Category: Lawn & Garden


Top Tips for Identifying a Hazardous Tree

How to Identify a Dangerous Tree

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It’s not always easy to identify a tree that’s in trouble. In part, that’s because while trees face certain knowable foes like drought and disease, they are also vulnerable to unpredictable dangers—strong winds, for example, or lighting. Still, a responsible homeowner ought to keep his eyes open for signs of a problem. Read on to find out which red flags to be on the lookout for:

Hide and Seek
To begin your inspection of a tree, head right to its base. If the lowest part of the trunk is obscured by ground cover plantings, pull them back to gain a better view. Here, either hollow cavities or the presence of mushrooms could indicate a serious problem. Move on to checking the ground around the tree’s drip line—that is, the circumference under its canopy. Look for roots protruding up from the ground. Visible roots are not problematic in and of themselves, but if there’s other evidence to suggest that the tree is struggling, then protruding roots might mean that the tree is on the verge of toppling over.

Lightning
If you encounter a tree that’s missing a long streak of bark along its trunk, it was probably struck by lightning. Being composed mostly of water, trees are excellent conductors of electricity. When lightning hits the canopy, the bolt careens all the way day down to the roots, boiling sap in its wake and creating explosive steam. If there’s damage to one side of the trunk only, the tree might fully recover. But if bark’s missing on multiple sides, it’s likely that the tree isn’t going to survive.

How to Identify a Dangerous Tree - Bark Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Branch Inspection
Since dead branches are the first to fall, it’s wise to remove them from trees growing close to the house. On deciduous trees, dead branches either have no leaves or brown leaves (in the winter, this is tough to judge). With evergreen trees, look for brown needles and the absence of bark. If you successfully identify dead branches—and if those branches are easily accessible—go ahead and prune. Otherwise, call in a specialist.

Two-Trunk Trees
When trees have two or more trunks, be sure to look closely at the point where they meet. U-shaped connections between trunks are usually not a problem. A tight “V” shape, however, suggests a weak spot. If you’re worried about a particular tree, you can have a steel or elastic cable installed to keep it from splitting apart in high winds. But to be clear, this isn’t a project for the do-it-yourselfer; hire an experienced pro.

Call in the Pros
If any of the red flags discussed leave you uncertain about the health of a tree on your property, it’s best to call in a certified arborist. Besides having training and hard-earned knowledge, arborists also have specialized tools they can use to make sophisticated diagnoses far beyond the scope of this article.

Additional Notes
If you have work done on a tree, don’t let any of the workers climb the trunk by means of leg spikes. With every step, they’d be punching holes in the tree that would make ideal portals for harmful pathogens. The damage done by leg spikes might not be immediately evident, but it could eventually prove fatal to the tree.


Bob Vila Radio: Quieter Leaf Blowers Are Here, Finally

Whereas noisy gas-powered leaf blowers were once the only option, homeowners may now choose from a wider selection of models, many of which boast quiet operation.

This time of year, the intrusive sound of leaf blowers is a constant presence in nearly every neighborhood. But blowers that make less noise—yet still get the job done—are becoming increasingly available.

Leaf Blowers

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LEAF BLOWERS or read the text below:

Although many of the newer gas-powered models are far less noisy than older versions, electrics remain the quietest overall. Cordless electrics with adequate power can be pricey. Plus, depending on the size of your yard, you may need an extra battery or two to get your leaves bagged in a single day.

Some corded electric models can sweep away leaves and loosen debris about as well as gas models. If you have a smaller yard and won’t have to drag around a lot of cord, a corded electric model may be your best choice.

Lower-noise electric options are good news, especially since many municipalities nationwide are enacting rules that either limit or entirely prohibit the use of gas blowers. Before heading to the store, check local ordinances.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Wait, Is It Actually a Mistake to Rake Leaves?

Don't rake 'em, mulch 'em! Your back will thank you, and you'll be able to spend your autumn mornings sipping cider instead of bagging leaves.

Mulching Leaves

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Every year, fall reintroduces us to a raft of pleasures that we get to experience in no other season—hot apple cider, pumpkin carving, and so on. But fall also signals the return of one chore many of us dread: raking leaves. As surely as the seasons change, autumn mornings witness homeowners bent over rusty-tined rakes, endlessly scraping withered foliage onto tarps and into heavy-duty garbage bags. Imperfect though it may be, that’s the world I’ve always known.

Consider my surprise when I learned that, according to lawn care experts, leaf-raking is an optional exercise. Certainly, a thick layer of leaves should not be left to smother the grass growing beneath. But raking isn’t the only—or even the easiest—method of protecting your lawn’s health. It turns out that mulching leaves—that is, mincing them to shreds with your lawn mower—is what’s best for the health of your lawn. And compared with raking, mulching leaves is much less work.

