Lawn & Garden - 3/56 - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden

How To: Lay Artificial Grass

A lush green lawn that’s virtually maintenance free can be yours if you put down this tough yet lifelike turf.

How to Lay Artificial Grass


Artificial grass made its big debut at the Astro Dome in 1966—hence the term Astroturf—but it’s come a long way since then. Once considered only for professional sports fields, artificial grass is now a bona fide option for homeowners who want the look of a lush, green lawn without maintenance that provokes headaches. Artificial grass requires no water or fertilizer, which makes it eco-friendly, and there’s no mowing required either. A lawn of artificial grass can last up to 15 years under heavy traffic, the only maintenance being an occasional spraying with the garden hose if you have pets (for obvious reasons!). Professional installation can cost anywhere from $10 to  $15 per square foot. But laying the turf, which costs between $2 and $8 per square foot, on an average-sized yard is a doable project if you’re game for some physical labor. Check out the tried-and-true technique here for how to lay artificial grass!

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Garden spade or sod cutting machine
Builder’s sand
Landscaping rake
Tamper or piece of plywood at least 2’x2’
Weed barrier
Landscaping staples
Utility knife
Artificial grass
7inch galvanized lawn spikes
Jointing tape
Artificial turf adhesive
Rubber hammer
Stiff broom or brush

Remove whatever current turf you have. Use a spade or a sod-cutting machine (available to rent for about $100/day at a home improvement store) to pull it up. If a neighbor or friend can’t use it, dispose of it according to the organic waste removal rules in your community.

You will need a level base on which to lay your artificial grass. Spread about 1-½ inches of builder’s sand in the area to create a level surface, using a landscaping rake to distribute it evenly. Then, compact the sand with a tamper or 2X2 piece of plywood and a rubber hammer until it’s firm and level.

Lay a weed barrier down to reduce the chance of weeds growing up through the turf. Roll it out to cover the area completely, allowing the edges to overlap at any joints by several inches, and trim with a utility knife to secure it into place with landscaping staples every three or four feet.

How to Lay Artificial Grass


Artificial grass has a “grain” to it, which means rather than standing straight up, it bends slightly at an angle. For the most natural look, roll it out so that the blades bend toward your home—making sure that all pieces are laid in the same direction. If using more than one roll’s width of turf, it’s best to stagger the end seams so that they don’t line up in a row: They’ll be less visible and will wear better that way. Trim any edges with a utility knife from the back side, being careful not to cut any of the turf.

Artificial turf generally comes in widths of 12 to 15 feet. If the space you’re covering is more than the roll’s width, you’ll need to join pieces together. To do so, trim the edge of each of the pieces with a utility knife (from the back, being careful not to cut the turf) so that they will meet without overlapping. Then roll the pieces back and lay jointing tape underneath where the seam will be. Apply artificial turf adhesive to the jointing tape, and lay the two turf pieces together, making sure that the seam matches up together, without overlapping.

Nail the artificial grass down with 7-inch lawn spikes, using a rubber hammer. Space the nails about every four feet. Take care to spread the turf blades out and away from the base of the nail before you hammer it in. After nailing, brush the nap up around the nail to hide placement.

Once all the turf is installed, brush the entire lawn with a stiff bristled broom to fluff up turf blades. If any sand went wayward during installation, hose the lawn down to remove 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.

All You Need to Know About Starting Seeds Indoors

Gardening doesn't have to be for warm-weather seasons only! Learn how to start seeds indoors to get a jump start in pretty blossoms and delicious produce.

