Lawn & Garden - 4/54 - Bob Vila

Category: Lawn & Garden


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.


Solved! The Best Time to Water Grass

To nurture lawn without waste, ensure that you know when—and how much—to water.

SHARES
The Best Time to Water Grass

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I notice neighbors’ sprinklers running at all hours of the day. What’s the best time to water grass—and how much is enough?

A: With many communities experiencing drought in recent years, it’s more important than ever to heed common-sense guidelines when watering our lawns. Doing so correctly can save resources while keeping you out of hot water with your homeowner’s association and even your city. In areas where HOAs and municipalities enforce strict rules, wise watering can save you from fines as well.

Early in the morning is the best time to water grass. At sunrise, when everything is cooler, you’ll get the best water absorption. If you water later in the day—particularly if it’s bright, warm, and breezy—the heat of the sun and force of the wind can rob your grass and other plantings of precious hydration. If you get the job done at dawn, you’re giving the water a greater chance of reaching the roots and being fully utilized. So set those sprinklers accordingly.

The Best Time to Water Grass with the Sprinklers

Photo: istockphoto.com

How much water you use is also critical. It may seem smart to set your sprinkler or irrigation system to the highest setting and drench the area as rapidly as possible, but if you water too quickly, you may experience runoff. This robs the lawn of ample absorption and wastes water in the process. So keep an eye on the edge of your lawn to make sure you’re not literally letting precious water run down the drain when it could be helping your grass grow.

Follow the rule of one inch of water every week, divided into two or three sessions. More than that can drown your grass, depleting it of oxygen and causing it to die, so measure your output and wait about three days between each watering session to give it a chance to breathe. To ensure you’re hitting the mark, place a few coffee mugs around your yard and test the sprinkler system to see how long it takes to fill each cup to the 1/3- or 1/2-inch mark. Then, set the system for that same amount of time every three days or so. Watering daily is almost always too frequent, while once a week is rarely enough. So aim down the middle and watch your lawn flourish.

Keep an eye out for dryness. Grass that’s discolored or curled over at the top is likely suffering from a lack of moisture. The same is true of a lawn that still shows your footprints after you’ve trod a path across it, with the blades refusing to bounce back up. If you notice these signs of dryness, adjust your watering schedule to start earlier in the day and allow for slightly longer sessions, or perhaps fine-tune your watering days to occur a bit more frequently.

Watch out for overwatering, too. If the ground feels particularly sponge-like and causes your feet to sink as you walk across the lawn, or if you see a thatch of extra vegetation taking hold of your topsoil when you run your hand over the blades, you’re watering too much. However, when modifying your frequency, don’t do so abruptly. Take a few weeks to slowly adjust your watering schedule to keep the shock of change from further damaging your lawn.

To truly want to cut back on water consumption, consider xeriscaping or native landscaping. Xeriscaping involves landscaping that requires no or minimal watering, often using sand, pebbles, or mulch where grass would otherwise be found. Native landscaping involves grasses and plants that thrive naturally with typical local rainfall, reducing or eliminating the need for extra watering. Both are attractive and effective ways to cut back on your water bill, and some homeowners choose to combine the two for a beautiful, eco-friendly landscape that demands little upkeep. Whichever approach you choose, best of luck with your outdoor space this summer!

Still have questions about lawn care? Watch and learn from this short video filled with easy-to-follow advice for anyone who wants their green grass to stay that way.

 


Video: 5 Mowing Mistakes Everyone Makes

Who knew? You might be the only thing standing in the way of your best-ever lawn. If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it may be because you’re making one of these cardinal mowing mistakes.

So, press play on our video to discover how to improve the look of your turf grass. You’ll learn a few lawn care secrets, from how to choose the right lawn mower to the worst time to mow. This might be exactly the inspiration you need to grow a prize-worthy lawn.

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: Transplant a Tree

Do you have a poorly located tree? There's no need to chop it down! With the right tools and techniques, you can transplant a tree to another area in your yard.

