Lawn and Garden

Transform your home in a weekend with these DIY projects

7/11/2017

(BPT) - Summertime isn’t just for vacations or weekends at the cabin. Summer weekends — with longer days — are ideal opportunities for quick and inexpensive DIY projects that make a big statement around the home.

The average American homeowner spent nearly $3,000 on home improvements in 2015, according to a Statista report. The following list of affordable projects can be achieved for a fraction of that cost.

Create wood accents

Use flooring to make headboards and accent walls. Retailers like Lumber Liquidators offer a variety of styles of flooring such as laminates, engineered, vinyl, click ceramic plank and more, and these flooring materials can easily be incorporated into many accent features. The flooring material can be affixed to walls and other surfaces with a special acrylic flooring tape. Flooring comes in a variety of styles, which can also be cut into striking patterns like chevron or herringbone.

Install butcher block countertops

Butcher block is a warm and rustic countertop style that’s affordable and increasingly popular. Made from strips of wood bonded together, it can be sliced and chopped on directly — a great option for the minimalist homeowner. Installation is DIY-friendly, making butcher block an ideal weekend project with a good step-by-step tutorial in hand.

Build a trellis

Building a garden trellis is a great way to draw more attention to what your green thumb has created. Dedicate Friday to sizing the trellis and cutting and framing the pieces, Saturday to building the panels and assembling and Sunday for digging the holes and setting the trellis into place. Tailor to what’s best for your backyard by building out of wood, bamboo or PVC pipe.

Repurposed planters

When gardening outside isn’t an option, bring the garden inside by making unique planter boxes. A DIY planter box is typically more affordable than store-bought, and the design possibilities are endless. Reuse vessels like shipping crates, Mason jars and tin boxes. Personalize them with colors and patterns to match your interior and inject personality and life into your space.

Add crown molding

Crown molding adds distinguished curves and angles to a ceiling, instantly elevating a room to a polished and sophisticated look. DIY crown molding does require attention to detail when measuring and marking the wall and cutting pieces, so measure twice to cut once.

These are just a few of the weekend-ready projects homeowners can knock out this summer to bring new life to spaces indoors and out. A weekend DIY project is a minimal time investment that not only creates a sense of accomplishment, but adds value to your home.



Your backyard canvas: 3 ways to create an outdoor living area as unique as you are

7/19/2017

(BPT) - It’s amazing to contemplate that all the famous paintings in history — from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to van Gogh’s Starry Night — are essentially formed from three primary colors. Artists skillfully combine red, yellow and blue to formulate an infinite range of colors to bring their paintings to life.

Likewise, when creating your own outdoor living space, you can combine three basic elements — decking, railing and lighting — in nearly endless ways to "paint" a personal masterpiece of fun and relaxation.

1. Get decked out with modern decking

For decades, backyard decks mainly have been rectangles. This is largely because of the rectangular shape of traditional wood deck boards. With the advent of modern materials, it is now easier to fashion decks of virtually any shape — from curved sections following the contours of a sloping yard to round decks. Or, let your imagination run wild and create a specialty shaped deck of something you love, like a giant guitar or stacked leaves.

“Today’s decking options offer exceptional design flexibility,” says Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of MoistureShield Decking. “Composites in particular are more easily bent into creative shapes than wood decking, and can be ripped and routed to form virtually any design you can think of.” DIYers and deck builders can even install moisture-resistant boards such as MoistureShield Vantage or Infuse decking on the ground, in the ground or under water for more design possibilities, notes Gwatney.

2. Rail against the ordinary

Many decks are required by law to have safety railings. But, with some creativity, the railing can enhance your deck’s look even as it prevents falls. With the variety of products now available, the railing can be a visual complement to your home and deck. For example, if you have a cabin, you could install hewn timber posts and railings for a rustic appeal. For a waterfront home, a nautical-themed railing system of posts and ropes could do the trick. Or, if you have a modern home and prefer simple visual lines, cable-and-wire railings or glass panels could be your style.

For a distinctive look for your deck, consider mixing colors and materials, like combining white aluminum railing and balusters with rich brown composite posts to create a dramatic look. Or, to add a sophisticated mix of texture and color, you can install on the top of a black or white railing a composite board that complements the decking color.

3. Light up the night

A third element to add to your outdoor living design palette is deck lighting. With the right lighting, you can extend your hours outside and keep your deck as charming in the nighttime as it is during the day.

From subtle post lights that cast a magical evening glow to understated recessed lights and rail strip lights that help guide guests’ steps, today’s deck lighting choices are both functional and affordable. And, with the emergence of energy-efficient LEDs, you can use them liberally with little effect on your monthly electricity bill. Some decking manufacturers like MoistureShield offer deck lights specifically designed to integrate with their decking and railing.



5 ways to keep your cottage comfortable this summer

7/12/2017

(BPT) - Although it’s officially summer, the fluctuations in temperatures, sporadic downpours and tornado-inciting weather would make you think otherwise. While many of us take the opportunity to hit the beach, lake or ranch during the summer for some rest and relaxation, cottage home improvements are often the furthest thing from our mind.

More often than not, cottages aren’t built to last as long as homes, because they are used only for a short time of the year. Yet, with newly changing weather patterns and humidity affecting the structure of a cottage home, homeowners can seek ways to keep their cottages comfortable well after summer has ended and the crowds of day-trippers have left.

Extending the usability of your summer home can also increase its market value, should you ever decide to sell. If you’re unfamiliar with how exactly to go about improving your summer home’s comfort, here are five quick tips to get you started:

* Plant shade-giving trees and shrubs to reduce how much heat your cottage absorbs from direct sunlight. Not only will these plants add ambiance and character, but they will help contribute to keeping the cottage cooler.

* Consider upgrading your cottage’s small and large appliances to ENERGY STAR-rated appliances that can run on very low energy during the low season.

* Consider having an independent contractor perform a home energy audit, to determine where your home could improve its energy efficiency. This is obviously the most straightforward approach, and the one that will give you the most tangible objectives to aim for moving forward.

* Take advantage of local tax incentives to upgrade your cottage to be more energy efficient.

* Replace your home’s existing insulation with a high-performance spray foam insulation like Icynene, which can help to reduce air leakage, thereby reducing the amount of work your HVAC unit has to do to keep your home heated or cooled.

Air leakage forces your air conditioner unit to work overtime to cool the warm air that enters your home through leaks, increasing energy usage and increasing your utility bill at the end of the month.

Spray foam insulation is a wise investment for cottage owners who want to make energy-efficient improvements and extend the livability of the cottage beyond just summer. Able to perform in all climates, spray foam insulation allows homeowners to adjust air conditioning use throughout summer and their furnaces during winter. This modern insulation material helps effectively control a cottage’s indoor environment, letting you and your family stay cool all summer long while also helping to minimize the entry of pollen and allergens that enter the space, making it ideal for allergy sufferers.

An energy-efficient and modern investment, spray foam insulation expands rapidly to completely seal a cottage’s walls, floors and ceilings to prevent air leakage. Experts note that insulation can noticeably reduce monthly cooling and heating costs due to its ability to seal the home, a great bonus when considering that cottages and summer homes are typically only used for a limited period of time. More information on how spray foam insulation can help homeowners minimize air leakage and transform their city home or their summer home into an energy-efficient one is available online at www.icynene.com.



5 affordable weekend DIY projects that completely recreate your home

6/30/2017

(BPT) - The cold months of winter have a batten-down-the-hatches feel to them, don't they? Fortunately, they're over. Now that summer is here, you want to spread out, bask in the beautiful weather and finally tackle those home improvement projects you were eyeing during those colder months.

Now is the perfect time to make a big impact on your home, and you can do so without spending a lot. Below are five do-it-yourself projects you can tackle in a single weekend, and each will still leave you enough money in your budget to enjoy everything else summer has to offer.

* Freshen up your landscaping. Your home’s outdoor appearance gets a pass during the winter, but in the summer the exterior of the house is all about curb appeal. That makes improving your landscaping a great place to start your summer projects, plus the work you do can be completely customizable to your budget. If you have some extra money, plant a tree or a bush. If your budget is tighter, opt for potted flowers. Even an activity like trimming around your trees and bushes or pulling weeds can have a big impact on the look of your home and it costs you nothing.

* An accent wall that truly accents. You’ve seen hundreds of DIY tips suggesting you add an accent wall to your home with a fresh coat of paint. However, to add an accent wall that goes above and beyond, replace the paint project with Charred Wood Shiplap from UFP-Edge instead. This wood, burnt through an ancient Japanese technique to highlight its beauty and character, then sealed with a satin finish, offers the perfect contrast to any room for an accent you'll relish every time you see it.

* Update your bathroom on your terms. A full bathroom remodel is hardly DIY, and you’re certainly not finishing it in one weekend. However, that doesn’t mean this room is completely off-limits when it comes to improvements. Instead, pick the project that matches your needs and your budget. Large-scale improvements could include replacing your outdated sink or toilet. You could go smaller and simply replace the hardware on the sink. This is also a great time to look at the smaller aspects of your bathroom and see if you want to replace your medicine chest, your towel rack or the handles on your cabinets.

* The perfect wrap for your kitchen or bar. The kitchen is a focal point in any home, so improvements made here tend to stand out. If you’re looking to improve your kitchen with an incredibly popular country look, you can add your island to the motif with a rustic wrap. UFP-Edge Rustic Collection is new lumber that has been distressed to provide that worn country charm. Rustic wood is available in shiplap siding and trim boards that allow you to create a wood project that supports your style in any size and any location. Start with a wrap for your kitchen or bar and see where your creativity takes you.

* Rethink your window treatments. Like your bathroom, a full-scale replacement of your window treatments can be pretty expensive. However, like your bathroom, you also have plenty of freedom to pick and choose your options here as well. If a favorite room feels too dark, replace the existing curtains with something light and airy. If you want the room to feel darker, install room-darkening shades. Spend your money and your time on the rooms that matter most to you and you won’t be disappointed.

These warm-weather months are the perfect time to make your home everything you want it to be, so invest your time in a little DIY. You, your home and your budget will all be better for it. To learn more about these accent wall materials available from UFP-Edge, visit UFP-Edge.com.



Cypress siding: It's what the pros choose

6/28/2017

(BPT) - If current design trends are any indication, wood siding is back. Design professionals are recommending one species in particular: cypress. What’s behind this revival of cypress siding?

“Good looks, dependable performance and affordability,” says Stephen Logue of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, www.CypressInfo.org. “Cypress has a unique appearance with its honey-like hues and intriguing grain pattern. Its ability to withstand the elements and nature has long made it a favorite siding material in areas of the country that experience constant heat, high humidity and torrential rains. Additionally, cypress is a competitively priced material. We see it being requested more and more.”

Architects side with cypress: Take it from the pros

Atlanta-based architect Daniel Martin says he recommends cypress to clients based on his firsthand experience with the unique wood.

“The performance is great,” Martin says. “I’ve had cypress siding on my own home for more than 20 years, and I’ve only had to repaint it once in that time. One of the main reasons I recommend cypress is because it’s resistant to decay, as well as insects like termites and bees. Carpenter bees love some other species of wood, such as cedar. They’ll bore in and lay their eggs, and then woodpeckers come along and gouge out grooves to get to the eggs, destroying the wood. That’s not an issue with cypress.”

