Category: Lawn & Garden

How To: Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

While enchanting to look at, deer are the nemesis of the home gardener. If you are wondering how to keep deer out of your garden this summer, consider one—or more—of the recommendations detailed here.

How to Keep Deer Out of a Garden


Though deer look innocent, home gardeners know they can be a menace to plants and trees. Gardeners also know that barring Bambi from the backyard is never an open-and-shut case. For one thing, deer are talented jumpers, able to surmount any fence less than eight feet tall. Through the years, however, savvy green thumbs have figured out a variety of effective ways to keep deer out of the garden. One—or a combination—of these tricks may be the solution you’ve been seeking.

Plant Selection
Yes, deer have favorite foods. In particular, they love fruit trees, ivy, and high-protein crops like peas and beans. So one way to keep deer out of the garden is not to grow any of the species they like to snack on. But if you truly love and wish to grow any of the same plants that deer love and wish to eat, then position those varieties closer to the protection provided by your house. At garden borders, aromatics like lavender, mint, or garlic can help mask the scent of the sought-after plants in your beds. Also, note that deer dislike picking their way through bushes with thorns, so consider lining the perimeter of your yard with prickly vegetation.

Barrier Construction
For many homeowners, building an eight-foot fence around the property to deter deer likely seems like overkill. But if you have other reasons to consider a fence of such size, be it privacy or security or both, then the side benefit of wildlife deterrence might make the construction worth it. Bear in mind that ideally the fence should be opaque, so deer cannot glimpse the treats beyond the barrier. If you have a smaller fence, you can make it a better deer deterrent by attaching chicken wire to the top and tilting the mesh at a 45-degree angle in the direction from which the deer would be coming. Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to fence off your entire property. Netting (or another equally manageable obstacle) can go a long way toward preventing deer from disrupting your vegetable patches or young, delicate seedlings. Also worth considering are motion-sensitive sprinklers; deer don’t like this sort of surprise! At night, motion-activated lights are effective for the same reason.

How to Keep Deer Out of a Garden - Detail


The least expensive, most hands-on methods of keeping deer out of the garden involve homemade or store-bought deterrents, applied either directly or very near to the plants in need of protection. Regularly rotate the repellents used, as deer are quick to learn but wary of the unfamiliar. Try any or all of the following:

• Because deer are not fond of hot spices, you can bring safety to your plants by treating them with a homemade chili spray. Simmer a pinch of red pepper flakes in a pan of water, then strain the liquid into a spray bottle.

• At your local home center, keep an eye out for repellents containing, among other things, the urine of wolves, coyotes, or any other natural predators of deer. Be sure to follow the spray manufacturer’s instructions closely.

• Scatter human hair near your plants, or stuff an old sock with hair and hang it from a fence post. Deer are naturally shy and leery of dangerous situations, so they’re unlikely to approach if they sense people are nearby.

• If you own a dog, let him out into the yard as often as possible. The pet’s scent, which lingers long after it’s gone back indoors, can usually be counted on to keep even the most reckless deer at bay.

Keeping out deer is not an exact science. An approach that works wonders for one homeowner might fail miserably for another. Try several of the possibilities outlined above and determine which are most effective in your area, then remember to mix up your chosen strategies, keeping the deer on their toes and out of your garden!

How To: Get Rid of Crabgrass

Clumps of crabgrass can make even the most velvety, lush lawn look ratty. Here's how to put a stop to marauding crabgrass before it even gets started.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass


If you are one of the many homeowners who labor in pursuit of the perfect lawn, then you know what a menace crabgrass can be. A true bully, crabgrass grows more quickly than—and subsequently crowds out—the Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or tall fescue into which you’ve invested time, money, and no small amount of sweat. It’s no easy feat, but there are proactive steps you can take to prevent crabgrass from taking hold. The most important? Applying herbicide.

To get rid of crabgrass and ensure that it doesn’t return, the best offense is a strong defense. Early in the spring, when the crabgrass has all died back over the course of winter, apply a preemergent herbicide, which contains chemicals that are designed to kill weed seeds before they even sprout. Be careful, though. Some products of this ilk kill not only weed seeds, but all seeds. Take the time to be certain you are purchasing a product that accommodates your lawn-care plans.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass - Herbicide


To be absolutely sure that you’re using the most effective means of controlling crabgrass, consult your local garden supply store. Carefully explain what exactly you’re trying to achieve—specifically mention crabgrass—and ask someone at the store for the best recommendation for your situation.

