Forget mulch: Fill gaps in the garden with these great groundcovers

Cerastium tomentosum ground

Team Osh Guest Blogger Paul Lee Cannon:

“Who doesn’t love a freshly mulched garden? Besides giving a landscape a beautiful finishing touch, a top layer of mulch (typically wood chips) conserves moisture, keeps weeds at bay, and even improves soil health. But I have to admit I’ve been slowly weaning off mulch the past couple of years because I’ve found a more gratifying alternative, one that doesn’t require lugging heavy bags. It’s called “overplanting.” Basically this means covering as much soil in the garden as you can within reason. The result is fuller, variety-filled planting beds and loads-less stress on your back. I curated this list of easy-to-grow plants that in my experience make fantastic groundcovers and that can, quite literally, fill in for mulch. Plus, the more plants, the merrier, right? Happy growing!

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)
Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)

Stachys byzantina
(Lamb’s Ear),

USDA hardiness zones 4-9 – The fuzzy gray-green leaves are fun to touch (kids LOVE them) and it spreads out along the ground creating a 4-foot-wide or more wonderful, wooly carpet. Pinkish-purply flower spikes rise above the foliage in summer and attract bees like nobody’s business. Grow in a well-drained spot that receives full or part sun. It requires very little water once established. I started growing lamb’s ear from seed many years ago, and it continues to reliably thrive in my garden in numerous ways. You can use it to soften the borders of the front walk, add textural interest to container plantings, and brighten dark spots. I also plant it between shrubs with dark foliage to create a wavy, ethereal effect which is just gorgeous. This plant is so prolific as a groundcover that this past fall I divided several clumps for sharing and poked some into the parking strip in front of our home, where they are now quickly taking over in a good way.

Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)
Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)

Salvia leucantha
(Mexican Bush Sage),

USDA hardiness zones 8-11 – Meet my go-to for adding a pop of long-lasting color, filling in bare patches, and planting in tough spots like my multiply mentioned parking strip. I love, love, LOVE this easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant evergreen shrub and for many, many, MANY reasons. It puts out pretty purple and white blooms all year long, attracts hummingbirds, responds favorably to pruning, and covers a lot of ground fast (3-5 feet tall and wide). The narrow, gray-green leaves are handsome as are the upright stems which are covered with white wooly hairs. Plant in full sun for more robust flowering and foliage, then kick back and wait for the hummingbird show.

Cerastium tomentosum flower
Cerastium tomentosum flower

Cerastium tomentosum
(Snow-in-Summer),

USDA hardiness zones 3-7 – If you’ve got a really sunny spot in your garden that needs filling in, pick up a flat of this sweet lil’ evergreen groundcover and dig in. It quickly forms a silvery gray mat of foliage, followed by clustered masses of tiny white flowers come late spring into early summer. It grows 6-8 inches high and wide and spreads faster with regular watering, but is drought tolerant once established. Plant each plug (and lots of them for best, snowiest effect) about a foot apart in well-draining soil. Grow in partial shade if your climate is a particularly hot one. It’s a real rock star in a rock garden, on a dry hillside, and in the company of other plants with similarly hued foliage for a dreamy, monochromatic effect. Now on with the snow!

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens (Red Buckwheat)
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens (Red Buckwheat)

Eriogonum grande var. rubescens
(Red Buckwheat),

USDA hardiness zones 8-10 – This California native perennial plant astounds me. I grow it in dry, heavy clay soil in my front yard, NEVER water it, and it rewards me for my neglect with a dense mound (1 foot long by 3 feet wide) of ruffled, rich-green, oval leaves (white and wooly underneath) and swarms of hot-pink, pom-pom-like flowers from summer to fall. The butterflies love the blooms just as much, if not more, than I do. I harvested last year’s blooms and discovered they make a beautiful, rust-colored dry flower arrangement. Plant this buckwheat in full to part sun, preferably in fall before the rain, then leave it alone. It’s really that easy.