As Martin has learned, cypress comes by its durability naturally, thanks to an oil that is produced while the tree is growing. The oil acts as a preservative, meaning cypress wood doesn’t need to be pressure treated with chemicals like some other wood siding options.

David and Laurel Mullikin, a husband-and-wife design/build duo in Atlanta, say they use cypress regularly in outdoor applications.

“We’ve designed some of our best projects with cypress,” Laurel says. “It’s one of our favorite species of wood to use. In fact, we’re currently designing our own new home. We are incorporating cypress as the ceilings for our porches, adding a lot of aesthetic warmth to a part of the house many people overlook. And we’re using cypress siding and finishing it with the Shou Sugi Ban method, which involves charring the surface of the wood and then sanding and sealing it. The process not only provides a unique look to an already beautiful wood, but also enhances its natural durability."

For the best performance

As with any wood siding, cypress will require a little TLC every now and then to look and perform best. With properly applied finishes and regular maintenance, cypress siding will last a lifetime or longer.

Whether installing new cypress siding or refreshing existing wood, the first step is to make sure its surface is clean so that it can better absorb the desired finish. Wash the wood with a mild bleach-and-water solution, using a pressure washer on a low setting. Let the solution soak for 15 minutes before thoroughly rinsing. Then, allow the wood to dry for about a week. This also is a good time to repair any nail holes and surface irregularities.

Homeowners who prefer cypress’ natural color can preserve the look by applying a clear, water-repellant sealer to all sides and edges of siding boards. It’s also suggested to look for products with a UV inhibitor to block out the sun’s fading rays. Sealers should be reapplied every few years to rejuvenate and protect the wood. If left untreated, over time, cypress will weather to a dark gray.

To bring out the richness of cypress’ grain, semi-transparent, oil-based stains work best. These stains will penetrate the wood, prevent water problems and allow the wood to breathe. Stains typically need to be reapplied every two years.

If you like the clean look of a solid finish, paint it. For best results, apply a 100 percent acrylic latex paint with a compatible primer. It’s also recommended to back prime the boards to avoid any potential moisture issues.

No matter your chosen finish, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. For more information on cypress, or to get inspired for your next home or renovation project, visit www.CypressInfo.org.



Simple steps to create the perfect outdoor oasis

6/2/2017

(BPT) - Summer is home to many of the year’s most beautiful days, so who can blame you for wanting to spend them all outside? Your yard becomes your living room and your patio the kitchen. It’s your home away from home, which begs the question — do you like your current digs?

If your home's outdoor space lacks the comfort and appeal you are longing for, don’t worry. Now is the perfect time to transform your backyard into the perfect outdoor oasis you can enjoy all summer long.

To get started upgrading your backyard without breaking the bank — follow these tips from the experts at Lowe’s.

* A place to gather. Think of the parties you’ve hosted in your home. They've likely all had a common gathering place such as the kitchen counter, the living room couch or the dining room table. Your outdoor space needs a similar location and a dining set naturally invites guests to relax. Five-piece dining sets from Lowe's are perfect for more intimate gatherings, while seven-piece sets comfortably accommodate larger crowds.

* The focal point of your kitchen. Grilling out is a staple of any summer party, so if your existing grill isn’t hitting all cylinders, it’s time for an upgrade. The Master Forge 5-Burner Modular Gas Grill features four heavy-duty burners, one infrared searing burner and one infrared rotisserie burner, giving you a solution for any menu choice. Plus, its built-in halogen lights can keep your party going long into the night.

* A place to relax. The sofas and armchairs in your living room are popular sitting destinations during any indoor event, and you can create the same environment outdoors with sectional patio furniture. The Garden Treasures Palm City Patio Sectional Furniture features sleek and sturdy black steel frames coupled with tan Olefin cushions that up the comfort level, meaning when you sit, you'll never want to leave.

* A little shade goes a long way. An all-day party means plenty of sun, and when guests need a break from the heat, it’s good to provide an area of relief. Patio umbrellas are an affordable option, available in 8-1/2 and 9-foot varieties, providing ample coverage for a large gathering. And to keep the awning a hot destination into the evening, look for an umbrella outfitted with LED lights.

* The perfect accents. The difference between a backyard and an outdoor oasis is in the details you add to your space. Island King Garden Torches bring light to any situation. With durable metal construction and a long-lasting fiberglass wick, these lights will keep their look in any conditions. To add a little extra green space to your outdoor entertaining area, consider purchasing raised garden beds. They provide a grand ambiance upgrade to your oasis at an affordable price.

Summer has just begun! Implement any of the upgrades listed above and you'll be able to enjoy the season's greatest days from your brand-new oasis. To find everything you need to remake your backyard, without breaking your bank, visit lowes.com.



DIY done simple: 5 projects you can tackle in a weekend

6/2/2017

(BPT) - This time of year was made for DIY projects. The weather is perfect, the projects have mounted, you’ve got the time and the motivation. Now if only you had the budget.

Not to worry, DIY doesn’t have to be synonymous with expensive! There are plenty of impactful DIY projects that can be tackled quickly and affordably in just a single weekend. Below is a list of five projects that you can use to scratch that project itch without putting a noticeable dent in your wallet.

* Seal the gaps. Hidden gaps and cracks in your home could be allowing air to escape, making the temperature in the house more difficult to regulate and your energy bill more expensive than it needs to be. Seal these gaps with an innovative air-sealing insulating foam to help protect against air and moisture infiltration. It will create a tighter building envelope that helps to reduce your energy waste and your monthly bill.

* A fresh coat of paint. How many times have you walked by that wall, those cabinets or that wooden chair and thought, "I need to repaint that"? Well, now’s the time. Painting small spaces and furniture yourself is a small, inexpensive project that can be finished in a single weekend. So start picking colors today. Once you’re done, you can feel proud knowing that you put in the hard work to give your home a fresh look.

* Ward off vermin. You’re not the only one who’s happy to see that warmer weather has arrived. Vermin of the mammal, reptile or insect variety will also be more active during the warmer months and they may set their sights on your home. GREAT STUFF(TM) Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant helps block vermin from entering your home through gaps, cracks and holes. Spray the foam to block these points of entry and the only guests you’ll greet this season are those you actually invited.

* Update your window treatments. If “treatment” is a generous word when describing the accent pieces around your windows, it’s time for an upgrade. Whether curtains, blinds or drapes, window treatments can be as cost effective as you want them to be, so don’t be afraid to be picky. And once you find treatments that appeal to you, use them to block the sun on the hottest days to reduce your energy expenses.

* Expand your DIY. Your DIY projects don’t have to be confined to your home; they can also involve your boat, your RV or your other vehicles. GREAT STUFF(TM) Multipurpose Black Foam Sealant can be used to fill unwanted gaps and cracks in vehicles, allowing you to cruise into vacation with no worries.

You can scratch that DIY itch without a month-long commitment or completely draining your bank account. All you have to do is pick the projects that match your budget, your time frame and your goals, and get to work. And when they're done, you'll have the rest of the season to enjoy your new and improved home. To find more simple projects you can tackle with GREAT STUFF(TM) Insulating Foam Sealant, visit greatstuff.dow.com.



5 tips that support your lawn and the environment

5/24/2017

(BPT) - You have a love for all things green; that’s why you take such pride in the care you show for your yard. While you want your yard to be beautiful, you also want to achieve your goals in an environmentally friendly way. You want to be green in the process of growing green.

You’re not alone.

More and more homeowners are looking for environmentally friendly yard care solutions. In fact, research from Husqvarna discovered 78 percent of respondents found the increased use of eco-friendly power equipment to be important in caring for their yard. It’s just one way you can support green initiatives in your lawn care this season. Here are five more ideas:

* Research biopesticides. Pesticides are a popular option to rid your yard of unwanted insects, but environmentally conscious homeowners are becoming increasingly concerned with what is left behind. Biopesticides solve this problem by granting the same solution as traditional, chemical pesticides, but through natural elements that control your insect problem rather than eradicating it with chemicals. Pheromone pesticides, for example, disrupt certain insects' mating patterns, while microbial pesticides rely on microorganisms, rather than chemicals, to kill insects.

* Support sustainability without sacrificing power. Battery-powered yard tools have always been an environmentally friendly option, but many consumers felt they lacked the power necessary for a season of lawn care. New tools, like the Husqvarna 115iL trimmer, shatter this misconception. With a 13- to 14-inch cutting width and a 2-millimeter dual line, this trimmer is perfect for precisely trimming lawn edges or small areas of tough grass. It is also packed with the latest in battery technology, including a low-vibration, brushless motor and a rechargeable, Li-ion battery pack designed for reliable and long-lasting use.

* Start a compost pile. The hard work in your yard leads to waste, but disposing of it can be cheap and environmentally friendly when you build your own compost pile. Combine fallen leaves or dead flowers with grass clippings and a couple shovels full of garden soil in a 3-foot-by-3-foot enclosed space, and you have the foundation for a successful compost pile.

* Make the most of water’s availability. A nice rainstorm can save you from watering your lawn for the day but if you capture that water, you support your yard’s long-term irrigation needs while protecting the environment and your finances. Place plastic barrels beneath your drain spouts to catch rainwater as it runs off your roof. The barrels will then store this water, ensuring the next time you have to water, you’ll have a free, eco-friendly solution for your irrigation needs.

* Spread organic fertilizer. Like pesticides, fertilizers once required you to use harsh chemicals on your lawn to get a desired effect. However, like biopesticides, more environmentally friendly fertilizer options now exist. The market provides several organic fertilizers to choose from, and there are even recipes to make your own. So take a look around and find the option that appeals to you.

To learn more about how the tools from Husqvarna can help you maintain your lawn in an environmentally friendly way, visit Husqvarna.com and find an outdoor power equipment dealer near you.



Home innovations that protect against moisture

6/1/2017

(BPT) - There is an insidious enemy that every homeowner dreads: moisture and the damage and degradation it can cause if left unchecked. Luckily, home improvement manufacturers have discovered new ways to prevent moisture from penetrating the home in the first place. With new home product innovations, there is no reason to suffer the costly and damaging effects of rain, snow or ice.

Unique fasteners add longevity to decks

Innovative fastening methods can extend the life of your deck and provide a beautiful fastener-free surface that also stands up better to weather and moisture. Although there are several kinds of deck fasteners that conceal the fastener, edge fastening is the latest method. “With edge fastening, which delivers real screws into the edge of the deck boards with a series of unique guides and drill bits, fastener-related splitting and cracking can be eliminated,” said Greg Palmer, Director of Marketing at National Nail's CAMO Edge Fastening. “This can add to deck life because moisture is not seeping into those cracks and splits, causing accelerated degradation.” He adds that the company has also expanded its warranty to cover the deck boards, as well as the screws. “Edge fastening works great for composite, PVC and all types of wood decks and creates a safer, fastener-free surface.”

Exterior cladding that resists moisture

When searching for alternative exterior products that have beauty and curb appeal, make sure they repel moisture, especially near the foundation or near the gutters at the roof line. It is now possible to have the look of rich wood cedar shake or a variety of stone looks to cover foundations or to upgrade the ugly space under decks. New technology enables polymers to actually be stained or finished to be indistinguishable from the real thing. “There are new levels of realism in shakes that resemble true cedar,” said Ralph Bruno, president, Tando Building Products. “Beach House Shake" by Tando is an example of this superb realism — it installs easily and is impervious to moisture with little to no upkeep.” He adds that homeowners can keep moisture at bay and have luxurious exteriors without sacrificing beauty.