How to Transplant a Tree

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether they’re deciduous or evergreen, shade or ornamental, trees add value and curb appeal to any property. But, occasionally, a tree’s placement presents some problems. Perhaps it blocks a construction project like a home expansion or a deck addition. Maybe the tree is floundering from inadequate light, soil, or water conditions in its current location. A tree may also start growing too close to the house or surrounding landscaping, preventing healthy development. Whatever the situation, that poorly positioned tree doesn’t have to get you down or get chopped down. As long as the healthy sapling’s tree trunk isn’t larger than three inches in diameter, a homeowner can follow this guide for how to transplant a tree to another spot in the yard.

If you’re considering how to transplant a tree within your property, be sure to time it right: Trees should be moved during late fall or early spring, since the tree’s dormant state allows for speedy root growth in the new location. If transplanting in the fall, complete the task early enough for the roots to get established before the ground freezes. Even so, you should start your project much sooner than that; tree roots must be pruned several months prior to the transplant in order to help the tree thrive in its new location. Keep reading for instructions on how to prune as well as how to transplant your tree—and how to ensure it survives in its new home.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Flat spade
– Shovel
– Pruning shears
– Loppers (optional)
– Natural burlap
– Twine
– Tarp
– Mulch
– Tree stakes

FIRST, PRUNE THE ROOTS.

The process of transplanting a tree actually begins several months prior to the actual relocation with the pruning of its roots. This act encourages the growth of new feeder roots (which absorb water and nutrients) closer to the tree’s base to help the tree better adapt to its new location. If you’re planning to transplant a tree in the fall, then prune roots the previous spring. If you’re planning to transplant a tree in the spring, then prune roots the previous fall.

STEP 1
To properly prepare the tree for pruning, water it well the day before. Watering helps ensure the soil sticks to the roots, and moist soil is easier to dig into.

STEP 2
Calculate how much of the root ball—the cluster of roots at the base of your tree—you intend to prune. As a general rule of thumb, the root ball should be about one foot in diameter for every inch of trunk thickness. So, if the trunk is two inches thick, you’ll aim to prune the root ball to be two feet in diameter.

Note: If your tree’s trunk spans more than three inches in diameter, its root ball will be too heavy and fragile for a do-it-yourself landscaping job. Instead, call a professional to see about having this larger tree transplanted.

STEP 3
Cut a trench (about two feet deep and at least one foot wide) around the root ball with a flat spade, making sure to cut through the existing roots that extend past this circumference using the sharp edge of the spade.

STEP 4
Refill the trench with the uplifted soil, carefully placing subsoil underneath topsoil. When you return in two seasons for the move, you should find new feeder roots growing closer to the tree trunk and creating a strong root system.

 

How to Transplant a Tree

Photo: istockphoto.com

THEN TRANSPLANT THE TREE.

After roots are pruned, homeowners should give the tree several months to establish a new root system. Ensure the tree is healthy before removing it from the ground, since a sick or damaged plant likely won’t survive relocation. If the tree isn’t thriving (whether from disease or environmental issues), you may need to hold off until it becomes healthy again. Also, as an added measure of safety, make sure you aren’t digging near any underground utility lines during the course of the project.

STEP 1
Choose a new location carefully. Make sure the new spot has sufficient space for the tree to grow, as well as proper soil, light, and water conditions. Every type of tree has different requirements, so take the time to do your research.

STEP 2
Water the tree’s soil one day before transplanting. Moist soil is easier to dig and helps maintain the cohesiveness of the root ball.

STEP 3
In the new location, dig a hole that’s about three times as wide yet the same depth as the root ball, in order to give the lateral roots room to spread out. You won’t want to dig a hole too deep, or else rotting of the roots may occur. Take care to save the soil, separating the topsoil from the subsoil. Water the hole well to infuse some extra moisture into the soil, which will help hold the root ball together.

STEP 4
Using a shovel, remove the topsoil near the trunk and roots of the tree. Then start digging around the tree with a sharp, flat spade about six inches further than the pruned roots. Digging several inches past the trench ensures that you include most (if not all) of the new feeder roots that will help the tree adjust to its new location. If you come across any older, stubborn roots in the path of your digging that you missed while digging the trench months ago, cut them with pruning shears or—in the case of larger roots—loppers.

