Saturday, March 11, 2017

Succulent Terrarium

While the gardening world seems to has gone crazy for succulents, I have been very slow to embrace the trend.  Even so, I can see the attraction to these plants. They're easy-to-care-for, which is a bonus for budding green thumbs, who might have the interest, but not a whole lot of time to devote to indoor gardening. They're also pretty with their dusty-blue green hues and attractive sun-burst shapes.

Desperate for even the smallest signs of spring, I visited one of my favourite nurseries last weekend. There were pots of yellow daffodils, tulips and cheerful primroses, but it was the display of potted succulents and terrariums that caught my eye. "That could be a fun little project!" thought I. 

The next thing you knew, I was loading an assortment of the cute little succulents, some potting soil and a wire terrarium into the backseat of my car. 

Here's the materials and supplies you'd need to make your own terrarium:

• An assortment of succulents
• Potting soil with excellent drainage
• Terrarium or shallow dish of your choice
• Soft bristled paint brush
• Decorative pebbles
• Decorative object of your choice 

This is the terrarium I bought ($10 at Terra Nurseries). It comes with a convenient wooden tray that is already lined. The wire framework was black when I bought it, but I thought it would look nicer if it were green. Out came a can of dusty, sage-colored spray paint! (I used multi-surface spray paint that is available at most hardware and paint stores.)

If you can't find a terrarium like this, try using a shallow ceramic bowl, pot or perhaps try one of the low metal trays I have seen at Michaels.

Step 1: Add a base layer of potting soil that is an inch or so deep (the depth will depend on your container). I used a specific potting soil that's created for cactus and succulents. It offers much better drainage than regular potting soil.

These are the succulents I selected for my project. I used two larger plants and four smaller succulents. The smaller plants were just $2.50 each and the two bigger plants were just over $5 each.

The two larger succulents went in first. They were originally potted up with lots of perlite. I tried to keep as much of the perlite as I could figuring it would improve the soil's drainage even more. 

Next, I tucked in the smaller plants. I found a soft bristled paint brush was a handy tool to clean up any potting soil that accidentally got on the surface of my succulents.

Most rocks are free for the taking, so I always feel a bit like I have rocks in my head whenever I buy decorative stones. These pebbles were pretty affordable at the Dollar Store (just $3), so it made me feel a bit more sane when I bought a plastic jar full of buff and grey colored pebbles.

I have to say that the pebbles made a nice top dressing for the terrarium.

The final steps were placing the wooden tray back inside the wire terrarium and adding a decorative object. I used a snail, but you could add a fairy, a gnome or any other object that appeals to you.

I'm rather pleased with the way the whole thing turned out. All together this succulent filled terrarium cost me under $40.

I think the biggest challenge will be not to overwater my succulents. The lined wooden tray has no drainage, so I will have to be really careful not to get carried away when I water. Here are a few pointers I noted on caring for succulents:

Succulents like lots of light (4-6 hours).

• Too much water will cause succulents to rot. Succulents like it when the soil approaches dry before they are watered. In a tray like this or a pot with no drainage, it will take a bit longer for the soil to dry out.

If you have one, use a water meter to check the moisture level of the soil. Another trick is to use weight to determine if your succulents require water. Lift the terrarium in your hands after you water it and make a mental note of how heavy it is. When the soil has dried out, the terrarium will be a lot lighter.

Watch your succulents for signs there is a problem with soil moisture. If your succulent's leaves are mushy, its probably getting too much water. If the leaves are wrinkled or limp, its probably getting too little water.

• Use an organic fertilizer (following the label's directions) during the plant's growing season. 

Now that I have my first terrarium finished, I'm may try my hand at a few more projects using succulents. I may just have become the newest fan of these adorable little plants!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

How to make your own Insecticidal Soap

Insecticidal soap is a safe, effective way to deal with an insect problem both indoors and out. Unlike pesticides, this simple soap solution is biodegradable, so it won't leave a residue that is harmful to birds or beneficial insects like pollinating bees. Sprayed on an infected plant, it kills only the targeted insects.

There are ready-made insecticidal soaps that you can purchase at most garden supply stores. To apply them, follow the directions on the label. You can also make your insecticidal soap.

When to use Insecticidal Soap:

The fatty acids in this simple soap solution work by disrupting the cell membranes and dissolving the natural waxy coating on soft-bodied insects. Unwanted pests suffocate as a result. Insects that can be treated with insecticidal soap include:

• Spider mites
• Aphids
• Mealy bugs
• Thrips
• Immature White Flies
• Immature Leafhoppers

Aphids. Photo by Ken Sproule

Here's the materials and supplies you need to make your own insecticidal soap:

• Measuring cup
• Funnel (optional– it just makes it easier to pour the liquids into the bottle)
• Tablespoon
• Pure all-natural liquid soap such as Castile soap
• Empty spray bottle (look for one at the Dollar Store)


2 and 1/3 cup of water (note: hard water can reduce the effectiveness of the soap)

1 tablespoon of pure liquid soap such as Castile soap (Note: don't use dish soap, regular laundry detergent or any soaps with degreasers, skin moisturizers or synthetic chemicals.)