Protect your home in every season

As if heavy spring rains and winter’s melt-off didn’t threaten homeowners' properties enough, the hurricane season is expected to be more erratic than in years past — with a predicted early start and activity right into late fall. Thankfully, there are new, affordable technologies to quickly remove standing water from homeowners’ properties, keeping it away from their foundations. “Having both dependable sump pumps and multi-use pumps are the first lines of defense against storm damage,” said Jeremy Cantor, VP of Marketing for WAYNE Pumps. “One example is the innovative WaterBUG Submersible Water Removal Pump, which can remove large volumes of standing water quickly and easily from flat grassy yards, basement floors, and even tight spaces like window wells because it has both top and side water flow.” He emphasizes that having reliable multi-use and sump pumps in your home can save thousands of dollars in property damage and basement repairs.

Seal it or patch it to keep water out

Water damage doesn’t have to happen, and by having the right caulks, sealants and hand tools, homeowners can easily do the job themselves and save on contractor costs. And, if moisture gets ahead of you, there are ways to repair the damage and prevent it from happening in the future. After winter, check windows, under door frames, gutter lines, concrete and other vulnerable areas that need sealing or patching. Very often, the simple act of sealing these areas with the right type of caulk can make a big difference in keeping out moisture. “One of the most popular sealants on the market is LIFETIME Ultra, which is a perfect solution for outdoor fix-ups after winter’s damage,” said Alan Crupper, VP of Marketing, Red Devil, Inc. He added that premium acrylics like this work very well and are paintable, unlike silicones. “You need a caulk that has a tight seal, won’t sag or crack no matter the temperature and especially for outdoors, one that adheres well to any surface.”

No matter the season, moisture can put your home and valuables at risk, so don’t delay in taking preventative action or repairing damage where it starts. With innovative new technologies on the market, you can easily protect your home from nature’s wrath.



Easy steps to get your lawn ready for spring

5/19/2017

(BPT) - After a long, cold winter, you’re certainly ready for summer. But is your lawn? The snow and bitter temps may have wreaked havoc on your yard, but now that warmer weather has arrived, it’s time to tackle those small projects that can add up to a beautiful lawn.

Here are five tips you can use to make your lawn and yard everything it can be this season.

* Reseed bare patches in your lawn. A fabulous lawn is one devoid of bald spots, so make this project a first priority. Loosen the soil in bare areas 2-4 inches before flattening it with a garden rake. Once the soil has been loosened, apply fertilizer and grass seed to the area. Flatten the surface down once more and apply water to help your new grass grow.

* Find the right mower for your lawn. Your mower is your yard’s most important tool. If you’re in the market for a new mower, don’t settle for an average, run-of-the-mill model. Look for a "pro-grade" mower with a powerful engine like the KOHLER 7000 Series Engine. A commercial-grade engine will have you mowing like a real pro and offers a variety of perks, including turnkey starting, improved reliability, reduced maintenance and enhanced performance. Once your mower is ready, cut your grass to 2 1/2 inches and mow frequently for a perfectly manicured lawn.

* Prune and/or remove dead leaves and branches. Using a set of shears, inspect each bush and tree on your property and prune the branches while removing those that have died. This process will support your plants growing in a proper, ordered shape while improving their overall health and appearance.

* Start a compost pile. Compost is a natural fertilizer that provides valuable nutrients to your plants throughout the summer. To create your own compost pile, start with a bed of leaves, garden trimmings or pine needles and add grass clippings and plant material at a 3-to-1 ratio favoring the former. Top each layer with a bed of soil and you’ll create the perfect compost site.

* Bring birds to your yard. The benefit of birds in your yard goes far beyond the music they make. Did you know a single chickadee can eat more than 1,000 insects per year? This helps cut down on pesky insects ruining your backyard cookout or feasting on your plants. So add a bird feeder or two, a birdbath and some fruit- or seed-bearing plants to draw the birds in. Your yard and garden will be all the better for it.

Warmer weather is on the way, so don't delay. Now's the perfect time to start those outdoor projects. The hours you spend now will benefit you every day in the months ahead.

To learn more about how the KOHLER 7000 Series Engine can help you achieve the perfect cut, visit kohlerengines.com.



Want to catch homebuyers' eyes? Follow 5 easy steps to a lush lawn

5/18/2017

(BPT) - When it comes to selling a home there are many different strategies and most of them focus on the home's interior. However, what many sellers fail to realize is that it's the exterior of the home that often makes or breaks a sale.

Curb appeal is necessary for that vital first impression. Much of a buyer's opinion about a property is formed before they even enter the front door. Research shows curb appeal not only speeds the sale but also increases offer prices.

One of the biggest influencing factors of curb appeal is the health of the lawn. Think about how much property space the lawn covers. A sparse lawn dotted with weeds lowers a buyer's opinion of the home, while a lush, green lawn elevates a home, and gives the impression it is well taken care of.

Lawn revitalization projects provide impressive return on investment. According to the 2016 Remodeling Impact: Outdoor Features report, lawn seeding earns the top spot for return on investment, recovering 417 percent of the project cost at resale. Implementing a standard lawn care program recovers 303 percent and updating a landscape with a sod lawn recovers 143 percent. Lawn revitalization projects offer much higher returns than many other home improvement projects, including kitchen remodels and deck additions.

Lawn revitalization projects are surprisingly easy to do, so whether you're selling your home or are staying put and just want to enjoy your property more, it's a worthwhile investment. The experts at Grass Seed USA, a coalition of grass seed farmers and academic turf specialists, offer the following five simple steps to achieving a lush lawn fast.

1. Aerate

When the soil under a lawn becomes too compacted, water, air and nutrients have a hard time reaching grass roots. Lawn aerators correct this problem by pulling small plugs of soil about 1/2 inch in diameter and 2 to 3 inches deep out of the ground. You can affordably rent an aerator for a day or hire a professional.

2. Reseed

If you have bare patches or your lawn looks thin, reseeding is an easy solution. Start by contacting a local turf specialist to determine the best seed or sod to purchase for your location and soil type. Then, rake the bare areas of your lawn and apply seed. Water lightly and regularly until new grass grows in. The spring and fall are good times to seed due to cooler weather, although it can be done any time of year.

3. Mow high

Never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade height at a time. If grass gets too long, raise the height on your mower. Recommended mowing heights vary by grass type, but an easy rule of thumb for the most common types of lawn is to mow to a 2-inch height when the grass blades reach 3 inches tall.

4. Fertilize

To keep your lawn healthy, aim to fertilize at least once a year; four times a year is ideal. Your local garden center can recommend the fertilizer best for your climate and grass type. Additionally, naturally fertilize your lawn by leaving grass clippings after you mow. As grass clippings break down, they enrich the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the same nutrients found in fertilizer.

5. Irrigate

A thorough watering once or twice a week is better than lightly misting every day. Allowing the soil to dry before it is watered again encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil and can help the lawn become drought tolerant in the future. What's more, water during the early morning and evening hours to avoid excess evaporation. Watering during the heat of the day can actually scald and burn grass.

Learn more about quick, easy lawn improvement and maintenance tips at www.WeSeedAmerica.com or follow @WeSeedAmerica on Facebook and Twitter.



4 easy ways to make your yard an outdoor oasis this summer

5/17/2017

(BPT) - Summer is the season when your backyard takes center stage. As warm weather arrives, it’s time to head outdoors and create a beautiful and lush outdoor space that you can enjoy all season long.

“It’s no secret that backyards are the best place to spend time with family and friends in the summer months,” says Chris Lambton, yard and garden expert for Fiskars. “Using the right tools to take care of your grass, trees, plants and shrubs will freshen the look of your outdoor space and create a yard that feels like an oasis for you and your guests.”

Lambton offers his tips and tools to help your yard flourish this season:

Maintain proper lawn height

The optimal grass height for a healthy lawn changes with the time of year. Cut grass shorter in the spring and fall and keep it longer in summer so it won’t dry out. Use a reel mower that allows you to easily adjust the cut height for the season. In addition to making your lawn look its best, pushing a reel mower provides an opportunity for exercise and fresh air.

Encourage new plant growth

Pruning and deadheading are necessary for plant health as they encourage new growth. Pruning is great for keeping tall plants within bounds, stimulating branch growth and blooms and tightening up plants that get lanky throughout the season, including perennials and shrubs. Hand shears, like the Fiskars PowerGear2 Pruner, cut through stems and light branches and are perfect for quick and easy maintenance projects around the yard. Deadheading can be done year-round when a flowering plant fades using a tool like a pruning snip.

Know when to water

If you walk across the grass and the blades don’t spring back, then you know it’s time to water. Choose an adjustable sprinkler, like the Gilmour Pattern Master Circular Sprinkler, that allows you to customize the spray pattern and tailor to irregularly shaped lawns to prevent over-watering.

When watering potted plants, the goal is to create soil that's damp but not soggy. Depending on the size of the pot, water your plants one to two times a day using a thumb control watering nozzle, which easily adjusts water flow with one touch. Be sure to pair your nozzle with a hose that stands up to the season’s heat and sun, like the durable Flexogen Super Duty Hose.

Incorporate decorative DIY

Creating a comfortable and inviting outdoor space makes seasonal entertaining easy and fun. One way to update your furnishings without buying a new patio set is to upcycle materials from your home.

Containers are an easy, low-commitment way to add design elements and even a splash of color to your backyard. They’re also highly versatile, allowing you to rearrange your yard on a whim or change out plants to match the season or mood. Repurpose glass jars, aluminum cans and ceramic pots to make beautiful container gardens on your patio.

Another easy DIY is to turn old wooden crates into extra seating by painting them in bright colors, securing them atop one another and adding a decorative cushion — the possibilities are endless!



Easy breezy: 5 ways to make summer lawn care projects easier

5/12/2017

(BPT) - Summer is here and your lawn is a source of pride. However, it can also be a source of hard work, sweat and even frustration. So ask yourself this question: Would you be interested in maintaining your yard's beauty with fewer headaches?

If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck, because this article is all about helping you find ways to maintain a beautiful lawn without all the unnecessary effort. Apply these five tips today and you’ll have more time to enjoy your well-cared-for yard.

* Be smart about seeding. The dog days of summer are not the ideal time to reseed your lawn, so don’t waste the effort. Seed growth is more successful during cooler months, so if you didn’t seed in the early spring, wait until later in the season before doing so. You’ll get the same results without wasting the effort on an inefficient seeding.

* The perfect cut. Your lawn is the centerpiece of your yard, and nothing improves its overall appearance like the perfect cut, especially when that cut comes easy. Greenworks 60-Volt Mower is a lithium-ion battery-powered mower that eliminates the need to mix and pour gas, letting you put that time back into making your lawn look great. Finding the perfect cutting height is easy with its seven different blade positions, while Patented Smart Cut Technology maximizes run-time by keeping the blade speed at an optimal level based on the thickness of the turf.

* Water smart. Just as with seeding, successfully watering your lawn is all about timing. And, like seeding, dragging a sprinkler around your yard during the peak hours of the day will result in the water you expend being burned off before it does any good. To make the most of your watering sessions, water your lawn at dawn or dusk when temperatures are cooler. This increases the possibility that the water will stick around long enough for the grass to absorb it.

