My Ex-Green Thumb

September 29, 2011   //  Posted in: Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

In re-reading this post, I realize that it sounds very dramatic. Enjoy, and realize how seriously I take the smallest, two dollar things.

I’m never too sure why a plant decides to croak when it does.

I’m no horticulturist, and whatever green thumb I have is only based on genetic luck-of-the-draw. When a healthy plant suddenly goes sour without obvious cause, I’m usually mystified.

Earlier this summer, I brought home a new succulent (the shot glass-sized plant dwarfed by a leafy, thriving monster that I highlighted over in this post):

Big plant. Little plant.Shadowed, it stayed in it’s tiny plastic Home Depot container for a month (or more) after I bought it. Tight-rooted, but it was watered normally and thriving. I recently upgraded it’s housing to a custom-made portland cement planter that was deeper, wider, and all-in-all, gave those baby succulent roots some room to spread out and get comfy. (You’ve seen this picture before, over yonder.)

Mini-planter. A more managable 2-pounder and perfect home to my new little succulents.It was only within a few days of the transplant that I noticed that it had crashed and burned. Every leaf had tumbled off, still green. It was like nothing I had ever seen before from the ordinarilly rough-and-tough breed (Or species? Or genus?).

I thought succulents could withstand anything from the blazing Texan sun to nuclear war.

Wait, what? A fresh, green, lively succulent is biting the dust?

So… what was going wrong?

1) It was receiving the same amount of sunlight it had before,
2) It was in fresh potting soil,
3) It was potted in portland cement, which every other DIY tutorial had recommended,
4) And that planter had several holes drilled in the base to allow for drainage.
5) I hadn’t over-watered, I hadn’t under-watered, I hadn’t given it any beverage beyond water.

Despite reading endlessly that succulents and concrete go together like peanut butter and jelly, circling in my mind was something my Dad said recently, about how if a plant isn’t classified as a foundation plant (a plant that would thrive living nearby the perimeter, the foundation, of your house), it might get all choked up with the lime in cement. (And right there’s some of the genetic green thumb I attained.) With that thought, I’ve been watching the mighty mighty leafy plant for signs of unhappiness, not considering for a minute that the youthful succulent would be the one who got axed.

Clueless, I’ve been reading up on succulent root rot with as much interest as I read The Baby Sitter’s Club circa 1994, and decided to try a few things.

I’ll tell you now, it’s too early to know if any of this is going to actually work. Suggestions based on similar experience are appreciated.

In the instance that the potting soil I used was aggravating the plant, I carefully removed the succulent from the cement, inspected the roots (which appeared healthy), cleaned them thoroughly with water, and repotted in the same cement planter with some of the clean topsoil that was delivered a few days ago (and mixed it with a little bit of beach sand for good measure as advised by many of the succulent specialists).

Note: I photographed the weakling next to a thriving succulent in the house, one which appears to be dropping a leaf; this is the more common succulent death I’m familiar with, but every leaf had fallen from the baby succulent green as could be.

Repotted baby succulent. A single leaf remains.I also potted it a bit deeper this time; word on the internet is that succulents are really quick to re-root, so I attempted to get the base of the plant deep within so that it might root from the existing stems.

Two-thirds of the stems show little potential; I’m only mildly optimistic because there are also a few little pops of green at the tip of each.

A wee little bit of green at the tips of these brown stems.

The third stem still shows promise, with at least an inch of greenery and a single leaf appearing stabilized.

A single leaf remains. What gives.Thanks for hearing my side of the story.

Help a girl out if you have any tricks up your sleeve. Or if you’ve seen this before. Or if there’s something I can do to prevent all of my other succulents from facing the same death.

Cheers For Champagne Pink

September 28, 2011   //  Posted in: DIY, Office Space   //  By: Emily   //  10 responses

Paint gun happiness continues. I spy a rockin’ theme for the upcoming fall header image.

The real reason I bought another honkin’ gallon of primer (upping my count of gallons of primer to 4, which even to me seems like painters overkill) was that I had planned to upgrade some IKEA cabinets and shelves with, no shocker here, a fresh coat of paint. Most every tutorial I read that pertained to painting IKEA furniture (whether it be laminate or melamine surfaced), recommended that I start with dose of high-quality, and high-adhesion primer.

I now re-introduce you to a high-classy Zinsser.

Smart Prime, a high-adhesion primer.

It’s the primer that I used when I was first painting the pegboard, and at $32, it’s also the most expensive primer I’ve ever bought. I hoped it would be well worth it.

Just to share, before I splurged, I did experiment with two other primers that I had on hand, testing both brands on a sanded and un-sanded surface to see how well it would adhere. How’d it work? Scratched at the gentlest touch, both when sanded and not.

Testing primer swatches on sanded and unsanded parts of the IKEA finish. Verdict? Both easily chipped.

Onward with putting my new, expensive primer through the ringer.

With the shelf outside (balanced on cardboard to protect the grass and secured with two well-positioned 2x4s to prevent tippage) I sprayed the whole thing down with the 100% acrylic latex primer in a quick half-hour. It only took one coat, which surprised me, and left me with a great painting surface.

Primer spray down. One coat covered the veneered IKEA surface really well.

As for the paint? By recommendation from a commenter (thanks Gin!) I decided to check out the Ultra Premium high-gloss enamel by Valspar at Lowe’s. And at just about $15 for a quart, it would be just enough paint at a reasonable price.

Ultra special, ultra premium enamel by my new BFF, Valspar.

