Monday, April 23, 2012

My Ten Favorite Foliage Plants for Containers

Who says container plants have to be brimming over with colorful flowers? 

Last week I blogged about how container plants can help sell your home. Today, I’m focused exclusively on foliage container plants for home staging.

I’m a firm believer that greenery alone brings enough variety of color and textures, and that foliar plants are easier to take care of than blooming annuals.

I’ve chosen ten dramatic but low-maintenance ones that are perfect for adding all-important curb appeal, and for otherwise dressing up your landscape.

Caladium

I like the big, tropical leaves on these variegated plants. They move in the gentlest breeze. They’re dramatic. They’re colorful. They’re relaxing.

Caladium tubers won’t sprout until the soil is warm, so if you want Caladium plants and you buy packaged tubers in late spring, I hope you are a patient person, because it will be mid-summer before you have a decent potted plant. Nurseries carry lush potted Caladiums that are irresistible. You’ll find them in all kinds of fascinating variegations – from simple green and white to exotic lavender polka dots.
  
Caladiums can be the accent plant in a potted container of foliage plants, or the singular star of the show. They do best in the shade, and in a moist environment. If that sounds like your porch or a shady spot near a fountain or water feature, Caladiums could be all the potted plant you need, their brightness calling attention to one of your home’s selling points.

Rosemary tops my list of  trouble-free plants.
Rosemary

What’s not to love? 

She looks good all year long. She’ll grow in almost any kind of soil except poorly drained. She does not taste good to pests, including deer. She’s fragrant, and can be used to make a more interesting focaccia, or stew. She laughs at all the usual plant diseases. She’s available as an upright or a trailing plant. And she can even be pruned to take on different shapes, including topiary.

Buying a potted Rosmarinus officinalis plant is an investment you’ll never regret, because you can take it with you when you move. This is the perfect container plant to put in a sunny spot where you may forget to water on a regular basis.

Heuchera

You may know Heuchera by its common name, coral bells. Heuchera is another investment plant. In containers, it is easy to winter over unless your winter temps go below minus 25 degrees.

You can plant containers now with Heuchera and they will look good through the fall.  These lovelies are almost impossible to kill.

This sweet potato vine will become the spill plant when it matures a bit, and the domed
huechera plant is both a thrill and a fill plant. Photo: Landscape Design by Lee
Choose colors that accent your home’s best features.  Different varieties of Heurhera come in mauve tones, silvery shades, and lime green colors. Many have two-toned leaves with distinctive veins in contrasting colors to make them even more showy.
 
A beautifully shaped Heuchera plant is the perfect thrill plant in a container, or the filler plant surrounding a larger focal point plant. 

Because Heuchera are not fussy about sunlight, your container can be placed in sun or shade, or a combination, like that area on the east side of your home that gets bright sun in the morning and deep shade all afternoon.  They are drought tolerant, making them a good candidate for a hanging basket.  

Coleus 
Six varieties of coleus fill this clay pot, which will look only more exotic  
as summer progresses. Photo: White  Flower Farms   
I won’t start filling containers each Spring until I’ve brought home at least one six pack of Coleus. Their brightly variegated, frilly leaves make them easy to love, and they come in a seemingly endless assortment of colors and leaf shapes.

The best part is that they are not demanding. Coleus will thrive in the shade, and they don’t need frequent watering or fertilizing to keep them perky.
When they are thirsty, they might look a little limp, but they are the kind of plant gardeners call “signal plants.” Signal plants, like impatiens, signal you when they need water, unlike some divas, that just die, not mentioning any names, like Petunias.
Coleus plants do send up flower spikes, but most people pinch them off.  With coleus, it’s all about the stunning leaves. 
Persian Shield 
Persian Shield and Creeping Jenny share the technicolor spotlight in this
foliage-only grouping. Photo: la fattina via Garden Pics 
Look for this pretty plant early in the season, because it can sell out fast. What makes Persian Shield so desirable are the purple leaves that are so iridescent I wouldn’t be surprised if they glow in the dark.  Ask at your savvy nursery for strobialanthus dyerianus.

Persian Shield will be happy in sun, part sun, or shade. You will love this plant because it is so unusual. People touring your home will think you have a gardener on staff!

I suggest that you place it in shady spots because it does like moist soil, and you don’t want to be dragging a hose or watering can around twice a day.

Trailing Ivy
I planted these two faux finished containers with ivy and set them on the edge of
our property to give some importance to an ordinary bench. Ivy doesn't mind being ignored. 
All ivies are easy to grow. In containers, they act as both fillers and spillers, and can be striking on their own or mixed with other greenery or blooming plants. 

