Category: Lawn & Garden

How To: Plant a Shrub

Planting shrubs is an easy and rewarding do-it-yourself project, whether your goal is to establish a landscape border or to introduce in the garden.

Here’s how to properly plant a new shrub around your house. Mix one part peat moss with two parts top soil for high water retention. Dig a hole twice as big as the root ball and make sure the top of the ball is level with the grade. Loosen the wrapping. If it’s burlap, you can bury it and let it decompose. If it’s plastic, you need to remove it completely.

For more on trees and bushes, consider:

5 Fiery Fall Bushes
Creating Privacy and Beauty with Hedgerows
How To: Transplant Trees, Shrubs, and Perennials

How To: Refinish Rusty Patio Furniture

Refinish patio furniture to save yourself the trouble and expense of buying new tables and chairs for outdoor living areas.

Don’t throw out that rusty garden furniture. Restoring it can be a great weekend project. Use a wire brush or sandpaper to remove rust and flaky paint. Wash, dry, and then give it a good coat of metal primer. Choose a good outdoor metal paint and apply a couple of coats. Invest a little elbow grease and you’ve got something worth saving.

For more on deck, porch, and patio furniture, consider:

Anatomy of an Adirondack Chair
Care and Repair of Outdoor Furniture
Winterizing Your Patio Furniture

How To: Protect and Beautify a Wood Deck

With just a little prep work and a good waterproofing stain, you can easily restore the beauty of your wood deck—perhaps even this weekend.

How to Refinish a Deck - Complete

Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain

There are lots of ways to refinish a deck. If you want to showcase a fine wood species, such as mahogany, cedar, or redwood, a clear waterproofer is a good way to go. Some clear waterproofers don’t contain pigments or UV absorbers, so the wood can weather to a natural silver-gray over time. Others do, and will allow your wood to maintain its natural color.

If your deck is bleached and faded, a tinted waterproofer (also called a toner) will renew the natural wood color. Like a clear waterproofer, it protects wood from water and resists fading and mildew. It also imparts a very subtle wood-tone tint. Thompson’s® WaterSeal® offers tinted waterproofers in both oil- and water-based formulations. The latter can be applied to new pressure-treated wood without waiting the 30 days typically recommended for oil finishes.

If your deck was built of a common species, such as southern yellow pine or Douglas fir, or contains knots and sapwood, a semitransparent stain is a good choice. It contains more pigment than a toner to better mask knots, pronounced grain patterns, and discoloration. The additional pigment offers more UV protection, too. (Oxidation due to UV is what makes wood vulnerable to rot-causing fungus.)

I recently applied a coat of a semitransparent stain made by Thompson’s WaterSeal to a small deck and an outdoor bench. Unlike many other semitransparent stains, it both stains and waterproofs. It did a good job of blending tone variations and grain patterns, not unlike a wood stain for flooring or furniture. The coloring is not heavy, so the boards still look like wood. Thompson’s® WaterSeal® Waterproofing Stain comes in a three colors: cedar, desert brown, and nutmeg—and can be purchased only at Walmart.

If you don’t want the wood look, choose a solid color deck finish. It will hide the wood grain and color completely, just like paint, but it’s not as thick and you don’t have to worry about peeling. Solid color stain allows you to connect your deck visually to the house by matching or complementing siding and trim colors. It has the most pigment of deck finishes (short of paint) and therefore offers the most UV protection.

Regardless of which look you prefer, take the following steps to clean your deck before brushing or rolling on a finish. For do-it-yourselfers, the best approach is to use a stiff-bristle brush threaded onto a broom-length handle, and a bucket of TSP dissolved in water. Following manufacturer precautions, scrub the deck surface, including the railings and stairs, then rinse with a hose. You may use a pressure washer to clean your deck, but I find that for this job it’s usually not worth the bother. In addition, if your deck surface has suffered from UV radiation or minor decay, a pressure washer may cause further damage by lifting splinters and slivers.

If you’d like to brighten your deck or change its color, look into a cleaner formulated for decks. There are specialized deck cleaners made for brightening and for removing old tints and semitransparent stains. There are even deck strippers made for removing latex and oil-based solid color stains—but it’s a lot easier just to cover the old finish with a fresh coat of solid color stain!

