Category: Lawn & Garden


How To: Get Rid of Grubs

Grubs can over time turn your lawn into a brown, patchy mess. Learn how to identify and then eradicate an infestation before it's bad news for your property.

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How to Get Rid of Grubs - Lawn Damage

Photo: istockphoto.com

They don’t care who you are or where you live. You won’t see them coming, and by the time they make their presence known, you could have a full-blown infestation on your hands. Grubs! Lawn-loving larvae of various beetles, these tiny trespassers lurk beneath the surface of your grass, feasting on the roots and causing unsightly brown patches. We’ve put together the best ways, both natural and chemical, to rid your yard of greedy grubs.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Shovel
- Hb nematodes
- Milky spore
- Curative grub control with trichlorfon
- Preventative grub control with imidacloprid or halofenozide

How to Get Rid of Grubs - Grubs Pulled from Dirt

Photo: istockphoto.com

INVASION OF THE LAWN SNATCHERS
Nearly all lawns have a few grubs, but they rarely cause trouble unless their population soars. The best way to determine if you have a grub problem is to remove a square foot of sod, about 3 inches deep, from the center of a brown patch. Sift through it and look for milky white C-shaped larvae. The buggers can vary in length, from ½ inch to 1 inch, depending on the species of beetle they will eventually become. If you find five or more grubs in the sod you removed, it’s time to formulate a treatment plan. While some products work best on larvae of particular beetles—whether June bugs, Japanese beetles, or other beetles—the treatment options are broadly the same.

THE BATTLE OF THE BUGS
If you’re looking for a natural way to rid your lawn of grubs, consider treating it with beneficial nematodes. Nematodes (typically of the Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, or Hb, variety) are microscopic parasites that invade the grubs’ bodies, releasing bacteria that multiply and ultimately kill the host grub. In the meantime, the nematodes mature and propagate, and a new generation of nematodes emerges from the dead grub. It can take up to three years for nematodes to establish a colony large enough to eradicate a large population of grubs, but going this route means you won’t have to treat your lawn with chemicals. Be sure to order from a reputable nursery; nematodes are living organisms that must be transported with care (usually refrigerated) and applied soon after they arrive.

SPREAD SOME SPORES
Available in a powder from your local garden or home center, the Bacillus popilliae spore, sometimes called milky spore, creates a bacterial environment in the soil known as milky disease. It won’t harm your lawn but it’s deadly to grubs, specifically to the larvae of the Japanese beetle. Like nematodes, milky spore isn’t a quick fix. It takes a few years to develop enough of the beneficial spores to rid the yard of grubs, but once established, the “disease” will continue to ward off grubs.

DRY THE CRITTERS OUT
Beetle eggs need moisture to survive, so if you have a grub problem, you can try making your lawn as inhospitable to grubs as possible. If you experience drought conditions during the summer months, when adult beetles lay their eggs, take advantage of the dry conditions by making a conscious decision not to water your lawn for three or four weeks to further dry out the soil. The eggs will eventually die, which will reduce next year’s crop of larvae. Your lawn will dry out, too, but as long as your grass is in good condition, it should spring back to health when you resume watering.

ENGAGE IN CHEMICAL WARFARE
Chemical-based grub-control can be very effective, but keep in mind that it’s toxic and can kill beneficial insects at the same time it kills grubs. Such treatments fall into two categories: curatives and preventives. Curatives, which are designed to kill immature larvae, should be applied in late summer or early fall when young grubs are actively feeding on grass roots. Look for a product that contains trichlorfon (Dylox is a popular brand name), which is the best option if you’re in a hurry to get rid of the little munchers. It will not, however, affect grubs that have developed into pupae, which, depending on the species, could survive another year or two before developing into beetles.

If you’ve had a grub problem in the past, or if you’ve spotted telltale brown patches in your neighbor’s yard, applying a preventive grub-control product will reduce the risk of your lawn becoming infested. Preventive products stop the next generation of grubs, but they have little effect on any young grubs that are currently chomping away in your grass. Look for preventive products that contain either imidacloprid, such as the insecticide Merit, or halofenozide, such as Mach 2, to keep grubs from turning your lawn into their private dining spot.


