Category: Lawn & Garden

Bob Vila Radio: Hose Repair

Before saying goodbye to a leaky garden hose, try these simple repairs first.

If your garden hose has seen better days, don’t just send it to the landfill. There are some simple, inexpensive ways to extend the life of a leaky hose.

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Garden Hose Repair


First, be sure it doesn’t just need a new washer. If your hose leaks from around the nozzle or the spigot, try installing a new rubber washer first. You might fix the problem right there, for just a few cents.

If that doesn’t work, or if your hose has a crack or hole in it, head to your local hardware store or home center for a repair kit. It’s also pretty simple to replace a bent or broken coupling using replacement parts found in the same aisle. Cut out the damaged section of hose and bring it with you so you can get the right kit. It’s pretty simple to reattach the two pieces of hose you cut apart, and turn it back into one working hose.

If your trusty old hose has sprung several leaks, it’s still not ready for the trash heap. Consider poking even more holes in it and using it as a drip hose. Wind it around the base of your shrubs and trees and let it deliver water right to the roots, where just a little goes a long way to keeping your plants happy.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.

Lasagna Gardening: It’s Only a Little Like It Sounds

Build your soil layer by layer—like a lasagna—to make it richer and more fertile, and keep weeds at bay.

Lasagna Gardening


Mulching has its rewards: Not only does it give you richer and more nutritious soil, but it can also suppress weeds, enabling gardeners to use fewer chemicals and spend less time in the dirt. So how do we fully embrace the power of mulch? For some, the answer has been to construct a multilayered soil system.

Intimidating as that may sound, a technique known as lasagna gardening, or sheet mulching, provides an easy and rewarding way to get started, whether you’re establishing a new landscape or enhancing last year’s. Begin now, and come springtime you will have a healthy environment for your plants.

Place compost or manure directly over the grass (or patches of weeds) on your property. Rich in nitrogen, this material will stimulate the soil, readying it to sustain new life. It’s recommended that you obtain a soil analysis to help you identify your soil’s deficiencies and determine whether it would benefit from supplements.

Lasagna Gardening - Diagram


Lay down a barrier to prevent the germination and emergence of weeds. Use anywhere from two to five inches of organic material—cardboard, newspaper, and natural-fiber carpeting are common choices. Make sure that it covers the entire area, and as you’re adding the material, give it a good soaking.

Over the weed barrier, lay down another layer of compost, this time one that includes a mix of nitrogen-rich organic matter (for example, grass clippings, decaying leaves, or seaweed). Important: Make sure that these scraps do not contain weed seeds, because if they do, you may be jeopardizing the work you have done so far.

Finally, add about three inches of mulch—wood chips or pine bark. It will need replenishment over the season, but one of the great benefits of the lasagna gardening system is that there’s no tilling necessary.

What you end up with is a soil that emulates the fertile floor of the rainforest, perfectly balancing layers of decaying material and barriers to weed growth. Perhaps best of all, you reap the benefits of this productive substrate while performing only minimal maintenance.

Bob Vila Radio: Raking Tips

This fall, follow these tips to make the dreaded seasonal task of raking leaves as painless as possible.

This time of year, those of us who are lucky enough to have trees that provide summer shade have to pay for that privilege by raking up their fallen leaves. I’ve got a few tips for you that will make this autumn ritual a bit less painful.

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Raking Leaves Tips


First of all, don’t rake anything you can mow—leaves that fall on your lawn can be removed easily as long as you’re still cutting the grass. When the grass stops growing and you need to start raking, be sure to wear gloves to save your hands from blisters.

Don’t rake leaves on a windy day, and try to rake before it rains, not after—wet leaves are a real pain to gather. Don’t rake long distances—bring your leaf bag to the leaves, not the other way around. If you have a lot of leaves, try raking them onto a tarp and then pulling the tarp along with you as you work.

And if your community has a leaf recycling program, participate in it! Your autumn leaves could be wonderfully rich compost next spring. You can even make your own mulch if you’re ambitious.

Finally, don’t forget to have some fun—jumping in a pile of leaves is one of the great joys of childhood that never seems to get old. If you don’t have kids of your own, invite some of the neighbors over.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.

Quick Tip: Felling a Small Tree

Whether you are clearing a site for new construction or it has become necessary to cut down a tree on your property for safety reasons, follow these steps to get the job done right.

Here’s a helpful tip you can use when you need to cut down a small tree. Make sure you wear proper safety gear and make three simple cuts. Make your first cut at a slight angle, no more than two thirds into the tree. Make a second cut to form a wedge. Then make a final cut on the opposite side, cutting into the wedge from above. Cut carefully and watch for the wind direction. The tree will fall safely away from you.

Caution: Be advised that a permit may be required, as in some areas environmental regulations dictate whether or not a tree can be cut down legally. If you are inexperienced with tree felling—especially if there are any roads, power lines, or buildings nearby—hire a professional.