Now allow the deck to dry. Depending upon the weather and the finish you’re using, it may take several days. In my case, I had to let the deck dry three days before applying the oil-based semitransparent stain. If I had selected a water-based finish, drying would have taken less time. Be sure to follow the directions on the can.

How to Refinish a Deck - Application

Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain Application

I like to use a 12-inch roller to coat large horizontal areas, such as a deck, and a small roller to apply finish to balusters and to top and bottom rails. Do not over apply; spread all excess sealer evenly until the roller is “dry,” and then reload. Have a brush handy to apply finish to tight spots.

Avoid lap marks by maintaining a wet lead edge. The Thompson’s® WaterSeal® Waterproofing Stain is pretty forgiving in this regard as long as you follow the product directions and don’t work in direct sunlight. Doing so will dry the finish too quickly. This not only makes lap marks more likely but limits penetration into the wood you’re trying to protect. Early morning and late afternoon are good times to work as long as the temperature is going to stay between 50 and 95 degrees F. Out of the can, the desert brown waterproofing stain looks a lot like chocolate milk. It dries, however, to a translucent golden tan. I applied two coats because I wanted a deeper color. Otherwise, according to the manufacturer, one coat will suffice. A nice surprise was that the brush could be cleaned with soap and water. Roller cover and rags, however, had to be disposed of by placing them in a water-filled container to avoid any chance of spontaneous combustion.

If you have a wood deck in need of some attention, the solution may require nothing more than a simple cleaning and easy-to-apply waterproofing stain finish.


This post has been brought to you by Thompson’s® WaterSeal®.  Its facts and opinions are those of

Bob Vila Radio: Planting Fruit Trees

Make sure to consider these important factors before planting a delicious fruit tree in your backyard.

Do you dream of picking a crisp apple or juicy peach from a tree right in your own backyard? Planting a fruit tree can be a rewarding—and delicious—endeavor, but to ensure that your investment really does bear fruit, do your homework first.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FRUIT TREES or read the text below:

Planting Fruit Trees


First, choose the right kind of tree. One important consideration is a tree’s chilling requirement—the minimum period of cold weather, measured in hours, a tree needs to produce blossoms in the spring. Your region must provide enough cold days to meet the requirement.

On the flip side, many trees (for example, citrus trees) can’t handle cold temperatures at all. It’s safest to opt for varieties that you’ve seen growing well in your area. Your local nursery or your nearest Cooperative Extension office can guide you.

Also consider pollination. Some varieties are self-fertile—they’ll produce fruit even if you have only one tree. Others require pollination with a different variety of the same fruit species. In an area with many fruit trees, your tree will probably have a good pollination partner nearby; in isolated areas, or where there are no similar species around, you may need to plant an appropriate companion. Just make certain the bloom seasons overlap!

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.

Plant More, Spend Less: Shop Nurseries Off-Season

If your gardening budget normally doesn't equal your enthusiasm for the hobby, be sure to shop the deep discounts offered by nurseries in the off-season.


Browsing the local nursery, you may find yourself wanting to bring home half the store: There are so many beautiful and exciting varieties to choose from. However, your budget may not match your enthusiasm. After all, plants are expensive—most of the time, that is.

Related: 3 Keys to Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden

Experienced gardeners know that at the end of the season— once they’ve finished flowering—perennials, bushes, and trees are offered at deep discounts. If you know what species you want and are content to wait until next spring to see their blooms, now is the time to sweep in and take advantage of sale prices.

If you wish to buy plants off-season, here are few things to keep in mind:

1. Avoid Annuals. As they are likely not to last much longer, and since they won’t come back next year, it’s not worth it to buy annuals late in the season. Instead, focus on finding trees, bushes, and perennials that you like. With some care, these selections can be planted any time, so long as the weather isn’t extreme, and most important of all, they can be expected to flourish when warmer weather returns.

2. Be Flexible. At the end of the season, garden centers are clearing old inventory, and their stock has gotten pretty thin. Save yourself some heartache; don’t count on getting that hydrangea in the color you adored four months ago. Approach off-season sales with flexibility and open-mindedness, and you’ll no doubt find many things that would work well in your garden.