How To: Refinish Rusty Old Patio Furniture

Why replace your rusted metal outdoor furniture when you can refresh it instead? Using an inexpensive all-star tool and few other supplies, you can scrape away seasons' worth of rust and refinish your existing set—and put all the money you saved toward more exciting home improvements.

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How to Refinish Patio Furniture

Photo: fotosearch.com

Although metal patio furniture is elegant and durable, it can over time become a rust-coated symbol of neglect. Instead of offering an inviting spot to relax on a warm summer afternoon, corroded furniture merely reminds you of better days gone by. But if underneath all that rust the essential frame of each piece is structurally sound, why spend money to replace the set? Consider the much more affordable alternative of refinishing your metal furniture. Using the right tools and easily mastered techniques, you can restore those rusty eyesores to near-new beauty.

Before you begin, know this: Refinishing iron patio furniture isn’t the kind of project you can spread out over a few days. Once you start removing the rust, you have to continue until the entire piece has been cleaned and treated with a rust-resistant primer. If you remove the rust and head for the hammock too soon, a condition known as “flash rust” can cause the flaky, reddish coating to reappear as quickly as the name implies—sometimes in a matter of hours. After the coat of primer is in place, however, you can move on through the rest of the job at a more leisurely pace.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Nonslip drop cloth
- Cinder blocks
- Protective gloves
- Protective goggles
- Respiratory mask
- HYDE 3-in-1 Paint Stripping Wire Brush
- Muriatic acid or another rust-remover solution (optional)
- Old towels
- Rust-converter solution
- Paintbrushes (optional)
- Rust-inhibiting metal primer
- Rust-inhibiting metal paint

STEP 1
Streamline your patio-refinishing project by choosing the right spot for the job and preparing it properly. A shady, protected corner of your yard or an empty garage works best. Above all, avoid priming or painting the furniture outside on a windy day or in direct sunlight—either can cause the outer layer of the paint to dry too rapidly and thus reduce the lifespan of the paint. Protect the ground or concrete floor with a nonslip drop cloth, and keep a few cinder blocks handy for elevating the patio furniture so you’ll be able to reach the bottoms of the legs without tipping the pieces over.

Before you start, gear up with some old clothing, goggles, a respirator mask, and gloves. If you use a chemical to assist in rust removal, your goggles will need to protect your entire eye area from splatters, and your gloves should be chemical-resistant.

 

Photo: hydetools.com

STEP 2
For this next part, all you need is a talented multi-tool like the HYDE 3-in-1 Paint Stripping Wire Brush to remove the flaking coating. Scrub the flat surfaces on your patio furniture with the rectangular brush; its dense wire bristles quickly remove light rust and loose paint. Reach rust in nooks and crannies using the narrow wire bristles on the tip of the tool. Finally, turn the tool around to use the flat scraper at the end of the handle to remove larger sections of peeling paint. One tool, three functions—all you add is elbow grease!

STEP 3
If the rust and paint come off with ease, count your lucky stars and continue to brush all surfaces until completely clean. (Here, it really helps to elevate the piece you’re cleaning on cinder blocks so you can reach the bottoms of the legs.) When you’re done, you can skip ahead to Step 6.

If, however, you run into some more heavily rusted patches, you’ll need the assistance of muriatic acid or another rust-dissolving solution, both of which are readily available at home improvement centers.

STEP 4
Apply rust-removing acids or solutions as directed by the manufacturer, and use the formulas in conjunction with the HYDE 3-in-1 Wire Brush to scrub away the most stubborn rust. Some rust-removing acids and chemicals must be hosed off after application, so be prepared to move your item to a spot where you can wash it off without worry of the runoff damaging grass or other plants.

STEP 5
Dry the item thoroughly with old towels. Any moisture left on the bare iron can lead to new rust, even if the furniture is only slightly damp. Because your clean patio furniture is highly vulnerable at this point, complete the drying step and proceed quickly to the next.

