Archive for the ‘Home Improvement’ Category

Spring Lawn Care

        

First the bad news: if you neglect spring lawn care (and related concerns pertaining to your mower), you could end up paying for it the rest of the year. Now the good news: spring lawn care doesn’t entail nearly the amount of work that you’ll have to invest in mowing alone throughout the summer months.

In fact, most of you will need to implement only about half of the following ten tips for spring lawn care, depending upon your own unique circumstances. Furthermore, I point out in a few instances below that the task in question is better performed as part of your fall lawn care, if you can wait that long.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #1: Raking

 

Raking will be your first task of spring lawn care. Okay, I can hear the groans coming from all lands near and far, wherever grassy carpets are cultivated: “But we already raked leaves in the fall!” Sorry, but raking is for more than just removing leaves: it’s for controlling thatch, too. A thatch build-up of more than 1/2 inch is considered excessive.

Thatch is the reason why I recommend that, when you rake leaves in the fall, you make the effort to rake deeply. Don’t just skim the surface, so as to remove the leaves. A deep raking will remove thatch, too, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone. Even if you followed this advice in fall, I still recommend a spring raking: it will remove grass blades that died over the winter — dead blades that are just waiting to become thatch!

But there’s often another good reason for a spring raking. As you survey your lawn in spring, see if there are any matted patches, in which the grass blades are all stuck together. This can be caused by a disease known as “snow mold.” New grass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches. But a light raking will be sufficient to solve this problem.

Just when you should perform any of these spring lawn care tasks will depend upon the climate of your own region. But Mother Nature provides palpable cues in some cases. For instance, when you’re pretty sure the snow season (if you have one) is over in your region, begin raking. Applying preemergent herbicides (see Tip #6) should be done sometime between the time the local forsythia bushes stop blooming and the time the local lilac bushes begin blooming.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #2: Check for Compaction

 

If your lawn is subjected to high levels of traffic year after year, it may eventually start to show signs of decline. In such cases, your lawn is probably suffering from compaction. For instance, the presence of moss plants signals compaction (among other things).

Lawn aeration is the remedy for compaction. The good news is that lawn aerators can be rented at your local rental center. The bad news is that the experts recommend postponing lawn aeration until fall. But if, during your “spring lawn checkup,” you become aware of compaction, at least you can plan on setting aside some time in the fall to take care of it.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #3: Liming

 

Besides compaction, the presence of moss plants also signals acidity. But grass likes a neutral soil pH. You can solve this problem by liming your soil. But don’t expect a quick fix: the effects of liming are slow to take place.

But first send a soil sample to your local county extension to determine the extent of your soil’s acidity. The county extension will also be able to advise you on how much lime per square foot you’ll need. Apply the lime using a lawn spreader.

But if your lawn has been doing fine and shows no signs of suffering from acidity, don’t apply lime. Liming is only a corrective measure, not a preventive measure. A soil that is too alkaline will also cause your lawn problems, so too much lime is as bad as not enough.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #4: Overseeding

 

Is your lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic or neglect? If so, you may need to apply grass seed to fill in those bare patches. This solution is known as “overseeding lawns.” Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Five weeks after the grass germinates, apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.

However, spring isn’t the very best time for overseeding lawns. Fall is the preferred time, when the new grass won’t have to compete with crabgrass (see Page 2), which is killed off by autumn frosts. So postpone overseeding until fall, unless your situation is dire.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #5: Fertilizing

 

Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers. But for those who prefer chemical fertilizers, Scotts provides a lawn fertilizing schedule. Many experts, however, recommend a lighter feeding in spring and a heavier one in late fall for cool-season grasses. Too much fertilizer in spring can lead to disease and weed problems. And if you have, indeed, already fertilized in late fall, your lawn is still “digesting” that fertilizer in spring.

In addition to the above tasks of spring lawn care, don’t forget weed control and making sure your mower is ready for the mowing season.

For those who prefer weed-free lawns, spring grass care is as much about weed prevention as it is about fostering healthy lawn growth. Novices to spring grass care are often surprised to learn that not all lawn weeds are battled in the same manner. Depending upon whether a weed is an annual or a perennial, you will use a preemergent herbicide or a postemergent herbicide against it.

Spring Grass Care Tip #6: Applying Preemergent Herbicides

 

If you know that you have a problem with the annual weed, crabgrass, then fertilization in spring should go hand in hand with the application of preemergent herbicides. As their name suggests, preemergent herbicides address weed control not “after the fact,” but before their seedlings can even emerge. Preemergent herbicides accomplish this by forming something of a “shield” that inhibits seed germination. Don’t undertake the core aeration task discussed on Page 1 after applying preemergent herbicides: to do so would be to “puncture” this shield, thereby decreasing its effectiveness.

