Lawn & Garden - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden


All You Need to Know About Rain Gardens

Capture and utilize rainfall in your garden before it disappears down the storm sewers with these intriguing landscape features.

All You Need to Know About Rain Gardens

Photo: flickr.com via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

A rain garden is an excavated depression, surrounded on one or more sides by an earthen berm for water retention, and then filled with porous soil and native plants that thrive solely on rainwater runoff. The concept behind these brilliant beauties was a desire to conserve water, add a natural element to the landscape, and reduce the runoff that infiltrates municipal drain-water systems. The rainfall that hits a typical neighborhood’s roofs, patios, and driveways is diverted into storm sewers—and wasted. But by directing runoff from your roof gutters and drain spouts, as well as paved areas, into an earth basin, you can grow a gorgeous garden that’s also an oasis for songbirds, turtles, and a host of other creatures right after a rain. Find out how here, and you’ll never begrudge a rainy day again!

Test Soil Drainage Requirements
Immediately after a rain, a rain garden resembles a natural wetland—but within a day or two, the water should recede as the ground beneath absorbs the excess. This absorption prevents long-standing water that might otherwise stagnate and lead to mosquito breeding. Rain gardens are suitable for most types of soil except heavy clay, which doesn’t offer adequate drainage. In order to test your soil’s draining potential, dig a hole 1 foot deep and 1 foot in diameter. Fill it with water and, once it drains, fill it again. If the second filling drains completely within 24 hours or less, your soil will make a fine host for a rain garden. Don’t despair if the spot proves unsuitable; soil content can vary within a yard so test other areas.

Find the Right Location
Rain gardens are naturally suited to the lower areas in your yard. So to find the perfect spot, the next time it rains, go outside and watch the way the water travels. Does most of the runoff come from your home’s downspouts? Where does it go from there? How much runs off your driveway and yard?

Logically, you’d want to locate a rain garden in a natural drainage path, but depending on the contour of your yard, this may not be possible. The answer is to then divert runoff to the rain garden, via swales (shallow grassy trenches that serve as ditches to carry runoff) or buried pipes that transport runoff from downspouts or other areas to the rain garden.

Account for Overflow
The successful rain garden will have an inlet where runoff flows into the basin and an overflow outlet for excess water to escape. The outlet, which can be a pipe or even a notch dug out of the side of the berm, will ensure that the plants are not subjected to flooding conditions.

All You Need to Know About Rain Gardens

Photo: flickr.com via Carron Brown

Size It Right
Because every yard is different—some being relatively flat while others slope steeply—no two rain gardens will be the same size or shape. The contour of your rain garden is up to you but give some consideration to how the finished rain garden will fit into the landscape. Think of your yard as an artist’s canvas; a large rain garden can visually overwhelm a tiny yard, while a tiny one might seem like an afterthought in a large expanse. If you’re creative and have enough yard space, you can even install a series of rain gardens so overflowing water from one basin fills the next basin.

Pick Plants and Materials
The best plants for your rain garden are those that grow well in your area and can tolerate drought as well as occasional flooding conditions. It’s better to fill rain gardens with growing plants, rather than seeds that can wash away if a heavy rain washes out the spot before seeds have a chance to sprout and establish root systems. Think of plants found alongside rivers and seasonal creek beds in your area.

Good choices include, but are not limited to, ornamental grasses, berries, and cattails. Arrange the plants so the ones most tolerant of standing water are in the lowest areas of the rain garden. To visually enjoy the garden as a whole, it’s a good idea to put taller plants toward the back where they will not block the view of smaller plants. Feel free to place large stones, petrified logs, and other natural elements in your rain garden to give it a woodsy look.

Build It Wisely
The first step in constructing rain gardens is to call Dig Safe at (811), a free service from local utility companies. Reps will come out and mark your lawn to indicate the location of buried lines so you won’t disrupt them when you dig. Excavate the rain garden basin and the drainage system that will direct water to the basin. It’s quicker, and easier on your back, to rent a skid steer (from a construction rental store) if you’re installing a sizeable rain garden, but a regular garden shovel will also work. Depending on your design, the ditches can conceal buried pipes, or they can be simple swales, which divert runoff to your rain garden. Use excavated soil to form berms around the basin, if needed, to help retain water on the low edges, and position the inlet and the overflow outlet.

Fill the basin with amended soil. Pre-mixed soil mixtures, labeled “rain garden soil” are available in some regions, but you can also create an optimal DIY mixture by combining 50 percent sand, 25 percent compost, and 25 percent topsoil. Add the plants you selected and apply a couple of inches of good shredded hardwood mulch, which is heavier than softwood mulch and less likely to float away, to discourage weeds and help retain moisture during dry spells. For the first year, water the new plants to help them develop root systems.

Enjoy Low Maintenance!
Once established, your rain garden will be a sustainable, low-maintenance landscaping element that requires only occasional weeding or refreshing the mulch by adding of a few inches of new mulch once a year or so.

 

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.


Shed Shopping? 5 Things You Need to Know First

Read up on essential—yet perhaps surprising—info about the ins and outs of adding a shed to your property before you spring for an outdoor structure.

5 Things to Know Before Shed Shopping

Photo: lpshed.com

We’re all prone to occasional impulse purchases, but a shed should not be one of them. While more and more folks are catching on to the pleasure and convenience of owning a backyard building, rushing out to buy one could be a big mistake. You don’t want to underestimate your needs and wind up with a shed that just doesn’t fit the bill, and you certainly don’t want to find out that your new outbuilding doesn’t comply with local regulations. Even some of the most basic information about building or buying a shed may surprise you. Fret not! With the following guidance from LP Outdoor Building Solutions, you can be sure that you’ll end up with the shed that best suits your budget, your property, and your lifestyle.