STEP 6
Apply a rust-convertor solution to the clean patio furniture using either a spray can or paintbrush. Rust convertors are different from rust removers in that they contain polymers and tannic acid, which chemically convert trace bits of residual rust into iron tannate—a solid substance that coats, seals, and protects the iron furniture. If you’ve inadvertently missed rust lodged in joints or tight spots—which is easy to do—a rust converter acts like an insurance policy against rust developing under your new paint job.

STEP 7
Prime the patio furniture with rust-inhibiting metal primer and follow up by painting with rust-inhibiting metal paint. (Both must be suitable for exterior use.) The trick to getting a great finish is to apply both the primer and the paint in multiple, very thin coats. Because iron patio furniture often features intricate patterns and weaves, it’s usually better to spray both the primer and paint rather than brush them on. If you don’t want to use paint that comes in spray cans, you can rent or purchase a sprayer to apply another suitable variety of rust-inhibiting primer and paint.

Count on applying at least three thin coats of primer and three or more thin coats of paint; if you apply the coats too heavily, you’ll end up with paint runs. Once the primer has been applied, feel free to take breaks between applications to tend to other around-the-house activities—you’ll want to wait at least the minimum amount of time recommended by the paint manufacturer before applying another coat, anyway. Once again, don’t forget about the bottoms of the legs!

 

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

 


3 Fixes for a Mosquito-Filled Backyard

Mosquitoes can quickly transform the outdoors from a relaxing retreat into a nightmare of itchy, pest-ridden discomfort. Take back your backyard with one of these three DIY traps.

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DIY Mosquito Trap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Their vampire-like tendencies and itchy bites make mosquitoes a nuisance in any setting, but they’re especially aggravating when they violate your backyard. And because some species transmit human pathogens, including West Nile virus, malaria, and the Zika virus, these bloodthirsty bugs are more than annoying—they’re also a health hazard. If you want to enjoy your yard without first having to bathe in bug spray, try one of these homemade weapons of mass mosquito destruction, all of which can be made from materials typically found at home.

 

TWO-LITER TRAP

DIY Mosquito Trap - Bottles

Photo: instructables.com via ShiftyTips

This simple snare exploits mosquitoes’ attraction to carbon dioxide to lure them to their doom. You’ll need a cup of hot water, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a gram of yeast, and an empty two-liter plastic bottle to craft this concoction. First, cut the bottle in half around its middle. Heat up the water, then dump in the sugar and let the granules dissolve. Once the solution has cooled, pour the mixture into the bottom half of the bottle, and add the yeast to begin the carbon dioxide reaction. Remove the cap, flip the top of the bottle upside down, push it into the bottom half of the bottle to create a funnel, and then tape the two pieces together. To increase the effectiveness of the trap, secure a black sock, cloth, or piece of paper around the outside of the assemblage.

The mosquitoes will be attracted to the CO2, prompting them to enter through the funnel, where they’ll then drown in the water. Suspend the trap in a shaded part of the yard away from any gathering spaces to avoid bringing the unwanted guests even closer. Empty the bottle and add more mix every two weeks or as needed.

 

(UN)SAFE HAVEN

DIY Mosquito Trap - Ovitrap

Photo: instructables.com via jfulop10

Ovitraps operate on the kill-’em-before-they-multiply principle. These dark, water-filled containers imitate the breeding environment that mosquitoes favor—only this nursery is actually a morgue. When females lay their eggs on the container’s sock-lined rim, the larvae will fall through the screen and into the water. When they’re fully grown, they will be too big to crawl back through the mesh and will be stuck beneath the screen. (You can guess what happens next.)

