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Guess what I will be doing this weekend…yes, even in Florida, we have to rake leaves! I do have to admit that I have a lot less leaves to rake than when I lived in either northern California or Maryland. The weather is pretty nice too-sunny, clear, 72 degrees with a slight breeze-so I guess I really should not complain.  As I checked my email I strayed a little (like I have a tendency to do from time to time when on the Internet) and came across this article. I think that it gives me some kind of bonus points for doing some research before doing the actual work. Right? Maybe? Kinda? Sorta? Aww, probably not, I just need to get out there & as Nike says, “Just do it”.

4 Leaf Removal Tools that Clear Yards of Fall Debris

  • Published: September, 2011
  • By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Just for fun, take an inventory of all the leaf removal tools cluttering your  garage.

If you’re like me, you’ve got a half-dozen rakes of different sizes and  materials, a couple of blowers in various states of repair, and a couple of  infomercial gadgets that promise to make annual leaf gathering faster and  easier.

In fact, you need only a few essential leaf removal items in your landscape  tool collection to accomplish your autumn goal — removing the heavy leaves  that smother grass and make your lawn a splotchy mess in spring.

Fewer  gizmos and more elbow grease help home owners remove leaves and keep up with lawn  maintenance, says Brett Lemcke of R. M. Landscape Inc. in Rochester,  NY.

“The reality is, you can’t avoid hard work” when it comes to fall  landscaping chores, says Lemcke. “There are some tools that will help us, but  the best help is family and friends. The more hands, the better. Doing it  yourself is daunting.”
Unless you tether a mower to a stick and let it  mulch leaves all by itself.
Whether you rake,  blow, or tie a mower to a stick, you should remove leaves at least twice each  fall.
“Some people wait until every last leaf falls, and then they pick  them up,” Lemke says. “You should pick them up throughout the season. Don’t wait  until the last minute.”

Here are four essential leaf-removal tools  that’ll help you clear your lawn before winter sets in:

  • Rigid leaf rake. This plastic, fan-shaped rake is your  go-to rake for collecting leaves. Pick one with a cushion handle and a 30- to  36-inch fan. Avoid the super-wide fans that can spread to 48 inches; they’re too  big to rake between shrubs and in flower beds. Cost: $10-$20 (30-inch fan).
  • Leaf tarp. Instead of scooping leaves into a million  plastic bags, rake or blow them into a big pile on top of a polypropylene leaf  tarp. Then drag the tarp to the curb and dump. Cost: $22 for 12.5-by-10-ft.  tarp.
  • Leaf blower. Select a two-cycle, gasoline-powered blower to  collect leaves in tarps or blow them directly to the curb. If you have a large  yard, buy a backpack model, which is more expensive but more comfortable than  handheld blowers. Cost: 2-cycle handheld blower: $180; 2-cycle backpack blower:  $300.   (*** I personally don’t like leaf blowers for the most part because so many people tend to blow the leaves into my yard or their neighbors instead of picking them up. Ugh! Annalisa***)
  • Yard vacuum. This tool vacuums, shreds, chips, and bags  leaves and other yard debris. Once leaves are ground up, they’ll decompose  quickly in your compost  pile. Cost: $400-$650.

Read more:  http://www.houselogic.com/blog/landscaping-gardening/leaf-removal-equipment-tips/#ixzz1bRU97ql3

Here are some great pointers for your gardening adventures.

By: Oliver Marks from House Logic

Even veteran gardeners make rookie mistakes, like giving plants too much water and too little space. Here are common garden blunders. Consider yourself warned.

It’s easy to misjudge and make a mess out of your landscaping. Here are seven common garden blunders, and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Too many changes, too soon

The excitement of buying a new home, plus a stretch of warm spring weather, often creates a passion for yard work. But don’t just do something, stand there! What looks like a spring weed might be a fall-blooming vine; that bare spot in March might reveal tulips in April.

Try this instead: Live with your land for a year. Observe how many hours of sunlight each part of your garden gets. Test the pH of your soil to determine if acid-loving or alkaline-loving plants will be happy in that particular patch of heaven. Observe when your lawn greens up in spring and becomes dormant in late summer.

The money and time you save by watching and waiting will be your own.

Mistake #2: Too much togetherness

Trees and shrubs that look properly spaced when you plant them will crowd each other and compete for water, sun, and nutrients in a few years. If you’re lucky, you can transplant some bushes; if you’re not, you’ll have to throw away starved shrubs.

Try this instead: Before digging, read spacing instructions. Give trees plenty of space–you can always fill in later. Stagger bushes and plants and create two rows, which will create more breathing room. The results will look absurdly sparse at first. But live with it. In a few years, your shrubs will fill empty spaces without suffocating each other.

Mistake #3: Planting without a plan

Planting new garden beds without a long-term landscape plan is like pouring a house foundation without blueprints. Your haste results in a waste of time, money, and muscles.

Try this instead: Draw a simple sketch of your yard–what’s there now and what you might add later, such as patios, outbuildings, and pools. Bone up on the trees and shrubs that grow best in your soil and climate. Go online and click around landscaping sites that help you pick plants and design beds.

Visit your local nursery or home improvement center where design staff can answer questions and make suggestions. Or hire a professional landscape designer to create a starter plan for as little as $250 to $500. Find a professional at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers or the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Mistake #4: Neglecting the root of it all

Even the hardiest plants need a little help putting down roots in new locations. Sprinkling the foliage doesn’t nourish the roots, the plant’s nerve center. You must deliver water to the root ball below the ground, or your plants will be stunted and short-lived.

