October 23, 2017

Gardening: America’s New Favorite Pastime

home inspector atlantaMore than 41 million Americans planted vegetable gardens in 2009 – a number expected to increase as food costs climb, according to a recent Gardening Trends Research Report. When you factor in flowers, herbs and fruits, it’s difficult to find a home where people are not working the soil on a warm sunny day.

Aside from the obvious benefits of fresh flowers and produce, gardening provides low-impact, calorie-burning exercise. One hour of gardening burns about 375 calories. While love of gardening has not changed, methods continue to evolve – and one of the top trends is raised-bed gardening.

Tending a raised bed requires less bending and stooping, and is ideal for yards with poor soil. Rather than working to improve heavy clay soil or adding body to sandy soil, you’re starting with a clean slate. Raised beds are particularly useful for community gardens and urban gardens in areas with compacted or root-bound soil.

“Ninety percent of success is the prep work done ahead of planting,” says Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wis.” This includes finding a location that gets six to eight hours of direct sun each day.

Once the site is chosen, determine the size of your garden. A first-timer should start small – don’t overwhelm yourself with a massive plot. Start with one or two raised garden beds measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. Select a location that offers room to grow, should you choose to expand your garden in subsequent years.

No matter what size raised bed you choose, the frame needs to be structurally sound and attractive. Helping to fill this niche is the durable, decorative M Brace raised garden bed bracket from Outdoor Essentials. The patented, corner bracket, sold in sets of four, lets you create an attractive, sturdy raised garden bed in just minutes using common 2-by-6 and 2-by-4 lumber and no tools. The M Brace’s sturdy, recycled metal frame keeps boards seated securely at the corners. It’s available in eight cut-out designs, and two finishes – steel that will rust gracefully over time, or powder-coated in an antique bronze finish.

Once the frame is in place, fill the raised box with quality soil. Garden centers offer bulk and bagged soil mixes. Or create your own blend, using equal parts peat moss, coarse-grade vermiculite and blended compost.

Create pathways to your garden or build an adjacent sitting area with Tiffany-style stepping-stones from Outdoor Essentials (www.OutdoorEssentialProducts.com).  Serpentine jade or handcrafted Tiffany-style jade stepping stones lend visual appeal to your garden and protect soil and plants from being trampled.

To keep deer, rabbits and other critters at bay, consider a decorative enclosure using end caps and lattice. Fence posts 4-by-4 inches or 6-by-6 inches are ideal. Once fence posts are set, enclose the garden with decorative lattice, leaving a narrow opening or a hinged gate for access.

Make your enclosed garden an eye-catching centerpiece by topping off the end posts with elegant Planter Post Caps. The decorative caps, available in two styles and colors, add dimension and color to the garden. Caps are available in square or round designs, with a black or copper finish. Plant colorful flowers or trailing vines in the post cap planters to create horizontal interest.

The key to a bountiful harvest – be it fruits, vegetables or flowers – is successful pollination. Brightly colored flowers attract bees and hummingbirds, as will fresh water. Add a luminous green birdbath in serpentine jade to attract birds all summer and to provide an architectural focal point inside your garden.

“Think outside the box,” says Dwyer. Add a few herbs – or anything you want – to make the garden uniquely yours. And don’t discount edible landscape ornamentals: “Many fresh herbs and vegetables can contribute their own charm to an informal border or container,” he adds.

Whether for a relaxing hobby or for the desire to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables for you and your neighbors, now is the perfect time to start a garden of your own.

Pool Safety Measures For A Safer Summer

atlanta home inspectorEnjoy the pleasures of home pool ownership and ensure a safer summer for your family by employing a few safety measures around your pool.

One way to do this is to integrate Safer 3, an initiative of the Swim for Life Foundation, which calls for “Safer Water, Safer Kids and Safer Response.”

Swim lessons and supervision lead to safer kids. Having family members take classes in CPR and implementing measures like keeping a portable phone by the pool can help you make a safer response. To ensure safer water, install layers of protection between the home and the pool.

