Lawn Care and Planting Tips for Your Yard

Watch this video for tips on improving your lawn, garden, and outdoor living, including:

Lawn Care: How to test the soil, fertilize, water, prevent weeds, and mow your lawn to improve the grass in your yard.

Planting Tips: How to plant, fertilize, and water shrubs and flowers in your yard to help them grow.

Refinish Outdoor Furniture: How to clean and finish outdoor furniture so it looks like new and is protected from the elements.

Composite Deck: How to replace a worn wood deck with DIY-friendly composite decking to enhance the outdoor living space in your yard.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re digging in to what it takes to maintain a great lawn, a great garden, and a great outdoor living space. Stay put, because we’re taking a close look around the yard.

This week we want to help you with some of the challenges you may be facing with your lawn and garden. And to kind of cut through all of that clutter of the opinions that you get all the time is my friend, Julie Day Jones, who’s a garden enthusiast.

And, Julie, I’ll tell you what, when you drive through a neighborhood like this you really envy those people that have those nice healthy lawns. What are they doing to get such a healthy lawn?

Julie Day Jones: Well, they’re working for it. They’re certainly working for it. But there are things you can do, whether you’re staring a brand new lawn or whether you’ve just bought a house that has an existing lawn that can get it into really good shape.

Danny Lipford: Okay, what are some of the things, the basic things, because my friend here just purchased this house just mowed it for the first time. What are some of the things that he can do to kind of wipe out all of those mistakes of the previous owner?

Julie Day Jones: Well, you kind of have to get a lay of the land. You have to do a little bit of planning. You need to figure out how much sun and shade you have, how much water you have. Whether your soil has good drainage, whether it’s sloped correctly. It’s really important to choose the right kind of grass that will meet all of those conditions and then you don’t have to do quite as much work.

Danny Lipford: Right, right. I guess maybe a soil test? You always hear about that? Doing different types of soil tests. Does that really make a difference?

Julie Day Jones: It really does. In fact, I did one here a little while earlier. You just choose several places in your yard. Dig up a little sample with a spoon, put it in a container. Shake in a capsule and some water and it will tell you your soil’s PH. It will also tell you the levels of the most important nutrients that are needed for your soil to have healthy grass.

Danny Lipford: Okay, and then you can just add something… How hard is that? To add something to the yard to get it to adjust that PH level.

Julie Day Jones: It’s actually really easy. In fact, the instructions with the kit told me exactly, based on my results, how much of what I needed to add.

Danny Lipford: Oh, okay. Well, great, great. Now what about things like… People ask me all the time about aeration? And I know some of my friends, they go out and, you know, three or four of them will get together one morning rent one of the big aeration machines and they have a ball for four or five hours and then take it back. What is that really doing?

Julie Day Jones: Well, that’s a great way to loosen up your soil. It also removes little core plugs that leave holes…

Danny Lipford: Yeah, it looks pretty bad there a day or two after that.

Julie Day Jones: It does look bad when you first start out. That’s something you want to do about once a year. And if you’re doing soil tests and you’re adding fertilizer or amendments to your soil, aeration is a good step in the process because it gets those things down deeper where the water can rinse them out and it can improve your entire area.

Danny Lipford: I got you. Okay, now what about watering? You know, different areas of the country may be a little more arid than others. How do you know if your grass and your plants are getting the right amount of water?

Julie Day Jones: Well, lawns usually need about an inch of water per week. So you could use a little rain gauge. Set it out there, see how much rainfall you got. If it’s a little low you can run the sprinkler and get it up to about an inch.

Danny Lipford: I got you. Okay, now, mowing. Like I said, my friend just moved in here, told me that he mowed the grass for the first time. What are some of the tricks there? Because all mowing is not the same. You see some guys out there every Saturday morning mowing, others maybe once a month. What’s the best way to go?