Don’t be put off by their commonness. All ivies are not alike. You can find the sexy varieties in the houseplants department, so look there instead of in the groundcover department.

If you have a balcony or small sideyard that doesn’t get much attention, trailing ivy could be your go-to container plant, the one that adds fresh growth and texture to the area. Ivy plants don’t mind neglect, will tolerate full shade or full sun, and even keep on looking handsome despite periods of drought.
   
Tradescantia
This Wandering Jew specimen is a variegated
cultivar called Red and Green.
Photo: Malmbors's Garden Center
Commonly called Wandering Jew, this house plant is easy and fast-growing. 

In places where winters aren’t harsh, it will return yearly from pots or the ground. Its fleshy stems which sprout pretty 2-inch, purple -- sometimes striped -- leaves, can spill from containers, making it an ideal hanging plant. 

It does show small pink flowers mid-season, but these are incidental to its value as a container plant.

If your Wandering Jew plant is growing leaves that are too far apart, it’s not getting enough light. Prune it back and move it to a sunnier spot for a more compact plant.

Golden Creeping Jenny  

Her botanical name is Lysimachia nummularia, but her friends call her Creeping Jenny or Moneywort, and she has lots of friends.

On the ground, she’s a ground cover, but in containers, she’s a spiller.  Her small yellow leaves create the perfect contrast to plants with ordinary green leaves.

My friend Janet really knows her plants. She's clustered two
types of ferns with a  gorgeous begonia on her front steps. 
Creeping Jenny will not disappoint you over the course of the summer. This is a plant that is easy to cut back if it gets too ambitious. No diseases are common, but sometimes rust spots occur. You can just snip off the affected parts.

Grow Creeping Jenny in full sun or part shade, in a container that will be easy to water, because, although she won’t perish, she doesn’t like really dry conditions.    

Sweet Potato Vine

I considered not including this plant because you see it everywhere. The reason it’s so popular is its tropical-like chartreuse or maroon leaves on vines that ramble, filling in spaces on the ground and spilling over the sides of pots.

These Ipomea batatas will grow in the shade and not require as much water there, but the leaves will not be as intensely colored.  If your sweet potato vine gets too leggy, it’s easy to cut it back without harming it. In fact, it will only grow fuller and more luxuriant.

Ferns
Janet likes to embellish her arrangements
of potted plants with decorative elements
like this angel sculpture. Great idea. 
I love Ferns so much I have a designated shady garden just for them. Most people buy them already potted up in big hanging baskets for the front porch. But they are much more versatile than that.
Ferns will soften and add maturity to the look of hardscape like a sidewalk, deck or patio. They have an old fashioned charm when flanking the front door, especially appropriate if your home is Victorian.
A collection of potted ferns, if large enough, can create a striking “portable garden,” one you can take with you when your house sells. Meanwhile, they will fill in a barren area of your landscape and add to curb appeal or backyard appeal.
Most ferns can tolerate some full sun, but not all day sun, making them the ideal porch plant.  All day indirect light is best. Ferns are happy in moist, but well-drained, rich potting soil.
I’ve limited my list to just ten. But other foliage plants worth mentioning are sage and other herbs; chard, kale, mustard and other vegetables; asters and dusty miller; and all kinds of fabulous hostas. Depending on where you live, and where you’ll put your containers, some of these plants will thrive and others might struggle.  

When your home is for sale, you have enough to think about. Why add fertilizing, watering, and deadheadling to your to-do list? The plants I’ve chosen here all have some cultural requirements, but they don’t ask for much attention to look good and help sell your home.

Get other tips for merchandising your home on the market in my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for More Money. I've devoted one entire chapter to staging your landscape.   

Top photo: Gardenality

Monday, April 16, 2012

How Container Plantings Can Help You Sell Your Home

I'm forever singing the praises of silk plants and flowers, but when it comes to adding curb appeal with real, fresh flowers in containers, I'm singing even louder.

Books have been written about the ins and outs of container plants – the right soil mixture, the right containers, the right location, the right plants.

I want to limit my advice here to how these plantings can earn their keep when your home is for sale. Here’s what containerized plantings can do for you, the home seller.

Hello! They will greet home buyers at the front entrance with something fresh, alive, and colorful. Just keep them close to the door.

Look! They draw attention to a selling point, such as a view, an unusual amenity, or a recent upgrade. Just keep the planting subtle so it doesn't overpower the selling point.

