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Urban Gardening 101

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(Family Features) Urban living and lush gardens aren’t as mutually exclusive as one might assume. In fact, it’s possible to cultivate thriving gardens in even the smallest spaces.

The first step toward creating a successful small garden space is planning. Sketching out your garden area with a clear understanding of the actual dimensions is important. This allows you to allocate adequate growing space for the vegetation you choose and prevent overcrowding.

Part of your planning should also take climate into account. If the sun reaches your garden area, knowing what time the sun typically hits matters. Some plants are poorly equipped to handle the strength of direct afternoon rays.

Other matters to consider are the soil quality and whether it is adequate to nourish vegetation. If not, you may need to excavate and refill your planting areas with nutrient-rich gardening soil. Access to water is also a concern; if you’ll be forced to water by can, avoid choosing plants that would better benefit from a thorough hose soaking.

As you begin planning the actual contents of your garden, don’t hesitate to blend edibles with beauty. Many herbs offer attractive textures and colors that can add variety to a colorful selection of flowering plants. Edible plants such as strawberries offer color from blooms (and later brightly hued fruit), as well as trailing greenery that looks pretty along the edges of potted containers.

If your goal is color, give consideration to the blooming season for your selected plants. Unless you plan to enjoy your garden for just a short season, choose a variety of plants and flowers that bloom throughout your region’s entire growing season.

Especially in the smallest garden spaces, it’s smart to make the most of vertical space. Use a trellis or other structure to encourage vining vegetation to grow upward rather than outward. Hanging baskets or buckets are ideal for inverted growth of plants such as tomatoes or peppers, and shelving or tiered plant stands are handy for creating more plant real estate in smaller garden spaces.

Beautiful gardens need not be limited to those with expansive lawns in rural communities. Though smaller in scale, urban gardens can deliver equal beauty and a surprising volume of edible bounty with proper preparation and design. Find more tips at eLivingtoday.com.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


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Family Features

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home gardening

Birdfeeder Battleground: Winning the war against squirrels

Bird lovers can deter squirrels from feeders by using spicy seed mixtures that birds enjoy but squirrels find distasteful, or establishing separate feeding stations.

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(Joan Casanova) For bird lovers, the sight of a bushy tail hanging off the side of a feeder means one thing: war. Love them or loathe them, most birders agree they don’t want squirrels in birdfeeders where they can devour seed meant for birds.

Squirrels have to eat, too, and no one wants to harm the persistent critters. However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with squirrels scarfing down seed set out for birds, damaging feeders and bumping up your blood pressure. It’s possible to discourage squirrels – and even outsmart them – with the right seed mix and some nature-friendly squirrel-control tactics.

Because squirrels love birdseed as much as birds do, both groups routinely battle for rights to the birdfeeder. It’s not an equal fight – most squirrels are bigger than the average bird, so chances are they’re going to devour the seed.

Squirrels are one of the biggest problems for people who feed birds. They can eat large amounts of seed, destroy birdfeeders and chase birds away. When squirrels claim your feeder as their territory, it’s hard to get rid of them.

While they can be relentless in their perpetual pursuit of birdseed and don’t like to share, you don’t want to hurt them, just set them on the straight and narrow. One of the most effective tactics to keep squirrels out of birdfeeders is taste aversion – serving seed that birds find delicious, but squirrels consider downright distasteful. Simply put, if the seed you serve tastes terrible to squirrels, they’ll seek sustenance elsewhere.

Put pesky squirrels on notice your birdfeeders are meant to be bird-exclusive by stocking  them with products infused with fiery hot habanero chili peppers, like Cole’s “Hot Meats” that appeals to birds with top-quality sunflower meats and spicy taste but turns squirrels away with hot chili-pepper oil. Or offer “Blazing Hot Blend,” which combines the same habanero chili oil formula with preferred seeds to attract a maximum variety of songbirds. Birds find the spicy taste delectable but squirrels detest it.

Studies show mammals, including squirrels, have receptors on the tongue and mouth that react to chili peppers by sending heat signals to the brain. Although there’s no actual harm, the sensation makes it seem like the mouth is on fire. Birds lack receptors that make chewing chili peppers such an eyewatering experience for mammals and they love the spicy flavor.

Another easy option is Cole’s “Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce,” a nutritional birdseed “hot sauce” that contains all-natural, 100% food grade ingredients with a hot and spicy flavor. It’s a safe, effective and humane way to feed birds and thwart squirrels. Remember, your feathered friends can’t taste the heat, but squirrels sure can. Add this chili pepper formula to any birdseed to reduce squirrel visits at the birdfeeder.

