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As Fall Begins, so Should Mulching

by Alexandra Zega


Mulch in the garden provides you with benefits you may not always see.

In addition to deterring weeds, conserving moisture and making your garden look pretty, mulch decomposes to improve your soil and provides a habitat for beneficial micro-organisms and earthworms.

Mulch also helps prevent soil compaction, soil erosion and pollution runoff.

You can mulch any time of the year. If you mulch in spring, fall can be a time to replenish mulch to help stabilize roots during freezing and thawing times in winter.

Mulches can be organic or inorganic.

Organic types include tree bark, wood chips, recycled wood and paper, grass clippings, pine needles, straw, leaf litter, newsprint and animal manure. Check with composting facilities in your area to see if yard debris and leaves are recycled into mulch you can purchase for your yard.

Designer mulches created from pallet or hardwood material and dyed brown, red, black, chestnut, walnut and golden are available in bulk and bagged from commercial mulching sites and garden centers if you want staying power in your color choice.

If you use grass clippings, spread them immediately to avoid heating and rotting.

If you use newsprint, apply four to six sheets together, anchored with grass clippings or wood mulch to prevent blowing away.

If you use fallen leaves, use a mulching mower to turn them into a finer material that decomposes quicker; cover them with a light layer of heavier wood mulch to keep the leaves in place. A light layer of mulched leaves is also beneficial for your lawn, and will not smother the grass.

Inorganic kinds include crushed stone, gravel, plastic sheeting, landscape fabric and recycled tire chips. Beware of some of these because they can harbor too much heat and moisture around plants, and can be difficult to keep clean.


Apply mulch 2 to 4 inches deep; deeper mulch benefits sandy soils that dry out quickly while moist soils need a lighter layer.

Remove old mulch before applying new to avoid a "sinking feeling" for your plants. Too much mulch suffocates plant roots. Work old, aged mulch into new gardens to improve soil.

Keep mulch 3 to 6 inches away from building foundations and away from the base of tree and shrub trunks. Rodents nesting in mulch may chew on bark; mulch too close to your home's foundation could cause the soil to stay too moist.

Acidic mulch like pine bark and pine needles is ideal around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and gardenias.

Hardwood mulches are also beneficial in vegetable gardens. Use them to camouflage soaker hoses that you leave laying on the ground for convenience.

Instead of annually adding mulch to your garden, use a small rake to "fluff" up existing mulch for a fresh look.






(c) 2010, Daily Press, Kathy Van Mullekom(Newport News, Va.).


8 Slipups That Won't Hurt Your Credit Score

by Alexandra Zega

Why does your credit score matter so much? Well, it's what almost every company in your life uses to determine whether you are a credible, trustworthy borrowing candidate. From your prospective employers to your prospective landlords, most companies will check your credit score in order to gauge their risk. No one likes a deadbeat!

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but knowing what actually hurts or helps your credit score will help you present yourself in the best light possible when it comes to wanting to land that job, secure that dreamy apartment or buy your first home. To make sure you know what doesn't factor into your credit score, here are some slipups that you can breathe easy about.

1. Having a Low or High Income

You may find information about your employer listed on your report, but your income has no impacts on your credit score. So if you earn a low salary, don't fret about it being a factor when you go to ask for a loan - just be certain that you can pay on time, because those payments will affect your credit score.

2. Not Paying Insurance, Utility and Cell Phone Bills

These companies check your credit score to figure out whether to insure you, or to provide you with their services, but although they use your score to make a decision, they don't report any of your payments to the credit agencies. However, if you continually default on your payments, your account may be sent to the collections agency who would then report to the credit bureaus.

3. Missing Rent Payments

Much like the insurance, utility and cell phone providers, if you pay your rent on time, it won't help your credit score because the credit bureau would ignore it even if it appeared on the report. As with all bills, if you fall behind on your rent, it could lead to you getting officially evicted, which will hurt your credit score.

4. Bank Overdraft

Going into overdraft can get expensive, if you do it all the time, but it won't hurt your credit score if you can settle it before your bank sends your account to a collections agency.