STEP 5
After digging all the way around the circumference of the tree, start to dig under the tree to sever the roots beneath. Remember that the diameter of the root ball as determined when pruning should be left intact; if a tree trunk is two inches in diameter, then dig a little more than two feet down in order to get the full root ball.

STEP 6
Once the tree is completely free of the ground, place a sheet of natural burlap in the hole and coax the tree roots over it. Then lift the tree from the ground with the burlap (never by the trunk) to prevent breakage. Having another person on hand to help contain the tree roots in the burlap and lift the tree from the ground will help immensely.

STEP 7
Secure the burlap together with twine to keep the soil together, and carry the tree to its new position. If it’s too heavy to carry, place its burlap-covered root ball on a tarp so you can drag it to the new location.

STEP 8
Set the tree into the fresh hole, making sure that the base of the trunk will be level with the ground once the hole has been completely filled. Add any soil necessary to achieve the proper height. Once the tree is placed in the ground, remove the burlap and twine.

STEP 9
Fill the ground around the tree with soil from the dug hole, making sure to keep the subsoil on the bottom and the topsoil on top. Tamp the soil down gently as you go. Water thoroughly, all the way out to the edge of the hole site. Then add two to three inches of mulch around the base of the tree, being careful not to push it up onto the trunk, to promote adequate moisture levels and temperature.

 

How to Transplant a Tree

Photo: istockphoto.com

MAINTAINING A TRANSPLANTED TREE

The care you give a tree after transplanting is extremely important. If the tree is smaller, planted on flat terrain, and not exposed to a lot of wind, you shouldn’t need to stake it. The roots will actually grow deeper and stronger if you don’t. But consider staking unsteady or larger trees.

After transplanting, ensure the tree gets enough water in relation to the climate, soil type, and rainfall levels. Generally, homeowners should plan to deeply water the tree every day for the first two weeks. Refrain from fertilizing the tree for at least one year; you want the tree to concentrate its energy on rebuilding its root system instead of producing new growth.

With some planning and thoughtful care, you’ll be able to enjoy your transplanted tree in its new location for many years to come.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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


All You Need to Know About Insecticidal Soap

Whether you buy it premade or whip it up at home, this non-toxic solution promises to wipe out your garden pest problem—without harming the rest of your patch.

Getting Rid of Aphids with Insecticidal Soap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Are aphids gnawing on your heirloom roses? Are spider mites munching on your tomato plants? If garden pests are bugging you but you’re not a fan of toxic pesticides, take heart; there’s a safer fix. Insecticidal soap is a low-toxicity bug control solution favored by natural and organic gardeners because, when applied regularly, it maintains the ability to protect plants without resorting harsh chemical concoctions. Keep it “green” in the garden with this complete guide on when, where, and how to benefit from insecticidal soap.

What Exactly Is Insecticidal Soap?

The active ingredients in insecticidal soap are potassium salts of fatty acids (also known as soap salts), which are created when the chemical compound alkali mixes with the fatty acids found in natural oils, including castor oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. The resulting mixture kills soft-bodied garden pests such as aphids, mites, and mealybugs on contact—not beneficial hard-bodied insects like ladybugs and other beetles—all without leaving toxic residue in the soil! The catch: Insecticidal soap only works when wet, and loses its effectiveness after it dries.

 

Getting Rid of Aphids with Insecticidal Soap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Ready-to-Use Versus DIY

A half-dozen brands of insecticidal soap can be found at your local garden center, but you also have the option to create your own solution at home from everyday products. Since both choices have their pros and cons, it’s best to weigh them before selecting the one that’s best for your needs.

What to Look for in Ready-to-Use Insecticidal Spray

Photo: amazon.com

Commercial Products
Ready-to-use insecticidal soap comes packaged in a spray bottle priced between $5 and $15 for a 32-oz. bottle depending on the brand. Many gardeners like the idea of the ready-to-use product because it’s already mixed in the correct proportions so there’s very little risk of plant damage. The bottle may be labeled as “Suitable for Organic Use,” or “Safer for Plants and Vegetables,” but if a commercial bug-killer is a true insecticidal soap, its bottle will list “potassium salts of fatty acids” or “potassium laurate” as ingredients.

