Posts Tagged ‘yard care’

Pruning Raspberries

Pruning Raspberries

Raspberry Patch

Pruning raspberries is essential because fruit is only produced on new raspberry canes. The old growth must be removed from your raspberry patch each year.

There are two types of raspberries:
an everbearing and

June bearing

Ever Bearers

Our favorite type of raspberry is the ever bearer / primocane. These raspberries bear fruit in the summer on canes that grow up in the spring.

It’s much easier to grow ever bearers than June bearers. After the first freeze in the fall of the year, cut off all the canes at ground level. Easy Pruning!

Use a wood chipper to chop up the old raspberry canes. Add the chips back into the garden soil. The organic matter helps improve the soil.

Ever Bearer Raspberries July 15



The chance of the raspberries getting cane borer is reduced when you cut off all the canes.

If you want a June and August crop of raspberries, you can do it with some extra work.

After it freezes in the fall, prune the tops off the canes that bore fruit during the summer. Prune these canes
3 ½ feet high. Next year, fruit will grow on the lower part of the cane.

These short canes will produce berries in June. In August, the new canes that grow from the roots will produce berries at the top of the cane. They will continue to produce fruit until it freezes.

When pruning raspberries this way, remember to prune out the short canes that bore fruit in June.

Pruned Raspberries

Most people don’t bother with getting this double crop because:

  • The raspberry plants produce two small crops instead of one large crop.
  • There’s a lot more work when pruning raspberries this way. It’s easier to cut off all the ever bearing canes each fall.

 

 

  • Caroline – mid to late August until first frost (going strong when first frost comes)

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.

 

 

Spring Checklist

Take advantage of the moderate temperatures to get a head start on what should be an annual spring home maintenance routine. EXTERIOR INSPECTION “It’s good to do a walk-around of your property, especially after a storm,” says Curtis S. Niles, Sr., owner of Armored Home Inspections, Upper Darby, PA, and president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). “Winter is tough on roofs and chimneys.” It can also take its toll on windows, walls, foundations, gutters and decks. Roof. You don’t need to climb up there yourself; with binoculars and a keen eye, you can probably spot trouble. Do you see any shingle-shift, suggesting that some fasteners may have failed and need replacing? Any cracked or missing shingles? What about nail-pops? “We call them eyebrows,” Niles explains. “It’s when nails push the tabs of the shingles up, allowing water to get in where those nails are coming through.” All will need to be addressed to keep your roof at peak performance. Chimneys. If you have a masonry chimney, check the joints between bricks or stones. Have any fallen out? Is there vegetation growing out of them? Each signals water infiltration. Also, look for efflorescence—”a white calcium-like deposit that indicates your masonry joints are no longer repelling water but absorbing it,” says Niles. Consider re-sealing masonry with a clear, impermeable or water-resistant barrier material (like Thoroseal products). Brush it on, small areas at a time; let it absorb for 15 minutes, then reapply—it may need a couple of applications. Exterior Walls. Whether you have wood siding, stucco or brick, look for trouble spots, especially under eaves and near gutter downspouts. Water stains normally indicate that your gutters are not adequately containing roof runoff. If you have wood siding, check for openings, damaged areas or knots that have popped out, making way for carpenter ants, woodpeckers and other critters that may nest in or burrow through. Foundations. When inspecting the exterior of your home, be sure to examine the foundation from top to bottom for masonry cracks. “Routine caulking by homeowners won’t do the job,” says Niles. “Hire a foundation specialist who can employ a two-part epoxy injection system that will bond cracks chemically,” he adds. Windows. Leakage around windows will admit warm summer air and let cooled indoor air escape, so be sure to check that any caulking and weather stripping you have in place has remained intact. “A tight seal is the first line of defense against air and water,” says Marty Davis, marketing manager, Simonton Windows, Columbus, OH. If you experienced condensation inside the glass on double- or triple-glazed windows during the winter months, the weather seal has been compromised, and either the glass or the window will need to be replaced. Spring-clean your windows—inside and out—with a store-bought or homemade window cleaner (one cup rubbing alcohol, one cup water and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar will work just fine) and either a squeegee or a soft cloth. Never use abrasive cleaners or a high-pressure spray washer. You don’t want to scratch the glass or crack the caulking around each unit. If screens were on all winter, remove and clean them with mild detergent. Lay them on a dry surface, like a driveway to air-dry before putting them back on. “Never power-wash screens,” urges Davis, “it could damage the mesh.”