Mulching Leaves - Close-Up Shot

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There are plenty of mowers with mulching capability on the market today. As well, you can easily outfit a conventional, non-mulching mower with a serrated blade specially designed for mulching. But neither is strictly necessary. You can mulch leaves with any type of lawn mower, although it might take a few passes to do the job well. No matter what type of mower you own, prepare by setting the blade to its highest setting and removing the bag that collects clippings.

Proceed to mow the lawn just as if it were any other day, not the most exciting day of your life—the day you finally break free from the tyranny of raking. The goal is to cut the leaves into shreds that are about a half-inch in diameter (more or less the size of a dime). As mentioned, depending on the volume of leaves that have fallen on your lawn, it might take more than one pass to get the shreds to the desired size. When you’re done, the leaf shreds should have fallen between the blades of grass to reveal much of the lawn. A passerby might easily be fooled into thinking that you had raked!

If when you’re done you look at the shredded leaves scattered across your lawn and think, “I can’t see any grass whatsoever,” then do this: Reattach the bag to your lawn mower and go over the grass one last time. In the process, you’ll collect a surfeit of mulched leaves that you can add either to your garden beds or compost pile. Consider mulching on a weekly basis during the height of the season so there’s not enough time between mowings for a challenging amount of leaves to accumulate.

As the mulched leaves decompose, they enhance the soil with valuable nutrients that feed the microbes and worms present in any healthy lawn. Arguably, the nitrogen boost that results from mulching is such that you don’t even have to fertilize in the fall. This means that compared with raking, mulching leaves isn’t only easier and more lawn-friendly, but it’s also less costly, saving you both the money and time spent on fertilizing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at leaves the same way again. It’s a shame for them to sit by the curb all wrapped up in tightly knotted plastic bags when they could be gracing your grass with nourishment.


Bob Vila Radio: Protect Trees from Lightning

This time of year, thunderstorms are inevitable. Before bad weather comes to your neck of the woods, consider taking steps to protect the trees that contribute so much to the beauty—and value—of your property.

Beautiful trees enhance the look and value of residential properties, so no wonder people spend so much time trying to keep them healthy. One step you can take to ensure trees stay healthy is to protect them from lightning.

How to Protect Trees from Lightning

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Trees attract lightning for a couple of reasons. One, they’re tall. Two, they’re filled with an excellent conductor of electricity—water. Protection usually involves installing a copper cable that’s affixed to a lightning rod at the top of the tree and runs down to a long copper stake that’s driven into ground beyond the tree’s drip line. The cable isn’t attached directly to the tree. Instead, it’s mounted with special fasteners that keep it away from the trunk.

Protection doesn’t come cheap. The tab for protecting a large tree can run into several thousand dollars. If that gets you thinking of installing a cable yourself, you’ll want to ensure it’s done right. Nailing a cable directly to the trunk of a tree can attract strikes and end up doing more harm than good.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.



Weekend Projects: 5 Low-Cost DIY Fire Pits

Even a do-it-yourself novice can complete a DIY fire pit for less than a hundred bucks—and within a single weekend!

After a summer spent out in the Great Wide Open, we hate to retreat indoors, but in most parts of the country, it’s only a matter of time before bitterly cold winter temperatures set in. For now, though, you can extend patio season and enjoy the fall season to utmost, with a DIY fire pit. Scroll down to see five different approaches, each of which involves a different material and a different level of skill to complete. Their s’more-making capabilities? Equally outstanding.

 

1. ROCK ON

DIY Fire Pit - Stones

Photo: spoonfulofimagination.com

Rocks arranged in a circle: If there’s an older, more tried-and-tried way of safely containing a fire, I’d like to know about it. No, you needn’t live near a quarry; Spoonful of Imagination built one from stones found on the property. Occasionally maintained, this is a zero-dollar DIY fire pit that’s bound to last a lifetime.

 

2. BLOCK IT OUT

DIY Fire Pit - Cinder Blocks

Photo: mustaddfabricsoftener.com

Cinder blocks lend themselves well to a variety of projects around the house. Here, Must Add Fabric Softener laid two courses of cinder blocks over a platform of pavers to create a $20 DIY fire pit. To more firmly secure the assembly, an optional step would be to put construction adhesive where the blocks join one another.

 

3. SEE IT THROUGH

DIY Fire Pit - Glass

Photo: theartofdoingstuff.com

Karen of The Art of Doing Stuff made what she calls a “personal fire pit.” A can of gel fuel situated in the base—a repurposed metal planter—delivers the small flame, while decorative stones lay over cut-to-size mesh. Framing the fire bed is a transparent box made of four glass panels connected together with silicone.

