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Taking tax-smart care of your home, lawn

I'm a bit late blogging today because I finally got around to potting some herbs for our patio.

Basil3 The hubby is the gardener in the family, but I make a nominal contribution to our backyard flora by tending to a few plants that also offer culinary contributions.

Our colder-than-normal winter took its toll on some of them, so I replaced our frozen-out basil with the plants shown there at the left.

Actually, the pot now holds two types of basil, the standard sweet variety and a variegated type that the herb seller at the Barton Springs Farmers' Market told me was really good for pesto.

I also picked up some rosemary and lavender, shown in the photo below. The eagle-eyed botanists among you might have noticed the rosemary in the background of the basil photo. That plant, however, and others throughout our backyard are an inedible variety for decorative purposes only.

Rosemary and lavender3
These new herb arrivals, however, can be snipped for spicing up
certain dishes. The truth though is that I mainly just enjoy their aromas when we're out on the patio. We'll see if dueling scents mean I end up having to separate these two

At the market this morning, I grabbed a spearmint plant, too, (sorry, no photo) to go with the Greek and Italian oregano we already had.

But I couldn't deprive the hubby of getting out on a steamy hot Texas afternoon and digging in the dirt, so I also picked up a firecracker fern for him. If you look closely at the left upper corner of the photo above, you'll see the plant and its spray of red tubular flowers.

We weren't familiar with this plant when our landscaper put three of them, two red and a white one, in the dry riverbed section of our backyard renovation three years ago. But we've come to love them. They're lacy and leggy and over the years have self-propagated nicely.

The best thing, though, is that since they're right next to where our patio dining set is situated, the firecracker plants bring the bravest hummingbirds right down to us when we're eating out.

But the hard-for-Central-Texas winter of 2009 took a toll on even these hardy plants. They were slow returning this spring and one didn't make it at all. So when I saw one there at the farmers' market, I grabbed it.

Firecracker fern3 OK, enough talking about these plants and teasing you with a little smudge of red. The photo at right shows you how lovely they are; in fact, click on it (or any of the pictures) and you'll get a bigger image with an better view.

The plant with red blossoms in the middle, right up against the base of the stone wall, is the new arrival. The one in front of it is an offshoot of the original plant that didn't make it; you can see the white elongated flowers at the bottom right.

And sprouting through the fence are additional progeny of the original white firecracker plant.

Tax-saving plants: One of the nice things about all the plants that are part of a permanent residential landscape is that they can one day might save you some tax dollars.

When you sell your home, tax law allows you to pocket up to $250,000 in profit (or $500,000 if you're married and file jointly) without paying any tax.

I know that in today's real estate market, that seems like a plenty big tax cushion. But over time, home values will increase. And if you stay in your place long enough, you could one day come close to bumping up against or exceeding that home sale profit tax exclusion limit.

That's why it's important to keep track of your home's basis. That's essentially what you paid for the residence plus capital improvements to the house over time. When you sell, you subtract your basis from the sales price to determine your profit.

A larger basis will mean, for tax purposes, a smaller profit. And less profit means less money upon which you might owe tax.

If your sale proceeds-minus-basis calculation keeps you under the $250,000 or $500,000 amount, you are home (or actually out of your home) tax-free.

And even if you make a killing on the sale, a home basis increased by improvements over the years could help minimize the potential capital gains tax bite.

Improvements that can help increase your home's basis include work you do to the lawn and grounds. This is such things as general landscaping; driveway and walkway upgrades; adding fences, retaining walls, decks and patios; and installing a sprinkler system. If you want to go all out, putting in a swimming pool counts, too.

So all that sweat equity you put into your yard not only adds to your enjoyment while you're in the house, but can help one day save you some tax dollars.

I hope knowing of these future tax benefits will help make your outdoor chores a little less tedious.

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