5. Checking Your Own Credit

You can check your credit report as much as you'd like without damaging it, but make sure you use a trusted source such as the credit bureaus themselves. Having anyone else pull your credit report for you (such as a lender) will appear as what is called a "hard inquiry", which would seem as though you are applying for more credit and consequently damages your credit score.

6. High Interest Rates

Lenders tend to give the best rates to those with the best credit scores, but your credit score influences your interest rate, rather than the other way around. So if you have a high interest rate on your loans, don't worry about it continually impacting your credit score.

7. Credit Counseling

Credit counseling is nothing like declaring bankruptcy; even though it appears on your report, it won't hurt your credit score. If your counselor is handling the payments for you, check on a regular basis that the payments are arriving on time, because late payments will hurt your score even though they're coming from a credit counselor.

8. Your Age

The only relationship between your age and your credit score is that you don't have enough of a history. Think of it like this: if you start at a new job, fresh out of college, you aren't going to expect to be the president because you don't have enough work experience for the job. It's the same thing with credit scores - someone older than you will have more of a credit history and may seem more trustworthy than you, even if they made mistakes early on, because lenders take the whole history into consideration.

The Bottom Line

Credit scores impact almost every aspect of your life, from where you can live to where you can work, but keep in mind that credit scores are not the only indicator of how financially fit you are. Anyone who has a lot of debt, but manages to make their minimum payments on time every month, will have a stellar credit score, but their financial health will still be in jeopardy.

(c) Fabulously Broke provided by


5 Tips for Fall Lawn, Tree and Shrub Care to Prep for Spring

by Alexandra Zega

Now that fall is fast approaching, it's time to start thinking about preparing your lawn for the winter months and even the spring.

According to TruGreen, it's important that homeowners understand how to care for their lawns, trees and shrubs in fall before the end of the growing season. The experts at TruGreen offer five fall green space tips to homeowners to better prepare their outdoor living rooms for spring's vigorous growth.

Thoroughly walk your property and inspect lawn, trees and shrubs as these plants prepare for dormancy in late fall and early winter. Identify problem areas in need of treatment, pruning or replacement. Note patchy areas, where grass has thinned out or is in need of valuable nutrients and appears as light green. Also look for weed and pest infestations and overgrown shrubs and trees, especially those with the potential for interfering with roof and power lines. Consider a qualified expert, to properly gauge your lawn and landscape needs.

Help your lawn breathe through fall core aeration to strengthen roots and to prepare for a hardy spring workout. Conduct corrective pruning of trees and shrubs in fall to enhance plant appearance and vigor, and thin rather than top-shear and overgrown shrubs and flowering trees to preserve their overall shape.

Fall's favorable weather conditions, as well as moist and warm soil temperatures, create the ideal opportunity for successful seeding of bare lawn areas and overseeding of healthy grass to improve your lawn thickness and density. Replace dead or floundering plants in fall for a healthier landscape and improved curb appeal in spring.

Mow your lawn into the fall and avoid removing more than one-third of the leaf blades with each cut. Return grass clippings and back to the soil for added lawn nutrients and use tree leaf compost to nourish plants.

A good fall feeding gives roots of lawns, trees and shrubs the energy needed to prepare for a healthy spring green revival. Keep fertilizer on target to prevent run-off and sweep fertilizer granules that may reach pavement back onto your lawn. Use a trained specialist, for insect and disease control measures customized to your region to help trees and shrubs thrive.


(c) RISMEDIA, Stephanie Andre

In Defense of Home Ownership

by Alexandra Zega

provide by The New York Times

It's hard to read the headlines and not conclude that becoming a homeowner is a terrible idea.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors announced that existing-home sales in July had fallen an astounding 25.5 percent from the previous year. Sure, there was a federal tax credit in place last summer. But with single-family home sales at their lowest level since 1995 and unemployment still stubbornly high, home prices may fall further.

In the meantime, millions of homeowners are still far underwater, and government programs to help them have fallen well short of their goals. More foreclosures are coming, casting a deeper shadow over home prices. So it's hardly surprising that the conventional wisdom says that home values will never again rise faster than inflation.

But as with stocks and the weather, it is dangerous to assume any certainty in the housing market. And by wallowing too much in the misery of others, people looking for a new place to live run the risk of thinking every home purchase will end in regret, at least financially.

