Posted on: September 22, 2016
Tips for a barefoot-worthy lawn that’ll ensure your home has uber curb appeal.
Ahhhh, that sensation of stepping onto a freshly mowed lawn sans footwear. There’s nothing like it.
Here’s how to ensure that grassy feeling from spring to fall.
Like so many maintenance jobs, everything goes smoother — and you’ll get better results — with proper preparation. Early spring is the time to get ready for lawn-growing and mowing season.
Sharpen mower blades to ensure clean cuts. A dull blade tears the grass, leaving jagged edges that discolor the lawn and invite pathogens.
Sharpen mower blades once each month during grass-cutting season. Have a backup blade (about $20) so that a sharp one is always on hand.
Tune up your mower with a new sparkplug ($3 to $5) and air filter ($5 to $10). Your mower might not need a new sparkplug every season, but changing it is a simple job, and doing it every year ensures you won’t forget the last time you replaced your sparkplug.
Buy fresh gas. Gas that’s been left to sit over the winter can accumulate moisture that harms small engines. This is especially true for fuel containing ethanol, so use regular grades of gasoline.
If you need to dump old gasoline, ask your city or county for local disposal sites that take old fuel.
Clean up your lawn. Time to get out the leaf rakes and remove any twigs and leaves that have accumulated over the winter. A thick layer of wet leaves can smother a lawn if not immediately removed in early spring. Cleaning up old debris clears the way for applying fertilizer and herbicides.
Depending on your weather, your grass will now start growing in earnest, so be ready for the first cutting. Don’t mow when the grass is wet — you could spread diseases, and wet clippings clog up lawn mowers.
Fertilizing: Both spring and fall are good times to fertilize your lawn. In the northern third of the country, where winters are cold, fertilize in fall — cool weather grasses go dormant over winter and store energy in their roots for use in the spring.
For the rest of the country, apply fertilizer just as your grass begins its most active growth. For best results, closely follow the application directions on the product. You’ll spend about $50 to $75 per application for an average 1/4-acre lot.
Aeration: Aerating punches small holes in your lawn so water, fertilizers, and oxygen reach grass roots. Pick a day when the soil is damp but not soaked so the aeration machine can work efficiently.
Pre-emergent herbicides: Now is the time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent crabgrass and other weeds from taking root in your lawn. A soil thermometer is a handy helper; you can pick one up for $10 to $20. When you soil temperature reaches 58 degrees — the temperature at which crabgrass begins to germinate — it’s time to apply the herbicide.
Watch out for grubs: Warm weather means that grub worms, the larvae stage of June, Japanese, and other beetles, start feeding on the tender root systems of lawns. Affected lawns show browning and wilting patches.
To be certain that the culprits are grubs, pull back the sod and look for white, C-shaped grubs. If you see more than 10 per square foot, your lawn should be treated with a chemical pesticide.
Milky spore is an environmentally friendly way to control some species of grubs. When using insecticides, read and follow all label directions, and water the product into the soil immediately. Cost is around $50 to $75 per application.
Grass-cutting tip: Your grass is starting to grow fast, and you might even be cutting more than once a week to keep up. To keep grass healthy, mow often enough so you’re removing no more than 1/3 of the grass blade.
Pesky weeds: Weeds that have escaped an herbicide application should be removed with a garden fork. Use a post-emergent herbicide only if you think the situation is getting out of hand.
Check out our guide to some common types of weeds and tips on how to get rid of them.
Here’s a good mantra to guide you through the heart of grass-mowing season: The taller the grass, the deeper the roots, the fewer the weeds, and the more moisture the soil holds between watering.
With that in mind, here’s how to ensure a healthy, green lawn:
- Set your mower blade height to 3 inches.
- Deep and infrequent watering is better for lawns than frequent sprinkles, which promote shallow root growth. In general, lawns need about 1 inch of water per week.
Lawns that receive less than that will likely go dormant. That’s okay, the grass is still alive, but dormant lawns should still receive at least 1 inch of water per month. Your grass will green up again when the weather brings regular rains.
- To check sprinkler output, scatter some pie tins around the yard to see how much water collects in a specific amount of time. Having a rain gauge ($5 to $20) will help you keep track of how much water the lawn receives naturally.
- At least once each month, clean underneath your mower to prevent spreading lawn diseases.
- Although it’s OK to leave grass clippings on the lawn where they can decompose and nourish the soil, remove large clumps. Regularly rake up any leaves, twigs, and debris.
