Lawn & Garden - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden


DIY Hydroponics 101: All You Need to Know About Growing Plants Without Any Soil

Grow more plants in a smaller space without soil? While it sounds too good to be true, these are some of the real-life benefits that have more and more gardeners trying hydroponics at home.

DIY Hydroponics 101 - How to Grow Houseplants without Soil

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’ve ever taken a stem cutting from a plant and stuck it in a glass of water to grow roots, you’ve taken advantage of hydroponics. The word, “hydroponics,” comes from the words “water” and “labor,” and it describes a method of growing plants in a soil-free, nutrient-rich water solution. An increasing number of fruits and vegetables found in grocery stores are produced hydroponically, but this soil-less method of propagation isn’t limited to commercial growers. Indeed, homeowners are taking advantage of smaller-scale, DIY hydroponics to cultivate delicious herbs, fruits, and vegetables—even during winter.

HYDROPONIC HISTORY

Cultivating plants in a watery environment isn’t a new idea. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are thought to have been a crude predecessor of today’s hydroponics, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that scientists began experimenting with the process on a greater scale for food production.

Today, the use of hydroponics for growing vegetables and fruits is widespread; self-contained hydroponic systems can be found in submarines, off-shore drilling rigs, space stations, and on produce farms in almost every nation. Hydroponics offers high yields in a fraction of the space required by traditional farming, making it a vital method for ensuring worldwide food security. It’s also quickly becoming a popular way for homeowners to grow their own fresh produce.

 

DIY Hydroponics 101 - How to Grow Houseplants without Soil

Photo: istockphoto.com

HYDROPONIC FUNDAMENTALS

In a hydroponic system, plants are grown in a sterile growing medium, such as Rockwool, coconut fiber, perlite, or sand. Unlike soil, the growing medium is inert, meaning it doesn’t contain any minerals, nutrients, or chemicals that will affect the plants. Lightweight plastic net pots are frequently used to contain the growing medium and the plants. The net pots are then put in into larger sealed enclosures where they receive water.

While hydroponic systems vary greatly in design, they all operate on one basic principle: They all make use of water to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the roots of the plants. A hydroponic system can be a large unit that supports many plants, or it can be a small pot with a single plant. It’s not the size that makes it hydroponic, but rather the method of growing the plant.

BASIC SYSTEMS

The following basic hydroponic methods are used extensively in commercial systems and are often copied and adapted by crafty gardeners in creating their own DIY hydroponic systems.

Drip hydroponics: Water is supplied to growing medium in net pots at the surface using a drip irrigation system, and then allowed to drain out the bottom of the pots. The bottoms of the net pots are situated in a closed container so plant roots don’t dry out too quickly.

Flood-and-drain hydroponics: Water circulates below the net pots but does not come into contact with them. Instead, wicks made from an absorbent material will soak up the water, transferring it upward to moisten the roots of the plants inside the netting. When it’s time to water, the water is pumped through the container beneath the wicks just long enough for them to become saturated. Then, the water is drained into a reservoir and reused for subsequent watering sessions.

Water culture hydroponics: The roots of the plants are partially subjected to water on a continuous basis. In this system, the bottoms of the net pots are positioned just above the level of the water and a pump is used to create bubbles that make contact with the net pots, keeping the growing medium and roots moist.

Aeroponic hydroponics: Similar to water culture hydroponics, an aeroponic system wets the bottom of the net pots directly, but instead of bubbling water, the roots and growing medium are moistened through the use of a misting system located in the container below the plants.

 

DIY Hydroponics 101 - How to Grow Houseplants without Soil

Photo: istockphoto.com

BENEFITS OF HYDROPONIC PROPAGATION

If you’ve ever had an outdoor garden, you’ll immediately recognize some of the following benefits of growing plants in a hydroponic system.

• No hoeing or weed-picking necessary.

• No need to use pesticides to eliminate crawling insects that eat your plants.

• Plants grow more quickly because their roots don’t have to push through compact soil.

• Plant roots absorb nutrients more quickly from water than they do from soil.

• Access to fresh-picked fruits and vegetables any time of year.

• Hydroponic plants are not subject to soil-borne diseases.

• The system can be set up indoors or outdoors.

• High-yield production in a small space.

• While there are commercial kits available, it’s entirely possible to DIY hydroponics at home.

READY-TO-GO COMMERCIAL UNITS

You can find a wide variety of commercial hydroponic systems on the market, but they’re usually a bit on the pricey side. A snazzy-looking self-contained unit with room to grow six to 12 plants, complete with grow lights, a timer, and Wi-Fi capability to notify you via your smartphone when it’s time to add nutrients, runs $125 to $350. These units are attractive on the kitchen countertop and will produce fresh herbs year-round without the need for window lighting.

RELATED: Your Easiest-Ever Garden: 7 Planters that Do All the Work

If you’re into large-scale gardening, you can find commercial hydroponic systems designed to accommodate dozens—or hundreds—of plants. These units contain everything you need; lighting, pumps, tubes, and containers. They start around $1,000 and go up from there. If you want to grow and sell your produce at farmer’s markets or to local grocers, a large commercial unit can be a good investment.

PREFER TO BUILD YOUR OWN UNIT?

One of the great thing about hydroponic gardening is the ability to make your own inexpensive system. Dozens of free plans for DIY hydroponics are available on the internet, and you can even design your own system once you master the basics. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you could spend $2 to $200, or more, on materials and supplies. Some of the more popular ways of using hydroponic at home include:

Restructuring an empty plastic bottle as an individual planter. Cut the top quarter off a 2-liter soda bottle, fill the bottom part with water, and then place the top part upside down in the bottom part to use as a growing pot. This inexpensive unit features piece of a natural fiber rope, such as jute, inserted through the cap into the water below to act as a wick to draw water upward and keep the growing medium moist.

Making use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, sometimes in elaborate configurations. Horizontal PVC pipes carry nutrient-rich water to the bottoms of individual net pots, which are inserted in holes drilled in the topside of the pipes. Water is pumped through the pipes by a submersible pump located in a large container of water to which nutrients have been added.

Repurposing a large container so that its basin holds water. Reservoir systems can make use of a 5-gallon plastic bucket or another large plastic container with holes drilled into the lid to insert net pots and plants while water fills the bottom.

 

DIY Hydroponics 101 - How to Grow Houseplants without Soil

Photo: istockphoto.com

TIPS FOR DIY HYDROPONICS

No matter how large or small you design your hydroponic system, the following tips will help you grow healthy plants.

Provide enough water to moisten the roots of the plants, but not so much that they’re consistently sopping wet.

• Keep the water moving, either by the use of a pump, sprayers or a drip irrigation system.