Insecticidal soap also comes in a concentrated solution to be mixed with water. If you buy the concentrated solution, you’ll also need to invest in a spray bottle (or pump sprayer), but purchasing this form can save you money in the long run. A 32-oz. bottle of concentrated solution costs between $15 and $30, but it will make five or six times as much spray as a ready-to-use product.

How To Make Your Own Insecticidal Soap
If you’re interested in saving even more money, you can make your own insecticidal soap. Just be sure to follow the recipe carefully: Using too much soap can make the solution too strong, which puts your plants at risk.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– 1-gallon jug of distilled water
– Mild liquid dish soap
– Vegetable oil
– Plastic spray bottle (or pump sprayer)

Fill a 1-gallon jug with water—either distilled or tap, as long as yours is not hard water (hard water reduces the effectiveness of insecticidal soap)—and leave a couple of inches at the top. Then add 2-½ tablespoons liquid dish soap (Dawn or liquid castile soap are good choices) and 2-½ tablespoons vegetable oil. Screw on the lid and shake the solution to distribute the ingredients, and immediately pour the solution into your spray bottle. You’ll want to shake the jug each time you refill the spray bottle in order to maintain the right ratio of ingredients and not distribute a formula that’s too light or too harsh. Likewise, give the spray bottle a good shake before you apply on any leaves.

How to Make Your Own Insecticidal Soap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Before You Spray, Consider Plant Sensitivity and Environmental Safety

Although insecticidal soaps are safe for many flowers and vegetables, a few plants are sensitive to the solution and can suffer leaf damage. Among the most susceptible plants are sweet pea, begonia, impatiens, azalea, and rhododendron. If it’s the first time you’ve treated a plant and you’re unsure whether it’s safe to use insecticidal soap, err on the side of caution and do a sensitivity test first. Spray the solution on just two or three leaves of the plant, and then examine the plant after 24 hours. If the leaves have wilted, do not treat the plant with insecticidal soap. But, if the leaves look just as healthy as they did before, it’s safe to spray the rest of its limbs regularly.

When used as directed, insecticidal soap will not harm pets, birds, or wildlife. That said, it presents a slight risk of toxicity to fish, so it’s not advisable to treat aquatic plants or plants near fish ponds.

Applying Insecticidal Soap

Spray an even mist of insecticidal soap where garden pests typically hide, including under leaves and on a plant’s main stem. The goal is to cover all plant surfaces with enough spray to make the leaves wet, but you don’t have to use so much that the solution drips off the leaves. And, because this mixture is entirely eco-friendly, it’s safe to spray directly onto fruits and vegetables such as peaches, apples, tomatoes, zucchini, and pumpkin.

Repeat the application process every four to seven days, as needed. Because insecticidal soap only kills insects when it’s wet, it’s a good idea to treat plants in early morning or late evening when the solution won’t evaporate as quickly as it will in the heat of the day.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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


All You Need to Know About Begonia Care

Enjoy this gardening favorite's vibrant blooms from late spring through fall when you follow these tips for proper care.

Begonia Care

Photo: istockphoto.com

Prized for their prolific blooms in a rainbow of colors—from creamy white and soft pink to shades of deep rose and crimson red—begonias are favorites of home gardeners everywhere. Make neighbors jealous with the addition of your own this season. This complete guide will help you identify the perfect plant and outline the necessary begonia care to help it thrive in your garden or container.

Begonia Types

With more than 1,200 known species, the Begoniaceae family is one of the largest flowering plant groups. Even so, it’s relatively simple to identify begonias because all of its species fall into three main types, sorted by their root systems.

Tuberous begonias, which are grown from potato-like tubers, make popular bedding plants (or first-choice options for the flower bed) due to the fast growth of their showy blooms that last from early summer to late fall. They range in height from a few inches to over a foot, and they produce single or double blooms—some reaching up to 6 inches in diameter, depending on the species.