* Trimming made easy. A well-cut lawn is perfectly complemented by manicured bushes and shrubs, and tackling these tasks with the Greenworks 60-Volt Cordless String Trimmer and Hedge Trimmer is easy. Each tool utilizes push button start technology, eliminating the need for pull cords, while the battery-powered brushless motor offers an environmentally friendly, gas-alternative, and neither lacks for power or options. Tackle large projects with the string trimmer’s 16-inch cut path or use the hedge trimmer’s lightweight, rotating handle to reach every angle and you’ll get the perfect trim in no time.

* Add mulch to control weeds. The most beautiful planting beds lose their luster if their base is crowded with weeds. To eliminate this problem — and to save on the wear and tear of pulling the weeds yourself — add a 4-inch layer of mulch to the top of your beds. This mulch blocks out the sun, making it hard for weeds to grow. It also reduces your need to water these beds by slowing water’s evaporation rate.

Summer is here, and while your lawn care is ongoing, there's still plenty of time to make those chores more efficient to benefit yourself and your lawn. To learn more about the lawn care tools available from Greenworks, visit www.greenworkstools.com.



Small-space gardens: Easy tips for homegrown flavors

5/11/2017

(BPT) - The new growing season is upon us. You don’t have to be an experienced gardener to enjoy the many benefits of the season, nor do you need large swaths of land and sprawling acreage to grow your favorite greens. In fact, beautiful outdoor spaces — rich with colorful blooms and hearty edibles — can be created in nearly any space, including patios and balconies.

“Small-space gardening is the fastest-growing area in gardening and is becoming increasingly important to individuals who are interested in starting a garden but don’t have a lot of space,” says Tom Batt, a horticulturist and sales associate with Burpee Gardening Products and a consultant for Tractor Supply Company. “Ultimately, people are looking to have more control over what goes into their family meals and there’s no better way to know than by harvesting food from your own garden.”

Small-space gardening is all about getting creative and having fun. So whether you’re attempting to create an eye-catching outdoor oasis or produce delicious food for cooking, the most effective way to learn is by simply digging in.

To help you get started, the experts at Tractor Supply Company compiled a list of tips on how to take a confined area and turn it into a bountiful garden.

Ready, set, prep

As with most new endeavors, preparation is key. First, determine how much space you’ll be allocating and whether or not the area has access to adequate sunlight. According to Batt, a successful garden should receive at least eight hours of sunlight per day. It’s also important to make sure your planters are equipped with a sufficient drainage system. A hole at the bottom of your containers will help prevent oversaturation while still allowing water to permeate the soil. It will also ensure adequate airflow reaches the roots.

Commit to cultivating

Now that you’ve decided on an area, it’s important to remember that a garden — regardless of its size — requires time, attention and effort. It isn’t just planting then vacating. With that in mind, try to be realistic about how much time you’re willing to put forth. Batt suggests reserving an hour over the weekend for things like weeding and watering.

When it comes to plant hydration, it’s better to water deeply and thoroughly on a seldom basis than water too little on a regular basis. That being said, plants in containers tend to dry out more quickly than plants in the ground and will often require more water, especially during warmer months. A good rule of thumb is to soak plants until you notice water coming through the drainage holes. But remember plants absorb water through their roots and lose water through their leaves, so when watering try to avoid the foliage.

Start simple

It’s almost time to plant those first few seeds, but you’re not entirely sure what to grow. Consider starting with simple, cool-season crops like cabbage, carrots and radishes. Often, according to Batt, newer gardeners attempt to grow popular products like peppers, but what they don’t know is that in order to thrive, those need to be started indoors.

Another great option for beginners is herbs, which are inexpensive, require nothing larger than a 6–8-inch container, and only take three to four weeks to yield results.

“Herb gardens involve very little space and provide gardeners with a harvestable product that’s relatively easy to cultivate,” Batt says. “It’s also a fantastic way to grow a wide variety of plants in one fell swoop.”

Time to eat

It’s vital to know what you’ve planted and how long it should stay in the ground. Carrots, for instance, will harvest in about 65 to 70 days and, according to Batt, will show signs of wilting when they’re ready to be eaten.

Try to make a trip out to the garden every day to see what has ripened or is starting to flower. Trim back herbs, such as chives and basil, as soon as they start to flower. This will help plants continue to put energy into growth and production.

Checking on your garden daily also allows you to intervene at the first sign of trouble.

When it comes to small-space gardening, a little goes a long way. To give you an idea, a 10-foot by 12-foot garden has the capacity to feed a family of three for the entire summer simply by rotating the crops.

Tractor Supply Company hosts a variety of gardening events throughout the year, featuring expert advice and special products, all geared toward getting families out from under the roof and inside the garden. The rural lifestyle store carries all the supplies a family needs to get started, including mulch and soil, live plants, regular and organic seeds, pest control and garden tools.

Check with your local Tractor Supply store for details on upcoming gardening events.

For more expert advice on lawn and garden care, visit Tractor Supply’s Know How Central, and for homegrown inspiration for your garden, visit Tractor Supply’s Pinterest page.



Cool deck time fun in the summer sun: 3 tips to beat the heat

5/8/2017

(BPT) - During the winter months, many people eagerly anticipate the sunny days of summer. But, when summer rolls around, these same people are often busy looking for ways to cool off.

Getting outside on the deck or porch is an ideal way to relax and escape stifling indoor heat for many Americans. To make sure your outdoor living retreat is a cool oasis, consider these three tips to beat the heat:

1. Create stylish shade

While an umbrella or a roll-up sunshade provides a fast and easy way to block direct sun, they can quickly fade or become a dingy eyesore. A stylish alternative is to cast refreshing shade with a gazebo or arbor. With either option, you also can create a lush and fragrant grotto using climbing vines such as roses, clematis, wisteria or honeysuckle.

For a weekend do-it-yourself project, look for gazebo and arbor plans on popular social media sites like Pinterest or Houzz. If you prefer to have someone else do the work, many deck builders will complete the project for you without breaking the bank.

2. Spritz yourself with a mister

Sunbelt residents and visitors are familiar with outdoor cooling misters installed at popular outdoor cafes, theme parks and other places people gather on hot days. Now, homeowners throughout the U.S. are installing these systems on their decks or porches. The ultrafine droplets of water created by these systems can cool the air as much as 35 degrees. In addition to providing cool and refreshing moisture on hot summer days, some manufacturers report the systems help repel flying insects and clear the air of smoke and pollen. Easy-to-install misters are available online or from your local home improvement store, starting at under $100.

3. Don’t forget the deck surface

Many deck surfaces become uncomfortably hot in direct sun. The problem is especially acute for dark-colored deck boards, which absorb heat throughout the day, as well as some dense composite boards that hold heat. As a result, rather than a comfortable stroll to your favorite chair, you might end up hot-footing it across a scorching deck. An overly hot deck is especially problematic for young children and pets, whose feet are more heat sensitive.

“Many people tell us they love the beauty and durability of their composite deck, but not the heat,” says Brent Gwatney, vice president of MoistureShield decking. His company has developed a solution they call CoolDeck(R) technology. The boards are engineered to absorb up to 35 percent less heat than other composites in similar colors, for a noticeably lower surface temperature in direct sun.

Whether you're building a new deck or upgrading an existing one, these three ways to beat the heat will provide you with a cool and relaxing outdoor spot to snooze, cook or entertain friends and family, even on the hottest summer days.



Fashion influences gardening trends for easy, eye-catching flowers

5/5/2017

(BPT) - You're getting ready for the day and decide to wear a chic blouse paired with your skinny jeans from your favorite designer. You'll be feeling and looking good with minimal effort thanks to ready-to-wear fashion.

In fashion circles, ready-to-wear clothing is what designers produce for shoppers to easily buy and wear without modifications. Essentially it makes your life easier because you get on-trend clothing that instantly looks amazing.

Fashion influences a variety of industries and gardening is no exception. The ready-to-wear fashion concept has evolved into what flower experts call “grab-and-go gardening.”

"People want a stunning, standout garden without a lot of hassle, and that's why the concept of flowers that are ready to go and grow is so popular," says Claire Josephson, garden decorating expert. "These grab-and-go styles are easy for gardeners to plant and are full of instant, long-lasting blooms in modern color mixes that enhance your outdoor living space."

This season, you'll see fashion's influences as soon as you enter your local gardening retailer. Josephson says petunias are the perfect example: expertly designed premixed petunias take the guesswork out of decorating and mixing colors, so it's easy for experts and beginners alike to design eye-catching pots, hanging baskets, flowerbeds and more. Try any of these 2017 ready-made gardening trends this season:

Bold colors: Pops of color can bring energy to your wardrobe and your garden. Bright, bold colors are always on trend for the summer. Select flower mixes make a statement in your seasonal decorating with festive, vibrant hues. Wave Firecracker mix petunias add richness to your landscape with a crowd-pleasing combination of coral, purple and blue. Unlike real fireworks, these colors won't quickly fade.

Mixing it up: Mixing patterns and textures is popular in fashion, and it's starting to be seen in gardening trends, too. Have fun blending texture combinations to create a customized look that reflects your personality and makes your home stand out from any other on the block.

Explore combinations like Lemon Dream and Razzle Dazzle that feature Wave’s signature spreading petunias and incorporate additional colors and textures with high-performing annuals like verbena, calibrachoa and phlox.

Classic styles: Basics are the foundation of any wardrobe, and a classic approach to style is always in season. If you prefer to stick to the classic gardening styles, choose mixes that are perfect for subtle splashes of color, making decorating easy, simple and timeless.

The Wave Lovin’ It petunia mix is an excellent choice; designed by experts, this mixture of violet, pink and yellow is a classic splash of color that creates full, eye-catching garden containers and flowerbeds and complements any decor.

For more information and to see pictures of ready-to-wear gardening examples, visit www.wave-rave.com.



6 steps to grow a garden anywhere

5/3/2017

(BPT) - The benefits from gardening are endless — relaxation, fitness, family fun, delicious food and beautifying your lawn. Across the country, millions of people live in townhomes, apartments or single-family homes that seem to lack the outdoor space needed for a conventional garden. But the good news is that no matter where you live you can still create a garden that reflects your goals and is uniquely personal to you.

Raised bed gardens may be the perfect solution. This type of gardening is gaining popularity not only because it can be adjusted to fit any size requirements, but because it is prone to fewer weeds, reduced soil erosion and fewer soil challenges that can arise in areas where the ground is inherently sandy or clay-based. Raised bed gardens also offer you the opportunity to customize your garden bed with beautiful accents and decorations that will make it look as amazing as the food it produces.

Steps for growing veggies and herbs in a raised garden bed

Step 1: Prep your space. Raised garden beds can be bought or built to fill whatever space you have available. Select a bed that works well with your space and prepare accordingly.

Step 2: Choose your soil. Once you have your empty bed ready, choose your soil. Nature’s Care Raised Bed Soil is ideal as this soil is specifically formulated with rich organic matter and high-quality nutrients that help give your plants the benefits they need with no mixing required. Once you add the soil, be sure to rake it so it is smooth and level.

