Weekly home and garden rail, with tips for creating a container garden, how to beautify your bookshelf, what you should know before you remodel, and more.

Garden Guide: Container gardens pretty, practical

Container gardening is a great alternative for people who don't have the time or space for a full garden or flowerbed.

Often, however, container gardeners may feel they have to choose between beauty and practicality. When you can only plant so many containers, what do you fill them with -- flowers or veggies?

"Both," says Pamela Crawford, author of "Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers."

"It's possible to artfully combine flowers and vegetables in single, stunning, beautiful containers," she says. "Practical and pretty can go side-by-side on your patio, deck, balcony, or even interspersed in your landscape."

Here are her top container gardening tips:

1. Less is more; keep it simple

"My first container attempts included mixing too many different vegetables in the same container. The results looked like a mish-mash," she says. Instead, think simple, like one tall vegetable in the center surrounded by a few flowers. Upright tomatoes with begonias and coleus planted along the edge are quite attractive. Or, plant one tall herb, like rosemary, and surround it with a shorter vegetable, like lettuce.

2. Use pretty pots and hardware

Even tomatoes look good in attractive pots, supported by nice obelisks or attractive trellises. Try planting one crooked-neck squash in the middle of a large, ceramic pot. Or plant a tomato in a Talavera (bright-colored geometric design) pot with an iron obelisk to support it.

3. Pick your pot pleasure

Almost anything can serve as a container for your garden -- flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, washtubs, window planters, even large food cans. Larger veggies, like tomatoes and eggplants, will need a larger container, at least 5 gallons for each plant.

4. Don't forget drainage, and do consider color

Whatever type container you choose, remember that proper drainage is vital. Your container should have holes at the base or in the bottom to permit drainage of excess water. Color is also a consideration. Dark colored containers will absorb heat that could possibly damage the plant roots. If you must use dark colored pots, try painting them a lighter color or shading the container.

5. Flowers look fabulous combined with vegetables

Interesting-looking plants like squash, okra or crooked neck squash can stand alone in a pot. But others, like eggplant and spinach, look much better accented with flowers. Beans, lettuce, peppers and spinach are among the easiest veggies to start with in a container. Veggies that require little space, like carrots and radishes, or that bear over a long period of time, like tomatoes, are also great for container gardening.

Flowers that pair well with vegetables in containers include dragon wing or wax begonias, coleus, fountain grass, lantana, lavender, pansies and purple-heart tradescantia.

-- ARA

Decorating Tip: Beautify your bookshelf

Perk up the look of any room with a bookshelf makeover.

- Add color blocks: Paint the inside back wall to match the room's wall color for the effect of a built in bookshelf, or use an accent color to complement your decor.

- Hide clutter: Use wicker or fabric baskets that are the same depth as the bookcase's shelves to store items. Add labels to the front of the basket for increased organization.

- Keep like objects together. Arrange your books and home decor to be near other items of the same size, color and style. Arranging books by color creates a beautiful accent, and placing vases and other accent pieces next to similar items makes the arrangement look less cluttered.

- Add accent lighting: Attach battery-operated click lights to the underside of a shelf to provide light for objects below.

-- www.homedecorators.com

Did You Know …

According to Remodeling magazine's "Cost vs. Value Report" for 2009-10, the national average cost of a midrange major kitchen remodel is $57,215.

Home Improvements: Plan for summer remodeling

Don’t wait to start thinking about making changes to your home. Homeowners who want to start a project by summer should start planning now.

- Think your project through from start to finish. Careful planning of your home improvement projects will ensure a smooth job.

- Look over your property carefully. What repairs are needed? What improvements would you like to make? Think ahead and determine your future needs.

- Be sure to review your homeowner's insurance policy and make adjustments for the added value of the work being done.

- Most homeowners can handle routine maintenance projects and cosmetic touch-ups, but it’s recommended they consult with qualified professionals for larger remodeling jobs and major changes to the home’s structure.

-- National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Home-Selling Tip: Prep the bedrooms

You want potential buyers to feel welcome and relaxed in each of the bedrooms. Make sure to make the beds; put clothes away; straighten closets and clear out clutter; secure jewelry, cash, prescription medication and other valuables; and open drapes and turn on lights for a brighter feel.

-- Prudential Real Estate

How To: Avoid common laundry blunders

Here are some quick tips to guarantee your laundry turns out perfectly.

- Use laundry detergent specially designed for your washing machine, particularly if you have a high efficiency model.

- Adjust your washing machine according to the soil level and size of the clothes to save time and money. For increased water efficiency, front-loading machines have sensors that regulate the amount of water based on the load size.

- For best results, use less laundry detergent for soft water and more detergent for hard water. Add more detergent for larger loads and heavily soiled clothes.

- Always clean the lint screen. This increases energy efficiency, speeds up drying and reduces the risk of overheating associated with clogging.

-- Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science

Backyard Buddies: Track location of at-risk birds

Curious about how the Gulf Coast oil spill is affecting native birds?

Ebird.org has developed a list of 10 species of conservation concern that could be impacted by the oil spill.

From the brown pelican to the American oystercatcher, Gulf Coast bird watchers are pinpointing the locations of at-risk birds with the aim of steering beach protection and cleanup efforts.

For more information, visit ebird.org/content/ebird/news/ebird-gulf-coast-oil-spill-bird-tracker.

GateHouse News Service