Lawn & Garden - 3/54 - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden


Safety Check: 5 Tips to Protect Your Deck from Disaster

Extend the lifespan of your favorite outdoor feature—and ensure the safety of all those who enjoy it—by following these best practices for deck construction and maintenance.

Deck Safety Tips

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you enjoy hosting cookouts or prefer quietly relaxing on your lounge chair, you probably think of your wood deck as a place of respite. In fact, decks are so integral to outdoor living that they’re included in the plans for more than half of all new homes in some regions of the United States, such as New England and the East South Central states, according to Builder Online. While well-constructed wooden decks can safely serve a family for 12 to 15 years before they require repair, improper building techniques can result in damage or even collapse, cutting this life span short. To get the most out of this favorite outdoor feature, homeowners should observe the following five safe building practices during the construction process—and then follow up with regular maintenance to ensure the deck remains safe and attractive for years to come.

1. Seek Approval Before Construction
While it may take only a few days to actually build a deck, give yourself a month or more to accomplish all the preliminary work, such as building code research and approvals. Most communities regulate the size, location, and even the materials used in the construction of new decks. Submit your deck plans to your local building authority, which will examine them to ensure that they meet all codes and that the location of your deck will not infringe on any easement or lot setback, both of which restrict the location of structures on your property. If your plans do not meet local codes, changes must be made to the drawings before you’ll be issued a permit. An inspection schedule, which varies by locality, will be established at the same time. Some inspectors may want to check in to ensure that your post holes are below the frost line (the depth to which the soil freezes in your area), observe the method you used to attach the deck to your house, and/or approve the dimensional lumber used to frame the deck joist system. Some building authorities follow strict inspection schedules, while others are more lax.

Once your deck plans receive a green light from the city, call 811 to let utility companies know you’re going to be digging. They’ll send out representatives to mark the ground where their lines are buried so you don’t run into any surprises when you start construction. If you plan to hire a professional to build your deck, your contractor will typically perform the vital steps of contacting both your local building authority and the local utility companies.

2. Know the Importance of Firm Footings
Your deck will only be as sound as the foundation on which it is built. For most decks, construction involves a pier system that requires digging holes below the frost line and pouring concrete piers to support deck posts. Digging holes too shallow and not quite below the frost line—a common mistake—can result in pier movement due to frost heave. Frost heave occurs when moisture in the ground expands as it freezes, causing the soil to swell and shift, which can wreak havoc on shallow deck posts.

Protecting the support posts themselves also preserves the long-term integrity of the deck. Posts are less likely to break down and rot when the base of each one is first encased in a galvanized post base and then securely anchored to the pier (as opposed to permitting the treated wood post to be in direct contact with the concrete). Even treated wood will eventually rot.

Deck Safety Tips - Exterior Wood Screws

Photo: hillmangroup.com

3. Swap Nails for Screws
For decades, nails were the fastener of choice when it came to constructing decks—until incidences of deck collapse attributed to nails that became loose over time led to a shift in standards. Today, screws replace nails wherever they were once used (such as when fastening joists to a rim joist or installing joist hangers) because their threads grip the wood better. The result? A more structurally sound deck with less of a tendency to work loose.

Not all screws are suitable for exterior use, however. You need to choose a metal that not only resists rusting when exposed to the elements but also will not react to the chemicals present in treated wood—assuming that the deck is being built with treated lumber. Hillman’s Power Pro line of premium exterior screws solves both predicaments with its two options: The stainless steel (for use with cedar, redwood, marine applications and projects within 5 miles of coastal waters) and organic bronze epoxy–coated (for use on treated lumber decks) fasteners come guaranteed not to rust or corrode for the life of your deck. To boot, these Power-Pro exterior screws are designed to make construction even easier. Unique thread design and strong self-drilling tip provide 20 percent faster engagement into wood eliminating the need to pre-drill holes before installing screws. Plus, because the engineered design starts fast and reduces the amount of drive torque needed to install the screws, you can squeeze in more work before it’s time to recharge the power drill/driver’s battery.

4. Invest in a Stable, Safe Deck Railing
Your deck’s railing is no place to cut corners. The International Residential Code (IRC) requires guardrails for all decks that are higher than 30 inches above the ground. Minimum rail height is 36 inches, but you can construct a taller rail as long as it meets certain requirements. Among other concerns, the space between individual balusters (the vertical posts or pickets below the handrail) needs to be less than four inches in order to prevent infants and toddlers from slipping through. As well, while railing designs differ, the distance between a horizontal bottom rail and the top of the deck surface should also not span more than four inches. Many inspectors carry a four-inch ball just to test these spaces. Finally, for user safety, the railing should be able to withstand 200 pounds of lateral pressure (force from either side) anywhere along the top rail.