1. Rules may apply.
It’s your property, so you may think you can build whatever you want on it. Well, think again! Local authorities and homeowners associations (HOA’s) often place restrictions on accessory buildings like sheds, regulating such details as the type and size of a shed, its distance from the property line, and its permitted uses. If, for instance, you want to wire your shed for electricity, regulations may apply. Check with your city and/or HOA for specific requirements, and check out your local building codes for more info before you start shopping.

5 Things to Know Before Shed Shopping

Photo: lpshed.com. Shed image is for illustrative purposes only.

2. All sheds are not created equal.
If you want your backyard building to stand up to the elements, keep you comfortable in all seasons, and look great for years to come, study up on your options. Consider roofing, for example. LP® ProStruct® Roof Sheathing with SilverTech® offers a durable radiant barrier that helps reduce the structure’s overall solar heat gain. As for siding, LP® SmartSide® Siding offers the warmth and beauty of traditional wood with impressive impact resistance, no efflorescence, and fewer seams than other materials. And most LP products feature the SmartGuard® process to resist rot, fungal decay, and termites.

3. Where you purchase is important.
Once you have a good idea of what you want in a shed, think about where you’ll buy it. After all, sheds are available all over, from big-box home improvement stores to your neighborhood handyman—but not all dealers offer the same products, options, and services. You’ll want to work with a business that constructs its buildings in a quality-controlled environment in order to protect components from water damage, provides complete delivery and set-up services, and offers warranty coverage. It’s good to know that LP products come with industry-leading warranties, including a full five-year labor and materials replacement feature and a 50-year prorated warranty on siding and trim (see lpcorp.com for details).

4. You can afford it!
Whether you envision a shed large enough to serve as a workshop or one tricked out to function as an outdoor kitchen, the price tag on your dream shed doesn’t have to burst your bubble. Lots of folks who can’t manage the entire cost up front can take advantage of competitive financing or rent-to-own programs that let you purchase a shed with a small deposit.

5. Man and woman cannot live by shed alone.
When pricing out your shed, consider the additional features essential to your project and whether they’re included in the cost. For example, you can’t just plop a shed in your yard—it will require a foundation to support the walls, keep moisture from seeping through the floor, and provide overall stability so that doors and windows operate properly. Other potentially important add-ons include locks, a porch and railing, or even a ramp, depending on how you plan on using the shed. And what about taxes and delivery charges? Find out the costs and factor them in!

A functional and attractive shed can be in your future. But first, give some thought to the issues covered here, decide what you want your shed to be able to do, and contact a local dealer to get the ball rolling. For more smart questions to ask when you’re shed shopping, visit LPShed.com.

 

This content has been brought to you by LP Outdoor Building Solutions. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


All You Need to Know About Landscape Fabric

If you’re fed up with weeds and considering a physical barrier to those pesky plants, learn how to make it work for you.

All You Need to Know About Working with Landscape Fabric

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you’re new to gardening or have been at it so long your thumb is a deep shade of green, you may have seen rolls of landscape fabric at DIY stores and gardening centers—and become intrigued. Take our crash course in this material designed to inhibit weeds and keep soil from drying out. We’ll clue you in on the pros versus cons, explain how to pick the best product, and share tips on using it most effectively.

Composition and Cost

Landscape fabric is constructed from woven fibers or manufactured as a solid sheet with perforated holes to allow water to soak through. Some brands offer UV protection to maintain the life of the fabric. It comes in rolls, typically at least 3 feet wide and anywhere from 50 feet to 200 feet, or more, in length. Cost varies from around $.45 per sq. ft., up to $.80 per sq. ft., depending on the brand and thickness (thicker fabric typically runs a bit more). Landscape pins, which sell separately for about $.10 per pin, are necessary for securing the fabric and can add another $.50 per sq. ft. to your total material cost. Virtually all landscape fabric is intended to be covered with mulch—wood chips, gravel, recycled rubber, or any other type of organic or inorganic mulch.

Basic Benefits

Most gardeners agree that the best place for landscape fabric is around shrubs and trees where it can be installed and topped with quality mulch to hopefully last for years. Because it’s intended to be left in place, it’s not recommended for vegetable gardens or annual flower beds. Landscape fabric:

• Prevents weed seeds buried in the soil beneath from sprouting.

• Limits the need to use herbicides for weed control.

• Helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation.

• Offers some erosion control on slopes subject to washout from heavy rains.

Notable Negatives

The quality of the landscape fabric—and good installation practices (discussed below)—will determine how long will last, but it’s not a miracle product. Some gardeners refuse to use it because:

• It discourages garden-friendly earthworms that need to reach the soil surface to survive. Earthworms aerate the soil, so, without them, the ground beneath landscape fabric can become compact and unhealthy.

• Natural organic mulch, such as fallen leaves or pine needles, cannot replenish nutrients in the soil because the fabric acts as a barrier. Without fabric, this type of organic matter would naturally biodegrade and eventually blend with the soil.

• Weed seeds can still sprout in the mulch used to cover the fabric. While the fabric blocks seeds beneath it from sprouting, new seeds can blow in and—depending on the type of fabric—their roots can adhere tightly to the perforations, making it difficult to pull them out without pulling up the fabric with them. This is especially true if you use organic mulch, such as wood chips, which will eventually degrade and become a virtual plant-growing medium on top of the fabric.

Best Tips for Using Landscape Fabric

Photo: amazon.com

Smart Usage Tips

If you’ve decided to try landscape fabric, the following practices will help ensure the health of your plants and the longevity of your landscape design.

• Choose professional-grade landscape fabric. Cheap stuff rips easily and might not last a single season. The weight and thickness of the fabric is a good determiner of its quality. A roll with a total of 150 square feet that weighs 20 pounds is going to have thicker, heavier fabric than a roll with the same square footage that weighs only 10 pounds. If you’re unsure, ask a reputable garden center to recommend their best landscape fabric.