 

4. GRILL IT UP

Photo: instructables.com

Here’s a DIY fire pit designed and built around a portable charcoal grill. The concrete portions are pre-made and readily available in home centers, where the clerks would know them as “tree rings.” Perhaps the most difficult part is to design the inner ring so that it’s of the perfect size to support the lip of a grill bowl at center.

 

5. A DRUM, SOLO

DIY Fire Pit - Drum

Photo: houseandfig.com

I would never have thought of turning the drum from a busted washing machine into a DIY fire pit. House and Fig began by stripping the drum of all its plastic parts. Next, unsightly edges were removed (with a grinder), legs were welded on, and the entire thing was painted with high-heat black matte paint. Brilliant!


How To: Remove Poison Ivy from Your Yard

If poison ivy crops up on your property, you can remove it chemically, naturally, or—if you're ready to get your hands dirty—physically.

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Homeowners know too well that not all greenery contributes to the beauty of a garden. Weeds, for instance, are a chief nuisance, and the meticulous among us have spent countless weekend hours picking dandelions, nettle, and thistle out of the ground. But even in their multitudes, weeds are more or less benign when compared to the itchy threat posed by poison ivy. If you spot these vine-like plants, with their telltale trio of pointed leaves, you can resign yourself to the inevitability of suffering a painful red rash, or you can take action. We highly recommend the latter! Read on to learn three different ways to get rid of poison ivy.

Chemicals
Upon realizing there’s poison ivy growing on their property, most people enlist a store-bought herbicide. Before purchasing any, double-check that the product in question contains either glyphosate or triclopyr. (Because both of these chemicals kill most other plants in addition to poison ivy, you may wish to use an alternative method, depending on whether or not the poison ivy abuts plant material you would like to keep alive.) Closely following the product directions, fill up a spray bottle with the herbicide and apply it directly to the leaves of the poison ivy. Remember: Herbicide is potent stuff, so be careful where you’re spraying. If, for instance, the poison ivy is climbing up the trunk of a tree, take pains not to get any herbicide on the tree bark. Instead, dab a bit of herbicide directly onto the individual leaves of the poison ivy plant. Once you’ve finished treating the area, monitor it on and off for the next couple of weeks, reapplying if and when the poison ivy reemerges.

How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy - Leaf Detail

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Naturally
If you steer clear of commercial herbicides because of the chemicals they contain, experiment with an organic approach. You need not look any farther than your kitchen pantry for an active ingredient. It turns out that salt, in high enough concentrations, works to kill most unwanted plants, including poison ivy. But you can’t simply sprinkle it around. First things first, concoct a saline solution by mixing three pounds of salt, a gallon of water, and a quarter-cup of dish soap. Fill a spray bottle with your homemade herbicide and apply it directly to the poison ivy leaves. Do so on a clear day, allowing the salt the opportunity to do its job before rain washes it away. Check back occasionally and continue to re-apply the herbicide until the poison ivy no longer returns. Be careful not to spray the herbicide onto neighboring plants, unless you’re willing to bid them farewell.

Get Physical
The least hands-off method is perhaps the most effective way to get rid of poison ivy. Provided you own a good pair of work gloves (and a set of full-sleeve clothing), the answer to your problem can be as simple as digging up the poison ivy with a garden trowel. To remove all the roots, be sure to excavate each plant to a depth of around eight inches. Also, take extra care in outfitting yourself for the task. It’s not a bad idea to go so far as using duct tape to seal the seam between your gloves and shirtsleeves (and between your pants and socks).

Whatever method you choose, fully getting rid of poison ivy requires patience and persistence. If a plant reemerges, keep at it with your chosen method, always being careful to keep your skin protected as you work.


Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Lawn This Fall!

Spring may be the season of growth and renewal, but if you're serious about cultivating healthy and beautiful grass, it's what you do in fall that makes or breaks next year's lawn.

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Spreader

Photo: shutterstock.com

Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now goes a long way toward safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and to thrive come springtime.

Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn—about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time—it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection, one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Loading

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Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.

Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.

You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to output precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.

Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.

Additional Tips
• Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.

• For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.

• Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.


What Would Bob Do? Solving a Yard Drainage Crisis

Does your lawn turn into a swampy mess every time it rains hard? If so, pursue one of these yard drainage solutions, not only to allay your aesthetic concerns, but also because standing water can pose serious problems.

Yard Drainage Solutions

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Please help. My yard stays wet when it rains. I live in a subdivision with flat terrain. Is there a solution that does not cost a lot of money?

You have a few options, but none of them are cheap. First, I would invite a full-service landscaping company to examine your property, diagnose the problem, and submit an estimate. Even if you opt not to hire the company, the consultation would help you to understand the cause (and potential consequences) of the problem. Knowing only the basics of your situation, I can offer some general info on yard drainage solutions, but you really should talk to a pro in your area.