Parents watch their children, especially during the toddler stages, but it’s impossible to watch them every second of every day. There are times when a parent is distracted by cooking, doing laundry, checking email, showering or other activities. Many caregivers turn TV or a video on inside the house, and ensure children are watching. But kids get easily distracted, and water draws them like a magnet.

Water safety experts say that safer water is achieved by having layers of protection in place between your home and pool, to buy the time to re-establish contact after a momentary distraction. Studies in areas where isolation fencing is mandatory, such as Western Australia, have proven that isolation fencing with self-closing, self-latching gates saves lives. Isolation fencing separates the pool from the home, either surrounding the pool or enclosing all doors leading from the home, to prevent children who get out the door from traveling beyond the patio. For above-ground pools, a smaller fence and gate surrounding the steps or ladder can prevent toddler access.

“If a child gains unauthorized access to a pool and drowns, it’s a terrible tragedy,” says D&D Technologies’ Senior Vice President Jim Paterson. “It can also be a liability issue when the injured party is a visitor. You can improve the safety and security of your pool or spa with isolation fencing with self-closing, self-latching gate hardware.

“D&D’s MagnaLatch is the No. 1 selling child safety gate latch in the world,” Paterson adds. “Unlike common gravity latches, MagnaLatch has a built-in key lock, eliminating the need for a separate padlock. It won’t jam, is self-latching and vertically and horizontally adjustable. Our gate hardware is formed of super-strong engineering polymers with stainless steel components, so it won’t rust – ever, and it carries a limited lifetime warranty. With TruClose hinges, no external closing spring is required, and the homeowner can easily adjust hinge tension after installation with a screwdriver.”

Paterson notes that rust-free gate hardware is now available under the Stanley or National Hardware brand through select Lowe’s stores or online at www.lowes.com, and through other hardware retailers or fencing professionals. The hinges and latches are simple to install and most models offer vertical and horizontal adjustment to correct gate misalignment caused by ground movement, children swinging on gates or other factors.

Pool barrier codes require pool gates to be self-closing and self-latching, and to open away from the pool. D&D has two lockable MagnaLatch styles so the release can be mounted at the code-required height, typically 54 or 60 inches above the ground. Consult your building department for local regulations.

Pool safety advocacy groups like the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) recommend that homeowners utilize several layers of protection so they can experience the pleasures of swimming pools and feel an added degree of assurance that their children, grandchildren and visitors will be safe.

The dangers of suction drain entrapment are also significant, and anti-entrapment drain covers should be in place. Pool professionals should be consulted to ensure the correct suction entrapment prevention devices are used.

Both the Safer 3 and the NDPA recommend that a “water watcher” be designated for safety when children are in the pool, to maintain eye-to-eye contact at all times.

Toys or floating chlorine dispensers that look like toys should never be left in the pool area.

“With isolation fencing and the Safer 3 in place, your family can look forward to years of relaxation and enjoyment of your pool,” Paterson says.

For more information, visit www.ddtechglobal.com or www.ndpa.org. For a free Pool Safety Kit call (800) 716-0888, ext. 292, or email info@ddtechusa.com.

 

Create Rainy Day Fun With Kids In The Kitchen

atlanta home inspectorThe rainy weather during the spring months can often keep your children cooped up indoors, begging for entertainment. Instead of spending the afternoon watching a movie or playing video games, invite your kids into the kitchen to help whip up a delicious meal that doubles as playtime.

Cooking with your kids is a great way to introduce them to basic math, chemistry, different cultures and foods, and more – no matter how young they are. Best of all, it can be both fun and rewarding, especially when your kids proudly pass around their creative dish to share with friends and family members.

If you’re interested in finding a great way to have fun with your kids on the next rainy day, consider some of these creative kitchen cooking activities:

* Plan a menu with a rainbow of colors. This will introduce your kids to a variety of foods and tastes, and also help them creatively incorporate some of the more unusual food colors into a meal plan – and everyone will have fun eating the rainbow of colors.