To make the trap, drill two holes just big enough to accommodate some thin-gauge wire on opposite sides of a plastic container. Drill two larger holes below the hanger holes to serve as overflow drains. These will prevent the water that fills the trap from reaching the screen that locks in the grown mosquitoes. Next, glue the toe of a black sock to the bottom of the inside of the container. After the glue is completely dry, pull the rest of the sock up over the rim so that it completely covers the outside of the container, and glue the sock into place. Then, cut a fine-mesh metal screen to the same circumference as the top of the container, and press it into the opening so it sits directly above the overflow holes. Feed wire through the small holes at the top to make a hanger. Finally, pour some stagnant water from the backyard—or a similar homemade concoction made by adding grass clippings or dog kibble to fresh water—into the trap and all over the sock so that it’s moist. If the container doesn’t refill naturally through rainfall, add more water any time you notice the sock is dry.

 

FAN FAVORITE

DIY Mosquito Trap - Fan

Photo: instructables.com via NightHawkInLight

The fan trap has many iterations, but the simplest uses a 20-inch metal-frame box fan, metal mesh (the kind used on window screens), and magnets strong enough to secure the screen to the fan’s frame. If you can’t get ahold of metal mesh, you can instead attach mosquito netting or even tulle to the back of a box fan using glue. After cutting the netting of your choice to size and securing it in place on the back of the fan, simply switch the fan on and let it do the work.

When deployed near places that mosquitoes like to inhabit (think bright lights or ponds), the fan will suck them in, where they will be trapped by the netting and eventually dry out and die. If you check the trap and notice any survivors, spray them with a 50-50 blend of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and water to finish them off, but avoid drenching the fan’s motor.


How To: Clean a Gas Grill

Backyard grilling is a beloved summer pastime. Keep the tradition burning bright and uphold your grill master title by putting in a little time and effort to give your gas grill a thorough cleaning.

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How to Clean a Gas Grill - Before Cookout Season

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It’s one of the most loved rituals of summer—friends and family gathering together in the backyard to enjoy some hot-weather fun and feast on succulent delicacies fresh from the gas grill. But if that gas grill hasn’t been cleaned in a while, those fire-roasted treats may leave a lot to be desired. Accumulated residue can make food stick to the grates, contribute to flare-ups, and even lead to grease fires. For the most delicious—and safe—cookouts, it’s a good idea to perform a thorough cleaning once or twice a year, either in preparation for the grilling season or before you store the grill for the winter. By following the simple steps outlined below, you’ll be able to extend the life of your gas grill and ensure plenty of summers’ worth of tasty meals.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Large buckets or basins (2)
- Liquid dish detergent
- Warm water
- Strong cotton or terry cloth rags
- Wire-bristle brush

How to Clean a Gas Grill

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
If your gas grill hasn’t had a good cleaning in a while, start by filling two large buckets or basins with warm, soapy water. Dish detergent is your best bet here, because it works well on metal. Before cleaning the grill, make sure the valve on the propane tank is closed. Though this should go without saying, clean your grill only when it’s completely cool to the touch and, ideally, hasn’t been used that day. (You’ll have a tough time flipping all those meats and vegetables later on if your hands are covered with second-degree burns!)

STEP 2
Remove the grates and submerge them in the water, letting them soak for a while. Also take off any other removable parts, such as the drip pan and heat shields, and set them aside for now.

STEP 3
Taking care not to jostle any of the grill’s connections to the propane tank, use a rag to clear out loose ash and debris from the inside of the grill. Then, go back over your work with a wire-bristle brush to scrub off any caked-on char, grease, and other residue. Remove as much of this as possible from the grill’s interior.

STEP 4
Go back to the grates you’ve been soaking in the warm, soapy water. The gunk should have started to loosen and fall away, but you’ll probably have to put in some elbow grease to get the grates clean. You may need to use a combination of rags and the wire brush to remove the greasy residue, but concerted effort should eventually give you the results you want. When you’ve finished, allow everything to dry completely.

STEP 5
Once all the grill’s parts are dry to the touch, it’s time to put them back in place. Then, open the valve on the propane tank, then turn on the burners to make sure they’re working properly and that the heat shield(s) are correctly positioned. When you’ve confirmed that the grill is in good working order, you can consider it a job well done—which, some rare-steak lovers might insist, is the only acceptable way to use those words around a grill.