• Add amendments, such as composted manure, peat moss, and other types of organic matter, to the soil before installing landscape fabric—because, obviously, you can’t add them later. If you’re unsure of what amendments to add, take a soil sample to your local extension office, a county office that provides residents with agricultural and gardening information, and performs soil and water tests (usually for a fee).

• Level the soil. After adding amendments and working them into the soil thoroughly, level the surface by breaking up hard clods and raking the surface smooth.

• Lay out the fabric with the rough side facing downward. This helps the fabric stay in place while you’re working.

Do not skimp on fabric. Overlap the edges of the landscape fabric by at least 8 inches if you need to use multiple pieces of fabric, and allow a 2-inch overhang around the edges. You can tuck it under later when the rest of the fabric has been secured. Landscaped beds typically have a border, so you can tuck the excess fabric neatly along the inside of the border. Just push it down between the soil and the border with a putty knife to conceal it.

Pin the fabric securely. Insert a landscape pin every 8 to 10 inches along the edges of the fabric and every 12 inches apart in the center of the fabric. Don’t skimp on pins or fabric could come loose in a month or two.

• Cut round holes for inserting landscape plants, using a very sharp utility knife. Make sure holes are large enough to plant the specimens you select.

• Cover the landscape fabric with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. This layer assists the pins in holding it down, protects it from UV rays, and helps the ground beneath the fabric retain moisture. Plus, mulch adds a beautiful finishing touch to the landscaping!

Considerate Care

The purpose of landscape fabric is to control weeds, and it’s bound to do its job effectively for the first year or two—but be prepared to pull weeds that may sprout on top of the fabric later.

You may wish to apply a pre-emergent herbicide to the top of the mulch, such as Preen, at the start of every new growing season to help reduce blown-in seeds from sprouting. A pre-emergent herbicide won’t harm established plants.

Add mulch as necessary. You’ll probably need to with organic mulches that degrade and thin out over time; gravel and rock mulch remain pretty much the same as when first applied.

 

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.


Solved! What to Do When Your Lawn Mower Starts Smoking

A smoking lawn mower is never a good sign. Whether the smoke is blue, white, or black, here's how to identity and address the issue without the help of a professional.

Lawn Mower Smoking? What to Do About It

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: Recently, my mower started billowing smoke when I powered it up, so I shut it off immediately. Why is my lawn mower smoking? And is it a fire hazard? I want to know how to proceed so I don’t harm the machine.

A: Your lawn mower can emit smoke for numerous reasons—many of which don’t require the services of an expert. A homeowner can usually identify the reason for a smoking lawn mower by gauging the color of the cloud coming around the engine, then fix it accordingly before lasting damage occurs. Keep in mind that all mowers with internal combustion engines contain the same basic parts, but the configuration of those parts varies widely, depending on manufacturer and model. Consult your owner’s manual if you’re unsure how to access a specific part of your lawn mower’s engine.

White or blue smoke may indicate an oil spill on the engine. If you’ve recently changed the oil in your mower and the engine is emitting white or blue smoke, it’s possible that some of the oil spilled onto the engine. Similarly, you could’ve spilled oil on the engine by mowing on a slope greater than 15 degrees or tipping the mower on its side. The smoke may look disconcerting, but it’s completely harmless. Solve the problem by restarting the mower and allowing the spilled oil to burn off. If you tip the mower often for cleaning or maintenance, check your owner’s manual to determine the best way to reduce the risk of oil leaks.

Lawn Mower Smoking? What to Do About It

Photo: istockphoto.com

An overfull oil reservoir may also cause white or blue smoke. Ensure you didn’t overfill the mower by checking the oil level with the dipstick located on the reservoir. To do this, remove the dipstick cap, wipe off the stick with a rag, and reinsert it into the reservoir. Then remove the dipstick once again and determine the oil level in comparison to the recommended “fill” line on the stick. If the level is too high, drain the oil (consult your owner’s manual for instructions), then refill the reservoir with it. Start checking the oil level with the dipstick after you’ve added about ¾ of the amount recommended in the manual. Continue to add small amounts of oil until the level matches the recommended “fill” line. Also note that using the wrong grade of engine oil may cause blue or white smoke. Consult the owner’s manual for the exact type of oil recommended for your mower.

Black smoke may indicate that the mower is “running rich,” or burning too much gasoline. Your lawn mower’s carburetor regulates the ratio of gasoline to air mixture. If the carburetor isn’t getting enough air, the mixture has a higher percentage of gasoline, which can create black exhaust smoke. It’s possible that a dirty or clogged air filter is preventing sufficient airflow into the carburetor. Try replacing the air filter, then running your lawn mower for a few minutes. If the black smoke still appears, the carburetor might need to be adjusted in order to increase airflow. Either take the mower to a professional or adjust the carburetor yourself with instructions in your owner’s manual.

Take your mower to a repair shop if necessary. If the previous steps don’t correct blue or white smoke, your mower could have a more serious problem, such as an air leak in the crankshaft (the cast iron or cast aluminum case that protects the moving parts of a mower’s engine). Continuing blue or white smoke could also indicate that some of the engine’s components or seals are worn out and need replacement. Similarly, if black smoking still persists after you’ve replaced the air filter and adjusted the carburetor, you could be facing a more serious mechanical issue. All of these problems require the help of a professional. If your mower is still under warranty, check with the manufacturer for the location of the nearest servicing dealer; problems stemming from a factory defect or poor workmanship may garner free repairs. If your mower is not covered under warranty, a reputable small-engine repair shop should also be sufficient to get the job done.