Starting Seeds Indoors


If you’re itching to get your garden going, don’t wait until the weather outdoors is agreeable—get a jump on the growing season by starting your plants from seeds indoors. Not only will you save money by growing your own plants from seeds, you’ll have access to a wider variety of vegetables, fruits, and flowers than many garden centers offer as young plants. What are you waiting for? Keep reading to find out how to go about starting seeds indoors.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Sterile seedstarting mix
Paper towel (optional)
Ziplock bag (optional)
Fingernail clippers (optional)
Large bowl
Plastic growing flats
Individual plasticcell tray (optional)
Plastic dome cover or plastic wrap
Heating grow pad (optional)
Grow light (optional)
Peat pots
Potting soil


Stratify your seeds if necessary. Many seeds can be sown as is, but others have additional requirements. Stratifying, or chilling, mimics the overwintering cycle a fallen seed would undergo in nature. If your seed packet calls for stratifying, place the seeds on a dampened paper towel and fold the paper gently before slipping it into a zip-top plastic bag and placing it in your fridge. Depending on the seeds, they may need to remain in the fridge for one to three months; the suggested chilling time should appear on your seed packet.

Scarify your seeds if called for on the packet. Scarifying is the process of nicking the outer shell of a seed to encourage it to germinate. Some seed shells are so hard that the rate of germination is low unless they get a little help breaking out of their shells. A simple way to do this at home is to chip the edge of the seed with sharp fingernail clippers—only enough to perforate the hard shell casing and no more.

Start seeds at the right time. Your seed packet will tell you the best time to start the seeds. Many vegetable seeds should be started four to six weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. Others seeds, including many perennial flowers, should start earlier, as much as eight to 10 weeks or 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date. If you’re starting perennials, make sure the plants will survive in your growing zone.


Starting Seeds Indoors



Prep your mix for planting. Pour sterile seed-starting medium in a clean bowl adding just enough warm water to dampen it. It’s important to use a sterile mix, and not garden soil, to avoid spreading diseases to the young seedlings.

Fill up your tray. Pick up a plastic grow flat or tray from your local garden center or hardware store. This long, shallow container is specifically designed to accommodate a growing plant and its roots. Distribute the moistened mix between the individual cells in the tray and fill each one almost to the top. It’s okay if your tray doesn’t have individual cells; simply spread the medium evenly throughout it. Having a tray with individual sections just make it easier to keep the roots of the seedlings separate after they start to grow.

Plot out the plants. Make an indentation in the top of the planting mix in each cell, or make shallow rows if you’re using a flat without individual cells. The packet will tell you how deeply the seeds should be planted, but the general rule is to plant a seed four times as deep as its width. Large seeds, like cantaloupe and sunflower, need to be planted deeper than small, fine seeds.

Drop in seeds. Allot one seed per cell or distribute them evenly in the shallow rows. If the packet says they require light in order to germinate, then don’t cover them; these seeds may be sprinkled on top of the seed-starting mix. If there aren’t instructions regarding light for the seeds, cover them with the moistened medium, patting the soil very lightly on top. Then, cover the seeds tray with a fitted plastic top or with plastic wrap to the keep the medium from drying out.

Determine a spot with optimal temperatures. Depending on the germination needs specified on the seed packet, find either a warm or cool spot for the tray. Many seeds germinate more quickly if they have gentle bottom heat, which can be provided by a heated growing pad (available in garden centers) or on top of a refrigerator where it’s slightly warm. For seeds that require cooler temperatures to germinate, find a cool part of the house away from any possible sources of heat until they sprout.


Starting Seeds Indoors



Check seeds daily. Germination times vary by seed type. Some seeds (such as lettuce and kale) can germinate within a couple of days, while others (including perennial flowers) can take two or more weeks.

Let light in. Once the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover and move the seedlings near a sunny window or place them under grow lights to encourage healthy growth. Don’t place them in direct sunlight where they can become too warm—a table near a sunny window is sufficient. You’ll want to water plants as needed to keep the starting mix damp, but not soggy.

Know when to move. When the seedlings develop their first true leaves, transplant them into individual peat pots. The first leaves that emerge are called “cotyledons,” or “seed leaves”—the plant’s true leaves will develop next. At this point, the seedling is strong enough to be transplanted into a peat pot where it can remain until it’s time to plant it in the garden. Any good potting soil will do for filling the peat pots.