Julie Day Jones: Well, it’s really important not to cut too much of the grass at one time. You want to cut about a fourth of the grass blade every time you mow so it might be a little more often than you’d like to mow. You want to make sure your mower blades are sharp so that it makes a nice clean cut. And you want to figure out the right height of mowing for your type of grass. Some grasses like to be about four inches high, others more like two inches. And it’s really important that you know that so that you can mow it correctly.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I noticed some types of grass will grow a lot faster than others and so I think everybody wants that grass that doesn’t grow quite so fast.

Julie Day Jones: So you don’t have to mow it as often. That’s right.

Danny Lipford: Now, I’ll tell you my friend has some challenges here. He mowed everything and it looks pretty good, but there’s a heck of a lot more here than just grass.

Julie Day Jones: That’s right. You know, weeds are going to come into every lawn no matter how hard you work on it. So it’s something that you can’t really eliminate, but there are certainly things you can do to manage them. A healthy lawn is your best defense against weeds. So if you’ve taken all the steps that we talked about, hopefully, weeds won’t be too much of a problem, but they will still occur.

In small numbers, your best bet is to dig or pull them by hand making sure you get all the roots. For larger patches, you can carefully apply a broadleaf herbicide that will kill weeds without hurting your grass. If your lawn is completely infested with weeds chances are there’s a larger problem with your soil. And knowing what kind of weeds you have can actually kind of help you fix it. For instance, clover is usually a sign of low nitrogen in the soil. While dollar weed usually pops up when there’s poor drainage or too much irrigation. By addressing those problems not only will your lawn be healthier, but those weeds just might take care of themselves.

Danny Lipford: We’ve already shared a lot of information with you, a lot more to come. But first, must check in with Joe Truini for this week’s Simple Solution.

Joe Truini: When using a ratchet wrench, sometimes you need a little extra leverage to loosen extremely tight or rusted on nuts or bolts. That’s a situation I have here with this lawn tractor. Now, to gain that leverage, all you need is a length of metal conduit, this pipe that’s typically used for running electrical wiring.

Just slip it over the handle, and put the wrench on the nut. And what that does is extends the handle and provides a great amount of leverage for busting through even the most rusted, corroded nuts, bolts. And in this case because the handle is right up against the tire, which makes it very difficult to grab, the extra pipe. The extra leverage also works as a longer handle just so I can operate the tool more efficiently.

Now, this same idea can work for pipe wrenches, for loosening really rusted plumbing fittings. Of course you need a slightly longer, larger diameter pipe. And I’ve even used it for hammers, to slip a large pipe over the handle of the hammer for yanking out stubborn nails.

Danny Lipford: This time of the year homeowners are all about their yard. So we’re exploring all of the issues that go along with that. My friend, Julie Day Jones is a lawn and garden enthusiast who connects visitors to our website with the answers to their gardening questions. And today, she’s sharing with us some of her hands-on knowledge. We’ve already covered the basics of maintaining a great lawn. Now it’s time to take the mystery out of proper planting techniques. Boy, these will add a lot of color to this existing bed.

Julie Day Jones: It’s going to be gorgeous.

Danny Lipford: Well, now, I’ve planted a lot of plants before have no idea if I’ve done it right or not. But what are some of the common things that homeowners do wrong when they’re planting plants?

Julie Day Jones: Well, one of the main things people do wrong is they only amend the soil right around the plant. If you do that, your plant only has a very small area where it can grow. So you want to amend the whole area, till up that whole bed, put in some peat moss and some potting soil to give all of your plants a good start.

Danny Lipford: I see. Okay, now, when you’re selecting plants, sometimes you have roots coming out of the bottom of them, sometimes you don’t. Is that a sign of good plant or bad plant?

Julie Day Jones: Well, it doesn’t really matter. But if they are root bound, with roots growing out of the bottom, they’re under stress. So you want to plant them carefully. Loosen those roots just a little bit or take a sharp knife and slice them to be sure that they can grow out.

Danny Lipford: Well, now, what about packing these things in? I was by a job the other day and I saw guys out there just packing these plants in. I thought you wanted ’em to be kind of loose.

Julie Day Jones: Well, you want them to settle in nice and firm just like the surrounding soil. Another mistake that a lot of people make is planting things too deep or too shallow.

Danny Lipford: Hmm, I didn’t know about that.

Julie Day Jones: Yeah, it’s very important. Usually they want them to be at the same depth that they were in the pot that came from the store. So when you dig your hole you want to firm up that soil around it so it will settle down and keep them at a nice, right level.

Danny Lipford: Okay. And watering. I mean, you got to water ’em a lot when you first plant, right?

Julie Day Jones: You do. Especially for about the first month or so to make sure they get established. But they’re still… Especially flowering plants, they’re going to need a little extra water. So you might want to put in a drip irrigation system, a soaker hose, some way to get water right to the roots of the plants without spraying everywhere and evaporating off.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, the soaker hose. I always heard that’s probably the best way to go. And I saw one the other day that a homeowner had a little timer hooked up to an outside hose faucet. I thought that was just perfect.

Julie Day Jones: Yeah, that’s awesome. You can water without even having to remember.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, that’s a great idea. Now, mulch… I mean, mulch… This is pine straw we’ve been putting back over this after we plant these few plants. But there’s a lot of different kinds of mulch. Any mulch better than others? And what’s the real reason for the mulch other than it looks nice?

Julie Day Jones: Well, mulch holds in moisture and keeps the temperature steady. It really doesn’t matter what kind you use. You can use what works or looks prettiest in your yard. Whatever you like the best.

Danny Lipford: Okay. Container gardening. You know, a lot of people just don’t have a lot of space, but they love to have that little bit of color on the back deck or right by the front door or whatever. What do you think of that?

Julie Day Jones: I think it’s wonderful. Because you can control all the conditions and get just the right soil, just the right water, just the right light and you can grow things that might not grow in your yard. But you can put them out for the summer in your container. We just did a really pretty one with plants similar to these. And what I did is I started with adding a few packing peanuts to the bottom. You could use gravel, but that helps keep the dirt from washing out those holes in the bottom of the pot.

Danny Lipford: Oh! That’s a great way. I wondered what you should do with all that stuff left over from getting packages.

Julie Day Jones: It’s a great way to recycle them. You don’t need a lot. Another mistake some people make is they put a whole lot of that in their pot and not enough dirt. So you just want a thin layer. And then a lot of really good potting soil designed for containers. You don’t want to go out in your yard and dig up dirt. You want to go buy some good potting soil. Then make sure that you put in plenty of colorful plants. Most of the time we make containers to use just over the summer, so you want to pack ’em really full so it’ll be gorgeous all season.

Danny Lipford: And do you ever use mulch in a container garden?

Julie Day Jones: Sure, it’ll have the same benefits of holding in the moisture, but it also makes it look really pretty and finished. Something like this cypress mulch looks really nice in containers. Helps them just to finish them off.

Danny Lipford: Oh, it sounds good. But now that I know all of this I guess I’m going to have to help you plant the rest of these, huh?

Julie Day Jones: That’s right.

Danny Lipford: Hey, while we’re doing that why don’t you check out this week’s Best New Product.

Jodi Marks: You know, so often on these segments I show you products that help your lawn look green and lush all summer long. Well, what if you got areas where you don’t want the grass to grow and you certainly don’t want those weeds to grow?

Well, here’s a good product for you to keep in mind. This is by Bayer. This is their DuraZone. And what this does is this is a weed and grass killer. This is perfect for areas like your sidewalk or your driveway, where you have those pesky little weeds coming up. Or if you’ve got a play area with pea gravel down for your kids, you don’t want the weeds or the grass coming up through there.

