Lawn & Garden - 2/56 - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden

Buyer’s Guide: Leaf Vacuums

To rid your yard of autumn leaves without picking up a rake, take a stroll through this guide to find the right machine for you.

Best Leaf Vacuum for Yards and Gardens


While turning leaves are lovely, once they start to drop, the task of clearing walkways and readying your yard for winter begins. So now’s a good time to consider adding a leaf vacuum to your gardening gear. Unlike familiar leaf blowers, which disperse organic debris, leaf vacuums suck fallen foliage through a tube and into a bag attached to the end for manual disposal. These devices, ranging anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars, are handy for tidying up small yards as well as banishing leaf buildup beneath hedges and flowerbeds. Check out some important shopping considerations here—as well as three top-rated picks—to choose the best leaf vacuum that best suits your property and purposes.

Best Leaf Vacuum for Yards and Gardens


Pick a power source.
Like lawnmowers, leaf vacuums are available in gas- and electric-powered versions; plus, there are also rechargeable battery models on the market. Gas may offer greater power and the ability to cover lots of ground in one go, but these models can run loud, emit fumes, and require you to maintain the right gas to oil ratio. While electric leaf vacuums are quieter and easier to maintain, they’re best suited to modest-sized outdoor spaces, require plugging into an electrical outlet, and often require an extension cord to allow enough room to roam. Rechargeable leaf vacuums are compact enough to be easily stored, but they cover the least amount of ground and must be recharged between uses.

Consider suction speed and power.
Check a leaf vacuum’s product descriptions for two numbers: the MPH and the CFM. MPH stands for miles per hour—in this case referring to the how quickly air is suctioned into the unit and through the tube. Most run between 110 and 180 MPH, although some may reach extremes of 250 MPH or so.

Somewhat more important than airspeed, however, is CFM, or cubic feet per minute. This tells how much air moves through the vacuum in the span of 60 seconds, indicating how powerful the unit is. While MPH gives you an idea of how quickly leaves can go through the tube, CFM tells you how much can go through at once. CFM rankings for leaf vacuums range from around 150 to 600. A less expensive unit with a CFM under 200 may be all you need to clean up an apartment balcony or a small yard, but, for larger areas, you may wish to invest in a higher-CFM unit.

Factor in the extras.
Some leaf vacuums offer bells and whistles beyond simple suction. In fact, most vacuums these days are actually leaf blowers with a vacuum function, which gives you the choice of, say, simply clearing a walkway with a blower or completely removing leaves from your patio area with a vacuum. Vacuums are best suited for smaller outdoor spaces, like those surrounding apartments and duplexes. Some models also offer a mulching option, great for repurposing those leaves into healthy plant beds.

Best Bets

After thoroughly comparing leaf vacuum reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated models available today to help you find one that fits your yard and garden’s needs and your family’s budget. Check out the best leaf vacuum options below!

Best Leaf Vacuum for Yards and Gardens - Toro 51619 Ultra Blower/Vac


Toro 51619 Ultra Blower/Vac ($70)
This Toro unit topped the 2017 list of best leaf blowers and vacuums compiled by expert product reviewers at The Spruce. It offers a cool combo of speed (250 MPH) and power (410 CFM) for its budget-friendly price. Packing a triple punch with vacuuming, blowing, and mulching capabilities, it’s a multi-purpose electric model noted for its durability and ease of use. Available on Amazon.


Best Leaf Vacuum for Yards and Gardens - Husqvarna 125BVX Gas Blower With Vacuum


Husqvarna 125BVX Handheld Gas Leaf Blower with Vacuum Kit ($199)
This multi-purpose, gas-powered blower/vacuum earned more than 400 4-star reviews from satisfied Lowe’s customers. The high-powered (170 MPH, 470 CFM) model covers larger areas more quickly than many corded and battery-powered counterparts, and as one fan puts it, “It has outstanding power and the vacuum portion is amazing.” A mulching function is also available while the unit is in vacuum mode. Available at Lowe’s.


Best Leaf Vacuum for Yards and Gardens - Greenworks 24322 Cordless Blower/Vac


Greenworks 24322 Cordless Blower/Vac ($177)
The Greenworks 24322 is a convenient device thanks to an easily rechargeable battery that happens to be compatible with all Greenworks tools. Clocking in at 185 MPH with 340 CFM, what it lacks in power it makes up for with its modest size and extremely light weight—under 6 pounds. Ideal for patios and porches, this apartment-friendly tool earns praise for ease of use and reliable performance. Available on Amazon.