• Use filtered water in your hydroponic system. Tap water contains chemicals and pathogens, which can negatively affect your plants. Water from a reverse osmosis (RO) system is a good choice, but if that isn’t an option, filter tap water through a portable water filter.

• Use supplemental lighting if natural sunlight is unavailable. You can purchase commercial grow lights or fluorescent lights to supply the additional light your plants need to grow.

• Use a bubble system, such as those found in fish tanks, to infuse the water with oxygen, which is necessary for healthy plant growth.

• Maintain a consistent water temperature between 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder water can slow plant growth, and warmer water is at risk of developing fungus and algae.

• Use a pH tester to ensure that the water in the reservoir is not too acidic or too alkaline. Most plants require a pH between 5.7 and 6.3 for healthy vigorous growth. When an imbalance occurs, add an acidic- or an alkaline-correcting product to bring the water back into balance.

• Apply nutrients and fertilizers to the water reservoir as recommended by the manufacturer of the fertilizers you’re using.


4 Trees to Plant for a Beautiful Landscape All Year

In search of a tree that looks good all year long? Colorful leaves come and go, but limbs covered with white bark appear striking no matter the season.

4 Trees with White Bark

Photo: istockphoto.com

Often, trees are selected and grown for their foliage, fruit, or flowers—seasonal features that blossom and fade over the course of several months—but it’s not impossible to find deciduous trees (those with leaves that often drop over the winter) capable of delivering beauty year-round. The key is to narrow your search to trees with white bark. Even in winter months, when barren, uniquely alabaster branches offer a striking contrast against dark siding, a backdrop of evergreens, or even against the winter sky.

While whitebark trees are not rare, they’re not as common as other trees for two reasons: Certain varieties require very specific growing climates, while others are subject to disease and insect infestation. Before choosing a tree, make sure it’s suitable for your geographic region, by consulting the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which indicates the coldest average winter temperatures by region. Keep in mind that some trees with white bark have additional geographical requirements on top of planting zones, such as altitude limitations, so do your homework for what your property can grow. The following four types of trees are among those most commonly chosen for the beauty of their white bark, and, hopefully, one will be just right for your yard.

4 Trees with White Bark - The Himalayan Birch

Photo: istockphoto.com

Himalayan Birch

You may be familiar with some species of birch that have beige or brown bark, but a select few species of Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) feature creamy white trunks and limbs. Native to the Himalayan region, these birch trees prefer cool, well-drained soil and full-to-partial sun exposure. These birch varieties grow best in zones 1 through 7, although areas where summer temps regularly exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit can be detrimental to their growth. If you live in northern areas of the contiguous United States, Canada, or Alaska, check out the following trees with white bark—though very similar, each has a few special qualities.

Doorenbos (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, ‘Doorenbos’) grows up to two feet per year to reach a mature height of 40 to 50 feet with a 30-foot crown spread. Doorenbos features peeling white bark that falls away to reveal light orange under-bark. The under-bark turns white soon after the surface layer falls off, and the shedding of its bark is an ongoing process. Brown trailing flowers, known as “catkins,” appear in spring, followed by dark green leaves that turn yellow-gold in the fall before dropping.

Jermyns (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, ‘Jermyns’), another peeling-bark Himalayan birch, grows about two feet per year until it reaches a mature height of 30 to 35 feet with a crown spread of 20 to 25 feet. Slightly smaller than other Himalayan birch trees, Jermyns is well-suited to smaller yards. The tree forms long brown catkin blooms in spring, followed by heavily ribbed green leaves that turn soft yellow in autumn.

Grayswood Ghost (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, ‘Grayswood Ghost’) reaches 30 to 50 feet at maturity with a 30-foot crown spread. Grayswood Ghost is a fast grower, gaining up to three feet per year, and its bark is smooth and non-peeling. Expect brown bark on young Grayswood Ghost until the tree is about eight years old; by then, its bark gradually turns stark white. Like other Himalayan birch trees, it develops catkins in spring, followed by green leaves that turn a mellow yellow shade in fall.

Silver Shadow (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, ‘Silver Shadow’), a slightly slower grower, will climb one to two feet per year to reach a mature height of 35 to 45 feet and a crown spread of 20 feet. Like Grayswood Ghost, its bark is non-peeling, and it features brown catkins in spring and soft yellow autumn foliage.

While the trees, themselves, love full sun, the ground around their roots should be shaded. This can be accomplished by adding a layer of hardwood bark mulch around the trunk. Additionally, Himalayan birch trees are prone to infestation by sawflies and aphids, and they can develop diseases, such as rust and leaf spot. For the best results, have your tree checked annually by a tree professional (arborist) and treated as necessary to keep it in top health.

 

 

4 Trees with White Bark - The American Aspen

Photo: istockphoto.com

American Aspen

If you’re a fan of colorful autumn foliage, nothing beats the brilliant gold and orange show put on by a grove of Aspen trees on the side of a forested mountain. The American Aspen (Populus tremuloides), also known as “quaking aspen” or “trembling aspen,” produces smooth white bark on a strong vertical trunk that can reach 80 feet at maturity with a narrow crown spread of only 20 feet. American Aspen’s striking white bark will develop contrasting black markings as it matures, which add to its visual interest. In optimal conditions, American Aspen is a quick grower, growing as much as four feet per year.

This soaring tree grows best in zones 2 through 7, and while it likes full sun, it doesn’t care for summer temperatures that regularly exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It also will not abide low elevations: American Aspen rarely grows at elevations less than 2,000 feet, and grows best at elevations between 5,000 to 12,000 feet. By entering your city and state on this interactive elevation map, you can determine if an American Aspen is suitable for your area. (Bonus points if you’re in the right elevation range and located near banks and streams, as these trees with white bark thrive with plenty of water and well-drained soil.)

With its tall, lean stature, American Aspen is well-suited to growing in clumps, and when planted three to five inches apart will produce a multi-trunk effect. It’s just as attractive when planted individually along fences and property lines, or anywhere else a statuesque border is desired. Aspens spread by root shoots, so if you have an optimal location, a few clumps of Aspen could become a spectacular grove in a 15 to 20 years.

 

4 Trees with White Bark - The American Sycamore

Photo: istockphoto.com

American Sycamore

Reaching an average height of 100 feet at maturity with a similarly wide crown spread, the whitebark American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), is a dramatic addition to a large landscape. It grows well in zones 4 through 9, averaging two to two-and-a-half feet of growth per year. It produces insignificant yellow-red flowers in spring that give way to large green leaves (up to nine inches wide) in summer. Brownish non-edible fruit balls develop in summer and eventually dry out, bursting open to release downy seeds. Its mottled white bark, which starts out brown and turns creamy white after 10 to 12 years, makes it a favorite in the winter landscape.