If you have a soft spot for those fluffy-tailed felons as amusing additions to your backyard, try diversion feeding, an effective tactic to lure squirrels away from the birdfeeder by providing them with their own food source. Set up a squirrel feeding station away from birdfeeders and make it easy for squirrels to access their own platform feeder filled with favored temptations. This can satisfy squirrels and allow for a “birds only” oasis at the birdfeeder.

Try “Critter Munchies,” a blend of whole yellow corn, striped sunflower, peanuts in the shell, black oil sunflower and raw peanuts.

If you’re among the bird lovers who have tried countless devices and gimmicks over the years to thwart seed-stealing squirrels, using taste aversion and diversion feeding tactics can help you win the age-old war at your backyard birdfeeders. For more information, visit coleswildbird.com.

Photos courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products


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home gardening

7 Budget-Friendly Gardening Hacks

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(Family Features) Gardening can be a simple way to beautify your yard, relieve stress and save money on your grocery bill, but like any hobby, you can get carried away buying necessary equipment.

Fun, frugal and environmentally friendly, these tricks can help you create a cost-effective garden:

  1. Use a yardstick and permanent marker to mark inches and feet on the handle of your rake, shovel or hoe. The next time you plant, simply lay the marked handle along the row to create perfectly spaced holes for seeds.
  2. Line the bottom of a clay pot with a coffee filter to keep soil from leaking out the bottom.
  3. Use empty plastic water bottles or clear milk jugs to fill the bottom of large pots. They reduce the weight of the pot and require less soil to fill.
  4. To test your seeds to see if they’re still viable for this planting season, place a wet paper towel inside a zip-top bag, drop in 3-4 seeds and wait a week to see if anything grows.
  5. One way to help prevent weeds is lining your garden with a layer of newspaper. Just top two or three sheets of newsprint with a layer of pine needles, grass clippings or dried leaves for an eco-friendly and inexpensive weed barrier.
  6. Keep gardening twine handy. Nail a funnel to your potting bench with the spout pointing downward, feed the twine through and your string will never go missing. For a more portable solution, place a ball of twine inside a canning jar, make a hole in the lid and feed the end of the twine through the hole. Now, you can take twine anywhere, tangle-free.
  7. There is no need to buy expensive potting systems for starting seedlings. Place several cardboard toilet paper rolls inside a clean plastic clamshell, like those used for premade salads. Fill each cardboard tube with potting soil and plant. Once your seedlings grow too tall for the clamshell, simply tear off the top lid.

Find more ideas for creating a garden without spending a bundle at eLivingtoday.com.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


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Family Features

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home gardening

5 Tips for Choosing Gardening Essentials

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(Family Features) Whether you’re a new homeowner ready to tackle the landscaping for the first time or a seasoned gardener looking to do some updating, when it comes to gardening, you simply need the right tools to do the job well.

Consider these tips when purchasing essentials for your tool shed.

Shovel: A shovel with a pointed blade is a good all-around choice for digging, mixing and moving soil. Conversely, a flat-bladed shovel should be used for “cutting” tasks such as straight-side trenches and edging. After narrowing down which style of shovel best meets your needs, check the metal to ensure it’s well-constructed and won’t bend or break easily. Check fittings such as bolts and screws to ensure the blade and handle are strongly connected and can withstand reasonable pressure. Finally, spend a few minutes testing out the tool to ensure it fits well in your hand.

Rake: With numerous materials and shapes to choose from, finding the right rake can be intimidating. A basic fan-shaped rake with metal fingers is a universally accepted, long-lasting option. Select a model with plenty of give in the fingers if you’ll be raking large areas and don’t want to damage the ground below. A rake made of firmer metal allows you to work and smooth soil. Purchasing the broadest width you can comfortably handle allows you to cover more ground, which means less work.

Depending on the space you’ll be tending, you may also consider purchasing a garden fork, which has fewer tines than a traditional rake and is ideal for aerating, weeding and turning small sections of soil.

Hoe: Whether flat or pointed, a hoe is essential for a weed-free garden. Flat versions can also be useful for breaking up clumps and hard spots on the surface while pointed hoes make quick work of rows and mounds to protect and irrigate your plantings.

Shears: A variety of shears are available to accomplish a wide range of garden tasks. Larger shears are ideal for big jobs such as shaping hedges, while smaller pruning shears are meant for snips and sprucing. Quality metal and sharp blades are important features. Be sure to choose a model with a safety latch to lock blades when not in use.

Gloves: Even if you eagerly embrace the chance to get your hands dirty, no tool shed is complete without a sturdy pair of gloves. Choose a material tough enough to protect from thorns but pliable enough to allow for free movement. Proper fit is key to avoiding blisters.

Find more gardening tips and advice at eLivingtoday.com.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


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Family Features

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