Remove the top to your empty spray bottle.
Measure the ingredients and using the funnel, pour the them into the spray bottle.
Reattach the lid on the spay bottle and shake the contents gently to combine.
Label the bottle and make sure to store it out of the reach of children.

Before you spray:

Before you begin to apply your spray to an infected plant, there are a few quick things to note.

• Some plants are sensitive to soap sprays, so do a test first. Spray a few leaves or single branch of the plant. Wait a full day to see if there is any signs of burning before proceeding to spray the entire plant.
Sensitive indoor plants include ferns, ivy, succulents, palms, lantana and azaleas. Outdoor plants that might be adversely affected include cherries, plum, Japanese Maple, Bleeding Heart, Ferns, Nasturtiums and Sweet Peas.

• Plants that are stressed should not be sprayed. Don't spray a plant that is wilted and thirsty for water.

• Spray your plant early in the morning when it is cooler and the sun is softer.

• Don't place a plant that has just been sprayed into the bright, hot sun.

Using the Spray:

If it is too cold to work outside, place your plant in the kitchen sink or the bathtub.

Gently shake the bottle to evenly disperse the soap in the water.

Your spray will only work when coming into direct contact with soft-bodied insects, so spray your plant throughly with the insecticidal soap. Turn the plant around in a circle and place the plant on an angle to try to catch all of the leaves including the underside of each leaf.

Thoroughly rinse the soap off after 10 minutes to prevent leaf burn.

Repeat the application of the insecticidal soap once every 4-7 days for a total of three applications to insure that the problem has cleared up.

You might be interested in the article on Unexpected House Pests by Jean Godawa 
on the main gardening blog. 

Many thanks to Ken Sproule and David Cappaert of for 
providing the photographs of insects.

Friday, December 16, 2016

DIY Holiday Gift Boxes

What's the first gift they'll want to unwrap? The one in a box that looks extra special! Here's how you can take generic gift boxes from the dollar store and transform them into something magical.

Materials you need:

• Plain cardboard boxes of various kinds and sizes
• Figure or object for the box top (a little house, an animal-let your imagination be your guide)
• White acrylic paint
• Acrylic paint in a color of your choice for the body of the box
• Paint brushes
• Quick-drying craft glue
• Glue gun and glue sticks
• Glitter (optional)
• Epson salts (for the snow)
• Ribbon

For this first set of boxes, I used plain brown cardboard boxes of various shapes and sizes.

Step 1: Paint the body and the side of your box lid with acrylic paint in a color of your choice. I pulled the color red from the little houses I planned to use on the box tops.

Step 2: Paint the top of the lid with white acrylic paint. 

Step 3: Next attach the object, figure or animal onto the top of the box lid. (The little snowman was found at Walmart by the way.)

Depending on the object you choose, you may or may not require a glue gun to attach it securely. White glue alone wasn't going to hold this snowman, so I resorted to hot glue. 

Step 4: You could leave the box top with just the white paint and that would look fine, but I wanted my lid to have the sparkle of snow. 

Warning: This is where this project gets a little messy! I recommend you lay down some newsprint for easy clean up. 

Once your object or figure is dry on the box lid, spread a generous layer of quick-drying craft glue on the remainder of the lid (I used a popsicle stick to spread the glue). Sprinkle epsom salts over the surface of the glue. Add a few glitter sparkles as well, if you like. Press down the epsom salt and sparkles into the glue with your fingers. Allow the lid to dry.

Once the salt and glitter is set, turn the lid on its side and gently knock off any of the surplus salt and glitter that did not adhere.

Step 5: Attach a ribbon to your box. I used a bead of white glue under the ribbon to keep it in place. 

This box had a deep lid, so I used a plaid ribbon and ran the ribbon around the centre of the box. (You can find similar vintage Christmas houses at Michaels craft store.)

On the two round boxes, I used a narrow gingham ribbon and wrapped it around the circumference of the lid.

To create this box topped with a church, I painted a plain cardboard box sage-green. Next I stenciled some snowflakes in a slightly lighter shade of sage. 

To finish off the box, I ran white ribbon all the way around the lid (a fine bead of white glue under the ribbon secured it in place). Then I topped the white ribbon with a narrow band of gold ribbon (again a fine bead of glue holds the ribbon in place). At the front, I attached a bow in the same gold ribbon (I used hot glue to attach the bow).