Due to its large size (the average mature trunk measures three to eight feet in diameter but has been known to reach as much as 16 feet!), American Sycamore is best suited as a single specimen tree in a large area where it can reach its full growth potential. It thrives in well-drained, moist soil that’s high in organic matter. The largest American Sycamore specimens are found along waterways so plant this tree near a pond or stream for the best results.

 

4 Trees with White Bark - The Ghost Gum

Photo: istockphoto.com

Ghost Gum

If you live in zones 9 and 10 and are looking for a fast-growing, whitebark tree that won’t lose its foliage during the winter months, consider planting a Ghost Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora). Native to Australia, the Ghost Gum, also called “snow gum” and “white sallee,” has made a name for itself in warmer regions of the US. With its ability to grow up to three feet per year, it doesn’t take Ghost Gum long to become a specimen in the landscape. At maturity, it reaches 45 to 50 feet in height with a crown spread of 25 to 30 feet. In addition to its creamy colored smooth bark, Ghost Gum features attractive gnarled branches, and the tree emits a faint, but distinct, aroma of eucalyptus. Ghost Gum blossoms from October through December, covering the tree in an explosion of delicate white flowers that offer striking contrast against its deep green waxy leaves.

This variety grows in all types of soil, won’t mind drought, and flourishes in full sun (although it will tolerate partial shade). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it thrives in salty coastal regions. Its rapid growth rate and tough demeanor—resistant to smog, insects, and diseases—make it a good choice for planting in urban neighborhoods. Ghost Gum makes a good single specimen tree but is just as attractive when planted in groups of three or more.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.


All You Need to Know About Winterizing Concrete Surfaces

While you're taking measures to protect your house from cold weather, don't forget about your outdoor structures! A little winterizing maintenance for your concrete sidewalks, patios, and lawn decor will ensure that these features will still be sturdy and attractive when the snow and ice thaw in spring.

How to Prepare Your Concrete for Winter

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’re a homeowner in the process of winterizing your property, by late fall you’ve probably already replaced the old weather stripping on the exterior doors, cleaned your home’s gutters, and caulked around drafty windows—all in anticipation of the arrival of Old Man Winter. But have you taken any steps to protect your outdoor concrete from the coming cold? While concrete is one of the most durable construction materials around, you may be surprised to learn that sidewalks, patios, birdbaths, and other concrete items around your house can suffer from exposure to snow and ice, and from winter’s freezing temperatures.

Unless it has been sealed, concrete is porous—meaning, of course, that it’s not impervious to moisture. In warm weather, excess rainwater or dew caught in concrete can readily evaporate, but when temps dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit that moisture freezes and expands. The movement caused by temperature fluctuations can result in cracks in concrete or surface spalling (when the top layer of concrete flakes away to reveal pitted patches). Plus, once cracked, a concrete surface is at even greater risk of damage because water can seep into the cracks and exert intense pressure as it freezes, widening existing cracks and weakening the structural stability of the concrete. In the case of slab concrete, such as patios and sidewalks, water that seeps through large cracks can saturate the ground beneath, causing the ground to heave upward when water in the soil freezes and expands. This movement creates an uneven and potentially dangerous walking surface.

Luckily, you’ve got time to stop the seasonal cycle of damage before it starts. If you’re serious about winterizing, it makes good sense to expand your fall to-do list to include a few smart practices that will protect your concrete from winter’s damaging freeze-thaw cycle.

1. Patch and Repair

Are your concrete slabs already showing signs of damage—for instance, cracks up to a quarter-inch wide or surface spalling? The best way to prevent the damage from spreading with the changing of the seasons—not to mention the best way to ensure that a surface sealer will adhere—is to repair the damage first. The good news is that as long as the slab is still level, you can repair it yourself.

Crack Repair
To stop the progression of cracks, fill them with a flexible sealant, such as Quikrete’s Polyurethane Concrete Crack Sealant. When applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions, Polyurethane Concrete Crack Sealant forms a watertight bond with the surface that visually blends with the texture of the concrete. When dry, the sealant still retains a degree of flexibility and will not pull away from the sides of the crack, even as the concrete expands or contracts imperceptibly as a result of temperature fluctuations.

Slabs with extensive damage (for example, heaving, uneven surfaces or numerous cracks larger than one-quarter inch) may require professional repair. If you’re concerned about the stability of a concrete slab, consult a reputable concrete contractor for advice before attempting repairs.

A Surface Spalling Solution
Strengthen and restore patchy concrete slabs to their former glory before you seal their surfaces to withstand the rough weather ahead. A handy do-it-yourselfer can accomplish this easily and affordably with the help of a resurfacer, such as Quikrete’s Concrete Resurfacer. The successful application of Concrete Resurfacer requires that you first clean away all dirt, grime, and grease with a power washer before applying the resurfacing mixture with a long-handled squeegee. Concrete Resurfacer bonds with the existing concrete and creates a virtually seamless surface for older sidewalks, driveways, and patios.

 

How to Prepare Your Concrete for Winter

Photo: quikrete.com

Once repairs and resurfacing have been completed, be sure to seal your like-new concrete surface with Concrete Cure & Seal to keep it looking freshly poured for years to come.

2. Seal Concrete Surfaces

Sealing is arguably the best way to protect concrete slab surfaces, and doing this before temperatures drop will help prevent the moisture in ice and snow from soaking into the concrete surface and weakening it when it freezes. If your concrete is in decent shape—or if you’ve recently made a few repairs to get it back into shape—you can apply a good acrylic sealer, such as Quikrete’s Concrete Cure & Seal, to protect it from the frigid temperatures to come.

How to Prepare Your Concrete for Winter

Photo: istockphoto.com

Though it goes on clear, Concrete Cure & Seal enhances your cool slab with an attractive satin finish that offers protection against water as well as the harsh chemicals and salts used to de-ice walkways and steps during winter. One gallon of Concrete Cure & Seal will effectively seal approximately 150 to 200 square feet of concrete. For best results, Concrete Cure & Seal can be reapplied annually after power washing to remove traces of previously applied sealant.

3. Winterizing Concrete Statuary

Unpainted concrete statuary and garden art can also be sealed to help prevent winter damage, but you can better shield these exposed surfaces by taking additional measures. For example, move lighter items, such as stepping stones and other small concrete fixtures, to a storage shed or garage where they won’t be subjected to freezing moisture. If that’s not feasible, drain and invert birdbath and fountain bowls, and cover them (as well as any statuary or other decorative concrete objects) with a tarp tied down securely with string. (It’s important to drain bowls first! Standing water in concrete bowls can expand to such an extent when it freezes that it can crack the bowls even if they’re sealed!)

