Plump pumpkins provide perfect planters

Welcome trick or treaters — and their parents — with homemade pumpkin planters. Here’s how to enjoy ornamental kale, cabbages, chrysanthemums and a variety of edibles in a whole new way.

After selecting the pumpkins you want to use — we suggest a variety of colors and sizes — be sure to use a sharp knife to start the conversion. Be sure to not cut too large of an opening in the top of your pumpkins. Make the opening large enough to accommodate the root ball of the plant you’ve chosen and to allow you to scoop out the pumpkin innards. And keep the openings relatively small to allow the plant to spread over the pumpkin as it grows.

Pumpkin Planter 5

Next, remove the pumpkin tops and remove the innards and scrape out the interior. You’ll want to make plenty of room to fill the pumpkin with potting soil to keep your plant healthy. And remember to cut a small drainage hole in the bottom of your pumpkin.

And don’t let that pumpkin goodness go to waste. Save it for a variety of pumpkin recipes. And the seeds are great for roasting with any number of spices.

No it’s time to make the planter. Fill the pumpkin interior with potting soil to create a  a welcome berth for your plants and add the plants.

When the pumpkins begin to look not-so-fresh, dig a hole in your garden or raised beds. Your edibles and ornamentals can be planted while still in the pumpkin directly into the soil and will live on in the ground. The pumpkin will provide nutrients for your plants and, better still, nothing will be wasted.

Hurricane Florence: Dealing with the Effects of the Storm

Sun After The Storm

Being six miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina, my family is lucky. Very lucky.

We only suffered two downed pine trees and a lot of scattered debris — easy to deal with.

For the next hurricane, we will be better prepared thanks to these apps that came in pretty handy.

The American Red Cross Hurricane app was a dependable performer. You can download it here for your iPhone via iTunes. It’s free.

Another is NOAA Weather Alerts from WeatherSphere, which can be downloaded here — at a cost of $1.99.

If you’d rather read a good book while the mayhem ensues rather than keep your eyes glued to CNN or local news, I heartily recommend them for quick, accurate information.

After three solid days of teaming rain, this morning I noticed the mosquitoes are out a vengeance. If the storm has impacted you in a similar way, now if the time to contact Mosquito Squad to eliminate the nasty beasts. Their Protective Barrier Treatment has a 21-day efficacy and is reapplied by the Squad every three weeks for continuous protection.

On the plus side, the hummingbirds are back in force, enjoying the moist nectars Mother Nature has brought us.

Be safe and well.

The pleasure of pets — inside and outdoors

In my lifetime I have have known the pleasure that pets can bring — of all shapes and sizes.

As a child first it was a Scottie dog — for only 48 hours — as the children of his previous owner wanted him back.

As an adult, it’s Duncan, a Morkie, a cross between a purebred Yorkshire terrier and a purebred Maltese, who is admittedly one of the sweetest and dumbest animals alive. We rescued him when he was one, but he was raised with cats. Need I say more?

Before Duncan there were three goldfish — and each time one passed onto the great toilet bowl in the sky, a local or national tragic event happened somewhere in the world. The only one I clearly remember was the fire that leveled the local Boys Town shelter.

Years later, a friend of ours had a cockatiel that I loved, so I decided to try a parakeet — and then another. Jake was the first followed by George, or Georgette as my wife referred to him/her as it loved to bite.

And now it is apparently back to birds — hummingbirds, if fact, but luckily, I sure cannot count them all.

Hummingbird over pink flowers background

Delicate petals of pink flowers with Hummingbird

When I was in Denver, Colorado, two years ago covering a photo shoot for Archadeck Outdoor Living, one of the home exteriors we photographed had an exquisitely diverse backyard. As you entered it from the front of the house there was a long, winding faerie garden (tiny gnome villages and all) along the left approach leading to a stone grotto with a Zen-like gurgling water feature.

On the right side in the rear of the yard there was a massive deck and outdoor living room, complete with a majestic fireplace, a Green Egg®, a travertine L-shaped bar, a chef’s outdoor kitchen, dining table and chairs and two outdoor sofas that faced each other.

Along the left edge of the this outdoor living space was an exterior header beam with suspended red and clear glass hummingbird feeders suspended from it. And the hummingbirds came in droves much to my delight as I was supervising the shoot — for it was the very time I was able to enjoy their playful beauty close up.

Recently we moved our residence South a bit and had the rear of our new home professionally landscaped to wrap our rounded patio. In the process of doing that I noticed that many of our neighbors had hummingbird feeders, so I thought it was worth a shot to follow suit.

I went to Lowe’s® and bought a double-pronged black iron Shepherd’s Hook and a colorful hanging pot of seasonal flowers — with those small, red trumpet blossoms hummingbirds are so attracted to, and a clear glass and red hummingbird feeder from Target® which was placed on the opposite hook.

Today is Tuesday. We placed this new installation outdoors two days ago on Sunday — and there has several hummingbirds drinking and fluttering about during daylight (and twilight) hours.

It just so happened that on Sunday afternoon two of my grandchilden were here after the installation. We all stood indoors looking out the glass patio door squealing with delight.

Welcome to my version of Loving Outdoor Living.


Larry Spada


Spring is here. Really?

