Category: Lawn & Garden

Genius! The Backyard Movie Theater You Can Build in a Day

Next time you're looking to share the fun of the theater with your family, try this budget-friendly fix that brings the big screen right to your backyard.

DIY Outdoor Movie Screen


A night at the movies doesn’t come cheap. With the steep price of tickets, not to mention the popcorn and M&Ms, this classic family outing can make a big dent in a tight budget. Jessica, busy mom and blogger behind Running with Scissors, suffered from the same costly problem, but didn’t want to cut out summertime entertainment altogether. Starting with a few inexpensive materials, she built an outdoor alternative—a backyard “big screen”—that was perfect for showcasing fan-favorite flicks all season long.

Feeling thrifty, Jessica started on eBay, snatching up an affordable digital projector for super-sized showings. (Secondhand models in good condition are a steal online, sometimes going for as low as $10!) Next, she found herself a giant panel of screen fabric on Amazon for about $40, although an even cheaper canvas drop cloth or thick white curtain can work in a pinch. As for the stand itself, Jessica relied on what her backyard supplied: Her property featured two trees that faced each other, perfect for the job of stringing up a projector screen, hammock, or clothesline. Of course, handy homeowners looking to re-create the project, but short a pair of trees, can sub in anything sturdy and available—like a fence post or deck railing—for the screen support.

After she determined the aspect ratio she wanted for her screen and what that meant for dimensions, she assembled a rectangular frame from 1×4 boards. Then Jessica stretched her fabric taut over the frame and secured it with staples—first across the top and bottom, then the sides, and finally in the corners—for a smooth, wrinkle-free viewing surface. Three screw hooks fastened to the top of the lightweight frame allow it to hang from a curtain-hanging wire suspended between the two tree trunks. As an extra precaution against windy days, Jessica drilled an eye bolt into each trunk a few inches lower than the base of the screen, threaded a set of bungee cords through them, and tethered the cords to the bottom corners of the frame. Once everything was secure, Jessica went back to enjoying blockbuster entertainment, now in the comfort of her own private theater—minus the long lines and loud teenagers.

FOR MORE: Running with Scissors



The Dos and Don’ts of Deck Maintenance

Heed these best (and worst) practices when it comes to cleaning up and caring for your wooden deck, and you'll be able to enjoy your outdoor living room for seasons to come.

Deck Maintenance - Backyard Wooden Deck


A deck is a plein-air addition to your home. Like the space inside your residence, it needs regular cleaning and maintenance to remain habitable and safe. Decks made of composites require less maintenance than wooden decks, but there’s no such thing as a self-cleaning deck or a deck that lasts forever. By doing what’s good for the wood and avoiding what’s not, however, you’ll get more life from your outdoor living space.

DO clean the deck thoroughly once a year.

Your deck needs an annual exfoliation so protective sealers can seep deeper into the wood. When it’s dry and moderately warm—60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit—apply an appropriate deck-cleaning solution with a roller or sprayer to kill mold and bacteria. Use a utility brush to scrub the deck where it’s especially dirty and where mold or mildew might lurk. (Power washers and pressure washers are the quickest way to clear residue, but you risk gouging the wood. A garden hose outfitted with any nozzle that has a hard-stream setting will work; a “fireman” nozzle, found in auto-parts stores, delivers an intense spray without the risks associated with a pressure washer.)


DON’T go overboard with the high-powered washer.

The power or pressure washer is a time- and labor-saving tool, but in unsteady hands, it can make your deck look like wood-boring beetle larvae have been at work. Sweep the nozzle along the wood grain at a slight angle about 8 inches from the deck surface. Move the nozzle at all times while the trigger is engaged.

Deck Maintenance - Refinishing Wooden Deck



DO cover nearby shrubbery before you begin.

The chemicals in cleaners and sealers can harm or kill plants that are hit with overspray. Cover all nearby vegetation with a tarp or plastic sheet before you start, but drape it loosely to allow air circulation.