5. Prolong a Deck’s Life Span with a Maintenance Plan
All wood, even treated wood, moves when repeatedly exposed to humidity and temperature fluctuations. Because decking boards take a direct hit from rain, snow, and scorching sun all year long, they often show damage before any other deck component. Keep your boards in tip-top shape by adopting an annual three-part deck maintenance plan: Inspect for loose decking boards, clean thoroughly with a mild commercial deck-cleaning product, and then seal the surface. (A trifecta sealing product will repel water, include a mildewcide, and protect the deck from harsh UV rays.)

Addressing individual small repairs sooner rather than later can prevent problems from snowballing. Plus, when caught early, most fixes require little effort! For example, you can usually secure a loose deck board simply by screwing the board into the joist system below. Hillman Group’s Power Pro Premium Exterior Wood screws—either stainless steel or bronze epoxy–coated, depending on your lumber—feature countersinking blades that enable them to recess quickly below the surface of the decking so they won’t pose a hazard to bare feet. These fasteners also won’t draw any attention to your repair work, so your deck’s secret to looking as good as it did the day it was built remains safe for another summer.

Beyond your routine checkups, it’s not a bad idea to have a professional inspect the entire deck every few years to rule out structural issues that may not be apparent to the average homeowner. If you’ve followed the best practices outlined above, you’re probably in the clear, but the confirmation of a pro will certainly put your mind at ease.

 

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


Buyer’s Guide: Lawn Fertilizers

Rely on our info and reviews to steer you towards the right products that’ll keep your yard lush, green, and healthy.

Choosing the Best Lawn Fertilizer

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whoever said, “The grass is always greener on the other side” probably wasn’t using the right stuff. When it comes to keeping a yard in top condition, all you really need is the best lawn fertilizer for your climate and conditions, and a few dates circled on the calendar. Once you’ve determined what’s ideal, simply apply as instructed and follow up as directed on the package. This guide will teach you the fertilizer fundamentals and offer reviews of some of the highest-rated products on the market.

Choosing the Best Lawn Fertilizer

Photo: istockphoto.com

Understand the numbers. You’ve no doubt noticed three digits printed on lawn fertilizer labels. Known as the NPK ratio, the numbers stand for the percentage of basic nutrients (N for nitrogen, P for Phosphorus, K for Potassium) the fertilizer contains. If a fertilizer’s NPK ratio is 12-0-10, for example, it contains 12 percent nitrogen, no phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium.

Generally speaking, nitrogen helps plants stay green, phosphorus promotes root growth (though can be controversial due to its tendency to contaminate water), and potassium guards against drought and disease. Depending on the type of turf you have and the climate where you live, one combination will be better than others. Check the package against your grass species to ensure it’s got the optimal nutrient balance for your specific needs.

Select your type. Once you ascertain your best NPK number, it’s time to decide between a synthetic or organic fertilizer. Synthetic varieties are engineered from minerals, gasses, and even waste with the intent of delivering fast results—sometimes within a matter of days. The downsides to synthetic fertilizers are their reputation for “burning” (i.e., killing) grass if used in too heavy-handed a manner. There can also pose environmental damage and health risks if they leach into the local water supply.

Organic fertilizers are made from living organisms—anything from cottonseed or peat moss to bat guano and blood or bone meal. They can take a bit longer to work their magic—it’s often a few weeks before results are visible. Although they require a bit of patience, the environmental and health risks are low.

Find your formula. There are two fertilizer formulas: liquid and granular. Liquid fertilizer, which comes as either a fluid (requiring dilution in water) or a powder (to which water should be added), tends to require more frequent application than granular. It can also pose an environmental risk if it contaminates the local water supply in large amounts, leaking lead, cadmium, and arsenic via storm drain runoff and causing algae blooms as well as long-term public health risks. That said, it’s an effective way to see quick results, so it’s only recommended when you need truly rapid results and can use it sparingly.

Granular fertilizer tends to operate in a slow-release fashion, taking up to a month or longer to deliver results but requiring less-frequent follow-up. It also poses far less of a health risk overall, so it’s generally a better option unless you’re not willing to wait a few weeks for your yard to green up.

Best bets

After thoroughly comparing reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated options available today to help you find one that fits the bill for your particular yard. Check out the top picks for best lawn fertilizer below.

 

3 Top Options for the Best Lawn Fertilizer - Lawn Restore II

Photo: amazon.com

Safer Brand Lawn Restore II ($30 for 25 lbs.)
Amazon reviewers appreciate this organic granular fertilizer for its gentle, reliable nutrient delivery system. Completely plant-based, Safer Brand Lawn Restore II uses no bio-solids, making it free of the unpleasant odor associated with many organic fertilizers. Covering up to 5,000 square feet per 25-lb. bag, its 10-0-6 NPK formula is high in nitrogen and potassium with no phosphates present, making it a good pick for eco-conscious homeowners who want a lush, green lawn without the slightest environmental or health risks. One application lasts around 10 weeks or longer. Available on Amazon.