This next group of boxes were even faster to create. These dollar store boxes already came with a nice silver print. 

To top this box, I used a reindeer and some mini-Christmas trees (which mirrors the theme of the silver print on the box). All I did was paint the lid white. Then I attached the reindeer with some hot glue. 

The next step was to add the epsom salt and glitter (see method above for attaching the salt and glitter).

To secure the trees, I twisted off each tree from its cork base. Then I used the wire at the bottom of the tree to poke a small hole in the top of the box lid. 

Next I applied a little hot glue to the base of the tree and inserted the wire trunk back into the hole. On the underside of the lid, I reattached the cork with a little hot glue.

Isn't this bear sweet? I think this box would make a great gift for a toddler or a baby's first Christmas.

Again my box had a nice silver snowflake pattern, so all I did was fancy-up the lid (see working method above). Around the lid, I ran a pretty, baby-blue ribbon with a bow at the front (again see notes above about securing the ribbon and bow).

I hope you've found some inspiration to make your own gift boxes extra special this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Diamonds & Pearls

This little craft idea couldn't be any easier! In fact these ornaments are so simple to make, you could easily do this project with the kids or grandkids. (When working with kids just make sure to choose large stickers that are easy for little hands to work with.)

The list of materials you need is pretty short in all my examples.

Materials you need for these DIY snowflake ornaments:

• a box of ornaments with a pearl finish 
• snowflake stickers with a diamond-like finish on a transparent backdrop (I found my snowflakes at Michaels)
• a sheet of individual blue diamonds (not shown- also available at Michaels)
• pair of scissors
• ribbon or a metal hook to hang the finished ornament

Step 1: Detach a snowflake sticker from the transparent backing paper. Place the sticker on the face of the ornament, but don't press it down just yet! When a sticker is roughly tacked into position, it is still easy to lift and move. As you build your design on your ball, you may need to lift and adjust the spacing of your stickers. 

Step 2: The fun in this project is creating your own snowflake pattern on the surface of your ornament. Once you are happy with the layout of your pattern, press the snowflakes down with your thumb to secure them in place.

Let your imagination be your guide in creating your pattern. 

To create my ornament, I placed a row of snowflakes around the middle of the ball. On the bottom centre of the ball, I put a full snowflake. At the top of the ornament, I used fan-shaped sections, which I created by cutting up full snowflakes with my scissors.  In between the snowflakes, I filled the empty space with individual blue diamonds. 

For this next group of ornaments, I used small individual diamonds and diamonds in a wave-like swirl.

Materials you need for these diamond swirl ornaments:

• a box of clear ornaments 
• stickers with diamond swirls on a transparent backdrop (I found these at Michaels)
• a sheet of individual diamonds (to fill in any gaps- also available at Michaels)
• pair of scissors
• ribbon or a metal hook to hang the finished ornament

There are an amazing array of stickers on a clear backing available. You can find stripes and swirls as well as individual diamonds and pearls to personalize any plain ornament. 

Materials you need for this ornament with bands of pearls:

• a box of ornaments with a pearl finish 
• stickers with bands of pearls (I found these at the Dollar store)
• a sheet of individual pearls (to fill in any gaps -again from the Dollar store)
• pair of scissors
• ribbon or a metal hook to hang the finished ornament

For this ornament, I used a band of different sized pearls. Around the middle of the ornament I ran one long stripe of pearls ( two bands pieced together). Then I cut the band into smaller sections and used it to add v-shaped lines of pearls that run from the top and bottom of the ornament to the middle. If you have any gaps, fill them in with individual pearls like the ones you see on the righthand sheet.

Letters are a great way to tailor an ornament to a gift recipient. For the next ornament, I used a sheet of pearl letters. 

Materials you need to make the ornaments with a recipient's name:

• a box of ornaments with a pearl finish 
• letter stickers with a pearl-finish
• pair of scissors
• ribbon or a metal hook to hang the finished ornament

To frame the name, I used pearl swirls (see an example of one of the sheet of swirls later in this post).

If you don't care for the pearl letters, there are glittery options as well.

Place your finished ornament on a colorful napkin along with a sprig of fresh greenery and you have a keepsake guests can take home after a holiday meal.

Materials you need for these ornaments with a pearl swirl:

• a box of pearl ornaments 
• stickers with swirls that have a pearl finish (I found these at the Dollar store)
• a sheet of individual pearls (to fill in any gaps)
• pair of scissors
• ribbon or a metal hook to hang the finished ornament

I found that the complicated swirls could be become a bit of a nightmare to deal with once you pulled them off the backing paper, so I cut the swirls into smaller sections with my scissors and pieced the sections back together on my ornament.

Super easy and really pretty, these ornaments are a snap to make!

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