3. Dole Out the TLC. After a summer spent in a pot at the nursery, any plant you buy now is probably going to be stressed and root-bound. Before putting your purchase into the ground, detangle and trim its roots. (Depending on the extent to which you trim the roots, it may be necessary to restore balance by pruning the top of the plant as well.) Remember to water liberally until all or most signs indicate the plant has been successfully established.

So don’t miss the opportunity to shop at the nursery off-season, or to stalk the sale rack at your local home improvement retail chain store. With prices slashed by 50% or more, you can afford to take some chances!

How To: Build a Quick and Easy Trellis

Twined by flowering vines or climbing vegetables, a trellis is practical and picturesque—and not too tough to make.

How to Build a Trellis - Lattice Grate

Photo: Shutterstock

Low-cost additions to any landscape, easy-to-make garden trellises can be used to introduce shade or privacy, or to support climbing vegetables or flowering vines. Typically, a trellis consists of a square or rectangular frame with an inset grid. While the frame is usually constructed of wood, the grid can be created from a wide variety of materials, including chain link or wire mesh, nylon string or natural twine, interwoven sticks or bamboo stalks.

Related: How to Build a Trellis (VIDEO)

How to Build a Trellis - Climbing Plants


A trellis can stand alone or connect to an existing structure, be it a wall, fence, arbor, or pergola. No matter the approach, the process of building a trellis begins by securing two vertical posts. The quickest way to do this, assuming your soil isn’t too stony, is to drive spiked post holders (for instance, Simpson’s E-Z Spike) into the ground by means of a sledgehammer. Then use nails or screws to attach your posts to the base of the holders.

For a more permanent installation, use a posthole digger to excavate holes to a depth of 30 to 36 inches, keeping the diameter as small as possible. Fill each hole with about six inches of gravel, then tamp it down. Set a post into the center of each hole and add concrete. Don’t pour the concrete all the way to grade level; leave a few inches to be filled in with soil. If you think you might want to move the trellis in the future, skip the concrete and instead fill the hole with a mix of soil and gravel, tamping down after every few shovelfuls.

Once the posts have been erected, frame a 4′ x 4′ sheet of lattice with 1″ x 3″ or 1″ x 4″ boards. Next, nail cleats—that is, 1″ x 1″ boards—to the inside edge of each post. Now, as a final step, screw the latticework to the cleats.

Use galvanized nails and screws throughout to minimize the risk of rust stains. Coat the trellis with either a translucent or solid-color stain, not only to improve its appearance, but also to protect the wood from the weather.

Tip: Build the lattice panel first so that you can space your posts the proper distance apart.

How To: Reseed Your Lawn with a Power Rake

Looking for a quicker way to reseed your lawn in the fall or spring? Instead of a rototiller, try using a power rake.

Here’s an option for reseeding your lawn. If you have a large lawn or yard area, consider renting or having your landscaper use a power rake instead of a rototiller to repair your soil. A power rake is much wider and larger than a rototiller and able to cover the area more quickly. You’ll save time and money preparing your lawn for new seed or sod.

For more on lawn care, consider:

Lawn Care Tips from Pennington Seed
3 Essential Fall Lawn Maintenance Tasks
Ultimate Lawn Care Guide: 12 Steps to a Prize-Winning Yard

Is an Electric Lawn Mower Right for You?

If you're in the market for a new mower, you may want to consider a battery-powered model. But first make sure that it's the right choice for your lawn.

Choosing an Electric Lawn Mower - Neuton CE6

Neuton CE6 Battery-Powered Lawn Mower

Many people are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, driving more efficient cars and improving the energy efficiency of their homes. But there’s another way to reduce emissions, and it involves something that is probably sitting in your garage right next to your car: your lawn mower.

Battery-powered (cordless electric) mowers have been enjoying a surge in popularity, and as more people buy them, manufacturers are improving the technology and features of each new model.

Related: Need a New Mower? 10 Top-Rated Grass Guzzlers

There are many advantages to electric mowers. They are quiet, they won’t choke you with exhaust, and they start with the touch of a button—literally. They are also simpler to maintain, with no tune-ups or oil changes required and no fuel to store.

