Restoring My Neglected Flower Beds

As part of my Goals and Challenges for 2017 I wanted to get the flower beds back into shape. Sadly a lot of the perennials I had planted were mistakenly uprooted when Mr. Comfortable “weeded” for me a couple of years ago. Other plants just came to the end of their lives. Now it’s time for me to begin restoring my neglected flower beds. I hope you can use some of the tricks I’m using to help your flower gardens!

Restoring my neglected flower beds

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Making Your Own Worm Farm

I admit, in most ways, I’m not a fan of worms. When we go fishing I still prefer my son baits my hook . And if I see a worm on the surface of a street I get the shudders. But in my vegetable garden I’m thrilled to see lots of these wonderful creatures in the soil. Making your own worm farm is easy and inexpensive!

Making Your Own Worm Farm

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Plants & Flowers for Your Shade Garden

The front of my house faces north. While this means that my vegetable garden is bathed in sunlight from dawn until dusk the side of my house that makes the first impression is not so blessed. The bottom part of my lawn gets plenty of sun; the good thing about having a ranch style home. The flower beds that line the foundation of the house get no real sun. Ever.

I’m trying to reclaim my flower beds but I don’t want to spend a fortune on annuals. This means I need to move some of the annuals that I already have and purchase (or swap for) new ones. Finding shade loving plants and flowers can seem like an impossible task but there are actually quite a few really attractive options.


There is a section of wall at the front of the house that has no windows and no architectural features. It’s just a wall. For that area I can use a shrub that grows fairly tall and wide. My choice is the Carolina allspice. This is a lovely shrub that has maroon to rusty brown, fruity smelling flowers that bloom in the spring.


I already have a few astilbes in various hues. My current favorite is called Jump and Jive. The vibrant color really lights up my shady flower bed.


Another favorite that I need to replace is common foxglove. I like the variety called Dalmatian White because it nearly glows in moonlight. Another favorite foxglove is Camelot Rose. A nice thing about foxglove is it’s a reseeding biennial so, although it’s not a forever plant it does last a couple of years.








In the flower beds I have both hostas and ferns but, honestly, I’m tired of them. And there are several coral bell plants doing quite well but I think I want to try a brighter color. The ones I have are dark in color and I want to lighten things up with Citronelle and Blackberry Ice varieties.



And I may throw in an early bloomer like Helleborus, Red Lady. For mid to late summer blooms I’ll look to spiderwort in a pretty purple like Sweet Kate.



A beautiful, low growing flower that I’ll use to fill in some spots is the primrose. These pretty flowers come in a variety of colors and you can usually also buy them as a mix.


Here is a list of plants and flowers that grow well in the shade. Be sure to check if the plants you want will grow in your zone. Remember, just because you don’t have a lot of sun doesn’t mean you can’t make your garden lovely!

Begonia -wax begonias

Garden forget-me-not
Wishbone flower


Fringed bleeding heart
Common bleeding heart
Yellow foxglove
Common foxglove (reseeding biennial)
Coral bells
Virginia bluebells
Cinnamon fern
Wild blue phlox
Creeping phlox
Solomon’s seals
Allegheny foamflower


Wild gingers
Heartleaf bergenia

Alpine strawberry
Sweet woodruff
Hakone grass
Spotted lamium
Liriope (this can be invasive in warmer climates)
Japanese pachysandra


Carolina allspice
Rose daphne
Japanese holly
Mountain laurel
Variegated Japanese kerria
Mahonias and Oregon grapes
Heavenly bamboo
Rhododendrons and azaleas
Alpine currant
Himalayan sarcococca
Japanese skimmia


How to Have a Great Garden for Less Money

I love my vegetable garden. I spend most of my summer out there even when it really doesn’t need my attention. I get a thrill just seeing my vegetables growing. Yet even though I love my garden I’m not going to spend a fortune on it each season. I grow vegetables because home-grown are healthier and cheaper than store bought. Over the years I’ve learned how to have a great garden for less money.


  1. I grow almost all my vegetables from seeds rather than buying started plants. My son always gets me some plants for Mother’s Day but starting vegetables from seeds is a lot less expensive.
  1. Seed swapping is another way to save money. Get together with your gardening friends and trade seeds. I always look for heirloom seeds and that way I not only get seeds for this year but I can save the seeds from my harvest for next year.
  1. I make my own soil amendments. We have chickens so I have that manure in bulk. There are also several nearby farms that have cows. They’re always happy to let me go clean up their pastures for the free manure. I just mix the manure I collect with grass clippings and old leaves, add some kitchen trimmings like eggshells and coffee grounds, and let it sit over the winter. The next spring I have great compost.
  1. Re-purposing and reusing items I have on hand saves money, too. Use fallen tree branches as stakes or trellises for tomatoes and vining plants. Old lattice can be turned into a garden gate. Be creative. Try using old cardboard and newspaper for mulch.
  1. Going organic is also a cash (and health) saver. Chemical pesticides can be expensive and they aren’t healthy but attracting beneficial insects to my garden is free. Cover crops and companion planting add nutrients to the garden and give me additional crops.