If you want to provide water for your feathered friends all winter long without running the risk of broken concrete, you can run an electric birdbath water heater from the nearest outdoor electrical outlet to the birdbath, which will prevent the standing water from freezing. Your birdbath will survive the winter, and any birds who haven’t migrated will appreciate having a place to drink when other water sources have frozen.

 

This content has been brought to you by Quikrete. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Solved! 8 Flowers Sure to Bloom in Winter

Ensure that your garden looks lively year-round by filling flower beds and window boxes with any of these winter blooms.

8 Winter Flowers that Will Brighten a Gray Garden

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’m dreading the coming winter months because my yard always looks so bare and brown when all the summer blooming plants die or go dormant. Are there any flowers that bloom in the winter? Or, am I stuck with a drab landscape until the temperatures warm up next spring?

A: Great news! Cold weather actually brings out the best in some plants. At the first hint of frost, when most flowering plants wither, the following eight varieties are just getting started. You don’t have to put up with another drab winter. Add a welcome touch of color to your window boxes and flower beds by planting one or more of these colorful winter flowers.

Just note: When choosing plants for your yard, always consult the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone map to determine which ones will grow the best in your specific region.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Winter Pansy

Photo: istockphoto.com

Line your walkways with bright Winter Pansies. Like their summer-flowering cousins (regular pansies), Winter Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana)—also known as “ice pansies”—will delight homeowners and holiday guests with their colorful 1-inch blossoms borne on low-growing plants. They thrive in zones 6 through 9 and can survive temperatures that dip into the teens. Winter Pansies, which are perennial (meaning they live more than two years), can start blooming as early as December.

Available in a range of yellows, reds, blues, and oranges, these winter flowers are well-suited to window boxes or paired with early spring-blooming bulbs in the flowerbed. They grow well in full sun to full shade and in most types of soils. They can fall prey to garden slugs, however, so if you notice that something has been eating the leaves, apply a commercial slug repellant or sprinkle used coffee grounds around the base of the plant. (You can read up on five other ideas for getting rid of slugs here.)

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Ornamental Kale

Photo: istockphoto.com

Ornamental Kale is for its looks only—no eating! For striking color on ruffled rosette heads (some exceeding 8 inches in width!), it’s hard to beat Ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala). Related to edible kale, this hybrid loves cold temperatures and develops snow white, brilliant pink, deep rose, and clear violet hues after the first frost arrives. Grown as an annual, Ornamental Kale must be replanted every year, and while it grows in zones 2 through 11, in the warmest zones it will not develop the richest colors.

Ornamental Kale grows best in well-drained soil that’s been enriched by organic matter. It prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. The plants reach up to 18 inches in height and look best planted in groups of three or more, where their remarkable colors can create a focal point in the landscape. For the best results, start Ornamental Kale from seed in the flowerbed or in pots in mid-summer. Alternately, purchase plants from your local garden center for transplanting in the fall.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Chinese Fringe Flower

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you can’t wait for spring bulbs to sprout, grow Chinese Fringe Flower. This winter-blooming evergreen starts flowering as early as February in zones 7 through 10. If left untrimmed, Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense) grows to a height of 5 to 8 feet, with a spread of 3 feet. It makes an excellent single specimen plant, but can also double as a privacy border when the shrubs are planted 2 to 3 feet apart. Its leaves, which remain on the shrub all winter, start out with a hint of burgundy but eventually turn a deep green. Its flowers hang in delicate ruffles, giving the shrub a fringed appearance. Most Chinese Fringe cultivars have white flowers, but one cultivar, Razzleberri, produces dense pinkish-red winter flowers.

Chinese Fringe Flower grows best in partial sun and well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter, and it will provide years of colorful winter flowers without requiring a lot of care. Chinese Fringe Flower tolerates dry soil and will benefit from a spring feeding of all-purpose fertilizer. Yearly mulching with compost, or other organic mulch, around its base will help it produce lush foliage and abundant flowers.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Snowdrop

Photo: istockphoto.com

Plant a few Snowdrops in late fall and watch for them to pop up through a blanket of snow. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalus) can bloom as early as January in zones 3 through 8. These early bloomers, with their delicate bowed heads and pearl-colored oval petals surrounding a green-tipped center, are the perfect remedy for cabin fever. Snowdrops are low-growers, developing 2- to 3-inch mounds of foliage with blooms that rise only a couple of inches higher.

Plant Snowdrops in late fall in well-drained soil that’s enriched by the addition of compost or peat moss. These winter flowers prefer full shade to partial shade. Each bulb grows into a small mound and spreads a little every year as new bulbs develop underground. Snowdrops are well suited to woodland borders, but they also add a welcoming touch to outdoor pots and raised flowerbeds. They don’t need a lot of fertilizer but may benefit from a light application of all-purpose flower fertilizer in fall.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Christmas Rose

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True to its name, Christmas Rose can bloom outdoors as early as late December. Christmas Rose (Helleborus nigra) is a moderately slow-growing evergreen that reaches a mature height of about 1.5 feet tall and produces snowy white, cup-shaped blooms (up to 3 inches across) that eventually turn a dusty shade of rose. It grows well in zones 3 through 8.

Christmas Rose will bloom winter after winter with very little care, but it does not like to be disturbed—for the best results, plant it and then don’t move it. Select a location with well-drained soil and partial-to-full shade. Plant it under trees and taller shrubs, and you’ll be enjoying its winter flowers long before crocuses emerge from their wintry beds. Christmas Rose may not bloom the first or even the second year it’s planted, so plant these cold-weather beauties knowing that they’ll bloom in a couple of years. Their eye-catching flowers are definitely worth waiting for.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Camellia Rose

Photo: istockphoto.com

Winter-blooming Camellia is a show-stopper in the landscape. Sometimes called the “queen of winter flowers,” Winter-blooming Camellia (Camellia japonica) is a favorite in the South. In fact, it’s Alabama’s state flower, but it also does well throughout zones 7 through 10. This evergreen shrub produces large blooms (up to 5 inches across) in blush pink, burgundy, and blood-red hues, providing a colorful contrast against a blanket of snow. Choose from a variety of Camellia cultivars, including “Bob Hope,” “Australis,” and “Pink Icicle,” all of which provide brightly colored blossoms in the dead of winter.