Don't Look. They hide less than perfect or not so pretty features of your property. Just place them so they distract the eye.

Define. They emphasize the style of your home, for example, cottage, contemporary, mid century modern, country, urban, or Mediterranean, to name a few. Just match the style of your containers and plants to the mood of your home.

Transplant. They make it easy for you to pot up your favorite plants in preparation for the move to the next home. Just make them look like they are part of your staged exterior.

Fluff. They can fill in bare spots in a sparse or boring landscape. They can dress up a walkway, or spiff up a shady sideyard. Just keep the containers large for that lush, high-quality appearance.
There is no rule that says window boxes must contain flowers. These hayrack baskets are
planted with caladiums, and decorate the shady side of the home.
Point. They can keep the eye moving around an exterior space such as a porch or patio, so that the entire area gets noticed. They can even act as directional aids, encouraging people to "walk this way." Just keep the containers in the same family for a unified look -- all clay, all metal, all stone, all wood, all baskets or all ceramic.

Upgrade. Good quality flower pots are impressive. They can elevate the quality quotient of a house. Even inexpensive plastic pots can be faux-finished to look like granite or concrete, or weathered stone, so there is no excuse to have cheap-looking planters as part of your home staging. Just make the investment in time or money, and keep the pots when you move.

Transform. They make an area look more friendly and comfortable. Plants in pots can convert a concrete slab into a refreshing oasis, a balcony into a private retreat, or unused porch into an outdoor living room. Just concentrate on what areas you want to emphasize to avoid a funeral parlor look. 

Distinguish. A striking container plant, or a group of plants in attractive pots will set your home apart. When people go house hunting, they often view a few houses in one afternoon. That bucket of fluorescent double impatiens on your front porch might be the sweet, identifying marker home buyers remember when they mentally review the homes they toured. Just make sure the plants look tended, not neglected.
If the plants you use do not fill the container completely, or you don't have a focal point,
some kind of sculpture or whimsical garden ornament can rescue the arrangement.
I found these ornamental peppers growing in urns outside my hotel in Saint Augustime,
Florida. To me, they captured the spirit of a sunny location. Plants can remind
home buyers of the kind of climate they are buying into.
The trailing ivy in this handsome planter box will look good all year long with very
little attention. It compliments the simple lines of an old fashioned home. Coleus is another

low-maintenance, foliage plant, but is grown as an annual, unlike this ivy.
A traditional home calls for traditional plantings, and these red geraniums in
wooden window boxes were the perfect choice.
I took this photo in Charleston, South Carolina. The soft plantings in almost invisible
window boxes added just the right amount of color to this elegant facade.
My message here is that plants are powerful. But if they are going to work for you, the home seller, they had better look healthy and appropriate to the setting.

It took me years to learn how to create long-lived containers of gorgeous flowers instead of ho-hum or problematic containers of plants. Some secrets I learned along the way:

For container plantings to live up to their potential, it's often advised that they follow the "Thrill, fill, and spill rule."

The "thrill" plant is usually a single, dramatic, tall plant that serves as the focal point that gives height and structure to the arrangement.

The "fill" plants make up the bulk of the planting and cover the surface of the soil mix.

And the "spill" plants cascade over the edge of the pot, softening and grounding the grouping. 

But, as my examples show, it's not always necessary to include all three of these plant choices. As a DIY home stager, sometimes you just want some greenery in a space to freshen the look. Or you want to add an accent color to a lacklustre garden area. Or a simple focal point to a porch.
Yellow flowers and yellow pot highlight this
friendly front door. Source: unknown.
The most popular location for a container planting is by the front door. For this spot, choose plants that will give you all season color, that don't need extra attention like twice-a-day watering. I prefer annuals over perennials because the bloom time is longer. 

Another option is to limit your choices to large foliage plants. You might discover everything you need in the houseplants section of your nursery. A healthy, typical houseplant -- usually a tropical plant -- will be happy for many months in a shady corner of your porch or deck.

This pot was placed along the side of a house,
leading people towards the backyard.
Balance. Choose a pair of topiaries to flank your entrance if you want to add some formality and balance to the front of your home. 

Highlight. Choose colors that highlight the best features or focal points of your home's exterior, like the front door, unusual architectural features, or any special details or niceties.

Color. Choose either bright, saturated bloom colors, or muted pastels. I prefer to go with one scheme or the other in each container -- either saturated or subtle. White blossoms and most greenery will compliment either of these color schemes. If your arrangement is monochromatic, such as all pinks or just greenery, make sure there is a variety of textures.