Transplanting Plants



Prepare spots for the sprouts. Till and prepare your garden soil in preparation for the new plants. Break up large clods and remove twigs and rocks. Most vegetables thrive in well-drained soil and full sunlight, but other plants have different light requirements, so choose a spot that’s suitable for your specific plants.

Make the switch. Set the young plants outdoors in a protected area—out of the direct sun and wind—for a few days before transplanting them to the garden. Called “hardening,” this gives the tender plants a chance to adapt to the outdoor environment before you move them to their final growing spot. After hardening, transplant the young plants into the garden, leaving the peat pots in place—they will biodegrade in the soil, but you can tear off the portion of the pot that extends above the soil if you like. After planting, water the new transplants well to give them a good start in the garden!


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 Mealybugs

Though sometimes hard to spot, mealybugs often leave behind telltale signs of their presence. Follow this guide to rid your garden of these waxy pests for good.

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs


At first glance, mealybugs definitely don’t look like your typical pest. Their 1/16- to 1/8-inch-long bodies are white, oval in shape, and covered with wax, which makes an infestation look more like cotton balls than bugs. Even with this relatively distinct appearance, they can be hard to spot since they gravitate toward the undersides of leaves, leaf axils, or protected areas at the base of certain plant varieties. Typically you’ll find these pests in warmer climates, targeting citrus trees and ornamental plants such as orchids, gardenia, English ivy, fuchsia, coleus, and more, both indoors and outdoors but especially in greenhouses.

When they latch onto your greenery, mealybugs will suck out its sap (its primary food source) and harm the plant. While low numbers may not cause significant damage, large populations can slow plant growth, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for signs. Mealybugs may cause existing leaves to turn yellow and new growth to fail, and they excrete wax and sticky honeydew, which is often accompanied by black, sooty mold—any of which are good indicators that the mealybug may be the culprit for failing plants, even when the bug itself may otherwise be hard to spot.

Once you’ve ID’ed the pests, it’s time to try out some strategies for how to get rid of mealybugs.

Step 1: Removal

Chemical treatments typically aren’t very effective because they are repelled by the mealybug’s waxy coating. Try these methods as your first course of action.

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs


Manual removal of the bugs: Hand-pick mealybugs from infested plants if there aren’t a prohibitive number of pests present. Use a drop of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab and dab it on the bug to remove it. Test the solution on a small part of the plant one to two days ahead of time to make sure it doesn’t burn the leaf. Spray sturdy plants with forcible streams of water if mealybugs are present to knock large numbers of them off the plant.

• Introduction of natural enemies: Some predatory insects that prey on mealybugs can help control the mealybug population under controlled settings. The Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, known as the mealybug destroyer, is available commercially—if you can’t find them available at your local garden center, they can be ordered online—to be released in greenhouses.

• Control of the ant population: Ants are known to protect mealybugs from natural enemies, so they can feed upon the honeydew produced by the mealybug. Use ant control techniques if you spot unusual numbers of ants on your plant.

• Removal of the infested plant: Finally, often the best course of action is to remove the source plant completely if it’s heavily infested to minimize further spread. Once you’ve done that, inspect pots, tools, and other materials that may have come into contact with the plant for mealybugs and egg sacs; discard or clean any that show signs of infestation.

Where there is too large a population to use manual or biological methods, consider insecticides. Though they won’t speedily wipe out your entire infestation, the young mealybugs will be affected of first, as they are particularly susceptible because they haven’t yet developed their full waxy protective covering. Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oil, or neem oil insecticides may provide some suppression. Rotate methods each time you apply an insecticide to delay resistance; multiple applications will be needed throughout the season for best results. Make sure to apply these thoroughly to the undersides of the plant, since that is where mealybugs often hide.

Step 2: Prevention

Now that they’re gone, make sure mealybugs never get in your garden again. Always inspect every new plant for mealybugs—remember: watch out for honeydew and black mold on leaves—before bringing them home. As you grow your garden with new plant purchases, you may also want to work with the garden center expert so as to stay away from plants known to be mealybug bait.