SEASON-LONG MAINTENANCE
Regular maintenance is important to keep your grill operating at its maximum potential, extend its lifespan, and ensure the best flavor from your grilled foods. Every time you grill, start by preheating the grates and brushing them clean with a wire-bristle brush; after cooking, brush off obvious clumps of food. Periodically sweep debris and grease out of the cooking chamber, and empty the drip pan frequently. If you stick with this simple cleaning routine, your end- or beginning-of-season overhaul will be a breeze, giving you more time to enjoy those precious summer days.


How To: Make Your Own Mulch

Protect plants and nourish soil—for free!—with this DIY guide.

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How to Make Mulch

Photo: istockphoto.com

Treating your trees, garden, and landscaping beds to mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and arm plants against extreme temperatures—plus, it makes these features look fresh and well groomed. Organic mulch has the added benefit of encouraging helpful garden organisms like earthworms and returning nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. But there’s no need to buy the stuff! You can make your own from yard waste you might otherwise haul away. Whether you mulch in the spring or in the fall, follow this plan to save money and use the planet’s resources efficiently.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, fallen branches, etc.)
- Lawn mower
- Rake
- 
Chipper
- 
Pitchfork or shovel

How to Make Mulch - Homemade Mulch in the Backyard

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
To make mulch out of fallen leaves, turn to your trusty lawnmower for shredding power—without it, they’re bound to blow away. Rake them into piles and run over them several times with the mower. (To beef up leaf mulch, you can mix in grass clippings before chopping with the mower.) Aim for pieces are about the size of a dime. The leaf mulch is now ready to use, but if you have wood material on hand, proceed to the next step.

STEP 2
If you’ve pruned trees or had branches come down during a storm, put this wood to good use by adding it to your leaf mulch. Wood chips decompose more slowly than leaves, so wood mulch requires less care and can extend the aesthetic appeal of mulch in your yard.

To create wood mulch, rent a wood chipper for about $75 a day—a worthwhile investment when you consider that mulch can cost from $22 to $30 a yard. (One cubic yard of mulch will cover an 80-square-foot area at a 4-inch depth.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the chipper to turn twigs and branches into small pieces. Once you’ve converted your stash, add to leaf mulch and mix it together with a shovel or pitchfork.

STEP 3
Now that your mulch is good to go, keep these two crucial tips in mind for making it work harder for you, protecting and pampering your landscape:
Weed first, or unwanted greenery will benefit from the nutrient-rich mulch, too!
• Mulch planting beds and trees at a depth of 3 to 4 inches. 
Avoid piling mulch up around the base of trees and the crowns of plants, which inhibits oxygen flow and could potentially cause them to suffocate and rot.

Going forward, plan ahead and make mulch, not waste! Your landscape will love you for it.


DIY Lite: These 1-Hour Wind Chimes Star a Few Surprise Materials

Transform your basic backyard into an peaceful outdoor oasis with the soft melodies of this handmade ornament.

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How to Make Wind Chimes - DIY Wind Chimes

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Looking to enhance your backyard escape with little more than an hour-long DIY project? Consider the charm of an accent that appeals to multiple senses: the humble wind chimes. With just a little creativity, you can make your own melodic outdoor ornament from bits of hardware supplies and around-the-house odds and ends. Hang the new set of chimes anywhere—deck, porch, or garden patio—and you can enjoy its soothing sounds as soon as the next cool breeze passes through.

 

How to Make Wind Chimes - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- 1-1⁄2-inch flat washers (25)
- Steel wire
- Pliers
- Wire cutter
- 56-inch metal curtain rod (or other piping)
- Clamp (optional)
- Metal saw or a tubing cutter
- Drill with a small metal bit
- Colored twine
- Scissors
- Superglue
- Shower drain cover

 

STEP 1

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Thread thin steel wire through the centers of two 1-1⁄2-inch washers, and lay them flat on your work surface so that their edges touch. Use pliers to help you complete the loop and tie them together, then snip the excess length with a wire cutter. Connect a third washer to your chain in the same manner, making sure they all lie flat in a row.