Tip: Choose pots that drain well. Plants die when their roots can't receive oxygen. They don't get oxygen from stagnant water, so water has to percolate through the soil mix. As a home seller, you do not want to showcase dying or sick plants, and you do not want to fuss with removing and replacing interior pots every time you water your plants. 

Timesaver. Choose plants that are "self cleaning," the nursery industry's term for flowering plants that do not require deadheading. Unless you find it therapeutic to inspect your flowers and gently remove spent blooms on a daily basis, look for self-cleaners. Impatiens do this. Marigolds and geraniums don't. 

Grow. Choose a soil mix that contains a slow release fertilizer, so you can sail through most of the summer without dealing with that chore. Use a soil mix made especially for potted plants.





What not to do: Cluster a sad collection of small, unimpressive plants in uncoordinated pots.


Plants are a must. During the spring, summer and autumn months, most people touring homes on the market expect to see fresh flowers growing in boxes, baskets, or pots. Even if you have a tiny set of front steps, or a fire escape off one window, don't disappoint them with nothing at all, or with dying plants or tacky yard art. By following some simple guidelines, you can cash in on the magic that plants add to any home.

For more tips on how to prepare your home for the real estate market, download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Got Kids? Got a Home for Sale? Here's Seven Tips Especially for You.

Do your children really need a closet full of toys all the time? 
The only thing more difficult than living in a home that's for sale is living in a home that's for sale when you have young children.

If that's your situation, I feel your pain.

I know how stressful it can be when you've just touched up your wall paint, and discover two days later small handprints all up and down the stairwell.

I know how stressful it can be when your realtor calls from down the street, wanting to show your home in a few minutes, and the living room is draped in blanket forts that cover an intricate complex of  Lego villages and train tracks.

With these things in mind, I've collected my favorite tips learned from PWHOM -- parents with a home on the market.

Systematize. Have routines. Do the same procedures daily. For example, everyone makes his or her own bed as soon as he or she gets out of it, one child puts away dishes after every meal, and another sweeps the front steps each evening. Soon, you'll have these habits down pat. Life is simpler with simple rituals, and young ones learn new tasks faster when the tasks are repeated at short intervals, like daily, or even twice daily.

Simplify. Put away the toys and games that are not essential. Most children will not miss the majority of their books, toys, games, dolls and stuffed animals. If storing all but their favorites creates a problem, rotate toys in and out of storage, and explain that the situation is just temporary. It's important for your own sanity that children understand -- as best they can -- the importance of all you are doing to help sell your home.  

Squirrel-ize. That's right, think like a squirrel, and hide things. People on a tour of your home don't need to see your basket of diaper changing essentials, the science project your son is in the middle of, the pile of sports equipment near the back door, or your daughter's doll collection. Think accessible, but still out of sight and in a place where home buyers don't look. Here are some hiding places I like for temporary stashing:
  • under the bed, in sliding boxes
  • an emptied, designated dresser drawer 
  • pretty shoeboxes, hatboxes, or these DIY cardboard vases 
  • an ottoman or bench with a storage compartment built in 
  • the washer or dryer  
  • the trunk of your car 
  • a vintage piece of luggage or wicker basket

Delegate tasks on your pre-showing checklist to everyone in the household.
This is my #3 grandson, and he actually likes to vacuum.

Supervise. Once infrequently used rooms are decluttered and clean, don't let them become catch-all areas for stuff that has no home. If you can close off rooms like the guest room or powder room, placing them off-limits to family members, that's another possibility. Remind them that it's just temporary.

Schedule. Make a checklist of what touchups need to be done just prior to a short-notice showing. If you leave the house for work in the morning, never knowing if a Realtor will bring people through during the day, having a touchup checklist is even more important. I know it's asking a lot, but selling a home is like running a business. Children, even young ones, should have a designated role in touchups.

Secret-ize. Put away things like schedules and calendars that show when you won't be home or where your children will be, any paperwork and decorations that show your children's names, or photographs of your children. You do not know who is coming into your home or what they want to know about you. I don't think I have to go into the details. It's all about keeping kids safe.

Synchronize. Work with your Realtor on timing so that showings are not a problem. Most parents prefer showings during school hours. Ideally, you should never have to refuse a showing. Some buyers breeze into town for the day and don't have much scheduling flexibility. It's more important to let your home be shown with some toys scattered about, and some wet towels on the rods, than to let a possible buyer escape. Many buyers interpret a demand for 24-hour notice as "not serious sellers." Be show-ready! I know it can be a hassle, but stay focused on the prize.