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.

Video: How to Kill a Tree Stump

If a stubborn tree stump is causing you problems in the yard, reach for this trusty bathroom staple.


Removing a tree from your yard is never pleasant. These leafy giants are part of our home and when one is mortally damaged in a storm or succumbs to disease, as trees sometimes do, the only responsible thing to do might be to cut it down—painful as the prospect may be.

Whether you choose to hire a pro or remove the tree yourself, you’ll be left with an unsightly tree stump. Trees are stubborn plants so even after you fell it, those deep roots will keep sending up shoots through the tree stump. To stop the tree from growing, consider this simple do-it-yourself project, which can be completed in minutes.

Landscaping Lowdown: Understanding the Different Types of Fertilizer

Make sense of the dizzying array of commercial fertilizers and the key nutrients they provide with this guide to the basic types of fertilizer.

Types of Fertilizer Every Gardener Should Know


Your lawn and garden need a variety of nutrients to grow and stay healthy. Soil is an important source of key nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), but it doesn’t always contain them in adequate amounts. That’s why many homeowners rely on commercial fertilizers as a supplement. Fertilizers come in an extensive variety of types and nutritional profiles, each of which impacts your plants—and the environment—in a unique way. Read on to acquaint yourself with the types of fertilizers available on the market today, so you can shop your garden center for the right solution with confidence.


Fertilizer supplies plants with three primary nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This nutrient trifecta is so important to the health of plants that all fertilizers display an NPK value on their packaging. The NPK value represents the percentage by volume of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) that a fertilizer contains. For example, a fertilizer with an NPK value of 16-16-16 contains 16 percent nitrogen, 16 percent phosphorus, and 16 percent potassium (the remainder of the fertilizer comprises filler ingredients). It also means that the fertilizer has an NPK ratio of 1:1:1; that is, it contains equal amounts of the three main nutrients. Similarly, types of fertilizer with the NPK value of 24-8-16 contain 24 percent nitrogen, 8 percent phosphorus, and 16 percent potassium—that’s an NPK ratio of 3:1:2.

Before choosing a fertilizer, determine the optimal NPK ratio for your soil by determining the existing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels using a soil nutrition testing kit (available for $8 to $25 at home centers, nurseries, and online). If the soil test reveals that all three nutrients are present in a roughly equal amount, opt for an all-purpose fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 1:1:1. These fertilizers contain a balanced nutritional profile that is suitable for flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees, and lawns. A minimum NPK value of 3-3-3 is recommended, but fertilizers in the 1:1:1 ratio come in various NPK values; some popular options include 5-5-5 and 10-10-10. The difference between these two fertilizers is that the nutrients are twice as concentrated in the 10-10-10 option, which means you can apply half as much of it to supply your soil with the same level of nutrients.

If, on the other hand, the soil test indicates that your soil contains too little or too much of one or more of the three key nutrients, opt for a specialized fertilizer that contains a specialized ratio. For example, if your soil is nitrogen-poor but richer in phosphorus and potassium, you could choose a fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 3-1-2 (such as a fertilizer with an NPK value of 24-8-16). Alternately, you could select a fertilizer with no phosphorus or potassium (with an NPK value such as 10-0-0 or 21-0-0). Specialized fertilizers are also recommended when a plant demands a higher or lower amount of one of the three nutrients. Sweet corn, for instance, thrives in soil with high nitrogen and phosphorus content, which is why fertilizers with an NPK ratio of 2:2:1 are commonly used in sweet corn soil beds.


Types of Fertilizer Every Gardener Should Know



With the proper NPK ratio for your soil in mind, you’ll seek out that set of numbers in one of the two main types of fertilizers on the market: organic and synthetic.