How To: Level a Yard

Is your grass lumpy and bumpy? Learn how to level out an uneven yard with a few simple steps.

How to Level a Yard

Photo: istockphoto.com

A yard with lumps and bumps is not only unattractive, it’s also a potential safety hazard with ample opportunity to cause trips, falls, and sprained ankles. Many events can cause an uneven yard—including drainage issues, leaks in pipes lying beneath the surface, and lawn pests like grubs or moles disturbing the root structure of the turf—but none need to derail your landscaping efforts altogether. Before you start working to level your lawn’s surface, troubleshoot the underlying problem so it doesn’t reoccur in the future. Then tackle these steps for how to level a yard to turn your lawn into the smooth, lush, green landscape you’ve always wanted.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Lawn mower
– Thatch rake
– Dethatching machine (optional)
– Sand
– Topsoil
– Compost
– Shovel
– Bow rake
– Push broom

STEP 1
Start by mowing your lawn. Cut it short, but not so short that you scalp it. If you cut it so that grass blades stems become visible, the grass is vulnerable to drying out.

STEP 2
Take a closer look at your grass roots, and determine the amount of thatch on your lawn. Thatch is the layer of decayed grass and other organic material at the base of the turf. A quarter to 1/2-inch of thatch is acceptable, but any more than that will prevent the grass from getting adequate air and water. If you have more than 1/2-inch of thatch, remove (or at least significantly loosen) it by systematically running a thatch rake over the surface to pull it up. Or, if your lawn is larger, run a dethatching machine over it. You can rent a dethatching machine from a home improvement store, and it will make the process much quicker.

How to Level a Yard

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3
Make a top dressing mix to fill in the area beneath the grass in sunken areas of your lawn from two parts sand, two parts topsoil, and one part compost. The sand helps maintain a level yard because it doesn’t compact easily, while the soil and compost contain nutrients that your grass needs to thrive.

STEP 4
If you have any low spots or divots deeper than two or three inches, you should remove the grass on top of them before filling the holes. Dig up the sod by putting the blade of a shovel into it at the outside of a low spot, and sliding it down and under about two or three inches to get under the grass roots. Then pry the grass up with the shovel to expose the dirt beneath. Fill the hole with the top dressing mix, and put the grass back into place on top of it.

STEP 5
Once lowest patches are filled, use a shovel to disperse the top dressing mix across your entire lawn to a depth of about ¼ to ½ inches. Even if you think your grass needs more than that depth to even out, err on the side of caution and keep to a thin layer—a heavier layer could choke your grass. If necessary, you can repeat this process (see Step 7) to add a second layer.

Then, spread the top dressing mix evenly across the grass by pulling and pushing it around with the back of a bow rake. Work the mix into the gradual low spots and pockets in your lawn. If the grass blades are completely covered by the mix, the grass will suffocate from deprivation of light, so follow up with a push broom to further work the mix into the soil at the base of the turf grass and reveal the blades.

STEP 6
Water your lawn to help the top dressing mix settle into the grass and fill any air pockets. This step should also revitalize your lawn because it will jumpstart the infusion of nutrients from the compost in the mix.

STEP 7
You may need more than one application of top dressing to completely smooth out your lawn. Apply the second layer following steps 5 and 6 once you see the grass start to actively grow, or when you can no longer see the first top dressing application you put down.

 

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.


Solved! What to Do About Brown Grass

Fix the common problem of unsightly patches on your once lush, green lawn with this set of solutions.

7 Things You Never Knew Cause Brown Grass (and How to Fix Them)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I started seeing brown patches on my lawn at the end of spring. They seem to have grown in size and number since then. What’s causing this, and how can I correct it before it takes over my turf?

A: Brown patches of dormant, dead, or dying turf is hardly unusual, as they plague grasses of all varieties and can be caused by a number of factors ranging from extreme weather and poor soil conditions to pests and fungus. Whatever the culprit, brown grass should be assessed and addressed ASAP: If the underlying problem is severe enough, the pesky patches could eventually destroy your lawn. So find out the cause early and treat your turf accordingly to restore it to its former green glory.

Wait out drought—or water properly. If brown grass appears or worsens with scorching temperatures, and fallen tree leaves on the surrounding lawn have shriveled, this can be a sign that the problem is drought. It’s natural for grass to go dormant to conserve water during periods of limited rainfall, and drought-induced brown grass should turn green on its own as the weather cools and rainfall increases. You can also restore your lawn by giving it an inch of water on a weekly basis with your lawn sprinkler. You may need to adjust a sprinkler head to ensure that there are no spots on the lawn that the sprinkler isn’t reaching. Remember to water early in the day, before the sun’s heat burns off the water.

Restore your soil’s pH balance. When soil pH is too “alkaline” or acidic, iron chlorosis, a type of iron deficiency affecting plants, can take root in your lawn and lead to yellow—or in severe cases, brown—patches. Check your soil pH is with a home soil testing pH kit available at your local home center or nursery for about $10. If the pH is higher than 7.2, apply sulfur to your lawn as a short-term solution for lowering soil pH and improving the color of grass. Generally, the higher the starting soil pH and the “loamier” or more clay-based the soil, the more sulfur it needs. Sandy soil with a starting pH of 7.5, for example, only needs 10 to 15 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet to reach an optimal soil pH of 6.5, while a loamy soil of the same pH needs 20 to 25 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet. As a long-term solution, reduce the frequency with which you water the lawn, as over-watering reduces iron uptake in grass and can lead to repeat cases of yellowing or browning.