* Cook family favorites with your kids. There are some simple ways to creatively involve kids into the cooking process. Younger kids can easily find ingredients in the cupboards and help wash vegetables or stir in ingredients. Older kids can help with measuring and mixing ingredients together. Just think about simple tasks that they can accomplish and before you know it, you’ll have an “assistant chef” at your side.

Your kids will love to help make this delicious Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash mashed potato recipe – they can help measure the ingredients and do the mashing.

Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole

Ingredients:
1 package Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash Cut Russet Potatoes
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces cream cheese softened
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh chives chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper ground
1/4 cup crumbled bacon
1 cup cheddar cheese shredded

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 8-by-8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Microwave the potatoes according to the package instructions. In a large bowl, mix together hot potatoes, milk and butter, and mash until smooth. For a smoother consistency, mix with an electric mixer to desired consistency. Add cream cheese, sour cream, chives, salt and pepper, and mix well. Spread evenly into baking dish. Top with bacon crumbles and cheese. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated through.

* Play “name that taste.” Prepare a variety of different food items in your kitchen and, with your kids blindfolded, see if they can name the items in the taste test line up. Just use some simple snacks that they are already familiar with, such as cereals and fruits. Then throw something new into the mix and see if they can guess what it is. You can even offer a fun reward for dessert if they get it right.

* Have imaginative fun with your food. Who doesn’t like pancakes shaped like an animal or cookies that spell out their first name? Let them sculpt and create fun, imaginative displays that will have family members ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at their edible artwork. Mashed potatoes can also be a great canvas for creativity and with Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash potatoes you can have real homemade mashed potatoes in less than 15 minutes. That’s because the real potatoes are already peeled and chopped. You microwave and mash the way your family likes, then let the kids create their mashed potato masterpiece.

If you are looking for more ways to get creative with your kids in the kitchen, visit the Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash Mash Destruction contest at www.mashdestruction.com. The contest is searching for the most creative, fun ways to mash potatoes – from the obvious to the obscure. Simply submit a drawing of your kid’s idea through March 29 and you could win up to $5,000. You can also visit the site from April 5 through April 15 to vote on your favorite potato mashing ideas.

Tips To Make Your Current Residence Home Sweet Home

atlanta home inspectorAre lower real estate values keeping you in your current home – even though you were hoping to upgrade? Or, maybe you can’t bear the thought of boxing up all your belongings to move? You’re not alone. More homeowners are staying in their current homes, but remodeling with the idea of improving their quality of life and adding more “live-in value,” according to recent research from Consumer Reports.

No matter what your reason for staying put, rest assured; you don’t have to move to get the home of your dreams … just make a few home improvements.

Ooh la la kitchen

Today’s kitchens are no longer a place to simply cook and eat. Your kitchen is the “real” living room – for living, working and entertaining – and the ideal room to improve for added enjoyment.

One project to improve your home and “live-in value” is installing a multilevel kitchen island. Not only does this provide an extra work area, but also an informal place for entertaining guests. Central island cooktops and sinks are another option, keeping cooking and clean-up areas within easy reach.

Tying the overall look of the kitchen together will also help to make a style statement you can live with for years to come. Upgrading to stainless steel appliances is a common choice, especially with the latest technologies – such as built-in flat screen televisions or computers on refrigerators – all with a beautiful high-end finish.

Fashionable faucets

Just think of how much time you spend at the sink, from rinsing fruits and vegetables to filling pots and washing hands and dishes. So why not update this kitchen focal point with a new functional and fashionable faucet? High-arc models with pullout spouts are the most ideal since they allow ample room to fill or clean large pots and pans. Models with multifunction sprays are helpful when washing delicate fruits.

