Gunning Daily News

More Beauty, Less Beast in Your Lawn and Garden

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

(BPT)—A tale as old as time, true as it can be ... insects, weeds and poor fertilization are the beasts that take away from the beauty of plants and flowers in our lawns, gardens and even homes. To maintain a home and landscape your neighbors envy, interiors and exteriors should remain pest-free, and plants should be fed with the proper nutrients to stay healthy all-season-long.

Given the many things to consider when it comes to sustaining a lush landscape, homeowners are seeking new ways to simplify their lawn and garden maintenance techniques.

Below are five quick tips that take the guesswork out of warm weather chores and make any home flourish with "more beauty, less beasts."

1. Decoding soil DNA: The best gauge for fertilization requirements of your landscape is through a soil test. These tests are used to evaluate the condition and levels of nutrients in the soil, especially pH, which determines how well plants are able to draw the nutrients they need from the soil. Home soil test kits are available at most lawn and garden retailers or homeowners can contact their local Department of Agriculture for more information.

2. Fertilizer frequency factors: During periods of drought, it is important not to over-fertilize as this can result in unhealthy or burnt-looking plants. The frequency of fertilization depends on climate, plant type and the fertilizer. A pre-measured, ready-to-use fertilizer, such as the Pennington Smart Feed Sprayer System, ensures efficient feeding, proper nutrition and vigorous plant growth. The benefit: better results with bigger blooms and produce, when compared to unfed plants. The system also saves time, minimizes water usage and removes guesswork.

3. Select the right plants: One of the best defenses against problem insects is a strong, well-maintained plant. When designing your landscape, select plants that are less prone to insect problems. For example, native plants tend to be more pest-resistant, if planted where the sun and soil are right for them.

4. Go on the offensive: While weeds grow year-round, pest activity in many ways correlates with temperature. In general, as temperatures increase, so does insect feeding and insect populations in and around the home. Combat insects and weeds with a simple, versatile tool, such as the Amdro PowerFlex Pest & Weed System. With no mixing, measuring or cleaning required, this all-in-one system allows homeowners to reclaim their properties, both indoors and outdoors.

5. Protect beneficial species:
Within every landscape and garden are pest predators that are beneficial to the health of plants - either by feeding on problem pests or by helping with soil aeration and drainage. Examples include earthworms, spiders, ladybugs and praying mantises. Attract beneficial insects to your landscape with plants that provide nectar, pollen and other food sources.


Clever Storage for Kids' Rooms

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

(Family Features) To many parents, the process of keeping kids' rooms clean never seems to end. And while a kid's room may never look quite like the perfect rooms in magazines, a few clever solutions can make it easier to get -- and keep -- toys, books and clothes more organized.

Think Vertical
If your child's room is small or doesn't have a lot of built in storage, vertical storage may be helpful.

  • Add wall hooks or a peg rack at a height your child can reach and hang up sweaters, pajamas, jackets and book bags.
  • Tiered organizers that hang from a closet rod can hold small stuffed animals, clothing items, or shoes.
  • Wall hangers with pockets can be hung on the back of a door to hold shoes, small toys and craft supplies.
Boxes, Baskets and Bins, Oh My
Use containers to keep toys and other items sorted and make it easy to put away. Label the outside with words or pictures to help your child know exactly where to put things.

  • Home Bento boxes have internal flex dividers, which let you divide up the space within the box however you need it. Use them for small clothing items, craft supplies, small toys and games. They stack on top of each other, making it easy to maximize shelf space.
  • Baskets are lightweight and often have handles, so it's easy for a child to take them off the shelf and put them back. Basket liners let you coordinate the look to match your child's room.
  • Plastic storage bins can hold larger toys and play sets, off-season clothing and shoes. You can find bins to fit on shelves and under the bed, as well.
Make it Fun
There's no reason something as pragmatic as storage can't be fun, too.

  • Keep pens, pencils and markers together in a plastic paint can or flower pot the kids have decorated.
  • Place Velcro strips on toys and on playroom walls. Kids will enjoy sticking their toys to the wall, and you'll enjoy a cleaner play space.
  • Get an unpainted wooden crate from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft stores, and paint, stain or decoupage it with whimsical colors and designs.