General Cleaning. Spring is a good time to clean areas of the house that often go neglected. Dust or vacuum chair rails, window casings, tops of wall-mounted cabinets and ceiling fans. Launder or dry-clean fabric draperies and use a damp cloth to clean wood and vinyl blinds. Vacuum upholstered furniture and mattresses and consider renting a carpet cleaner—anything you can do to remove settled dust, mites, and allergens will make for a cleaner, and healthier, home.

If you detect grease residue in the kitchen, consider washing cabinets, backsplashes and walls with warm water and mild detergent. The same is true in the bathroom, where soap residue and fluctuations in heat and humidity combine to create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. While you’re cleaning tile, look for areas of worn or missing grout, as these may lead to more serious water damage if not repaired.

Air Conditioning. Just as you readied your furnace for fall, now is the time to make sure that air conditioning units are in good working order for the warmer months ahead. Change the filter, check hose connections for leaks, and make sure the drain pans are draining freely. In addition, vacuum any dust that has settled on the unit and connections; over time it can impact the air conditioner’s effectiveness. If you suspected problems with the efficiency or performance of the unit last summer, now is the time to call in a professional to check it out.

Attics. Search for signs that indicate insects and critters have colonized. Also, search aggressively for mold, which often takes the form of “gray or black blotches that look like staining,” according to Tim Gentry, vice president of technical services, DaVinci Roofscapes, Kansas City, KS. Proper insulation and good ventilation will deter mold growth in the attic, so take action now to prevent the problem from developing in the warmer months ahead.

Basements. The basement—prone to dampness and insects—must be part of any thorough seasonal maintenance effort. Dampness suggests higher than normal relative humidity, inadequate ventilation and the need for a dehumidifier. Check the base of poured-concrete walls. “Cracks start from the bottom up, not the top down,” Niles points out. “If there’s water penetration, it’ll show at the bottom of those cracks.” And be sure to use a flashlight to examine exposed framing. “If you see even a quarter-inch or so of tunneling on the wood,” says Niles, “call a pest control company immediately.”

Leaks. Spring is a good time to check for leaky faucets, clogged drains and sweaty pipes. Check under the kitchen and bathroom sink to make sure connections on pipes and hoses are properly sealed, and look for any wetness around the dishwasher that could signal an existing or potential problem. The same is true of your laundry room; check washer machine hoses for cracks, bulges or dampness. The same is true for hot water heaters, which may show sign of corrosion and leaks.

Lawns. Rake the lawn to remove any branches, debris and leaves that you might have missed in the fall; if left, they can suffocate the grass beneath. During the winter, soil compaction, along with chemical changes altering your soil’s PH, may have left your lawn vulnerable to weed growth and other issues. Even if you can’t see weeds, they are more than likely waiting for optimum conditions to propagate. If you want to prevent them from germinating, consider an organic herbicide; fertilizers are better suited to the fall.

Make sure outdoor water systems—pipes, faucets, and in-ground sprinkler systems—are in working order. Once the ground thaws completely, start preparing new garden beds for summer plants. And take stock of your garden tools and lawn-maintenance equipment, including lawn mowers, trimmers and hoses.

Decks and Patios. Look for warped, loose or splintered boards, and do a good sweep to remove any leaves and debris accumulated in the space between boards. “Whether it’s wood, plastic or composite, a deck should be cleaned every year to extend its life,” says Chuck Harris, owner, Custom Lumber Manufacturing Co., Dothan, AL. If the finish on your wood deck is faded or worn, now is the time to clean, stain, and reseal it. If you have composite decking, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on seasonal care. The same is true for wood and composite fences, pergolas, trellises and other structures. If you have a stone patio, a simple hose down provide be all the maintenance required (unless you detect moss or staining, in which case a more serious cleaning may be necessary).

Outdoor Furniture. If you stored your lawn furniture for the winter, bring it outdoors and give it a hose rinse, or wash it with a mild detergent. For metal furniture, check for signs of rust or paint erosion; a simple remedy of spray enamel will prevent further damage from sun, rain and humidity in the months ahead.

Grills. If your gas grill has remained idle over the winter months, check burner jets for clogs and obstructions, and be sure that gas hoses and connections are sound and secure. You’ll also want to check for propane. For charcoal grill owners, make certain your grill is clean of ash and free of grease residue. It’s a good habit to adopt throughout the grilling season, not just in the spring.

Winter Ready Checklist (now is the time)

In the fall is when you want to get ready for the winter cold. The worst thing in the world is trying to put your storm windows in when its 20 degrees outside. Or worse, not having your sprinkler system purged before the freezing weather comes. I’m going to give you a fairly easy checklist of things to do for the various systems of your home. From plumbing to roof, we’ll walk through each system and hit the major things to make sure you do before winter so you can enjoy the snow and not worry about your home.

