Category: Lawn & Garden


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

Photo: wynnslawncarenc.com

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

Photo: shutterstock.com

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.

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Backyard Chickens

Photo: bobvila.com

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.

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Moss Lawns

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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.


How To: Plant Grass Seed

Whether you're starting a new lawn or just filling in some bare patches, here's how to get the best results the next time you sow grass seed.

How to Plant Grass Seed

Photo: shutterstock.com

Do you want to establish a new lawn or rescue a worse-for-wear patch on your property? The solution is, of course, to plant grass seed. But to do so successfully, you must bear in mind several considerations. It’s not quite as simple as spreading seeds over the ground, adding water, and waiting for sun. If you follow these few steps, however, you should find that it’s not overly challenging to plant grass seed—and it’s very rewarding to watch a lush carpet of green slowly take form!

STEP 1
Start by identifying and purchasing a good-quality grass seed. To narrow the field of options, focus on only those products rated by the National Turf Evaluation Program. Its approval indicates that the seeds in question are hardy and resistant to disease, pests, and drought. Bear in mind that countless types of seed are out there, so you should be able to choose a variety that responds to your individual needs. For example, some grass seeds have been bred to thrive in shade.

How to Plant Grass Seed - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Spring and fall are the best times of year to sow grass seed; average temperatures are warm enough to foster seed germination yet wet enough to support healthy development. If you are planting in the fall, leave enough time before the onset of winter. Because different types of grasses take different amounts of time to germinate, consult the seed company’s recommendations and your local weather forecast before you sow grass seed in the fall.

STEP 3
Take care to prepare the ground in which you are going to sow the seeds. If you are establishing a new lawn, it’s recommended that you loosen the soil to a depth of two inches, removing debris such as sticks and stones in order to maintain adequate air circulation. Add topsoil wherever you detect dips or depressions in the soil grade, because grass tends not to fare well under standing water.

It’s comparatively easier to prepare an existing lawn for reseeding. First, mow the grass that’s already there; cut it as closely as you can to the ground. In the bare areas, loosen the top quarter-inch of soil. Remove any sticks or stones and add new topsoil to level out any sections that are lower than grade.

STEP 4
At last, you can begin spreading seeds over the ground. You can do this by hand or with a lawn spreader. In either case, aim to deposit about 16 seeds over each square inch of soil. No, you don’t need to count out the seeds, but for your grass to achieve even coverage, you’ve got to plant seeds in the appropriate density.

Fertilize once you’ve finished seeding. After that, it’s a matter of watering—but never over-watering—the newly planted lawn. The best strategy is to run your sprinklers on a regular basis but for brief durations. Lay off the mower until the grass has risen to a height of about two inches, and remember to water daily.


Bob Vila Radio: Backyard Ponds

You don't need to be a millionaire to enjoy the peace and serenity of a garden pond. Here's how to create an affordable oasis in your own backyard.

The sense of serenity you get relaxing in your yard can be enhanced by the sound of a babbling brook or waterfall, but not too many yards are located near water. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in the woods (or be a millionaire) to enjoy a water feature of your own.

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Backyard Ponds

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Even a small yard can accommodate a garden pond. You can create a custom pond lined with concrete or vinyl, but the easiest way is by using a pre-formed shell. Plastic shells are inexpensive, but they’re vulnerable to cracks and punctures. Fiberglass shells cost a bit more but are far sturdier and much less likely to crack. A shell that has edging attached will be easier to install.

Choose a location that gets a fair amount of sun and is not under a tree that will drop leaves or needles into it. Add a cascade or waterfall to keep the water moving and include a filter in your plans to keep the water clean.

To install your pond, rough out a hole that’s slightly larger than the shell; level the bottom and line it with landscape fabric; then add a few inches of sand. Place the shell into the hole and start adding water. As the pond fills, backfill dirt around it, making sure it remains level. Conceal the top edge with decorative rocks or slate.