 

3 Top Options for the Best Lawn Fertilizer - Milorganite Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer

Photo: homedepot.com

Milorganite Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer ($13 for 36 lbs.)
A granule-based product that’s high in iron as well as the usual nutrients, Milorganite Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer has been known for greening up lawns since it was first used on golf courses in the 1920s. It doesn’t require water in its application, and it lasts up to 10 weeks, making it a no-fuss, no-muss favorite among Home Depot shoppers who overwhelmingly give it five stars, citing its gentle 5-4-0 NPK ratio and its longstanding track record of non-burning, earth-friendly effectiveness. Available at Home Depot.

 

3 Top Picks for Best Fertilizer - Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food

Photo: lowes.com

Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food ($15 per 32-oz bottle)
Popular with Lowe’s shoppers for its ease of use, friendly price point, and fast-acting ability to green up most grass fast, Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food is a favorite option among those can’t wait for results. Safe for most grass types, the all-season fertilizer is high in nitrogen (with a 29-0-3 NPK ratio) and covers up to 2,000 square feet of lawn per bottle. Great as a “shot in the arm” for a patchy, browning lawn that needs some quick rejuvenation, its effects can last for up to two months. Available at Lowe’s.

 

If your lawn fertilizer of choice does its job, you’ll have a fast-growing lawn that needs frequent mowing. Make this year’s lawn the best it can be by avoiding some of the most common mowing mistakes, as seen in this video.

 

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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


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A beautiful backyard shed

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Video: How to Water Your Lawn

These tips will help you become your own lawn specialist—because a healthy lawn doesn't happen by accident.

There are many factors that contribute to a green and lush lawn. Healthy turf grass starts with choosing the right seed type for your region: cool-season grasses in the north and warm-season grasses in the south. Once you’ve chosen the right grass, you’ll need to keep it hydrated. This is where many would-be landscapers go wrong.

When it comes to watering the lawn, there are some essential things every homeowner should know like, what time of day to water, how much to water, and how often to water the lawn. While we can’t ensure your grass is the greenest on the block, we can help answer these and other questions. Once you know the basics, a picture-perfect lawn is within your reach.

For more lawn care tips, consider:

7 Remedies to Rescue a Dying Lawn

7 Things Your Lawn May Be Trying to Tell You

11 Ways You’re Accidentally Ruining Your Lawn


How To: Get Rid of Rabbits

Got rabbits nibbling on your vegetable garden? Follow a combination of these four methods to safely—and humanely—get rid of them.

How to Get Rid of Rabbits

Photo: istockphoto.com

While children love big-eared Bugs Bunny chomping on a carrot, gardeners can identify closely with his cartoon nemesis, Elmer Fudd. That’s because rabbits wreak widespread havoc on landscapes, gardens, and yards foraging for food. Razor-sharp teeth allow these herbivorous mammals to cut through vegetation of nearly any kind, including leafy green plants, carrots, broccoli, strawberries, apples, and other produce. Additionally, rabbits may dig burrows on residential properties, which can leave unsightly holes and become a tripping hazard. And rapid reproduction rates—30-day pregnancies that can create as many as 12 offspring each time—can overrun your property in just a season.

As Elmer Fudd is famous for saying, “rascally rabbits” can be especially smart and elusive, making an infestation quite difficult to manage.  If you have a serious rabbit infestation, call professional pest control for help. But if you spot only a few roaming your yard, ward off the beginning of a warren by following a combination of these humane methods for how to get rid of rabbits.

METHOD 1: MAINTAIN YOUR YARD

An unkempt and overgrown yard will undoubtedly attract rabbits, since the animals take cover in tall grass. Preventing an infestation of rabbits begins by properly maintaining your lawn and garden.

STEP 1
Mow your grass regularly (about once a week), and don’t leave clippings around for rabbits to nosh on. Then, stay on top of yard maintenance tasks, like pulling weeds and trimming overgrown vegetation. Remove piles of wood, sticks, branches, trimmings, and debris—all of which provide the perfect hiding places for rabbits.

STEP 2
Search your property for burrows and holes. These could indicate the presence of rabbits, which take cover in the holes during cold or rainy weather. Fill the burrows with gravel or dirt.

 

How to Get Rid of Rabbits

Photo: istockphoto.com

 

METHOD 2: TRAP HUMANELY

Despite homeowners’ best efforts keeping a well-manicured yard, this strategy alone may not always deter them. Humane traps offer an effective complementary solution for small numbers of rabbits that still roam your property. By catching the animals, you can then release each somewhere far from your yard so they don’t wander back.

