Category: Lawn & Garden

How To: Start a Lawn Mower (and Troubleshoot Common Problems)

Starting up a lawn mower should be easy, right? But occasionally, particularly after a long, dormant winter, a mower can be tough to start. To get your mower humming along, follow these simple steps—and if it balks, try our tips for troubleshooting.

How to Start a Lawn Mower


Regular mowing is not only beneficial to the look of your lawn, but also to its health. Whether you’ve recently purchased a new grass guzzler or have finally dragged out your old machine for the new season, it’s not uncommon to be frustrated when trying to start up the lawn mower. Of course, different mowers operate slightly differently, but the following guidelines can help you start a lawn mower of the most common type—that is, gas. If you’ve followed the steps outlined here and still cannot start your lawn mower, be sure to consult the troubleshooting tips offered at the bottom of this post.

Safeguard the mower blades against damage by taking the time to remove all objects from the parts of your property given over to grass. Clearing the way entails not only picking up children’s toys and moving lawn furniture, but also addressing any tree branches that have fallen or rocks that have been unearthed.

Next comes a step that may seem glaringly obvious, but which, on account of its simplicity, some homeowners forget: Confirm the presence of oil and gas in the mower. Are you readying a new gas-powered mower for its first go on your grass? Consult the manual to learn the fuel and oil recommendations for the specific model you now own.

With the mower all set to go, press the primer button three to five times in order to channel gas into the engine. If, however, you’ve used the mower recently, you should be able to skip this step. Priming the engine is necessary only after a prolonged period during which the lawn mower has not been used (over the winter, for instance).

Notice how there are two handles on the lawn mower, each running horizontally only inches apart from the other. Press and hold these handles together, keeping them together as you pull the starting rope. Do so quickly and with considerable force. That action should cause the mower engine to turn over. Sometimes, as you have likely experienced in the past, it can take several attempts before pulling the starting rope achieves the intended result: a purring motor.

How to Start a Lawn Mower - Detail Mower


Troubleshooting Tips
You’ve checked and rechecked the mower for oil and gas. You’ve pulled the starting rope so many times that your arm is sore. You’ve flipped through the owner’s manual, muttering curse words all the while. At times, lawn mower maintenance can be truly exasperating. When all else fails, consider these possibilities:

• If you know that there’s oil and gas in the mower, but the engine still refuses to start, it’s possible that either the carburetor has flooded or the cylinder has become soaked with gas. (The smell of unburned gas is a telltale symptom.) Leave your mower on level ground for at least 15 minutes, which should allow enough time for the gas to evaporate from within the mechanism.

• If you are returning to your lawn mower after having left it to spend the off-season in your garage, any gas that was left in the machine may have gone bad. If you think that could be your issue, observe the mower the next time you try to get it going. Does it appear to start up, then quickly stall out? The fix is simple: Siphon out the old gas, replacing it with fresh fuel.

Bob Vila Radio: Front Yard Landscaping

The best front yard landscaping draws the line of sight to the front door and features eye-catching color and textural combinations along the way. Here are a few simple but effective tips for boosting curb appeal with trees and bushes, your driveway and walkways, and more.

Every garden needs a focal point; for the front yard, that’s usually the home’s entryway. When the front door is the focal point of your front yard landscaping, your home looks more inviting than ever. Here are a few tips for using plants to draw the eye toward the door.

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Front Yard Landscaping


First and foremost, don’t hide your door behind large shrubs and trees. You want your landscaping to sweep the eye up to the door, not block the view completely. Position larger plants and trees off to the sides and keep them trimmed back to allow a full view of the door.

Second, don’t skimp on foundation plantings. A typical two-story home should have a bed about eight feet deep around the front to soften the view. Use plants of varying heights, different shades of green, and different textures to create an interesting mix. Use containers on the front steps and walkway to add variety and color, but not so many as to make things look chaotic. Keep it simple and elegant.