OK, lets start with the basics of making sure you have heat when you need it. The time to check that is in the Fall, no later than the end of October. Give your system a test run through and make sure all systems are “GO“.

Heating System Checklist

  • Test Run:
    Turn the thermostat to heat mode and set it to 80 degrees just for testing. You should hear the furnace turn on and warm air should blow within a few minutes. If it’s running OK, turn the thermostat back to its normal setting. If it’s not running properly, you can try to diagnose it. Depending on what’s wrong, you can fix it yourself or you may need a qualified service technician.
  • Seasonal Maintenance:
    Either have the furnace checked by a service technician or do it yourself.
  • Replace the Air Filter:
    Put in a new clean air filter.
  • Fuel:
    If you have a propane or oil furnace, make sure to have your fuel storage tank topped off and ready to go.
  • Heating Vents:
    Clear obstacles to heating vents so air can freely flow.
  • Check for Carbon Monoxide Leaks:
    This silent killer can easily be detected with either an inexpensive test badge or battery operated alarm. Whichever way you decide, just please decide to protect your family with one of these units.

Although not thought about much in warm weather, the wood burning fireplace and chimney can be a major source of cold air leaks and other issues in winter. So the chimney and fireplace need a little going over before winter sets in.

  • Chimney and Fireplace
    • Check that the chimney is clear of any nests from birds, squirrels or other animals.
    • Check flue damper operation. Make sure it opens and closes fully, and that it is able to be locked in the open or closed position.
    • Check chimney draft. Make sure the chimney will draw up the fire and smoke properly. Test this by taking several sheets of newspaper and rolling them up. Then with the fireplace damper in the open position, light the newspaper in the fireplace. The smoke should rise up the chimney. If it doesn’t, you have an obstruction and need to call a professional in to clean the chimney of creosote and ash and possible debris.
    • If it has been several years (or never!) since you had your fireplace chimney cleaned, you should have it done by a professional chimney sweep. Definitely not a fun DIY project.
    • Inspect the fire brick in the fireplace. If you see any open mortar joints have them repaired immediately! A fire can spread into the stud wall behind the masonry fire brick through open mortar joints.
  • Plumbing is especially susceptible to cold weather and freezing. Burst pipes from freezing can cause some of the most expensive repairs in the home. So let’s go over some of the basics to make you have them covered.
    • Insulate Exposed Piping
      If you have any exposed water or drain piping at all in uninsulated spaces such as in a crawlspace, attic, outside walls, etc., make sure to insulate them with foam insulation at a minimum. Ideally you should wrap them with electrical heating tape first, then insulate them.
      Pipe Wrap and Insulating Tape 
    • Exterior Faucets
      Known as hose bibbs or sill-cocks, the exterior faucet needs to have its water supply turned off inside the house, and you also need to drain water from it by opening up the exterior faucet. You may also want to consider an insulated cover for the hose bibb. And remember to disconnect your garden hoses from the sill cocks or outside faucets and drain them if you store them outside.

    Seasonal Shut Down
    If you are shutting down a property for several months you should always shut off the water supply and drain the plumbing system. If a leak were to occur without occupancy, the damage could be catastrophic.

Infiltration of cold air from air leaks around doors and windows is as significant a contributor to your heating bill as is poor insulation in the walls and ceiling. An easy way to reduce you heating bill is to reduce these drafts with simple weatherstripping.

Windows

  • On a day when it’s windy outside, close your windows and feel for air leaks. You can use an incense stick for this too if you don’t mind the smell. Watch the smoke trail and if it becomes anything other than vertical, you have an air leak. Typically air leaks will be at the edges where the window is hinged, slides or meets another unit, such as between the two panels of a double hung window.
  • Although you can tape plastic over the windows to seal them, this can be expensive and look bad. It can also reduce much needed light in the winter unless you use the shrink-wrap type of plastic seal. So a better and easier solution is to use inexpensive rope caulk.
  • Press the rope caulk into all the joints where air is leaking.

Doors

  • The easiest fix here is to check for weatherstripping on the side and bottoms of the doors. Install weatherstripping on any leaking doors.
    Infiltration of cold air from air leaks around doors and windows is as significant a contributor to your heating bill as is poor insulation in the walls and ceiling. An easy way to reduce you heating bill is to reduce these drafts with simple weatherstripping.Windows

    • On a day when it’s windy outside, close your windows and feel for air leaks. You can use an incense stick for this too if you don’t mind the smell. Watch the smoke trail and if it becomes anything other than vertical, you have an air leak. Typically air leaks will be at the edges where the window is hinged, slides or meets another unit, such as between the two panels of a double hung window.
    • Although you can tape plastic over the windows to seal them, this can be expensive and look bad. It can also reduce much needed light in the winter unless you use the shrink-wrap type of plastic seal. So a better and easier solution is to use rope caulk.
    • Press the rope caulk into all the joints where air is leaking.