Step 3: Preparing your bed. Next, you can finalize what you want to plant. Spacing is essential here and you want to remember to place your plants close together for maximum yield. Bonnie Plants provides a number of delicious and colorful options, including basil, tomato, kale, hot peppers and more. Check out your local plant nurseries for a variety of Bonnie Plants to choose from.

Step 4: Planting. Since plant spacing varies by plant type, read the back of the plant tag for proper plant spacing.

Step 5: Feed your plants. Once your veggies and herbs are planted, apply a fertilizer such as Nature’s Care Organic & Natural Raised Bed Plant Food to add essential nutrients to the soil and help your plants grow big and strong. Simply sprinkle and work into the soil, then treat your plants to water. Just like us, plants get hungry, so make sure you follow the directions on the label to determine when to reapply.

Step 6: Harvest. When your vegetables are ripe, it’s time to harvest. All you need to do is rinse and then you are ready to enjoy your favorite recipe.

For more information on growing veggies and herbs in a raised bed garden and other gardening tips can tricks, visit NaturesCare.com.



3 super-simple ways to create a barefoot friendly backyard deck

5/2/2017

(BPT) - When the sun is out and the sky is blue, your deck should be one of the most popular areas in your yard. But, if deck boards leave you with splinters or burned feet on hot summer days, there may be little incentive to spend time in your open-air getaway. The good news is this problem is easily preventable. With the right plan, you can build a barefoot-friendly backyard deck that will be the hub of your outdoor living space for years to come. Start with these three super-simple steps. It’s a choice your feet and pets will appreciate.

1. Create a smooth surface underfoot

Few building materials take more punishment than decking. Whether it spends hours under scorching sunlight, withstands wintertime blizzards or gets soaked during water fights and pool parties, your decking is bound to take abuse from the elements. Selecting deck boards that can withstand these harsh conditions is critical to ensuring a smooth surface underfoot.

Exposure to moisture and the sun’s UV rays can deteriorate wood decking, particularly if it’s not maintained regularly and correctly. While composite decking provides greater durability, several brands have been known to rot, crack or warp as a result of moisture intrusion.

To keep your deck looking good no matter what the weather, consider composite decking made of small-size wood fibers that are fully encased in plastic. This protects against moisture intrusion all the way to the board’s core, and such boards will not rot or warp, preventing dangerous cracks and splinters from forming. To create an even smoother surface, install the composite deck boards with hidden fasteners. This technique eliminates popped nails, dimples from screws and other hazards to warm-weather fun.

2. Beat the heat

Once you’ve narrowed your composite decking selection to brands that can withstand the toughest Mother Nature can throw their way, look for ways to beat the heat. When the sun is blazing, the plastic in composite decking can retain heat and become uncomfortable to walk on with bare feet.

One great way to avoid the hot-foot hustle dance without compromising on your deck’s surface appearance is to use composite decking with innovative cooling technology. “Homeowners know even the most stunning composite deck will disappoint if it’s too warm to walk on during the peak days of summer,” said Randy Gottlieb, A.E.R.T. president. “Recently introduced products like ChoiceDek Premium composite decking with CoolDeck technology help solve this problem. By combining a durable core with a cap that is specifically engineered to optimize heat reflection and minimize heat absorption, the boards make for a more comfortable deck on sunny days.”

If you live in an area where the sun’s rays are hot year-around, you may also want to consider using shade structures to help provide relief from direct sunlight and reduce the temperature on deck. Pergolas, lattices and breezy overhead fabrics can block the sun beautifully and add to your deck’s style.

3. Prevent slips on deck

If you’re installing decking near a pool or hot tub, live in close proximity to the water or experience frequent rain, it’s also important to protect against slips. Composite deck boards with a textured, wood-embossed surface have a higher coefficient of friction and better slip resistance than PVC and composite decking products with a non-embossed surface. The added traction will help friends and family stay steady on their feet as they enjoy your outdoor living area, and help ensure the party never has to pause for injuries.



5 ways to take your summer grilling to a whole new level

5/1/2017

(BPT) - The bright, sunny days of summer are your favorite time of year and when the season arrives, you spend much of your time outdoors. Your yard becomes your living room and you move your cooking to the grill.

Summer is grilling season and there is nowhere you'd rather be than standing in front of your favorite grill for every game day, holiday and weekend cookout. These events are when some of your best memories are made, and now is the perfect time to make this grilling season your best yet. To do just that, here are five ways you can up your grilling game in 2017.

* Switch to lump charcoal. The number one reason people grill with lump charcoal is due to the enhanced wood-fire flavor it imparts. When most think of charcoal, they inherently think of it as briquettes, and miss out on the natural advantages of its alternative — lump charcoal. Lump charcoal accounts for only 7 percent of the market, but the figure is growing steadily as more grill masters recognize the improved flavor. When you grill with lump charcoal, you’ll enjoy a quick, hot burn with less ash production. Lump charcoal is also natural and widely available in an array of varieties, allowing you to find the perfect charcoal to match your menu.

* Use a Smarter Starter fluid. Lighter fluid is a mainstay around the grill when you want to get cooking quickly; however, the chemical taste it leaves behind poses a serious drawback. The reason you get that petrochemical taste is because the chemical vapor from the fluid gets into the food. You can gain the benefits of a quick burn without the chemical taste by using Smarter Starter Fluid. Made from recycled restaurant cooking oil, Smarter Starter Fluid doesn't smell like traditional petroleum-based alternatives and you’ll never have to worry about it corrupting the taste of your food. Smarter Starter Fluid, being made from recycled cooking oil, makes it safe for use around kids and pets. The result is 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, so you can feel as good about your environmental impact as you do your grilling. And, it’s perfectly suited for use on lump charcoal.

* Customize the smoke flavor. Lump charcoal already lends itself a natural smoke flavor when compared to briquettes, but to really customize that flavor in your food, you can complement your lump charcoal with wood chips or chunks. Chips are smaller and more readily available in most stores, but they burn faster. Chunks burn slower and give you a better chance to lock in that unique smoke flavor. And once you pick a wood size, it’s time to pick a flavor. Apple, cherry, oak, mesquite and hickory are just a few of your options, so don’t be afraid to explore several. Whatever you're planning to smoke, there’s a chip or chunk out there that offers the perfect flavor complement.

* Take control of your temperature. In the hands of an experienced grill master, the uneven heat offered by charcoal grills is a benefit, not a drawback. Creating two zones on your grill will give you the strong, searing heat of the fire on one side, and indirect heat on the other side to cook your meat all the way through. To accomplish this, pour charcoal into one half of the grill — this will be your direct heat source — and leave the other half empty as your indirect heating zone. Heartier meats like steak can then be cooked for two minutes on each side in the direct zone and allowed to finish cooking in the indirect zone where you’ll lock in all of the flavor without burning your meat.

* Targeting the topmost temperature. To be sure your food is cooked to perfection, a temperature thermometer is a must. Dark meat chicken or turkey should be cooked to 175 degrees, while white meat should be cooked to 165. Beef and lamb should be cooked to 130 degrees (for a rare result) all the way to 170 degrees or higher for well done. And if your menu calls for brisket, keep the meat cooking until it reaches 185-205 degrees.

You look forward to the summer grilling season all year. Now that it's here, don't let a single opportunity pass you by. Apply the tips above and you'll take your time-honored pastime to a whole new level in 2017. To learn more about Smarter Starter Fluid, visit escogo.com/smarterstarterfluid.



Check out this year's top 3 trends in vegetable gardening

4/28/2017

(BPT) - Whether you go to a restaurant or stay home and dine in, you want what you eat to be fresh and full of flavor. This movement toward tasty, locally grown food is illustrated by the rise in farmers markets, food subscription boxes, and a renewed joy in growing vegetables at home. As the spring gardening season gets underway, here are three of the top trends you can take advantage of in your own vegetable garden that can help you reach a new foodie level in 2017.

Trend number 1: Garden size doesn't matter

You don’t need massive outdoor space to enjoy the benefits of growing your own food. In fact, today’s garden veggies make it possible to achieve that fresh-from-the-garden taste even if you only have a small sunny patch or balcony. With Take 2 Tomato Combos from Burpee you combine a delicious slicer tomato with a sweet cherry in one container. They ripen at the same time for a steady supply of great-tasting tomatoes, like BushSteak and Baby Boomer. Next to your hardworking container, plant complementary herbs, peppers or lettuces, which also grow well in smaller spaces.

Trend number 2: Explore fresh, unique tastes

Unleash your inner gourmet by selecting vegetables for your garden that create a unique flavor story or experience. Cupcake Summer Squash offers a new twist on a familiar favorite. Its edible zucchini-like skin is shaped perfectly for savory stuffing. The presentation is sure to impress dinner guests, while it’s petite enough to enjoy solo. Continue to experiment and be on the lookout for other unique vegetables and herbs with color, texture and global flavor. Your garden can be a culinary adventure.

Trend number 3: Grow something amazing

We’re all a bit of a showoff when it comes to growing vegetables. The satisfaction of success is even sweeter when you can impress your friends and neighbors — either over the garden wall or on social media. So why not grow the biggest, the earliest or the best? SteakHouse is one of the world’s largest beefsteaks. This tomato routinely tips the scale at three pounds or more. Loaded with tomato flavor and fragrance, it will get them saying, “Wow!” and get you excited for dinnertime. Up your social currency with other amazing selections like the season’s first tomato, the best herbs for recipes all season, high-yielding peppers and more.

Like many other aspects of your life, the 2017 trends in vegetable gardening are all about maximizing your time, space and abilities to create an experience that’s uniquely yours. Use these ideas in your garden as your next step to fresh and flavorful food.

Visit BurpeeHomeGardens.com to start your shopping list of Foodie Fresh, Space Savers, and Amazing Veggies vegetables and herbs. Get timely garden tips and recipes from Burpee experts in their weekly blog.



Add living space to your home with an easy patio makeover

4/26/2017

(BPT) - Everyone looks forward to a shift into summer mode, with its sun-soaked days, flower-scented breezes and velvety nights under the stars.

Now's the time to take advantage of a golden opportunity right outside your door. Celebrate summer and all it offers by recreating your outdoor space. Whether it’s a balcony, a patio or a deck, a few touches are all you need to turn it into a highly functional living space.

When done right, a patio makeover is like a boost to your home's square footage of living space without straining your wallet. Think of the patio as a summer room, and the possibilities really open up.

One approach to making your summer room perfect is to start by thinking of your needs and what you love to do. If you could add any room to your home, what would it be, and what would you use it for? Then, turn to a resource like Big Lots, which offers everything you need to build that summer room, while keeping you within budget.

Your summer living room

Transform any outdoor space into a relaxing oasis that’s perfect for unwinding and summer daydreams. Your key piece is a comfortable outdoor couch you can really sink into.

It's always best to start with a neutral-colored cushion, then work the accessories and accent pieces, including side tables, brightly colored throw pillows and outdoor lanterns to make the space feel extra homey and just like an authentic living room. These decor pieces can be easily and affordably switched out year-over-year to make your outdoor space feel fresh and new.

With an easy assembly gazebo, you can also keep the space cool and comfortable in the heat of the day.

Finally, if your patio faces an open or public area, a row of evergreens planted in large colorful pots will transform it into an intimate space with a perfect touch of nature.

Your summer party room

With the right pieces, you can set the scene for any gathering of friends and family. Start with ample seating. Add to the traditional living room setup with an outdoor cushioned bench, and position some accent chairs and tables in a nook or two for conversation clusters. A patterned outdoor rug also helps to delineate spaces on a large patio or deck.