The Dos and Don’ts of Watering Plants

How, when, and where you water your garden and houseplants can critically impact their greenery and blooms. Read on for the best ways to ensure success.

Top Tips for Watering Plants


No matter what color your thumb, you likely already know that all plants need water to reach their full potential—after all, that basic knowledge goes back to basic middle-school science class. But what you might not know is that incorrect watering techniques can put plants at risk for disease and even kill them. Whether you want to cultivate pretty outdoor perennials or you just bought a new houseplant, heed these best and worst practices for watering plants indoors and out and you’ll reap healthy, happy specimens.


DO hydrate plants in the morning.

The most efficient time to water outdoor flowers and vegetables is before the heat of the day when the soil is cool and the water has the best chance of seeping down to the roots of the plants before evaporating. Watering plants early will ensure that they have sufficient store of moisture beneath the soil to withstand the heat of a hot summer day.

DON’T water too frequently or too little.

Especially during hot weather, it may be tempting to water just enough—and often enough—to keep the soil damp. Shallow surface watering, however, discourages deep root development. Instead, opt for a less frequent watering routine that thoroughly saturates the soil. This method encourages the roots to reach deeply for residual water, even when the surface of the soil appears dry. The standard rule of thumb is to give your flowers and vegetables the equivalent of at 1 inch of water per week (and as much as double that amount in the peak of summer).

DO water plants at soil level.

Directing water at the base of your plants delivers the hydration right where it’s needed: the roots. Consider winding a soaker hose between plants in a flower or vegetable bed to soak the soil slowly and deeply and ensure healthy growth.

Top Tips for Watering Plants


DON’T use broadcast sprinklers.

In addition to soaking the plant’s leaves, which can increase the risk of a fungal disease, broadcast sprinklers are simply inefficient. On a hot or windy day, much of the water distributed by this type of sprinkler can evaporate before it even reaches the plant and less water goes to the base of the plant.

DO water outdoor container plants at least once per day. 

Soil in container gardens and flowerpots dries out more quickly than soil in a garden plot or flower bed. The smaller the container, the more frequently you need to water. Soak the soil in containers in the morning, and, if the mercury in the thermometer climbs to 90 or above, give them another soaking in the afternoon.

DON’T forget that trees need water, too.

Newly planted trees and shrubs should be thoroughly soaked with water two or three times per week for the first month. After that period, water weekly during their first growing season. Established trees and shrubs (which are at least two years old) only need to be watered once every two weeks during the growing season when rain is scarce.

DO use a wand to water container plants.

A watering wand extends the reach of your arm, allowing you to direct water at soil level in overhead hanging plants and in short, ground-level flowerpots on the ground without having to stretch or stoop. You’ll conserve water by directing only the amount needed to the base of the plant and you’ll save your back.

DON’T water container plants with a jet-type spray nozzle.

Pressurized nozzles are great for washing off driveways and sidewalks, but the spray that they deliver can damage tender foliage and blossoms. It can also disturb the soil around the roots of a container plant. If you don’t have a watering wand, just remove the nozzle from the garden hose, hook the hose into the hanging pot or container, and let the water run out slowly.

Top Tips for Watering Plants




DO use a watering can for houseplants.

Trying to water a leafy houseplant from a drinking glass or carafe is just asking for water to spill out over the rim and onto your table or windowsill. Not only does a watering can’s long spout eliminate spills, but it also allows you to precisely direct water right at the base of the plant even if you’re watering plants that hang overhead.

DON’T water houseplants with treated softened water.

Home water softeners impart sodium into your tap water, which, over time, can negatively affect the mineral makeup of a houseplant’s soil. Depending on your plumbing, your water softener may connect only to the hot water faucets or to all the faucets in your home, both hot and cold. If it’s the latter (or you aren’t sure), stick to filling your watering can at an outdoor spigot to minimize the amount of sodium you introduce to the soil.

DO check a soil moisture gauge.

An inexpensive soil moisture gauge costs less than $20 and you can insert it directly into the soil to find out whether it’s dry, moist, or wet as many as several inches deep by the roots. Large houseplants in small pots absorb water more quickly than small plants in large pots. When you use a moisture gauge, as opposed to following a watering schedule, your plants will get the water they need, when they need it.

Top Tips for Watering Plants


DON’T put houseplants in pots without drainage holes.