The Unexpected Causes of Brown Grass

Photo: istockphoto.com

Lay off the fertilizer. Excess salt from fertilizer can build up in grass, scorching it and turning it brown. Your lawn might have this “fertilizer burn” if brown spots appear one to two days after fertilizing the lawn and the spots follow the pattern of where you applied the fertilizer. Act fast to beat the burn, watering until the ground is thoroughly saturated to help leach excess fertilizer out of the grass’ root zone. Then apply an inch of water to the lawn each day for the next seven days to flush out the fertilizer salts from the grass roots. If grass fails to re-grow completely, you can either sow new grass seeds or lay sod over dead turf spots. In the future, avoid over-feeding the lawn by applying fertilizer only in the manufacturer-recommended amount and frequency. Choose slow-release fertilizers to improve absorption and reduce the risk of fertilizer burn.

Weed wisely. Weeds and tree roots siphon vital nutrients from fertilizer and water that would otherwise go to grass, leaving you with a dry brown lawn. To treat, dig up the weeds or spray the lawn with a selective herbicide that targets weeds but leaves the grass undamaged. Follow up weed removal by spraying pre-emergent herbicide over the lawn to prevent new weed seeds from sprouting.

Fight the threat of fungus. Fungus thrives in hot, humid, moisture-rich environments, and stagnant water on your lawn helps it fester. Once conditions like Brown Patch Disease take root, you might notice thinned-out brown grass in a ring-like pattern, possibly affecting a large area of turf. If you spot these symptoms, apply fungicide to smaller affected areas, or call in a lawn care specialist if the problem is widespread. Avoid over-dousing your lawn, and stick to a morning watering schedule, to keep fungus at bay. To reduce the risk of fungal disease, mow the lawn weekly, aerate it twice a year, and clear thatch (shoots, stems, and roots that accumulate on the soil surface) when it rises to about an inch in height.

Don’t let your lawn be grub for grubs. Grubs, the larvae of beetles, spend their summers feeding on the roots of turf grass—and as the grass decays, brown areas emerge. To determine if this is a problem, simply dig into one of the brown patches and look for milk-white creatures curled up into a C-shape. If you spot 10 or more of these grubs per square foot of sod, a grub infestation is the likely culprit of your lawn’s brown patches. To be rid of the pests, apply either a chemical like carbaryl or natural grub control like nematodes (roundworms) over the lawn. In two to three weeks, new green shoots should start to emerge.

Have pets do their business elsewhere. You love your furry friends, but canine and feline urine contains salts that can kill grass and leave behind round, brown dead patches that aren’t likely to go green on their own. Revive dead turf by covering it with a layer of ground limestone (2 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet) to restore the soil’s pH balance, then let the limestone sit for a week before covering it with topsoil and planting new grass seeds. In the future, you can replace an area of your lawn with mulch and let your pets “go” there—or better yet take them for walks!


How To: Get Rid of Snakes

Creeped out by slithery legless reptiles? Try these methods to discourage their presence or banish them should they appear on your property.

SHARES
How to Get Rid of Garden Snakes

Photo: istockphoto.com

They may be perceived as sneaky, slimy, and scary, but most snakes are not dangerous to humans. And, to their credit, they do an excellent job of keeping the population of rats and mice in check. Out of more than 150 snake species in North America, only four (the copperhead, rattlesnake, coral snake, and cottonmouth) are venomous—and they should be avoided at all costs. But if you’d rather not share your personal Eden with nonvenomous serpents—or they’ve started to raid your chicken coop—consider the measures here for how to get rid of snakes.

How to Get Rid of Snakes

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD 1: Reduce Rodents

Got rats, mice, voles, or moles? If so, you’re inviting snakes to dinner! Eliminating the rodent habitat in your yard, and the areas surrounding it can go a long way in the quest for how to get rid of snakes.

STEP 1
Maintain your lawn by mowing regularly and control brush and tall vegetation by cutting back any tall weeds growing at your property’s edge.

STEP 2
Clean up such debris as piles of rocks or wood, which make excellent shelter for mice and other small rodents.

STEP 3
Search for rodent burrows—sure signs that pesky four-footed critters are camping out on your property—and fill them up with dirt or gravel.

 

How to Get Rid of Snakes

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD 2: Apply Snake Repellant

There are several excellent and effective snake repellants on the market. If you have kids or pets, read the labels, to choose one that’s safe to use where they might also wander. Granular formulas are easiest to administer, while liquid varieties need to be mixed.

STEP 1
Broadcast repellent over the area where you’ve seen snakes. If you have a granular product, scatter it evenly over the target area with a hand spreader, or by shaking the granules out of the bottle or bag. If you have a liquid product, mix it and distribute it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

STEP 2
After treating the area where you’ve noticed snakes, apply repellant in a concentrated line around the perimeter of your property to create a barrier that snakes will not want to cross.

 

How to Get Rid of Snakes

Photo: amazon.com

METHOD 3: Set Traps

There are several types of effective snake traps available. Some utilize glue, similar to rodent traps, and others trap snakes by virtue of their construction. A minnow or maze trap, for instance, creates a space a snake can easily enter but will find difficult to exit. Traps are meant to humanely capture snakes, not kill them. So be aware that any snake you trap will be alive and need to be released.

STEP 1
Before setting a snake trap, don protective clothing like gloves, closed-toed footwear, long pants and sleeves as a shield from any potential snake encounters. Although they won’t cause lasting harm, non-venomous snakes can bite and cause injuries that may require medical attention. Wearing gloves will also help keep you from transferring your scent to the trap, which could ward off snakes.

STEP 2
Place the trap in the area where you’ve seen a snake, or evidence of its activity (shed skins or winding trails in the dirt are a dead giveaway). Camouflage it with dirt, leaves, branches, or whatever else will make it blend in best. Snakes don’t eat dead meat—and who wants to try setting a trap with a live rodent!?—so bait the trap with one or two fresh eggs, a delicacy to snakes.