Crabgrass begins its assault on lawns in spring, when its seeds germinate. In fact, my suggestion on Page 1 that overseeding be carried out in autumn, rather than spring, is based in part on the threat posed by a spring crabgrass invasion. “So why not just begin by killing the crabgrass first with a preemergent herbicide?” perhaps you ask. Well, the trouble is that most preemergent herbicides work against not only weed seeds, but grass seeds, as well!

You can appreciate the dilemma here. Overseeding is incompatible with the application of most preemergent herbicides. Yet, faced with competition from crabgrass in spring, you may find it difficult to establish your new grass. So while it’s still possible to overseed in spring, it’s simply easier to do so in fall. There will be no competition from crabgrass then, because the fall frosts kill off crabgrass.

If you must overseed in the spring, look for a product called, “Tupersan.” Unlike other preemergent herbicides, Tupersan will not damage germinating lawn grass seed. But if you’re committed to staying away from chemicals altogether in your spring grass care, postpone overseeding till fall.

Spring Grass Care Tip #7: Applying Postemergent Herbicides — Or Pulling Weeds

 

Keep an eye out for the emergence of the perennial weed, dandelion during the spring season, unless you find the presence of their cheerful yellow flowers in your lawn desirable. At the very least, you’ll want to snap off their flower stems before they produce seed. If you’re more ambitious, you can dig them out by the roots. Spraying dandelion weeds with postemergent herbicides is more effective in fall than in spring. If you do choose to spray, select an herbicide for broadleaf weeds.

If you prefer weed control without chemicals and have consistently practiced organic landscaping, you can harvest these “weeds” as dandelion greens and eat them!

No other power equipment is as intimately associated with and essential to landscaping as is the lawn mower. You need to have a lawn mower that will consistently get the job done without any hassles throughout the lawn mowing season. And you should also know how to use the lawn mower to your best advantage. Consequently, the final three of my ten tips focus on caring for, selecting and using lawn mowers.

Tip #8: Tuning Up Existing Lawn Mowers

Mowing the lawn all summer can be tiring enough, right? Why make it more difficult on yourself by putting up with a lawn mower that doesn’t start up immediately? When a lawn mower is stubborn about starting up, that can be a sign that it needs a tuneup. Although it’s often possible to get by without one, it is recommended that you have a lawn mower tuneup each year. Don’t put it off till summer or pay someone else to do it. Learn how to tune up a lawn mower yourself using the following resource and have your machine ready to go for summer:

How to Tune Up Lawn Mowers

Tip #9: Buying a New Lawn Mower

Or perhaps you’re fed up with your old lawn mower? Time for a change? This Q&A resource for consumers will help you decide on which type of lawn mower is best for you:

The Best Lawn Mowers

Tip #10: Reviewing Lawn Mowing Strategies

“What’s there to know about lawn mowing?” perhaps you ask. “You just push the lawn mower and it cuts the grass, right?” At the most basic level, Yes. And if lawn mowing is merely a mindless chore that you perform to satisfy other people (and you really don’t care much about the health of your lawn), then you needn’t know any more about it.

However, if you do care about the health of your lawn, there’s a bit more to lawn mowing than just keeping your grass short enough to prevent the neighborhood from thinking your house has been abandonned! Spring is a good time to learn (or review) lawn mowing strategies — before it becomes so hot outside that it’s hard to think!

 

 

Question: Is there a right and a wrong method of lawn mowing?
Answer: Yes. Alternate the direction in which you mow each lawn mowing session. You will thereby prevent your grass from “getting into a rut” (literally). If your lawn mower wheels pass over the same area in the same direction each time you mow, they’ll form ruts over time. Switching lawn mowing patterns also wisely avoids having the lawn mower blade beating at the grass in the same direction at every mowing.

Pruning Fruit Trees

By pruning your fruit trees, you stimulate shoot growth, control the size and shape of the tree, and improve the quality of the fruit.

If you have not pruned before, don’t worry! It is not difficult, and you’ll get a real feel for how to prune fruit trees the more you work at it. And it’s worth every minute!

 

You’ll want to follow a few specific fruit tree pruning instructions for different types of fruit trees. For instance, apple trees need a different pruning system than peach trees. Here are the basics:

 

 

  • The Central-Leader System:

    This is used for pruning apple trees, pear trees, and sweet cherry trees. A “central leader” is the main stem or trunk of the tree from which other lateral branches develop.

    Fruit tree pruning instructions for this method are based around thinning the lateral branches.

  • The Open-Center System:

    Used for peach tree pruning, as well as pruning plum trees, nectarine trees, apricot trees and sour cherry trees where there is no dominant, vertical trunk (central leader).

    Open center fruit tree pruning instructions are based around three or four main limbs set at wide angles with about five lesser branches on each.

