Category: Lawn & Garden

Genius! The $0 Sled You Can Build in 10 Minutes

Celebrate snow days in style with this free, compact, and reusable sled.



For kids, nothing beats the thrill of the first snowy day of the season. While they get busy building a snowman, you can whip up a DIY sled fast out of nothing more than the remnants of holiday shopping and a roll of duct tape. It’s no saucer sled from the Griswold family vacation, but, if you have a sloping backyard or a hilly park nearby, it’ll keep them busy for hours—while you get some well-deserved rest and relaxation inside.

After a move from southern California to Seattle, the crafty mom behind Artzy Creations didn’t have much in the way of winter gear. Storebought sleds and toboggans get the job done, but they also hog valuable real estate in the garage during spring, summer, and fall. So DIYer Melanie Artz decided to design sleds for her two little ones based on what she had available aplenty: cardboard boxes leftover from her move. It turns out that a box that measures at least 16 inches long creates a pretty perfect kid-size seat when opened up.

So she folded each flattened box in half to make a toy sturdy enough for use in the snow, then taped along the sides. A scissors-cut hole at one end of the sled offers a handle for riders to hold on the way down the hill and carry the creation back to the top again. Most importantly, though, Melanie wrapped more tape around the entire body of the sled to keep the cardboard structure from getting soaked and soggy after hours of play in the wet snow. Her tip for those kids with a need for speed: Stick the tape on lengthwise, from front to back rather than side to side, to reduce friction encountered while sliding downhill. A nice bonus? The racing stripe design really transforms this simple sled into a speedy thrill ride.

FOR MORE: Artzy Creations






Quick Tip: Speed Up Snow Shoveling with Cooking Spray

This winter, stop shoveling snow from the driveway at a glacial pace. Call a culinary companion to your rescue using this time-saving trick.

Easy Snow Removal - Use Cooking Spray


Winter’s first snowfall is greeted with open arms for affording fun-filled activities like bobsledding, skiing, and building snowmen. But the persistent precipitation soon outstays its welcome, piling up on your entryway, car, and—most irksome—your driveway. To rid your hardscape of the fluff means embarking on the tedious, finger-numbing task of shoveling snow for hours on end. The kicker? The payoff of all that work lasts only until the next snowfall. Fortunately, you can spare time and your back by adding a dash of genius and a splash of cooking spray to your annual shoveling ritual.

Easy Snow Removal - The Trick for Your Shovel


When Old Man Winter beckons you to leave the comfort of your warm bed to shovel the driveway before the day’s work, head to the shed to collect a plastic or metal snow shovel. Then, before pounding the pavement of the driveway, make a beeline for the kitchen to grab a can of non-stick cooking spray—any variety of oil will do. Generously coat both the front and back of the shovel blade with the cooking spray.

Just as cooking spray acts as a lubricant and emulsifier that prevents food residue from adhering to pots and pans, so too does it work its magic on the shovel by keeping snow and ice from sticking to the blade. Rather than struggling to dislodge snow with each successive lift of the shovel, the oil allows you to slide the heftiest precipitation off the shovel blade quickly and easily. So stock up on a few extra cans at the supermarket before you have the chance to get snowed in, and you and your pristine driveway will be the envy of the neighborhood!

Buyer’s Guide: Best Leaf Blowers

Don't let leaves wreak havoc on your lawn! If you take a little time now to choose the right leaf blower for your yard, you'll be able to breeze through your pesky fall maintenance in the months to come.

Best Leaf Blowers


In many parts of the country, ’tis the time for trees to start showing signs of crimson and gold. Yet while fall foliage is beautiful on the trees, it’s much less attractive when it’s littering your lawn. Resist the rake! This backbreaking chore makes you stiff and sore, then saddles you with bags full of leaves to haul away. This year, why not use a leaf blower to make short work of all that seasonal litter? There are a wide variety of styles and sizes of leaf blowers on the market today, ranging from light-duty handheld units to heavyweight professional-grade models. Read on to learn about the different types of leaf blowers and their relative strengths so you can hone in on the best blower for your lawn-care needs.

Best Leaf Blowers - Yardwork


Size: Small, handheld leaf blowers—usually sporting a shoulder strap—are suitable for homeowners who have an average-size suburban lot and a few trees. Larger, backpack-style models are ideal for those with bigger properties or yards with many trees. Wheeled, walk-behind blowers are generally used by the pros or by homeowners with a substantial amount of wooded property. It is important to take the total weight of the blower into account before purchasing—while a larger model may be more powerful, it will probably also be more unwieldy.


Power: Leaf blowers are rated by cubic feet per minute (CFM), a measurement of the volume of air that is pushed through the unit. Blowers with higher CFM ratings can move more leaves at a faster rate. Another important rating, the power output of a leaf blower, is measured in cubic centimeters (cc) for gasoline-powered motors; amps (A) for corded electric blowers; and volts (V) for cordless, battery-powered blowers. Miles-per-hour (MPH) ratings, yet another indication of a blower’s power, measure the speed at which air exits the unit.


Fuel Type: There are three different types of power systems for leaf blowers:

- Gasoline: Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are typically the most powerful—ideal for properties of a quarter acre or more—and come in two-cycle or four-cycle engines. Two-cycle engines run on a blend of oil and gasoline, and offer a good balance between power and weight; four-cycle engines run on gasoline alone but tend to be heavier than two-cycle engines and also require regular oil changes. Note that these models produce exhaust that contains carbon monoxide and other pollutants and therefore should always be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated space.

- Corded Electric: Corded electric units are lightweight, portable, and quieter than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Light-duty electric sweepers can handle driveways, decks, and patios, while higher-powered electric blowers can take on yards up to a quarter of an acre. Corded electric blowers provide steady power without the weight of a battery; however, because the cord restricts mobility, they are used primarily for small yards or areas near the house.

- Battery-Powered: Showcasing many of the same advantages as an electric model, cordless battery-powered blowers also offer excellent mobility. The batteries, however, add a little weight and need to be recharged periodically. Some cordless leaf blowers use batteries that are interchangeable with other power equipment or accessories, including string trimmers, hedge trimmers, and chain saws. If you have several such battery-powered tools, or if you have a particularly large lawn, it may be in your best interest to keep some extra batteries on hand.


Noise: The most frequent complaint about leaf blowers is that they are noisy. Many gasoline-powered models emit 90 to 102 decibels during use; electric and battery-powered units typically range from 65 to 78 decibels. Some local municipalities have enacted laws capping leaf blower noise at 65 or 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet away, so it might be a good idea to check your local ordinances before purchasing a leaf blower. A unit with variable speed settings, which allow you to adjust the airflow and movement of debris, can also help with noise control. Always wear eye and ear protection and a dust mask while operating a leaf blower.


Accessories: A vacuum and/or shredding or mulching attachment is a highly desirable feature that enables you to shred leaves so they can be used as mulch in garden beds, thereby reducing yard waste. Some vacuum-capable models include larger-diameter chutes or tubes that help collect leaves. Reduction ratios—such as 10:1 or 16:1—indicate the number of bags of leaves that a blower with mulching capabilities can reduce to one bag.


While there are a tremendous number of leaf blowers available, both in stores and online, we’ve done our homework to narrow the field for you. Taking into consideration the criteria listed above as well as reviews from actual users like yourself and ratings from leading consumer testing sites, we identified the top-rated leaf blowers on the market today, one in each category: gas-powered, battery-powered, and handheld.


Husqvarna 350BT 50.2cc 2-Cycle X-Torq Gas-Powered 180 MPH Midsize Backpack

Best Leaf Blowers - Husqvarana


This powerhouse received a whopping 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, praised by many owners for its ease of use. In the words of one reviewer: “The time we save clearing leaves makes me wish we’d bought it a long time ago.” This gas-powered blower has a 50cc, two-stroke, CARB-compliant motor rated at slightly over two horsepower, ideal for large yards with many trees. It’s rated at more than 690 CFM but has a somewhat high noise rating of 104 decibels—although at 50 feet away, the decibel rating falls below 70, making it compliant with noise ordinances in many municipalities. Weighing in at 22.5 pounds, the Husqvarna distributes its weight evenly for a comfortable afternoon of yard cleanup through its supportive backpack and wide shoulder straps. Available on Amazon; $320.


Toro 51609 12-amp Variable-Speed (up to 235) Ultra Blower Vac

Best Leaf Blowers - Toro


The Toro was rated as the “Best Bang for Your Buck” by and received 4.3 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The electric-powered Toro 51609 Ultra boasts a 12-amp motor with a variable-speed control conveniently mounted on top of the casing. Output ranges from a relatively gentle 112 MPH to a top-end figure of 235 MPH. The unit carries a rating of 390 CFM and a vacuuming and mulching ratio of 16:1. Plus, a quick-release latch lets you convert the blower into a vacuum in no time flat. At 67 decibels, the Toro falls within the noise restrictions of most municipalities, and the blower’s 7.5-pound weight makes it comfortable and easy to use. Available on Amazon; $90.


Black & Decker LSWV36 40V Lithium-Ion Sweeper/Vac

Best Leaf Blowers - Black and Decker


This battery-powered, cordless unit received the top-ranked Gold Award from for its efficient and easy-to-use design, and Amazon users appreciated that its battery life was “much better than expected.” The Black & Decker is powered by a 40-volt lithium-ion rechargeable battery and features variable speed options for maximum control. The blower is rated at 85 CFM and easily converts to vacuum mode. In addition, the blow tube has a built-in scraper to help remove leaves and debris from hard surfaces. Weighing in at 5.4 pounds, this blower is light enough for almost anyone to use for extended periods of time, and the electric motor is quieter than that of many other models. Available on Amazon; $143.

Bob Vila Radio: Sharpening Your Hedge Trimmer

Electric hedge trimmers are only as effective as their blades are sharp. Restore the original cutting power of the tool by taking the time to file down its now-dull cutting edges. Here's how.


Powered hedge trimmers are a tremendous time-saver for any homeowner who prefers to handle his own landscaping. But if the blades of the tool aren’t sharp, the hedge trimmer tears and shreds foliage instead of cutting it cleanly. Follow these simple steps to sharpen hedge trimmers safely.

How to Sharpen Hedge Trimmers


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Listen to BOB VILA ON SHARPENING HEDGE TRIMMERS or read the text below:

First, don a pair of gloves and protective goggles. After you’ve removed the bolts that hold the two blades together, clamp each blade, one at a time, into a bench vice. Next, run a metal file down each cutting edge, being sure to keep the file at the same angle as the cutting edge. Push the file in one direction only—not back and forth—and continue until the cutting edge looks shiny. To test for sharpness, draw the edge of a sheet of paper against the cutting edges. If they’re really sharp, the blades should slice the paper. Before reassembling the too, lightly coat the blades with linseed oil to protect against corrosion and preserve their useful lifespan.

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!

Bob Vila Radio: A Tidier Garden Hose

Forever prone to kinks and tangles, traditional garden hoses are a hassle to handle and store. Much more manageable by comparison, coiled hoses make for a tidy alternative, particularly for those who have smaller outdoor spaces to maintain.


Is your green thumb confined to a small space? If you’re watering window boxes, a container garden on your deck, or a tiny backyard oasis, then a coiled garden hose may be your best bet.

Coiled Garden Hoses


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Listen to BOB VILA ON COILED HOSES or read the text below:

What makes it a smart buy? For one thing, although it stretches to meet your needs, a coiled hose always returns to its tight, compact, spring-like original shape. Lightweight, durable, and, most importantly, kink-free, coiled hoses come in a variety of colors and lengths (most measure 15 or 25 feet long). Being half an inch in diameter, somewhat smaller than traditional hoses, the coiled variety come with reduced flow and pressure. But what draws people isn’t their performance—it’s their convenience. A word to the wise, though: Once you let go, these hoses quickly recoil, so be a bit careful about what you leave in its path.

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!

Fenway Park’s Groundskeeper Shares His Secrets to a Lush, Green Lawn

If you want a lawn as rich and beautiful as a major league ball field, check out these strategies for seeding, feeding, mowing, and more from the man responsible for the turf at one of the most gorgeous parks in the game!

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

David Mellor was on his way to an athletic scholarship and a promising pitching career when tragedy struck: He got hit by a car, sidelining his dream. Yet, Mellor still made it to the majors, turning his love of baseball into a horticultural art form—today he’s director of grounds for the Boston Red Sox. His amazing “striping” patterns give venerable Fenway Park its flawless look and feel, and he’s equally discriminating as a homeowner. “Your lawn makes that first impression of your property, so attention to detail matters for curb appeal,” Mellor says. Here, the author of Picture Perfect: Mowing Techniques for Lawns, Landscapes, and Sports and The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year gives you his five keys to home-turf advantage.

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park Head Groundskeeper David Mellor

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

1. Seed Like a Star
If your lawn is looking sparse, now’s the perfect time to fill it out by overseeding. “Fall gives the best root growth,” Mellor says, “because soil is warm, and while morning dew keeps it moist, that bit of frost will kill weed seed.” Start by buying quality seed appropriate for your site and growing zone; you’ll get better cultivars that are less disease susceptible. Next, Mellor advises roughing up the area with a hard-tooth rake. “Roots grow in the pores of soil, so loosening it up allows roots to reach down into the crevices,” he says. Toss seed as if you’re feeding chickens, or use a dimpled seeder to create, “a random pattern so grass won’t look like cornrows,” Mellor says. “Then, for all-important seed-soil contact, step on it or drive over it with the mower. This ensures seed won’t blow away, dry out, or get eaten by birds.”

2. Fertilize Strategically
The key to Fenway’s gorgeous turf is the potent combination of iron and manganese. “It gives us a dark green color without a flush of growth, which helps enhance striping,” Mellor reveals. Yet, while feeding your grass keeps it growing actively, every lawn has unique needs—and that’s where a soil test comes in. “Your grass is only as good as the soil below. Testing provides a nutrient and pH analysis, as well as recommendations for treating it,” says Mellor.

Search online for your county extension agent or go through a local university’s agriculture department to obtain this vital, inexpensive diagnostic. “Some folks think if a little bit’s good a lot must be better,” Mellor cautions, “but too much fertilizer makes your lawn disease-prone and can harm the environment.” Follow directions to the letter, keep your drop spreader functioning properly, and never allow fertilizer to run off, where it can get into the sewer system. Mellor’s tip: To ensure that product doesn’t drip, shut the unit off as you near the end of a row, then flip it back on after you turn around.

3. Time Your Watering Right
“The most common mistake people make is coming home from work and turning on the sprinkler,” Mellor observes. “Letting grass sit wet all night exacerbates dew-point conditions and sets you up for disease and mildew.” Mellor notes that the ideal watering time is between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.

“If you don’t have an irrigation system, get a timer that hooks to your spigot to turn the sprinkler on and off,” he suggests. The average lawn needs an inch of water a week (a bit more if soil is sandy), so measure your sprinkler output with this easy trick: Space several coffee cups across your lawn every few feet, crank the water for 10 minutes, then check the cups. The amount collected will help you determine how long to keep your sprinklers running in future for optimal watering.

Also bear in mind that different lawn locations may have different requirements. “Water a shaded area too much, and you open the door to disease, injury, and insects,” Mellor says. While a moisture meter monitors conditions at Fenway, he suggests homeowners simply dig into the lawn here and there with a small spade to get a feel for it.

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park on Game Day

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

4. Treat Weeds with Tolerance
In a shocking twist, Mellor says his favorite flower is the dandelion. “I once wanted a lawn like a pool table,” he admits. “Then I had two daughters, who taught me how beautiful dandelions are by how much fun they had picking bouquets and chasing each other while blowing the fluff.” While Mellor advises an easygoing attitude toward “out-of-place” plants, he still understands the desire for seamless green. “A healthy, actively growing lawn is your first line of defense against weeds,” he says. If they do pop up, he suggests digging them up, spot spraying, or pouring on some hot water and vinegar. “You don’t have to broadcast a chemical arsenal all over your lawn to get rid of a few weeds.”

5. Mow for Major Impact
For ideal conditions at Fenway, Mellor keeps the grass height at about an inch and a quarter. Home lawns should be longer, he advises, at two to two and a half inches tall. When mowing, never cut off more than one-third at a time. “With the one-third rule, you’ll never look like you’re baling hay out there,” Mellor says. “And it’s a myth that clippings cause thatch. At Fenway we collect them only around the edges of the infield, letting the majority recycle back into the field. Clippings keep your lawn from drying out, biodegrade into soil, and provide nitrogen for the grass.”

It’s also crucial for homeowners, who are bound to encounter the gamut from twigs to acorns to dog toys, to maintain sharp blades. “You wouldn’t shave with a dull razor,” Mellor reasons. “Dull blades fray the ends, making grass turn brown, stringy, and susceptible to disease.” Depending on lawn conditions, you may have to sharpen blades monthly or even weekly. Mellor’s tip for a little less work: “Consider investing in two or three sets of extra blades so you can leapfrog.”

DIY Kids: Build a Backyard Tire Swing

Up your backyard's game with an outdoor classic: the DIY tire swing. Follow these easy instructions to create seasons' worth of family fun, all in less than an hour.

DIY Tire Swing


There’s something so incredibly appealing about a simple tire swing. Whether it’s the freeing feeling of soaring through the air or the satisfaction of transforming an old, utilitarian hunk of rubber into backyard fun, kids and adults alike can’t help but be drawn to it. So then why not involve your little ones when setting up your own version? Materials for this project total somewhere between $60 to $100, depending on the length of chain you need and the type of hardware you buy, but rest assured: The many seasons of enjoyment to come will be well worth the cost.

This tire swing is a simple assembly project, so kids of all ages can help! The hardest part is ensuring all the hardware fits together properly: that the quick connector links you choose can accommodate the chains and swivel hardware that you want, and so on. If you buy pieces at more than one store, take whatever you can with you to test out how it connects with other supplies before purchasing—or be prepared to possibly exchange parts later for different sizes.


DIY Tire Swing - Project Supplies


- Sturdy tree branch
- Tire
- Drill with a bit that matches your eye bolt size (we used 5/16ths)
- Tape measure
- Chalk
- 3 eye bolts
- 6 nuts
- 6 lock washers
- 6 fender washers
- Pliers
- Adjustable wrench
- 3 4-foot lengths of swing set chain, vinyl coated to keep little fingers safe
- 4 quick connector links
- 1 swivel hook
- 1 steel snap
- 26-inch bicycle inner tube
- Scissors
- 12-foot steel-hardened chain (or less, depending on your tree height)

A note about hardware: Make sure all of your steel hardware is grade 5 or higher and has an appropriate working load limit (WLL). The hardware and chain we used were rated for between 260 and 1,700 pounds. To determine the load your hanging chain and hardware need to bear, add the total weight of the entire swing assembly (tire, eyebolts, swing set chain, and connectors) and the estimated weight of the children who will be using it.



DIY Tire Swing - Project Step Step 1


Plan to hang your swing on a sturdy tree branch that is, ideally, 8 to 12 feet off of the ground. The higher the branch, the higher the swing can go—and the further it will travel. Walk the space to make sure the swing, at its highest arc, has at least a 30-inch clearance from both the tree trunk and any other obstructions.



DIY Tire Swing - Step 2


Drill several drainage holes in one of the tire’s sidewalls (this will be the swing’s bottom) in order to allow rainwater to escape—you don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes after a storm or shower. Then flip the tire over to work with the swing’s top. Measure and mark with chalk three equidistant points in the sidewall where you will attach the eye bolts. Drill a hole in each of those chalk marks.



DIY Tire Swing - Step 3


In each of the three holes, insert an eye bolt with a nut, lock washer, and fender washer through the top of the tire sidewall. Thread a fender washer, lock washer, and nut onto the bottom half of the bolt (where it comes out inside the tire), and tighten it all up using pliers and an adjustable wrench.



DIY Tire Swing - Step 4


Now, attach each of the three swing set chains to an eye bolt using a quick connector link.



DIY Tire Swing - Project Step 5


Connect the top of those three chains together with another quick connector link, and then attach the swivel hook. By including a hook here, this swing assembly can be easily taken down and hung up for use only when there is adult supervision.

My connector links did not open up far enough to accommodate the swivel hook I chose, and the swivel hook was too large to accommodate the links of the hanging chain on its own, so I needed to add a snap hook to the top of the assembly—you may or may not need this. This part of the assembly is a bit of a puzzle that will be informed by the size of your chains and steel hardware (which further depend on the weight you want them to carry).



DIY Tire Swing - Project Step 6


Cut open the bicycle inner tube at the valve (which can be chopped off completely) so that it is one long piece. Then, thread the chain through the inner tube. This sheathing will serve to protect the tree branch once you hang it.



DIY Tire Swing - Step 7


Hang the chain over the tree branch, utilizing any knots in the branch to help it stay in place. You may also want to wrap the chain around the branch once, as we did. Be sure the chain hangs down exactly the same length on each side.



DIY Tire Swing - Step 8


Finally, attach the swing assembly to two ends of the hanging chain. In under an hour, it’s ready for a test drive! As they swing off into the sunset, your kids will love it all the more knowing that they had a hand in making it.

DIY Tire Swing - Swing Completed


Weekend Projects: 5 Simple Designs for a DIY Plant Stand

Windowsill gardens are so last season. Build any of these handmade plant stand designs, and you'll show off both your green thumb and your craftsmanship.


‘Tis the season to celebrate your green thumb! If you enjoy afternoons tending colorful blooms, then you understand how limiting it can be to find indoor spots to display your floral favorites. Oftentimes they end up stashed in an unseen area or hiding on a windowsill behind a cafe curtain. But this weekend you can make all of that change with a simple-to-build DIY plant stand that puts your gardening goods front and center. With any of these five easy designs, you can devote a step, a corner, or a whole vignette to your potted greenery and take delight in it week after week.



DIY Plant Stand - Mid-Century Modern Style


For throwback style that you can make in a day, try this midcentury modern-inspired stand from A Beautiful Mess. It’s seriously simple to assemble: First, find or cut a wood round sized 4 to 5 inches larger in diameter than the base of the pot you’re looking to support. Stain, seal, and screw on a few tapered furniture legs picked up from any home improvement store, and your perch is ready to welcome its plant.



DIY Plant Stand - Outdoor Potted Plants


One foolproof way to bolster curb appeal in any home—whether it’s soon to be on the market or simply preparing to greet guests—is to highlight cheerful hues. And nothing brightens like fresh flowers! Take a cue from the blogger at Shanty 2 Chic and introduce colorful buds on either side of your entrance with two 30-inch-tall stands constructed from the already-popular landscaping materials, cedar fence rail posts.



DIY Plant Stand - Marble and Copper


While a single slice of marble as a kitchen countertop or bathroom vanity can cost a pretty penny, securing a single square of porcelain floor tile for a luxe-looking living room DIY leans much more wallet-friendly. Here, the crafters at Foxtail and Moss affixed this opulent material to three legs of copper pipe and caps to create an industrial-chic stand.



DIY Plant Stand - Hanging Design


Not restricted to available floor space, this natural beauty from Brepurposed fits just about anywhere throughout the home! Simply affix a curved bracket meant for hanging flowering baskets to any wall; this time, instead of stringing up a standard woven planter, thread a couple of suede strips through the holes in a raw wood slice and hang the project to serve as your in-air plant stand.



DIY Plant Stand - Corner Stand


We all have those awkward, empty corners. Fortunately, a skinny stand design from the Crafty Sisters can fill blank spaces with a fresh crop of foliage. And while ornamental around the edges, its simple construction consists of only medium-density fiberboard, chair molding, and planks of 2×2 and 1×2 lumber. Just remember that where you place the project after completion will determine which plants thrive; shade-loving plants will do fine along interior walls, while sun-loving sprouts should sit closer to the windows.

Pet-Proof Your Yard with 5 Tips from a Pro Trainer

Now your furry family members can enjoy your outdoor space—without making a mess of your hard yard work. Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog is here to teach you some new tricks for making your lawn and garden pet-friendly.

Puppy Proofing - Dog-Friendly Backyard


The great outdoors is great for everyone, particularly your four-pawed pals. “The home can get boring for pets,” says trainer extraordinaire and Animal Planet star Victoria Stilwell, “so being outside is important for both physical exercise and stimulation of the senses, which lends emotional stability.” But with the fresh air also comes the potential for those cold, wet noses to get into trouble. Left alone, your lawn could endanger your furry friend—or your pet might undo hours of yard work. Avoid these issues and more when you follow Stilwell’s five key guidelines to creating a fun, safe animal Eden that will always look groomed, even if you’ve got the friskiest pet on the block.

1. Install the best boundary.
To ensure that animal companions won’t get lost or run off, the right yard enclosure is crucial. For canines, Stilwell approves of any “good, solid fence,” be it wood, metal, vinyl, whatever. But as a big believer that kindness—not dominance—is the key to positive pet parenting (hence her website,, she vehemently opposes invisible electric fences for the pain and anxiety they cause. “Even a single shock can rewire a dog’s brain,” she explains, “making him fearful or aggressive.”

Because cats are such skillful climbers, corralling them gets trickier. “Roller bar attachments that jut out a bit on top of your fence work well,” says Stilwell, whereas other fence-toppers like spikes or wire netting (which a cat could get tangled in) may inadvertently wound your animal. Stilwell’s favorite option: sturdy kitty enclosures, either ready-made or assembled from a DIY kit. Just make sure yours is long enough to offer some running space, high enough to hold a cat tree, and walled with feline-safe screens.

Puppy Proofing - Pet-Friendly Garden


2. Plant with pets in mind.
Sturdy vegetation with soft foliage—artemisia, canna, and lilac, to name a few—will stand up to roughhousing. But stay away from azalea, rhododendron, foxglove, and lily of the valley, which are all unsafe for an animal to digest. Stilwell also notes that grass should be for rolling in, not munching on. “Some varieties can be difficult to digest,” she explains. While catnip is indeed a healthy habit for felines, she knows of no canine equivalent. “Some trainers use anise because dogs like the smell, but I don’t see them going crazy for it,” she says.

But it’s not just the plants’ toxicity you should worry about when planning your landscape; also watch what you spread around in the garden. “Cocoa Mulch, a by-product of chocolate, contains theobromine, a compound toxic to cats and dogs—and its sweet smell can be irresistible,” Stilwell warns. “Once, we took our Chihuahua to a neighbor’s home, and he ate the pellets they used to get rid of gophers!” The little guy is fine, thanks to emergency medical care, but Stilwell now knows to ask friends about potential yard hazards before bringing her pups for a visit.

3. Minimize messes.
“Pets are naturally inquisitive, so to keep them from wreaking havoc among your flowerbeds, don’t leave them up to their own devices,” Stilwell says. Her go-to for occupying any pooch is a treat-packed Kong toy (available on Amazon), as long as you monitor him lest the toy roll somewhere you’d rather he didn’t romp. Got a digger on your hands? Consider installing a sandpit where he can burrow to his heart’s content. Above all, Stilwell says, “Play with your pets! That’s the number one way to bond with them while supervising their behavior.”

On a more delicate note, should you hope to prevent pets from doing their business on your turf, “Walk your dog and be sure he ‘goes’ before letting him in the yard,” Stilwell suggests. “Likewise, cats should use the litter box prior to an outing.” Stilwell concedes that some animals tend to “mark” their territory, even after they’ve been neutered, as the behavior is habitual as well as biological. Try a sculptural piece of driftwood to serve as a marking post-cum-lawn ornament.

4. Watch out for wildlife.
“Dogs and cats are natural predators, and, even though we’ve bred the desire to kill out of dogs, they’re still predisposed to chasing,” Stilwell explains. Pets could get hurt tussling with a raccoon, squirrel, even a possum, while hawks and owls could potentially take off with your little buddy. “You can’t count on vaccinations to protect against everything,” she adds. To safeguard Rufus and Roxy, have them stay inside at dawn, dusk, and overnight, when most wildlife feeds. And on the flip side, keep kitty from littering the lawn with songbirds by trying the clownish, brightly colored anti-predation collars made by Birdsbesafe.

5. Be a good neighbor.
It’s not just you and your pets on the planet. “Not everyone likes cats or dogs, and you must respect that even if you don’t understand it—especially in regard to their property,” Stilwell says. “Letting pets roam loose is reckless and irresponsible, not to mention against the law.” If a pet does happen into a neighbor’s garden, respond calmly and clean up promptly.

Barking is another large concern, especially as it’s one of the worst noise pollutants in a neighborhood. “A dog that barks relentlessly is either bored, lonely, or hungry, so it’s negligent to leave him chained up outside unattended.” If your dog is barking, see to him immediately—and if a neighbor practices poor pet ownership in that regard, alert your block association, the police, or animal control.

Quick Tip: This Simple Trick Helps Plants Water Themselves

DIY Self-Watering Panter

Photo: via kriste3582

There are lots of household chores to take care of before going on a vacation: board the dog, clean the fridge, empty the trash, and so on. Yet another must, at least during the gardening months, is asking a friend or family member to water your plants—there’s nothing more discouraging than nurturing blooms all season long just to have them wither while you’re away. But now, with this DIY self-watering system, you can cross that one off your to-do list. Sound complicated? Not in the least. All it takes is a capped bottle and some good old-fashioned H20.

DIY Self-Water Planter - Terra Cotta Container


Before you can begin, you’ll need to saturate the soil in all of your planters. Next, gather your bottles: You can use virtually any bottle with a cap, keeping in mind that 8- to 12-ounce bottles work well for smaller-size pots, while a wine bottle will better quench the thirst of larger planters. Make a small hole in the cap or cork by hammering a nail all the way through. Fill your bottle to the top with water and place the cap back on. Then flip the bottle upside down and bury it about two inches into the soil. As the soil dries out from your last watering, fluid will slowly drip from the bottle into your soil, ensuring that your plant receives just the moisture it needs to thrive.

A standard-size bottle should last about three days in a small- to medium-size planter, but if your trip is a bit lengthier, consider adding a second bottle on the opposite side. Once the system is in place, all that’s left to do is enjoy your time jet-setting!