DON’T clean the deck with chlorine bleach.

Unless, of course, you don’t mind stripping the wood of its natural color and damaging its cellular structure. Oxygen bleach is an all-purpose alternative that won’t wash out colors or harm plants, but it’s still not appropriate for redwood.


DO sand your deck before sealing.

It can take up to 48 hours for the deck to fully dry. At that point, lightly sand the surface to remove splintery or fuzzy patches caused by pressure-washing the deck. A pole sander with 80-grit sandpaper will suffice; a power sander is overkill. Then seal the deck to protect from cracking, cupping, and warping. A clear sealer lasts longer; a tinted stain or sealant fades quickly with lots of foot traffic.


DON’T use paint as a sealant.

Paint looks nice when it’s first applied, but it looks downright distressed before long. If you then decide to refinish the deck with an alternative sealant, you’ll need to first remove all the paint with a stripper or sander. Finishes that leave a film rather than penetrating the wood—including varnishes and lacquer—will peel and crack. Consider synthetic sealants, as some oil-based products attract mildew and algae. Semi-transparent finishes protect the deck from sun damage and add color to the wood if that’s important to you.


Deck Maintenance - Power Washing Wooden Deck


DO clean the deck at routine intervals.

The room and walls of your home protect its interior from rain, snow, sun, and wind, but the uncovered deck endures whatever Nature delivers. Prevent water damage throughout the season—and during the off-season—by regularly sweeping away puddled water, leaves, branches, and other debris. Use a plastic shovel if you get more snow than a push broom can handle.


DON’T assume that pressure-treated wood is maintenance-free.

It might resist rot and insect infestation, but pressure-treated wood still needs to be cleaned and sealed to withstand water and solar damage. Use products made for pressure-treated wood.


DO be vigilant about damage.

Inspect periodically for soft or splintered spots, loose nails and deck attachments, and split or rotten planks. Promptly fix any damage that presents a health or safety hazard. Complete other repairs before your annual deep-clean.


DON’T use natural materials under deck furniture.

Protect the wood deck from scrapes inflicted by chair and table legs, but don’t use rugs made of natural fibers such as jute and bamboo: These absorb moisture and promote mildew. Rugs made of recycled plastics won’t cause these problems, and they’ll last longer.

Genius! The Easy Way to Add Privacy to a Chain-Link Fence

If you're stuck with a chain-link fence, you can DIY your way to better backyard privacy in a day. Here's what you'll need to upgrade your space—and create a peaceful hangout spot for friends and family.



Chain-link fences have bordered American yards for more than a century, and with good reason—they’re cheap, easy to install, and durable. But the steel perimeter’s signature open weave left renter and Smile and Wave blogger, Rachel Denbow, feeling exposed to nosy neighbors and passing cars. The problem wasn’t just people looking in, either; it was what she saw looking out. Everyday eyesores like overgrown weeds, parked cars, and trash cans at the curb dominated her dreary view, and gave the whole space an unwelcoming vibe. So, Rachel turned to the inspiration-laden social platform Pinterest to research a simple privacy solution, and devised her own affordable, renter-friendly fix.

Crafting her custom wooden privacy panel only took some 6-foot-long cedar boards, 1×3 lumber, and a pair of metal pipe straps. Rachel first laid two cedar planks on the ground horizontally, separated so that outer edge to outer edge measured roughly four inches taller than the height of the existing chain-link fence—enough to hide it completely. Once aligned, she perpendicularly placed two 1×3s across the boards (one about 4 inches in from either edge) and secured the pieces together with nails. After checking that the structure squared up with the fence, Rachel strengthened the frame with a few extra nails and filled in the center with the rest of the cedar boards, all equally spaced.

Panel complete, all it took were a couple of pipe straps fastened to the wood to hang the project from the metal fence lip. Her hanging solution caused zero damage to the unsightly existing structure (should she ever need to take the piece off) and cost less than a full fence installation! More than adding privacy to an open space, the horizontal boards in this clever cover-up also add a fresh, modern twist on traditional fencing. For the low cost of a few wood boards and fasteners, it’s a simple DIY that will transform your bleak backyard into an outdoor oasis.

FOR MORE: Smile and Wave



Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to DIY a Fence Gate

Still on the fence about whether to replace your weathered, style-devoid gate? These DIY yard entrances will make your decision—and the process of building them—unbelievably easy!


Adding a fence to your property provides a simple solution for shutting out unwanted animals and nosy neighbors from either front- or backyard. But designing a fence gate that balances the need for privacy with a level of curb appeal that won’t deter the invited guests can be a challenge. These easy-to-build, do-it-yourself fence gates accomplish just that, granting privacy and protection while still enhancing your home’s exterior from any vantage point.



DIY Fence Gate - White Picket Fence Gate


If you’ve always dreamed of a white picket fence, ’tis the season to make it a reality—starting with this white picket fence gate from Fry Sauce and Grits. Roll up your sleeves and dig two, 2-foot-deep holes for the fence gate, filling them with pebbles before inserting pre-cut and painted white fence posts. Stylish, black gate hardware complement the row of matching fence pickets for a striking visual contrast.



DIY Fence Gate - Garden Arbor Gate


To turn an ordinary driveway into a shady, garden alcove, look no further than this affordable arbor concept. Following the adaptable plans of the makers at Smart Girls DIY, cut pressure-treated wood planks for the arbor posts, headers, and arches. After planting the posts—filling in with gravel beneath for drainage—attach the headers and arches with deck screws. Finish by adjoining a short, fanciful wooden gate that repeats the curves in your arbor for an even more enchanting entrance for guests.



DIY Fence Gate - Tall Wooden Garden Gate


This tall and narrow backyard gate featured on Black and Decker boasts a pricey professional quality, but you can make it cheaply—and easily—with this tutorial. Referencing a sketched diagram of your fence-gate-to-be, cut lumber planks for the door-size frame and arches, and deckboards (with their already smoothed and rounded edges) for the gate’s wood panels. Once the joinery is assembled with glue and screws, attach the deckboards to the frame, hang the finished gate with heavy-duty gate hinges, and swing the door open to let in the fun!



DIY Fence Gate - Repurposed Garden Tools as Gate


Transforming a closed and forbidding garden fence into an inviting entryway is as simple as opening your mind—and the door to your shed—to the decorative touch of unused tools lying in your shed. Like the blogger at Montana Wildlife Gardener, tear down your existing fence gate, reserving its wooden boards and screws to erect a new frame. After adorning with a crisscrossed menagerie of repurposed garden tools—from shovels to rakes—your re-tooled garden gate is ready to open wide!



DIY Fence Gate - Horizontal Wood Slat Gate


Faced with a weather-worn gate that has begun to sag? The bloggers at The Cavender Diary turned to a handy fence gate kit for a structural face lift. You, too, can rely on something similar from your local home improvement store to aid you in your DIY project! Once you’ve picked up a starter set, remove the slats from the original frame and set aside to reuse. Then cut pressure-treated 2×4s to create a new, sturdier, rectangular frame, and assemble the planks flat on the ground using the kit’s brackets. Hang the fence frame in place of the old gate, re-attach the saved slats, and stain for a finished look that’s equal parts vibrant and natural.

How To: Kill Grass

If your lawn isn’t thriving and you're looking for a way to replace or get rid of it altogether, banish the grass blades for good with any of these smart solutions.

How to Kill Grass - Dying Lawn


Grass can be great—when it’s like lush, lovely lot-to-lot carpeting beneath your feet. Flawless grass can be a pain to maintain, though, especially if you’re affected by less-than-ideal climate or watering limitations; more often, you’re left with an eyesore of a lawn, plagued by weeds or patchy spots. Fortunately, if you’d like to remove your lawn, you’ve got a variety of solutions to choose from. Just be sure to check what restrictions your homeowners’ association or municipality may have on the use of certain equipment or herbicides, should you choose to go that route.

- Lawn mower
- Plastic sheeting
- Bricks
- Newspaper
- Mulch
- Herbicide
- Tiller
- Shovel
- Trowel-type rake

How to Kill Grass - Dry Patchy Lawn


Use Solar Power
For totally natural, reliable lawn removal, consider solarization. Check the weather forecast for a string of sunny days. Then, mow the grass as close to the ground as possible. Water the lawn to the point of saturation and cover it promptly with clear, plastic sheeting, held in place at the edges with bricks, cement blocks, planters—anything heavy enough to keep it from blowing away. The heat of the sun does the rest, effectively “sweating” or “cooking” your grass to death in about six to eight weeks.

Smother It
Can’t depend on the sun? Try smothering, also known as layering or composting, to lose your lawn. This method is especially popular for banishing a small lawn or a section of a larger one. Begin with a close mow, and then cover the patch with several layers of overlapped newspaper or cardboard. Wet it all down and top with a layer of grass clippings or mulch. The technique prevents light from getting through, so no photosynthesis can occur. Unwanted grass will be gone in about eight weeks and, if curb appeal is a concern, the mulched area may be considered less unsightly than plastic sheeting. Plus, as the paper breaks down, it boosts soil quality—great if you intend to plant in the area.

Get Help from Herbicides
Treating grass with an herbicide such as Roundup will kill it in as little as two weeks. Or try Ortho Grass B Gon, which was designed not to spare surrounding plants. Note that herbicides generally need repeated applications to get the job done. Consult a pro at your local nursery for advice on which herbicide to use, and be sure to follow directions carefully to ensure safety.

Dig It Up
If you don’t want to wait weeks, you can banish grass with basic garden tools—plus some elbow grease—in one fell swoop. Just take care to locate any underground irrigation areas to avoid before any digging begins. If you’ve got a small grassy area, break it up with a hand tiller; for a larger lawn, you’d be wise to rent a heavy-duty tiller. Once it’s been thoroughly tilled, use a wood-handled, medium-sized shovel to break apart and scoop up large sections. After all the grass is gone, go back over the area with a trowel-type rake to round up any rocks that may be present.


So what about the technique of killing grass with boiling water or vinegar? Both can be effective—but only on weeds. The methods detailed above will give you a grass-free zone for a garden, hardier plants, or hardscaping. And you’ll get to enjoy a no-mow summer!

Solved! When to Fertilize the Lawn

Here’s how we advised one reader to turn over a new leaf this year by transforming last year’s brown lawn into a verdant, green oasis.

When to Fertilize Lawn


Q: Help! Last year our lawn looked a little too brown for my liking. When should I fertilize our grass to ensure a lush, green lawn this year and the next?

When to Fertilize Lawn - Types of Fertilizer


A: As the saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” But if this year you want that green lawn on your side, fertilizer can be an effective ally. Generally speaking, you should fertilize your lawn at least twice a year to ensure good overall health and keep your grass looking its greenest. But if you fertilize at the wrong time or over treat your lawn, you could encourage weed growth or possibly burn the grass. To avoid damaging your lawn, before you begin a fertilizing routine consider this rule of thumb: The best time to fertilize is when your grass is actively growing—and this, in turn, is determined by where you live and what type of grass you have. So, to figure out when you should fertilize, you need to know your grass type, your growing zone, and the best fertilizer for the job.

The first step is to identify your grass type. Within the United States, there are two types of grasses: warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. As well, a large cross section of grasses are considered transitional, which means that they can be grown successfully in the central portion of the country, a region that is typically too warm for cool-season grasses and too cool for warm-season grasses. Your fertilization schedule will depend on the type of grass you have, but remember that it takes constant commitment to any routine to guarantee year-after-year success.

• Cool-season grasses are prevalent in the northern parts of the United States, and varieties like Kentucky bluegrass, tall and fine fescues, and ryegrass are the most common. Cool-season grasses prefer lower temperatures and have two peak growing periods: one in the early spring, just after winter dormancy, and another in the early fall. High summer temperatures and lack of water may cause cool-weather grasses to go dormant until chilly temps arrive and water is more readily available.

• Warm-season grasses thrive in the southern region of the United States. These grasses are tropical in origin and benefit from warm temperatures, which means that midsummer is their ideal growing season. These grasses are tough, and they form a thick lawn cover that becomes denser over time. The four major types of warm-season grasses are Bermuda grass, centipede grass, St. Augustine grass, kikuyu grass, and zoysia grass.

• If you live in a transitional zone, you may have a combination of warm- and cool-season grasses that will require different care at different times. A clue to figuring out your grass type is to keep a lookout for how your lawn behaves. Warm-season grasses will turn brown after the first frost, while cool-season grasses will generally stay green all year long in the cool and transitional zones. They will not, however, survive the summer months if the temperatures become excessively high.

Once you identify your lawn type, you can figure out when to feed your grass. Each type of grass has its own growing season and requires a different fertilizing schedule.

• The primary growing period for cool-season grasses is during the spring and fall when average temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure optimal health, fertilize heavily in the fall and lightly in early spring. You can choose either slow- or quick-release fertilizer types, but be sure to apply the treatment before the temperatures peak in summer when these grasses will most likely go dormant. Cool-season grasses need only one to two pounds of nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 1,000 square feet per year. As you’re planning out your lawn-care routine, note that there are special winter fertilizers available at your local gardening center that are formulated to help protect your grass during the cold months.

• The optimal growing period for warm-season grasses is late spring and summer, when temperatures average 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. As growth may begin below or above this temperature range, keep an eye on your lawn and apply the fertilizer just as the grass starts turning green in the spring. Warm-season grasses should be fed three to four pounds of nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn per year. You can choose between slow- or quick-release fertilizer types, but be sure the application is fully absorbed before the onset of high temperatures. After applying the fertilizer, water the grass thoroughly, washing the grains off the blades of grass and into the soil to be sure that the soil fully absorbs the treatment. Apply a second round of fertilizer once the peak summer heat has passed.


Additional Tips for a Lush, Green Lawn

• Avoid applying nitrogen-rich fertilizer when your lawn is dormant. Nitrogen, a key component of fertilizer, contains a growth stimulant that could increase unwanted weed growth if applied during dormancy. If you’ve endured a long winter and the grass is not yet growing, don’t be afraid to delay your scheduled treatment.

• Read the label before buying fertilizer to find out how long it is formulated to last. Some time-released brands will slowly distribute nutrients over a two- to eight-month period, so leave sufficient time between applications to avoid over fertilization, which could damage your lawn.

• Avoid fertilizing your lawn during periods of drought. Most fertilizers need several waterings to soak into the soil, and allowing the fertilizer to sit on top of the lawn could burn the grass. If you intend to feed your lawn in August and there are watering restrictions in place due to drought, you may want to delay the application until the cooler weather arrives.

Bob Vila Radio: Choose the Right Fuel for Your Fire Pit

Fire pits vary widely in design and sophistication, running the gamut from a simple hole in the ground to sculptural, push-button units involving no wood whatsoever. Read on for details on the myriad options on the market today.


A fire pit introduces a festive yet intimate feeling to any outdoor living area, and perhaps best of all, there are countless appealing designs that are readily available.

Types of Fire Pits


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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIRE PIT FUELS or read the text below:

That said, you may not want to choose a fire pit based only on looks. There are a range of different fuel types to consider, each featuring its own set of pros and cons.

A traditional wood-burning fire pits produces the most heat and therefore can double as an outdoor grill, if desired. The downside is that seasoned hardwood can be pricey and to remain usable in the near term, it must be stored out of the rain. Also, wood-burning fire pits generate smoke and sparks, and while you may have assumed that any fire pit would do so, that’s no longer the case.