Known better for striking foliage than blooms (although some species are flowering), rhizomatous begonias are characterized by roots resembling knobby, horizontal stems that creep along the surface of the soil. The leaves on this type of begonia can be quite colorful, ranging from near-white and soft yellow to deep purple, green, and red, often in exotic combinations and patterns.

The roots of a fibrous begonia look like your typical plant roots that extend downward into the soil. These attractive flowering plants also come in a wide variety of colors for use as bedding plants or container plants. If you’re looking for blooms to plant in (shaded) window boxes and hanging baskets, select a species of fibrous begonias that develops long, soft canes; these bamboo-like stems will spill over the edge in a showy burst of color.

 

Begonia Care - Hanging Basket

Photo: istockphoto.com

Where Do Begonias Grow?

With the exception of one or two species, begonias are tropical or subtropical plants and can be grown as perennials (dying back in fall and regrowing in spring) in zones 9 and 10 of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. In most of the U.S., however, begonias are treated as annuals (planted for a single growing season) or indoor specimen plants. They prefer daily temperatures around 75 degrees Fahrenheit and overnight lows in the mid-60s, but they can often tolerate higher temperatures with protection from harsh sun rays. Begonias can be transplanted to the flower garden in late spring as soon as the danger of frost has passed; they will thrive—even bloom, depending on the variety—from then until fall when overnight lows dip below freezing.

The Right Light

While begonias can’t tolerate hours of direct sunlight, these plants bloom in a combination of partial shade and soft light. The best location for this compromise is on the north or east side of your home, beneath a large tree or covered patio to filter the sunlight. In more densely shaded spots, flowering tuberous and fibrous begonias tend to develop more leaves than blooms, though Rhizomatous begonias (which are grown for their foliage) will flourish.

Soil and Water Needs

Ideal begonia care requires well-drained soil that has been amended by the addition of organic matter, such as compost and peat moss. While they enjoy humid conditions, they don’t like “wet feet;” soggy soil can cause their roots to rot. In dry weather, supplement Mother Nature’s begonia care with a rejuvenating fine mist via the sprinkler for 15 minutes in the heat of the afternoon and sufficient bottom watering—remember, just enough to keep the soil lightly damp but not waterlogged.

Feeding for Blooms

For healthy plants and abundant blooms, apply 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer diluted at a ratio of three parts water to one part fertilizer when you first plant (or transplant) your begonias and approximately every three weeks thereafter. Begonias respond better to fertilizer solutions poured around their base rather than sprayed directly on the plant; the tender leaves and stems of some species can be injured by direct contact with strong fertilizer sprays.

Begonia Care - Varieties

Photo: istockphoto.com

Growing and Propagating Begonias

When filling out your flower bed, you can either purchase blooming begonias from any garden center in late spring or grow these bedding plants from seeds, rhizomes, tubers, or roots. If you choose the latter method, start them indoors in late winter so that they have time to mature before you transplant outside in warm weather. This begonia care practice, known as “forcing blooms,” will ensure that your begonias begin flowering just as soon as you plant them in the garden.

Fibrous begonias are the easiest of the three begonia types to start from cuttings, but you may also have success taking cuttings from some other types of begonias. Take a few stem cuttings about 4 inches long each from your favorite plant, dip each in rooting hormone, and plant them in moist peat moss. Once they develop roots, they can be overwintered (as described below) for replanting in your garden again next summer.

Whether from the nursery or started indoors, young begonias are ready for planting in the garden any time after the risk of frost has passed. Prepare the soil by tilling it well to break up any clods before planting. Water the young begonias frequently for the first two weeks to keep the soil slightly moist, but avoid letting them stand in water.

Begonia Care - Transplant

Photo: istockphoto.com

Overwintering Begonias from Your Garden

Species of rhizomatous and fibrous begonias are among the easiest to overwinter, since both types can be dug up and brought indoors to overwinter as houseplants. They require a spot near a window where they receive filtered light during the winter months. Many overwintered begonias are susceptible to fungus problems—which is rarely an issue outdoors, thanks to breezes that help circulate air through their leaves—so it’s a good idea to spray the plants with a broad-spectrum fungicide when you bring them indoors. Keep the soil of overwintering begonias damp but not saturated, and water them from the bottom to keep their leaves dry.

