Be aware of watering rules
Buying new plants, only to see them wither because of water restrictions, is like throwing money down the drain. Last month, water restrictions for new plantings were modified for most of the Tampa Bay area. New construction and turfgrass replacement is now restricted to a 30-day establishment period in which watering is permitted every day from the day of installation to day 15, then every other day from days 16 to 30. Newly installed nonturf plants can be watered every day from installation to day 30, then every other day from days 31 to 60. Check with your local government for specific day and time requirements and other special restrictions or call toll-free 1-800-423-1476 for information.
The seeds of savings
Growing your own food makes sense, especially if you stagger sowing to make the most of the growing season. According to a five-month study conducted by W. Atlee Burpee & Co. at its research facility in Pennsylvania, $50 in seeds and fertilizer can produce $1,250 worth of groceries. Free information on how and what to plant is available at www.burpee.com or call toll-free 1-800-333-5808. You can also purchase Burpee's Money Garden seed packet of six vegetables for $10. If you've got 200 square feet to spare, the Money Garden should produce $500 worth of groceries, the company says. Or attend Pinellas County Extension Service's free workshop on growing vegetables Jan. 17 in Largo. Call (727) 582-2100 for details and to register.
Killing the grass
Removing turf with chemicals is expensive and contributes to pollution runoff. Instead, dig it out with a shovel if you've got the stamina. The rest of us can simply smother the lawn. Lesslawn.com recommends placing a layer of newspapers 10 to 12 pages thick on top of the lawn, overlapping newspaper pages where they meet. Next, cover the papers with a thick layer of mulch. You can plant right away if you dig planting holes through the paper, remove the sod, then replace the papers up to the edge of the hole. Then top with mulch. It takes several months to completely choke out the lawn.
Get a healthy start
It's smart to shop for discounts, but avoid plants that look like they're on their last leg. (They are.) Instead, invest wisely in healthy plants. Don't buy plants with weak or poorly formed stems, yellowing leaves, signs of insect damage or overly dry or soggy soil. Inspect the roots by gently removing the plant from the container; if they're a tangled mess with little soil, skip the plant. Pricing is based on container size, so select plants in smaller containers to save money. If the retailer offers a money-back guarantee, keep the sales receipt in a safe place.
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent