Category: Lawn & Garden


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!

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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.

 

IVORY IDYLL

DIY Fence Gate - White Picket Fence Gate

Photo: frysauceandgrits.com

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.

 

GOOD ARCH SUPPORT

DIY Fence Gate - Garden Arbor Gate

Photo: smartgirlsdiy.com

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.

 

BACKYARD BEAUTY

DIY Fence Gate - Tall Wooden Garden Gate

Photo: blackanddecker.com

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!

 

GARDEN VARIETY

DIY Fence Gate - Repurposed Garden Tools as Gate

Photo: montanawildlifegardener.blogspot.com

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!

 

SO LONG, SAGGINESS

DIY Fence Gate - Horizontal Wood Slat Gate

Photo: thecavenderdiary.com

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.

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How to Kill Grass - Dying Lawn

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

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

How to Kill Grass - Dry Patchy Lawn

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

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When to Fertilize Lawn

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

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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

Photo: homedepot.com

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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.

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How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Rodents

Photo: flickr.com 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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

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How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades - Lawn Mower

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- 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

STEP 1
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.

STEP 2
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.

STEP 3
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.

STEP 4
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.

STEP 5
Reinstall the blade, reconnect the spark-plug wire, and get to work!

How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades

Photo: fotosearch.com


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!

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How to Remove Ice from Driveway - Snow-Cleared Driveway

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

 

1. ALCOHOL

How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Rubbing Alcohol

Photo: flickr.com 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.

 

2. MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE

How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Magnesium Chloride

Photo: shutterstock.com

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.

 

3. KITTY LITTER

How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Cat Litter

Photo: fotosearch.com

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!


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

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

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DIY-sled-1

Photo: artzycreations.com

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

DIY-sled-2

Photo: artzycreations.com

 

 

 


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.

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Easy Snow Removal - Use Cooking Spray

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.

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Best Leaf Blowers

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: amazon.com

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

Photo: amazon.com

The Toro was rated as the “Best Bang for Your Buck” by BestReviews.com 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

Photo: amazon.com

This battery-powered, cordless unit received the top-ranked Gold Award from TopTenReviews.com 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.