Once you’ve found a model with these useful features, don’t forget about style. Designer finishes, such as stainless steel will give your kitchen a professional look. And, for a designer look that maintains the beauty and brilliance of the faucet’s finish in between cleanings, try Moen’s Renzo pullout kitchen faucet with Spot Resist Stainless finish. This unique finish does just what it says – resists fingerprints and water spots. Moen’s Renzo kitchen faucet is available at Lowe’s.

Storage space explosion

No matter the square footage of your home, accumulating belongings over the years contributes to a lack of storage space. Try to solve this issue by first purging items that you haven’t used within the past six months. Next, you can organize your necessities with a variety of storage systems – from drawer organizers to storage bins. And, if it seems like a task that you can’t handle on your own, hire a company that specializes in organization, such as Closet World, to create a custom-designed solution.

Spa-tacular and sensible baths

Today’s baths have evolved from a task-oriented room to become a private spa. Luckily it’s simple to turn your bath into a private sanctuary. To start, update your current showerhead with a more luxurious and functional design. If you prefer a powerful, full-body spray, perhaps you’d like a rainshower showerhead. Or, if you like options, try a multi-function version that allows you to switch from a relaxing wide spray to an invigorating concentrated spray – or somewhere in the middle. You can find a variety of designs and finishes at your local home improvement store, such as Lowe’s.

And, as in the kitchen, the faucet is a focal point in the small space. Update your current faucet with a new designer style and finish … and with water-saving benefits. Faucets account for approximately 15 percent of indoor household water use – more than 1 trillion gallons across the U.S. each year – so once you’ve found the perfect look, be sure that you choose one that is certified to meet WaterSense criteria.

With these few home improvements you can start recouping your “live-in value” and make your current residence a home sweet home.

Live Large In Your Living Room For $100 Or Less

atlanta home inspectorThere’s a reason we call it “the living room.” We might all spend most of our time in the kitchen, but when we want to relax with family and friends to watch a movie, take in a TV show or just enjoy some good conversation, we head to the living room.

Between the kids playing trampoline on the couch or taking the “throw” in throw pillows literally, the family dog decorating the carpet with her hair, and the overall wear and tear the room gets, it may be hard to imagine living large in your living room anymore. The good news is, refreshing the room and making it a showpiece of your home again needn’t cost a bundle.

In fact, you can give your living room a facelift by making some key changes that each cost $100 or less. From wall decor ideas to furniture fixes, here are some easy, do-it-yourself decorator moves that can update the look of your living room for less than the cost of a designer handbag:

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize

Just as the right shoes and a bright scarf can add pizzaz to an otherwise so-so outfit, the right mix of accessories can add power and pop to your living room decor. Accessories can also help conceal a host of flaws, from worn-out upholstery to stained carpeting.

Hit a discount home goods store and replace tired accent pillows with new ones in bright colors. Add designer-inspired tiebacks to the same old drapes after you’ve freshly laundered them. Scatter plush throws around the room. Cover carpeting that’s seen better days with an area rug that looks fresh, new and fun.

Back to the wall

She who wields a paint roller well (or is even just reasonably OK with one) has the power to completely change a room – for less than $30 a gallon. Paint is a fast, cost-effective way to make a lived-in room look move-in ready again. And since you spent so little redoing three walls, consider a wallpaper mural for the fourth.

Murals like those found at www.DecorPlace.com can transform any room with a nature mural or images that evoke a tropical getaway, a vibrant cityscape, an undersea wonderland or a rustic Tuscan villa. On the website, you’ll find plenty of easy-to-install murals for less than $100. You can use yours to create a focal point in your living room, accent an architectural feature, make a small space feel more open and airy, or add interest to an otherwise boring wall.

Fire it up

Wish your living room had a fireplace, but find yourself without several thousand dollars to have a real one installed? You can evoke the warm, cozy atmosphere of a fireplace in a number of ways.

Purchase a small chiminea for less than $100 and invest in a pillar candle to place inside it. The candle will create a warm glow (and appealing aroma if you choose a scented one) with less fire risk than burning wood in the chiminea. Just remember to follow good fire-safety practices, and keep children and animals away from all open flames. Spend a little bit more, and you can construct your own faux mantel and place several pillar candles in the hearth area of the mantel.