A fire pit always creates a natural centerpiece and gathering spot. Some designs take this up a notch and incorporate the soft glow of fire right into a tabletop, making it easy to talk long into the summer night. As a finishing touch, be sure to have a wireless speaker and playlist ready to set the mood with music.

Your summer kitchen

The downside of summer living is building up unwanted heat in the kitchen from cooking dinner. The best solution is to take it outside. Don’t limit the grill to weekends and burgers and brats. Explore the many grilling recipes out there to expand your repertoire. While you're doing this, set up your patio as an outdoor cooking station that’s ready to go whenever you’re ready to start cooking.

Set up a sturdy table for prepping veggies and meats and a selection of lightweight, outdoor serving dishes. The variety of colors and designs are endless and add to the space aesthetic. (Just as you would indoors, make sure the surface is clean before you get started.) Use colorful crates to keep grilling tools, potholders and outdoor dishes and glassware organized and handy.

Finally, pick up some bright-colored pots that match your decor style and plant rosemary, parsley, basil and other herbs so they’re within easy reach to add fresh flavors to your grilled fish and chicken, as well as those tasty summer veggies. These potted plants also make for beautiful, easy centerpieces.

Your summer dining room

Dining outside is a fun and relaxing way to enjoy food as well as the company of your family and friends. When you choose a patio table, choose one with ample seating, and keep things comfortable and colorful with waterproof cushions. Umbrellas can throw shade on a sun-drenched deck or patio, making daytime dining (or your morning coffee time) more pleasant and easy on the eyes. If you’re looking for something different, a patio umbrella outfitted with lights on the underside will let you linger over dinner longer.

Creating beautiful outdoor spaces can be easy, but it also doesn’t have to break the budget. Big Lots has a wide variety of affordable patio furniture and décor so you can create an outdoor scene with indoor style. Visit BigLots.com or a store near you for all your patio and outdoor accessory needs.



Transform your backyard with a paver patio

4/24/2017

(BPT) - As the natural extension of a home's interior, making sure the backyard is an attractive and functional exterior space for entertaining family and friends is important to many homeowners. Described by some as an outdoor room, it requires as much thought, creativity and commitment to design a backyard living area as it does the rest of a house. Following that logic, a paver patio is an ideal focal point for building a beautiful outdoor living area. It literally serves as a blank canvas for benches, fire pits, fireplaces, water fountains, grills and other outdoor features.

While other materials can be used to construct a patio, concrete pavers are strong, durable and extremely versatile. In fact, homeowners can choose from hundreds of styles, sizes, shapes, colors and textures from a single manufacturer like Pavestone. With such a wide array of options, pavers give homeowners the ability to coordinate the patio to match the look and feel of their home in an outdoor living space that will be the envy of neighbors.

Steps for installing a paver patio.

Wearing eye protection and work gloves is recommended for this project.

* Outline the size and shape of the patio on the ground with spray paint.

* Place wooden stakes about 1 foot outside the corners of the outline and run string between the stakes at the desired patio height, establishing a slope away from the house of 1 inch for every 8 feet to aid drainage.

* Excavate the area about 6 inches beyond the outline to allow for 4 inches of compacted base, 1 inch of bedding sand, and the pavers.

* Pour 4 inches of all-purpose gravel into the excavated area and pack with a tamper or plate compactor to create the base.

* Place two 1-inch-thick PVC pipe on the base as a screed guide, then pour paver sand and screed with a two-by-four.

* Lay the pavers one-by-one next to each other in the desired pattern, being sure not to slide any pavers across the sand. If uneven, tap with a rubber mallet.

* In the event partial pavers are needed in the patio, cut the pavers with a masonry saw to desired length or shape.

* Pour a concrete toe edge restraint around the patio perimeter using QUIKRETE Crack Resistant Concrete Mix.

* Pour a layer of paver sand across the completed patio, sweep the sand into the joints, and use a compacting machine to lock the pavers into place.

A polymeric jointing sand like PolySweep can be used instead of standard jointing sand to help prevent erosion, insects, weeds and other elements that can be harmful to the paver patio. For more information on properly installing a paver patio, including a step-by-step how-to project video, visit the QUIKRETE website or Facebook.





Big-impact ideas for small patio spaces

4/20/2017

(BPT) - Do you have a small patio? Do you think you can't do much with the space due to its size? There's probably a lot more potential than you think.

From the influx of urban dwellers, empty-nesters in transition and even the tiny-home movement, the trend of downsizing continues across the United States. Contrary to popular belief, you can have an impressive patio even if you have a smaller abode.

Here are a few design ideas to help bring your limited patio area to life while maximizing the space:

Rugs

Add visual interest under foot with a patterned rug. A rug properly placed under a table can break up a smaller floor, giving the illusion of more square footage. Colored rugs are readily available in a variety of designs. Pick your favorite striped, chevron or paisley variety and see what a difference it makes.

Water features

The natural elegance, gentle gurgle and sparkle of a flowing water feature can add a sense of peacefulness to any patio. For smaller spaces, easily turn a decorative waterproof container or planter into a beckoning water feature by simply adding water and a smartpond Low Water Shut-off Fountain Pump. This smart pump automatically shuts off if the water becomes too low, preventing pump burnout. It's also a great replacement pump option to revive a decorative premade fountain that has quit working. Learn more at www.smart-pond.com.

Think vertical

To get the most out of a limited space, think upward instead of outward. Hanging plants are a classic option, but vertical wall gardens are a top trend that's sure to be a conversation starter. You'll enjoy plenty of greenery but also open floor space for your furniture, water feature and entertaining to ensure a welcoming area for hosting summer parties.

Built-ins

To get the most out of every inch of your petite patio, look for furniture and features that multitask to help save space while maximizing functionality. An easy solution is to opt for a table that opens to become a cooler for beverages or a bench to hold blankets and other patio extras. Just remember to keep scale in mind so you don't overwhelm your space with massive furniture.

Mixing materials

Matching is out for 2017, so forget about perfectly paired combos and explore a variety of decor. A great way to try this trend is to add visual interest by experimenting with different materials. Inject your own personality through various finishes. One example: consider setting black resin pots next to a handwoven wicker for an eclectic blend of textures.

Vibrant colors

Don't make the mistake of thinking a small space must have muted colors. Vibrant hues inject energy and style, often making a small patio feel larger than it is in real life. From ocean blues to ferocious fuchsia, an accent pillow here and a throw blanket there will transform your space dramatically.

From DIY water features to vertical gardens, a small patio doesn't have to be short on style or functionality. Let these top trends guide you to create a space you'll enjoy all year long.



Engage kids' love of nature through bird feeding, ditch their devices and get them outdoors

4/18/2017

(BPT) - Is it difficult to pry your kids away from their electronic devices to get them outdoors? From tots to teens, today’s kids love their electronics. After all, where could you find anything to compete with the bright sights and sounds of their favorite video game? The answer may be no farther than your backyard and the brightly colored songbirds visiting during warm weather.

Interacting with nature helps kids in many ways, from helping them understand science concepts and care for the environment, to lifelong physical and mental health benefits. One of the easiest, most enjoyable ways for children to interact with nature is to feed wild birds right in their backyard.

“Feeding birds, planting gardens, anything you do with children that’s nature-oriented helps them understand their connection to the natural world,” says Elaine Cole, president of Cole’s Wild Bird Products. Cole learned her own love of wild birds by feeding them with her father, company founder and birding expert, Richard Cole.

Cole's offers some tips to help engage kids’ love of nature through bird feeding:

* Get kids off the couch, ditch their devices and introduce them to their backyard! Tell children what type of location is best for a birdfeeder, then let them hunt for the spot. Choose a location where a feeder can be seen from indoors (so they can enjoy watching their feathered friends), yet is safe from predators. Let math and critical thinking skills come into play by measuring the distance from the door to the feeder and from the feeder to the nearest shrubs where predators could hide and trees where birds can shelter.

* Take the opportunity to teach the importance of good nutrition — for the child and the bird! Explain how good nutrition helps living creatures stay healthy and energized. Help them understand the nutritional value of food they eat by explaining what birds like to eat and how birds need a healthy diet of nutritious food options like Cole’s Wild Bird Feed to support their health and well-being.

* Help kids understand wild birds have food preferences just as they do. Talk about how some birds like to eat bugs, grubs and worms, while others prefer berries and some like seed.

* The feeder you choose will influence the kind of birds that visit. Many types of birds will visit a bowl feeder, and its open shape makes it quick and easy for kids to fill with any type of feed and clean. Giving children the task of filling and cleaning feeders can teach them responsibility and basic life skills, plus they’ll take ownership of the feeder and nurturing backyard birds.

* You can also use bird feeding to help kids understand concepts of finance, including spending their money wisely. Try an experiment with them; buy a bag of cheap birdseed, fill the feeder and watch what happens. Fewer birds will visit and a mound of waste — the filler in cheap feed — will pile up under the feeder. Then replace the cheap feed with a Cole’s seed mix and observe results. Kids will see plenty more birds visiting and less waste under the feeder. The experiment can help teach kids that not everything low priced is a good deal.

Ultimately, feeding wild birds should be fun for families. Here are some types of bird feed that should appeal to children’s interests:

* Suet — While today’s high-energy suet comes in different, convenient forms, like Cole’s Nutberry Suet, and Suet Kibbles, kids will love the idea of serving up a big hunk of fat in the form of a Suet cake. Kids can stick it directly on tree bark and branches, which they’ll find fun!

* Seeds — Many songbirds prefer seeds. Serving high-quality seed, like black oil sunflower, can help attract songbirds. Learn more about seed mixes and birds who love them.

* Dried mealworms — The early bird may get the worm, but birds, such as bluebirds, flickers and nuthatches, prefer a tasty treat like dried mealworms. Kids will get a kick out of filling up feeders with something yucky-looking for their feathered friends.

“My dad got me hooked on bird feeding by challenging me to identify as many birds at the feeder as possible," Cole says. "I did the same thing with my kids. My dad recently gave my 10-year-old daughter a birding journal. She loves to identify all the birds she knows and anything interesting about them.

“Kids taking part in attracting birds to their backyard is great fun; they’ll love getting out of the house, taking charge of their new feathered friends and they’ll learn a lot of good lessons through the process."



How to get the best-looking lawn for your time and money

4/11/2017

(BPT) - If grubs overtake your lawn this spring, will you know how to get rid of them? Do you have the time and skill to effectively patch those ugly bare spots that developed over the winter? A lush lawn and beautiful landscape are on virtually every homeowner’s wish list, but a lack of time and knowledge commonly keep people from effectively caring for their own lawns.


Americans spend an average of just 20 minutes a day on lawn care, according to the American Time Use Survey. What’s more, many homeowners don’t know how to properly care for their lawn and landscape, a Harris Poll reveals. Conducted on behalf of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), the survey found that while nearly seven in 10 Americans said their lawn could be better, nearly one in three didn’t know how often to water their lawns and nearly a third admitted to not knowing how to grow a healthy lawn.


“A healthy lawn isn’t just for cosmetic appeal,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NALP. “Properly maintained lawns can not only elevate home value but also reduce exposure to weed-induced allergies and help purify the air in communities.”