Natural gas fire pits light up instantaneously, at the push of a button, and they are smokeless. However, because they require a gas line, such units are not portable. Also, depending on how you intend to use your fire pit, it’s worth noting that gas models produce less heat than their wood-burning cousins.

A third option is propane, which offers the convenience and smokeless operation of natural gas, but with the important exception that, since the fuel comes in small tank, propane pits are easy to move. You must refill the tank, of course, when it runs out, and to some homeowners, the tanks themselves are not so nice to look at.

Clean-burning ethanol gel fire pits are the most environmentally friendly choice, but they are also the most expensive. Also, since ethanol gel fire pits deliver the lowest heat output of all, meaning that for any purpose other than creating a glowing ambiance, you’re better off with another type.

No matter which type of fire pit you favor, be sure to check local fire ordinances before purchasing and using your choice.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

How To: Get Rid of Gophers

Don’t let a gopher get the best of you or your backyard! Learn how to get rid of gophers and keep them away with several simple solutions.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Rodents

Photo: via Mechanoid Dolly

Even if you’re not an avid cultivator of prized begonias or caretaker of an expensive golf course like Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack, having a gopher in your yard can still put a damper on your lush landscape. But these merely scratch the surface of what damage the critters can do. While these small, vegetarian, half-blind rodents seem fairly harmless, they didn’t earn their pest classification by just disrupting a little soil.

Gophers are very territorial and solitary, so you’ll rarely get more than one critter per acre, but even the one can do a fair amount of damage: He can dig up 10 to 30 mounds of dirt in your yard every month, eating through roots, vegetables, stems, and just about anything else in its underground path—edible or not. That includes tree roots and utility lines, both with the potential to cause a lot of damage. Their network of tunnels provide sinkholes in your yard that are as potentially dangerous for pedestrians as they are unsightly. And they’re trouble for other nearby animals: Like all wild rodents, gophers tend to carry lice, fleas, ticks, and mites, and often pass those along to pets who spend time in your yard. Plus, the presence of a gopher can encourage other unwanted guests—predators like weasels, skunks, and snakes—to visit your yard looking for a quick meal. The best thing to do as soon as you discover a gopher in your yard is act swiftly to get rid of it with one of these three efficient methods.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Mounds


1. Live Trapping
Live traps (as well as poison traps, which are detailed below) are non-labor-intensive ways to effectively remove a gopher from your lawn. More than just the least involved method, trapping is overall the most effective way to get rid of gophers or other rodent intruders. You can pick up a live trap at your local hardware store or purchase one online. Place it near the entrance of the burrow, with or without some lettuce or peanut butter inside (alas, experts aren’t convinced that baiting the trap significantly increases your chances of trapping the little varmints). Once a gopher has been caught, you will need to fill the tunnels and repair the holes to discourage new gophers from moving into their vacated burrows.

2. Repellent
For removal that’s a little more humane, you may want to send the gophers packing on their own using repellent. First, plan an exit route you hope they follow out and away from your property. Then, place castor oil pellets, peppermint oil, and even fabric softener sheets in the burrows nearest your house to start. One or two days later, place additional repellent in burrows further out—and closer to your desired exit point at the far edge of your yard. This will push the gophers away from the source and out. Gophers may also be turned off by pet waste or fish scraps placed in their tunnels, if you’d prefer to use waste you have on hand. The major downside to rodent repellents is that they likely won’t drive gophers far enough out—if you have close neighbors, you can guess where the rodents might move next.

3. Poison
Disguised as a tasty grain to attract gophers and other outdoor rodents, poisonous gopher bait will often utilize a toxic chemical like zinc phosphide. (Avoid any that list strychnine on the label as an active ingredient, because this poison remains in the gopher’s system and may poison any predator who feasts on a poisoned gopher’s remains.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely, and deposit the appropriate amount at the burrow entrance using a dispenser probe, which can be purchased at the same time you’re picking up the poison. While poison is easy and efficient to administer, it does cause potential hazard to pets and children, so consider carefully before using them on your property.