    Doors

  • The easiest fix here is to check for weatherstripping on the side and bottoms of the doors. Install weatherstripping on any leaking doors.

Lastly, you’ll want to prepare your yard for winter too. Let’s take a look at what can be done for the grass, deck and outdoor amenities around the home.

Outdoor Landscape

  • Excellent information about getting your yard ready for winter can be found at your local Ace store.
  • Cover patio furniture.
  • If your deck needs it, consider giving it a fresh coat of sealer before winter.
  • Drain the gas from your lawn mower or just let the mower run until it is out of gas.
  • Drain any water fountains, unplug the pumps and prepare for winter.

Now if you use this handy checklist winter should not be a problem for you.

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.

Spring Cleaning

The arrival of spring brings forth the most solitary, hibernating creature. As birds begin feathering their nests, this lone critter prepares to sow its own seeds of plenty. Spring has sprung, and the gardener prepares for another year of bounty.

Spring Cleaning

Most people avoid spring cleaning, but to gardeners this is a very important chore. Winter leaves behind a collection of deceased plant foliage in the garden. This needs to be cleared away to hasten soil thaw.

Now is the time to check all garden structures. Doing the repairs now while the garden is still dormant is a good use of time. You will want to be sure that any supports are ready before the plants are.

Spring is an ideal time to prune any bushes and trees. The budding leaves make it easy to identify the dead and damaged branches. It also is a great time to shape hedges while they are still a manageable size.

If you prune branches that are more than two inches in circumference, you should apply a protective spray. This will help prevent bugs from infiltrating the tree and causing damage. Any major tree work is best left to a professional company.

Setting the Stage

Spring is also the time to prepare the soil. Blending compost into the soil will distribute nutrients throughout the garden. The topsoil needs to be well mixed if the plants are going to thrive.

Once the ground is ready, you can start putting in your plants. The first two weeks is a critical time for new plants; be sure to provide plenty of water. Install any support structures that plants will need. It is easier to train young and pliable plants now.

Tweet, Tweet, Buzz, Buzz

Most gardens would not be complete without the resident flyers. Like anything else, bird feeders need a little spring maintenance. Now is the time to clean out old seed and disinfect your feeders. Any damaged feeders should be repaired or replaced to prevent injury to your winged visitors.

If you are fortunate enough to have humming birds visit your garden, be sure to keep these feeders clean throughout the season. The nectar mix is very sticky and will collect dirt over time. Bees also love the stuff and sometimes will get stuck themselves.

The average person does not look forward to spring cleaning. Gardens do need a little tender loving care before they are ready to produce. Grab your work gloves, put on your grungy clothes and get into the garden.

Essential Tasks to Prepare for Spring Gardening

Ready, set, plan After the winter holiday season, most gardeners start itching to get back out in the yard and start their spring gardens. Unless you live in a mild climate though, chances are your garden is still under snow or too wet and cold to work. As a result, January and February are ideal months for planning, ordering seed, and starting plants indoors to be ready the instant they can jump into the growing season. Work back six weeks from the last frost date in your area to develop a timeline. The following list will help you get started before you set out a single plant. Do you want new beds? If so, lay out newspaper 5 or 6 sheets deep, then add several inches of compost over the top. This kills existing vegetation by smothering it. Four months later, you can dig it up to work the compost into the soil. No sod removal is necessary. (This is best done in December thru February.) Shop for seeds in December and January. Order early for best selection. If you snooze, you’ll lose. Assess soil. Buy a soil test kit or have soil tested. Most county extension services can test your garden soil or recommend labs if they don’t. Healthy soil is essential to a productive plant, so it pays to test especially if your results were unimpressive last year. Call to find out what you need to do and how long it will take, then plan accordingly. Check shrubs and woody plants. What needs pruning? For early spring bloomers like forsythia, prune promptly after flowering is complete. Fruit trees need to be pruned before they begin to blossom if you didn’t get to it while the trees were domant. If they blossom, it’s best to wait until winter rolls around again. (It’s okay to prune dead wood.) Do you have a lot of perennials? Do any of them need to be moved? Spring is the time to transplant divisions or move plants around. If you have friends who are gardeners, it’s a good time to arrange trades. Check your tools. Clean and sharpen blades on hand tools. Have mower serviced if you didn’t do it in the fall before you put them away. Budget for new tools or replacements now. While you’re at it, organize the garden shed. Clean, sterilize, and organize terracotta pots, planters, and starter trays. Sterilize using a bleach and water solution of 1 part bleach to ten parts water. Rinse thoroughly, then dry. (Remember to do this in the fall so you don’t have to do it when it’s still cold outside.) Clean and repair outdoor furniture. It may be too cold to paint unless you’ve got a basement or heated and ventilated work area, but at least they will be ready when the weather warms. If you haven’t broken the chemical habit, make sure you check any old chemicals you might have. Before you discard, check with your county or city waste management office for guidance on recycling or disposing of any hazardous chemicals. Provide or build gardening supports for peonies, tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash. Supporting flowers with heavy heads prevents breakage. Growing vegetables vertically saves space and prevents bugs and slugs from knoshing on your veggies. Sow seeds in starter trays according to package instructions and the last frost date for your area. Don’t get anxious and start working in the garden too early. The soil needs to be damp but not soggy or sticky. If you take a handful of soil and make a ball, it should fall apart easily when you open your hand. Also, setting out plants prematurely often results in discouraging losses. Planning and getting ready to go saves time and money you’ll want to spend on cool new plants and tools.