Finally, don’t forget your hardscaping—that is, the walkway, driveway, and other hard surfaces. Little things like changing a straight walkway to one with a little curve or flair, or allowing plants to drape over a wall, can have outsized effects on your entry.

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.

Weekend Projects: 5 Quirky Ways to Build a Bird Feeder

A DIY bird feeder will attract feathered friends to your yard and charm two-legged visitors of the wingless variety.

Whether you’re washing dishes at the sink or sitting at the desk in your home office, it’s pleasant to look out the window and see birds atwitter in the yard. You can invite feathered friends to your property—and help them survive difficult winters—with a bird feeder of your own devising. With only a modest investment of time and a minimal number of basic tools and materials, you can easily create a DIY bird feeder that will provide an enduring enhancement to your landscape.



DIY Bird Feeder - Tea Cup


Here’s an offbeat yet undeniably charming DIY bird feeder design: Using strong adhesive and a cut-to-length wooden dowel, you can transform a teacup-and-saucer combination into a pretty pit stop for peckish winged creatures. Include a spoon too—it makes the perfect perch for incoming and departing birds.



DIY Bird Feeder - Paint Can


Got any empty paint cans sitting around your basement or garage? Choose a small one, and coat its exterior in a bright color. Next, reach for the hot glue gun, using the tool to affix a 3/16-inch dowel to the lip of the can. Wrap and secure a strand of ribbon around the middle of the can, and use the ends to suspend it from a tree limb.



Wine Bottle


Almost any bottle can become a DIY bird feeder specially suited for summer hummingbirds. Decorate the bottle in whatever fashion you please, fill it with nectar, and insert a hummingbird feeder tube into the neck of the bottle. Hang the feeder from a tree via chain, wire, or twine so that it points downward.



DIY Bird Feeder - Cookie Cutters


Your kids would love to join you in the kitchen to help make this waste-free DIY bird feeder. Mix birdseed with plain gelatin and then put the mixture into a series of cookie cutters. Once you’ve filled the molds halfway, insert a loop of twine before finishing. Let them dry overnight, then place your creations at strategic positions around your backyard.



DIY Bird Feeder - Repurposed Bowl


You must own at least one bowl that you hardly ever use. Why not take it outside and repurpose the dish into a DIY bird feeder? Decorate the bowl—or don’t—then drill a small hole in its underside for drainage. Finally, drill holes on three sides of the vessel, outfitting each one with an eye hook to facilitate hanging.

How To: Create a Gravel Driveway

A gravel driveway can be a classic, low-maintenance, and inexpensive addition to a home. It complements a range of house styles and—even better—is a reasonable undertaking for a determined DIYer. Here are the basics.

How to Make a Gravel Driveway


A gravel driveway can be very attractive in a characteristically unpretentious way, introducing casual curb appeal to the first and last element of your home that a visitor sees. Throughout the United States, gravel remains a perennially popular driveway material, not only for its aesthetics, but also for its relatively low cost in comparison with the alternatives. Furthermore, whereas poured concrete or patterned brick typically require professional installation, even a somewhat novice DIYer can install a gravel driveway successfully on his own, without having to pay for either design consultation or skilled labor.

- Landscape stakes
- String (or twine)
- Gloves
- Wheelbarrow
- Shovel
- Rake
- Hoe
- Weed barrier (optional)
- Gravel

Though it’s possible to cut corners, a well-made gravel driveway usually consists of three layers. In this striated approach, the bottom layer features six-inch-diameter crushed rock, while smaller, two- or three-inch stones form the middle layer. Only the third layer, the surface, comprises what most of us would recognize as true gravel. Here, eschew smooth stones in favor of rough, angular ones, because these can be depended upon to provide a firmer, more stable driveway surface.

Using landscape stakes in combination with string or twine, define the path you wish the driveway to take from the curb all the way to its end point. Next comes a labor-intensive proposition: To prepare the way for the gravel, you must remove any grass or topsoil from the marked-off area. If you’d rather not do this manually, consider bringing in a bulldozer—and someone to operate it—to make quicker work of this unglamorous but essential stage of the project.