For more on trees and shrubs, consider:

How To: Plant an Apple Tree
Bob Vila Radio: Shrub Success
Boxwoods: Maintaining Structure in Your Garden

Raking Leaves for Dummies

Sure, raking leaves is a chore, but it will be less taxing if you learn how to do it efficiently and safely—and try to have some fun while you're at it.

Raking Leaves


Fall brings football, hot apple cider, pumpkin carving, and other seasonal delights. But for homeowners with deciduous trees on their property, autumn calls to mind one thing above all else: raking leaves. Those who dread this annual rite may take heart from the reminder that raking leaves isn’t only about looks. If neglected, a bed of fallen foliage can smother the grass you worked so hard to maintain over the summer. And while raking leaves may seem slightly intimidating to the uninitiated, some basic advice can help you take care of this chore in relatively short order so that you can return to your weekend plans.

1. Equipment: Use the right rake for the job
It’s worth investing in a good rake. For the purpose of raking leaves (as opposed to gravel, mulch, or planting soil), use a rake with a long handle and a wide spread of metal, plastic, or bamboo tines. This is known as a leaf rake, or sometimes a lawn rake. Conserve effort by using the full width of tines to maximize efficiency; by raking in this fashion, you are able to move more leaves with fewer extensions of the tool.

2. Timing: Wait for the last leaf to drop
As weeks pass and leaves collect, get-it-done-now homeowners may start to squirm, but it pays to have patience: There’s less work in raking lots of leaves one time than in doing smaller amounts on several different occasions. Sure, gather some leaves now for your compost bin, but postpone the bulk of the job until all the leaves have dropped. Remember also that dry leaves are much easier to move, so don’t tramp into the yard, rake in hand, the morning after a storm.

3. Execution: Take small bites
Imagine that your property is composed of different sections, then focus your attention on one area at a time, raking leaves onto a tarp (or failing that, a large sheet). From time to time, bring the corners of the tarp together and drag the leaves to your larger collection pile, whether that’s out on the curb or elsewhere. On a breezy day, let nature be your helper; position your tarp so you’re raking in the same direction that the wind is blowing.

4. Technique: Safety first
Raking leaves is physically taxing. Treat it like the athletic activity it is! Stretch out your hamstrings and hips before you start and after you finish. Protect your back by using short strokes—don’t reach so far that you bend at the waist. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated, even if you’re working on a crisp, cool day.

Above all, the best way to approach the task of raking leaves is with a sense of fun. Get the kids involved, and when you’re finished, celebrate with some cider and toasted marshmallows! Along the way, you’ll create memories to last well into winter and beyond.

Bob Vila Radio: Patio Heaters

As temperatures cool throughout the fall season, continue enjoying time spent outside with a patio heater.

Fall is a lovely time of year to enjoy your outdoor spaces. With the worst of summer’s heat and insects behind you, your patio can be great for relaxing, reading, or socializing. Of course, fall can also be a little on the nippy side, especially after the sun goes down. But you can still enjoy sitting out, even as the temperatures drop, by adding a patio heater.

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Patio Heaters


Patio heaters come in portable models powered by electricity or propane, or permanently installed models powered by natural gas. Some work by radiating heat from a central source, so they need to be positioned in the center of the space you want to heat. Others can be wall-mounted, directed at the space that needs warming. There are also tabletop models that provide warmth to a small area—many stylish models look quite handsome as the centerpiece of your table.

Related: 8 Patio Heaters to Keep You Comfy Outdoors

The size of the heater you need will depend on how big an area you’re trying to heat, and how much you’re trying to raise the temperature. The cubic feet times degrees will tell you how many BTUs you need—for example, a 10′ x 10′ dining area that you want to raise from 60 degrees to 70 up to eight feet from the ground will need 800 cubic feet times 10 degrees, or 8,000 BTUs. A 20′ x 20′ patio on a 50-degree day would need 64,000 BTUs to do the job.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.

Keep Cozy in Cool Weather with an Outdoor Patio Heater

A patio heater provides comfort during the time you spend enjoying outdoor living areas in the cool weather of late fall and early spring.


Now that it’s fall, chilly weather chases you indoors after dinner al fresco, and low temperatures in the morning keep you from reading the newspaper on your front porch. So long as conditions remain on the cusp of comfortable and cold—and at least in the Northeast, doesn’t that define autumn, and for that matter, early spring?—a patio heater lets you enjoy your outdoor living areas for more hours of the day.

Related: How To: Build a Basic Backyard Fire Pit

Available in a variety of sizes and a multitude of designs, and suitable for a range of purposes, patio heaters are not the novelty they once were. Whereas you used to see them only at curbside cafés, patio heaters are now appearing with greater frequency on residential properties. For homeowners who love to entertain friends or share family moments on the patio or deck, the advent of patio heaters is indeed welcome.