Furniture fixes

If your wooden furniture is still sturdy but suffering from scratches, dings, dents and watermarks, consider refinishing it yourself. One gallon of wood finish can cost less than $30, and cover a lot of wood furniture. Or, you can check out used furniture stores, flea markets and yard sales in search of gently used items in better condition than what you have. Another option would be to visit a big box store that sells unfinished furniture and do the finishing yourself.

Living large in your living room again is possible, and you don’t have to have the large budget of a home improvement show to achieve it. Some creativity and the willingness to try some fun do-it-yourself projects can go a long way toward making your tired old living room look and feel new again.

Kids Room Decor That’s Easy To Replace When Their Tastes Change

home inspector atlantaDecorating a child’s room is a challenge filled with variables – not the least of which is just how long the room’s inhabitant will actually like walls decorated with fuzzy bunnies or fire engines. In fact, the one thing you can count on is that what your child loved as a toddler is most likely not what she’ll want for her room’s theme when she’s a “big kid.”

While you want your child to be comfortable in his own space, you don’t want to spend a mint if you know you’re going to have to redo the room again in a few years. It makes sense to choose decorating options that are easy to change so that a room’s decor can grow with your child.

Here are some hints for decorating touches that you can easily redo or reverse:

Take it to the walls

The walls are the biggest design element in any room – and, fortunately for parents, they’re one of the easiest things to change. Painting is an easy, cost-effective way to completely change the look of a room. If your son is tired of baby blue walls, take a family trip to the local home improvement store and pick out a new color. Do try to encourage kids away from very dark colors, as those can be harder to cover up the next time you repaint.

Another option is a peel and stick mural.  Products like SmartStick by MuralsYourWay.com allow you to decorate a room without risking the integrity of the walls. Perhaps your daughter is seeking a princess room or your son is hoping for a Disney wall to depict his favorite movie. You’ll find plenty of Disney characters available in easy-to-install and easy-to-remove SmartStick. A patented adhesive allows you to easily place the material on nearly any surface (walls, windows, even doors), pull it down, reposition it, even move it to a different wall – all without damaging the mural or the wall beneath it. Unlike wall decals or wall stickers, the mural does not rip or wrinkle and can be reused hundreds of times. Log on to www.muralsyourway.com to learn more.

The material world

For bedrooms, linens can make a significant design statement. They’re also a flexible, cost-effective way to change a room’s look. Replacing the toddler-themed linens on your tween’s bed with something more contemporary for her age group, may allow you to keep the walls, carpeting and furnishings as they are. Even if you invest in high-end sheets and a comforter, the overall cost of linens will be far less than the expense of completely redoing the room.

Curtains can work the same way. They’re easy to change, and by replacing toddler-themed curtains with something more age appropriate – plus a decorative curtain rod – you can impart a classy, more-grown-up atmosphere to a room for a modest investment.

For a bit more of an investment, consider reupholstering the gliding rocker that’s still sitting in your daughter’s room. The neutral tones or pastel colors might have been appropriate when you were rocking her to sleep as a baby, but she probably has more definitive color preferences now. Rather than discarding or selling the chair, why not add some bold patterned pillows and turn it into a welcoming yet sophisticated-looking spot where she can read or chat on the phone in comfort?

Art and accessories

Table lamps, floor lamps, wall hangings – even decorative faceplates for light switches – accessories can help remake a room’s image without breaking the bank. If your child is old enough to have voiced his desire for a new room design, he’s probably capable of telling you his preferences in terms of accessories and artwork.

Talk to your child about his vision for his room. Maybe he’d like to replace the fire engine theme with an homage to his favorite sports team. It’s easy to find a range of accessories – from waste baskets to bed sheets – that will appeal to lovers of virtually any sport. Whatever the theme your child chooses, carry it throughout with cost-effective accessories.