Eriogonum arborescens (Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat)
Eriogonum arborescens (Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat)

Eriogonum arborescens
(Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat),

USDA hardiness zones 7-10 – Here’s another tried-and-true California buckwheat I adore. It’s a fast-growing evergreen shrub with a compact, mounding habit reaching 3 feet tall by 5 feet wide. I grow it in clay soil, full sun, and very rarely water it, but it still responds generously with lots of pale-green foliage and heads of rusty-pink flowers that bloom summer through California winter. You can even give it a go in less light, which will result in darker foliage. I’ve seen it grown in the shade as an underplanting for a tree and it’s still attractive. The casual, meadowy look really appeals to me, plus I appreciate that it responds kindly to the snip-snip of my pruning shears. Care for it as you would red buckwheat. This plant thrives on neglect, too!

Abelia grandiflora (Glossy Abelia)
Abelia grandiflora (Glossy Abelia)

Abelia grandiflora
(Glossy Abelia),

USDA hardiness zones 6-9 – For most of the 13 years I’ve lived in my home, an abelia has beautifully flanked the front steps. This unfussy evergreen has a lovely cascading habit, shiny leaves, and tiny bell-like white flowers. It thrives in full to part sun and there’s no need to water it that much (if at all) once it’s taken root in your garden (an exception to this is if you reside in a hot climate). Abelia grows at a moderate pace, ultimately reaching 4-6 feet tall by 5 feet wide, but is easy to keep clipped back to a manageable size. I love just letting it ramble and cover the ground. Because it does a pretty fabulous job of it.”

Create a Front Porch that Wows

What’s often looked at yet often overlooked? If you answered the front porch, you’re spot on. If you think about it, the front porch is really is one of the most important parts of your home. It’s where you greet guests. Neighbors look at it every day as they drive or stroll by. It’s how you identify your place to people coming over (Hey, we’re the third house on the left with the brown door). So, with all this attention, is there any reason to settle for a porch without personality? To crank up the curb appeal all you need is about a weekend’s worth of work, a little know-how, and maybe a dash of daring.

Front Door

Benjamin Moore Aura Grand Entrance
Benjamin Moore® Grand Entrance™
1-qt Interior/Exterior Door and Trim Enamel

The best place to start is the door. It’s the focal point of the entry, and let’s be honest, it will take the most time. For paint, we love Aura® Grand Entrance from Benjamin Moore®. It applies smoothly, and has excellent hide. Available in 2 formulas – High Gloss and Satin – that dry to a lustrous finish. (Tip: If you have an older door, the Satin formula will help conceal dings and flaws). Best of all, Grand Entrance comes in 3,500 colors. That’s a lot of ways to express yourself. So, if you dig a door in lime green, go for it. The great thing about paint, is that it can be painted over.

Lock Sets

If you’re going to go to the trouble of painting your front door, you might want to consider changing out your handles and hardware. There are so many styles and finishes available, plus next gen electronic versions. You can update and really update using just a screwdriver.

Ring™ Video Doorbell
Ring™ Video Doorbell.
Click to view at osh.com.

Doorbell

And if you want to be really smart, think about a high-tech doorbell like the Ring™ Video Doorbell. It literally turns your mobile into a portable peephole, so you can see who’s at your door from practically anywhere. `

Lighting

Next up in terms of time involvement is lighting. Besides safety and security, front porch lighting helps define the space and set the mood for an inviting entry. When choosing, it’s important to consider the scale of the fixtures. You don’t want them to overwhelm, or underwhelm your space. Equally important is style. You might love the look of those stainless industrial lights, but they will look really out of place facing your Tudor-style cottage. Because updating lighting involves electricity, we suggest getting a pro to help, unless you happen to be a pro yourself.

Now that the big jobs are out of the way, you can start on the smaller projects that have equally important impact.

House Numbers

House numbers
House Numbers
Click to view at osh.com

House numbers are an easy way to refresh your entry look. Like lighting and door hardware, they should match the style of your house. Your Mid-Century masterpiece will be very unhappy if you make it wear Olde English house numbers.