While preemergent herbicides address the problem of crabgrass in a direct way, you can successfully minimize weeds simply by growing the fullest, healthiest lawn that’s within your power to cultivate. Crabgrass cannot take root on a lawn where it literally has no room to grow. That said, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate lawn weeds entirely, so if you wish to supplement your application of preemergent herbicide, try any—or a combination—of the following methods:

• Being that crabgrass has shallow roots, its growth can be curtailed by watering the lawn deeply but infrequently.

• Close-cropping the lawn leaves it vulnerable to weeds of all types; set your mower blades a few inches higher.

• There’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned weeding; make it easier on yourself by watering the lawn first.

• If crabgrass grows despite your best efforts, spray the weeds directly with a post-emergence herbicide.

If you regularly care for your lawn and give it extra attention at certain pivotal times of year, then you can maintain beautiful green grass with a minimum of imperfections. Imagine the joy you’ll feel as you proudly survey your picture-perfect lawn, the best in the neighborhood. Now quit daydreaming, and get to work!

How To: Clean a Grill

Keeping your barbecue clean will help prevent flare-ups and ensure that you're serving up tasty, succulent morsels instead of burned, ash-speckled messes.

How to Clean a Grill


For some of us, summer doesn’t mean sunbathing on the beach or hiking along a mountain trail—it means grilling burgers, hot dogs, steak, fish, and vegetables on the backyard grill. While barbecue lovers argue passionately about the secrets of perfect grilling, there’s one thing everyone agrees on: To produce great-tasting food, a gas or charcoal grill must be clean, not greasy and overrun with char. The more often you clean the grill, the less residue you’ll have to deal with, so the task will only get easier. Follow these simple steps to clean a grill quickly and effectively, using common household items that you probably already have on hand.

If it’s been a while since you last had a chance to clean the grill, start the process by filling two large buckets—or an even larger plastic or metal basin—with warm, soapy water. Remove the cooking grates from the grill and submerge them in the water, leaving them to soak for a spell. If yours is a charcoal grill, it’s not a bad idea also to remove and soak the ash catcher and the grate that holds the briquettes. Finally, remove and set aside any other parts, such as the drip pan, that easily come free.

How to Clean a Grill - Detail


Next, use a rag to clear out all the loose dust and ash from within the grill. Follow up with a stiff wire-bristled brush; intermittently dip it into a bath of soapy water and use the tool to scrub off all the caked-on residue. With a gas grill, take extra care here not to disturb any of the connections to the propane tank.

Turn your attention to the grill grates that have been soaking in soapy water. The grease and caked-on residue should be looser now than at first, but it’s still probably going to take some elbow grease to get satisfying results.

Allow enough time for all the newly cleaned parts of the grill to dry completely. Once they have done so, reassemble the grill. You’re all done—unless you’ve got a gas grill, in which case it’s recommended that you take a moment to confirm that the burner is working properly and that the flame shield is in the right place.

Get into the habit of cleaning the grill after each use; the longer charred food remains on the grates, the more difficult it becomes to get off. Let the grates cool, then spray them with vegetable oil and scrub with a wire brush. Lastly, wipe down the grates with a paper towel. By regularly following the regimen described above, you can avoid the hassle of having to give your grill a time-consuming and laborious cleaning. Now, who’s hungry?

Bob Vila Radio: USDA Zone Maps

USDA zone maps divide the country into growing regions based on typical winter minimums. Find out everything you need to know about your zone and what plants to grow accordingly.

Farmers and gardeners alike are familiar with the USDA plant hardiness zone map, which divides the country into growing regions based on their typical winter minimums. Simply put, if you live in a zone where the temperature is likely to hit zero some nights, you can’t expect the same plants to survive as you could in places where nighttime lows never dip below freezing. The map considers topography as well as geography. Depending on where you live in the New York area, for example, you may be in zones 5, 6, or 7.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON USDA ZONE MAPS or read the text below:

USDA Zone Maps


Zone maps have been around since at least the 1930s, and the USDA published its first edition in 1960. The American Horticultural Society publishes an alternate zone map that takes maximum temperatures into consideration as well. That makes sense, since plants that need cooler temperatures to thrive won’t do well in intense heat. There’s also the National Gardening Zone Map, which takes rainfall and humidity into consideration. For many, though, the USDA zone map has become the standard.