The Undesirables: Flooding and Fumigating
Though it sometimes get the job done, flooding gopher tunnels with water not only harms the lawn, but it also won’t guarantee an evacuation. Water simply loosens the dirt, making your land easier to tunnel through. Until the water recedes, the gopher can easily retreat to higher ground and wait it out.

More ideas that aren’t worth the time effort: Fumigating (smoking gophers out with the exhaust from a lawn mower or blower) or blowing up the holes. Aside from being downright dangerous, these methods will cause more harm to your lawn than even the most active burrowing gopher. Often, gophers will seal themselves in a tunnel and wait out the fumes anyway.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Hole


Gone for Good
After attempting one of the three extermination methods, check to see if the gophers have packed up and moved on by poking a hole into one of the burrows. If after a few days the hole stays open, your guests are gone! Your work isn’t quite over, though: Once they’ve left, make sure they’re gone for good with a few precautionary measures. Start by planting natural gopher-repellent plants such as natal plum, lavender, salvia, catmint, oleander, penstemons, rhaphiolepis, rosemary, and/or strawberries. If you tend to a flower or vegetable garden, dig a trench around the plot and bury a wire mesh screen (hardware cloth) in it to prevent burrowing. Finally, if extra concerned, place a solar- or battery-powered ultrasonic emitter in your yard to keep gophers and any other rodents at bay. The device, staked in the ground above the surface, creates vibrations small enough for humans to miss but big enough to annoy small pests. This trifecta of—repellent plants, a trench, and an emitter—can ensure your unwelcome guests don’t return, leaving your yard low-maintenance and critter-free!

How To: Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades

Sharp blades all season long will provide the cutting edge needed to guarantee a healthy, green lawn this year.

How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades - Lawn Mower


At the start of growing season, part of the necessary prep every homeowner with hopes of a greener yard tacks (or should tack) onto his to-do list involves the cleaning and sharpening of the lawn mower blades. If the blades are left dull, each afternoon spent mowing only rips and chews the grass. Coarse-cut grass doesn’t just look bad; it’s also more vulnerable to pests, disease, and drought.

While old-fashioned cylinder or reel mowers—those with a cutting bar and multiple-blade assembly that cuts forward as the operator pushes it—likely need professional servicing, the more typical gas- or electric-powered rotary mower can be taken care of in a do-it-yourself fashion. These utilize a single blade that spins horizontally around a vertical spindle—easy to remove and maintain at home. If yours is a riding lawn mower, you’re in luck, too: These machines typically have two rotary blades, which can be removed and sharpened just the same. Read on for how to care for your largest landscaping tool, and you’ll reap the benefits of a clean-cut all season long.

- Work gloves
- Socket wrench
- Scraper
- Vise
- Safety glasses
- Bastard-cut mill file, power drill with sharpening stone attachment, or rotary grinder
- Bucket of water (if using grinder)
- Blade balancer

Even a dull blade can mangle your hands, so first disconnect the spark-plug wire and put on a pair of work gloves. Then, flip the mower over, spark-plug side up. Holding one side of the blade to keep it from moving, loosen the blade’s mounting nut using your socket wrench.

Clean the blade with a scraper and assess its condition. If rocks, branches, and other debris have inflicted deep nicks, you’ll want to replace it. Otherwise, gather the tools you need to sharpen it manually or mechanically.

At this point, you have a few options for how to proceed.

To sharpen the blade manually, clamp it horizontally in a vise and run a bastard-cut mill file along the cutting edge, using a one-way down stroke. Follow the existing angle (usually 45 degrees, but you can refer to your owner’s manual for the ideal angle) until the blade has the sharpness of a butter knife. Aim to remove an equal amount of metal from the cutting edge of both ends of the blade. Tip: Counting strokes may help you keep track.