Having cleared a path for the driveway, now you need to calculate the volume of stones you’ll need. To do so, you’ll need to determine the number of cubic yards each layer will occupy. Start by measuring the length and width (in feet) of the driveway you’ve laid out, then multiply these two numbers together to find your driveway’s square footage. So, if the width is 10 feet and the length is 15 feet, your driveway will be 150 square feet. Multiply that number by the desired depth of each layer to get the number of cubic feet of stone you’ll need for each layer. The recommended height for each layer is four to six inches. If you want a four-inch layer, divide the square footage by 3 (because four inches is one-third of a foot). Now that you’ve calculated the necessary volume of stone in cubic feet, convert that number to cubic yards by dividing by 27 (because there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). Our 150-square-foot example is 50 cubic feet, or approximately 1.8 cubic yards (50 divided by 27), per layer. You’ll need about 1.4 tons of stone per cubic yard, plus four percent to account for compaction. So 1.8 x 1.4 x 1.04 equals your total order of stones (in tons) for one layer.

Drive Detail


Think strategically when it comes to scheduling the delivery of the stones for your gravel driveway. (Also, bear in mind that some gravel delivery trucks are capable of not merely dropping off the stones, but also spreading them.) It’s best to schedule separate deliveries for each of the three driveway layers. Further, it’s recommended that you stagger the deliveries a few days apart, so you have time to address each layer in turn. If you’re spreading the gravel manually, prepare yourself for the job by assembling the right tools: a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, a shovel with a sturdy trough, and a rake with metal tines.

Before the first gravel delivery truck arrives at your property, it’s important to even out the dirt in the path of the driveway. Depending on the area of your driveway, you can handle this work with your own tools or by enlisting the help of a professional with a backhoe. Are you planning to lay down a weed barrier? Do it after you’ve finished smoothing out the ground; take pains to ensure that the fabric doesn’t bunch up.

The bottom layer of the gravel driveway, of course, goes in first. Once you have spread these six-inch stones over the driveway area in a single, interlocking layer, ideally you’d bring in a bulldozer to compact the stones with its roller. Failing that, so long as you don’t think you’ll imperil the tires, drive over the base layer repeatedly with your car (or a neighbor’s truck). The object here is to pack the crushed rocks into the soil beneath, creating as strong a driveway foundation as possible.

Next comes the middle layer of two- to three-inch stones. In a perfect world, the gravel delivery truck would spread this layer for you, but whether or not that’s possible, the edges of the driveway are first going to need a little TLC. Neaten the perimeters with a shovel and rake and, if necessary, your gloved hands.

Finally, introduce the surface layer of gravel. To facilitate rainwater drainage, grade the stones in such a way that they peak in the middle of the driveway and incline slightly to the sides. Every few months, you may wish to use a rake to restore this peak. Likewise, you may need to neaten the edges from time to time. But for the most part, the gravel driveway you’ve now completed is—and will remain—a low-maintenance affair.

5 Great Ways to Garden in Comfort

Want a great looking garden without breaking your back? Garden in comfort with these tips and tools that will keep your garden—and you—in great shape.

Growing a beautiful garden is no small feat. Not only does it take regular attention, watering, and cooperative weather, but all of that planting, pruning, weeding, and raking can take its toll on your back, knees, and hands. Is it possible to create a picture-perfect garden and stay comfortable at the same time? Here are some pointers—and ergonomic garden tools from AMES®—to help you do just that.

As any gardener can attest, gardening can be serious exercise. Staying in shape will help you garden more comfortably and effectively. Work out your arms to make short work of hauling a watering can or pushing a garden cart. If you normally suffer from lower back pain after gardening, strengthening your core muscles with abdominal exercises with help prevent future back strain.

If you’re a dutiful gardener, chances are you spend a lot of time kneeling over your garden beds. Protect your knees during your next weeding session by investing in knee pads. There are wearable options or small and portable kneeling boards available for purchase online or at your local garden center.