STEP 1
Buy a “live trap” or “cage trap” fit to catch a three- to four-pound rabbit from a home center; these medium-sized traps generally cost around $40 or $50. Take a minute now to pull on gloves before handling the trap, as rabbits may pick up a human’s scent and avoid the cage. Then, following manufacturer instructions, set up the trap in a shady, sheltered area of your yard, preferably near vegetation. Place lettuce and carrots in the trap as bait.

STEP 2
Check the cage multiple times per day. A rabbit or other small animal entering the cage will trigger a mechanism to snap the door shut without harming the animal. Being trapped in a cage causes stress for a rabbit, though, so you’ll want it to spend a minimum amount of time inside before you’re ready to release it.

STEP 3
Find your live trap filled? To get rid of rabbits, take the trap to a wooded, grassy area at least five to 10 miles away from your home, then release any animals caught.

 

How to Get Rid of Rabbits

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD 3: INSTALL FENCING

Perhaps the best method to ward off large numbers of rabbits involves fencing. Following the steps below, a homeowner can install their own backyard barrier.

STEP 1
Purchase chicken wire fencing and stakes (either wood or metal) from a home store. Make sure that the mesh holes in the chicken wire have a maximum one-inch diameter; some adult rabbits can squeeze through anything larger than that.

Back at home, plan out the area you intend to fence. Rabbits can navigate under shallow fences, so you’ll want to dig a six- or eight-inch trench along the planned perimeter. Later, you’ll bury the fence inside the trench.

STEP 2
Cut the chicken wire to size with wire cutters. For maximum efficiency, you’ll need fencing to extend 36 inches above the ground and six or eight inches beneath (depending on the depth of the trench you dug in Step 1)—that’s 42 to 44 inches tall by the length of the perimeter.

STEP 3
Working along the perimeter, drive a stake into the ground every six feet, using a hammer. This distance will ensure the chicken wire will remain strong and taut, preventing sagging that may potentially let rabbits through. The stakes should be four feet tall, with one foot underground and three feet above ground (the same height as the chicken wire fence).

STEP 4
Fasten the sheets of chicken wire to the stakes with staples or hooks. Ensure there aren’t any gaps by overlapping the wire pieces where necessary and securing the edges to the stakes as best as possible.

STEP 5
If desired, install a garden gate. The frame can be constructed with four pieces of 1×1 lumber attached together with wood screws; the sides pieces should be the same height as your fence (36 inches), while the width of the top and bottom pieces can vary based on your preferred gate size. Staple chicken wire to the interior of the frame, then attach one side of the gate to a stake with hinges. The other side of the gate can be attached to a stake with a latch, with which homeowners can open and close the door.

Since rabbits can dig underneath the gate, you’ll want to bury a piece of metal flashing vertically six- to eight-inches underneath it. That way, any rabbit who tries to go under the gate will hit a wall.

STEP 6
Fill the trench you created in Step 1 with dirt or soil, packed securely together so the fence doesn’t wobble in the wind.

STEP 7
Every few days, check your fence for signs of weakness—particularly along the bottom and the stakes. Keep spare chicken wire for bolstering and patching as needed.

 

How to Get Rid of Rabbits

Photo: istockphoto.com

METHOD 4: USE REPELLENTS

Rabbits follow their powerful noses to find delicious-smelling foods (like your vegetable garden). Repellents work by changing the smell or taste of these items, thus deterring rabbits. Check with your garden center for natural rabbit repellents, and keep the following considerations in mind when choosing the best option for your yard:

• If you’re using the repellent on produce in the vegetable garden, ensure the product is safe to use and won’t affect the flavor of your food.
• Weigh the pros and cons of water solubility for your property, since water soluble repellents may be easier to apply but more quickly dissolve from hose or rain water (and therefore require lots of reapplication).
• Avoid high-toxicity products if you have children or pets playing the yard.

Once you choose a product, apply it per the manufacturer’s instructions and follow up accordingly to keep pests out of your yard and garden all season.

 

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: Mow a Lawn

Make cutting the grass a faster, more efficient process—and keep your turf in tip-top shape—with these techniques.

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How to Mow a Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’ve got grass, it may feel that the more you mow, the more it grows! But keeping your lawn neatly manicured is a must for optimal enjoyment and curb appeal. So rather than go at it in a haphazard manner, follow our tips for how to mow a lawn quickly and smoothly while still ensuring the health of your grass. Then kick off your shoes and love your lawn!