Repeat this process until you have eight rows of three washers.

 

STEP 2

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Use a metal-cutting saw or a tube cutter to slice your pipe into eight 7-inch pieces. We cut up an old, hollow curtain rod, but any metal pipe that is about an inch in diameter works for the chimes.

 

STEP 3

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Hold the pipe steady with your hand or a clamp, and drill two small holes through opposite sides of the pipe at one end (you’ll thread twine through these in the next step when you start assembling the hanging design). For best results with the drill, switch to a bit that is designed to cut through metal and set your power tool to a slow speed.

Repeat on the seven remaining tubes.

 

STEP 4

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Now you’re ready to start stringing together the pieces. First, thread twine through both holes and knot it. Then, leave 5 inches of space before you thread the twine through one end of a washer set. To keep your knots from coming apart in strong winds, you can bond them with a drop of superglue.

Do this for all eight sets.

 

STEP 5

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Now, you’ll cut the twine at varying lengths to suspend each chime: The longest is 15 inches, and each subsequent piece will be 1-½ inches shorter until the eighth and last cutting is 4-½ inches long. Tie one on the free end of each row of washers (again, securing each knot with a dot of superglue).

 

STEP 6

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Now, for the secret to how this all comes together: a perforated shower drain cover. The contraption’s holes are perfectly suited for stringing the chimes up. Work in order from the shortest chime to the longest, tying each loose end of twine to the outermost holes along the circumference of the shower drain cover. Dab a bit of superglue over each knot.

 

STEP 7

How to Make Wind Chimes - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Finally, thread a piece of twine through each screw hole in the shower drain cover and tie them together around a single washer. Loop one more string through the top-most washer and knot it, and you’re ready to hang your handmade wind chimes up in the branches of your backyard.

 

How to Make Wind Chimes - Easy Backyard Project

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Ama is a DIY addict and the creative mind behind Ohoh Blog. She likes home decor, lighting, and furniture projects that may involve painting, sewing, drilling…no matter the technique! Whatever she has on hand is inspiration to create, and fodder for her serious addiction to upcycling.


Quick Tip: Control Weeds Using a Propane Torch

The reemergence of perennials heralds the arrival of spring, but not all resurgent greens are equally welcome. When weeds start to rear their unwanted heads, try this white-hot trick for getting rid of them for good.

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Best Way to Kill Weeds - Dandelion

Photo: fotosearch.com

How you choose to eradicate weeds depends on your patience, physical abilities, and environmental ethics. You could get down on all fours and suffer the backbreaking work of pulling them by hand. Or, you could run the risk of harming desirable plants along with the weeds by applying herbicides. Instead, why not go for an approach that doesn’t damage your soil or your muscles: Just as farmers burn their fields to make way for crops, you can put the natural force of fire to work in your yard to get rid of weeds.

Best Way to Kill Weeds

Photo: amazon.com

A simple propane vapor torch kit—the kind made for garden use, not for soldering—and a gas cylinder are all you’ll need to scorch your weed-covered earth. Before you get started, however, you may want to seek permission from your local fire department to save you a fine if burning restrictions are in effect. A few other caveats: Have a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby to quench flames that grow more than a few inches tall, don’t burn when it’s windy, and always avoid piles of dry, brown material.

Launch your attack as soon as weeds emerge, before they go to seed. First, read the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting the torch to its fuel source, and for lighting and operating it. Start with a low-intensity flame, adjusting output as needed. Slowly wave the tip of the wand a few inches above the plants you want to kill. A second or two is all you need—you’re scorching the weeds with 2,000 degrees of heat, effectively destroying their protective outer skin and boiling the water in their cells, so a little bit goes a long way. Your red-hot revenge is complete when you notice an unwelcome weed turn from glossy green to a darker, matte shade.