Tuberous begonias, on the other hand, can be difficult to overwinter, because the tubers can rot or die if they get too warm or too cold, or if they develop fungus—don’t feel bad if yours don’t survive indoors for the season. Most tuberous begonias naturally go dormant during late fall months, and they need this downtime to rest. For the best chance at saving the tubers in your garden, transplant them into pots and bring them indoors before frost. Keep the soil only slightly moist and, when the stems die back, allow the soil to dry out. Remove the dormant tuber from the soil and treat it with a garden fungicide powder before storing it in a dry indoor location between 55 and 65 degrees warm until late winter. Replant the tuber as described above to force blooms in time for spring.


Cool Tools: A Next-Generation Mower Cuts Above the Rest

It wasn't so long ago that electric mowers offered many pros balanced against one big con—subpar cutting performance. Today, however, there's reason to believe the era of easy, even enjoyable lawn care has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Photo: greenworkstools.com

Even as a kid, when my five-dollar allowance depended on it, I hated mowing the lawn. Decades later, things have changed—for instance, nobody pays me to do chores anymore. But I dread the start of mowing season as much as ever, if not more so, because my house sits a large, corner lot, with grass that grows quickly enough to require twice-weekly trimming some months. Plus, even though I’ve lived through a series of cataclysmic technological breakthroughs in recent times—the advent of cellular phones, for instance, or the world-beating dominance of digital computing—the average 21st-century gas mower seems strikingly similar to the heavy, noisy, cumbersome and upkeep-intensive model my parents used to own.

That’s not to say there’s been no innovation—far from it! In fact, years ago, in direct response to homeowner frustrations with conventional gas models, forward-looking manufacturers began rolling out lighter, quieter, lower-maintenance and cleaner-running electric mowers. Today, with electric mower technology having fully matured—and with corded models having cleared a path for battery-powered ones—the best of the new breed succeed in performing on par with their gas-guzzling cousins, even while tempting homeowners with a raft of user-friendly incentives you can’t get with a traditional model. Need proof that mowing isn’t what it used to be? Check out the Greenworks G-MAX 40V 19-Inch Cordless Mower.

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If you’ve only ever cut your lawn with a traditional mower, prepare yourself for a very different kind of experience. The first thing you notice about the Greenworks G-MAX? For me, it wasn’t the light weight or compact design of the equipment, but rather the total absence of gasoline—and all the little ancillary concerns that go along with maintaining a machine more like a car than a yard tool. So instead of making the first of many trips down to the local gas station—a costly proposition—and instead of having to clear space in the already chockablock garage for the safe storage of extra gasoline—you can proceed directly to mowing, a task made considerably more pleasant by there not being any foul, unhealthy fumes in your face.

Another welcome feature you notice right away: Whereas step one in operating a gas mower entails the almost Herculean effort of pulling—pulling and pulling—the starter cord, the Greenworks G-MAX starts in seconds, requiring nothing more than the push of a button. Certainly, it’s nice not to feel exhausted even before you begin mowing. But for me, someone accustomed to the roaring engines of gas mowers, G-MAX impresses most of all because, for all of its effectiveness, the unit emits only a busy humming sound. In the past, I often delayed mowing until the late afternoon, at which point I figured the neighbors wouldn’t mind. Now, with a quiet-running electric mower, I can take care of the lawn whenever I want, guilt-free.

Photo: greenworkstools.com

The Greenworks G-MAX stands apart, too, because it’s almost effortless to control. In large part, that’s because it weighs 35% less than comparable gas models. What’s more: Greenworks G-MAX isn’t prone to the jitters and vibrations you get with other types of mowers. Instead, it coasts smoothly over the lawn, all while employing Smart Cut Technology to adjust power based on the thickness of the grass. You set the blades to your choice of seven cutting heights (ranging from 1-1/4″ to 3-1/2″)—and you select whether to mulch, side-discharge, or rear-bag the clippings (a handy 3-in-1 feature)—and the G-MAX does the rest. Finished for the day? You’ll like this: The handle folds all the way down to allow for hassle-free storage.