Word of the Day

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

Replacement cost. The cost at today’s prices and using today’s construction methods, of building an improvement having the same usefulness as the one being appraised.

Q: What Is the Most Common Type of Contract for Listing Properties?

April 14, 2013 9:02 am

A: The exclusive right to sell. It gives the real estate broker the exclusive right to sell your home during the term of the listing. If a sale occurs – even if you sell the home yourself – the broker gets a commission. The broker may share the listing with other brokers on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to get the widest possible exposure for your home. If you request that the property not be listed on a multiple basis, only the broker named in the contract and his or her sales agents can market and show it.

Best Plants to Grow Indoors or on Patio

April 9, 2013 5:56 pm

If spring has you hankering for a garden full of color, but your space is hopelessly limited, you should get familiar with potted plants that can make your indoors or patio sing.

From the gardening experts at Armstrong Nurseries, here are some choices for a big splash of color that will dress up your smallest space:

For patios:

  • Daylilies – Perfect if you have sun all day long, daylilies in pots produce colorful, cup-shaped flowers on long stalks rising from abundant foliage. Once established, requires minimal care except removal of brown leaves and spent flowers.
  • Coleus – For shaded patio pots, coleus provides vibrantly colored foliage as well as attractive small flowers. A member of the mint family, it remains lovely throughout the summer and can be moved indoors in the fall. Keep the soil moist.
  • Geraniums – Available in a variety of colors, these hardy plants are low maintenance and look great in pots and/or in hanging baskets.
  • Jasmine – Arabian jasmine, with its star-shaped flowers, will provide a scented treat. Grows in sun or partial shade and may need to be staked onto a trellis. Allow soil to dry slightly between waterings.


  • African violets – a favorite houseplant that blooms long and beautifully, it is also one of the easiest to maintain. Use a long-spouted watering can and barely warmed water.
  • Zebra plant – Put it near a window, mist it once or twice a week, and enjoy vibrant, zebra-striped foliage and attractive yellow flowers.
  • Begonias – tough, undemanding free-flowering, a pot of begonias can be planted for next to nothing and will yield a full season of color.
  • Shamrock plant - This jaunty indoor house plant has bright green leaves that look like shamrocks, plus sweet white flowers on tall stems. Loves bright but indirect light. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings.

Tips for Buying a House in the Spring Market

April 9, 2013 5:56 pm

Spring is officially here; the real estate market bustling with new listings and open houses. If you are planning on buying a home, here are some tips that will make your house-hunting experience positive and productive.

Finding the right real estate agent that will work with you is an important first step in the home buying process. This is an important endeavor, and as such, you want to make sure that your personality is compatible with that of your agent. Since you will be working closely on making significant decisions, having an agent who thoroughly understands your goals is paramount. Here are some tips for finding the perfect agent:

  • Have your buyer's agent put you on a daily email drip with your buying criteria so that you are kept informed daily of what is coming to Market. The Market is heating is up, and the property may be gone before you are able to view it.
  • Ask your agent about their background and qualifications. Make sure the person you chose to represent you is able to handle the nuances of buying and selling properties.

The next step is to ensure sure you do your research to find the right community for you and your needs. Deciding what type of neighborhood you want to live in is crucial; rural, suburban, or the city? Check out what the surrounding area offers, see what the downtown is like. Is it filled with coffee shops, grocery stores, banks, schools? Learning about the neighborhood of where you are looking to purchase a home is almost as important as picking the home you want to purchase. Here are some tips to help you make the best decision with regard to the neighborhood:

  • If you are looking to move in to a specific neighborhood, make sure that the other homes in the neighborhood are consistent in value to what you may be purchasing. It's always best to be one of the smaller homes in the neighborhood vs. being the largest and most expensive home in the neighborhood.
  • It is always good to check with the local police station to see if that area has any recent crime reports. Also, it would be wise to check on line at to see if there are any sex offenders residing in the area.
  • Check the School Ratings in the Town that you are considering buying in. Even if you do not have children in school, when it comes time to sell that home, it will be an important selling factor.