Most houseplants need well-drained soil in order to grow and thrive. If water cannot drain out through the bottom of the pot, the roots are subject to sitting in water and potentially rotting. Check the bottom of each potted houseplant and repot any without drainage holes into a more appropriate container with them.

DO water less in winter and more in spring.

During the winter, the days are shorter and indoor houseplants receive less ambient light through windows. As a result, photosynthesis (the process in which a plant turns light into food) slows and the plant enters a resting phase, during which it needs less water. As spring approaches, however, longer days signal the plant to start growing, and at this time, its water needs increase. Adjust your habits for watering plants accordingly so as not to cause distress or thirst.

DON’T forget to dump the water collection tray.

When watering, excess H2O will drain into the collection tray beneath your houseplant almost immediately, but don’t pour it right away—the plant may reabsorb some of it within the next 30 minutes. After that, go ahead and dump. Allowing a plant to sit in standing water increases the risk of root rot, a potentially deadly development for the plant.

DON’T overwater.

Overwatering is one of the main causes of houseplant failure. Houseplant newbies have a tendency to water houseplants too often, thinking that’s just what they need. Overwatering, however, increases the risk of root rot and fungal disease. If you see droopy stems, wilting leaves, a whitish coating (fungus), or fungal gnats in the home—pests that thrive on consistently wet soil—it’s a good bet that you’re watering plants too much.

On the other hand, when the bottom leaves on your houseplant dry out and drop and edges of the leaves elsewhere on the plant become crisp and brown, it’s probably not getting enough water. Again, refer to the soil moisture gauge for that happy medium.


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
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.

Your Shed, Your Way: 5 Surprising Ways to Customize Your Backyard Building

The more you think about tailoring your shed to suit your every last whim, the more time you’ll want to spend in there when it finally becomes a reality. Make your shed just perfect for your needs, inside and out, with any of these unique touches.

5 Ways to Customize Your Shed


Why settle for a basic backyard shed when you can trick it out to be so much more? With a little imagination, you can gain inventive storage options, add distinctive architectural features, and give your shed a premium look that will make your neighbors green with envy. The key is to plan the structure to meet your needs and build it with superior materials, such as LP® Outdoor Building Solutions® engineered wood products, rather than simply picking up a plastic shell of a building and dropping it into your backyard. Then, for sure-to-please results, embark on a customization plan to make your shed truly yours. Don’t know where to begin? Read on for five smart yet sometimes overlooked possibilities.

1. Eke out extra space overhead.
A gambrel roof—a style that dates back to the barns of early Dutch settlers in the American colonies—provides lots of extra headspace, thanks to its double-sloped sides. You can leave the area open, perhaps adding a skylight or windows to bring natural light into shed that serves as an art studio, craft room, or woodshop. Or, if your goal is to max out storage, add loft boards to create the equivalent of an attic.

2. Insist on materials that are as good-looking as they are hardworking.
Say “shed,” and some folks think “shack.” Well, they haven’t seen LP Outdoor Building Solutions’ inspiration gallery! Projects built with LP SmartSide® Trim and Lap Siding take on an appearance of genuine craftsmanship, with smooth finish or cedar texture trim and striking styles for a fully custom look. Meanwhile, walls built with LP SmartSide® Panels with SmartFinish®, a durable overlay free of the knots and voids often found in plywood, enhance the inside of the shed to match its professional exterior. LP products treated with SmartGuard® also protect against rot and termites.

5 Ways to Customize Your Shed


3. Tailor the storage.
Shelves, drawers, and other storage components should specifically address the purpose of your shed. Will you need hanging racks for bikes and sports gear? Ceiling-high shelving to keep seasonal decorations out of the way? Vertical compartments for stashing long gardening tools like your rake and hoe? A wall-hung holster that puts power tools within easy reach? How about a fold-down worktable, or a bench with roll-out cabinets beneath? Ensuring that everything has a spot will free up enough floor space for you to move around.

4. Consider a cupola.
From the Italian for “small cup” and dating back to the Renaissance, a cupola is a decorative roof addition that consists of a base, louvered sides, and a cap—with or without a weather vane. Available in a variety of shapes (often square or octagonal), a cupola makes an attractive focal point, but it has functional benefits too. The vents, for instance, allow air into a shed and aid ventilation. Cupolas may also have windows to let in the extra natural light needed for working in the shed or locating stored tools.