There were significant updates to the USDA map in 1990 and again in 2012, adding more details and additional sub-zones, and reflecting some changes in weather conditions. Hardiness zones have generally shifted northward, reflecting warmer temperatures across the country.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

How To: Test Soil pH

Make sure you have the best possible environment for your plantings by checking your soil's pH. Here's how.

How to Test Soil pH


Soil matters. To the plants you wish to grow in your garden, nothing is as important as what’s in or missing from the soil on your property. After all, the soil composition makes or breaks your plants’ chances of thriving. While there are many details to learn about your soil’s makeup, the pH level is the best place to start, because some plants prefer soil that is acid (for example, azaleas) or alkaline (carnations) or neutral (grass). To plan and maintain a healthy garden, therefore, you’ve got to know where you stand pH-wise. Fortunately for backyard gardeners, you don’t need a chemistry degree to test soil pH. In fact, it’s simple.

How to Test Soil pH - Detail


Here’s perhaps the easiest of all ways to test soil pH: Head to the nearest home center or nursery, and pick up a testing kit. When used correctly, such kits are fairly reliable. Not every kit involves the same order of operations, but generally the process begins with digging a small hole, two to four inches deep.

Move any twigs or stones to the side, then fill the hole with distilled water—that is, water that is neither acidic nor alkaline. (If you don’t have any on hand, you can buy a bottle from almost any grocery store or pharmacy.) As the hole you created in the soil turns into a muddy pool, insert the test probe. Now wait.

After about a minute, you should get a reading. If the pH registers as being lower than 7, that means your soil is acidic. Higher than 7? Your soil is alkaline. (Exactly 7 means your soil is neutral.) Bear in mind that most plants do well in soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If yours falls within that range, consider yourself lucky. No small number of gardeners must amend their soil to make it hospitable.

Before calling it a day, take the time to test the soil pH in several different parts of your garden. Even in a small yard, pH variations—sometimes considerable ones—are common. A plant that wouldn’t adjust well to one corner of your property might live very happily in another location.

An alternative method of testing soil pH involves—believe or not—the red cabbage that’s been lurking at the rear of your refrigerator. What you do is chop the cabbage into small pieces before boiling it in a pot of distilled water (again, refrain from using tap water; the H20 used must have a neutral pH).

After about 10 minutes, the boiling water should turn violet. Remove the pot from the stove, strain out the cabbage, and pour a portion of the water into two separate containers. To one container, add a small amount of vinegar. Into the other container, sprinkle a couple of pinches of baking soda. The result, assuming no missteps, should be one container of pink (acidic) liquid, another of blue-green (alkaline).

Now pour the remaining violet water into yet another empty container, only this time add in a spoonful of soil. If the water turns pink, that means your soil is acidic; if blue-green, your soil is alkaline. The stronger the color change, the more acidic or alkaline the sample. If the liquid does not change color at all, then your soil is neutral. Science!

Bob Vila Radio: Backyard Bubbles

Luxurious as it may seem, a backyard water feature, and the relaxing bubbling sound it makes, often can be an easy addition to outdoor space.

The sound of running water can be very soothing—that is, as long as it’s not coming from a broken pipe in the middle of the night. That bubbly sound is relaxing in the backyard or on the patio, and it can be pretty simple for anyone to bring that luxury home.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON BACKYARD BUBBLES or read the text below:

Backyard Bubbles


The easiest water features to install are probably bird baths, standalone waterfalls, and wall-mounted fountains. They are available in copper, stone, or lightweight fiberglass composites that look just like terra cotta or marble, in designs ranging from the totally whimsical to the subtly sophisticated. Keeping the water moving not only creates that calming sound, it also alleviates any worries about mosquitoes or mold growing in standing water.

Handsome new styles make for eye-catching additions to any outdoor space, and recirculating pumps make them easy to install and eco-friendly, as they don’t need a plumbing hookup and they reuse the same water over and over. In some cases, the pumps can run on solar power, so you don’t even need electricity.

Other styles plug into wall outlets, so you can simply fill the reservoir, turn on the pump, and presto! Instant waterfall. Some even have built-in lights, creating a wonderful ambience for evening gatherings on the patio.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

5 Ways to Make Your Lawn Care GREEN

This summer, as you work to achieve the perfect lawn, consider steps you can take to contribute to a greener planet too. Here are five eco-friendly ways to make your lawn care green.