Winter-blooming Camellia does best in full-shade to partial-shade and requires protection from scorching sun and strong winds. Depending on the cultivar, winter-blooming camellia will reach a height of 4 to 10 feet, and a spread of 4 to 8 feet, making it well-suited to shady borders. Plant Winter-blooming Camellia on the north side of a house or a tall fence, or under a shade tree. This flowering shrub requires little maintenance once established.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Winter Sun Mahonia

Photo: flickr.com via Wendy Cutler

Winter Sun Mahonia starts blooming in December! Also known as “Oregon Grapeholly,” Winter Sun Mahonia, (Mahonia x media), is a glossy-leafed evergreen with thick leathery leaves and bright yellow flower spikes that appear in vertical sprays. It grows well in zones 7 through 9, reaching a mature height of 6 to 8 feet with a spread of 4 to 5 feet. Its striking winter flowers are followed in spring by bright blue fruits that attract a variety of songbirds.

Plant Winter Sun Mahonia where it will receive no more than 2 to 3 hours of morning sunlight. It loves a shady location and prefers rich, well-drained soil. This evergreen’s freeform arcing branches give it a woodland appeal, making it well-suited for planting beneath taller trees in a casual wooded border. It self-sows and can spread to other areas of the landscape so give it plenty of space.

 

8 Colorful Winter Flowers to Know - The Winter Aconite

Photo: istockphoto.com

For a splash of sunny color when everything else is drab and gray, add Winter Aconite to your landscape. Feathery green foliage and bright yellow flowers emerge in early February to mid-March, making Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) one of the earliest bloomers in zones 3 through 8. The entire plant reaches no more than 6 inches high, making it a good choice for rock gardens, pathways, and around the bases of trees and shrubs.

Winter Aconite grows from small bulbs planted in mid-to-late fall after the soil has cooled. This easy-care plant thrives in most soil types and withstands drought conditions. It doesn’t tolerate transplanting, however, so choose its location carefully, and it will provide you with years of delightful yellow winter flowers.


Solved! Which Evergreens Grow the Fastest

Spruce up your front or backyard in a jiffy by planting one of these sets of fast-growing evergreens.

Your Best Options for Fast-Growing Evergreen Trees

Photo: amazon.com

Q: We just bought a house in a brand new development so our yard is pretty bare. We’d like to plant some fast-growing evergreen trees for year-round color as well as privacy. Which evergreens will give us quick cover and also boost our curb appeal?

A: Trees and shrubs that retain their foliage year-round are great for adding a natural design element to your yard and serve as focal point in your landscape. And, as you’re well aware, the staying power of their leaves or needles also helps to create a dense, beautiful barrier between houses and shield your home from the street. The following fast-growing evergreen trees could transform your yard from sparse to spectacular in record time! But, since not all species thrive in all regions of the country, be sure to consult the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone map to help determine which of the seven picks would do best in your neck of the woods.

 

Fast Growing Evergreen Trees - Thuja Green Giants

Photo: amazon.com

Gain optimal privacy with the Thuja Green Giant. This evergreen (T. plicata x T. standishii) grows up to 3 feet per year, topping out at 35 to 40 feet high with a base spread of 12 to 15 feet. Its heavy branches and textured, supple green foliage lend a soft natural look to the landscape, and once established, Thuja Green Giant is drought tolerant and resists insect infestations. It thrives in virtually all soil types, even heavy clay, and grows best in full sun to partial shade in zones 5 through 9.

For a privacy fence, plant small trees 6 feet apart that will quickly grow to form a compact hedge. Thuja Green Giant is strong enough to use as a windscreen in rural areas and will withstand heavy ice without branch breakage.

 

Fast-Growing Evergreen Trees - Leyland Cypress

Photo: istockphoto.com

Give plenty of sun to the popular Leyland Cypress. With its soft feathery texture, rich bluish-green color, and growth rate of 3 to 4 feet per year, it’s no wonder the Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) is a garden center bestseller. This hybrid cypress can reach a mature height of 70 feet, and if planted as a single specimen tree will develop a base spread of 20 feet at maturity. For a dense privacy screen, plant small nursery trees 8 feet apart.

Leyland Cypress prefers a location where it will get 6 hours or more of direct sunlight per day. It’s not fussy otherwise, tolerating most types of soil, including sandy and heavy clay, and once established, it’s drought tolerant, actually preferring slightly dry soil (faring well in zones 6 through 10). If a formal hedge is desired, Leyland Cypress can be pruned annually without damage to the tree.

 

Strike a stunning contrast with Nellie Stevens Holly. A pyramidal shrub that reaches a mature height of 25 feet, the Nellie Stevens Holly (Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’) is a broadleaf evergreen that grows 2 to 3 feet per year and can be easily trimmed to maintain a formal box hedge. Its deep-green, glossy year-round foliage develops vivid red berries in late fall that provide striking contrast and attract overwintering birds and wildlife.

For a privacy screen, plant Nellie Stevens Holly 5 to 6 feet apart; it will quickly fill in to form a natural fence prickly enough to deter unwanted visitors. This holly grows the fastest in slightly acidic, well-drained soil, in a location getting a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. Nellie Stevens is a vigorous grower in zones 7 through 9, but will also grow in zone 6, at a slightly slower rate of 1 to 2 feet per year.

 

Fast-Growing Evergreen Trees - Italian Cypress

Photo: istockphoto.com

Plant Italian Cypress in a small yard. For a slender, elegant addition to your landscape that can grow as much as 3 feet per year, consider Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). This tall columnar tree can reach a mature height of 40 to 60 feet, but unlike some evergreens, it won’t spread substantially at the base. It reaches a width of only 4 to 5 feet at maturity, making it a good choice for small yards.

Italian Cypress is often selected as a standout specimen tree, or used as an accent to flank entrances; it also makes a stunning narrow border between houses. Italian Cypress retains its bluish-green hue all year long and never needs trimming to maintain its columnar shape. While it grows well in most soils and is drought resistant, unlike evergreens that thrive in northern climes, it does best in warmer zones, 7B through 11.

 

Fast Growing Evergreen Trees - Taylor Junipers

Photo: G Taylor

Add Taylor Juniper in colder climes. If you fancy a tall columnar tree but live too far north to grow Italian Cypress, the Taylor Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) is a smart choice. This hybrid juniper, discovered in Taylor, Nebraska, is as cold-hardy as other junipers, thriving in zones 3 through 9, and reaches a statuesque vertical height of up to 30 feet. With a base spread of only 3 to 5 feet, it perfectly suits small areas where quick growth (as much as 3 feet per year) is desired. Because it grows upward without leaning outward, it’s ideal for foundation planting. Or planted 3 feet apart, it will form a tall narrow privacy screen. The Taylor Juniper, with its semi-soft, bluish-green foliage, likes full sun, tolerates drought, and thrives in most soil types.

