Red Color
Mulch can be applied anytime, but it is best to spread it out early in the growing season, before weeds have had a chance to get established. Remove any existing weeds, and spread a two to three inch layer around landscaping plants, in the vegetable garden or along walkways. If recent rains have made the garden too muddy, mulch is also a great way to create a dry path through the muck and keep your feet from sliding around.

A fresh mulch layer is extremely beneficial, and can make the garden and landscaping look awesome. The proper application of mulch demonstrates your expertise to your friends and neighbors, and helps create a naturally weed-free environment to maximize your garden's growth.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Top 2012 garden and lifestyle trends: cultivate the new good life with the power of plants

(ARA) - In today's world where news travels at the speed of now, people are searching for balance and purpose and are tapping into the power of plants to cultivate the 'new good life'.

"Plants are powerful," says Eric Liskey, deputy garden editor for "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine. "Whether it's enjoying garden-to-table meals or sharing great new plant finds, people are naturally drawn to plants."
Besides beautifying our homes and gardens, plants play a vital role in our health and well-being. They elicit powerful positive emotions, revive neighborhoods, and influence everything from what we eat to life's milestones.

"Plants are no longer a luxury, but a necessity for our lives," says Susan McCoy, trendspotter and outdoor living expert. "Plants can live without us, but we can't live without plants."

The power of plants. For a growing army of eco-conscious Gen X and Y's, recycling, repurposing and upcycling is now a lifestyle.

Dr. Charlie Hall, professor of horticulture at Texas A&M, says, "Gen Y's are embracing a connection with plants based on economics, environmental impact, health and wellness."

These rural and urban curators are planting home and community gardens and renewing urban spaces with an eye toward functionality and artistic design.

Here's what McCoy and her team of Garden Media Group trend spotters see for gardening in 2012:

1. Urban knights. A growing army of 'urban knights' are creating oases wherever they can find a patch of earth. They're planting shrubs, flowers, edibles and pop-up gardens on balconies, in alley ways, and on street parklets - even in abandoned buildings.

From yard sharing and raising chickens to 'step gardening' and harvesting rain water, urban knights are finding a 'new good life' by getting grounded with the earth.

2. Eco-scaping. From rocks in the garden to rocks in the living room, nature's influence can be found both indoors and out.

"Borders are blurring between indoors and out as nature becomes more important in our lives," says Bobbie Schwartz, president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. "Many people want their gardens and their homes to be sanctuaries of tranquility, reflecting their ideal concept of nature."

Beauty and sustainability are key. Liskey says that people want the "beauty and romance" of a garden with less work. "Gardeners want easy, low-maintenance plants that give plenty of color."

The new Bloomtastic! dwarf butterfly bush Lavender Veil from Hines Growers is low maintenance and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds with richly-colored abundant blooms.

"Herbs are popular as cooking shows and healthy eating habits grow," says Briscoe White, head herb farmer at The Growers Exchange. "It's easy to pot up herbs indoors and out for fresh ingredients year round." He recommends planting containers of herbs de Provence for beauty and cooking or edging a landscape border with lavender.

Backyard Vegetable Garden How to Layout a Backyard Vegetable Garden
3. Occupy local. People are "occupying" local farmers markets and joining CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) for fresh produce, plants and products

"Farmers markets are our new backyard veggie gardens and are becoming our local grocery store," says McCoy.

According to the U.S. Dept of Agriculture, sales of "locally produced food" reached $4.8 billion in 2008.They project that locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales dominated by fruit and veggies in 2011.

4. Conscious consumption. According to the 2010 Cone Survey, 83 percent of consumers still want to see more brands, products and companies that support worthy causes.

"We've finally moved from "me" to "we" and consider our earth and each other when we purchase," says McCoy.

American Beauties Native Plants' partnership with the National Wildlife Federation is a great example of this mind shift. When you buy an American Beauties' native plant like the new groundcover, 'Blue Moon' woodland phlox, for example, a donation is made to NWF's Certified Wildlife Habitat Program.

5. Water watchers. "There is no single issue greater than water," says Dr. Hall. Recent drought and regional water restrictions are causing us to grow plants, flowers and vegetables with less water.

thumbnailSoil amendments like the new SoilReef biochar are considered by many scientists to be the "black gold" for gardening. Its high carbon content and porous nature help soil retain water and nutrients, saving gardeners time and money.

Look for EcoCover organic mulch discs in all Bloomtastic! plant containers to help save water and reduce weeds.

Hydroponic gardening is hot, allowing plants to grow year-round in nutrient rich solutions that actually use less water.

6. In living color. Neon colors, pop art and color blocking are influencing fashion on the runways and fashion in the garden. From Tangerine Tango, the new Pantone color of the year, to deep purples and soothing greens, colors are all over the landscape.