STEP 3
Check the trap routinely to see if you’ve caught one. Once you have, plan to relocate it at least 10 miles from where it was trapped, in a non-inhabited area, to ensure it doesn’t return or cause menace to others. If you’d rather not look at a snake in your vehicle while transporting it, put the entire trap in a large pillowcase (not a garbage bag, which isn’t breathable), and tie off the top. To release a snake from a maze or minnow trap, open it so that the snake will leave in the opposite direction from where you are standing. Vegetable oil will dislodge a snake from a glue trap—simply pour about a cup of oil directly onto the snake and trap to release it.

 

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: Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Banish this pretty yet pernicious weed with one of three trusted methods.

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Photo: istockphoto.com

Creeping Charlie—also commonly known as ground ivy—is an insidious weed that is both resilient and adaptable, making it very difficult to combat successfully. A member of the mint family, it grows low to the ground in a vining habit, and will quickly fill an empty space with a mat-like cover of small, round, scalloped-edged green leaves, punctuated in early spring with delicate, violet-blue flowers. It’s actually quite pretty, and you often see Variegata, its variegated (and far less invasive) cousin, sold in nurseries as a ground cover or cascading filler for planters. But don’t be charmed! Left to its own devices, Creeping Charlie can quickly take over landscaping beds, and even a lawn, killing everything else around it. It thrives in moist and shady areas, where grass and other plants don’t grow well. If you see it, act fast with one of these three tried-and-true methods for how to get rid of Creeping Charlie, or you will have a hard battle later.

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD #1: PULLING

Manual removal is not recommended for large infestations of Creeping Charlie. It will take too long, and success will be minimal. But if you see a plant or two here or there, you can get rid of it with your own two hands quite effectively.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Gloves
– Shovel and/or cultivator
– Lawn waste disposal bag
– Watering can/hose and water (if necessary)

STEP 1
Don gardening gloves, as Creeping Charlie can cause skin irritation and itching; some people are even allergic to it. Prune the weed by cutting off any loose vines not rooted to the ground, to help expose the areas where you need to pull and dig.

STEP 2
Grasp the plant by the roots to pull it out. If the ground is hard and dry, watering the area first to soften it will make for easier yanking. If the roots are particularly deep, loosen the soil around them with a rooting tool or cultivator. As you pull, put plants immediately in a disposal bag; do not leave them lying around.

STEP 3
When you’ve removed all the Creeping Charlie in sight, dig through the soil with your hands or a cultivator to ensure you’ve gotten any root pieces that have broken off, as they will regenerate, and you’ll be right back where you started. Any little bits left behind, or that go wayward, are bound to reseed themselves.

 

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD #2: SMOTHERING

You can banish a larger Creeping Charlie infestation by depriving it of sunlight for an extended period. Remember, this weed thrives in shade, so you’ll need to cover it and block the sun out completely for this method to be effective. Be aware that any other plants mixed in with the Creeping Charlie will also die.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Cardboard, newspaper, or tarp
– Rocks or bricks
– Gloves
– Cultivator
– Lawn waste disposal bag
– Patience!

STEP 1
Cover the Creeping Charlie with a barrier of newspaper, tarp, or cardboard to completely block sunlight. Extend the coverage six to 12 inches beyond the vines and leaves, as the roots underneath the ground can reach further out from what’s on top of the soil. Weight the cover down with rocks or bricks to keep it from blowing or shifting back, allowing light to reach the plants.

STEP 2
Wait at least a week for the Creeping Charlie to smother—it could be longer, depending on your soil conditions. Take a peek after a week, and if there’s any green left, replace the cover for another week. When Creeping Charlie is shriveled and brown, it’s good and dead!

STEP 3
Pull the Creeping Charlie out of the ground and dispose of it as you would in the hand pulling method, or it could come back from the nodes and roots. It ought to come out much more easily once dead.

 

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD #3: HERBICIDE

If Creeping Charlie has infiltrated your lawn, you can’t very well smother it without killing your grass. It will also be nearly impossible to pull out manually, as it will be entangled with the roots of your turf. Stumped on how to get rid of Creeping Charlie in your lawn? This situation may best be battled herbicide, but heed this warning: Many of these plant poisons are not selective. They kill whatever they touch, not just weeds, so read product labels carefully and choose a broadleaf herbicide containing tricolpyr or dicamba—two chemicals will kill Creeping Charlie, but not harm your turf grass.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Garden gloves
– Long-sleeved shirt and pants
– Protective eyewear
– Garden sprayer
– Broadleaf herbicide that contains tricolpyr or dicamba

STEP 1
You can spray Creeping Charlie with herbicide anytime during the growing season, but it will be most effective if you treat it in the fall, when it’s preparing for winter dormancy. Spray right before or right after the first frost, and it will store the herbicide along with its winter nutrients. If you do spray earlier, be sure to spray once again before winter. Your best chance of eliminating it is to weaken it going into the cold season.

STEP 2
Put on protective gloves, clothing, and eyewear. Mix the herbicide in a garden sprayer according to the manufacturer’s directions.

STEP 3
Spray the herbicide on the Creeping Charlie, being careful to soak all the leaves, while avoiding any nearby garden plants. Store or dispose of any remaining spray according to the manufacturer’s directions. Do not mow for at least two days after spraying, so that the chemicals can be absorbed down into the roots of the plant.

STEP 4
Control regrowth of Creeping Charlie long term by preventing it from growing in the first place. A thick, healthy lawn of turf grass is inhospitable to weeds—there’s simply no room for them. Maintaining your lawn’s overall health will ensure Creeping Charlie, and other pesky weeds, can’t get a foothold.

 

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.


Solved! The Best Decking Material

Before you set off to build the deck of your dreams, start by finding the material best suited to your aesthetics and budget.