Even if a weed doesn’t wilt right away, rest assured that the damage has been done. Once singed, it can’t retain moisture or photosynthesize. Its roots might contain enough stored energy to produce another stem, but if that happens, apply a second or third treatment, and you’ll eventually starve the plant. To avoid displacing the soil and spreading more seeds, leave the dying weeds to decompose on their own and turn your attention to tending more beneficial blooms.


3 Fixes for a Lawn Mower That Won’t Start

If your lawn mower just can't get going, try one of these quick fixes to put it back to work.

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Lawn Mower Won't Start

Photo: fotosearch.com

Lawn care can be a tedious chore, but once the grass starts growing in the spring, mowing becomes an inevitable fact of life. When you finally muster the strength to tackle that first cut of the season, there are few sounds as disheartening as that of an engine that revs, but doesn’t start. Before you drag the mower in for repairs, or invest in costly replacement parts, first make sure that a clogged air filter, soiled spark plug, or contaminated gas isn’t to blame. Check out these possible perps by working through the following steps, and you may be able to get your puttering grass guzzler up and running again in no time.

 

UNFIT FILTER

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Air Filter

Photo: instructables.com via seamster

Your lawn mower’s air filter guards the carburetor and engine from debris like grass clippings and dirt. When the air filter becomes clogged or too dirty, it can prevent the engine from starting. To keep this from happening, replace paper filters—or clean or replace foam filters—after every 25 hours of engine use. The process for removing the filter depends on whether you are operating a riding or push lawn mower. For a riding mower, turn off the engine and raise the parking brake; for a push mower, pull the spark plug wire from the plug. Then, lift the filter from its housing. For a paper filter, your only choice is replacement. If you’re cleaning a foam filter, wash it in a solution of hot water and detergent to loosen grime. Allow it to dry completely, and then wipe fresh motor oil over the filter, replace it in its housing, and power up the mower—this time to the pleasant whirring of an engine in tip-top condition.

 

LOST THE SPARK

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Spark Plug

Photo: instructables.com via Sedgewick17

Is your lawn mower still being stubborn? The culprit may be the spark plug, which, as the name indicates, is responsible for creating the spark that ignites the fuel in the engine. If it’s loosened, disconnected, or coated in water or carbon residue, the spark plug may be the cause of your machine’s malfunction. Locate the spark plug, often found on the front of the mower. If it is connected, remove the plug wire beneath the plug cap and unscrew the plug with a socket wrench to reveal the electrode and insulator. If you see buildup, spray brake cleaner onto the plug, and let it soak for several minutes before wiping it with a clean cloth. Reinstall the plug, first by hand, and then with a socket wrench for a final tightening. If the problem persists, consider replacing the spark plug.

 

RUNNING ON “E”

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Gas

Photo: fotosearch.com

An obvious—and often overlooked—reason your mower may not be starting is if the gas tank is empty, or contains gas that is either old or contaminated with excess moisture and dirt. If your gas is more than a month old, use an oil siphon pump to drain it from the tank. Then, refill with fresh fuel and a fuel stabilizer to extend the life of the gas and prevent future buildup.

If that doesn’t do the trick, see if your lawn mower has a fuel filter (not all do) and whether or not it’s functioning properly. When clogged, the engine can’t access the gas that makes the system go. To check the status of your fuel filter, remove the fuel line at the carburetor. If gas doesn’t flow out, confirm that the fuel shutoff valve isn’t accidentally closed, and then remove the fuel line that’s ahead of the fuel filter. Gas should run out freely, assuming that the problem is with the fuel filter; consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions on replacing the filter and reassembling your mower. With no more excuses, go back out there and get your grass in shape for summer!


The Dos and Don’ts of Pruning Shrubs

Snip your front yard's shrubs into shape with our easy-to-follow pruning tips.

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Pruning Shrubs

Photo: fotosearch.com

Shrubs play a vital role in your landscape, serving as decorative borders, living fences, and foundation plantings that add distinction and personality to your property. But if your privet hedge is suddenly sprawling all over your sidewalk, it may be time to get out the pruning shears. Whether you’re just trying to control the rapid growth of the hedges under your windows, or you want to increase the number of blooms on your snowball bush, correct pruning is the key. Before you start clipping away, prepare yourself with this list of common dos and don’ts.