  • The Modified-Leader System:

    Mostly used for nut bearing trees, this can also be applied when pruning apple trees and pear trees. Modified-leader fruit tree pruning instructions are based upon giving the central leader and three or four lateral branches equal importance.

 

With this in mind, here are basic fruit tree pruning instructions that will get you off to a good start to getting the balance you want of shoot growth and fruit production:

     

 

 

General Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions

 

  1. Always use sharp shears or saws so your cuts are clean. Use pruning shears on young trees and limbs less than 1/2 inch diameter, and lopping shears for your bigger cuts. For mature fruit trees, use a pruning saw.

  2. Begin by removing dead wood and broken branches. Then cut out any wood that crosses or rubs against any other branches. This opens up the middle so the sun can get to all the fruit.

  3. Make your cut close to a bud, to a joint in the branch, or to the trunk; never leave a stub. The pruning cut should be just above a bud. Make the cut at a backwards angle of about 30 degrees.

  4. Prune stems just above a pair of opposing strong shoots or buds. If shoots or buds are staggered, choose a strong one and prune just above it.

  5. Keep more horizontal branches, and prune more vertical branches.

  6. Remove suckers (shoots) from around the base of the tree.

  7. Get rid of all debris which can harbor pests and disease.

 

 

Cleaning your deck and home exterior

One of the toughest things about deck cleaning is figuring out which weekend to do it. You don’t want it too hot or too cold, so you should have your supplies ready for when the weather cooperates. Spring is a perfect time to clean your deck and get your backyard ready for some outdoor entertaining.

Your supplies should include:

  1. Exciting and inspirational music to keep you motivated
  2. Easy-to-prepare meals for you and your helpers
  3. Cold drinks and a shaded area with chairs for breaks
  4. Old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty
  5. Plenty of trash bags to contain debris
  6. Deck cleaning supplies

Preparing to Clean the Deck

Your first step to cleaning the deck is, of course, to remove all the big items that are on the deck. Remove patio furniture, the grill, flower pots, shoe trays and anything else that would prevent the deck surface from being completely clear.

Next, it’s time to remove any debris that has collected on the deck. Since your deck hasn’t been cleaned for some time, it’s a good idea to bring out the heavy-duty Shop Sweep® Indoor/Outdoor Shop Vac that not only vacuums up dirt, litter and other debris, but its tough nylon impeller mulches it! And you don’t have to stop with just vacuuming the deck: The Shop Sweep® Indoor/Outdoor Shop Vaccan consume pine needles, lawn clippings, saw dust, wood chips and even litter, so once you have it fired up, you can keep cleaning all around the house.

Deck Washing

Once your deck is prepared and debris-free, the next step in cleaning a deck is to wash it thoroughly. Easily attach a Deck Cleaning Brush to your water hose to quickly clean dirt, grime and bird residue from your deck floor. The Deck Cleaning Brushhas strong bristles on three sides to tackle those tough deck cleaning messes and a soft squeegee on the fourth side to remove water.

After the long winter months, you might have some moss or algae build-up that requires you to use something a little stronger than water to clean your deck. Just apply some environmentally friendly deck cleaner with a sprayer or brush, let it work for 5-10 minutes (read label on package) and then spray it away with your hose.

Now that your deck is clean and there is little left for you to track into your home, you can clean your sliding door track with an ergonomically designed Track Cleaning Brushthat is so tough it can remove dirt, mold and even soap scum from those hard-to-reach places.

Washing a House

Once you’re done cleaning your deck, why not take your cleaning to new heights and wash down the exterior of your home? Attach a 32-oz bottle of Multi-Purpose House Washto your garden hose and watch as the non-toxic wash goes to work removing dirt, bird residue, tree sap, mildew, moss and algae from your siding or wood panels.

If, after using the Multi-Purpose House Wash, you notice calcium, lime and other hard water stains or outright rust on your siding, stone, masonry or other areas, eliminate it with Rust Remover. Biodegradable and non-flammable, Rust Removerdissolves most stains and can protect bare metal for up to 12 months.

Not enough water pressure from your garden hose? Use an Electric Pressure Washer to reach all those stubborn areas of your house from top to bottom. You can usually find a compact electric pressure washer that has wheels so you can roll it along as you work, whether it’s washing away moss from your deck or oil stains from your driveway. The spray is adjustable from fine to intense, so you can use the power washer for a multitude of cleaning jobs without the risk of surface damage. Pressure washers are high powered and you should always use caution when using one.

Washing Windows

Your deck might be clean, but can you see it through your windows? What about from the second floor windows? For those high, hard-to-reach windows, use a Telescoping Washer Setthat has an adjustable aluminum pole that attaches to your hose. A soap dispenser on the pole allows you to easily add a liquid cleaner to your washing routine. The window washer set includes a 7-pattern spray nozzle, window squeegee, round soft brush, 10″ floor brush and even a brush for washing a car.