Rich, gem colors create your own personal piece of paradise. Tropic Escape Hibiscus from Costa Farms produces huge flowers that last twice as long as regular hibiscus and are perfect for decorating patios and landscapes.

Create a technicolor summer with new Bloomtastic! Bambino bougainvillea and multi-colored bougainvillea patio trees. Hines' new Patio Tropics Desert Rose, Adenium Kissable Pink adds intense tropical color to patios, balconies and poolside.

7. Inner gardening. Decorating our inner gardens with houseplants for better, healthier lives is now the norm. These natural oxygen machines clean indoor air while bringing life to any room.

Whether you want ferns, peace lilies or palms, bring nature in and green up your spaces. To learn more about the benefits of indoor houseplants check out

8. Techno-gardening. With the rise of smartphone technology, consumers are able to go directly into the buying experience. According to TrendWatching, 'dealer chic' is on the rise where securing the best deal is not just accepted - it's admired.
Growing Style Magazine

Gardening is going digital with free e-zines. Costa Farms' "GrowingStyle" magazine brings designer tips and the latest plant info from growers and designers in this free app. Garden products are going high-tech, too. Now's there's a way to rid your yard of pesky critters. New motion activated sprinkler repellents from Havahart provide caring control solutions that safely rid animals from your yard.

    FREE Growing Style Magazine App.
Available instantly for your Android device.
Features include: Read about indoor houseplants, Save your favorite articles, Change the text size. 

9. Seedlings. From the White House to the neighborhood schools, kids are learning how to grow their own food and take care of the planet.
McCoy says we've ignored two generations of gardeners and need to get kids back to having fun growing things. She says the popularity of fairy gardens is ideal for kids and the young at heart to share the whimsical world of plants and appreciate the joy of gardening.

For a complete look at the Garden Media Group 2012 Garden Trends Report, visit

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hot trends for spring home improvement projects

(ARA) - Warmer temperatures, green grass and increased daylight help shake off the winter blues and inspire home and yard improvements to spruce up your surroundings.

Whether you're remodeling to stay put, or putting your home on the market, consider home improvement and design trends as you plan your renovation projects.

Add bold, bright colors
Need a color boost? Fresh color recommendations from the Pantone Color Institute include Tangerine Tango
, Solar Power, Bellflower and Cabaret.

Try adding a splash of these vivid hues to help alter your mood and boost vitality and enthusiasm. Repaint a wall, bookcase or front door for a bold color burst. Or sprinkle splashes of color with new covers for patio furniture, area rugs, pillows or window treatments

Go green, save green
Among the top green home trends from is renovating to reduce your home's heating and cooling load. Add more insulation in the walls, roof and floors or seal up leaks or install new windows and doors.

-qualified products that help lower your home's energy consumption, and in turn, your utility bills.

Low-maintenance Pella 350 Series vinyl windows and patio doors feature a premium look in an energy-saving design that is the most energy-efficient product line the company offers.

Energize your entry
No time for major renovations? Weekend projects, like installing a new front door to welcome guests to dinners, graduations and get-togethers, can transform your entryway with minimal hassle and cost.

Consider installing a 36-inch-wide entry door to add more room to maneuver. Whether you're carrying a baby or a bag of groceries, or need extra space for a wheelchair or walker, wider entry doors are ideal for nearly any home - especially multigenerational ones.

Today's hottest entry door trends revolve around styles, materials and performance.

"The Craftsman style remains a popular choice for entry doors," says Steve Brenizer, product marketing manager for Pella Windows and Doors. "Rustic door styles with hinge straps and clavos that create a distinctive look are also standouts. And customizing with decorative glass to let in natural light without sacrificing privacy, or adding decorative grilles are also sought-after style options."

Fiberglass is in
When it comes to exterior doors, fiberglass is surging in popularity, Brenizer says. "Fiberglass entry doors look like an authentic wood door, without the ongoing maintenance needs of wood," he adds. "Plus, fiberglass offers exceptional energy efficiency, weather resistance and outstanding durability to resist dents and dings."