  1. Free or discount items like listings on Craigslist or your local newspaper often have free mulch or even live plants. I also go to garage sales and flea markets as they can be great places to find things I can repurpose for my garden.
  1. I design my vegetable and flower gardens myself. There are plenty of design services and software for designing gardens but they can be costly. It’s free and easy to do it yourself. Just research which plants grow well together and the light requirements of plants you want to grow. All you need to do the layout is some paper and a ruler. I use Excel each winter to plan my garden for the following spring. That way I can ensure crop rotation and move things around as my ideas change.
  1. Get creative. I often drive our dirt roads to pick up large rocks I use to decorate my flowerbeds. I have a thing about rocks. You can often find furniture to turn into garden decor and garden decorations free by the side of the road. Look to nature for items you can use to dress up your garden.
  1. Take cuttings and thin bulbs to increase the plants you have in your flower beds. Start your cuttings in a pot with wet perlite and you’ll see roots and leaves in just a few short weeks. Research which plants can be grown from cuttings as some are asexual; genetic clones, and won’t reproduce this way.
  1. Flower trades are another way I’ve found to get free plants. I take bulbs or cuttings of plants and trade them for the new ones I want with friends. It’s a wonderful way to get free perennials


Do you have money-saving tips for the garden? Please share them!






Don't Get Rid of These Garden Bugs!

When I was younger bugs freaked me out. As I got older I’ve found I can handle things like ladybugs and fireflies but most bugs still kind of give me a little chill down my spine. They’re so darned fast and they have all those legs! When I first started gardening I either ran away from or killed every bug that I saw. Now, decades later, I’ve come to appreciate some of those critters. Not all bugs are good but if you want your garden to thrive don’t get rid of these bugs!




Bigeyed Bugs

bigeyed bug

This is an actual bug not just a description. They are small (1/4 inch long), grayish-beige, oval shaped) bugs with large eyes that feed on many small insects such as leaf hoppers, spider mites), insect eggs, and mites, as both nymphs and adults. Eggs are football shaped, whitish-gray with red spots.

Braconid Wasps


Unless you abuse them braconid wasps are harmless to you but deadly to many garden pests! The adult female of this species injects its eggs into host insects, including caterpillars, moths, beetle larvae, and aphids. The larvae feed inside the host and it dies once the larvae have completed development. Nectar plants with small flowers, such as dill, parsley, wild carrot, and yarrow will attract these beneficial wasps to your garden. If you see a caterpillar or other harmful insect with little white things attached don’t kill the host.


Drop it in a jar with some holes poked in the lid and feed it. They larvae will mature and fly out of the holes giving you even more braconid wasps!

Damsel Bugs


Damsel bugs are more commonly found in field crops such as alfalfa and soybean than in row crops or orchards. Grassy fields tend to have more damsel bugs than do broadleaf weed or weed-free fields.  Collect them for your garden by using a sweep net. Damsel bugs feed on aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, thrips, and other pesky pests.

Ground Beetles


The ground beetle is a nocturnal predator of slugs, snails, cutworms, cabbage maggots, and other pests that live in your garden’s soil. A single beetle larva can eat more than 50 caterpillars. White clover or perennial plantings provide a stable home for these beetles.



Adult hoverflies look like little bees that hover and dart around very quickly. They don’t sting so don’t be afraid of these helpful flies! They are also known as syrphid fly, predatory aphid fly or flower fly. They lay white, oval eggs either singly or in groups on leaves. These eggs hatch into green, yellow, brown, orange or white maggots that look like little caterpillars. They rise up on their hind legs to catch and feed on aphids, mealybugs and others. Dill, coriander, and parsley attract these flies.



Both adult lacewings and their larvae eat aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, scales, thrips, and whiteflies. They are sometimes called aphid lions for their habit of dining on aphids. They also feed on mites, other small insects and insect eggs. On spring and summer evenings, lacewings can sometimes be seen clinging to porch lights and screens or windows. Tolerate light aphid outbreaks, because they are an important food source for lacewing larvae.

Lady Beetles


Adult lady beetles eat aphids, mites, and mealybugs, and their hungry larvae do even more damage to garden pests. The young larvae are black with orange markings and they eat more pests than the adults, and they can’t fly. Planting dill, fennel, and yarrow will attract these beetles. Lady beetle larvae also need aphids for food so don’t immediately wipe out a light outbreak.