5. Extend the shed’s footprint with a pergola.
A pergola is an open outdoor canopy that can increase the usable space on one side of your shed. A pergola can create partial shade for a seating or dining area or provide a framework for twining vines, espaliers, or other foliage. Plus, with plenty of different pergola styles to choose from, you can leave yours entirely open, erect latticework along the sides, or drape it with fabric so you can open up or enclose the space at will.

Are your creative juices flowing? Visit for more ideas, tips, and advice for designing your shed, your way.


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

11 Tips and Tricks for Making the Most of Your Shed

If you're thinking of putting in a practical, functional outbuilding, here's some advice that will ensure that it will meet your needs now and for years to come.

How to Make the Most of Your Shed


When you’re investing money and time in—and, for do-it-yourselfers, the energy to build!—a backyard shed, you’ll want to get things right from the start. The good news is that an outdoor structure offers a lot of potential for return on investment, and we don’t just mean when you’re ready to move out. An outdoor structure can serve as anything from a superior storage solution to a nearby getaway to a place for pursuing your passions—at least, if you make sure before you start that it will truly meet your needs. Consider the advice provided here by the LP® Outdoor Building Solutions® shed pros as you compose your list of “must-haves” and “must-dos,” and then move full speed ahead toward the perfect shed!

1. Pick the best place.
Where you put your shed is key. To decide, think about how you intend to use it, and situate it in a spot convenient for that purpose. A potting shed, for instance, should be near the garden, while a child’s playhouse should be close enough to the patio or back door for you to keep an eye on it. You’ll also want your shed in an accessible, fairly open area—if it’s hidden behind bushes, you might forget it’s there and underutilize it!

2. Think bigger.
You’re always better off growing into a shed than growing out of it. When calculating the appropriate size for your shed, consider what you’ll want to keep in it—for example, your riding mower or the family bicycles as well as other items you’ll want to use while inside, such as a table or desk. Be sure to factor yourself into the space: Will you be able to stand up, walk around, and work in it easily? For assistance, check out the LP Outdoor Building Solutions nifty size guide.

3. Build to last.
For your outdoor structure to stand up to the elements, looking and performing great for years to come, ensure that it’s built of durable materials. LP® SmartSide® Siding, for instance, is treated with the proprietary SmartGuard® process to resist fungal decay and termites.

4. Plan on pleasure.
The more comfortable you make your shed, the more time you’ll want to spend inside, so choose materials designed to increase your enjoyment. LP® ProStruct® Roof Sheathing with SilverTech® is engineered to make the interior of the shed brighter and help maintain cooler temperatures, while LP ProStruct Flooring with SmartFinish® provides a cleaner, more premium look free of knots and voids.

How to Make the Most of Your Backyard Shed


5. Make a grand entrance.
When you think about the coming’s and going’s in your shed, you’ll realize that not just any door will do! Many people find that double doors and even a ramp make it much easier to get large items in and out. Double doors are also more inviting—an asset if you’ll be using the shed for entertaining.

6. Air it out.
Windows you can open and close are a must if you intend to use the shed for a workshop, craft room, or office. You’ve got to have ventilation and light, and a nice view through the windows will make this outbuilding an even more attractive spot for work. Even if you plan to use your shed primarily for storage, you’ll find that windows will provide a breath of fresh air when you’re inside organizing or retrieving items.

7. Let there be light.
A proper light source is vital if you’ll be working inside the shed, and electricity is clearly key if you plan on plugging anything in. But if wiring your shed proves too pricey, apply a little ingenuity! Solar panels on the roof or a portable generator could supply the required juice for work lamps. Once you have a few points of light in place, the reflective surface of SilverTech® roof sheathing can help amplify the illumination.

8. Pave the way.
Creating a path to your shed is a big plus. Not only will it make it easier to go back and forth when dew or rain leaves the ground soggy, the path will serve as a cohesive connector between shed and home. Use gravel, paving stones, bricks, slabs, or some combination to achieve a path that’s formal, rustic, or modern—whatever best suits your space.

9. Deck it out.
Want to make outdoor entertaining easier and more enjoyable? A deck addition to your shed is just the ticket. Folks can mix and mingle on the platform while you use the interior as a staging area to prepare food and drinks. A deck or porch is also fun and functional on a shed-turned-playhouse—little ones can use it as an extra play area or a stage to put on shows for the grown-ups!