New fiberglass Pella entry doors push industry performance standards to new levels. Their dual-seal technology provides two layers of protection to help block out the damaging effects of extreme wind and rain. Fiberglass doors are very customizable, Brenizer adds. Homeowners can choose their own exterior clad color, interior wood stain or paint color, or create a custom color to truly reflect their home's style. For more information visit or call 888-847-3552.

march crafts

 Crafts and Activities

 St. Patrick's Day

Word Finds & Mazes

Shamrock Word Find 1                St Patrick Word Find       

St Patty Maze 1                        St Patty Maze 2    

Coloring Pages


leprechaun  1         leprechaun 2           Rainbow 1         Rainbow 2

 4 Leaf Clovers          Multi Shamrock Pattern          Leprechaun Hat       Full Online Preschool - Kindergarten


 St. Patrick's Day Clover Fascinator
 This cute green clover fascinator is the perfect way to show your St. Patrick's Day spirit.
St. Patrick's Day Fascinator 

  • Multi Shamrock Pattern (one large clover and one small clover)
  • Green felt (2 different shades)
  • Green ribbon (any shade)
  • Green feathers (any shade/type)
  • Sequins or jewels
  • Jewelry accessory -- clip, barrette, headband, head ribbon, comb
  • Hot glue or craft glue

Choose  one large clover and one small clover. Trace the large clover on one shade of green felt. Trace the small clover on a different shade of green felt. Cut out the clovers.

 Glue the small clover on top of the large clover, offsetting the leaves of the small clover from the large clover.

 Trim two feathers to the appropriate size and glue them to the back of the large clover.

Cut the green ribbon into two 4-inch pieces. Loop each piece and glue the ends together.
Glue the ribbon loops to the back of the large clover, off to the side of the feathers.
Cut a 1-inch circle of felt and glue it to the back of the large clover, hiding the ends of the feathers and the ribbon.
Decorate your clovers with sequins, jewels or glitter.
Glue the back of the fascinator to a jewelry accessory -- a clip, barrette, headband, head ribbon, or comb. Allow the glue to dry before you place it in the hair.


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March Recipes

March Recipes

Irish Soda Bread


  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
  • ¾ cup raisins


 * Combine dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

*  In a small bowl beat eggs and stir in sour cream.
Irish Rosie's Irish Soda Bread. Photo by Chef*Lee
* Add the egg and sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon.

* Batter will be very thick.
 * Add the raisins and caraway seeds and stir well with wooden spoon or knead in with your hands.

* Place batter in a greased 9 inch springform pan.

* Dust the top with enough flour so that you can pat the batter like a bread dough evenly in the pan without it sticking to your hands.

* With a knife make a shallow crisscross on the top.

* Bake for 50 minutes in a preheated 350ºF oven.
* Yeilds 1  9-inch loaf    Serves  16

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.


Shepherd's Pie

 Yield 4 servings


  •  1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
  •  1 small rutabaga, chopped
  • 1/4 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  •  1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  •  1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 cup milk, or as needed
  • 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes
  •  2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

 Place the celery, carrots, parsnip, rutabaga, and peas into a large saucepan and fill with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and steam for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, crumble the ground lamb or beef into a large skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir until lamb is no longer pink. Drain off any grease. Stir in the steamed vegetables and tomato sauce. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and sage. Transfer everything to a greased 7x11 inch baking dish.               

 Mix enough milk into the mashed potatoes to make them spreadable. Spread them over the top of the casserole and garnish with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

 Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until the top is browned and the casserole is heated through.



 Corned Beef and Cabbage (Crock Pot)

 Serves 6-8
Corned Beef and Cabbage (Crock Pot). Photo by *Parsley*


 4 cups hot water
 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
 ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
 1 large onion ,cut into quarters
3 lbs corned beef brisket (with spices)
 8 small yellow potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
 1 head cabbage , cored and cut into 10 wedges (about 1 1/2 pounds)

* Combine the water vinegar, sugar, pepper and onions, in a 6 qt Crock Pot
and mix well.

* Place corned beef and contents of spice packet in the mixture.

* Scatter the potatoes over the top and along the sides.

* Cover and cook on high heat setting 4 hours.
Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook & Carry Oval Slow Cooker, Stainless Steel
* Remove the lid and scatter the cabbage wedges over the top.

* Cover and continue cooking on high 3-4 hours longer, or until beef is tender.

* To serve, carve the beef into slices against the grain and serve with the cabbage and potatoes, with some of the cooking liquid spooned on top of the beef to keep it moist.


Irish Tacos
Ireland meets Mexico in a fun, easy alternative to a sandwich -- a corned beef and coleslaw taco, served with a gently spicy yogurt-cilantro sauce. It's a good way to use up any corned beef leftovers after the big day.
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  •  1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded corned beef
  •  8 (10 inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 pound prepared coleslaw

Mix together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lime juice, cilantro, cayenne pepper, and salt in a bowl until smooth.               
 Place the corned beef in a saucepan over medium-low heat just until hot. Place a tortilla into a heavy skillet over medium heat until hot and just beginning to show brown spots, about 30 seconds per side.
To assemble, arrange about 2 tablespoons of coleslaw on a tortilla; follow with 3 tablespoons of corned beef. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the yogurt sauce; roll up to serve.               


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