You'll drive yourself mad if you expect organized perfection. It's a balancing act. On one hand, buyers know you don't live in a model home, but on the other hand, buyers watch HGTV and they know the market now is a buyers' market. Whatever leverage you can gain by making your home the one that looks better than the rest, gives you a clear advantage.

I give other tips to help you navigate the waters toward a sale of your home in my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. For just $4.99, it will pay for itself over and over and over. Or I'll give you your money back.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Need Some Curb Appeal? Dress up Your Front Door with a DIY Rag Wreath

Your home's entrance is where buyers begin forming opinions about whether your home is desirable or not. Your front door should say, "Hello."

And one simple way to greet house hunters with a friendly hello is with a fresh, colorful wreath.

Here's how I made a wreath using cloth strips on a foam ring. It's so simple you can do it while watching a movie at home.

The beauty of these rag wreaths is that you cannot make an ugly one. Their nature is to be a little on the funky side, but -- depending on the fabrics you select -- they can be downright elegant.

I love that these wreaths can be propped in a fireplace opening in summer, hung in the kitchen for a bit of charm, or placed in a bedroom for some soft textures.

I am sure you will find other places in your home that need a touch of whimsy. And you can do it all on a shoestring!

Outside, a rag wreath, unless made from outdoor fabrics or plastic, will need some protection from the weather. But most front doors offer enough shelter.

I also like that rag wreaths, because they have a finished appearance front and back, can be hung in a window opening or on a mirror, and still look fabulous. They look pretty from a distance, and interesting up close. Ready to make yours?
All kinds of fabric are suitable. For your base, choose one made of foam, straw, wire, or vines. 

What You Need
  • One wreath form 
  • A collection of fabric in coordinated colors
  • Some kind of seasonal embellishment, such as a silk flower, seashell, ornament, toy, or fake fruit.  
  • A wide ribbon or fabric strip to use as a hanger 
How much fabric you need depends on the size of your ring. My ring measured 12 inches across, and I used 60 pieces of fabric measuring between 2 and 3 inches wide by 12 inches long. If you don't have scrap fabric, and want to buy fabric, calculate a 1.5 yards total.

You should have at least three different patterns in a complimentary color scheme. I've blogged about how to mix patterns when you decorate. You can also tie on pieces of ribbon or tulle to the finished wreath.

How to Do

1. Determine how long you need your fabric strips to be by tying a test strip of fabric around the ring.
2. Tear your fabric into strips, and separate them into piles. The fabric can be torn on the crosswise grain or the lengthwise grain of the fabric. Be prepared for lots of loose threads, but just pull away the tangled ones for now.
3. Start your tying with the fabric you have the least of. Space these ties around the wreath. Pull away stray threads if they bother you, or just let them be part of the wreath's natural charm. Don't be afraid to mix drapery fabric with delicate silks, and denims with floral sheets. As long as your colors work, and you follow the rules for pattern mixing, the look will be interesting.
4. Tie another pattern or color of strips around the wreath form, spacing them evenly around the circle.
5. Cover the wreath with remaining fabric ties. If using a smooth foam ring, sliding the strips so they are snug together is easier than if you are using a vine or straw wreath form. Fill in any gaps with additional ties or ribbons, and save a space for the tie you will use for hanging your wreath.
6. Add your ornament or embellishments. You can center one item or cluster of items on the lower half, or place multiple ornaments around the circle. I chose just one sunflower for this yellow and blue wreath.
7. Tie the wide ribbon or fabric strip in a loop around the top. And hang your wreath. If there is no hook on the door, duct tape comes to the rescue. Tape the top of the loop to the top edge of the door or mirror.

You can use this simple formula to create wreaths for each season your home is on the market. Buyers will notice that your home is being given attention and care.

In spring, a collection of pastel fabrics and florals is perfect. Bright colors and flowers rule all summer long, and in autumn, you'll want something seasonal like orange leaves, small gourds, bittersweet berries, and dried flowers. In winter, you can bring on the glitzy fabrics, colorful bows, and gilded ornaments!

You can even start with the same wreath form to make each of your wreaths.
For this Spring, I  chose a palette of  warm greens and whites to make this "leafy" wreath,
and I added strips of white tulle to soften the look.  
A few yellow, silk, day lilies brought this rag wreath to life. 

There are plenty of ways you can give your home the "Buy Me" touches that set your place apart from the competition. Download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar, to learn more tips, tricks and techniques.

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