A faster technique involves a power drill with a sharpening stone attachment. Clamp the blade—cutting side up—in a vise. Secure the sharpening stone in the drill; the stone’s plastic guide should rest against the rear of the blade to ensure the proper cutting angle. Put on safety glasses, turn on the drill, and move the stone from the center of the blade to the tip.

The fastest way to sharpen the blade is with a bench grinder. With this method, you’ll need to be careful not to oversharpen the blade or remove too much metal. Oversharpening creates a thin edge, which is easy to damage, and removing too much metal shortens the life of the blade. Hold the blade perpendicular to the rotating wheel as you move it along the cutting edge at the angle of the existing bevel. This throws sparks, so be sure to wear safety glasses. If the blade gets too hot, dip it in a bucket of water to cool it.

Check the blade’s balance before remounting it, because a lopsided blade will wobble and overtax the mower’s engine. Set a blade balancer on a flat surface and rest the blade on the balancer using the center hole. If the blade dips, use the file, sharpening stone, or grinder to remove metal from the back edge—not the cutting edge—of the heavier side toward the end of the blade.

You can also check the balance by hanging the blade on a wall from a nail through its center hole. If the blade tilts to one side, remove material from that side.

Reinstall the blade, reconnect the spark-plug wire, and get to work!

How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades


3 Fixes for an Icy Walk and Driveway

Use these three slick solutions to deice your walkway and stop winter weather slips and falls in their tracks!

How to Remove Ice from Driveway - Snow-Cleared Driveway


Snow days may be cause for celebration, but the party comes to a screeching halt when you shovel your snowy walkway only to discover a treacherous layer of ice beneath it—an accident just waiting to happen. Though conventional wisdom may lead you to throw salt on the problem, resist. While the salt will speed melting, when that water refreezes, the corrosive effect of salt may crack and damage the concrete. Instead, use any of these three non-damaging solutions to quickly and safely deal with that sheet of ice on your shoveled walk or driveway.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Rubbing Alcohol

Photo: via directrelief

You may have noticed alcohol listed as an ingredient on the packaging of many commercial deicers. That’s because standard 70 percent rubbing alcohol solution has an extremely low freezing point, making it an ideal deicer. The lower the freezing point, the less likely it will be that your accumulated precipitation will again congeal into a hazardous skating rink.

This season, rather than picking up another pack of store-bought deicer, save some money and avoid lines at the hardware store by pouring rubbing alcohol onto icy areas on the walkway. Or, for a solution you can stow away year-round, combine two parts rubbing alcohol with one part warm water in a spray bottle. Spritz the solution liberally onto the surface of your walkway or driveway to coat—and gradually melt—the ice.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Magnesium Chloride


Magnesium chloride is a household staple for many Northeasterners, and for good reason: It can effectively melt ice at a temperature of about -15 degrees Celsius and can tackle moderate to significant ice accumulations with relative ease. In addition, magnesium chloride offers a more environmentally friendly and pet-friendly alternative to its counterpart, calcium chloride.

For optimal results, purchase magnesium chloride in pellet rather than flake form. Disperse the pellets by hand over icy paths until they are roughly uniform in distribution. As the magnesium chloride pellets penetrate the ice, the chemical components will melt it—and your winter worries—away.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Cat Litter


For homeowners with pets, the cat is out of the bag that kitty litter is an effective way to avert slips, falls, and other wintry spills. While kitty litter isn’t actually a deicer, it helps create friction so you can gain traction over slippery surfaces.

If you’re flying out the door and can’t wait around for the ice to melt, toss a fair amount of non-clumping kitty litter by hand over an icy sidewalk or in the furrows left by the tire treads in your driveway. With these granules laid out, you’ll gain firmer footing on the treacherous ice. You don’t have a cat in the house or you’re out of kitty litter? Substitute other gritty materials that you happen to have on hand, such as sand, wood chips, sawdust, or fireplace ash. Not only will the path forward be less slippery, but your shed will be free of clutter!