Maintain Your Mower
The quality of your mowing is directly related to your equipment. So keep up with regular mower maintenance, like checking the oil, tire pressure, and cleaning the deck and blades after use. A most important task? Ensuring that those blades razor sharp. Dull blades tear rather than slice grass, making it more difficult for your lawn to recover; sharp blades will also reduce mowing time. The rule of thumb is to sharpen mower blades twice a season, once in the beginning of spring, and once halfway through the summer.

Tip: Never mow wet grass! That will clog your mower deck, causing it to clump as it discharges, leaving blobs to decay all over your yard.

Trim and Edge First
Before you get behind the mower, trim and edge your yard to lessen the risk of damaging trees, plants, and hardscaping by getting too close with your mower. Plus, weed whacking around obstacles like trees, mailboxes, and fences will make mowing a lawn go faster, because you won’t have to work tediously around them. Edging around garden beds will prevent turf grass from encroaching onto your landscaping plants, and you won’t need to continually pull that grass back by hand.

How to Mow a Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

Mow Often, Mow Early
Resist the temptation to let your lawn get knee high and then give it a crew cut. Mowing more than 1/3 of the length of grass blades prevents optimal photosynthesis. Make a point of mowing approximately every five days in early spring and late fall—your lawn’s growth spurt periods. If you should be late in mowing, raise your blade height to keep from taking off too much plant tissue. Then, mow again in a couple days if you’d like a shorter lawn. Also keep in mind that the best time to mow is in mid-morning, between the hours of 8 AM and 10 AM. Early morning dew will have evaporated, but grass won’t be limp from harsh, midday sun.

Change Things Up
Once you fall into a mowing routine, you may be inclined to always cut exactly the same way. Don’t! To reduce turf wear and soil compaction, change direction each time you mow a lawn. Go horizontally one day, vertically the next; try to master the beautiful diagonal rows of a professional baseball diamond, or mow in circles like a Zen labyrinth. Just be sure to switch it up.

Make Smart Use of Clippings
There are two ways to go with clippings. Some people bag them in the interest of preventing a layer of thatch developing at the grass roots, but if you choose to collect clippings, add them to your compost pile—they’ll yield beautifully rich soil for landscaping and pots. However, as long as you mow a lawn regularly so that clippings aren’t overly long, it’s fine to leave them where they fall. They’ll break down and provide much-needed nutrients for your lawn, with no ill effects to the roots.

Blow or Sweep to Finish
When running through the steps for how to mow a lawn properly, the last always involves removing any stray clippings from paths and driveways. Whether you blow the clippings back onto the lawn with a blower or sweep them up with a broom, it’s a neat finishing touch that’s also kind to your community and the environment. Lawn waste left untended can wash into storm drains leading to clogs, and can make its way into rivers and lakes to cause phosphorus pollution.

 

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, not so fast. You might need to break a few bad mowing habits before you earn the reputation as the top groundskeeper in the neighborhood. Watch our video to learn some of the biggest mowing mistakes you should avoid. Then get out in the yard and put your newfound knowledge to use.


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.


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Finding the Right Type of Grass for Your Lawn

Learn to choose and nurture the best turf for your lawn.

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4 Types of Grass You Should Know When Landscaping

Photo: istockphoto.com

Everyone wants a lush, green lawn that’s the envy of the neighborhood, but no one wants to work too hard at it! The secret lies in choosing the grass that suits your locale and climate. Sow the correct seed and, while you’ll have to put in some regular lawn care, you’ll stress less and enjoy your yard more. It comes down to understanding different grasses’ unique growing requirements, maintenance needs, and resistance to wear and tear, disease, and pests. This guide will help you distinguish between the dominant types of grass and the species within each category so you can pick the ones sure to thrive and give you the curb appeal you crave.

WARM-SEASON VERSUS COLD-SEASON GRASSES

Types of grasses found in the United States are broadly classified as either warm season or cool season. These labels indicate the geographic region with the ideal climate for the grass. Each region is further classified into humid or arid zones, with some zones being more hospitable to certain grasses than others.

Warm-season grasses are ideally grown in midsummer at temperatures ranging between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once temperatures fall below 55 degrees, these species go dormant and turn tan or brown until spring returns. Because these types of grass originally hail from the tropics, in the U.S. they’re inherently better suited to warm climates of the Deep South and the lower southwest and southeast.

Cool-season grasses flourish in temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making early spring and early fall peak growing season. These types of grass are best suited for regions that experience cold winters and hot summers (Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and New England), and they’re hardy—likely to remain green throughout winter, except for periods of freezing temperatures.

If you live in between the north and south, in a region known among turf breeders as the Transition Zone, you can grow either cool-season or warm-season grasses. Among warm-season grasses, Zoysia, Centipede, and Bermuda are winter-hardy enough to flourish in the Transition Zone. Similarly, Tall Fescue, a cool-season species, is suitable for the Transition Zone because of its drought tolerance and adaptability to a variety of soil types.