Of the 94 percent of people with landscaping around their homes, 44 percent hired professionals to help over the past year. Working with lawn care professionals can help ensure your lawn remains healthy and attractive all year round.


NALP offers some advice for getting the most for your money when you work with a lawn care professional:


* Put some thought and research into the hiring process. Look for lawn care companies that are members of an industry association, and ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. When you’re interviewing companies, find out how long they’ve been in business and the experience level of staff. If you live in a state that requires lawn care professionals to be licensed, make sure the one you’re considering has a valid license. Ask for a written, detailed contract that specifies what work the company will be doing in your yard.


* Talk with your lawn care professional about your long-term vision for your yard so you can develop a master plan together. For example, if you envision large planting beds in front of your house or a shade garden in the backyard, they can help suggest how to progress in phases that will fit your budget.


* Be clear about your budget and expectations before hiring a lawn care professional. Will you want the company to aerate and seed the grass? Manage weeds and troubleshoot problem areas? Your lawn care professional can work with you to include specific tasks in a contract that sets expectations for both parties.


* Be open to your lawn care professional’s suggestion about types of grass seed for your landscape. Often, professionals prefer working with grasses and plants that are native to your region since they’re most likely to thrive in your landscape.


* Follow your lawn care professional’s guidance for watering and any other lawn care tasks that you’ll be handling yourself. Ideally, your DIY efforts should complement the work your professional is doing, rather than undermine it. For example, if your lawn care professional seeds your lawn to fill in some bare spots, follow his or her instructions for watering the seed to ensure the best possible results.


Seventy-five percent of Realtors have suggested home sellers do a standard lawn care program before putting their homes on the market, according to the 2016 Remodeling Impact Report by the National Association of Realtors and the NALP. What’s more, 14 percent say professional lawn care helped close a sale for them, and the project recovers 303 percent of its investment value at the time of sale, the report found. To find a lawn care professional near you, visit www.loveyourlandscape.org.



Know what's below: Call 811 before digging for landscaping and home improvement projects this spring

4/1/2017

(BPT) - With the snow melted and the ground thawed, many eager homeowners and landscape professionals across the country will roll up their sleeves and reach for their shovels to start projects that require digging this spring.

During the transition into “digging season,” Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the association dedicated to protecting underground utilities and the people who dig near them, reminds homeowners and professional diggers that calling 811 is the first step toward protecting you and your community from the risk of unintentionally damaging an underground line.

Every digging project, no matter how large or small, warrants a free call to 811. Installing a mailbox or fence, building a deck and landscaping are all examples of digging projects that should only begin a few days after making a call to 811. Calling this number connects you to your local one-call utility notification center.

According to data collected by CGA in a phone survey in March, millions of American homeowners will likely do DIY projects involving digging this year, but 44 percent of them do not plan to make a free call to 811 before digging. Extrapolated to the full population of U.S. homeowners, approximately 58.5 million people will dig this year without first calling 811.

A utility line is damaged every six minutes in America because someone decided to dig without making a call to 811 to learn the approximate location of buried utilities in their area. Unintentionally striking one of these lines can result in inconvenient outages for entire neighborhoods, serious harm to yourself or your neighbors, and significant repair costs.

As a result, CGA offers the following tips to make sure you complete your project safely and without any utility service interruptions, so you don’t become a statistic.

Here’s how the 811 process works:

1. One free, simple phone call to 811 makes it easy for your local one-call center to notify all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig. Call a few days prior to digging to ensure enough time for the approximate location of utility lines to be marked with flags or paint.

2. When you call 811, a representative from your local one-call center will ask for the location and description of your digging project.

3. Your local one-call center will notify affected utility companies, which will then send professional locators to the proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of your lines.

4. Only once all lines have been accurately marked should you roll up those sleeves and carefully dig around the marked areas.

There are nearly 20 million miles of underground utility lines in the United States, which equates to more than a football field’s length of utilities for every person in the U.S. Your family depends on this buried infrastructure for your everyday needs, including electric, natural gas, water and sewer, cable TV, high-speed internet and landline telephone. With that much critical infrastructure underground, it’s important to know what’s below and call 811 before digging.

To find out more information about 811 or the one-call utility notification center in your area, visit www.call811.com.



5 simple projects to recreate your backyard

3/30/2017

(BPT) - Your focus changes during the warm weather months. Your backyard becomes your new living room and the most memorable evenings are spent outdoors with friends and loved ones.

This is provided, of course, that you have the perfect space for such gatherings. If you don’t, not to worry, the right project can get you there. DIY was made for goals such as this, and a simple weekend project can recreate your backyard space into the outdoor oasis you've always wanted.

Below are five projects you could tackle in a single weekend to recreate your backyard space. Review each to see which inspires you. You can always learn more about the step-by-step process to complete these projects through project blueprints and video at www.realcedar.com.

* A bar for the deck. A deck bar is an easy weekend project to house your cooler and act as a serving station for weekend events. Start this project by laminating four two-by-sixes together to form the top. Cut notches from four four-by-fours to build the legs for the bar and add the adjoining pieces to build the outside of the frame. Then add your cooler and connect your top to the frame with a hinge for a finished look.

* A bench for sitting or storage. A beautiful bench that’s perfect for sitting or storing comes together in three simple steps. Build the frame from notched pieces of Western Red Cedar, before filling the back with narrow strips of wood to form the back rest. Finally, build the bench and attach it to the frame with a series of hinges, ensuring the door can be opened whenever a little storage space is needed.

* A doggy décor crate. If you’re looking for a safe place for your pooch, one where they can rest on their bed without fear of being trampled, a décor crate delivers. The design is available in three different sizes based on the size of your dog and project plans for smaller dogs even include stairs. You can find free, downloadable building plans for each at www.realcedar.com.

* Time to dine on your new table. Great memories are built around the dining room table, so when you want to spend more time outdoors, don't be afraid to take the table with you. Building a stylish cedar table is easier than you think, and the matching benches make for a cozy gathering spot perfect for a collection of family and friends. Follow the simple building plans and remember if you choose to finish your table, you should coat all six sides before installation.

* Modern privacy right in your garden. Your garden is where you spend hours doing hard work, so why not make it a relaxing destination as well? A garden privacy nook can turn your favorite destination into a peaceful oasis with just a few rim joists, carriage bolts and Western Red Cedar two-by-fours. Download the plans at www.realcedar.com and find your oasis today.

Warmer weather is here but the season only lasts so long, so make the most of it while you can. Bring any of these five projects into your backyard and your favorite warm weather hangout space will be a spot you can enjoy all season long.



5 projects to create the perfect outdoor kitchen

3/30/2017

(BPT) - The weather outside is beautiful, so naturally you want to spend as much time outdoors as possible — and that includes mealtime and even the time spent preparing your food. So, if your outdoor cooking station isn't quite master chef worthy, worry not. There are several easy, affordable projects to help you transform the area into the perfect cooking and entertaining space. Give these projects a try to create a one-of-a-kind destination for the season.

* Start with the grill. Your grill is the focal point of your cooking area and you’ll need to determine whether gas, charcoal or propane is right for you. If expense is a concern, propane is a more cost-effective fuel than charcoal and it doesn’t require running any lines to your grilling area, providing you with the same grilling space with fewer expenses.

* Build a barbecue cover. Give your kitchen a beautiful outdoor shelter by building a barbecue cover from Western Red Cedar. This natural wood is resistant to rot, decay and insects, and it will look great no matter what the weather brings. In addition, building the cover is easy — simply follow the nine-step process found at RealCedar.com.

* Find the perfect light. If nighttime is the right time for your group, then forget the deck light and opt for ambient lighting options instead. Track lighting can be strung across your space easily to make your outdoor kitchen a welcoming environment. If you want to be more unique, you can find simple instructions online for building wine bottle torches or Mason jar lamps.

* A place for guests to dine. Enjoy the food where it was made by building a dining table and chairs from Western Red Cedar. Building a table is easier than you think, and red cedar can be finished in a variety of ways because it is pitch and resin free. All of this allows you to create furniture perfect for a more traditional or modern kitchen.

* Provide a little shade. Make those summer afternoons more enjoyable and comfortable by providing some shade for your guests, along with the cook. Building a pergola creates a beautiful and functional addition to any seating area. Building plans exist to create a pergola of any height or length, allowing you to customize your project to your space. Once the project is completed, stain it or decorate it in a way that provides the shade you desire while supporting your overall outdoor design look.

Many people mistakenly believe that outdoor kitchens are luxury items for only the wealthy, but that is no longer true. Any of the easy projects listed above can help you reimagine your space into the outdoor kitchen of your dreams. To find more beautiful options for improving your outdoor space, visit RealCedar.com.



Eliminate outdoor flaws with an attractive latticework fence

3/27/2017

(BPT) - Nearly 60 percent of homeowners are planning to spend money on home improvements in 2017 with outdoor living projects leading the way, according to a survey by LightStream, the national online lending division of SunTrust Banks, Inc. While there may be more popular and trendy outdoor projects, building a latticework fence is a very practical, easy and affordable way to add value by eliminating unwanted eyesores.

Every home is burdened with air conditioning units, garbage can bins, small storage units and other relatively permanent structures that detract from the beauty of a yard. An attractive alternative to physically removing these undesirable outdoor features is dressing them up with a latticework fence, which come in a variety of styles to match any home and outdoor living space.

The long-term viability of a latticework fence is dictated by setting the posts with strong concrete like QUIKRETE Fast Setting Concrete Mix. In addition to reaching a strength of 4,000 pounds per square inch, fast-setting concrete requires no mixing and hardens in 20-40 minutes so the project can be finished quickly.

Here are steps for building a latticework fence.

When working with cement-based products, always wear eye protection and waterproof gloves.

* Set two stakes and run string between each to mark the post hole locations.
* Dig each hole three times the width of the post and at least one-third the length of the post before pouring 6 inches of all-purpose gravel into the bottom to aid drainage.
* Put a post into the first hole and attach two-by-four wood braces to the adjacent sides of the post before using a level to position the post perfectly vertical.
* Fill the hole around the post with fast-setting concrete within 3-4 inches from the top.
* Pour up to 1 gallon of water into the hole until is soaks into the dry concrete mix.
* Repeat the process for the second post, then pull a string from the top of the two posts to confirm matching heights and level.
* Measure and build the latticework panel frame by attaching one-by-one wood strips along the middle of four two-by-fours with screws making sure to leave space at the ends. Cut the corners of the two-by-fours at 45 degree angles and attach the four pieces together with screws.
* Cut the latticework panel to the appropriate size, place in the frame and secure to the two-by-fours by attaching four more one-by-one wood strips on top with screws.
* Allow the posts to set in the concrete four hours before attaching the latticework panels with screws to complete the fence.
* For longer fences, follow the same process to extend with additional latticework panels.

Plants can be added to the latticework and/or a new floor can be poured with QUIKRETE Fast Setting Concrete Mix to further improve the appearance of especially challenging areas like a garage can bin. For more information on properly setting posts including a step-by-step how-to project video, visit the QUIKRETE website or Facebook.



Natural ways to keep roses radiant this season

3/28/2017

(BPT) - Warm weather welcomes flowerbeds, gardens burst with color and fragrance, and in many yards, roses are the stars of the show. They’re the most popular and prized flower in American gardens, one of the most-beloved flowers for weddings, and staples of Valentine’s and Mother’s Day bouquets. Americans love their roses — and so do a host of harmful pests, including Japanese beetles, aphids, mites among other insects, and let’s not forget about deer.