10. Get creative with storage.
Trick out the shed’s interior with storage that makes smart use of the small space. Consider all the vertical options, from shelves, hooks, or pegboard on the walls to a hanging shoe organizer for small tools to a magnetic strip that keeps metal items within easy reach. You needn’t spend a lot on storage either: Shelving units can be built out of wooden crates, and pallets (often available for free from local stores) can act as platforms to raise items off the floor.

11. Don’t forget the finishing touches.
Finishing the inside of your shed with drywall will help insulate the space, and painting it your favorite color will surely add distinction. But don’t stop there! Complete your backyard retreat with a little decor, and you’ll want to visit, day or night, in every season.

Inspired? Now see how durable and dependable LP products can help make your space so much better!


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

Bob Vila Radio: 4 Top Options in Wood Fencing

On the fence about what type of wood to choose for your fence? Learn some of the pros and cons for a handful of the most popular picks.

There’s no shortage of wood fence options. Which is the right type for your property? In the end, it really comes down to the look you like, how much you’re willing to spend, and how much maintenance you’re comfortable with.

Wood Fence Types



Listen to BOB VILA ON WOOD FENCE TYPES or read below:

Cedar boasts a beautiful red hue that weathers to a silvery grey. Plus, it repels insects and resists warping and shrinking. Eventually, though, cedar falls victim to rot, so expect to replace planks here and there over the years. Apply a penetrating sealant immediately after installation and repeat each and every year.

Redwood and teak cost more—these are some of the most expensive fencing woods—but their softness and luster make them enduringly popular choices. For either wood to retain its beauty and remain viable as fencing, it needs to be re-sealed on an annual basis, just like cedar.

Pressure-treated wood costs the least, and it stands up to insects and moisture, but warping sometimes sets in soon after installation. Take care in choosing planks at the lumberyard; look for the straightest and avoid any that appear greenish or feel the slightest bit damp.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Bob Vila Radio: 4 Landscaping Projects That Pay You Back

Your landscape may be demanding, but it can give back too, if you guide it.

True—maintaining your landscape isn’t necessarily cheap. Fortunately, there are plenty of clever little ways to save money along the way.

Money-Saving Landscaping Projects




1. Compost your waste That saves you from having to buy fertilizer. Composting may even save you on garbage pickup. After all, if your county charges for pickup by the bag, then everything you toss into the compost heap, not into the regular trash, indirectly goes to your bottom line.

2. Strategically plant trees Site deciduous trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your home to foster shade and reduce the need for summertime AC. Meanwhile, on the north side, plant evergreen trees to serve as a buffer against cold winds in the winter.

3. Build a trellis Placed over sunny windows and planted with climbing, flowering vines, trellises provide dappled shade all summer, helping keep the home interior cooler than it otherwise would be. In the winter, vine foliage withers away to allow for solar heat gain.

4. Use plenty of mulch Doing so cuts down on the need for watering, which saves you both money and time. But mulch costs money, right? Not always. Check if your city gives away the mulched remains of fallen trees.  If not, create your own mulch—in a pinch, it’s as easy as running a lawn mower over a pile of leaves.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Video: The Smartest Garden Hacks

Keep out pests, reduce your water usage, and grow plants without an ounce of soil. You'll find tricks to accomplish all of these gardening miracles right here.

Take one trip to your local home center and you’ll find solutions for just about any gardening problem. The convenience of these buys is undeniable—but the cost to stock up on all of the latest tools, technologies, and insecticides can be prohibitive. The secret to a great garden, as many green thumbs already know, is ingenuity—not store-bought products. Take a look at some of the best and cheapest tricks for a great garden—then check out even more zero-dollar hacks.

For more gardening advice, consider:

25 Plants for Your Easiest Garden Ever

10 Flowers That Attract Bees to Your Garden

These Popular Plants Might Actually Be Bad for Your Garden

All You Need to Know About Retaining Walls

With this primer and a willingness to get your hands dirty, you can incorporate a retaining wall into your landscaping—and, with it, both visual interest and necessary support for a sloped yard.

All You Need to Know About Retaining Walls


Does your yard contain slopes, dips, and inclines? Then you likely have a retaining wall somewhere on your property. Used everywhere from highway construction to landscaping, retaining walls hold back earth that would otherwise erode or collapse. Homeowners often rely on retaining walls to keep soil steady in elevated yard features, but they can also use the manmade structures when planting tiered gardens on a sloped area of yard, controlling erosion on an incline, or creating an elevated sitting spot. If you’re thinking about constructing a retaining wall, here’s all you need to know about the supportive structures.