 

Make it quick with the Murray Cypress. One of the fastest-growing evergreen trees, the Murray Cypress (Cupressocyparis x leylandi ‘Murray’) can spurt up to 4 feet in a single year until it reaches a mature height of 30 to 40 feet and a base width of 10 feet. Planted 5 feet apart, these fast-growing evergreen trees will quickly form a privacy fence even more quickly than its relative the Leyland Cypress.

A very hardy tree that grows well in zones 6 through 10, this cypress takes harsh winter winds and scorching summer heat in stride, offering shade and medium-green color all year long. Plus, the low-maintenance Murray Cypress thrives in poor soils. It can be left to grow naturally, which results in a slightly shaggy look, or its foliage can be trimmed for more formal appeal.

 

Fast-Growing Evergreen Trees - Golden Bamboo

Photo: istockphoto.com

Get a different look with Golden Bamboo. If you’ve got a more exotic evergreen in mind, Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) may fit the bill. Technically neither tree nor shrub, it’s a member of the grass family that originated in China, although it’s now widely grown in the United States. Perfect for Asian-themed landscapes, it features stiff vertical golden-colored stems and deep green foliage that will form a lush living wall 10 to 12 feet high in just two years.

Golden Bamboo prefers well-drained, moist soil, and full to partial sunlight in zones 7 through 11. It can withstand extreme heat but requires weekly watering during hot summers. For a quick privacy fence, plant Golden Bamboo 2 feet apart, but bear in mind that its roots spread rapidly: To rein it in, plant in a bed with an underground border that extends 8 inches below the surface of the ground.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.


How To: Make Your Own Plant Food

With this DIY recipe and smart feeding tips, you can give your plants the nutrition they need without eating a hole in your wallet.

How to Make Homemade Plant Food

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you want lush healthy houseplants and garden growth but aren’t thrilled about paying for costly commercial foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce, you’re in luck! You can easily make your own plant food at home for a fraction of the price and—as a bonus—know exactly what goes into it.

All it takes to keep your favorite plant species robust and beautiful are three common ingredients that you’ll find at any supermarket for around $5 total (if you don’t already have them on hand). Because this recipe requires such small amounts and the ingredients last for months, your cost will literally be pennies per batch!

You may be surprised to learn that the following products possess the properties and nutrients plants need to thrive:

Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfur, both of which are beneficial for plant growth. Sulfur helps plants absorb nutrients from the soil while magnesium increases the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll, which is responsible for maintaining healthy green foliage.

• Baking soda stimulates blooms in flowering plants and also reduces the risk of fungal disease. This is especially beneficial for potted houseplants, which are prone to mildew as a result of overwatering and limited air circulation.

• Household ammonia contains nitrogen, a component that promotes healthy root growth. For plant food, be sure to use plain ammonia, free of other ingredients such as scent or cleaning additives. And remember, ammonia is toxic to people and pets, so be sure to label and store your homemade plant food accordingly.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Clean gallon jug
Epsom salt
Baking soda
Household ammonia
Water

Making the Plant Food

STEP 1
Measure 1 ½ tablespoons of Epsom salt into a clean gallon jug. A rinsed-out plastic milk jug with its lid makes a great container for this homemade plant food.

STEP 2
Add 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda to the jug.

How to Make Homemade Plant Food

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3
Measure a scant ½ teaspoon of household ammonia into the jug. Scant means slightly less than the full ½ teaspoon. Don’t overdo it with the ammonia; a little goes a long way!

STEP 4
Fill the rest of the jug with plain tap water, screw the lid on tightly, and swish well to combine.

STEP 5
Let sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the Epsom salt to completely dissolve. Label the container and store it in a cool dry spot where kids and pets can’t get into it.

Feeding Tips for Your Healthiest Houseplants

 No need to dilute your homemade plant food. It’s ready to go!

 Feed potted houseplants once every three to five weeks. During winter, when plants grow more slowly, once every five weeks is sufficient. When plants show renewed growth in spring, increase feedings to once every three weeks.

 Use the same amount of homemade liquid plant food as you would normally water indoor plants. For example, if you typically give your potted fern one cup of water, substitute one cup of homemade plant food, which will provide sufficient water and nutrients.

 Pour homemade plant food around the base of the plant, rather than on its foliage. This is the best way for the roots to absorb all the nutrients.

 You can use this homemade plant food as an all-purpose fertilizer in an outdoor flowerbed or garden. After regular watering, while the ground is still damp, pour two to three cups around the base of each plant once every three weeks during the growing season. Stop feeding outdoor plants in late fall, before they go dormant.


Bug Off: Your Guide to Dealing with Houseplant Pests

Besides the right soil, sufficient sunlight, and neither too much nor too little water, there's one more thing that any thriving houseplant requires—protection from invasive pests.

Houseplant Pests

You’ve got a green thumb, huh? Well, that’s a start. But it takes more than experience to prevent critters from infesting your indoor plants. You need a little luck, first of all. But you also need a plan for fighting back if and when bugs invade. Remember: Houseplant pests aren’t merely off-putting; rather, they rob plants of their beauty and compromise their long-term health. No—infestations aren’t a death sentence (at least not most of the time). But they don’t disappear on their own, either. To save your plants, you need to act, and you need to do so sooner than later. Ready? Continue reading now for key details on identifying and eliminating all the most common culprits.

 

APHIDS

Houseplant Pests - Aphids

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: Plants weakened by aphid infestations typically display stunted growth, along with curled or otherwise deformed foliage. The insects themselves—teeny-tiny in shape and green, brown, or black in color—hide on the underside of leaves.

What to do: Take the houseplant into the kitchen and wash the aphids away under a stream of water. Or head outdoors and simply brush the aphids off with your fingers (or a cotton swab). Finally, apply neem oil or insecticidal soap to prevent the aphids from returning.

 

MEALYBUGS

Houseplant Pests - Mealybugs

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: White and cottony in appearance, mealybugs not only stunt plant growth but mar the look of stems, nodes, and foliage with a residue that, like the insect itself, looks white and cottony. Note that plants infested by mealybugs often feel sticky to the touch.

What to do: First, quarantine the affected houseplant away from others. Next, remove the mealybugs and their left-behind residue with a rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton swab (or arm yourself with a soft brush or cloth and wash the plant with mildly soap water).

 

SPIDER MITES

Houseplant Pests - Mites

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: Spider mites make their presence known by weaving webs around leaves and stems, and also by yellowing and shriveling foliage. But while their handiwork may be hard to miss, catching the tiny, light-colored arachnids in the act isn’t easy.

What to do: Saving a plant from a severe spider mite infestation may not be possible, but if you catch the problem early, rinse the plant under water multiple times. Then, for prevention, apply insecticide—ideally one that contains the mite-repelling chemical bifenthrin.