4 Types of Grass You Should Know When Landscaping

Photo: istockphoto.com

WARM-SEASON GRASSES (HUMID): St. Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia, Bahia

The sandy soil, brackish air, and high humidity of the Gulf states make for the ideal breeding ground for St. Augustine, a coarse, light to dark green textured grass, and Bahia, resembling a dense sod of tapered, dark green blades. But Southern Californians can also find success growing St. Augustine grass. Along with Bahia, a light green, creeping grass known as Centipede is commonly grown in the southeast, where rainfall is abundant, while Zoysia, a highly drought-resistant grass with thick, soft, light to medium green blades, is more frequently grown in the South.

Warm-season grass species are prized for their ease of maintenance, with requirements typically limited to irrigation every three to seven days, fertilization on a semiannual basis, and regular mowing to variable heights.

Growing conditions can vary among warm-season species. Zoysia, for example, can be grown in partial shade, while Centipede and most varieties of St. Augustine grass require full sun exposure to thrive. Moreover, each grass type can withstand wear, disease, and insects to varying degrees. Zoysia is one of the quickest to mend itself, and is also resistant to weed infiltration. Centipede grass, though rarely plagued by disease or pests, is slow to mend after damage, making it less suited to high-traffic lawns.

WARM-SEASON GRASSES (ARID): Bermuda, Buffalo

If you live in the Deep South, chances are you get enough sun to successfully grow either Bermuda or Buffalo grass. Both varieties of grasses are desirable on residential lawns for their low maintenance and relatively strong resistance to drought, disease, and pests. But because both require full sun exposure for optimal growth, avoid sowing them in shady areas.

Bermuda is one of the rare warm-season grasses that can grow in both arid and humid warm climates. Its dense, dark green blades make it the turfgrass of choice for play areas. Moreover, the deep root system of Bermuda grass allows it to withstand and recover from heavy wear, making it an apt choice for areas where pets and children play. While the thin, softly-colored blue-green turf of Buffalo grass makes it a uniform-looking and attractive lawn option, the species is not well-suited for high-traffic lawns.

COOL-SEASON GRASSES (HUMID): Kentucky Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Tall and Fine Fescues

High humidity areas in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Northwest create prime conditions for winter-proof grasses such as dense, bright green to blue-green Kentucky Bluegrass, shiny, finely-textured dark green Ryegrass, moderately dense, medium to dark green Tall Fescue, or the deep green turf of Fine Fescue—boasting the thinnest blades of all lawn grasses.

While sowing a single cool-season grass is usually sufficient to maintain a green winter lawn, homeowners with high-traffic lawns can opt to grow two or more cool-season grasses together to achieve more wear-resistant turf. For example, Ryegrass and Fine Fescue can grow in shade, while Kentucky Bluegrass loves full sun—but if you sow the three species together on an area that receives a mix of sun and shade, the combination grass should do well, even if your lawn receives full sun or shade only intermittently. As a highly disease-resistant and pest-hardy grass, Ryegrass can also serve to bolster the resistance of Kentucky Bluegrass.

Annual or perennial Ryegrass can also be planted over warm-season grasses. Using this symbiotic approach, lawns can maintain a lush appearance in winter, because when warm-season grasses go dormant, Ryegrass stays green. Later, when the warm-season grass turns green again in spring, the Ryegrass will die off.

Even when planted as single species, cool-season grasses require only moderate maintenance. Fine Fescue can get by with irrigation as infrequent as once a week, and can even go without mowing for a more natural, prairie-like appearance. Kentucky Bluegrass, however, should be watered weekly to moisten its deep root system.

COOL-SEASON GRASSES (ARID): Canadian Bluegrass, Wheatgrass

Live in the cold and arid climate of the west or western Midwest? Canadian Bluegrass and Wheatgrass may be your prime picks. These grass species can be cultivated in either shade or full sun. Canadian Bluegrass, aptly named for its bluish-green, canoe-shaped blades, is particularly hardy grass, able to recover quickly from damage—one reason it can still be spotted in drought-ridden areas with poor soil conditions, which a less resilient grass couldn’t survive. Wheatgrass, resembling a tuft of vivid green needles, can be prone to mold, but a moderate, dry climate with indirect sun exposure can help prevent fungus from forming.

 

A good-looking lawn, whatever the grass type, lives and dies by your knowledge of proper mowing techniques. Take a lesson from these common lawn care mistakes, then kick your mowing routine into gear for a flawless yard.

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 Time to Plant Grass Seed

Dreaming of a lush lawn? The trick to successful sowing is a clear understanding of your type of grass and the climate it thrives in.