Don’t forget to clean the screens! You can either take the window screens down, scrub them and hose them off, or you can attach a Window Screen Vacuum Attachment to easily whisk the dirt away while they remain in the window frames.

Build a stone firepit

Step 1: Purchase Stone

Determine the size, shape and location of the fire pit. Take measurements (height, width and depth) to a stone yard and select the material for the project.

Palletized stone is a pallet of pre-sorted premium stone. It is more expensive but will save time because the stones are a more uniform size, shape and quality. Have the stone yard deliver the material to the project site.

Step 2: Prepare the Base

Hammer a piece of rebar directly in the center of the fire pit location. Cut a piece of string to half the length of the fire pit’s diameter. For example, if the completed fire pit is to be 5 feet wide, cut the string to 2-1/2 feet long.

Make a loop on one end of the string and slip it around the rebar. Loop the other end around a can of landscape spray paint. Mark the circumference of the circle. Excavate the area inside the paint to a depth of 6 inches.

Step 3: Mark for Footing

Cut a second piece of string the length of the first piece minus the thickness of the fire pit wall. For example, if the wall is going to be 12 inches wide, cut the string to a length of 1-1/2 feet. Attach the string to the rebar and spray paint and mark a second circle inside the first.

Step 4: Pour Footing

Prepare premixed cement according to manufacturer’s directions. Spread the cement in the area between the outside and inside circles. Leave the center area free of concrete to allow for drainage.

Continue to add cement and level it until it reaches 1-1/2 inches below grade. Tap 2-foot pieces of rebar into the wet cement until completely submerged at various points around the footer. Allow to dry.

Step 5: Lay the First Course of Fire Brick

When the first course of face stones is in place, move on to the first row of fire brick. Trowel a layer of mortar along the inside edge of the face stones and press the first fire brick into place.

Apply mortar to one end of the next brick before butting it against the first and pressing it into the mortar. Check for level. Remove excess mortar as you work. Continue working in this fashion until the first ring of fire brick has been laid.

Step 6: Complete the Fire Pit Wall

Continue building the wall of the fire pit by alternating layers of face stone and fire brick until desired height is reached. Apply a bed of mortar on top of the previous layer of stone or fire brick and then set stones and bricks.

Avoid wall weakness by staggering the joints between previous and subsequent layers of stone and brick. Fill in any gaps between the fire brick and the stone with mortar and stone scraps.

Step 7: Lay Capstones

Apply a generous layer of mortar to the top of the fire pit wall, covering both the face stone and fire brick. Begin setting capstones into the mortar, selecting flat stones that fit neatly together.

Work all the way around the top of the fire pit wall making sure that all stones are as level as possible. Fill joints between capstones with mortar, smoothing when done with a jointer. Once the mortar is almost cured, use a stiff brush to scrape off remaining bits of mortar.

Step 8: Create a Seating Area

Cut a piece of string that extends from the center of the fire pit to the outside edge of the desired seating area. Attach the string to the rebar and spray paint and mark the location on the ground. Excavate the seating area to a depth of 3 inches. Cut landscape fabric to fit and top with crushed stone.

Step 9: Complete the Project

Spray down the fire pit with water to remove any dust or dirt that might have collected on the stone. When dry, spray the interior of fire brick with black stove paint.

Plumbing Tips for your home….

These plumbing tips will help you keep your pipes and home plumbing faucets and fixtures in good working order.

Turn Valves On and Off
Turn main water supply and fixture valves on and off periodically to make sure they don’t get stuck. You want to be sure you’re never in the position of not being able to turn your water supply off during an emergency or home plumbing repair.

Repair Leaking Faucets
Leaking faucets are not only a nuisance, they can also cause gallons of water to be wasted over time. Leaking faucets with washer fittings can be fixed by replacing the washer. Faucets without washers may require that you consult an installation manual or a specialist at a home plumbing store.

Inspect Your Septic Tank Periodically
This plumbing tip requires that you check your septic tank every three to five years to determine the level of scum and solids on the surface of the tank. The tank should be cleaned if the level of scum exceeds one half of the depth of the water in the tank.

Inspect Pipes Annually
You should examine your distribution and drainage pipes for signs of leaks each year. You may find clues that your pipes are leaking along the length of the pipe or around fittings or fixtures. Signs of leaks may include rust, corrosion, and mineral deposits.

You’ll also want to check the insulation of your hot water pipes periodically and replace any open or damaged areas of insulation. Another plumbing tip includes replacing aerators on faucets several times each year.

These plumbing tips will put you on your way to maintaining your home’s plumbing for years to come.

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