 

SCALE INSECTS

Houseplant Pests - Scale Insects

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: Like mealybugs, scale insects deposit a sticky fungal sap that blocks photosynthesis, arrests growth, and gradually kills its host plant. Once embedded on the underside of leaves, scale often look more like organic protrusions than an invasive threat.

What to do: Isolate the plant away from others. Next, prune the affected leaves and remove lingering residue by using cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Repeat the treatment every few days until the plant turns the corner (or until you lose faith that it’ll ever recover).

 

THRIPS

Houseplant Pests - Thrip Insects

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: Being microscopic, thrips evade easy notice, but their damaging and discoloring effects are plain to see. Bear in mind that more than other pests, thrips tend to attack plants that flower. A magnifying glass may help you confirm their presence.

What to do: Every few days, mist the infested plant with a fine spray of water. Then, after each course of misting, treat the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap. That makes thrips unable to feed on the plant, soon leading to the death of any that remain.

 

WHITEFLIES

Houseplant Pests - Whiteflies

Photo: istockphoto.com

What you’ll see: Recognizable for their yellow-white bodies and heart-shaped wings, whiteflies gather in groups, usually on the underside of leaves. In time, the host plant begins to look dried out and sickly, and its foliage may drop, leaving stems nearly bare.

What to do: Once you’ve set the affected plant off on its own, remove whiteflies with a vacuum cleaner (the upholstery attachment works well). Next, place sticky fly traps near the quarantined plant. If those traps fail to capture any whiteflies, you can put your plant back in its original spot, without fear of whiteflies returning or spreading to other specimens.

 

 


3 Ways to Avoid Replacing Your Concrete Sidewalk

Do those cracks mean that your sidewalk's a goner, or can you fix them up in a weekend? Take out the guesswork by reviewing these indications that your concrete walkway may need to be replaced.

3 Signs It's Time to Replace Sidewalks

Photo: istockphoto.com

Though made from one of the most durable construction materials around, even once-strong concrete sidewalks can deteriorate over time from repeated freeze-thaw cycles, ground movement, or excessive weight. If you’re tired of looking at a cracked sidewalk, but you’re unsure whether it’s best to repair or replace it, keep reading!

In most communities, there are two sidewalk classifications. Pedestrian sidewalks that run parallel to the street, sometimes called “shared-user sidewalks,” are typically on a city easement and, while the homeowner is tasked with caring for them, city ordinances determine when the sidewalks should be replaced. The other type, private sidewalks, lead from a driveway or a shared-user sidewalk to the homeowner’s front door. While these paths are usually not controlled by the city, you can use the city’s standards to determine if you need to replace your sidewalk or if you can rescue it from ruin with quality concrete patching and resurfacing materials.

3 Signs It's Time to Replace Sidewalks

Photo: istockphoto.com

1. If cracks are large and deep, or joints or edges have crumbled…
Some kinds of damage to concrete can signal a sidewalk’s demise, while others are merely eyesores. Cracks wider than ½ inch indicate a major problem with the stability of the sidewalk slab and fall firmly in the first camp. If the sidewalk is a shared-use sidewalk, you may be required to replace at least the section that contains the large crack (or cracks), but you may wish to replace the section even if the crack is on a personal sidewalk. If the subbase is not structurally sound, wide cracks can be difficult to repair and only a temporary solution.

On the other hand, smaller cracks less than ¼-inch wide can be handled without the hassle of replacing a chunk of sidewalk—though you should still take measures to repair them. Such cracks should be filled with a flexible sealant to prevent water from running through and saturating the soil below, leading to future soil-movement problems. Fortunately, that process is a cinch with a good flexible sealant like Polyurethane Concrete Crack Sealant. For the best results, check out this Quikrete video to learn how to prep cracks before filling them and how best to apply the flexible sealant. When dry, the sealant has a texture and color similar to natural concrete.

Crumbling edges and spalling (the peeling off of the concrete surface) are two other types of damage that detract from a sidewalk’s appearance but don’t necessarily require replacement. You’ll save money by repairing the damage, when possible, rather than replacing the entire sidewalk, or even a single section. That said, a half-inch or more of crumbling along the interior joints or edges of the sidewalk could indicate weak concrete, in which case you may benefit more from replacing rather than repairing the sidewalk. One or two small crumbled areas along the edges, however, possibly caused by heavy vehicles rolling over the sidewalk, could be prime candidates for repair. You can fix small sections like these, as well as spalling that’s less than ¼-inch deep and in just a few spots, using a concrete patch product, such as Quikrete’s Vinyl Concrete Patcher. Simply mix, trowel, and smooth Vinyl Patcher over the damaged areas to create a new level surface and clean edges. See it in action—and get pro tips on the correct way to use it—in this video.

2. If the extent of the damage is wide… 
No two ways about it: Concrete is going to crack. Contractors and savvy do-it-yourselfers guide where the cracks will appear by cutting control joints into freshly poured sidewalks at spots where the concrete is most likely to split. These control joints serve as weak points in the concrete, which will then be more likely to crack along them rather than in the center of a slab, where cracks would detract from the look of the entire sidewalk. Most of the time, control joints work exactly as planned, and natural cracking along these predetermined seams goes unnoticed. In some cases, however, cracking doesn’t follow the joints.

As mentioned above, narrow cracks here and there aren’t a problem. In fact, it’s much easier to address these small imperfections with a quick repair rather than rip out a slab and start fresh. On the other hand, extensive hairline cracks that run like spiderwebs throughout large areas of a sidewalk could be signs that there was something wrong with the original concrete mix. If this is the case, you should consider replacing all, or most, of the sidewalk. At the very least, monitor the cracks, and take steps to replace the walkway if they get bigger.

Superficial hairline cracks that do not increase in size over a couple of years will not compromise the integrity of a sidewalk, but they’re still eyesores. For a great weekend fix, you can cover up those cracks and restore your home’s curb appeal with a high-quality concrete resurfacing product. Applied to a clean sidewalk and then squeegeed level, Quikrete’s Concrete Resurfacer can make your entire sidewalk look brand-new for a fraction of the effort. The polymers in this masonry product form a strong bond with the existing sidewalk, so your fix, though quick, will be long-lasting. As in all household projects, good prep work is essential for good results, so check out this Quikrete video on how to apply Concrete Resurfacer.

 

How to Know When to Replace or Repair Sidewalks

Photo: quikrete.com

3. If the sidewalk is extremely old…
While concrete of almost any age can remain strong and resist cracking and crumbling, older sidewalks have been subjected to the elements far longer, and all that exposure takes a toll on concrete. The older the walkway, the more likely it is that individual sections will have heaved and shifted in the wake of extreme temperature fluctuations and ground movement.