Note that the Greenworks G-MAX 40V 19-Inch Cordless Mower package comes equipped with a battery charger and not one, but two batteries. If the LED indicator on the in-use battery lets you know it’s running out of juice—no problem. Simply swap in the replacement, and you’re back in business. That said, depending on the size of your property, you may not even need the backup battery, since a fully charged 4Ah battery provides up to 45 minutes of continuous mowing over a whopping 6,500 square feet. Finally, and perhaps best of all, Greenworks gives you the freedom to use G-MAX lithium ion batteries across the full G-MAX line, which includes everything you need to keep your landscape lush and lovely.

Purchase GreenWorks G-MAX 40V 19-Inch Cordless Mower, $279.

Photo: greenworkstools.com

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Greenworks. The opinions and text are all mine.


Bob Vila Radio: Solutions for Icy Surfaces

There's more than one way to add traction to an icy driveway or walk in the winter. Among the most popular options, rock salt and sand, which is the right one for you? Read on to find out!

We want our driveways and walks not to be the scene of injury during the long, icy winter. But if you’re taking the proactive step of adding traction to otherwise slippery surfaces, are you better off using rock salt or sand?

Solutions for Icy Surfaces

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Listen to BOB VILA ON THE BEST SOLUTIONS FOR ICY SURFACES or read below:

Rock salt keeps surfaces from getting icy in the first place. Plus, it works quickly to melt ice that’s already formed. There are a couple caveats, though. One is that rock salt usually stops being effective below 12 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re not careful, it can also hurt your plants and gradually compromise concrete it comes into contact with. The wise course? Use it sparingly and only during brief windows of time.

Sand works differently. It doesn’t melt ice or prevent it forming, but it does make slippery surfaces much safer to traverse. On the plus side, it works at any temperature, but on the down side, it must be reapplied if buried on a fresh layer of snowfall. (Note: Choose sandbox sand, not mason’s sand.)

If you don’t have any rock salt or sand on hand, remember that in a pinch, you can always rely on kitty litter, saw dust, or wood ash to make driveways and walkways more easily passable when the going gets tough.

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: The Easiest Way to Clear a Snowy Driveway

Once considered an over-the-top luxury, heated driveways and walkways are gradually going mainstream, saving homeowners hours of back-breaking labor along the way.

Some folks consider the winter to be their favorite season. But very few do not dread the task of shoveling the walk and driveway after a storm.

Snow Melting Systems

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SNOW-MELTING SYSTEMSor read below:

That’s why more and more homeowners are opting to put in tech-savvy, labor-saving, snow- and ice-melting systems. Manufactured by companies like SunTouch, the technology hinges on electric heating cables or mats, installed beneath key outdoor surfaces and activated either manually or automatically via a special sensor.

Typically, the heating elements in ice-melting systems are protected by insulated, weatherproof jackets that prevent corrosion and help ensure durability, no matter the material makeup of the driveway or walk.

Of course, given the nature of their design, you cannot retrofit a snow-melting system. But it may be wise to keep the technology in mind for the next time you upgrade your hardscape or take on new-home construction.

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!


The Dos and Don’ts of Poinsettia Care

If you want to enjoy festive blooms all season—and even beyond—pay attention to these best (and worst) practices.

Poinsettia Care - Do's and Don'ts

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During the holidays, nothing rivals the floral festivity of the season’s favorite plant: the always colorful poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Whether you prefer the traditional red variety or favor hybridized pastel pinks and yellows, you’ll want to provide the best poinsettia care in order to enjoy the plant’s showstopping blooms as long as possible. Simply abide by these six best practices—and avoid the six biggest mistakes—when tending to this ornamental houseplant.

DO Purchase the Healthiest Plant You Can Find

When shopping for a poinsettia, choose a stocky plant with dense foliage that’s deep green in color, and pass on plants with yellowing or dropped leaves. The colorful flowers, called bracts, should be firm with little or no pollen visible in the center.