Prepare your Trees for Winter

Trees can be badly damaged during severe winter storms. Trees are biologically engineered to adjust to most of the things that “Mother Nature” dishes up. Sometimes, however, trees are not able to compensate for catastrophic events, and a failure occurs. By identifying problems and dealing with them before winter storms occur, some emergencies can be avoided.

Trees in the street area: If your tree is located within a street right of way, it is regulated by the City. Trees that have been planted by the City (typically those along arterial streets) are maintained by the City. Trees that have been planted by abutting property owners are the maintenance responsibility of the current abutting property owner.

Trees on private property: Large trees are an extremely valuable asset to both the individual property owner and the community. An investment in pruning or inspection can help prevent damage from wind, snow or ice, and help preserve those irreplaceable older trees that add so much to the character and heritage of your property.

Preventative Maintenance:  strategic pruning to prevent branch failure is a good idea for both the trees and the people who live around them. We know first hand that the time invested in preventative maintenance is well spent. Trees that are pruned regularly should be more resistant to storm damage as a result of the removal of structurally weak branches, decreased surface area of lateral branches and decreased wind resistance.

Trees that have their canopies covered with ivy or clematis may not be able to withstand the additional wind or snow load caused by the extra leaf area of the vines. Removal of invasive vines is important to the health of your trees.

Trees that have structural defects may incur storm damage from snow, ice or wind. Some defects to look for are:

Dead Wood – dead trees and large dead branches are unpredictable. Dead wood is brittle, and cannot bend in the wind like a living tree or branch. Branches that are already broken off and hanging in the tree should receive prompt attention.

Cracks – A crack is a deep split in the tree, which extends through the bark and into the wood of the tree. Cracks are indicators of potential branch or tree failure.

Decay – a “hollow” tree can be prone to failure, but presence of decay does not necessarily indicate that the tree is hazardous. Trees usually decay from the inside, forming a cavity. At the same time, new wood is added to the outside of the tree as it grows. If the outer shell is sound, the tree may be relatively safe. Evaluating the safety of a decaying tree is best left to a trained arborist.

Root Problems – Trees with damaged roots may blow over in wind storms. Have your tree checked if over half of the roots have been crushed or cut; if the tree is starting to lean and soil is “pushing up” around the base of the tree on the side opposite the lean; or, if decay is present in the buttress roots or base of the tree.

Poor Tree Composition – An example of this would be a tree with a weak branch attachment, a large branch that is out of proportion with the rest of the tree, or a tree that leans excessively. Not all leaning trees are hazardous, but if you’re concerned about the tree, it should be examined by a professional arborist. Weak branch attachments (typically, these are narrow “forks” in the tree) are also best evaluated by a professional arborist.

Prune your trees to remove dead or weakened limbs, starting when they are young. DON’T TOP TREES! Larger trees can benefit from having excess branches thinned from their crowns, which lets wind pass through. You should be able to see into your tree, but not through it!

Keep your trees healthy by caring for them all year long. Proper watering, mulching, fertilizing and pruning will help them be an asset to your property and the community for years to come.

Plant the right tree: When you are planting new trees, select the right tree for your location. To avoid damage from early snow and ice storms, don’t choose trees that retain their leaves late into the fall. Don’t plant too close to your house, and avoid species that are susceptible to breaking, such as Willows, Box Elders, Poplars, Bradford Pear and Silver Maples.

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