Staying in place while you perform gardening tasks can cause muscle strain, so move and move often. It’s easy to lose track of time in the garden, but set a timer if you need the reminder and change your position every ten minutes or so. And even when you’re not stationary, take care. When lifting a heavy pot or plant, be sure to bend from the knees to carry the weight comfortably without damaging your back.

With good quality tools, gardening becomes more comfortable and more effective. Long handled tools like the AMES 5-Tine Welded Floral Cultivator can help save your back by eliminating the need to bend and kneel. Look for hand tools that provide an ergonomic grip to keep your hand and wrist comfortable while you work. The AMES Ergo Gel Grip Hand Rake features a soft gel grip that cushions the hand, providing comfort.

Don’t let your skin suffer while you’re gardening. Protect yourself from sunburns with a high SPF sunscreen and keep bugs away with a non-toxic insect repellant. Gardening can be rough on your hands, but gardening gloves will help prevent blisters and calluses from developing. When you’re all done, you can finish up with a lotion designed especially for gardeners in order to combat dry and itchy skin.

For more on AMES’ ergonomic line of tools, check out their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Enter Bob Vila’s 2nd Annual Great Garden Give-Away today and every day through June 30th (11:59 EST) for a chance at $1,000 in weekly prizes. 

Bob Vila Radio: Crabgrass

Left unchecked, crabgrass can run amok and ruin the look of your lawn. Here's how to prevent this pesky interloper—and what to do if it's already competing with your grass.

Crabgrass is a pesky interloper that can really ruin the look of your lawn. Left unchecked, it can spread quickly across wide areas as its seed travels. Here’s how to stop it in its tracks.

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The best offense, of course, is a good defense, and that means keeping your lawn thick and healthy and mowing it high. That creates deep shade at the roots, which makes it tough for sun-loving crabgrass to get started.

If you do see a small growth of crabgrass, pull it by hand and dispose of it. Don’t use a mulching mower on a lawn that has patches of crabgrass, as that only spreads the seeds over a wider area.

If your crabgrass is widespread, you’ll need to remove the affected areas of your lawn with a tiller or power rake, then reseed. Keep the newly seeded area lightly watered until the grass comes in, and immediately reseed any bare patches.

If you have persistent problems with crabgrass, come springtime you might want to use a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer on your lawn. That will keep any of the seeds that blow in from your neighbors’ yards from taking root in yours.

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: Removing Tree Stumps

Even a small tree can leave a formidable stump. When it comes to dealing with the landscape challenge presented by one or multiple tree stumps, homeowners have options.

At some point, you may need to remove a tree, whether because it’s too close to the house or because it’s dead or dying. Either way, you’ll have to deal with what remains once the tree is gone: the stump.

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Removing Tree Stumps


Even a small tree can leave a formidable stump, making it difficult, if not impossible, to dig it out by hand. You can hire a service to grind the stump or rent a grinder and do it yourself, but how effective that is depends on the location of the stump.

If the tree was close to the house or in a confined space, you’ll need to use a small grinder, which doesn’t go very deep. The remaining stump and roots will remain underground and will continue to decay for years. Not only do you need to top off the area with new soil, you should also add some lime to keep your soil balanced, as the decaying stump turns the soil acidic.

Of course, another alternative is to leave the stump in place and use it as part of your landscaping. Put in vines or other climbing plants next to it and allow them to drape over the stump. Or if the center of the stump is hollow, you can fill it with fresh potting soil and plant annuals in it.

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: Day Lily Care

Day lilies are a favorite among gardeners, in part because these colorful summer bloomers require little care. Follow these simple steps in order to keep this much-beloved perennial going strong, year after year.

There are few flowering plants as satisfying as day lilies—they bloom in late spring and early summer, just as the spring flowers are fading, and provide color for many weeks into the summer. These perennials come back year after year with only minimal care. Here’s what you need to know to keep your day lilies going strong.