Best Decking Material

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’m putting a new deck on my house and I want to make sure it is constructed properly. What is the best decking material? Should I use natural wood, pressure-treated, or something altogether different?

A: With so many deck options available today, from natural wood to composite and aluminum, the decision may seem overwhelming. Ultimately, finding one that suits your space comes down to a compromise of four key factors: budget, climate, ease of maintenance, and overall aesthetic. Start your construction process by considering these five most popular picks for the best decking material—we’ve got the pros and cons for each.

Natural wood ($3.75 to $20+ per square foot) is durable and beautiful, but costs can run high. Many homeowners opt for natural wood decking, whether it’s cedar, redwood, or tropical hardwoods. These durable materials, which have a traditionally beautiful appearance and rich color, resist rot and insects. But such attractive qualities come at a cost—both financial and physical. If you opt for natural wood decking materials, the price will depend on your desired variety: Expect to pay about $3.75 per square foot for cedar and $8 per square foot for redwood (although the latter will typically be cheaper on the west coast, where it’s more readily available). Some exotic hardwoods cost more than $20 per square foot! And without proper maintenance, it tends to fade or crack, so keep your investment in tip-top shape by pressure washing and re-sealing every couple of years.

Best Decking Material

Photo: istockphoto.com

Pressure-treated lumber ($1.50 to $2.50 per square foot) is a popular and affordable wooden alternative. Often made from a southern pine infused with a chemical to make it resistant to rot, moisture, and insects, this widely available decking material is generally the least expensive option and therefore the most widely used. Homeowners enjoy pressure-treated wood for its durability and visual similarity to natural wood. It’s an ideal option for do-it-yourself construction because, unlike natural wood, it’s easy to cut and fasten with nails or screws. (If installing a pressure-treated wood deck, just try to avoid the cheapest budget varieties, since these are typically more susceptible to cracks, warps, and splits over time, any of which could actually cost you more in repairs down the road.) The biggest downside to pressure-treated wood? The infused chemicals release toxic gas into the air if burned, so it’s important to always reapply a good sealer when you stain every few years in order to minimize the exposure to chemicals when using the deck. Otherwise, in regards to maintenance, homeowners will need to pressure wash annually.

Alternatively, composite decking ($4 to $10 per square foot) offers durability and attractiveness for minimum maintenance. Composite decking, from brands such as Trex and TimberTech, is made from a blend of recycled plastic (polyethylene, polypropylene, or PVC) mixed with wood fibers (like wood chips or sawdust). Not only does the durable synthetic material resist warping, it also holds strong against rot and insect infestations. Composite decking is available in a wide variety of colors and styles, including looks that mimic natural wood, none of which require sealing, sanding, or staining unless you absolutely want to change the color later on. On the flip side, dark-colored composite decking can get extremely hot in direct sunlight; mold and mildew can grow in shady, cool, or damp areas; and the surface can be quite slick when wet. (It’s best to allow adequate time to air-dry between lightly scrubbing down the surface and inviting guests out on the deck in order to avoid any slips.)

Plastic decking ($7 to 10 per square foot) stands up well over time, but the synthetic surface doesn’t look as natural. The most popular plastic decking material is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), although there are also versions made from polyethylene. Just like composite decking, plastic is durable and easy to maintain, requiring regular cleaning with just a garden hose or bucket and mop. Plastic will not warp, crack, or split over time, and it’s impervious to moisture, rot, decay, and insects. What’s more, the surface does not need to be sanded, stained, or sealed. That said, plastic decking does have its disadvantages. The surface gets extremely hot in direct sunlight and susceptible to mold and mildew in shade. And, while available in a wide variety of colors and styles, darker colors tend to fade over time and lighter colors sometimes develop a chalky coating.

And, if you can live with its industrial appearance, aluminum decking ($7 to $10+ per square foot) boasts many advantages. Often used near swimming pools and lakes, aluminum decking is a long-lasting and low-maintenance material. Most options feature a baked-on, powder-coated, or anodized finish that stands up to harsh weather conditions. Aluminum is extremely resistant to mold, mildew, and staining, and it also won’t rust, rot, crack, or peel over time. What’s more, most aluminum decking comes with a non-skid textured surface that prevents slips and falls. Surprisingly, most varieties of aluminum decking manage to stay cool even on the hottest days. However, this combination of benefits makes it one of the most expensive options, second only to some varieties of natural wood. The price—as well as the distinct industrial appearance—isn’t for every homeowner.

 

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.


Buyer’s Guide: Hammocks

Are you looking to kick back in a hammock this summer? Before hitting the stores, check out our guide to learn more about styles, sizes, and structure.

SHARES
Best Hammock – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

During the summer months, nothing beats kicking back in a hammock and swaying gently on a warm breeze with a paperback novel and iced beverage. These hanging seats provide a comfortable and portable option for lounging and sleeping. First developed by the Mayans more than a thousand years ago, they’re now used by campers who desire a functional sleeping space, as well as by those seeking a little R&R on a beach or in the backyard. When selecting the best hammock for your outdoor activities, consider a few key factors, like style, size, weight, and suspension system. Whether you want a sturdy sleeping platform for your next backpacking adventure or a laid-back seating option for your backyard, check out our guide for the top-rated hammocks on the market today.

BREAKING DOWN THE DESIGN DETAILS

Buyer's Guide – Best Hammock

Photo: istockphoto.com

Before making a purchase, consider the following factors that distinguish options available on the market today to choose the best hammock for your needs.

Size: Hammocks come in various sizes, and most designs accommodate one or two people. Typically, hammock beds range from 48 to 102 inches in width and are generally 96 inches in length—although some camping models are smaller in both dimensions to save space and weight.