If your grass seems to be stressed out, check out our advice on what to do if your lawn is turning brown.
The best time to patch bare or thin spots is when the hot, dry days of summer have given way to cooler temps. Follow these simple steps:
- Remove any dead grass.
- Break up the soil with a garden trowel.
- Add an inch of compost and work it into the soil.
- Add grass seed that’s designed for shade or full sun, depending. Spread the seed evenly across the bare patch.
- Use a hard-tooth rake to work the seed into the soil to a depth of about half an inch.
- Sprinkle grass clippings over the patch to help prevent the soil from drying out.
- Water the area; you’ll want to keep the patch moist, so lightly water once a day until the seed germinates and the new grass gets about one inch tall.
Your main job in fall is to keep your lawn free of leaves and other debris. You can use a mulching mower to break up leaves and add the organic matter to your soil, but be sure to clean up any clumps so they don’t kill the grass.
In the northern one-third of the country, now is the time to fertilize your lawn. Your grass will store the nutrients in its roots as it goes dormant over the winter, and your lawn will be ready for a jump start when spring warms the ground.
This is also the time to clean up your garden.
Posted on: September 12, 2016
Don’t suffer the ugly anymore. Here’s how to give your garden a fall makeover.
Your poor, sad garden. The spent vines, stubborn weeds, and greens gone to seed are putting a pitiful spin on your backyard retreat.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some simple tips to tidy up your garden and yard, which will also help prep them for next year.
Bury the Dead
Nothing looks sadder than leggy tomato vines, yellow zucchini leaves, and dried-up perennials that long ago displayed their last bloom. So pull and prune the dead or dying plants in your garden.
Bury spent plants in your compost pile; double-bag diseased and infested plants and place in the trash. (Empty mulch bags are great final resting places for these plants, so be sure to stockpile them in spring.)
If your tomato vines are still bearing fruit, keep staking and pruning them until the first hard frost, when they’ll likely die. And give the birds a break and leave some seed-bearing but spent blooms for them. They love sunflowers, cone flowers, berries, and black-eyed Susans.
This is the last time this season to pull weeds. Pluck them before they flower and send seeds throughout your garden that will rest in winter and sprout in spring.
If you have a mulcher, chop the weeds and throw them on your compost pile. If you want to be extra sure that weed seeds are dead, bag weeds in black plastic and place in a sunny place for a couple of months. The heat will kill the seeds. Then throw the cooked weeds on your compost pile.
One way to cut garden expenses is to harvest and store seeds. One large sunflower, for instance, can provide seeds for hundreds of plants next spring. Here are some seed guidelines.
- Harvest seeds from heirloom vegetables and standard plants.
- Disease can spread through seeds, so only harvest seeds from your healthiest plants.
- Don’t harvest seeds from hybrid plants, which often are sterile or will look nothing like the parent plant.
- Only harvest mature seeds from dry and faded blooms and pods. Mature seeds are often cream colored or brown.
- After seeds are dry, store them in envelopes or glass jars in a cool, dry place.
Stack and cover metal tomato cages. Bundle wooden or bamboo stakes, and store in a dry place so they don’t rot over winter. And retrieve panty-hose vine ties that you can re-use next spring.
Instead of throwing out broken cages and stakes, repurpose them. Snip off remaining cage legs to use for pepper supports. Broken tomato steaks will support smaller plants if you whittle one end into a point, so it easily slips into the ground.
Posted on: September 2, 2016
Can’t afford an entire kitchen remodel in one fell swoop? You can complete the work in 5 budget-saving stages (and still cook dinner during the down time).
Major kitchen remodels are among the most popular home improvements, but a revamped cooking and gathering space can set you back a pretty penny. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, a complete renovation of a 210-square-foot kitchen has a national median cost of $60,000, and you’ll recover 67% of that cost come selling time.
Despite the big price tag, you’ll be glad you upgraded. In fact, homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their kitchen redo a Joy Score of 9.8 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.
If you can’t afford the entire remodel all at once, complete the work in these five budget-saving stages.
Stage One: Start with a Complete Design Plan
Your plan should be comprehensive and detailed — everything from the location of the refrigerator to which direction the cabinet doors will open to whether you need a spice drawer.
To save time (and money) during tear-out and construction, plan on using your existing walls and kitchen configuration. That’ll keep plumbing and electrical systems mostly intact, and you won’t have the added expense — and mess — of tearing out walls.