Organic Fertilizers
Plant, animal, or mineral remains that are packaged and sold either in their raw state or as pellets are called organic fertilizers. These environmentally-friendly fertilizers typically contain naturally occurring and therefore lower concentrations of individual nutrients than synthetic fertilizers. Home gardeners may pick them for this reason in order to help keep the fertilizer from building up in soil and either burning (i.e. killing) plants or contaminating local water sources via runoff.

Organic fertilizers—which include cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, bone meal, and blood meal—contribute beneficial microorganisms to soil that will assist in improving its structure over time, which makes it better able to hold water and nutrients. Organic fertilizers also water-insoluble, meaning they won’t dissolve with irrigation. One downside, however, is that organic fertilizer takes significantly longer to improve your plants than liquid or quick-release synthetic fertilizer does. Once spread over the soil surface, organic fertilizers must be organically decomposed by bacteria before releasing nutrients to the soil. Depending on the specific brand and mixture, most organic fertilizers supply nutrients for between three months and 10 years—so even though these fertilizers cost more than the average synthetic fertilizer (typically running anywhere from $.75 to $3 per pound), they generally require less frequent reapplication. Organic fertilizers work well for both garden or lawn applications.

Synthetic Fertilizers
Synthetic fertilizers are formulated with chemically processed compounds such as ammonium nitrate or urea. These fertilizers provide a robust source of primary nutrients but don’t contribute any microorganisms to soil, and therefore the soil’s structure and water retention remains the same. Compared with organic fertilizers, synthetic fertilizers are more affordable (around $.50 to $2 per pound) and improve plants more quickly. The flip side to that fast action, however, is that they won’t supply nutrients to the soil for as long—usually only two to eight weeks, depending on the fertilizer – while organic fertilizers provide nutrients for as long as it takes the microorganisms to decompose them. While these types of fertilizers require more frequent application, over-application can lead to fertilizer burn, run-off into local water sources, and even the destruction of existing microorganisms in the soil. If you choose a synthetic option, always carefully follow manufacturer’s recommended amount and instructions.

• Liquid fertilizers, including both liquid concentrates like Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food Concentrate and dry powders like Jacks Water-Soluble Fertilizer, are water-soluble fertilizers that should be diluted in water and then applied to soil with a hose-end sprayer or watering pot. These fertilizers rapidly release their nutrients to soil, and they often improve plants within a few days of application. However, since they supply nutrients to soil for only two to three weeks, liquid fertilizers require frequent re-application. These types of fertilizers are most often used when growing outdoor plants and houseplants.

Types of Fertilizer Every Gardener Should Know


• Quick-release granular fertilizers, such as Jobe’s Synthetic All-Purpose Fertilizer, are comprised of small, solid, water-soluble granules. Gardeners must sprinkle or spread the granules over the soil surface, mix them into the topsoil, and water them in order for the fertilizer to decompose and release nutrients into the soil. These fertilizers supply nutrients for three to four weeks, so they require less frequent reapplication than liquid fertilizers. However, quick-release granular fertilizers can take slightly longer—usually  a week—to improve plants, due to their slower decomposition rates. These fertilizers are commonly used for both lawn and garden applications.

• Slow- and controlled-release granular fertilizers are made of water-insoluble granules that are either uncoated or coated with a semi-permeable material. These fertilizers are spread on the soil surface, then covered with soil or compost. The fertilizers decompose and release their nutrients into the soil more gradually than liquid or quick-release granular varieties, supplying nutrients to the soil for anywhere from two to nine months and improving plants in as little as two weeks after application. The slow release diminishes the risk of burning the plant. Controlled-release fertilizers tend to release nutrients at a predictable rate that depends on soil temperature, while the rate of nutrient release in slow-release fertilizers depends on a number of factors including soil temperature, moisture, and pH. Although slow-release granular fertilizers (such as Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food) are slightly more expensive than quick-release fertilizers, their staying power in soil saves you fertilizer (and money) over time. In fact, gardeners can get away with applying the fertilizer only once or twice per growing season. These fertilizers are commonly used in the lawn and garden.

