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Yardsmart: Planted shoes for Mother’s Day

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In every home with young children, there are always shoes that are just too small. Little growing feet often have but a short time in a pair of shoes. Fortunately, formerly expensive leather shoes have given way to other materials that have lowered the price and increased the range of styles for all those little feet. Today, baby and toddler shoes are disposable, inexpensive and mass-produced. American families are overwhelmed with them, and this is what piqued my interest in novel ways to reuse and recycle.

At a garden show years ago, I was amazed by the work of a woman who loved planting succulents. She would use anything she could find for a container because these plants don't require as much water. Therefore, unorthodox materials such as old ladies' patent-leather purses proved to be some of her favorite containers.

With Mother's Day fast approaching, why not save money by making Mom and Grandma a little planted shoe? This is a fun and easy project for Dad and the kids to make with a few tiny plants, some soil and moss.

Step 1: Find shoes. Rummage through the kids' closet for shoes that have become too small. They can be leather, and because you can machine-wash sneakers, they're a long-lasting choice. Use those that are well-made and stitched (rather than glued). Above all, the shoe needs to be cute and colorful.

Step 2: Make them drain. Just like a flowerpot, the shoe should have a drain hole, too. Good drainage also extends the life of the shoe. A leather-hole punch works well for poking holes in the sole. You can also use a hammer and nail to pound numerous smaller holes evenly through a rubber sole.

Step 3: Fill with potting soil. Cactus soil has a lot of sand in it and won't become super-saturated like ordinary potting soil that's full of peat and woody matter. If you can get a little free construction sand, use it to lean out ordinary potting or garden soil so you don't have to buy a new bag. Succulents don't need high fertility but demand a porous mix, so use whatever is on hand, provided it's not laden with salt from the beach.

Step 4: Select your plants. The smallest pot sizes at the garden center or home-improvement store have cactus and succulents for less than $2. These have a minimal root system that fits nicely into the small cavity inside the shoe. Those with smaller leaves make the best choices as they remain in scale with the shoe.

Step 5: Plant. It helps to remove the soil from your succulent's roots before planting so they fit well into the small space. Fill the shoe halfway with soil, then gently work the roots down toward the toe to ensure that they can access the entire soil mass. Tip the shoe toe down, and push more soil in layers over the roots. Gently tamp each layer with the eraser end of a pencil to prevent air pockets.

Step 6: Add moss if necessary. If there's any surface soil remaining in the shoe, cover it with moss. Cut sphagnum into tiny pieces, and press them down onto the surface, or use bits of live moss gathered from damp spots on tree trunks or the soil around your house.

Once planted, gently moisten the shoe and set in the shade until Mother's Day.

If you can't find succulents locally, consider planting with thyme, strawberries or even pet grasses for a cat-loving mom.

These little planted shoes won't last forever, but they are a fun project to make with your kids. They're great, sentimental little gifts that Mom or Grandma will treasure.

Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist. Her blog, the MoZone, offers ideas for cash-strapped families. Read the blog at www.MoPlants.com/blog. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.