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’s Guide to Front Yard Landscaping

While there are no hard-and-fast rules for front yard landscaping, there are guidelines that professionals use to create their plans. These 12 tips from Certified Landscape Designer Dorian Winslow can help you achieve a professional look for your own yard.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Your front yard, regardless of its size, plays an important role in your home’s overall curb appeal. Your landscaping, however, goes well beyond just a beautiful lawn. It should take into account the style and size of your house, how it’s sited on the property, the amount of sunlight the yard receives, and how best to enhance it with plantings, bushes, shrubs, and trees. It should also include hardscaping features, from walkways and driveways to raised beds, planters, and decorative containers.

What are the best practices for front yard landscaping? To learn more, we reached out to Dorian Winslow, Certified Landscape Designer and owner and president of Womanswork, an online retailer of gardening apparel and supplies. Here are her 12 tips for successful front yard landscaping.

landscaped front walkway

Photo: housefm.org

1. Find your focus. Every view in your landscape should have a focal point. “For your front yard the focal point is the front door, so be sure you don’t hide it,” advises Winslow. If you are considering major plantings such as trees, think about how they will frame the front door as you approach your house.

2. Use ground covers. Ground covers are a low-maintenance alternative—and complement—to grass. “Because they’re low to the ground and dense, they give a neat appearance with very little maintenance,” says Winslow. “They also allow you to introduce spring bulbs to your landscape, because the ground cover hides the dead leaves after the bulbs bloom.” Be sure you research what ground covers work (culturally) with the trees in your yard.

3. Set the right path. When considering the pathway from the driveway to your front door, “remember that our natural instinct is to take the most direct route to where we’re going,” notes Winslow. A curved path to the front door is nice, but a meandering path may not be. “If you want to take your visitors on a circuitous route, be sure you plant densely along each side of your path,” she adds, “otherwise your guests will cut their own path across your grass to get to the front door.”

4. Rethink foundation plants. ”Avoid treating foundation plants as if they were little soldiers pressed up along the perimeter of your house,” advises Winslow. “For a two-story house, foundation plantings should extend at least eight feet out from the house.” And remember, a curved garden bed can soften the lines of your house in a pleasing way. Be sure the shrubs that are placed closest to your house are not taller than the windows, or they will block the light coming into your house and the view from inside looking out. When you’re planting shrubs, think about how they will look in three to five years. “You don’t want to select varieties that will block your windows,” she adds.

5. Add some privacy. If you are looking to add some privacy in your yard, consider a buffer of shrubs, suggests Winslow. “A buffer that includes multiple plants at varying heights can accomplish the same thing as a solid hedge or a fence but is far more welcoming,” says Winslow. Alternatively, if you are just trying to block the view from a particular room—or a part of your yard from your neighbors—plant a couple of trees or shrubs with strategic precision.

shrubs for privacy

Photo: lowes.com

6. Deter the deer. If deer are an issue, select shrubs that are deciduous (lose their leaves in the winter) but retain their form even when their leaves are gone. This will help preserve the structure of your garden in all seasons.

7. Consider the light. ”Your house is a large object that will block the sun for part of every day,” notes Winslow. If your house faces north, the front yard  is never going to get great light. If it faces east or west, it may get searing sun for part of the day and then no sun for the remainder. Make your plant choices with that in mind, advises Winslow.

8. Think long term. If you’re planting trees in front of your house, plan 12 to 15 years out. They are considered a permanent fixture in the landscape, so you want to be sure they are not too close to the house. “If you are thinking of selling your house, a tree can be an asset—unless it is one that prospective owners think they will have to remove; then it’s a liability,” cautions Winslow.

Driveway Border

Photo: dirtworkscapecod.com

9. Dress up the drive. If you have a standard asphalt driveway that you want to enhance, install a border of Belgian blocks (more expensive) or cement pavers (less expensive) along the edges of your driveway. A border gives the driveway a more finished and “expensive” look.

10. Create an entrance. “If your driveway is a straight line from the street to the house,” says Winslow, “soften the line with a curved planting bed where the driveway meets the front corner of your yard.” This will create a pleasing sweeping effect as you approach the house.

11. Add a flowering tree. It provides wonderful curb appeal and is welcoming for those few weeks in spring when it’s in bloom. Flowering varieties provide fragrance and usually don’t block the house, because they tend to be smaller trees.

12. Keep it simple. Don’t crowd your front yard with lots of objects or plants. Have a clear structure to the design and a focal point.