Front Yard Landscape


Everyone wants a green lawn. Not only does it look good, it reflects a pride of home ownership that is undeniable. But there is a green lawn, and a GREEN lawn—one that’s beauty and care are a direct result of earth-friendly measures and practices. If you are doubting the claim for the latter, it’s more than possible. Here are five strategies to make you more eco-conscious as you strive to achieve the perfect summer lawn.

1. Water Smart
According to the EPA, 30% of the 26 billion gallons of water consumed daily in the United States is for outdoor uses, with irrigation among the largest. Since lawns require only about 1 inch of water per week to remain green during the growing season, get smart by learning when to water and how much. The best time to water is very early in the morning, before the sun and wind increase evaporation. It will take less water to keep your grass hydrated if your sprinklers finish running by 7 or 8 a.m. Next, be sensitive to how much water.  It’s better to water deeply and less frequently than to water a little bit every day.  Watering less often promotes deeper root growth and makes grass hardier.

2. Use Organic Products
The average American lawn receives far more pesticides per acre than farmland.  Since chemical fertilizers and pesticides can run off into water supplies, they can kill the helpful organisms, like earthworms, that are vital to healthy soil.  You can use organic products in place of chemical ones to control weeds and grubs.  Corn gluten is a natural pre-emergent, and keeps weed seeds from sprouting, while adding nitrogen to your lawn.  Milky Spore is effective at controlling Japanese beetle grubs, and is safe for humans, as well as birds, bees, pets, and beneficial insects.  Within a year of using organic products, earthworms and other beneficial microbes will return to your lawn and help keep your soil in balance.

GreenWorks Mower

GreenWorks' Twin Battery-Powered Mower

3. Go Fuel-less
More than 5% of the U.S.’s air pollution emissions comes from lawn mowers, according to the EPA. Using a fuel-less mower and yard tools, like those from GreenWorks, can help to keep hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide out of the atmosphere.  The new G-MAX 20″ 40V Twin Force Mower—the first cordless electric mower to offer a dual blade cutting design—offers a variety of earth-friendly and labor-saving features that start with just a push of a button. Offering up to 70 minutes of runtime from rechargeable twin 40V L-Ion batteries, the mower’s generous 20″ cutting deck and dual blades are engineered for improved cut quality and superior mulching. The 5-position single lever height adjustment also offers a range of cutting heights for the perfect cut on all grass types.

Weighing close to 40 lbs. less than comparable gas mowers, the GreenWorks’ G-MAX Twin Force Mower offers easy operation and maneuverability. And, since it is battery-powered, it is cleaner, quieter, and most importantly, fuel-less.  The versatility of a battery platform makes this an added value since GreenWorks currently offers 14 different tools to accomplish all of your yard work without the need for fuel

4. Keep Your Grass Clippings
Many people see grass clippings as a waste product—bagging them and leaving them at the curb.  But grass clippings are an organic material that can enrich your soil and strengthen your grass.  If they are not too long, you will do your lawn a favor by leaving them where they are. Grass clippings are mostly water, and if left on the ground, will start to decompose almost immediately, putting nutrients back into the soil. With the innovative dual blade design of the GreenWorks Twin Force Mower, you can get finer mulch while cutting making it easier for decomposition.  If you can’t bear to leave clippings on your lawn, consider composting them.  If mixed with other organic materials like leaves and kitchen waste, those clippings will make rich, dark soil you can return to your landscape.

5. Take Care of Your Soil
In reality, you should be feeding your soil, not your grass.  Your soil is a living entity, so feeding the organisms, like earthworms that keep your soil healthy by doing what they do, you will be improving lawn growth. These creatures also need air, so aerate your lawn if it gets compacted by foot traffic or mowing.  If your soil is rich in nutrients and naturally aerated, you won’t need to feed the grass with fertilizers.

So this summer, as you work to achieve the perfect lawn, consider steps you can take to contribute to a greener planet too.


This post has been brought to you by GreenWorks Tools. Its facts and opinions are those of


How To: Aerate Your Lawn

Aeration is a recommended way of keeping your lawn healthy by ensuring that air, moisture, and nutrients are able to reach the roots. Here are two methods for aerating your lawn.