In older neighborhoods, and particularly in residential historic districts, uneven concrete slabs can create tripping hazards, making sidewalks dangerous for pedestrians. If you find that the change in surface height from one sidewalk section to the next is ½ inch or more, you should consider replacing the sidewalk. In some communities, you may be able to hire a slab-jacking contractor to level the sections, but if the sidewalk is very old (more than 50 years), you might find that investing in replacement makes more sense than continual repairs. In cases where repairing a concrete sidewalk isn’t possible and it simply has to be replaced, strengthening with rebar or using a concrete mix with fibers like Quikrete Crack Resistant Concrete will help avoid future problems. Watch how to pour a strong concrete sidewalk on Quikrete.com.

 

This content has been brought to you by Quikrete. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Video: The Most Important Garden Tasks to Do This Fall

Fall yard maintenance is about more than just raking the leaves. These jobs should be your top priorities this season.

Whether you love fall, or dread it, there’s no arguing that autumn is here and winter is right around the corner. Before temperatures dip and the ground freezes, there are a few must-do landscaping projects that need to be done.

So what tasks should be on your to-do list this season? For starters, sow cool-weather grass seeds to allow new turf grass to take root before it goes dormant, and insulate garden beds with a layer of leaf mulch to provide protection for delicate landscaping plants.

See more of our fall garden recommendations in our video, and find even more ideas right here.

For more landscaping advice, consider reading:

The Best Things You Can Do for Your Yard This Fall

10 Low-Cost Solutions for an Ugly Lawn

18 Ways to Color Your Garden This Fall


How To: Protect Plants from Frost

Prepare for dipping temperatures now so your garden will come through the winter beautifully.

How to Protect Plants from Frost

Photo: istockphoto.com

Unexpected early fall and late spring frosts—periods when outside temperatures go below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit)—often catch home gardeners off-guard, nipping tender fruit buds, cutting short vegetable harvests, and killing houseplants that were left outdoors. When a plant is damaged by frost, leaves appear wet and limp due to ice forming within the cells, which interrupts the natural flow of water throughout the plant. Tender annuals usually die from frost exposure, and while trees and shrubs will survive, they’ll lose any buds or mature fruit.

Local weather forecasts can tip you off to frosts, but you shouldn’t depend on them entirely. Pay attention to clues like the state of the sky, keeping in mind that temperatures are more likely to dip dangerously on clear nights that lack insulating cloud cover. But why wait till the last minute to swoop in and save your plants? The best way to prevent frost damage is to gather and implement strategies in advance of a cold front. Just follow this guide for how to protect plants from frost—you and your garden will be glad you did!

IT’S A WRAP

Wrapping the entire branch system of small trees or shrubs with horticultural frost cloth, burlap, plastic sheeting, or even old bedsheets will keep the temperature underneath a crucial few degrees warmer than outside. Use twine or clothespins to hold the material in place.

Two flat bedsheets sewn on three sides will provide a large covering for a small fruit or ornamental tree, such as a dwarf or semi-dwarf peach or cherry tree of approximately 12 to 15 feet.  Place it lightly over the tree, covering the branches, and secure the excess around the trunk with twine. For smaller frost-susceptible species like tomato or pepper plants, set a stool or a patio chair over them drape it with a sheet.

When an extra cold night (below 30 degrees Fahrenheit) is predicted, tuck an outdoor light bulb in an approved outdoor fixture under a large wrap to produce additional heat. Position the bulb where it is sheltered from rain and cannot make contact with either the wrap or the branches to prevent the risk of fire. As a further safety measure, use an exterior extension cord with an inline ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will often generate sufficient heat under the wrap to protect a small tree, but skip the LEDs—they don’t produce heat.

Remove wraps the following morning as soon as temps rise above freezing, so plants can receive direct sunlight and air circulation. Keep the materials handy in case you need them again.

How to Protect Plants from Frost

Photo: istockphoto.com

COVER SEEDLINGS

You can purchase glass or plastic domes, called “cloches,” to shelter vulnerable seedlings in early spring—or DIY them by cutting the tops off opaque plastic milk jugs. Other spur-of-the-moment cloches include inverted buckets and flowerpots. Simply place cloches over young vines and shrubs, such as tomatoes and peppers, to protect plants from frost.

If the temperatures are expected to hover around the freezing mark, cover long rows of seedlings lightly with loose straw or mulch to help the soil retain heat a bit longer. This will only work for light frosts, however. If temps fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than a few of hours, place cloches over the rows.

Penny-pincher tip: If you’re planning on starting a large garden, save milk jugs throughout the winter to use as cloches in spring.

WATER FOR WARMTH

Well-watered plants are stronger and more likely to withstand exposure to a touch of light frost. Water retains heat and has an insulating effect on plant cells. A thirsty plant is more likely succumb to light frost because its cells are already stressed. So saturate vegetable and annual flower beds early in the day if frosty temps are in the forecast. That will give plants plenty of time to absorb the water before the temperatures drop.

For additional protection, fill plastic jugs with water and set them beside plants. At night, cover plants and jugs with fabric or sheeting. During the day, the water in the jugs will warm up. At night, they will radiate the retained heat to the air beneath the cover to keep plants warmer.

How To: Protect Plants from Frost

Photo: istockphoto.com

TAKE ‘EM INSIDE

In warm weather, keeping such popular tropical houseplants as jasmine, philodendron, and shefflera outdoors in protected areas like covered patios allows them to bask in light and air. Alas, just one premature frost can kill them, so don’t risk leaving them out too long! To prep plants for their winter indoors, water early in the day and mist foliage with water to remove any garden pests that have taken up residence. Then let plants dry until the evening before moving them inside.

BRING IN THE BULBS

Tender bulbs and tubers, such as calla lilies, elephant ears, and gladiolas, should be dug up before freezing temperatures arrive and stored in a cool, dry place (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit). A basement makes a good storage spot. Dig cautiously, taking care not to do damage with your shovel or trowel. Rinse bulbs and tubers with water to remove stuck-on soil, and then let them dry completely before layering them in a ventilated box filled with clean straw or peat moss.

TRY A SPECIAL SPRAY

Anti-transpirant foliage sprays, available from garden centers, help guard ornamental plants including rhododendrons, azaleas, and laurels from light frosts. These sprays impart a light coating of polymer film to the leaves, which is designed to protect plants’ leaves for up to a month by sealing in moisture. If the temps dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours, however, or if the leaves are not adequately covered by the spray, plants may still suffer frost damage.

 

Protecting plants is one of the most important garden tasks to do this fall. To learn about the other necessary duties, check out this video:

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.