From peel-and-stick wallpaper murals to freshening old furniture, it’s possible to give a child’s room a whole new look for not much money. And there are many ways to ensure that the updates will be simple to redo when your child’s tastes change again in the future.

How To Make Your Deck An Outdoor Lving Room

atlanta home inspectorNothing beats relaxing in the shade or entertaining a group of guests on your own private deck. When you take the time to plan your deck for the way you live, the result can be a versatile living space and a value-boosting addition to your home.

Trent Boozer, publisher of Extreme How-To magazine, notes his readers have made it clear that decks are one of the top projects they love to design and build. The Internet is full of deck plans and planning tools – and with the range of decking products and accessories on the market, every deck can take on a personality of its own, he says.

Personalization is what makes the deck an extension of the home, says Rick Preble of Deckorators, the leading deck accessory brand that embraces the concept of deck personalization.

“The idea of an outdoor living room has really materialized as people have reattached to their existing homes,” says Preble. A cost-effective way to add square footage and upgrade your lifestyle without moving is with a deck. With all  the deck products and accessories available today, homeowners can customize their outdoor rooms.”

Deckorators has made the process of mixing and matching different deck accessories and building materials easy with a new, easy-to-use online design program: the Deckorators’ Deck Visualizer. The online tool is free and provides homeowners a way to visually discover the different design options they like best for personalizing a deck.

The Deck Visualizer allows the user to set the virtual deck environment to a lake or backyard view and then change the deck accessories for limitless combinations. Users can select the color or grain of composite or wood decking, select the style of metal or even glass balusters, add baluster infill centerpieces, change railing colors, and add post caps, lighting options and even stone.

“This deck design program is fun for homeowners to use and is a great tool for deck planning,” says Preble. “We work with hundreds of deck builders, and they appreciate having this when working with clients. It allows both consumers and deck builders to visualize different options and choose deck products prior to constructing a deck.”

The North American Deck and Railing Association website (nadra.org) is another good place for consumers to start when gathering information for a deck build. The organization has a large gallery of photographs of decks that have received national awards for design or construction.

Michael Beaudry, executive vice president of NADRA, says consumers are definitely hungry for deck design ideas and information on new products. NADRA offers resources to help consumers with deck and rail design and deck safety. The organization’s website also provides access to more than 1,750 different building products companies.

Homeowners who want to build or who are renovating an existing deck will find new trends for 2011. One material making its move onto decks is stone.

Deckorators cast stone Postcovers, which install over rail posts, are one new product in high demand. The postcovers provide the same look and feel as natural stone columns, but are designed to install over basic wood posts. Postcovers are hand-painted to look like cobblestone, fieldstone or stacked stone. The simulated product costs far less than real masonry work and makes it possible for do-it-yourselfers or contractors to add simulated stone columns to a deck.

“Stone or simulated stone on a deck has become possible with new products, and it’s another example of interior design trends and the mixing of various elements making their way to outdoor living areas,” Preble says.

Experts agree that putting the time into planning your deck up front and knowing what your product options are is the best way to ensure you end up with a space your family will embrace as a true outdoor living room.

‘Veggin’ Out’ Is So In…

home inspector atlantaTips for starting your own veggie garden!

Vegetable and herb gardening is in and studies indicate it will continue to grow in popularity. If you’re not growing your own yet it’s time to start. Why? The reasons are as varied as the people who garden.

Some do it to save money. Others want to ensure their food is chemical-free, and as safe as possible. Still others grow their own vegetables because fresher is just better. Many do it because gardening is good for you and some because it’s still fun to play in the dirt.

Whatever your reason for opting to join the 7 million Americans who grabbed their gardening gear and grew their own vegetables and herbs last year, your road to success is basically the same as everyone else’s – planting at the right time, making sure your soil’s in shape, weeding and watering responsibly, and feeding and nurturing your plants. This season, you won’t have to buy your fresh herbs and vegetables from a farmer’s market; you can grow them on your own, and you don’t need a farm-sized backyard – or pocketbook – to do it.