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When to Plant Grass Seed, Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’d like to lay some grass seed this year, but I don’t want to get the timing wrong and create more work than necessary. What’s the best time of year to sow a new lawn from scratch?

A: More than anything else, when to plant grass seed depends largely on the climate in your part of the world and the types of grasses that thrive in them.

Grass seed generally falls into two categories: warm-weather and cool-weather varieties. Each of these varieties requires different maintenance and—you guessed it—minimum sowing requirements to grow good-looking grass.

● As you might imagine, warm-weather grasses (including bahia, Bermuda, centipede, and St. Augustine) thrive in climates with mild winters and hot summers and don’t require as much water as other grasses. Since they germinate and grow in temperatures above 80 degrees, you’ll want to wait to plant them when that’s the average daily temperature in the forecast for the next week. That may be any time between March and September, depending on your part of the country. Take care not to distribute your seeds just before heavy rains, though, which can erode the soil and disrupt germination. (Planting right after it rains is fine, but dry soil is generally easier to seed.)

Cool-weather grasses such as bluegrass and ryegrass, on the other hand, fare best in places where summers are temperate and winter days often dip below freezing. Requiring more hydration (often delivered via snowfall), these varieties lie dormant in warmer summer months and do most of their growing in autumn and spring. September is typically when to plant grass seed for cool-weather varieties, although you might be able to get away with seeding as early as mid-August or as late as mid-October. The deciding factor, here again, is temperature: When temperatures begin to dip below 60 degrees, evaporation rates are lower and irrigation is more efficient.

● If you live in an area that falls between those two climate zones, you’re in what’s considered a transitional region. Cool-weather grasses (with late summer/early fall preparation) are more likely than their warm-weather cousins to flourish in a zone that falls in between the extremes, but homeowners in these zones may well plant a mix of both—cool-weather grass sown in late fall and warm-weather planted during the spring and summer months of the following year. You may also take your neighborhood’s altitude into consideration as well. Some local research via the USDA’s recommended university extension programs might benefit you if you’re in a vertiginous area, for example, and looking for a safe choice. Otherwise, consult the professionals at your local home and garden center for best bets.

When to Plant Grass Seed for a Lush Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

Time when you plant grass seed well after you’ve last applied herbicides. Ideally, you’ll want to wait at least a month after chemically treating your existing lawn for weeds before you lay down new grass seeds. If you’ve used a crabgrass prevention product, though, the recommended waiting period is even longer—usually around four months. Ideally you plan your lawn maintenance well in advance so that you can wait out the appropriate amount of time before your part of the country sees ideal temperatures for seed germination. If you didn’t save yourself enough time to weed before seeding, know that you can safely resume your weed prevention routine once your new lawn has been mowed at least four or five times.

Scheduling your seeding depends on when you have the time to prep the soil. As the time for seeding draws near, allot a weekend on your calendar for a bit of prep work. Starting with bare ground? Loosen the top two inches of soil, remove any materials (i.e. sticks and stones) that could block airflow. Otherwise, if you’re working with an existing lawn that just needs some rehabilitation, take the weekend to mow it as short as you can and loosen up the soil in any bald spots. Then, no matter whether your lot is bare or simply balding, inspect that the surface is as level as possible and add fresh topsoil wherever it dips; this helps prevent puddles of standing water once you begin the irrigation process. With this prep work under your belt, you’re ready to begin sowing grass seeds—and soon—enjoying a lush lawn.

 

Seeds already sown? It won’t be long before it’s time to mow that grass. Before you get started, make sure you don’t commit these cardinal sins of mowing.

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: Weed Whackers

Looking to rid your yard of weeds? Check out these three weed whackers, which offer impressive functionality at a reasonable price.

Best Weed Wacker – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

If your lawn features a lot of “interruptions”—trees, shrubbery, pavers, and pathways—odds are that you struggle with a bulky lawnmower to maneuver some of the landscaping highlights. A perfect landscaping complement to a lawn mower, the weed whacker tackles overgrown grass in hard-to-mow areas. This lawn tool, also called a “weed eater” or “string trimmer,” uses a monofilament line (a strong, flexible line made of a single fiber of plastic) rather than a blade to do just what its name implies: whack weeds. Since many variations of weed whackers exist on the market, finding one that reliably slices through the growth can be a daunting task. Keep reading to find out what to look for when shopping for one, and discover three of the best weed whacker models available today.

CUT TO THE CHASE: SHOPPING CONSIDERATIONS

To make sure that you’re selecting the best weed whacker for your yard, start by getting a grasp on the model variations available.