Patio Ready Planters

For a lot of look with low involvement on your part, nothing beats a patio-ready container of flowers. Pre-potted with colorful, complementary flowers. Just place and pop! Pizazz in an instant.

Doormats

No great first impression is complete without a welcome mat. A popular choice is coir mats made of bristly coconut fibers. These durable, decorative dirt magnets come in a variety of sizes, colors and designs. A relatively inexpensive way to decorate your doorway to match your mood or the season.

Ready to take your front entry from humdrum to high style?

Guest Blogger: Chris from ManMade – A Simple Woodworking Storage Project You Can Build This Weekend

This blog post is taken as an excerpt from Chris over at ManMade

I have a million e-mails. It’s not actually a million, but it makes my soul feel that way. I know this feeling. It happens when I’ve been staring too long at a screen, clicking reply until I lose track of time and space and what name I’m supposed to sign in the sendoff. (It’s Chris. My name is Chris.) The only way to fix it? Get away from the computer, turn on some music, and build something.

So let’s go out to the shop and build a box that will never, ever have e-mails in it. Here’s a simple woodworking project that can get you back to working with your hands, but isn’t too fussy or complicated. And the cool part — it uses just a few basic tools and single board. When it’s done, you’ll have a stylish, versatile, stacking storage solution that will come in handy in any room in your house.  

Tools & Materials

I’m building this project is in partnership with Orchard Supply Hardware, a neighborhood hardware and garden store focused on paint, repair and the backyard. The company was founded in 1931 as a co-op of thirty farmers in central California. Each farmer put up $30, and Orchard Supply was born.  Today they have over 40,000 products in stores throughout the West Coast (best coast!) and Florida, as well as their website. Check out their online store here. 

I purchased all the tools and materials for this project at my local Orchard Supply Hardware store, and I loved the experience. As someone who spends a fair amount of time in lumber and hardware aisles, I was super pleased by the layout and availability of products and supplies. My local store – in the Hollywood neighborhood of Portland –  featured the kinds of materials, fixtures, and goods for those living in an urban neighborhood, looking to repair and decorate older homes. The selections were conducive to the architectural style of the neighborhood – the Northwest bungalow – as well as general DIY and creative needs.  The staff was just helpful and friendly. They welcomed me warmly and pointing me in the right direction, but left just enough space to let me figure out my design and specific needs. And if I had a question, they were right there to help.

This build uses only two power tools, one eight-foot-long pine board, and some basic hand tools. If you don’t want to cut the lumber yourself, you can get it cut to size at The Workbench, an innovate customer service center at your local Orchard Supply Hardware store (they can cut rope, wire, chain and wood, make keys, and sharpen tools too).

Use a speed square as a guide fence to get straight cuts with a circular saw.

Step 1

Begin by cutting your wood to size. One great way to get straight cuts with a circular saw is by using a speed square as a guide fence. Cut five pieces of wood to the following dimensions:

  • Front and back: 14 3/4″ x 11 1/4″
  • 2 sides: 11 1/4″ square
  • Bottom: 13 1/4″ by 11 1/4″

Step 2

On each side panel, draw a horizontal line near the top (we placed ours 2″ from the top). Now find the center of the side, and mark. This will be the center of your box handle. Measure out 1.5″ to each side from this spot and make a mark. These crosshairs are the starting point (center) of your Forstner bit.

As shown below in the image below, make a starting divot for your 1″ Forstner bit using a hammer and nail. This prevents the bit from wandering when you start drilling, making for a cleaner hole. Next, drill down all the way through, keeping your bit as plumb as possible. Use some scrap wood underneath your work piece to prevent tearout. Repeat for both side panels of the box.

Step 3

Now, use a coping saw to cut out the waste between the two holes you just drilled. A coping saw is a great, affordable tool that allows you to make difficult cuts in tight spaces. It take a little practice to get the hang of it, so if you’ve never used one before, try a few cuts on some scrap wood first.

Cut the holes for the box handles. Use sand paper to smooth over the edges. 

Step 4

We’re going to be joining our pieces together using counterbored screws.  This allows us to sink the screw heads below the surface, and hide them under wooden plugs. It’s also really strong; great for moving heavy objects around, and you’ll never have to worry about dropping your precious record collection.