If you are in the process of choosing a patio heater, here’s what you should know:


- Propane: Propane patio heaters can warm up a space quickly. Some are quite big, holding a propane tank as large as 20 gallons—a boon when you wish to heat a large area for an extended period of time. Due to the risk of carbon monoxide buildup, a patio heater of this type should never be used in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse or the garage.

- Electric: There’s no need to buy fuel for an electric patio heater, but its bulbs must be replaced occasionally. Before purchasing a unit, take time to understand its running costs. Because electric patio heaters have no open flame, they are, for some families, safer than the alternative. But they are usually smaller, so an electric may not match the power of its propane cousin. When shopping, compare the heat output of different models. Also, remember that an electric heater comes with a power cord; having at least one outdoor outlet is a plus, if not a prerequisite.


- Stand-alone: Most freestanding patio heaters are seven to eight feet tall; typically, the fuel source is at or near the bottom, and the heat emanates from the top. Available in electric or propane versions, these patio heaters can warm a 5- to 10-foot radius, which makes them a great option for yards and larger patios.

Choosing a Patio Heater - Mounted


- Tabletop: Smaller than freestanding heaters, tabletop units must be secured to a patio table (usually through the hole where a sun umbrella would fit). Either electric or propane, they offer the advantage of portability but tend to be less powerful, making them well suited for smaller gatherings.

- Mounted: Whether wall- or ceiling-mounted, these patio heaters are, in most cases, infrared and electrically powered. They are excellent if you have limited floor space but wish to heat a larger area.


Bear these considerations in mind when choosing a patio heater of any type:

1. Have realistic expectations. Patio heaters are meant to ease the chill of cool weather. You are outdoors, not in a sauna! In very cold weather, they will not keep you warm very long.

2. Give your patio heater some help. Since hot air rises, some heated air will be lost to the atmosphere, but you can conserve by placing your patio heater at a safe distance beneath an umbrella or awning. Avoid exposing a propane unit to wind, however, as breezes will make it difficult to light.

3. Safety first. Always keep pets and children away from patio heaters, and consider only models that feature an automatic shutoff, which cuts the heat in the event that the unit gets knocked over.

Investing in a patio heater is an outstanding way to enhance your outdoor lifestyle. Breathe more fresh air. Hear more crickets. See more stars. And stay comfy cozy while you’re at it.

Quick Tip: DIY Deck Building

These simple tips on DIY deck building can help you achieve professional results with a project frequently undertaken by homeowners.

Here are some basic things to remember when building a deck. Attach joist hangers sixteen inches apart on center to the side rails. Lay out all floor joists and side rails, then nail them all at once using galvanized nails. Overhang the first floorboard by half an inch. If you have an enclosed deck or a screen porch, you can use tongue-and-groove flooring. Always try to use pressure-treated lumber for your deck frame.

For more on decks, consider:

12 Sensational Deck Designs
Planning Guide: Wood Decks
How To: Build an On-Grade Deck

Bob Vila Radio: Planning Birdhouses

If you'd like your backyard to play host to birds next spring, now is the time to build them a place to live.

It’s one of life’s true pleasures to watch birds as they nest in the spring. If you’d like to encourage birds to build their nests in your backyard next year, now is the time to create the right home for them.

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Planning Bird Houses


Building a birdhouse is not only a simple and satisfying DIY project—and a great starter project for kids—it’s also a way to put out the welcome mat for next spring’s nesters. Many birds scope out their future nesting sites in the fall and winter, so building a birdhouse now can get you on their house tour.

Related: How To: Make a Birdhouse

The most important thing to remember is that not all birds nest in cavities like birdhouses. Robins, cardinals, and jays, for example, prefer open nests that they build in trees. Bluebirds, wrens, nuthatches and woodpeckers prefer to build in cavities, so your birdhouse should be designed for them.

You can get a materials list and instructions for a basic birdhouse on—and it takes only a four-foot length of one-by-eight-inch cedar board to make one.

The opening in the birdhouse helps determine what bird will call it home—and the smaller the hole, the fewer the species that can use it. A round opening of one and a quarter inch will accommodate most of the species you’d want in your yard while keeping out most predators. Make sure your birdhouse can be opened up at least once a year, after nesting season is over, so you can clean it out for next year’s tenants.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.

How To: Lay a Dry Stone Patio

Even an intermediate do-it-yourselfer can build a stone patio, unmistakable in look and destined to last for many years.

You can lay a stone patio yourself. Here’s how. Prepare a base of sand or stone dust to provide good drainage in a level surface. Use strings to determine level and to set the boundaries for your design, then set your stones in place. Set them tightly against one another, so you won’t have to fill in the gaps between the stones. Tamp firmly with a rubber mallet and then check for level.

For more on patios, consider:

Patio Materials 101
Patio Planning Guide
Patio Design: 7 Popular Materials to Consider