• Fertilizer spikes (like Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes) allow gardeners to avoid the hassles of storing fertilizer bags and spreading fertilizer. The user merely has to drive the solid, water-insoluble sticks into moist soil, where they decompose and release their nutrients. Although fertilizer spikes supply nutrients to the soil for one to three months, they only work on small soil sections. This makes them a better source of nutrients for small trees, plants, and shrubs than for large trees or lawns. Thanks to the tendency of plant spikes to create high concentrations of nutrients in a limited area, they can also contribute to unequal root growth or the dreaded fertilizer burn. To prevent this issue, leave at least three feet between spikes to prevent too much fertilizer from building up in any one area of soil. If the spikes are properly planted, you can expect plants to improve in as little as one week.


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.

Bob Vila Radio: 3-Step Deck Maintenance Anyone Can Do

If you want your wood deck to stand the test of time, you must at the very least commit to a basic, annual care routine consisting of three simple steps.

Do you spend countless happy hours on your wood deck every summer? Then why not give it the same love and attention you give the rest of your home? Even pressure-treated wood requires routine care. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

Deck Maintenance Tips



Listen to BOB VILA ON WOOD DECK MAINTENANCE or read below:

At least once a year, combine deck-cleaning solution with a jet stream of water to wash your deck, top to bottom. Be careful with pressure washers, though; when set on high, their force gouges wood, giving a head start to mold and wood rot. Also, be careful not to let the deck-cleaning solution reach nearby plantings. Cover any delicate landscaping with a tarp before you begin.

Afterward, after allowing enough time for the deck to dry out thoroughly, go ahead and take the next step: Apply a protective deck sealant. Opt for a synthetic sealant instead of an oil-based one, if you can; the former better resists mildew and algae. Why sealant and not paint? Paint tends not to last as long, at least not in high-traffic areas.

Finally, lay down rugs to prevent wear and tear from sliding chairs and such. Make it a point to choose synthetic rugs specially designed for outdoor use. Why? When exposed to the elements, natural-fiber rugs trap moisture, get moldy, and invite rot to eat away at the underlying deck boards.

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: How to Plant a Tree

What's the fix for a bland and boring front yard? The answer may be a leafy new addition to your landscaping design.


There’s perhaps no better way to show your appreciation for Mother Earth than to plant a tree. As we all know, trees absorb carbon dioxide from their environment, turning it into necessary oxygen for life on this planet. That said, there are many reasons to plant a tree in your yard, and some of them are aesthetic rather than purely altruistic. When planted strategically, trees can shade a sunny patio, add privacy to a front window, or simply boost curb appeal.

Thinking of adding a new tree to your yard? Check out our video to learn more about this fun and surprisingly simple landscaping project.

For more landscaping ideas, consider:

The Best (and Weirdest) Things You Can Do with a Tree Stump

These Popular Plants Might Actually Be Bad for Your Garden

10 Low-Cost Solutions for an Ugly Yard

How To: Get Rid of Aphids

Save a shriveling garden from aphid infestation by following these tips for removal.

How to Get Rid of Aphids


Are your garden plants stunted, shriveled, yellowing, or curling at the leaves, despite your best efforts to keep them alive? Check the undersides of the leaves, and you may find the culprit: large groups of aphids and/or the sticky residue they leave behind after feeding. (Or, on plants with tightly-packed leaves like those of day lilies, aphids may take root at the base of the plant instead.) These quarter-inch-long garden pests have soft pear-shaped bodies in various shades of white, black, yellow, green, brown, or red. The bane of gardeners everywhere, they feed on the plant’s sap and literally suck the life out of leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fruit, and roots.

Aphids reproduce so quickly—we’re talking several generations created in a single season—that by the time you notice the insects on your plants, you’re likely in the midst of a full-blown infestation. Thankfully, though,  homeowners can often combat the pests before major damage occurs. Here’s how to get rid of aphids and keep them from returning to wreck your plants in the future.


If you discover aphids your garden, follow one of these three methods to get rid of them.