But they do have some drawbacks. Obviously their performance declines as the battery runs down. And they are not powerful enough for rough mowing conditions (e.g, tall weeds or hilly terrain). That said, there are plenty of yards for which an electric mower is an excellent choice.

You can seriously consider a battery-powered mower if your property meets these conditions:

Choosing an Electric Lawn Mower - Neutron Battery


Small Yard Size. Because electric mowers decrease in performance as battery charge decreases, they are best used on small- to medium-size yards (a half acre or less). No one wants to wait for the battery to recharge before being able to finish the chore of mowing.

Flat Terrain. A rechargeable battery has plenty of power, but it cannot go up and down hills with the same facility that a gas-powered engine can. For that reason, electric mowers work best on flat terrain.

Short Grass Heights. The blade on a battery-powered mower does not have the level of torque boasted by gas-powered mowers. That means an electric mower cannot handle tall, thick grass or weeds as effectively as its gas cousin.

So if you have a relatively small, flat, manicured lawn, think about giving your old gas mower the boot. Choose an electric lawn mower and you can enjoy many seasons of lightweight, quiet grass cutting. What do with your old gas can? Use it to fill something else—perhaps an ATV or jet ski!

How To: Weed Your Garden

While you may not be able to eliminate weeds entirely, you can certainly keep them in check by following some basic techniques.

How to Weed Your Garden


Even late into the season, the summer can seem like one prolonged fight against garden weeds. The bad news? There’s no winning this war; you’ll be engaged on the front lines so long as you wish to maintain a manicured landscape. But with the right tools and proper techniques, you can keep the enemy contained. 

Preventing weeds is the best way to limit their proliferation. The basic strategy here is to make your garden a less-than-hospitable location for unwanted plants. First and foremost, limit the amount of bare soil present in your garden, as empty patches of fertile soil are like oases for weeds. Instead, plant densely, use mulch, and consider taking advantage of the natural weed-suppressing power of ground covers or landscaping fabric, the latter being effective but artificial.

Even the best practices won’t stop every single weed from finding its way into your garden, but by employing some or all of the following methods, you can stand your ground against their ceaseless incursion.

1. Weed daily
Some gardeners weed only once a week, and surprising though it may be, even that frequency gives the roots of weeds sufficient time to grow deep and strong. A superior strategy is to weed a little every day. That way, you ensure the problem never gets out of hand. Bring along a kneeler and a shovel, a weed knife, or even an old fork to help you get to the roots. Don’t neglect walking rows (footpaths between plantings); if weeds get a stronghold there, they can easily spread.

Note: If you weed more frequently and vigorously in the first months of spring and summer, you’ll be doing yourself a favor for the rest of the growing season, as you’ll prevent weeds from going to seed and spreading farther afield. 

2. Hoe regularly
Another way of uprooting weeds is to hoe regularly. Gardeners favor this approach, as it allows them to avoid the backbreaking work of pulling each weed manually. Be very careful not to hoe too deep, though: You might bring weed seeds to the surface, where they will enjoy access to the light and water essential for growth. Once a week, stir the soil at the base of plants to a depth of three inches maximum. Hoe only to one inch if you want to stay on the safe side.

How to Weed Your Garden - Fork


3. Pull, don’t yank
Take care to remove the roots of a weed so that it doesn’t return. Yank out a weed too quickly and it might break, with the result that you pull out the top but not the all-important root system. For best results, pull very gently (if the soil is soft) or use a tool to dig it up (if the soil is hard). If digging, do so sparingly; you don’t want to disturb the roots of the plants you wish to keep.

4. Choose the right time
Don’t weed when the soil is soggy, but do weed when the soil is wet. It’s easier to pull the roots up out of damp soil. Save hoeing for days when the ground is dry.

Related: Zen and the Art of Weed Whacking

5. Get ’em out of there
Once you’ve pulled out a weed, don’t let it sit around on bare soil. Its seeds could find their way back into the ground. Let pulled weeds dry out and die in the sun, preferably on the sidewalk, then either throw them away or into a compost heap.