So what you can do is just spray one application of this, it covers about 650 square feet. And with that one application not only will you kill the grass and the weeds, but it will prevent new grass and new weeds from growing up to six months. So you’re not having to go back out there throughout the summer and spray one application after the other. One application will do the trick and keep them at bay for about six months. So if you’re in the market for this, this is a good product to keep on hand.

Danny Lipford: This week we’ve been shedding some light on what it takes to maintain and protect your lawn and gardens. And for many, structures and other yard accents made of wood are a big part of those areas. So protecting them is also important. Julie, you know, I like anything out in the yard made of wood. It just seems to improve the look of the outside.

Julie Day Jones: Yeah, things like fences, trellises, arbors, Adirondack chairs, even this old bench can be recycled.

Danny Lipford: Even my old bench we’re trying to save. Actually this thing looked pretty bad a few days ago. But we used a special brightener and cleaner to not only clean the surface of the wood, but to open the pores a little bit so that we can now apply a two-tone kind of a finish to it with a semi-transparent stain.

So now that it’s clean she’s doing a little taping off. We can change the look of these pieces of furniture real quickly. After a little masking we can start applying the lighter color stain to the bottom half of both pieces. The stain warms up the wood and seals the pores without concealing the grain. So the beauty of the wood shows right through. This bench and chair will be safe from the elements for years to come.

But left unprotected, exterior wood eventually will have to be replaced. And that’s especially true for permanent structures like decks, because they are subject to a lot of damage from the weather. Homeowner Jeff Kahn has a beautiful backyard, but the deck, well, it’s looking a little worse for the wear. So Allen is helping him find a solution.

Allen Lyle: Jeff, the deck’s not in horrendous shape. What are your concerns here?

Jeff Kahn: Well, there’s a lot of maintenance that goes on with this. First of all, I’ve got to Clorox it every year.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Jeff Kahn: And then re-stain it. It’s starting to peel and turn and curl and split. The nails are popping. It’s becoming more of a maintenance issue than anything else.

Allen Lyle: How old is the deck?

Jeff Kahn: The deck’s about 10 years old.

Allen Lyle: Well, you’ve gotten some life out of it. And you’re right, I see some areas… It looks like you’re getting a lot of water right here, too.

Jeff Kahn: I am. And it’s going to stain permanently. So I’m going to have to replace that sooner or later anyway.

Allen Lyle: Okay, so it sounds like what you’re looking for is a composite. Typically, you don’t find that as a DIY job, but I think I have an answer for us. Now, what it will involve is this. Some hard labor. You and me. How about it? I’ve got some safety glasses, some pry bars. We just need a little bit of elbow grease, if that’s okay with you.

Jeff Kahn: That’s great.

Allen Lyle: All right. Well, let’s hit it.

Jeff Kahn: Okay.

Danny Lipford: After Allen and Jeff remove the patio furniture and other items from the deck…

Jeff Kahn: There’s a man with a strong back.

Danny Lipford: They begin the demolition by removing the wooden hand rails which are almost as worn as the decking.

Jeff Kahn: How about that?

Danny Lipford: The deck board themselves require a little more effort, because they’re so many nails holding them in place. As these boards come up it’s important to be sure that the structure beneath them is very sturdy because the beautiful composite skin won’t matter if the framing isn’t sound. The composite material they’re using is called Trex Enhance, and it’s designed specifically for DIYers. Jeff picked it out from The Home Depot, and they delivered it to his house. So now all he has to do is put it in place.

Enhance doesn’t require any special tools because it cuts just like wood; but it won’t warp, crack, or split like wood. Composites are made from a blend of wood fiber and plastic polymers, and this one comes from 95% recycled content, so it’s a responsible use of our resources. It also has a protective shell that resists fading, staining and mold, so it’ll look good for a long time without a lot of work.

Rather than driving nails or screws through the face of each board, these clips are tucked into the groove on the side of each board and screwed down to the joist. Then the groove of the next board slides over the other side of the clip. So both boards are held securely in place, and there are no fasteners visible on the surface of the deck.