Pick your power. The fuel source you need often depends on the size of the yard and how long the weed whacker would need to run to get the job done. That said, you’ll also need to think about what a battery or a tank of fuel adds to the overall weight of the machine.

• Gas-powered weed whackers are powerful and untethered, giving users the freedom to move about the yard without extension cords. As exhaust emissions become a greater concern than ever before, some manufacturers have introduced gas-powered models that create less pollution without sacrificing performance. If you’re interested in buying a more environmentally friendly gas-powered weed whacker, look for the words “low emission” on the packaging. While these weed whackers can handle long weeds better than their electric-powered counterparts, but they’re also more expensive. They’re heavier as well, with many models weighing in at just under 13 pounds.

Best Weed Whacker – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

• Electric-powered weed whackers tend to be even more lightweight and functional, whether a consumer chooses one with a rechargeable battery or a good old-fashioned cord. Corded versions occasionally pose problems maneuvering around a property, since the cord can get tangled or run out of length, but they’re also the most budget-friendly option. Cordless versions, on the other hand, are extremely portable and easy to maneuver, but their battery (or batteries) must be recharged between each use and they don’t perform as well as corded models in tall grasses. That said, recent technological improvements have aided corded and cordless electric weed whackers in catching up with their gas-powered counterparts in terms of performance.

Mind maneuverability. Whether or not you need a tool with wheels depends largely on the type of terrain you’ll encounter on your property. A wheeled weed whacker, sometimes called a “walk-behind,” ideal for handling large patches of rough terrain, thanks to the maneuverability provided by the wheels and typically wider cutting paths. A majority of these machines operate on a gas-powered engine similar to a lawnmower’s and run on two or four wheels. A weed whacker without wheels, though, is far more common and generally effective on even the messiest tangles of grass. Unless you live on a property with extensive weeds and rough terrain, you can likely make do with a model without wheels.

Select a shape. The bodies of weed whackers come in two shapes: curved shaft and straight shaft. Curved shaft weed whackers feature a bend at the end of the shaft, near the blades, that makes them shorter in length and—combined with a light weight—more comfortable to use. These weed whackers work best for homeowners who need to manage grass and plant growth around (but not underneath) trees and other objects, since their design won’t quite fit into hard-to-reach places. Narrow straight shaft weed whackers boast a greater reach for tall users and those who need to trim far beneath shrubbery or unique landscape features, but they tend to be tougher to use due to their heavy weight and high level of vibration.

Find the right feel. Most popular weed whackers range in weight from five to 15 pounds. Corded, curved-shaft models are typically the lightest, while gas-powered walk-behinds are the heaviest. Additionally, most weed whackers have cutting path diameters somewhere between 12 and 17 inches.

OUR TOP PICKS

After thoroughly comparing reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated weed whackers available today to help you find one that fits your home’s needs and your household budget. Check out the best weed whackers below to cut your weed problem—and the shopping trip for solutions—short.

 

Best Weed Whackers - Buyer's Guide

Photo: amazon.com

EGO ST1502-S Power+ 15-Inch ($200)
The discerning pro reviewers at The Sweet Home call the EGO ST1502-S Power+ 15-inch weed whacker “the most capable cordless trimmer we found, with enough run time to cut a 1′-wide strip of grass almost two-thirds of a mile long on a single battery charge.” After testing it alongside six rival trimmers on 6,000 linear feet of overgrown terrain, the team marveled at the EGO’s ability to cut through thick bamboo without issue. The cordless model weighs in at just under 12 pounds and boasts a generous 15-inch cutting path. Once charged, the machine operates for about 40 minutes with relatively minimal noise. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Weed Whacker – Buyer's Guide

Photo: homedepot.com

BLACK + DECKER LST136 ($150)

Another cordless straight-shaft model earning high marks is the BLACK + DECKER LST136, which received an average of 4.6 stars from more than one thousand Home Depot shoppers. This lightweight model clocks in at a mere seven pounds (even with its 40-volt lithium battery) and cuts up to 13 inches in diameter. The product easily converts from weed whacker to lawn edger, releases no emissions, and offers adjustable power for various lawn projects. Available at Home Depot.

 

Buyer's Guide – Best Weed Whacker

Photo: lowes.com

Husqvarna 28-cc, 2-cycle 128CD ($179)
Buyers in the market for a gas-powered, curved-shaft model are often pleased with the Husqvarna 28-cc, 2-cycle 128CD, which boasts a fuel-efficient 28cc 2-cycle engine. This high performer is a solid favorite among Lowe’s reviewers, who enjoy its monstrous 17-inch cutting radius and its ability to tackle up to an acre of land at a time. Some notable features include its easy start, long-term durability, and compatibility with “click on” attachments. The weed whacker weighs just under 11 pounds. Available at Lowe’s.

 

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.