Lay out your drill points first by marking a line 3/8″ from the outside edges of the front and back boards. Your drill holes will run along both sides (across the grain) and the bottom of the front and back boards. I evenly spaced five holes along the sides, and six holes along the bottom. Once your points are marked, drill through (again, use scrap wood below) using your counter bore bit. Adjust the stop on the counter bore bit so that the tip of the counterbore will not blow the opposite side. Then drill each hole until the stop collar hits your work piece.

Step 5

Now it’s time to put everything together. Use your clamps to assemble the box, making sure your edges are flush. Insert the bottom piece to keep everything square.


Now, using a 1/8″ drill bit, drill through the counterbores to make pilot holes in the side pieces. This will keep your screws from splitting the material.

Step 6

Use a driver bit to screw the pieces together. If you’ve done everything right, you can’t really screw this up (no pun intended). Just make sure you slow the drill down toward the end so you don’t strip the screws. You can also finish the job by hand with a #2 screwdriver.

Step 7

The counterbores are filled in with 3/8″ dowel rods. These aren’t structural; they just hide the screw heads. Cut thirty-two 1″-long pieces out of your dowel rods. You can do this with a coping saw, like I did, or if you have another crosscut saw, like a miter saw, you can cut them that way. Just make sure you stay safe with the small size. (Check your local Orchard store; they may have pre-cut dowel rods for just this sort of thing. Look in the hardware aisle.)

Once cut, dip one end in glue and insert them into the counter bores, tapping them in gently with a hammer.

Step 8

Wait about half an hour for the glue to set up, then use the coping saw to cut off the excess dowel rod material. Be careful not to mar the finished surfaces when you do this; it’s better to leave a little too much than to cut too close.

Step 9

Sand the remaining material down until it’s flush with the surface. Use a scrap block of wood to back up the sandpaper so you don’t round over the edges. Sand with the grain and don’t use too much pressure.

What I love about these boxes is that they’re strong, stackable, and you can fit all kinds of stuff in ’em. I’m using them for my  record collection, but they’d also be great for toys, , winter clothing (hats and gloves), or as closet organizers. They’re sturdy enough for tools or heavy items; you can even stand on them without worrying that they’ll break.

They work resting on either the long or short sides, or the base, and can be mixed and matched as needed. I made an extra one to house my lineup of books to read.  I plan to whip up a few more to use in my garage for strong project-specific storage.

 

 

Follow along with the #OrchardSimple campaign on their blog, Facebook, and Pinterest pages. It’s all about thoughtful DIY projects that you can take on to help simplify your daily life. Can’t beat that.”

Head over to your local Orchard Supply Hardware this weekend to pick up the materials needed for this project! 

Get the Dirt on Organic Gardening

reneesBeen thinking of going organic? Good news! It’s easy, it’s rewarding, and all you need to get started is plants, dirt, and fertilizer.

Organic Plants

Think about what you want to put in your garden, and how much space you have to work with. Plan out where you’ll put each plant, and how many of each you want. Graph paper is a lifesaver here, because you can plan out every square foot if you want to.

The types of plants you’re going to grow will decide how deep your dirt needs to be. Herbs don’t need deep soil, so they can do well in window boxes and containers. Tomatoes, on the other hand, do better in raised beds or in-ground. Sometimes you can cheat the system by planting shallow plants right next to deep plants, but every plant needs some space of its own. No one likes to be crowded.

Do a little research on how many plants to grow. You don’t want to end up with way too many of something you’re not going to eat, and some plants can surprise you. For example, an average zucchini plant in an average garden having an average year will produce thirty pounds of zucchinis. Thirty pounds. On average.

Browse Organic Seed Starting

Jobes Blood Meal and Bone Meal

Organic Dirt

Before you start digging holes, you need to get to know your dirt. Use a soil test kit to figure out what nutrients you’ve got enough of, and what you need to add. Ideally your pH will be balanced, and your soil will be rich in nitrogen (for leaf development), phosphorous (for fruit growth), and potassium (for healthy roots). If you’re lacking in any of those minerals, amend your soil and test again after a few days.