Hose them down. If you spot a few aphids on your plants, the minor infestation can be successfully banished with a strong stream of water from the hose. Run water all over the plant, making sure to target the underside of each leaf. Repeat this process every few days until you’ve successfully eliminated all aphids, which could take up to two weeks.

Spray leaves with DIY insecticidal soap. Waging war with larger numbers of aphids? Make a homemade insecticidal soap, a low-toxicity bug control solution that will desiccate the soft bodies and kill the aphids without doing harm to your plants. Simply mix a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap with one quart of water, then spray or wipe the solution onto the leaves, stems, and buds of the plant. (Don’t forget: These bugs like to hide beneath leaves, so take care to thoroughly coat the underside of the leaves, too.) Repeat the process every two or three days for the next few weeks, until you no longer notice aphids on the plant.

Use a systemic pesticide. If your aphid infestation is substantial and not swayed by insecticidal soap, you may need to kill them with a systemic pesticide. Consider using something that contains Imidacloprid, which will kill aphids when ingested, but won’t harm pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Mix and apply according to the manufacturer’s directions.


How to Get Rid of Aphids



After eradicating aphids from your garden, take measures to prevent the pests from returning. Here are three ways to deter aphids from your plants.

Introduce beneficial bugs. Several species of bugs—like lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps—happily munch on aphids. If you provide a habitat of flowering ground covers  (especially varieties like cosmos and stonecrop that supply nectar throughout the growing season), you’ll draw them to the garden and successfully keep the aphid population in check. Homeowners can also purchase these natural predators via mail-order. If you introduce beneficial bugs to your garden, do not use broad-spectrum pesticide—it will kill them, too!

Apply dormant oil. If aphids have settled on your fruit trees, apply dormant oil (a commercial oil that controls pests during the off-season) in mid- to late-winter to kill any eggs that are overwintering. Mix the dormant oil with water in a garden sprayer, according to the directions on the packaging, and apply to the leaves, stems, branches, and trunk of the tree. Reapply per the manufacturer’s directions.

Choose neighboring plants strategically. Oregano, chive, sage, garlic, leeks, onions, and other plants with strong scents can deter aphids. Plant these in the areas of your garden where aphids have been a problem. In addition, you can grow plants that attract aphids, like calendula and nasturtium, on the opposite side of your property; they may draw aphids away from the affected area. Companion planting is a long-term prevention measure, but it could help your aphid population diminish significantly over several seasons.


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.

Bob Vila Radio: Do Electric Lawn Mowers Cut It?

Quiet, user-friendly electric lawn mowers are often the right choice for many average homeowners, but in certain situations, performance drawbacks outweigh the benefits of convenience. Read on for some of the pros and cons to consider before you make the final call.

They’ve been around for years, but electric lawn mowers never quite caught on. That may be changing, though, as electric equipment makers add more muscle, beefier batteries, and other performance-enhancing features.

Pros And Cons Of Electric Lawn Mowers



Listen to BOB VILA ON ELECTRIC LAWN MOWERS or read below:

Should you consider getting one? Maybe. Electric mowers boast a range of benefits. For one thing, they’re quieter than gas models and for another, they don’t spew fumes. One more advantage: Electric lawn tools require relatively little maintenance—no spark plug replacements, no oil changes, no gasoline refills.

But that’s not to say electric mowers don’t have any drawbacks. As you might expect, performance depends on the battery charge. As the battery drains, power decreases. That means if you have a large yard (half acre or more), you may be frustrated by having to pause midway through to recharge the battery (or swap in a backup). Also note that mowing sloped terrain puts a big drain on mower batteries. Small, level yards are ideal.

Finally, consider the height and thickness of the grass you need to cut. If it’s any wilder than typical suburban lawn grass, you’re likely to need a brawnier, gas-powered machine.

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!

How To: Kill Ivy

Fast-growing English ivy can easily take over your lawn and landscape. Learn how to kill the invasive plant by combining physical removal and topical treatment.