Retaining walls have a wide variety of uses around the yard, all of which involve keeping earth from spilling off a steep slope. They’re indispensable in the creation of sunken patios, walkout basements, and any other hardscape with an abrupt separation of ground elevation. You’ll also find retaining walls in parks and public gardens, where they act as retainers for plants, statues, and decorative landscaping elements.

Retaining walls are often constructed with concrete, stone, or bricks. But, if you’re looking to undertake a do-it-yourself job, retaining wall blocks (available at most home improvement stores) are your best bet. These blocks cost between $1.25 and $4 per block, depending on their size and texture, and they feature locking flanges that attach each row of blocks together. A small retaining wall less than three feet in height will cost an average of $5 to $8 per square foot, if you build it yourself. Larger retaining walls, which are not DIY-friendly, are pricier due to the labor costs involved. A natural stone or brick retaining wall laid by a mason can cost upwards of $20 per square foot, and a poured concrete retaining wall will set you back $13 to $18 per square foot. The contractor may also charge more for labor and materials if he has to pour a deep frost footing (explained below) or remove tree roots that are in the way of the footing.

If you’re planning to build a retaining wall, check with your local building authority beforehand. Retaining walls can alter water flow and affect your neighbors, so you may need to obtain either a zoning permit or a building permit. Local building codes and ordinances vary between communities, so don’t skip this step. You’ll also want to call DigSafe (811) to have representatives from local utility companies come out and check whether any buried electrical lines will be in the way.


All You Need to Know About Retaining Walls



If you’re planning to construct a retaining wall, consider the following factors regarding support, foundation, backfill, and drainage.

When building a retaining wall, landscapers often slope them slightly toward the earth they’re containing. This design, known as “step-back construction,” creates a sturdy wall structure that pushes back against the lateral pressure of the soil behind it. Step-back walls can be built by anyone with a strong back and basic construction knowledge, as long as they have blocks designed for retaining wall assembly.

Some types of retaining walls require additional structural support to keep them from toppling over. This includes vertical walls that don’t slope toward the contained earth, as well as walls higher than three feet. Depending on the height of the wall and the pressure of the earth behind it, the extra supports could be in the form of buried footings, steel reinforcement, cantilevered design, or tie-backs that extend deep into the earth behind the wall and connect to buried anchors called “dead men.” You could also add extra strength with a “gravity wall,” which is so wide that its weight serves as a buttress against the pressure of the soil behind it. This type of wall isn’t common, however, because it requires an extensive amount of stone or concrete for construction.

A trench filled with gravel provides a suitable foundation base for a short, step-back retaining wall with three-five courses (each layer of blocks is called a “course”). A buried structural footing is usually required for larger retaining walls. To create this, a landscaper pours concrete below frost level (the depth to which the ground will freeze during the winter). Footings poured too shallow are prone to shifting and moving if moisture in the soil freezes and heaves. Since frost levels vary from one region to the next, contact your local building authority to determine the details before building a large retaining wall.

The space directly behind a newly constructed retaining wall should be filled with gravel or sand—not dirt. Dirt absorbs water and swells when saturated, which will put unwanted pressure on the back of the wall. Meanwhile, gravel and sand don’t swell or retain water, so the wall will be subjected to less pressure. This decreases the risk of cracks and damage.

Drainage Details
Stackable retaining block walls with gravel or sand backfills don’t typically have drainage issues, since water seeps down through the backfill and drains out between the individual blocks. But if you have a solid retaining wall, such as a concrete basement wall, provisions must be made to drain away the water (or it might collect behind the wall and cause cracking). Many landscapers choose to install drainage tile, which carries groundwater to outlets where it can drain away harmlessly.


All You Need to Know About Retaining Walls



When building a retaining wall, follow this advice for better construction and solid support.

• Choose material you can work with easily. If you don’t have experience in structural support, wall blocks are your best bet. They’re also widely available at most home centers.
• To keep the bottom row of blocks from pushing outward, bury the lowest section of a retaining wall. The general rule of thumb is to bury about one-eighth of the height of the wall. For example, if your wall will be three feet (36 inches) tall, the first course of blocks should start five inches below soil level. The gravel base should start three inches below this.
• For best results, make sure the first course of blocks is perfectly level. If it’s unbalanced, your entire finished wall will also be off-kilter.