Start prepping your garden soil about a month before you want to plant. Mix your amendments (like fertilizer, nutrients, and specialty soils) in with a garden fork or a shovel. You want to make your soil fluffy. Dirt that’s too tightly packed can make it harder for roots to grow.

Check if your soil’s ready for planting by rolling a clump lightly into a ball.  Now crumble it in your hand. If it just breaks into a few smaller pieces, it’s ready however, if it feels doughy or soggy you need to wait for drier weather. And if it’s hard or powdery water the ground, fluff it again, and check again in a few days.
Soil and Fertilizers

Browse organic soils and ammendments

Organic Fertilizers

Fertilizers and amendments don’t just feed the plants. They also feed the soil, helpful bugs, and all the other things that keep your garden thriving. Everything needs to eat, after all.

Add them to your garden in the spring and again in the fall. And if you have a longer growing season, you can use a little more. Organic fertilizers are slow-releasing, so you’re not going to overload your soil.

Browse organic fertilizers

Pests

OK, we didn’t mention pests. But we need to be realistic. You’re going to have pests. And since you’re not going to use any chemical herbicides or pesticides, how will you protect your plants from being choked out by weeds, or eaten by bugs? Thankfully, your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store is well-stocked with a full line of pest management and weed controls for organic gardening.

And don’t let your organic gardening end with vegetables. Shrubs, flowerbeds, even your lawn can benefit from organic methods. Don’t be stingy, spread the love!

CA ONLY: No Sales Tax –  February 18-20, 2017 the price you see is the price you pay. So it’s the perfect time to stock up and save on the stuff you need anyway.

OR Residents ONLY: 10% OFF –  February 18-20, 2017 the price you see is the price you pay. So it’s the perfect time to stock up and save on the stuff you need anyway.

Head over to your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware® and grab the plants, soils, and amendments you need to get your organic garden started right.

Organics

50 Ways of Clean: Top Ways to Dominate Dirt This Valentine’s Day

Is your floor looking a bit off-color? Doorknobs a little dirty? White linens turning a few different shades of gray? To help you whip your place into shape, we’ve put together 50 ways to get a good, deep clean to refresh your home before summer and the company starts pouring in!

1. Dust the light fixtures
2. Wipe down the table and chairs
3. Sweep the floor clean
4. Put the dishes away and organize
5. Clean the dishwasher
6. Replace the water filters
7. Wipe down the kitchen cabinet faces

8

9. Scrub the kitchen sink
10. Scrub out the trash cans
11. Take out the trash and replace the bag
12. Wipe down the front of the refrigerator
13. Clean the refrigerator shelves
14. Sanitize the refrigerator handle

15

16. Sort the mail
17. Dust the furniture
18. Dust the shelves

19

20. Replace the vacuum filter
21. Vacuum the blinds or curtains
22. Vacuum the couch

23

24. Wash the clothes
25. Wash the towels
26. Wash the sheets
27. Wash the pillows
28. Wash the blankets
29. Clean the washing machine
30. Clean the lint filter
31. Wipe down the dryer
32. Fold the laundry
33. Put the laundry away
34. Vacuum the mattresses
35. Make the beds
36. Organize the linen closet
37. Wash the bathroom mirror
38. Sanitize the bathroom sinks and counters
39. Scrub the bathroom or shower

40

41. Remove any hair from the drains
42. Wash the shower curtain or door
43. Clean the showerhead
44. Wipe down the bathroom cabinet faces
45. Clean out the bathroom cabinets
46. Clean the toilet
47. Mop the bathroom floor
48. Wash the dishes
49. Sweep the porch

50

Get the tools to make cleaning painless and hassle free.  We have everything waiting for you at your at your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store or online at osh.com.
Some items may not be available at all stores. Call your neighborhood Orchard Supply Hardware store for availability. Coupons and/or offers cannot be combined with any other discounts off of merchandise being offered at store closing sales.