Many still could, if they buy in hard-hit areas where prices could fall further.

But a mortgage is still a form of long-term forced savings, after all. This is more important than ever, since fewer people have access to generous pensions than they did during the last big housing slump. A 401(k) or similar plan is no bargain, either, with its erratic returns and employer matches that come and go as the economic winds shift. Social Security is also likely to be less generous, and Medicare will probably cost more.

Besides, owning a home isn't just about what shows up on a net worth statement — something that bears repeating after all the "investing" that people thought they were doing when buying homes over the last 10 or 15 years. Many of these more qualitative factors, from living free of a landlord's whim to having access to a good school district or retirement community, haven't changed and probably never will.

It is possible, as a homeowner, to make very little money but still buy plenty of happiness. So before you swear off real estate, reconsider a few of the basics.

Worst Cases

Some buyers may rue the day in 2010 they bought their homes. They may end up like those who bought in 2006 and have lost their jobs. Now those people face the difficulty of moving to pursue employment elsewhere because they owe much more than their homes are worth.

Marke Hallowell and Allison Firmat, who are getting married next month, are well aware of the history. Yet they plan to put 5 percent or less down, using a fixed-rate mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration, once they find a condominium in southern Orange County, Calif. (They've already been outbid a few times.)

Ms. Firmat is not working, and Mr. Hallowell is a Web developer. Does he worry about mobility problems or making the payments in the event of a job loss, given that he's the sole breadwinner? "We're getting such a good deal on interest rates that we could rent our place out," he said.

Mr. Hallowell and Ms. Firmat say they believe their approach is conservative, at least compared to what they might have done five years ago.

"Nothing is going to change the rate we will have," Mr. Hallowell said. "Condos like the ones we're looking at now were unobtainable in the past, unless we went into something with a total balloon payment. There were times I was tempted, but never seriously."

Indeed, many people who are buying at the moment are locking in mortgage rates of about 4.5 percent. A year ago, they might have paid 5.25 percent on a $300,000 loan for a monthly payment of about $1,657. Today, you could lock in a lower monthly payment of around $1,520 on a mortgage that size, or you might not need to borrow that much, given that prices have fallen in many areas.

Forced Savings

You may make nothing at all beyond inflation over time on a home, but the part of your mortgage payment that goes toward principal is a form of forced savings.

Sure, you might do better by renting and investing the difference between the rent and the total costs of ownership. But at least three things need to go right.

First, you need to actually save the money. Americans have trouble with that sort of plan. Then, you need an after-tax return that's better than whatever a home would deliver. That's a task that might not have gone so well over the last 10 or 12 years, and it involves its own future risk, given how little safer investments are returning now. Finally, you must not raid the savings along the way.

Difficult Landlords

A bank can kick you out only if you don't pay your mortgage. But landlords can drive you away in any number of ways.

Laura Mapp and her husband, Carl Berg, rented from a relative, but it didn't go particularly well. They found another landlord they liked, but came back from a holiday trip one year to a note saying he wanted to move in himself. They had a month to scram. (The note came with a bottle of wine, at least.)

In yet another rental, they let their landlord know they were looking to buy and inquired about a month-to-month lease. No problem, their landlord said, as long as they used his boyfriend as their real estate agent.

Earlier this year, the couple gave up on landlords and bought a house in the Highland Park neighborhood in Seattle.

The Nice Part of Town

No matter how pretty the neighborhood, prices may still fall further in places like greater Detroit, Cleveland and Las Vegas; outlying areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix; and much of Florida.

But if you want to live in the Fox Hill Farm development in Glen Mills, Pa., you'll have to buy because renters are not allowed, said Bob Kuhn, who lives there. The same may be true of other communities for older people.

And there may not be many family-size rentals — or at least any financial edge to be gained by renting — in suburbs or urban neighborhoods with excellent public schools.

After many years of building their down-payment fund and a couple of years of watching the listings in the Eagle Rock and Mount Washington areas of Los Angeles, Garret and Alison Williams realized that prices simply were not falling much there.