When you have found a property you are interested in, ask any and every question you can think of; no question is too big or too small. You want to make sure that there are no surprises after you close the deal and are ready to move in. Property damage repair, renovations, electrical/heating systems, and foundation are only a few of the areas you should inquire about. Here are some of the very important questions you should always ask:

  • Ask to see a copy of the Seller's Disclosure and a history of any repairs or renovations they have done.
  • Ask if there have been any other offers on the property, and if so, have there been any professional inspections performed. If there has, ask what issues may have surfaced from the inspection and have they been corrected?
  • Always ask if they have had any water problems in the basement. Telltale signs would be: a musty odor, and in unfinished basements, it is typical to see white lines of effervescence around the foundation, if water problems persist.
  • If there is a separate hot water tank, always ask if the seller owns it or is leasing it.
  • Ask if there has there ever been an underground oil tank, and if so, ask to see the documentation that it was professionally removed.
  • If there has recently been sewer installed in the area, and the home you are interested in currently has septic or has recently connected to the sewer, make sure you ask if there is a remaining, unpaid, sewer betterment, as you may become responsible for that remaining balance.

House hunting can be a lot of fun, if you've done your homework. Work with a qualified agent and remember to ask the right questions! With more and more people entering the market, and inventory scarce, it's important to act quickly. These tips can help save you time and ultimately get you into your dream home more quickly rapidly. Happy Hunting!

Tips for House Hunting with Kids

April 9, 2013 5:56 pm

Buying a house is in equal parts exhilarating and nerve wracking. Unless you have that perfect house just waiting for you, financing ready to go, and no competing offers, your home search can be time consuming and fraught with ups and downs. Add your kids into the mix, and you might feel completely overwhelmed before you even get started.

There are many compelling reasons to include your kids in your home search. Moving can be a tough proposition for children, especially if they have to change schools and make new friends. Small children might simply miss the familiarity of the home in which they've grown up. Including kids in the search for your new home can be empowering for them. They can feel that they have a say in the final decision – the degree to which they actually do is up to you, but certainly most parents feel that a new home has to be just right for the entire family.

If you are moving towns, in a time crunch, or if you don't have childcare in the area, you might find yourself going on a house hunt with your kids in tow. Here are a few tips that can help you make your home search an experience that is tolerable – or even exciting – for the entire family.

Research. The more information you can find out ahead of time about the property either online or from your real estate agent, the better background you'll have to target areas of concern or interest when you go for the showing. Make lists of everything you're looking for in a home and screen out any houses that don't fit your needs.

Take your time. If possible, don't cram all your showings into one day. If a full day of showings seems like a marathon to you, just imagine how worn your children's patience will be.

Plan the day. Do you have a contingency plan in the case of a meltdown? Can you take turns viewing the home with your spouse and compare notes in the car?

Bring provisions. You'll need ample snacks, drinks, and entertainment like books, crayons, and sketchbooks. Portable DVD players, laptops, iPads, iPods, and handheld video games can work wonders for "bored" kids, especially if you ordinarily limit their time with such devices – and the promise of some technology time can serve as a reward for good behavior during each showing. Make sure you're stocked with diapers, wipes, and paper towels for any messes on the go.

Set ground rules.
Lay out your expectations for your kids' behavior before you even embark on your day, outlining things they must not do while they are "guests" in someone else's home. Let them understand that you won't tolerate running, fighting, sitting on furniture, or fiddling with other people's belongings. Keep careful track of all of your kids at all times to make sure they are observing the rules.

Take breaks. Have lunch a restaurant your kids enjoy or take a midday break for ice cream or some other treat. Stop at a park or playground in one of the neighborhoods you visit. You can make the day a fun adventure that the kids enjoy and remember.

Take notes and photos so that you can revisit the details of each property later on when you are free from distractions. If you find yourself with questions later on, you can contact your agent for answers.

Prioritize. Make sure to visit the homes that most interest you early in the day so that you don't end up missing them if you have to cut the day short. If there are any homes that would be "nice to see," but not compelling, save them until the end of the day and only visit them if the family is holding together well.

Buying a new home is one of the most important decisions you can make. It's imperative to make a sound choice that will assure your happiness down the road. Including your kids in your home search doesn't have to be difficult if you plan your search with them in mind. You might find that they have questions about a property that you haven't thought of – and their additional perspective could prove useful when you finally make your decision.