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Day Lily Care


First, be sure to plant them in full sun, or at least where they will get several hours of sun every day. Day lilies look especially beautiful along a fence or walkway, where the showy flowers provide a dramatic border, and their full green foliage keeps weeds to a minimum.

If you choose cultivars that bloom at slightly different times, you can extend your blooming season and enjoy the different colors that emerge as the weeks go by. After each flower blooms, its stalk will dry out and turn brown; keep your plants looking tidy by removing the brown stalks with a gentle tug. Don’t worry—new blooms will keep coming.

At the end of the season, the green foliage will turn brown. It’s best to leave it in place for the winter to provide protection from the cold. Finally, clear away the dead foliage in the spring, when new green shoots appear.

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.

Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to Make Your Own Hammock

One of summer's great pleasures is lazing in a hammock, just sleeping, reading, or doing nothing at all. But first, you need a hammock. Here are some great DIY ideas for creating a beautiful, relaxing hammock of your very own.

What else says summer like a hammock gently swaying in the afternoon breeze? If you do not love the styles—or the prices—of the hammocks you’ve seen for sale in stores, or if you’re looking for a productive way to earn your nap time, consider getting this season into full swing by constructing your own DIY hammock. Scroll down to check out five inviting designs, each one easy to achieve with a set of basic tools and only a small quantity of readily available materials.



DIY Hammock - Drop Cloth


We normally think of drop cloths as hardworking, durable, and unabashedly simple. As it turns out, those same qualities make a drop cloth perfect for reuse in a DIY hammock. Visit Martha Stewart to see how you can transform a 6′ x 9′ sheet of canvas, together with grommets and rope, into a lovely backyard lounger.



DIY Hammock - Sail Rope


To put a modern spin on the classic hammock design, opt to use rope in two colors. A list of the needed supplies can be found over at Design Milk, along with detailed instructions. We think that when it comes to de-stressing, the process of weaving a DIY hammock actually rivals the simple pleasure of lying on one.



DIY Hammock - Muslin


From Camille Styles, here’s a romantically ethereal DIY hammock comprising a combination of airy, breathable muslin and sturdy canvas. Clothesline and simple chains do the work of suspending the hammock from adjacent trees, but it can be made even more elegant with optional lace or fringe embellishments.



DIY Hammock - Nylon


Ripstop nylon shows up in pants, parachutes, and a variety of other everyday applications. Light as a feather yet strong as a bull, it’s ideal stuff from which to craft a DIY hammock. To re-create this one, drop by Instructables for details on sewing together sections of nylon and forming the channels for the twin suspension cords.



DIY Hammock - Cotton Towels


Comfortable and completely customizable, this creative DIY hammock ingeniously incorporates a bright beach towel made of plush cotton. To start on yours, the first step is to choose an oversize towel (at least 40″ x 80″) in your favorite summery color or pattern. Then head on over to Design Sponge to get the project tutorial.

Bob Vila Radio: Lilac Pruning

Pruning lilacs too late in the season can endanger next year's blooms. Observe the following maintenance practices in order to ensure beautiful displays of seasonal color year after year.

If you didn’t prune your lilacs right after they bloomed, you still have a little time left, but don’t delay: Pruning them too late can take off next year’s blooms. Here’s what you need to know about pruning lilacs.

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Lilac Pruning


Lilacs flower on old wood, not on the new growth in spring. That’s why you can’t prune them once summer begins, at which point next year’s buds are developing. Prune now for best results next year. You should prune off about a third of the branches and clip any shoots around the stem, right at ground level. Lilacs put out prodigious quantities of new shoots, but you want only a handful of main stems coming out of the ground.

Reach deep inside the lilac to do your pruning; the one-third you remove needs to come from the interior to allow light into the plant. Keep the plant’s overall height in mind as you prune; unless you want all the blooms over your head, you’ll want to trim the plant back to no more than six feet tall.

If a lilac has become completely overgrown and unwieldy, you can cut the entire plant back to within inches of the ground and wait a few years for it to bloom again. Regular maintenance, however, should keep you from having to take such a radical step.

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.