Minute Pirate Bugs


The quick-moving, black-and-white minute pirate bugs will attack almost any insect. These are tiny insects about 1/20 of an inch long. Attract these bugs with Goldenrods, daisies, alfalfa, and yarrow will attract these helpful bugs. These tiny fellows can deliver a bite and the reaction can be anything from nothing at all to a mosquito bite type of irritation to a hard, red bump. Fortunately, they do not inject any kind of venom nor feed on your blood. The good they do in the garden is worth a minor bite.

Soldier Beetles


The soldier beetle feeds on aphids and caterpillars, as well as other insects—including harmless and beneficial species. Attract this flying insect by allowing some herbs to flower and by planting brightly colored flowers. These insects resemble fireflies but lack the glowing bottom!

Spined Soldier Bug

spined_soldier_bugSpined soldier bug

The spined soldier bug’s pointed “shoulders” distinguish it from stink bugs.

brown_stink_bug_adultStink bug

These bugs attack over 90 species of harmful insects including gypsy moths, Mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, and Colorado potato beetles, all of which can take a hefty toll on crops.  Attract the spined soldier bug by planting permanent beds of perennials to provide shelter or by purchasing spined soldier bug pheromones to lure this predator of hairless caterpillars and beetle larvae.

Tachinid Fly


Tachinid fly larvae burrow their way into many caterpillars, destroying these garden pests from the inside. Herbs including dill, parsley, sweet clover, attract adult flies.




Pictures courtesy of Rodale’s Organic Life




Creating Curb Appeal

As ashamed as I am to admit it I’ve neglected the front of my house for several years. And before my husband got cancer he helped by “weeding” the flower beds at the front of the house. I lost most of the plants I’d so lovingly chosen and also almost all the ones my sons had given me for several Mother’s Days. The hill that is beside our driveway near the road had been carefully cleared and flowers and plants had taken up residence. Now it’s overgrown again and I don’t even know if anything I planted has survived. In short, my home has absolutely no curb appeal.

There are ways to increase the curb appeal of any home without breaking the bank. If your home could use a makeover to improve its curb appeal try these ideas.


Prune and weed – No home looks good when shrubs are overgrown and weeds have taken over flower beds. These two things can give the impression you don’t care about your home. If you have a shrub that looks like it’s going to swallow your home cut back the branches that are obscuring windows and walkways. Make sure your flower beds are weeded and fill in large empty spots with some colorful annuals or perennials.

Bring out the dead – If you have shrubs that have died or are dying it’s better to remove them than hope they make a comeback. Dead shrubbery can kill your curb appeal. Also check flower beds, window boxes, and planters. An empty spot in the landscaping is still better than a dead plant.

Hide the faults – If you have an unattractive but immovable item like a well-head or utility box your best bet is to hide it. Avoid using plants that actually draw the eye to the unwanted feature. Roses surrounding a gas line head will only call attention to it. Try plants like fine textured evergreens or ferns. These plants will conceal without standing out.  Stand across the street and look at your landscape. If you see something you’d rather hide, choose something that will cover it.

Accentuate the positive – Curb appeal means drawing the eye to the front door and the beauty of the exterior of the home. Be sure to keep plants and shrubs lower than the windowsill. This may mean you have to do some serious pruning. You also may need to remove the lower limbs of trees that are blocking the view from both inside and outside your home. Seasonal flowers add color and appeal and those placed near the front door draws visitors eyes to the front door (the focal point) and make your home seem welcoming. Sweeping curves created by walkways to the front door are a strong visual element. And, if you can, you may want to add a patio area to the front of the home. A fountain is another feature you may consider placing near the front door.

Keep it clean – Remove any clutter that detracts from the first impression of your home. Having too many plants and flowers of different types can create a distraction. Group plants of the same species in odd numbers (3, 5, 7). Choose a small number of plants and flowers then plant them where they give you the most bang for the buck. And remember, you’re drawing attention to the door so arrange plants so the eye moves along the landscape to the most vibrant colors and interesting plants which should be closest to the door.

New is good – Choose both perennials and annuals so that you have bursts of colors from early spring to fall. And don’t forget evergreens. You don’t want to crowd the home with them or block the view but they do improve the look of your home in winter. And don’t neglect the lawn. Fill in any dead spots and keep it neatly mowed.

Your home, no matter how grand or how modest, can be truly fetching with a little work.

Mulch the Right Way

If you want a high-yield vegetable garden you need to use mulch. Mulching not only helps your plants but saves you work. But you should mulch the right way to get all the benefits.

Here are the ways that mulch helps in the garden:

  1. Mulch insulates plants in extreme weather. In summer it keeps the soil cool and moist which can save your plants in very dry weather. Vegetables that have their roots in cool soil are more vigorous and don’t suffer as much stress in heat as plants that are unprotected. If you live in an extremely cold climate you may prefer to mulch with black landscape fabric or plastic to keep in the heat or forego mulching altogether.
  1. Mulch keeps the soil moist longer and that means plants get more water. It also means less watering for you.