DO Prune Shrubs When Planting

Get your shrub off to a good start. Immediately remove any dead branches by cutting them as close to the shrub’s main stem as possible. This is also the time to inspect the root ball and remove broken roots, which can spread disease to the rest of the shrub. Cut off any large roots (thicker than your little finger) that have grown in a circle around the root ball, as these “girdling” roots will never straighten out and could eventually kill the shrub.

 

DON’T Forget to Maintain Your Tools

Dull blades can damage branches, creating tears that lead to disease. Sharpen your pruning tools to ensure the smoothest cuts, and keep them clean to avoid transmitting infection from a diseased shrub to a healthy one. Sterilize pruning tools before every use, and in between uses on individual shrubs, by wiping them down with rubbing alcohol, household disinfectant, or a 10-percent solution of household bleach and water.

 

Pruning Shrubs - Clippers

Photo: fotosearch.com

DO Prune Flowering Shrubs at the Right Time of Year

Spring-flowering shrubs, such as lilac and forsythia, develop buds that will display the following year during the previous year’s late summer and early fall. If you prune during fall or winter, you will cut off these potential blooms, resulting in little to no growth the following spring. If you need to maintain size or remove dead wood, prune immediately after buds bloom to avoid snipping off next year’s blossoms. Summer-flowering shrubs, such as roses and crape myrtle, develop buds in late spring and early summer, and should be pruned during dormancy in late winter or early spring to stimulate flower production.

 

DON’T Prune During Fall

No matter what type of shrub you have, fall pruning can stimulate late-season growth that may not have enough time to harden, which can weaken and damage the plant—especially if there’s an early frost. Wait until the shrub is deep in dormancy to give it a trim.

 

DO Maintain Throughout the Year

Unlike seasonal pruning, maintenance pruning is an ongoing process. This includes removing diseased or broken branches and snipping away any fast-growing sprouts during the growing season. Limit maintenance pruning to fixing immediate problems, and never cut away more than is needed.

 

DON’T Let Shrubs Get Too Dense

Shrubs that get abundant light and air circulation are healthier than shrubs with compact centers. To thin a dense shrub, prune up to one-third of its side branches where they connect to the main stem. If it’s a multi-stem shrub, prune out the branches at ground level. By opening up the center of the shrub, you’ll ensure that it receives adequate air and light.

 

DO Consider the Natural Shape of the Shrub

The simplest shape to maintain is the one that is most natural to your shrub. This factor is just as important during the shrub-buying stage as it is to the pruning process. By knowing what your shrub should look like as an established specimen, you’ll know where it will fit best in your landscape and how to prune it to maximize its display potential.

 

DON’T Shear Off the Top to Control Vertical Growth

Cutting off the top of a shrub is a radical step, and it doesn’t work. By shearing off the top to obtain a cube look, you’ll stimulate leggy vertical growth, which leads to that unsightly “witches’ broom” effect. Unless you’re in the topiary business, you’re better off individually cutting back too-tall branches. Keep in mind that whichever way a bud faces determines the direction of the new growth. The guiding principal here is to prune at a spot that’s just above an outward-facing branch bud. It takes a bit more time, but you’ll be happier with the results.

 

DO Prune to Rejuvenate a Declining Shrub

Give that ancient woody spirea a new lease on life by pruning out the older wood to stimulate new growth. The new branch sprouts will produce more blossoms, so you’ll be able to keep an older shrub looking young for years.

 

DON’T Leave Stubs

When removing side branches, cut within one-quarter inch of the main stem. Anything longer is susceptible to disease or infestation by insects. Pruning flush with the main stem at a branch’s point of origin gives the shrub its best chance of healing from the wound.


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

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

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DIY Outdoor Movie Screen

Photo: running-w-scissors.com

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

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

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

FOR MORE: Running with Scissors

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Photo: running-w-scissors.com