 

DON’T Forget to Protect the Plant in the Car

Some stores sell poinsettias in cellophane cones that will protect the plant from wind damage, but if it’s bitterly cold outside, the bracts and leaves could still suffer. Ask for a larger bag to put over the top of your plant to protect it on the trip to the car and into your home.

 

DO Position Your Poinsettia in a Well-Lit Location

A southern window is ideal. Poinsettias benefit from plenty of direct daytime light to keep them from getting leggy. If a sunny window isn’t available, choose as bright a spot as possible.

 

DON’T Let the Leaves Touch a Freezing Windowpane

Poinsettias are tropical plants typically grown in greenhouses, so despite their popularity in winter, they despise the cold. Any leaves that press against an icy window after you position the plant in your home will perish, and the chill could even affect the health of the poinsettia as a whole. Prevent an untimely demise by setting your poinsettia safely on a table in front of a window rather than on a windowsill.

 

DO Make Sure Your Plant Gets Adequate Darkness

In order for those red or white flowers to last more than a month, poinsettias require more than 12 hours of darkness during their peak bloom period. If you’ve placed the plant in a room that you keep lit all evening, just move it to a darker room, closet, or shadowy corner when the sun sets, then put it back in the window the next morning.

 

Poinsettia Care - Do's and Don'ts

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DON’T Put Your Poinsettia in a Drafty Spot

The tender leaves and bracts wilt in windy conditions, so keep your plant away from open windows, forced-air registers, and fans.

 

DO Water Your Plant

Poinsettias should be watered whenever the soil surface feels dry to the touch. The best way to water the plant is to move it, pot and all, to the sink and soak it thoroughly. Let it drain until no more water runs out—this will take about an hour—and then place it back in its spot.

 

DON’T Let Your Poinsettia Stand in Water

Sure, soaking your poinsettia’s soil is the best way to quench its thirst, but be sure to pull off the shiny foil wrapper that came tucked around the pot before you water it. Though pretty, this wrapping prevents the water from draining out, leaving the poinsettia’s soil saturated and roots soggy. Waterlogged roots stress the plant and can lead to leaf-dropping—or worse, a short life.

 

DO Prune Your Poinsettia If You Plan to Reflower It Next Year

Follow the poinsettia care tips outlined so far, and you may find that your houseplant survives from winter into spring—or even longer. If you plan on keeping it around, prune the stems back to six inches when the plant begins to get leggy, and continue to place it in a sunny spot that’s about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue to water just as you did before, and feed your poinsettia regularly every two weeks after they’ve stopped blooming with a standard houseplant fertilizer. New shoots will eventually develop at the buds below the cuts. In late spring, when overnight temps outdoors are above 50 degrees, prune new shoots back to four inches and sink your poinsettia—pot and all—into a protected spot in your flower bed and let it stay there until early fall when overnight temps dip back into the 40s. While year-round poinsettia care takes commitment on your part, you’ll be rewarded with an even-larger floral wonder the following holiday season.

 

DON’T Leave a Large Poinsettia in a Tiny Pot

As a poinsettia grows over the summer, its roots grow as well, and they can get cramped in a small pot. So, when you bring your poinsettia indoors after its spring and summer sojourn in the flower bed, be sure to transfer it into a larger planter. Repotting keeps the plant from becoming root-bound. Choose a new pot about two inches wider and an inch or two deeper than your current pot to give your poinsettia’s roots room to spread out during the coming fall growing season and help stimulate foliage growth and bloom production.

 

DO Keep Pets Away from Poinsettia

One thing pretty much everyone knows about poinsettia care is the importance of keeping poinsettias out of the reach of furry members of the family. While scare stories link the plants to pet poisoning, the milky sap of the poinsettia actually contains low-toxicity chemicals that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and itchiness if a pet eats a large amount. Even though the risk is pretty low, don’t chance it. Keep your plant away from Fluffy or Fido.

 

DON’T Hesitate to Call Your Vet If Your Animal Eats It (Just in Case)

The pesticides used at garden centers and nurseries could cause reactions if your pet ingests poinsettia leaves, especially if you have a very young animal. If you’re concerned about persistent or severe symptoms, call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. A consultation fee may apply.

 

Poinsettia Care - Do's and Don'ts

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