Weight: If you’re purchasing a hammock for hiking and camping, weight is an important consideration. Campers won’t want to tote anything too bulky or heavy. Ultra-light camping hammocks constructed with synthetic materials can weigh as little as seven ounces, and they can be compacted into an area about the size of a softball. Rope or fabric hammocks, often designed for home use, generally weigh a few pounds more. As the heaviest option, quilted fabric hammocks can weigh up to six pounds, depending on the fabric. Make sure to also consider the weight of your chosen suspension system, since straps, slings, ropes, and carabiners will add 10 to 15 ounces to the system’s total weight.

Weight Capacity: All hammocks have a “carrying capacity,” with weight limits ranging from 150 to 500 pounds. Solo hammocks usually top out at about 250 pounds, while couples hammocks are designed to hold 350 to 500 pounds. Weight limits only apply for static weight capacity; jumping, swinging, and other vigorous activity will lessen the total weight capacity, as well as shorten the lifespan of your hammock.

Suspension System: Many backyard or lounging hammocks have wooden spreaders (or poles) along the length of each end, which keep the hammock open after it’s suspended from trees, poles, or hammock stands with hanging hooks and chains. Camping hangers, on the other hand, don’t have spreaders; instead, they’re suspended with webbing straps, synthetic tree slings, or nylon ropes attached to the hammock with carabiners. Hammocks with multiple attachment points allow for more flexibility and adjustability in hanging. When hanging a hammock, try making the rope have a 30-degree pitch for the best support.

Accessories: Think about how you plan to use the hammock, and look into its compatibility with various accessories. One popular item is freestanding metal hammock stands, which allow you to place your hammock anywhere—even in places without trees. Other accessories include sleeping pads to add comfort to rope hammocks, pillows, storage or carrying bags, hammock canopies designed to shield you from the sun’s rays or the occasional rain shower, and mosquito netting to keep pesky bugs at bay.

 

Best Hammock – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

SELECTING STYLES AND MATERIALS

The style and material of your hammock will also differ based on your desired usage. Even so, consumers will find a wide variety of options available at the store. Here, we’ve described seven popular styles of hammock.

• Everyone who grew up watching “Gilligan’s Island” is familiar with the most common type of hammock: an open-weave cotton rope variety. These hammocks, which are typically the least expensive, allow for maximum air flow. Hammocks made of cotton ropes are comfortable and breezy, and the ropes will stretch to match the contour of a body. But since cotton absorbs moisture, they are more prone to mildew.

• Open-weave polyester rope hammocks are more durable, less prone to mold and mildew, and better able to withstand high humidity, salt air, and ultraviolet rays. However, polyester rope is less flexible than cotton rope, and therefore may not be as comfortable. Both cotton and polyester open-weave hammocks typically are constructed with wooden or metal spreader bars.

Quilted fabric hammocks, which also feature spreader bars, have two layers of fabric with cotton or polyester padding sandwiched in between. These types of hammocks typically are reversible, with a solid color fabric on one side and a patterned fabric on the other. Since fabric hammocks don’t have holes or gaps on the surface, they’re a safe option for families with children.

• Constructed of thin cotton or nylon thread, Mayan hammocks don’t have a spreader bar. The flexible and lightweight design allows users to “cocoon” themselves inside of the fabric. Taking a cue from their traditional roots, Mayan hammocks are often bright and colorful.

Brazilian hammocks are hand woven from cotton fibers, which are crafted into cozy thick fabrics accented by bright colors and an ornamental fringe. Most Brazilian hammocks do not have spreader bars. The thickness of the fabric makes it suitable for cooler climates.

Poolside or seaside hammocks resist moisture, fading, ultraviolet rays, and exposure to salt. In addition, they’re durable, long-lasting, and easy to clean with warm water and liquid soap. Consumers can find these with or without spreader bars.

• Typically made from lightweight nylon or polyester, camping hammocks are characterized by their light weight and portability. They can survive most weather conditions, and some even come with mesh screens to protect from bugs.

If you want the comfort of a hammock but have limited space, consider purchasing a hammock chair. Offered in rope or fabric styles, hammock chairs can be hung from a sturdy beam, branch, or pole

 

THREE BEST BETS

Regardless of the material and style, a hammock can help you chill out, kick back, and relax in the comfort of your own backyard. Here a three of the best hammock options on the market today, based on consumer reviews and expert opinions.

 

Best Hammock – Buyer's Guide

Photo: amazon.com

Vivere Double Hammock with Space-Saving Steel Stand ($101.53)
A classic Brazilian-style hammock, the Vivere Double Hammock received 4.7 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers, who praised its durable construction, high comfort level, and easy assembly. The double bed measures 63-by-94 inches, and the hammock comes with a nine-foot-long space-saving steel stand and a carrying case. The Vivere hammock accommodates up to 450 pounds, and it’s available in a choice of three fabrics: 100 percent vegetable-dyed cotton, woven polyester, and weather-resistant Sunbrella. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Hammock – Buyer's Guide

Photo: amazon.com

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – DoubleNest Hammock ($69.95)
The DoubleNest Hammock, a lightweight and portable option for camping, received 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon reviewers. The backpack-friendly fabric–strong and breathable nylon taffeta with triple interlocking stitching–can safely support up to 400 pounds, and compacts to the size of a grapefruit. Buyers will also get aluminum wiregate carabiners and nautical grade line for easy setup. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Hammock – Buyer's Guide

Photo: amazon.com

Algoma 11 Foot Cotton Rope Hammock with Metal Stand Deluxe Set ($130)
This 100 percent pure cotton rope hammock comes with a steel frame stand, polyester pad, pillow, and holders for drinks and an iPad. The set received 4.6 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers, who praised its comfort, easy installation, and high quality. The double-lounger hammock measures 150-by-35 inches and holds up to 275 pounds. Available on Amazon.