Once they wrap up the deck boards, they can begin installing the new railings to the existing posts which have been painted to match up. This railing system, called Transcend, is also from Trex, so it has the same weather-resistant characteristics as the deck boards. For Jeff that means that maintenance chores in the years ahead will be cut drastically.

Allen Lyle: All right, snap it down. I got to tell you, Jeff, I love this handrail system you picked out.

Jeff Kahn: Yeah, it’s clean. It’s fresh. There’s no maintenance. I love the blend of the color. The white offset with the white windows. It just fits.

Allen Lyle: It really does. Now, the deck, I don’t mind saying this. It’s a little braggadocious, but I think we did a good job.

Jeff Kahn: I do, too.

Allen Lyle: It looks great. I mean, look at this. Yeah, you said it was a really solid feeling.

Jeff Kahn: Yeah, it is. It’s flat.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Jeff Kahn: It feels like a foundation.

Allen Lyle: Right.

Jeff Kahn: I feel like we can actually play basketball out here and not have any trampoline effect.

Allen Lyle: Put a hoop up. We’ll do it. Now, if you’re doing this yourself like Jeff and I did, here’s a couple of tips for you. On exposed boards like this, you want to use the solid ones that don’t have the groove. The groove, of course, in between it’s okay. We needed that for the system here. But outside boards here, even on the steps outside, it’s good to use those solid boards. Now, I think we addressed the concerns you had. We’ve got a deck that’s got a 20-year limited stain and fade resistant warranty on it. Twenty-five on the handrail system. I got to tell you though on this stain resistant, you know, you just wash it off. But if you’re dropping hamburgers or steaks from the grill you got no sympathy from me, none.

Jeff Kahn: I understand.

Allen Lyle: Don’t do that, man. All right. So we’ve got a little bit more work to do. We’ve got a little bit. Of course the down rails are going to be a little bit of a challenge. I love the design you came up. Your caps, we’re going to put down here. Just a little bit of a bevel cut on that PVC blend. We catch this and we’re done. What do you think? All right.

Jeff Kahn: Let’s get out of here.

Leah asks: What advise can you give me for choosing gutters for my home?

Danny Lipford: Gutters are available in several different types of materials. And the most common, vinyl and aluminum, is readily available at the home center. But they only come in 10-foot lengths, and that means a lot more seams. There’s also steel guttering and probably the most expensive, copper. And your choice will depend on the type of house that you have and of course the budget. Me, I prefer this, which is a professionally-installed, seamless aluminum gutter because you can make a piece of guttering just about as long as you would need.

And this is a key thing, is the width of the guttering. It can be three-inch, four-inch or five-inch. I prefer it to go up to a six-inch so that it can handle any type of rain that you may get. And it’s real important that your downspouts, when they’re installed, that it’s kicking that water away from your foundation. But no matter what kind of guttering you choose, you still got to keep them clean.

Danny Lipford: The great outdoors is often overlooked as part of our homes. The lawn, gardens and outdoor living area may not have walls or ceilings, but they are a very important part of our lives. Whether your challenge is conquering the weeds to develop a lawn the PGA would be jealous of, adding a little color to a garden bed or maybe you just want to create a low-maintenance spot so that you can enjoy all of it, I hope this week we’ve shared something you can use. Julie, I would have never thought that this old, ugly bench would look this good.

Julie Day Jones: Boy, it sure dressed it up. And this chair’s going to feel really good later.

Danny Lipford: You might want to wait and let that dry a little bit before you start relaxing there.

Julie Day Jones: That’s right. We have lot of articles and videos covering all sorts of topics. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for send us an e-mail. We’ll post an answer for you.

Danny Lipford: Hey, thanks a lot for being with us. Julie, thanks a lot for helping me out on this special show. And we hope we see you again next week. Let’s get some lemonade.


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