How to Aerate a Lawn - Plug Aerator


It’s not easy maintaining a lush carpet of green grass. We only see the blades on the lawn surface, but the health of any planted grass depends on factors at play underground. During the growing seasons—spring and fall, generally—experts recommend aeration as a means of ensuring that air, moisture, and nutrients are able to reach the roots. There are two ways to tackle the job: The best technique largely depends on the size of your property, but both are discussed in detail below.

How to Aerate a Lawn - Spike


Plug Aeration
For homeowners with a generously sized lawn, the most suitable method of aerating is by means of a low-tech mechanical tool known as a plug aerator. Buy or rent one at your local home center (note that some models may need to be rigged up to your riding mower). As you push the aerator along (or tug it behind your mower), the tool rotates hollow steel spikes into the soil. Those spikes, in turn, pull cylinders of dirt from the soil, leaving small holes in the ground through which air, moisture, and nutrients can travel to the grass roots. Rather than raking and removing the soil plugs that the aerator leaves in its wake, leave them where they lie; eventually, foot traffic and rain will return those cores to the soil bed.

Spike Aeration
Because it’s more labor intensive, spike aeration is suggested only for homeowners with lawns of modest size—say, a half acre or less. The tool used is nothing more sophisticated than a modified pitchfork. In fact, if you’d rather not buy or rent a spike aerator from your local home center, you can actually use a pitchfork if you happen to have one in your garden shed. There’s one main difference between a spike aerator and its mechanized cousin: The former has solid (not hollow) spikes, so it does not create the soil cores that distinguish the latter’s operation.

For best results with a spike aerator, take the time to prepare the lawn before getting down to business. That means raking and removing all the leaves and debris that might prove to be an impediment. Also, because dry earth is harder to grapple with than moist soil, you can make the going a little easier by watering the lawn beforehand. Make sure to give equal treatment to all sections of the grass. Choose a corner and start there. Go in a straight line across the grass, then turn and travel in the opposite direction, this time working to the side of your previous path. Continue back and forth in this manner until you have aerated the entire property.

Bob Vila Radio: Backyard Chickens

There's no fresher or more locally raised eggs than the ones from your coop. But before you jump into raising backyard chickens, take into account these considerations.

If you’re in the market for fresh, locally raised eggs, you can’t get more local than your own backyard. Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about a backyard coop.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON BACKYARD CHICKENS or read the text below:

Backyard Chickens


The first is to check local laws—not all municipalities allow backyard chickens. If you have a homeowners’ association, check that as well—chickens may be legal in your city but not in your neighborhood. For example, chickens are okay in New York City, but not in many suburbs and not even in some small communities within city limits.

Next, start educating yourself on what chickens need in terms of space, feed, and care. Make sure you can keep your birds safe from predators like dogs, coyotes, and raccoons.

When you’re ready, buy your baby chicks and raise them until they’re ready to start producing eggs, usually at around five or six months. A healthy hen can produce 200 to 300 eggs a year until age two, when production slows down.

Backyard chickens have become so popular that your neighbors probably won’t squawk when they see your birds, but if they do, a few dozen fresh eggs will probably change their mind.

Remember that hens can live eight or ten years, making this a long-term commitment. Talk to someone who’s done it, so you understand the pros and cons before you take the leap.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: Moss Lawns

Moss lawns are an intriguing alternative to traditional grass, not only for their velvety texture, but also because they are comparatively low maintenance.

If you think of moss just as a nuisance in your lawn, or as something that doesn’t gather on a rolling stone, it’s time to think again.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON MOSS LAWNS or read the text below:

Moss Lawns


For the past decade or so, moss has been gaining popularity as a ground cover. It’s not hard to understand why. Moss creates a velvety green carpet that requires no fertilizing, no mowing, and very little water. In fact, to keep most mosses going strong, you just need acidic soil, shade, and some moisture.

You do, however, have to remove leaves and other debris, thing that will kill moss if left for long periods of time. And rake carefully, because moss can be easily pulled up. Another significant disadvantage: Moss doesn’t hold up well to foot traffic.

There may be as many as 1,000 species of moss in the United States, so you’re bound to find one that will thrive in your region. If you’re interested in establishing your own mossy carpet, there are specialty retailers you can turn to for kits and guidance.

Given EPA estimates that about one-third of all residential water is used for landscaping, maybe it’s time to make some room in your yard for this humble, drought-tolerant ground cover.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.