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Dispelling gardening myths: The truth behind urban legends and horticultural mysteries

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In gardening, there is always tension between lore and science. We hear about it all the time.

One person will challenge something that we say based on what they learned at the knee of their grandmother, or lore. Another will question us based on what they know of science.

Poinsettia plants have long been considered poisonous. Master gardener Robert Pavlis sheds light on that rumour.
Poinsettia plants have long been considered poisonous. Master gardener Robert Pavlis sheds light on that rumour.  (Dreamstime)

We have respect for all second opinions, regardless whether they are grounded in science or anecdotes.

One person who has dedicated a lot of time to dispelling the persistent myths of gardening is Guelph writer and master gardener Robert Pavlis. He was trained in chemistry and biochemistry, and gardened for over 30 years before selling his software business to focus more on his gardening passion. Today, he applies his scientific mind to challenging garden myths through academic research and trial in his five-acre private garden, called Aspen Grove Gardens, with more than 3,000 perennials. He writes about his findings on his website www.gardenmyths.com and in his recent book Garden Myths: Learn the truth behind urban legends and horticultural mysteries.

Ben sat down with Robert to discuss some of the myths he tackles.

Make your Christmas tree go the distance: We agree that there is nothing like a real Christmas tree. We run into a lot of lore where tree preservation is concerned.

People have tried to prolong cut-tree freshness using tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey and fertilizer. Pavlis puts it bluntly: “None of these products work. Testing has shown that none of these additives work better than just plain old water.”

So what can you do to make your tree last as long as possible — other than just adding water? According to Pavlis: “Make a fresh cut when you set it up and get it in water right away. Do not remove any of the bark. Don’t let the tree dry out. Keep the tree away from fireplaces, heat vents and other warm areas.”

A fresh cut and lots of water is the best way to make your Christmas tree last through the holidays.
A fresh cut and lots of water is the best way to make your Christmas tree last through the holidays.

Does cutting the tree on an angle, to maximize the amount of wood available for water uptake help at all? “No,” says Pavlis. “Cutting on an angle will do nothing to improve water uptake. In fact, an angled cut runs the risk of being exposed when the water level drops — which will actually make the tree dry out faster.” Noted: keep the bottom cut perpendicular.

Are poinsettias really extremely poisonous? “No,” says Pavlis, “you would have to eat an entire plant to even get a stomach ache. So, would a cat or a dog.

“The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a genus of plants that have a white milky sap. Some people do have an allergic reaction to the sap when they get it on their skin, and it is very likely to irritate the mouth.”

We didn’t ask if it was worth allergy testing the dog.

How can I bring my Christmas cactus into full bloom for the holidays?

We’ve heard of people locking their Christmas cactuses in dark closets for 12 hours every night to try and maximize blooms.

Says Pavlis? “Myth.”

Let the cactus be free!

Shorter, cooler days ? and not a dark closet ? will encourage your Christmas cactus to grow flowers.
Shorter, cooler days ? and not a dark closet ? will encourage your Christmas cactus to grow flowers.

“A dark period of 12 hours will help, but they don’t need total darkness.” And 12 hours, let us point out, happens to be the length of night right around Christmas.

Pavlis adds: “The first thing to realize is that the most common Christmas cactus sold is a mislabelled Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) which blooms in midfall. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) blooms right around Christmas. These are approximate bloom times and, in the home, they bloom when they get the conditions they need.”

The trick, then, is to make sure those conditions are met.

“The most critical requirement for setting buds is low temperatures. The typical cool fall temperatures work well. Leave them near a window or in cool porch for six weeks and they will set buds. Letting them dry out between watering will also encourage the development of buds,” Pavlis says.

So, please accept our gift: some scientific support for best practices as you meet with relatives during the holiday season.

And if that’s not enough, consider buying the book: Garden Myths, by Robert Pavlis, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, $20.

Robert Pavlis, author of Garden Myths.
Robert Pavlis, author of Garden Myths.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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