 


INFOGRAPHIC: Best Houseplants for Indoor Air Quality

Eager to invite a houseplant into your home? Choose from among our round-up of eight varieties that not only add beauty—according to us—but also eliminate airborne toxins—according to NASA!

Leave it to the good folks at NASA. In 1989, as part of the agency’s landmark Clean Air Study, researchers discovered that some plants do something extraordinary: They eliminate toxins from the air. Besides their decorative appeal and entertainment value—it’s fun to grow things!—these particular houseplants provide the added benefit of fresher air. Because there are so many air-purifying houseplants, we’ve narrowed it down for you. What follows are the details on eight of our favorite varieties. Each one is affordable, easy to find, and hardy enough to survive and thrive in virtually any home or office.

Air Purifying Indoor Plants

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Bob Vila Radio: Radical Hedge Pruning

Have your hedges gotten unruly? Read this before doing anything drastic. Often a multi-year approach is the best way to go about radical hedge pruning.

Hedges make great privacy screens, and they’re certainly friendlier than stockade fences. At some point, though, you may decide that your hedges have gotten too tall. (A hedge that’s taller than you are requires a ladder to trim, so cutting it back makes it easier to maintain.) Before you start slashing, here are a few things to consider.

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Hedge Pruning

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A mature hedge is often green on the outside but woody on the inside, because the outer foliage blocks sunlight from reaching the inner branches. Cutting a large amount at once off the top of a hedge to reduce its height will expose all that bare wood and leave you with rather unattractive results. If you want a shorter hedge right now, remember that it will look quite spare this first season but will fill in nicely in years to come.

If you don’t want to live through a season with a hedge that looks like bare sticks, you can take a multi-year approach to the project. Thin out your hedge by cutting a third of the larger wood stems back to the ground, which will open it up and allow inner branches to leaf. Do the same thing the following year and by year three, you should be able to cut back your hedge to a more reasonable height and still have a nice green screen.

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: Planting Bulbs in Spring

Though flowering bulbs are often associated with fall planting, many varieties may be planted in the spring to provide your summer garden with stunning color.

When we think about flowering bulbs, we often picture beautiful spring bloomers like daffodils and tulips, whose bulbs go into the ground in the fall. But there’s a whole world of bulbs and tubers you can plant in the spring that will grace your garden with vibrant summer color.

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Planting Bulbs

Photo: doprops.com

Start by picking out a sunny spot with well-drained soil and select only bulbs and tubers that should be planted in the spring. You’ll have a lot to pick from, including towering gladiolus, sweet-smelling freesia, willowy iris, and a number of varieties of anemone.

Make sure to wait until danger of frost in your area has passed, then plant the bulbs at the correct depth for the type of flower you’re planting, with the root at bottom and pointy end or sprout on top.

Depth and watering requirements vary by species, so read up before you plant. And be prepared to stake some of the taller flowers, such as the statuesque, top-heavy dahlia.

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may not be able to leave your spring-planted bulbs in the ground over the winter. If you need to remove them, shake off excess dirt and let them dry out before storing them in a cool, dry location. Then drop them in the ground next spring, and enjoy them all over again.

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: Building a Raised Garden Bed

Raised garden beds offer many advantages over planting directly into the earth. You can purchase a ready-made raised bed or follow these tips to construct your own.

There are lots of reasons why you might want to plant in a raised garden bed rather than directly in the soil. Raised beds create controlled environments that allow you to overcome problems such as weeds, roots, and poor soil. The good news is that raised beds are relatively inexpensive to buy and so simple to build that almost any gardener can have one.

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Raised Garden Beds

Photo: popularmechanics.com

To plan your raised bed, start by evaluating the space you have available. You can build to suit almost any size space, but you’ll want to be sure you’re able to reach all your plants, so your bed shouldn’t be more than four feet wide. If you have more space than that, consider building two or more beds side by side, with a path between them.

The basic garden bed is bottomless: You can set it on the ground or inset it several inches into the earth. Freestanding beds have bottoms and can be placed anywhere. The frame and sides can be made of many different materials, including wood, stone, and brick, and can be assembled from a kit or built from scratch. Don’t use pressure-treated posts or railroad ties for a garden bed, since treated lumber contains chemicals that could leach into the soil.

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.