Avid gardener Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in North America, growing locally in 75 locations nationwide, offers some time-saving tips to make the growing easy:

* Survey your soil – Your first step is to decide where you’ll put your vegetable and herb garden. Good soil is key. The best soil is loam, a soft, dark, crumbly dirt. Loamy soil holds water, allows for drainage and is easy to dig. If you encounter clay or sandy soil, add peat moss and bone meal so that these soils can also be productive gardening bases.

* Size up your space – When plotting out the size of your garden, you’ll want to be sure it’s big enough to yield a good harvest to make your efforts worthwhile. But if you’re limited on yard space – or have none at all – you can grow vegetables and herbs in containers on a deck, terrace, balcony or even on the windowsill.

* Let the sunshine in – Your plants need plenty of sun – at least six hours a day. A sunny and open location is your best bet for producing a plentiful harvest.

* Pick your plants for your plot – Grow vegetables that are expensive to buy in the grocery store or at the farmer’s market, such as tomatoes and peppers.

A tried-and-true prolific producer, the Bonnie Original Tomato, was developed exclusively for Bonnie Plants in 1967. They come in environmentally friendly, biodegradable pots that you plant right into the soil. Recent trials, planting five of these tomato plants in 25-gallon containers, averaged 100 tomatoes each at an average of 37 pounds per plant. Another tomato that will tip the scales is Bonnie’s Sun Sugar tomato, a yellow cherry type. Trial garden plants averaged 1,228 tomatoes each.

If peppers are your passion, the Yummy Bell Pepper, ripening from green to apricot orange, is a best bet. Trial garden testing of five plants averaged 248 peppers per plant during the summer growing season.

* Time-saving transplants – When you’re ready to begin planting, opt for transplants – seedlings that have already been started – rather than starting from seed. Transplants will buy you lots of time because plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the ground, and you’ll begin harvesting much sooner.

* Feed your food – Your vegetable plants will need food and water to survive and grow. When feeding plants, try to avoid chemical fertilizers that could potentially seep into groundwater. Bonnie Plant Food is a unique, organically based, soybean oilseed extract formula that has demonstrated superior results in the health and vigor of plants.

Give your garden a good watering once or twice a week, although some crops may need more water, especially if your climate is very hot. A thorough soaking, allowing the water to penetrate 4 to 6 inches into the soil, is better for plants than frequent shallow watering.

Gardening is rewarding. It will bring great pleasure as you bring your produce from plot to plate so you can literally enjoy the fruits of your labor. For more information on varieties and gardening advice, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

New Garden Superstars Will Spruce Up Spring

home inspector atlantaFrom cool miniature fountains to going native in the garden, spring 2011 promises great plants and products that will help you spruce up your home with pizzazz and ease.

“People are clamoring for eco-friendly plants and products that are attractive and perform well,” says Susan McCoy, garden writer and trend spotter. McCoy predicts these garden superstars will chase away the winter blahs and get gardeners raring to go outside:

Keep the dog – lose the spots

Got pets? McCoy does and has discovered new SpotGone!, an Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)-listed organic product that turns those yellow, burned-looking patches where her dog does his “business” into lush, green grass again. The all-natural and easy-to-sprinkle pellets take out the excess salt and nitrogen from the soil, allowing grass to grow back and stay “naturally” green and healthy. It’s free from chemicals so it’s safe to use around kids and pets. It complements any lawn care system and has no foreign grass seed, so your lawn grows back uniformly and not “patchy.” Just shake what you need on pet urine spots, high-traffic areas or lawn damage from de-icers. Look for SpotGone! at www.natraturf.com.