Note: Do not compost weeds that have gone to seed. That’s a recipe for getting more weeds when you ultimately return the compost to your garden.

6. Chop off their heads
If weeds have grown so big that you aren’t able to fully uproot them—or if they are so close to other plants that to remove the root of the weed would mean risking the roots of the plants you want to keep—then chop off the heads of the weeds. This will kill them slowly and prevent them from going to seed and spreading further. You may have to chop multiple times, but eventually they’ll die out.

7. What about herbicides?
Herbicides usually require many applications, as they (literally) fail to address the “root” of the problem. Be careful: They can be toxic to pets, children, and other plants. Use sparingly, or experiment with organic herbicides, such as vinegar or boiling water. In all cases, make sure you’re spraying or pouring herbicide only on weeds, not inadvertently killing other plants in the process.

French Drains 101

Do you have a permanent damp spot in your yard? Do you always get water in your basement after a heavy rain? A French drain might help dry things up. Here are the basics.

French Drains

Photo: Helet van Blerk

Things with “French” in the title are usually fancy, right? Poodles, perfume, pastries. But a French drain is nothing more than a ditch in the ground, inset with a perforated pipe under a layer of gravel. That pipe funnels storm water away from where you don’t want it—along the foundation, for example—and deposits that water in a more desirable place, such as the municipal storm drain or a backyard rain barrel.

Whereas gutters collect precipitation as it runs off the roof, French drains manage water at ground level. Let’s say that after a rainstorm, water tends to pool in a particular low spot on your property. Rerouting the flow of water with a French drain would alleviate that problem.

A French drain also provides a solution for basements that admit water through the foundation. In these “wet” basements, water presses against the foundation and gradually leaks through. With a French drain, however, water near the foundation can be rerouted and deposited elsewhere.

If water continues to invade your basement despite seemingly adequate outdoor drainage, then you might need to install a French drain indoors. Installation involves cutting a trench in the basement slab along the perimeter of the foundation, laying pipe in the trench, and putting in a sump pump to move water from the interior to the exterior.

Related: 7 Ways to Avoid Basement Flooding

French Drains - Trench


Whether installed in the yard or the basement, a French drain works on the same principles. First, a trench is dug with a slope in the direction you want the water to go; a slope of one inch for every eight feet in length is generally recommended. To determine the correct angle, use a level string tied between stakes, then measure the distance from that reference point to the trench bottom.

Because there is a direct relationship between the diameter of a drain pipe and its relative effectiveness, make your trench no smaller than 12 inches wide, and aim for a depth between 18 and 24 inches. If you’re installing a French drain around your foundation to prevent basement moisture, take care to position the pipe below slab or finished floor level.

After digging your trench, fill it with a few inches of crushed stone. Cover the stone with water-permeable landscaping fabric to discourage weed growth. Next, lay piping into the trench. Choose one of two types, either rigid PVC with predrilled holes or flexible drain pipe cut with slits. PVC lasts longer, and if you encounter a clog, it can be cleaned with pressure or a plumber’s snake. Flexible pipe, on the other hand, is less expensive and easier to work with.

Related: 12 Rain Barrels That Perform with Style

Opting for PVC? You can attach a 45-degree angle joint to the start of your pipeline and then connect the joint to a pipe that can be left sticking out of the ground for an easy-access clean-out point. Another important thing to remember in PVC installations: Orient the pipe holes downward. Counterintuitive though it may be, French drains work by allowing water to flow into them from below.

Wrap landscaping fabric around the pipe to keep dirt and roots from obstructing the system. Finally, infill the trench with gravel to grade. Alternatively, infill with gravel to a point a few inches below grade, then add dirt to span the remaining distance. Although covering the pipe complicates future maintenance efforts, doing so allows the French drain to be completely concealed.

Further Notes
- Instead of wrapping pipe with landscaping fabric, you can buy a flexible perforated pipe that comes encased in water-permeable fabric.

- If you are planning to dig a long trench, think about renting a trench digger to make quicker work of it.

- Place a catchment barrel at the terminus of your drain as a way of harvesting rainwater for use in the garden.

- After trenching, expect to have a large quantity of loose dirt in need of a home. Before you begin the project, decide what you will do with the dirt.