How to Kill Ivy


Characterized by its showy, star-shaped foliage, English ivy (Hedera helix) might seem a fine choice for landscaping as a potted plant, ground cover, or groomed exterior wall accent—but don’t let down your guard just yet. Left unchecked, the evergreen perennial can become an invasive enemy to your yard. Ivy knows no bounds: It grows quickly in all directions, both horizontally and vertically, clinging to other vegetation and depriving it of all sunlight. If the vining plant doesn’t smother and kill trees, shrubs, and grass, it’ll infect them with rot or disease. If you’ve already seen such destruction, save your property from the aggressive greenery by following these steps for how to kill ivy and prevent its return.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Gardening gloves
Brush cutter
Gardening shears
Herbicide made with glyphosate, imazapyr and/or triclopyr
White vinegar (optional)
Spray bottle (optional)

First things first: Protect yourself and your plants. To do so, suit up in gardening gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants—exposed skin may be bothered by the oil that ivy secretes. Then choose a day with the right forecast to ensure no mishaps during chemical treatment. Topical chemicals used for killing ivy are only effective when the temperature is somewhere between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll also want to work on a day with minimal wind in order to prevent any chemicals from blowing onto nearby gardens and landscaping.

How to Kill Ivy


Detach the ivy from the surface it’s covering, whether across the lawn or up a tree.

For ivy on the ground, mowers may shred the leaves but generally aren’t effective for attacking the vines. You’ll need to use a tough brush cutter or a long, sharp pair of gardening shears to separate ivy from the ground. Working in small sections a couple of feet wide, cut straight through the ivy’s vine system where it meets the earth. Then roll up each section like a rug, tugging and clipping with the shears or brush cutter along the way to entirely detach all pieces of ivy. Repeat as needed until all ivy has been sectioned and rolled. A word of caution: Ivy only needs one remaining vine to take root again, so take your time and don’t leave any pieces attached to your lawn.

For ivy on trees, there’s no need to detach every strand on the trunk. In fact, since ivy adheres strongly to a tree’s bark, removing it may harm the tree. Instead, concentrate only on detaching the three to five feet of foliage closest to the bottom of the tree, where the vine connects to its roots. Or, if the ivy doesn’t reach the ground, concentrate on the bottom two or three feet of the climbing vines. Separate the ivy from the tree with sharp shears, and take care not to cut into the bark—that will only weaken the tree further.

Bag up the ivy and throw it away. If you leave your detached ivy in clumps on your property, it can quickly snake its way back into the ground or up a tree trunk, undoing your hard work. (It can even take root in your compost pile, so do not don’t try to compost ivy!)

Select a herbicide made with glyphosate, imazapyr, triclopyr, or some combination of the three chemicals, all of which target the ivy roots. If you prefer a more natural approach, you can substitute white vinegar in a large spray bottle instead. Application for either is fairly simple: Thoroughly cover the whole area you’ve freed from the ivy with the liquid. If working on a tree, also cover the bottom foot or so of the vines remaining on the tree.

Herbicide alone isn’t necessarily the best way to kill ivy, because the waxy cover on ivy leaves blocks the chemical from properly attacking the root system. But by applying the deterrent soon after removing ivy from a tree or ground (Step 2), you can increase the commercial or DIY herbicide’s effectiveness.

Every two or three weeks, examine your property and make sure ivy vines haven’t popped up again. If you spot any new vines, pull them out with a gloved hand and gardening shears (Step 2), then a repeat spray with your herbicide or white vinegar to spot-treat the stems (Step 3).

TAMING THE BEAUTY: If you purposely grow English ivy as part of your landscaping, you must follow some strict guidelines in order to prevent it from overrunning the place. Keep the vines contained by surrounding them with mulch and trimming the edges whenever they begin to creep. Ivy can be a charming addition to any yard, but containment and maintenance are critical if you want to keep your other vegetation thriving alongside 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.