Let’s face it. Winter melted into a face spring, so far. But if you’re getting the itch to get back in the garden, here are some tops from Mother Earth News.

It’s important to plant your garden seeds at the right time, and the key is knowing when your area will see its last spring frost. Some garden plants taste even better after a little frost, but you’ll sure be sorry if you put your warm season crops in the ground too soon.

Some crops thrive in cool weather, while others only grow well when it’s warmer. So how do you know when to plant what? The key factor that should guide your decisions is your average last spring frost date.

Most cool season crops, like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and many others, can tolerate a light frost and will grow best when sown a couple weeks before your last spring frost. Some, like peas and spinach, are so cold-hardy they can even be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked,” as many seed packets say. But warm season crops like squash, cucumber and basil will be killed by frost if your seeds come up too soon. Ditto for warm season transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants — if you don’t wait until danger of frost has passed before you set them out, a late frost will kill them.

Thus on seed packets you often see “Plant after all danger of frost has passed.”

So, how do you find the average last spring frost date for your area? A great tool to find your average frost dates is the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Vegetable Garden Planner.

The Planner will even send you customized planting reminders for which crops need planting based on your frost dates and location.

Here’s a summary of which crops to plant early, and which ones not to plant until after your last spring frost date:

Very early spring (as soon as the ground can be worked)

  • Onions
  • peas
  • spinach

Early spring

  • lettuce
  • beets
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • kale
  • potatoes

After last frost date

  • beans
  • corn
  • melons
  • cucumbers
  • squash
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • pumpkins
  • eggplant
  • basil

Now for a breath of fresh winter air

HGTV reminds us that gardens are gorgeous, even in winter. Here’s what it looks like when Mother Nature covers everything with a beautiful blanket of white.

Bare wisteria branches make a wintery canopy at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville, Tennessee.











Hydrangeas are even beautiful when they’re not in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden.






A statue crowned with snow seems like it’s shivering in the Farwell Landscape Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.





The trees may be dormant, but this snowy pathway at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is alive with beauty.




One of the first sights guests see when they enter Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in the winter is Copper beech trees laden with snow.




Sage, thyme, parsley and other herbs sleep the winter away at the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden at the New York Botanical Garden.





A dusting of snow decorates the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C.






Originally called the fountain of water and light, Bartholdi fountain at the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C. was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who also created the Statue of Liberty.





Snow doesn’t stop New Yorkers from strolling around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Bringing Christmas home




At the Tree Lot: Once you’ve picked your tree, ask the seller to saw off at least one-half inch from the trunk. This fresh cut helps the tree absorb more water and last longer. Make sure he or she shakes off and lose needles before wrapping the tree in netting.

The Ride Home: Before loading the tree onto your car’s roof, lay down a tarp or blanket to protect your car’s paint for scratches. Trees are netted with the branches pointing up. Position the top of the tree over the rear of the car so branches don’t meet air resistance and break as you drive. No roof rack? Open all the doors and tie the tree to the roof before shutting them for the drive. If a tree hangs off the back of the car, tie on a reflective flag to alert other drivers.

The Set Up: Direct heat can dry a tree out making it both an eyesore at a fire hazard. Park yours away from radiators, heating vents, fireplaces and holiday candles. Place an oversized garbage bag beneath the stand. This will help catch falling needles once it is time to take the tree down sparing you a big vacuum job. Be sure to use a stand made to accommodate your tree’s height. You’ll also need one with the built-in reservoir that holds at least a gallon of water. Have two people place the tree in the stand – one to hold and steady the tree, the other to tighten the screws around the trunk. Be sure to keep the netting on as it will make the tree easier to handle.

Shaping and Caring: If your tree needs a trim, use pruners to snip away any small branches that are sticking out. To cut larger branches, use a handsaw or lopper. If your hands get covered with tree sap, rub them with olive oil or baby oil to help remove the residue. Or better yet, wear gardening gloves before you start the entire process.

Garlands and Lights: The best way to put up lights for even twinkle-filled look is to plug a set of three connected strands into a surge protector. Then string straight up the tree, as close to the trunk as possible. Once at the top, start wrapping the strands down around the outer branches. When you need more, plug another strand into the surge protector. Run the lights up the trunk and start wrapping again where the last lights left off.

Perfect plants for chilly and wintery weather

When the winds are a’blowin, your landscape can keep a’growin with these beauties.

Cabbages and Kales

Ornamental kale and cabbage are some of the most popular winter annual plants. They lend a completely different texture to a winter landscape bed. Once the plants are hardened by cooler night temperatures they can survive most cold winters.




Camellias prefer acidic, moist yet well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. They flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. The waxy-petalled flowers linger long on plants, displaying shades of red, pink, coral, white and bicolors. Plants are evergreen, growing to form shrubs or small trees. Once established, camellias are drought-tolerant.


Winter Jasmine

Jasminum nudiflorum or winter jasmine is an exceptionally trouble-free plant to grow.

Holly Bush

Hollies bring an eye-catching display of evergreen leaves that is often punctuated with bright red or gold berries.


Native Serviceberry

Native serviceberries also earn rave reviews for snow-covered branches. Watch for white blossoms in spring, followed by tasty berries in June. Birds love the berries, so if you want any for a pie, net trees. Fall color features shades of red and orange.