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
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 Boxelder Bugs

If a swarm of these stinky pests has infiltrated your property, apply these techniques—for indoor and outdoor use—to send them packing.

How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs


Homeowners with seed-bearing boxelder trees on their property may be all too familiar with the insects that lay eggs on them and feed on their seed pods. The half-inch long black bugs with red-ridged wings do little damage to gardens, but they can be most unwelcome when they appear in large swarms and give off their distinctive stench. Worse, come autumn, boxelder bugs migrate to the south side of trees and houses in search of warm spaces to overwinter—and should they breach openings on the exterior of your home, you may find them taking up residence inside. If you’re tired of confronting the pests outdoors and in, take charge now with these seven smart strategies for how to get rid of boxelder bugs.


If you spot boxelder bugs in your yard or around the perimeter of the house…

Blast them with water. Small clusters of boxelder bugs are easily broken up with a forceful stream from a garden hose. While this technique won’t kill or reduce their population, it will temporarily discourage the growth of a swarm. Keeping boxelder bugs at a manageable amount can prevent the need for more involved treatment necessitated by larger swarms.

Deploy diatomaceous earth. Banish moderate to large swarms with diatomaceous earth, an organic, talc-like powder comprised of the fossilized remains of microalgae. The food-grade variety (readily available in home and garden centers) is deadly to boxelder bugs yet non-toxic to humans and pets. Donning gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask, scatter the powder in the manufacturer-recommended amount around the base of boxelder, maple, or ash trees using a manual hand duster or plastic feed scoop. Sprinkle additional powder along the perimeter of your home, focusing on entry points like windowsills and doorjambs. The powder will penetrate the exoskeletons of boxelder bugs to dehydrate and kill them in a few hours. Repeat the treatment if rain removes the powder or new swarms emerge.

Spray residual insecticide. Cracks and crevices on the exterior of your home are a hotbed for boxelder bugs in autumn. Applying a Pyrethrin-based residual insecticide formulated for the perimeter to these crevices will kill boxelder bugs before they migrate indoors to overwinter. Donning gloves and safety glasses, spray the insecticide according to the manufacturer’s instructions to exterior cracks and crevices on siding, windows, doors, eaves, and attic vents. Steer clear of plants and your lawn (which perimeter insecticides can destroy), and keep pets and kids away from newly treated areas. After the insecticide kills off the bugs, siphon them out with a vacuum, then seal up the cracks with caulk to prevent new bugs from entering.

Replace seed-bearing boxelder trees. Since the pests feed on the seedpods of female boxelder trees, removing them and replacing them with non-seed-bearing male trees (or other species) can help you be rid of the bugs permanently. Keep in mind that the more mature the tree, the costlier it will be to remove. Also consider that the benefits of the tree—shade, privacy, and curb appeal—may outweigh the insect nuisance.



How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs


If boxelder bugs overcome exterior treatments and invade your home…

Vacuum them up. The easiest way to banish a few stray boxelder bugs in the home is to vacuum them up from the floors, wall crevices, or windowsills and doorways where they often lurk. Dispose of collected bugs immediately to eliminate their smelly remains, which can attract other, more destructive insects like Dermestid beetles. Avoid squashing the bugs; this will leave a stain, especially on carpet. Since boxelder bugs don’t reproduce indoors, you needn’t worry about another home invasion if you dispose of those already in the house and then seal any openings.

Trap them. Not all boxelder bugs hang out in plain sight—some prefer to hide in the basement, attic, or near ceilings. To catch these undercover creepers, place a lightweight insect trap in the out-of-the-way areas. The most effective traps use glue or light to lure and then ensnare bugs. Dispose of the traps as soon as possible to keep odors at bay.

Use a homemade weapon. While store-bought insecticides to combat indoor boxelder bug infestations are available, you can avoid their chemicals and cost with a homemade solution made from handy household ingredients. Simply dilute one to two tablespoons of liquid dish soap in water in a spray bottle, then spray directly to indoor bugs to kill them.



Now that you’ve gotten rid of boxelder bugs, it’s time to tackle other household pests. Check out this video on mistakes homeowners make that invite bugs to your home:


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
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 Lawn Fungus

Patchy, brown grass is one of many signs that can point to a lawn fungus. Get to know what else to look for—and how to treat each—with this guide.