Side note: I looked high and low for a quart of CabinetCoat, but the local paint stores only sold it by the gallon at $55 a pop, and I knew a gallon was way more than I needed for the single cabinet… and god forbid I decide to do the other cabinets that are in the guest room a different color. Also, contrary to their website, no Home Depot stores in the area actually carried the product. A second option that crossed my path was the cabinetry paint by Ace Hardware’s brand, but hadn’t made my way down to explore the nearest Ace to check it out for myself. You might want to explore it if you’re in the market because it did have lots of good reviews.

The plan all along was to paint the cabinet a color complementing the house palette but also serving as a pop of color in the otherwise white-walled office. Pulling inspiration from the hues in the Anthropologie knobs, I landed on a shade of soft pink, specifically Champagne Pink, and began applying it whilst I contemplated the last time I had a piece of baby pink furniture. Verdict? I was probably 2 years old. I’m embracing it again. Or reverting.

Spray time, this time with pink.

But according to fashion magazines (you know, the ones that might scoff at me painting so casually in a free 5K road race shirt and paint-slathered jeans with natural holes in the knees), pink is flattering on everyone.

I extend this to mean everything. And this may officially have made our office from unisex to uber-chick-tastic, but… well, what can I say. Pete would look good in pink too, but that’s another project all together.

I managed two coats of paint with the single quart, and even have a little left over if I ever need to do touch-ups. We carried the shelf back into the office, re-knobbed, and filled with assorted accessories for the time being. Just so I wasn’t taking a photo of a totally empty shelf, since I’m still heavily in the office organization process.

A like-new shelving unit. In a very far-from being complete office space.

I’ve also been working on another somethin’ somethin’ in the office – painting the radiator. I’ve run through that DIY tutorial once before (you can read about it here if you’d like) but the process was very similar and easy with Rust-Oleam oil-based Aluminum paint. It’s the kind of easy upgrade you can do too if you have the patience for multiple coats of paint and access to plentiful ventilation. Anyways, what was once chipping ivory, is now officially sleek and silvery, which happily matches the legs of the desk chair that I recently refinished.

Aluminum-painted radiator!

And, back to the shelves.

So fresh and pinky-pink.

Pretty with the blue ceiling, and although it’s not shown because it’s on the opposite side of the room, it’s really nice against the bold pegboard.

Pink. Pretty. What do you think? Too femme? Wouldn’t Pete look good in a soft pink? And how great do those faux-peonies look on display?

Dirty Jobs

September 27, 2011   //  Posted in: Backyard, Curb Appeal, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  14 responses

This is what 8 yards of topsoil looks like upon delivery.

Oh, yes. I love dirt.

How about next to a Jeep Patriot? Just for scale.

8 yards of dirt vs. a Jeep Patriot?

How about next to me?

8 yards of dirt vs. me?

At $15/yard, and a negotiated $40 delivery fee, it’s easily the dirtiest way I’ve spent $160. You see, I was raised in the country where soil was plentiful and free, so stomaching the cost didn’t come easily, nor did I ever really expect to have to do it (“Dad, can you just bring me a few buckets of dirt?”). But it was worth it. Add in an additional $24 in sun/shade grass seed, and I’ll call it a day (and do the hard labor myself). OK, really, I’ll call it 3 days (and counting).

Moving the dirt throughout the yard has been quite the workout. A different kind of workout than when I sledgehammered the driveway clear. More of a why-the-heck-did-you-lift-that-with-your-back kind of damaging workout.

Filling, tamping, and grass-seeding the driveway itself wasn’t even possible this weekend. I guess my goals were a little too far stretched. I spent all day (both days) weeding and carting soil to newly cleared lots in the backyard.

The backyard was neglected in this great summer of ’11. I blame the perfect ratio of sun-to-rain for the unimaginable spreading of weeds and lemon balm, of all things. The far corner of the property (behind the garage) had ended up looking like the backyard equivalent of a dumpsite. The only visible hint that I had been hoping to make this space nice again, was that I continued to maintain the edging until it finally began to remain circular.

The yard space behind the garage; a mess of firewood and lemon balm.

I spent much time over the weekend clearing the land weed by weed, and bringing fresh topsoil to the site. Load after load, it started to fill in, and while it’s not done quite yet (haven’t raked and filled topsoil over on the right yet), it’s now looking like this:

Partially filled backyard.

Post-dirty job, landscaping is something on my to-do list for the front yard, as well as the backyard now. Of course, in the interim, the dog seems very happy to have cool soil to roll around in.

Cody loves fresh dirt.

The chain link fence that separates my neighbors yard from my own had been completely coated with thick roses, unwieldy blackberry plants, and a berry-filled vine that consumes anything in its path.

Hard to tell, but there's a chain link fence beneath those plants.

We’ve begun to clear it out, trimming back the roses and berries, and almost completely removing the vines. Fresh topsoil was laid into the low garden beds lining the fence, because last summer when I did the house grading work, I had borrowed soil from other areas of the yard to make due for free. Goes hand in hand with that “Can’t make me buy dirt” mentality that I’ve finally surrendered to. With exception of the foreground of this photo, all of the beds are back up to a normal height.

More fence, fewer weeds.

An update on the dirt pile? Considerably smaller, but that’s after 3 full days of laborious activity. Dare I say we’re nearing the finish line. How about me and the dirt pile together, just for scale?

Same me, smaller pile. Standing in the same spot as I was in the earlier photo.

Progress feels good. What’d you do all weekend?