Roll out the welcome

Looking for an instant, affordable facelift for your home? You can spruce up any doorway with the wide array of eco-friendly, all-natural coir doormats from Imports Unlimited. McCoy’s impressed with the new spring Garden Collection that features “Dahlias” in bright, bold colors and stunning “Bamboo,” as well as fun and fanciful “Hippie Bird.” All 200 selections are by prominent artists and are either 100 percent hand-woven coco-fiber, decorated in richly colored, fade-resistant dyes or all-weather recycled rubber. Choose from formal, classic, contemporary or whimsical to greet guests with a work of art right at your doorstep.

Go native

Want to see more birds, bees and butterflies in your garden? Attracting wildlife while you beautify your landscape has never been easier. American Beauties Native Plants has a wide array of native shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses and perennials that are perfect for your region. Hand-picked for their beauty, these native charmers will attract and provide shelter and food for wildlife, with minimal need for fertilizer, water and pest control. Plus, you’ll be making a contribution to The National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat program.

Splish, splash

Now you can bring the soothing sight and sounds of fountains onto your terrace or indoors with the new mini fountain collection from Campania International. Their Arabesque fountain, at only 18 inches tall, offers double the pleasure with a basin that makes a great planter and an etched design that will complement any space. Whether you want to decorate your terrace or liven up a room or windowsill in your home or office, adding a mini fountain is an affordable luxury.

Spring – and gardening season – will arrive before you know it. Be prepared to spring into action when warm weather arrives by keeping up-to-date on the latest products and trends that can help spruce up your outdoors.

Puppy Prep

How to get your family’s new addition off to a good start!

Bringing home a puppy is a heartwarming and fun experience whether you’re a kid or an adult. You might think of your puppy as a new best friend – but your role as a puppy parent is even more crucial. Puppies grow more in their first year than any other time in their life, and while they’ll depend on you for playtime and love, they also rely on you to give them a healthy, good start to life.

Before you go to the animal shelter or breeder, make sure you are able to take on all the challenges that raising a puppy presents and handle them with an even temper and a good sense of humor. The more positive you make his experiences, the stronger your bond will be – and it’ll be a bond that lasts a lifetime.

If a puppy will be joining your family soon, or has recently arrived, keep these tips in mind to establish a happy, healthy foundation for your new pet.

* Training: The amount and kind of training you’ll need depends on your experience with dogs, the dog you’re getting and whether you want to do specialized activities with him in the future.

If this is your first dog, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve had one, it’s well worth it to sign up for puppy training classes – you’ll learn just as much as your puppy will. Some breeds are naturally more obedient than others, but it will also depend on your pup’s individual personality. Be sure you sign up for classes that are appropriate for your pup’s age and make sure to keep it fun and rewarding.

* Nutrition: Just like parents teach kids to eat their veggies, a puppy parent is responsible for feeding their pup a diet that’s rich in natural ingredients with added vitamins and minerals. It’s easier than ever to find high quality puppy foods that are free of fillers and unsavory ingredients. Foods like Nutro Natural Choice puppy food make it easy to be confident that you know exactly what you’re giving your puppy by listing all the ingredients.

* Health: Making regular trips to the vet is part of having a puppy. You’ll need to make sure that he has all the necessary immunizations, check-ups and medications. If you don’t have an established relationship with a veterinarian, ask friends who have pets for recommendations and research clinics in your vicinity to find one that’s right for you. NutroPuppy.com is also a useful resource, with nutrition, health, training and behavior tips available for new puppy parents.

* Development: Helping your puppy with good development is a two-fold task: both physical and behavioral. Giving your puppy good food has effects beyond creating a glistening coat and healthy immune system; it can also have an effect on his brain development. Nutro Natural Choice Puppy Lamb Meal and Rice Formula contains Smart Start with ALA and DHA, which helps puppies with learning, brain and vision development.

And to ensure that your puppy will grow into a dog that is friendly, well-adjusted and well-behaved, it’s important to expose him to new people and other animals in controlled environments. Encourage timid pups and try to calm bold pups so that they learn the value of getting along with everyone.  This will help them be better prepared to deal with unfamiliar circumstances and places.