Treating Lawn Fungus - Brown Patch


Q: My lawn was so lush and green last year but this year it’s full of unsightly brown patches that won’t green up no matter how much I water my yard. How can I get rid of the patches and get my beautiful lawn back?

A: It sounds as if you might have a case of the lawn fungus known as “brown patch” on your hands. It’s just one of a number of fungal diseases that can wreak havoc on turf grass. Other types may appear as rings of mushrooms, streaks in the lawn, slimy areas, spots on individual leaf blades, discoloration, or powdery blotches. Keep in mind that your lawn is a living entity, and it naturally contains millions of fungi spores, most of which will never cause problems. Under adverse circumstances, however, such as long rainy seasons, droughts, overwatering, and substandard lawn care, fungi can spread out of control, leaving you with a blighted lawn. The good news is that you can treat many cases of lawn fungus—and prevent future cases—just by following good lawn care practices. And, for particularly stubborn cases, you may find a solution via the application of a topical fungicide.

Treating Lawn Fungus - Mushrooms


Water your lawn early in the day. Healthy lawns need approximately an inch of water weekly, but the sooner the grass dries up after watering, the less chance it has of developing lawn fungus. By watering early in the morning, your lawn has the entire day to dry.

Sharpen your mower blades. Dull mower blades tear off the tops of the grass leaves instead of cutting them. Ragged, frayed blades of grass are more susceptible to developing fungal disease than those with sharp, clean cuts. Mower blades should be sharpened in the spring before the mowing season starts. If you have a large lawn, you may want to sharpen your mower blades a second time during the summer.

Remove no more than one-third of the grass height when mowing. Cutting away more of the grass stresses and weakens it, increasing the risk of a fungal disease. Fescue, the most common turf grass, should be mowed approximately 3.5 inches high. Bermuda grass does well if mowed at 2 inches high, and zoysia grass at 2.5 to 3 inches high. Removing no more than one-third of the grass may mean mowing more frequently during times of quick growth, but it will help keep your lawn healthy, and a healthy lawn is a strong deterrent to lawn fungus.

Don’t over- or under-fertilize. If your grass doesn’t have the nutrients it needs, it won’t develop a strong root and leaf system, but if you apply too much fertilizer, you will encourage rapid blade growth that the roots cannot support. Both are mistakes that stress the grass and increase the risk of disease. Choose a fertilizer for your specific type of turf grass (fescue, Bermuda, etc.) and use a fertilizing applicator that you can regulate to dispense the exact amount of product recommended by the fertilizer manufacturer.

Dethatch to remove dead grass. Over time, dead grass can build up at the soil level, choking out healthy grass blades and increasing the risk of lawn fungus. Dethatching is the process of removing the dead grass, which can be done manually by raking it away with a special dethatching rake. It’s a time-consuming process, however, and if your yard is large, you may want to rent a power dethatching rake from a lawn-and-garden center. Dethatching attachments are also available for some types of riding mowers.

Aerate your yard to loosen compacted soil. Compacted soil can result from heavy clay content or from driving over your yard, which can compress the soil. The condensed soil restricts healthy grass development and reduces drainage, both of which can lead to the growth of lawn fungus. The simplest option is to hire a landscape company to aerate your yard, but if you’re DIY-inclined, you can rent a powered aerator from a landscape center and get to work. Aerating removes small plugs of soil, loosening the ground, and increasing circulation around grass roots. Lawns with soil heavy in clay will benefit from annual aeration, while other lawns should be aerated once every two to four years to maintain optimum health.

Check and amend your soil. Most types of turf grass grow the best in well-drained soil with a pH level between 6 and 7. To ensure that your grass has the correct nutrients and pH level, take a soil sample to your local Extension Office. The Cooperative Extension Service (CES) is a branch of the USDA that works in conjunction with state universities to research and advise citizens on the best agricultural practices in their regions. On the CES website, you can locate the Extension Office in your county. They will test your soil sample and give you explicit details about what type of soil amendments are necessary in order to make your lawn healthier. This service usually runs less than $20.

Apply a fungicide. If the preceding steps do not eradicate your lawn fungus problem, you may need to apply a topical fungicide. A broad-spectrum fungicide product will treat many types of fungus, but for the best results, take a sample of the diseased turf grass to an Extension Office, mentioned above, and request that the sample be tested to pinpoint the exact fungus that is causing the problem. You’ll receive detailed information that identifies the fungus and recommends the best type of fungicide for treating it.


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
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.