By the time they were ready to pounce this year, they had a big enough down payment and interest rates had fallen so far that renting didn't make much financial sense, even if they could have found a rental big enough for them and their two small children.

"Had we rented, we would be paying more than we're paying for a mortgage," said Ms. Williams, who had lived in the same two-bedroom rental for 12 years before she and her family moved into their new house in Eagle Rock earlier this month. "I don't see how we could really regret having made the move when it's so much better for us on so many levels."

(C) Ron Lieber, New York Times

Bottled Tea: Antioxidants Barely There

by Alexandra Zega

Most of us know that tea is brimming with antioxidants and health benefits--or is it? A recent study found that bottled tea contains very low levels of antioxidants when compared with brewed tea.

Bottled Tea: What’s Missing

It is no coincidence that tea is the second most widely consumed drink in the world, after water. In recent years numerous studies have touted antioxidant-rich tea as an effective aid in combating cancer, reducing heart disease, and preventing other illness risks. In response to these findings, tea sales in the United States have increased fourfold in the past two decades. With the increasing demand for tea, manufacturers began supplying bottled teas as a health-conscious alternative to soft drinks and sugary juices.

But how healthy is bottled tea? Research presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society revealed that health-savvy consumers of bottled tea may not be getting their antioxidant bang for their buck. The healthy antioxidants--called polyphenols--that are responsible for tea’s ability to protect our cells from free radical damage are barely present in most bottled teas.

This recent study tested six brands of bottled tea purchased from the supermarket, using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to measure the polyphenolic content. Shiming Li, Ph.D., who reported on the research, was surprised by the low pholyphenol content and stated: “Someone would have to drink bottle after bottle of these teas in some cases to receive health benefits.”

Would You Like Tea with Your Sugar?

Bottle tea-makers know that taste matters. The healthy polyphenols in tea are what give tea its bitter and astringent taste. Since not everyone is a fan of these flavors, manufacturers respond in kind by using less tea and adding more sugar per bottle. Now you have added sugar and extra calories, and you have lost significant antioxidant content.

Keep in mind that while bottled tea often lists polyphenolic content on its labels, the amounts may be incorrect; there are currently no industry or government standards for listing the polyphenolic compounds of a given product.

The bottom line is that there is no bottled tea out there that is going to bring you more benefits than the fresh tea you brew at home.

If You Want Something Done Right, Brew It Yourself

Get all the antioxidant benefits at a fraction of the cost when you brew your own tea. In the study mentioned above, of the six bottled teas, the best-case scenario of antioxidant content was just over 80 milligrams of polyphenols per 16-ounce bottle; the worst was a mere 3 mg of polyphenols. Compare this to home-brewed tea (black or green), which can have 50 to 150 milligrams in just one cup.

To make your own tea in bulk, simply bring water to a boil, then pour into a separate bowl and steep 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh tea or herbs per cup of water. To extract the most beneficial compounds, cover it and let it steep for three to five minutes. Then strain into glass pitcher and put in the refrigerator, where you can drink at your leisure or pour into a thermos for traveling. Prefer tea bags? Use one tea bag per cup of water.

Some tasty tea options that bring many benefits to the table include:

• Green tea: increases mental acuity and protects against heart disease; just add a twist of lemon to help absorb the antioxidants into your bloodstream

• Mint tea: settles the stomach and alleviates gas

• Ginger tea: soothes digestion and fires up your energy

• Chamomile tea: calms the nervous system and relaxes the muscles; drink an hour before bedtime.

• Herbal combinations: Consider trying the Tao Tea Collection, a set of healing bagged teas for internal cleansing, calming your emotions, and promoting balance.

Add a twist of lemon, a sprig of mint, rosemary, or a handful of fresh basil for an aromatic flavor burst. The possibilities for combination are endless! To add sweetness, use a little honey, stevia products or a stick of cinnamon.

Not sold? Think about this: While buying a bottled tea from the store could cost upwards of three dollars, a tea bag won’t set you back more than a quarter.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!


(c) Ask Dr. Mao, Yahoo Health 

This blog is meant to educate, but it should not be used as a substitute for personal medical advice. The reader should consult his or her physician or clinician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field is ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.

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