Poor yard drainage isn’t only an aesthetic issue. For one thing, standing water seriously jeopardizes the health of your lawn and landscape plantings. Another frustration: When your property is a swamp, you simply cannot enjoy it. Meanwhile, standing water can actually be a health hazard, as it gives rise to mosquitoes and other pests. Not to mention, excess storm water may ultimately find its way into your basement, where it creates a host of other costly-to-fix issues.

Usually, there’s a solution to yard drainage problems. Topography is the key thing to consider. A well-draining property slopes gently and gradually away from the house, descending six inches over the initial ten feet surrounding the foundation (with another foot of slope over the next 100 feet). If that’s not true in your case—if, say, your property actually sits below that of the neighbors’ and the street—re-grading the terrain is the logical step, but it’s not a do-it-yourself job.

After an abnormally heavy rainfall, any yard can be expected to be a bit swampy, but if yours consistently hosts standing water, then you’re right to pursue yard drainage solutions. Each of these are designed to divert excess water from where it poses a problem to an area where it can more freely seep into the soil.

Yard Drainage Solutions - Curtain

Photo: wikimedia.org

Curtain Drain. This won’t work if your property has a lower elevation than all of the land surrounding it, but if the street or an adjacent woodland are below the grade of your flooded yard, you’re in luck. You can set a perforated pipe into the ground, running from the problem area to the safe zone. The pipe draws in water through its holes and by the power of gravity, carries water away from your home.

Drywell. If there’s nowhere it would make sense to drain the storm water, your best bet might be to install a dry well. Basically, a dry well is a holding tank for excess runoff. The container fills during a storm, then in the hours and days afterward, it drains into the soil beneath and next to the well adjacent. One advantage is that a gravel-filled dry well may be covered over with soil and grass.

Sump Pump. If you’re willing to throw money at the problem, go for a sump pump (like that used to keep a wet basement dry). A sump pump corrals excess runoff and pumps it away. That means it can deposit the water somewhere that’s uphill from your property. The catch? A sump pump isn’t cheap: There are not only installation costs to weigh, but also the ongoing costs of running the machine.

As mentioned, a full-service landscaping company would have a great deal of experience handling situations such as the one you’ve described. But it’s important to note that if you believe municipal engineers are in any way responsible for the issue you’re facing, then your local government may be willing—or legally obligated—to solve it. Talk to your neighbors. If they too are experiencing drainage problems, approach city hall as a group to maximize chances of your voice being heard.


Bob Vila Radio: Homemade Remedies for Driveway Oil Spots

The next time your car drips oil onto your otherwise pristine asphalt driveway, try one of these reportedly effective cleaning methods—unlikely though they may sound.

Oil spots on asphalt driveways certainly don’t add to a home’s curb appeal. Ask ten people what remedies they recommend for removing oil stains from concrete, and you’re likely to get ten different answers.

How to Remove Oil Stains from Concrete

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CLEANING ASPHALT STAINS or read the text below:

Here are some of the most popular ways to remove oil stains from concrete:

• Granulated cat litter gets a lot of thumbs up. It’s especially effective if you cover the stain while it’s still fresh.

• Powdered laundry detergent mixed into a paste seems to work well if you spread it over the stain, let it sit for awhile, then scrub with a broom and rinse.

• Grease-cutting dish detergents coupled with a stiff broom are another strategy.

• Other people swear by full-strength bleach.

• Still others douse the stain with soda.

Lots of companies tout commercial asphalt cleaning products, but reviews are mixed. In many cases, they don’t seem to perform any better than the household remedies. And forget about using a driveway sealer to hide oil spots; the oil will just eat its way back to the surface.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Mower Air Filters

You're not the only one working hard these days. Your lawn mower has been busy, too. To improve its performance and extend its life, remember to clean the machine's air filter.

With all the turf you’ve been trimming this summer, now’s a good time to give your mower some well-deserved TLC. That includes servicing the air filter. Clogged filters drastically reduce your mower’s efficiency and if neglected long enough, can damage the engine.

Cleaning Lawn Mower Air Filters

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Air filters are usually located in square-ish compartments mounted to either the top or the side of the engine. There are two main types—foam and pleated paper. Foam filters can be cleaned; paper filters need to be replaced.

To clean a foam filter, first pull the wire off your spark plug, then unscrew the cover of the filter compartment and remove the foam. Give it a bath in kerosene, then soak it in clean engine oil. Squeeze out the excess oil and reposition the foam in the filter compartment, before finally screwing the cover back on.

Paper filters are even easier. Just remove the cover, toss the filter, and replace it with a new one.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.