Word of the Day

April 9, 2013 5:56 pm

Multiple listing. Agreement that allows real estate brokers to distribute information on the properties they have listed for sale to other members of a local real estate organization. Allows the widest possible marketing of those properties. Commissions are split by mutual agreement between the listing broker and the selling broker.

Q: Are Fees and Assessments Owed a Homeowner’s Association Deductible?

April 9, 2013 5:56 pm

A: Generally not because they are considered personal living expenses. But if an association has a special assessment to make capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis when the property is sold. Another exception may apply if you rent your condo – the monthly condo fee is deductible every year as a rental expense.

Greenest of the Green: Top Efficiency-Boosting Home Improvements

April 8, 2013 5:22 pm

(BPT)—Forget wondering who's the fairest; when it comes to choosing home improvements that make your home look good—from the curb and to potential buyers—it may make more sense to ask "Who's the greenest of them all." Sustainable home improvements not only help reduce utility costs and boost owner satisfaction with their homes, they also make a house more appealing to potential buyers.

In fact, buyers are willing to shell out up to 10 percent more for new homes certified green, according to a January real estate report by Harvard University. Return on investment for certain types of green improvements - such as replacing older, less efficient doors and windows - also tends to be high, meaning sellers recoup much of the initial cost of the improvement when they sell the home.

If you're looking for eco-friendly home improvements, these five are among the greenest you can make:

1. Switch to a solar water heater - Switching to solar power for heating water can be a huge energy and money-saver. Solar hot water systems rely on free energy from the sun to heat a home's hot water. A typical system can use 50 to 80 percent less energy than traditional heating systems, according to Velux America, marketers of solar-powered hot water systems. That reduction can help a typical household trim its annual energy costs by 10 to 15 percent.

"While the initial cost of installing a solar-powered system is often higher than installing a traditional water heater, most homeowners find the energy savings allows them to recoup that cost in just a few years," says Jim Cika of solar system manufacturer Heliodyne. "What's more, homeowners may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost to buy and install a residential solar water heating system."

2. Eliminate incandescents -
You'll have to do it soon anyway, so it may pay to start the process now and phase incandescent light bulbs from your home. Federal law banning incandescent light bulbs means that by the end of 2014, you probably won't be able to find one of the old-fashioned power-guzzlers on store shelves anymore. Instead, more energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) will dominate the marketplace.

3. Add or upgrade a skylight
- Installing a skylight, or replacing an older model skylight with a new Energy Star-qualified one, can help reduce utility costs. The natural light from a skylight can help reduce the need for artificial light sources, thereby paring down electricity costs. When you pair no leak solar-powered fresh air skylights equipped with automatic rain sensors and efficiency-enhancing, energy saving accessories like designer solar powered blinds, you gain a new source of fresh air while improving energy efficiency by up to 37 percent, according to skylight manufacturer Velux.

And, in addition to long-term savings, the cost of solar powered skylights and blinds, as well as installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit as a green home improvement.

And, if you would like to see exactly how skylights would look in your home, there's an app there that allows you to take pictures inside your home and superimpose skylights and blinds on the image of your ceiling.

Sunlight entering the home through a skylight can help reduce winter heating bills. says installing an EnergyStar-qualified skylight, windows and doors can trim a home energy bill by 7 to 15 percent over non-qualified products. Visit to learn more.

4. Replace an old HVAC system
- In the typical American home, up to half of total energy consumption goes to heat and cool the house, EnergyStar says. Replacing old, inefficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems with newer, more efficient models can dramatically reduce a home's heating and cooling costs.

5. Upgrade old windows and doors -
A home can lose a tremendous amount of air - hot in the winter, cool in the summer - through poorly sealed doors and windows. Older units, obviously, tend to be less energy efficient than newer ones. Upgrading from drafty windows and doors to more air-tight models can result in significant savings on your heating and cooling costs.

What's more, replacing windows and doors are among the home improvements that deliver significant ROI at the time of resale. Replacing old windows with new vinyl ones can recoup more than 71 percent of the cost when you sell; 73 percent for wooden replacement windows, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. And installing a new front door earns you back nearly 66 percent for a fiberglass door and a whopping 85.6 percent for a steel door.