  1. Mulch keeps weeds down. The soil beneath mulch is shaded and moist. If weed seeds do manage to germinate in the dark and get above the mulch they are uprooted easily with just a slight pull. Just be sure you’re not using a type of mulch that can introduce seeds in the garden.
  1. Mulch helps prevent diseases. Water splashing on to leaves can carry diseased soil. Blight is an example of a fungal disease that spreads quickly when water splashed dirt on to leaves.
  1. Mulch decays and increases the organic matter in the soil. Over time it increases hummus which is like the holy grail of organic matter. Hummus is the point where mulch material can no longer decay and instead acts like a sponge holding in moisture and nutrients. It is the ideal growing medium for most plant roots.

The types of mulch vary and the choice is up to you. Some mulch material is even free because it occurs naturally.

  • Black landscape fabric or plastic is great for heat loving crops like peppers, tomatoes, melons, and eggplants. Be careful that you don’t use this if you live in an area that experiences extreme heat. Also be sure that your plants are starved of water if you use plastic that is non-permeable.
  • Burlap bags make great mulch if you can get them cheaply enough. Check with local farmers who will often give you their empty burlap feed sacks or at least sell them cheaply.
  • Compost is excellent mulch and you can make it at home with garden debris and kitchen items. Just don’t use any meat or dairy in your homemade compost. Homemade compost is higher in nutrition that the commercially produced compost like manure but the bagged types will give you a jump start on improving soil until you get your own compost pile going.
  • Newspaper seems like unlikely mulch but carefully placed newspaper, overlapping and three sheets thick is a remarkably effective weed barrier. Either tack the newspaper down with garden staples or cover it with mulch like straw to keep it from blowing around. By the following growing season the newspaper will have broken down and can be turned into the soil like and other mulch. Be sure not to use any glossy print paper. They may contain metal-based ink.
  • Pine bark is a byproduct of the milling of trees for lumber. Very finely ground bark is called soil conditioner and is the choice for vegetable gardens. The finer particles of soil conditioner will turn to compost more quickly than regular pine bark and therefore benefit your soil faster.
  • Pine needle mulch (pine straw) is sold by the bale and is also available for free wherever there are pine trees. This mulch is a favorite in the southeast, where it’s abundant. This mulch adds acidity to the soil so it’s perfect for blueberries and gardens with neutral or alkaline soil.
  • Wheat straw is sold by the bale. It’s a light, fluffy mulch to use around vegetable plants. It breaks down relatively quickly and so it can be turned back into the soil each season. It won’t influence the pH of the soil. Cool weather crops like broccoli and greens prefer this to black mulch. It keeps the soil up to 25°F cooler. Be careful to purchase straw and not hay. Hay contains seeds that could have you fighting a wheat crop all season long!

Tips for mulching:

  • To avoid rot and fungus problems keep mulch away from plant stems by about 1 inch. This can be a bit closer for tomatoes and peppers that are subject to blight.
  • If you use grass clippings let them sun dry for a couple of days. And don’t use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides or toxic pesticides.
  • Using leaves is fine but they must be aged at least 9 months. Phenols which inhibit growth will have leached out in that time.

And don’t forget that you should use a weed barrier in your flower gardens!


Photo courtesy Sergei S. Scurfield

Bring on the Night – Flowers You Need to View After Dark

Flowers bring such beauty to our gardens. Sometimes just looking at flowers can make the cares of life disappear. But did you know that some flowers are even more beautiful in the soft light of night? So, bring on the night! Here are flowers you need to view after dark.

moonflower2-01Plants with reflective foliage: Lamb’s ear, agaves, and Russian sage with their silver and grey leaves lend an ethereal light to your garden. Jack Frost brunnera and others with a metallic sheen to their leaves absolutely glimmer at dusk. And white variegated hostas, caladiums, and dogwoods reflect the faint light of evening after their green leaves are invisible.

Flowers full of fragrance: The scents of many flowers grow more intense after dark when breezes aren’t as strong. Roses, lilies, honeysuckle, and old-fashioned petunias release their fragrances perfuming the air after dark more strongly than in daylight hours.

Night blooming flowers: Evening primroses, four o’clocks, and moonflowers (a.k.a. tropical white morning glory) save their exquisiteness for after sunset. They unfurl their blossoms to greet the night and it’s a sight you shouldn’t miss. Some cactuses and tropical water lilies do the same.

Pastel flowers:  After dark the red, purple, blue, and orange blossoms disappear and pastel blossoms begin to illuminate the garden. White flowers stand out in the garden like little moons. Tiny flowers like those of asters and guara become their own little Milky Way.