Pests can cause a great deal of damage to roses, especially considering many varieties have a reputation for being tenderly delicate. While some types of roses are hardier against disease, no rose alive can fight off an aphid infestation or fight foraging deer without some help from the gardener. However, growing awareness of the environmental impact of some common pesticides may have many rose gardeners looking for more natural ways to protect their blooms this season.

Brand-name neonicotinoid pesticides, commonly used to keep pests off plants, are being banned in states across the country, including Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota. North Carolina is currently considering a similar ban. This class of insecticides is believed to contribute to the devastation and decline of honeybee populations across the country. As more states prohibit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and some garden retailers remove neonics from store shelves, many gardeners may have to start looking for alternative, more environmentally friendly solutions to protect their prized roses.

Natural solutions

Fortunately, rose aficionados have several natural ways to defend their gardens from pests. These measures can help protect rose gardens and the environment:

1. Choosing a good location for your roses is the first step. If you’ll be planting new rose bushes this season, look for a location that will help the roses thrive. The healthier the plant, the hardier it will be in resisting disease and pests. Roses should get six to eight hours of sun per day, and need at least three feet of space on all sides to flourish. Be sure to properly prepare the soil, mulch around the base of the plant, and regularly fertilize and water.

2. Next, keep a careful eye on your roses. Regularly inspect blooms, branches, stems, undersides of leaves and vines for signs of insect infestation, including the presence of eggs, grubs and adult insects. Watch for evidence of deer damage too; such as ragged bites a foot or more above the ground.

3. Keep pests and deer away with a natural, environmentally friendly, dual purpose repellent like Bobbex Rose Deer and Insect Repellent. The easy-to-apply, ready-to-use foliar spray discourages deer foraging through taste and smell aversion, while simultaneously repelling insects such as aphids, mites, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, greenflies and sawflies. The product is compatible with nature, not classified as an insecticide and is harmless to all wildlife, pets, birds and people.

Bobbex Rose also provides needed moisture retention for the plant and can reduce the severity of black spot and powdery mildew, common problems for rose gardeners. Continued use will disrupt browsing habits of deer while protecting against an assault of insects in any weather. The product is actually good for plants since it contains elements high in nitrogen and phosphorus; it dries clear and won’t burn plants. Bobbex Rose will not wash off in rain, or irrigation. Visit www.bobbex.com to learn more.

4. Use nature to defend your roses; hang bird feeders to attract backyard birds that regularly dine on insects harmful to roses. You can also purchase lady bugs, which eat aphids, to release in your rose garden. Just be sure to research the best time and conditions for releasing lady bugs, or they will fly away before making any impact.

The fragrance and colors of roses are among the most delightful indulgences of the warm weather season. With a bit of attention, planning and effective natural assistance, it’s possible, even easy, to keep your roses radiantly resplendent while naturally protecting them and the environment.




5 tips to create an affordable and rewarding home DIY project

3/23/2017

(BPT) - When it comes to home improvement, DIY is more popular than ever. There’s just something satisfying about improving your home with your own two hands and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, day after day. However, home improvement projects can be expensive, and many people shy away from tackling home improvements they know they would enjoy because of their skill level or the fear of high costs.

This doesn’t have to be the case. While some projects — like a complete bathroom remodel — are going to be expensive, other DIY projects can be tackled in an economical and enjoyable way. These projects may include repainting a room, installing a new ceiling fan or replacing old, damaged baseboards. The limit is your imagination, so look around your house to see what home improvements could enhance your home and then apply these tips for an affordable and rewarding experience.

* Find your motivation. The most rewarding DIY projects are those that satisfy a real need in your home and those you'll use or see every day. Whether it’s to spruce up a room’s appearance, enhance its usability, repair existing damage or another project that may increase your home's resale value, select one that will be meaningful. Find out where your motivations lie and choose a project that satisfies the goal. You’ll put more effort into the project and be happier with the result.

* Know your limits. The "do" in "do it yourself" varies tremendously based on who you are and the skills you possess. If you’re a licensed contractor, your ability to "do" is probably quite high. But for most people, focus on projects you know you can handle. If you’re unsure, surf the web for a how-to video on your chosen project and watch it closely to see if it matches your capabilities. Tackling a project you can handle on your own will protect you from calling in a contractor last minute and incurring unexpected expenses.

* Turn loose coins into value. You have more money lying around your home to support your DIY project than you may think — and it’s nestled in that jar of coins you keep on the dresser, under the couch cushions or hiding on the closet floor. The average home has an estimated $42.92 in unused loose change, according to data from Coinstar. That’s money that could easily be turned into a couple cans of paint or tools for your next project. So collect your coins and bring them to your nearest Coinstar kiosk to put your newfound money toward that DIY project.

* Make it a family affair. Turn your DIY project into lasting memories by including your children in the work. Assign them tasks you know they can accomplish. Ask younger kids to sort supplies or carry lightweight materials, while older children can be tasked with painting large spaces or performing simple hammering tasks. Work closely with your kids and celebrate their victories at the project’s end. You’ll find that your little helpers may even be eager to sign up for your next DIY undertaking.

* Take pics to record your accomplishment. Your DIY project will spawn many memories, so take pictures to capture them all. Before-and-after pictures can be a fun way to see how your project improved your home, and while you're at it, why not brag a little by posting photos of your accomplishments online. And don’t forget to take pictures throughout the process as well. Your entire family will enjoy looking back at the progression years down the road.

To learn more about how Coinstar can help you find the cash you need for your next DIY project, visit coinstar.com.



7 reasons why millennials love gardening (and you should, too)

3/21/2017

(BPT) - The stereotype: Millennials spend more time interacting with the digital world than the natural world around them. The reality: Five million of the 6 million people who took up gardening in 2015 were millennials, according to the 2016 National Gardening Survey.

More millennials (people between the ages of 21 and 34) than any other age group are falling in love with gardening. As a hobby, gardening is a great fit for the millennial mindset and lifestyle that emphasize individuality, independence and value. However, the advantages of gardening that attract millennials are also relevant to every age group, and anyone who wants to begin growing a nutritious, healthful food garden.

Here are seven reasons why more millennials than ever are taking up food gardening, and why you should, too:

1. Gardening fosters better nutrition.

Millennials care about good nutrition and knowing where their food comes from. Multiple studies show members of the generation are health conscious, and understand the relationship between the food they eat, good nutrition and good health. Millennials know fresh vegetables deliver great nutrition, and millennial gardeners know that growing their own veggies and herbs also means they can put more nutritious food on the table. With transplant purveyors like Bonnie Plants offering more than 250 varieties of popular, heirloom, hybrid, new and tried-and- true vegetables and herbs, it’s easy to grow a garden full of healthy, nutritious, economical veggies and herbs.

2. You can save money in the grocery store.

Millennials are into saving money. Eighty percent have a budget, 72 percent are saving for retirement and 51 percent have an emergency fund, according to a TD Ameritrade survey. Gardening can allow you to spend less in the grocery store produce aisle — and that kind of saving savvy appeals to millennials as well as any other age group!

3. Gardening is good for the environment.

Awareness of environmental issues and a desire for healthful products that contribute to ecological balance are hallmarks of the millennial generation. A Nielsen study found millennials care about environmental issues and find ways to personally support a healthy environment. When you grow your own vegetables and herbs, "food miles," the distance a food item is transported from producer to consumer, shrinks substantially and includes only the distance from your kitchen to your own backyard. Choose plants in biodegradable containers, like those from Bonnie Plants, and gardening is even more environmentally friendly.

4. You can grow a garden anywhere.

While many millennials are city dwellers, others live in suburbs. The fact that they can garden anywhere — on a city balcony, urban patio or suburban backyard — makes gardening the perfect hobby for them. Using transplants from Bonnie Plants, all gardeners can create a backyard garden plot, a vertical garden in an alleyway between city buildings, or a container garden on a balcony or deck.

5. The garden is a great place to come together as a family.

It’s true that millennials make the most use of digital devices of any generation; they also value deep family relationships. Planting a garden with their children, significant others or friends allows everyone to spend enriching time together, working toward an enjoyable, shared goal.

6. Gardening can be a challenge anyone can achieve.

Working toward a goal, and having a vision, are very important qualities for millennials. Gardening takes time and effort but with the right resources and information, it’s something virtually anyone can succeed at. Millennials turn to online resources, like Bonnie Plants’ vegetable and herb growing guides, gardening how-to’s, videos and recipes to help them achieve and ensure success.

7. Gardening can be an adventure.

Sixty-four percent of millennials say they love to cook, and 75 percent enjoy eating cuisine from other cultures, according to a survey by Barkley. For a generation of adventurous eaters and cooks, gardening can be an opportunity to grow and try new things, from edible flowers and exotic herbs, to new types of vegetables, all the while saving money by growing their own.

With millennials now dominating the workforce, and many starting families and reaching their peak earning years, it’s likely their interest in gardening will continue to grow.



Top gardening trends for 2017

3/20/2017

(BPT) - Whether you have a backyard or just a few containers on the patio, sunny days are your cue it's time to garden. Growing your own flowers, herbs and vegetables is a lot of fun, and with some simple tips, it can be pretty easy to make sure your outdoor space is a showstopper.

The experts at Ball Horticultural Company offer insight into the year's top gardening trends so you can plant with confidence and creativity:

Trend number 1: Create curb appeal

Your home's exterior will influence the first impression of anyone that visits. Give your entryway an instant beauty boost with begonias. They’re perfect for the time-starved gardener, grow well in sun or shade, and fill in fast and full. At the forefront of this trend are Megawatt begonias. New for 2017, they feature exceptional performance and a unique bronze-leaf color that is sure to be noticed by guests.

Trend number 2: Tablescapes

Bring the beauty of gardening indoors with tablescapes. Use your harvested vegetables as decor inside in display bowls; you'll give your interior design a fresh look. There are also non-edible potted veggies like Hot Pops Purple Ornamental Peppers. They mature in multiple colors to keep you in color all season.

Trend number 3: Fresh food fascinations

There’s nothing like pulling fresh food from the garden, but 2017 is trending toward more unique flavors. Replace your traditional pepper plants with specialty hot peppers like jalapenos or chiles. And you don’t need tons of space to enjoy multiple tomatoes. Try Take 2 Tomato Combos which give you a slicer and a cherry tomato in one pot, providing twice the flavor in half the space. Travel the globe through herbs: Plant a kitchen garden of different basils, lavenders and mints. Use them in your next cocktail!

Trend number 4: Customize with color

A great garden is more than just a food source, it’s also a thing of beauty. One of the hottest trends for 2017 will be accenting your garden with unique colors that reflect your style. If your favorite color is purple, pink or white, weave some petunias into your garden design. If you adore red, try Archangel Cherry Red Angelonia for a delicate texture that weathers any extremes. Fill your garden with plants to match your favorite team's colors for a fun customized twist. Whatever you choose, a splash of color is sure to get your space noticed.

Get started on your garden project today

The 2017 gardening season is just beginning, so now’s the perfect time to make friends with your local garden center for the best plant selection. Incorporate any or all of the top trends listed above and your garden will be beautiful and rewarding throughout the entire year.