Joseph Feinberg, vice president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recommends hiring a professional designer, such as an architect or a certified kitchen designer, who can make sure the details of your plans are complete. You’ll pay about 10% of the total project for a pro designer, but you’ll save a whole bunch of headaches that would likely cost as much — or more — to fix. Plus, a pro is likely to offer smart solutions you hadn’t thought of.
For a nominal fee, you also can get design help from a major home improvement store. However, you’ll be expected to purchase some of your cabinets and appliances from that store.
- Cost: professional designer: $5,800 (10% of total)
- Key strategies: Once your plans are set, you can hold onto them until you’re ready to remodel.
- Time frame: 3 to 6 months
Stage Two: Order the Cabinets, Appliances, and Lighting Fixtures
Cabinets and appliances are the biggest investments in your kitchen remodeling project. If you’re remodeling in stages, you can order them any time after the plans are complete and store them in a garage (away from moisture) or in a spare room until you’re ready to pull the trigger on the installation.
Remember that it may take four to six weeks from the day you order them for your cabinets to be delivered.
If you can’t afford all new appliances, keep your old ones for now — but plan to buy either the same sizes, or choose larger sizes and design your cabinets around those larger measurements. You can replace appliances as budget permits later on.
The same goes for your lighting fixtures: If you can live with your old ones for now, you’ll save money by reusing them.
You’ll have to decide about flooring, too — one of the trickier decisions to make because it also affects how and when you install cabinets.
You’ll need to know if your old flooring runs underneath your cabinets, or if the flooring butts up against the cabinet sides and toe kicks. If the flooring runs underneath, you’ll have some leeway for new cabinet configurations — just be sure the old flooring will cover any newly exposed floor areas. Here are points to remember:
- Keep old flooring for cost savings. This works if your new cabinets match your old layout, so that the new cabinets fit exactly into the old flooring configuration. If the existing flooring runs underneath your cabinets and covers all flooring area, then any new cabinet configuration will be fine.
- Keep your old flooring for now and cover it or replace it later. Again, this works if your cabinet configuration is identical to the old layout.
However, if you plan to cover your old flooring or tear it out and replace it at some point in the future, remember that your new flooring might raise the height of your floor, effectively lowering your cabinet height.
For thin new floor coverings, such as vinyl and linoleum, the change is imperceptible. For thicker floorings, such as wood and tile, you might want to take into account the change in floor height by installing your new cabinets on shims.
- Cost: cabinets: $16,000 (27% of total); appliances and lighting fixtures: $8,500 (15% of total); vinyl flooring: $1,000 (2% of total)
- Key strategy: Keep old appliances, lighting fixtures, and flooring and use them until you can afford new ones.
- Time frame: 2 to 3 weeks
Stage Three: Gut the Kitchen and Do the Electrical and Plumbing Work
Here’s where the remodel gets messy. Old cabinetry and appliances are removed, and walls may have to be opened up for new electrical circuits. Keep in close contact with your contractor during this stage so you can answer questions and clear up any problems quickly. A major kitchen remodel can take six to 10 weeks, depending on how extensive the project is.
During this stage, haul your refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven to another room — near the laundry or the garage, for example — so you’ve got the means to cook meals. Feinberg suggests tackling this stage in the summer, when you can easily grill and eat outside. That’ll reduce the temptation to eat at restaurants, and will help keep your day-to-day costs under control.
- Cost: $14,500 for tear-out and installation of new plumbing and electrical (25% of total)
- Key strategies: Encourage your contractor to expedite the tear-out and installation of new systems. Plan a makeshift kitchen while the work is progressing. Schedule this work for summer when you can grill and eat outside.
- Time frame: 6 to 10 weeks
Stage Four: Install Cabinets, Countertops, Appliances, Flooring, and Fixtures
If you’ve done your homework and bought key components in advance, you should roll through this phase. You’ve now got a (mostly) finished kitchen.
A high-end countertop and backsplash can be a sizable sum of money. If you can’t quite swing it, put down a temporary top, such as painted marine plywood or inexpensive laminate. Later, you can upgrade to granite, tile, solid surface, or marble.
- Cost: $12,000 (21% of total)
- Key strategy: Install an inexpensive countertop; upgrade when you’re able.
- Time frame: 1 to 2 weeks
Final Phases: Upgrade if Necessary
Replace the inexpensive countertop, pull up the laminate flooring, and put in tile or hardwood, or buy that new refrigerator you wanted but couldn’t afford during the remodel. (Just make sure it fits in the space!)