Try this instead: Place the hose at the base of new bushes, trees, and plants and let the water trickle out for 20 to 30 minutes, twice a week (more during hot spells), for 4 to 12 weeks. Or snake a soaker hose ($20 for 50 feet) through your beds, which will deliver slow and steady water to roots.

Mistake #5: Forgetting the sun

Too many gardeners pick plants based only on looks, not the growing conditions plants require and the conditions that exist. Rookies will plant sun-loving perennials under an old oak tree or sun-shy hostas in the open. They look great for about a week, and then die.

Try this instead: Observing the spot where you’re going to put the plant and estimating the amount of sun it gets over the course of a day during the growing season. To translate that into the language on plant labels, use this key:

Full Sun 6 hours a day or more
Part Sun/Part Shade 3 to 5 hours
Full Shade Less than 3 hours

Mistake #6: Over-watering

An automatic irrigation system is a luxury that keeps your landscape hydrated throughout the growing season with almost no effort. Unfortunately, auto-watering can bring disease, root rot, and a premature death to plants; it also wastes water.

Many gardeners set watering timers for 15 to 20 minutes each morning, which wets the surface but doesn’t soak deeply to nourish roots of large trees and shrubs.

Try this instead: Water for 40 to 60 minutes only two to three times a week. Check with the company that maintains your irrigation system for local recommendations. A deeper soak also helps lawns develop deeper root systems. (***Also check to see if there is water rationing in your neighborhood due to droughts this year before you set timers.-Annalisa)

Mistake #7: Budget blunders

Your landscaping can fall victim to construction bulldozers that park on lawns and dig too closely to trees and shrubs. New construction also demands rethinking your landscape plan to accommodate additions.

Unfortunately, many home owners don’t include landscaping in their construction budget. They end up with a beautiful new family room, screened porch, or solarium, and a few lonely azaleas planted around the foundation as an afterthought.

Try this instead: Allocate 10% to 20% of your construction budget to the landscape—both hardscaping and plants. If your construction spreadsheet can’t stand another line item, make a plan to landscape–in stages, if necessary–as soon as possible after construction is completed.

Oliver Marks is a former carpenter and newspaper reporter who has been writing about home improvements for 16 years.

By: Julie Martens

An edible garden featuring vegetables and herbs can save you a bundle if you keep it simple and raise plants that offer high yields.

How much can you save?

A backyard edible garden will trim costs from your grocery bill while providing you and your family with the freshest produce possible. According to Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association, a well-maintained garden can produce a half-pound of fresh vegetables for every square foot of garden space. At average market prices, that means a garden returns about $1 per square foot.

Studies conducted by W. Atlee Burpee Co., a mail-order seed company, are even more optimistic. According to Burpee, the average cost-to-benefit ratio of home-grown produce for those who have established gardens is better than 1 to 25. That means every $1 spent on seeds and supplies yields at least $25 worth of vegetables.

Even first-time gardeners will benefit. George Ball, owner of Burpee Co., says that a $10 investment in seeds for tomatoes, beans, bell peppers, lettuce, peas, and carrots, plus $80 for soil, fertilizer, and the cost of building several raised beds, can yield more than $250 worth of veggies and herbs—a substantial portion of the approximately $3,465 the average U.S. family spends on a year’s worth of groceries.

For families that save the harvest, either by freezing, canning, or drying, the cost-benefit ratio climbs even higher. Martha Garway, who tends a 10×10 plot in a Providence, R.I., community garden, freezes much of her summer produce, such as okra, tomatoes, and peppers.

That summer harvest, which costs her $20 for the plot plus the cost of seeds (and she tends to save her own), enables her to “buy only meat and fish through winter—no vegetables,” she says.

Top plants for great returns

For the average gardener in most regions of the country, here are some of the most cost-effective vegetables to grow, and an estimate of what you’ll save over store-bought produce. These figures reflect veggies harvested for fresh eating only; if you freeze or can produce to consume beyond the harvest season, your savings will multiply.

Slicing tomato
Seedling cost: $2.00/plant
Yield: 10-15 pounds tomatoes/plant
Savings: $15-$23/plant
 

Bell pepper
Seedling cost: $2.00/plant
Yield: 6-8 peppers/plant
Savings: $9-$12/plant

Cucumber
Seed cost: $2.95/packet of 240 seeds
Yield: 10-15 pounds of cucumbers per plant
Savings: $5-$7.50/plant

Bush green beans
Seed cost: $2.95/packet of seeds
Yield: 2.5-3 pounds/5-foot row
Savings: $3.75-$4.50/row

Pole green beans
Seed cost: $2.95/packet of seeds
Yield: 4-5 pounds/5-foot row
Savings: $6-$7.50/row

Leaf lettuce
Seed cost: $2.00/packet of mixed lettuces
Yield: 16 oz. of salad every 3-5 days after leaves mature
Savings: $4 per week

A few vining vegetables, like squash or Malabar spinach, produce abundant yields for the price of a packet of seeds ($2.95). Winter squash types in particular are easy to cure and store, lasting well into spring and offering savings of up to $10-$15 per vine.

Herbs

Herbs offer amazing return. For $1.50, you can buy a 3-inch pot of parsley, chives, oregano, mint, or basil and harvest leaves all season long. With the perennial herbs, like oregano and mint, the harvest continues for years with little maintenance action required. Compare that to “fresh” herbs you’ll get at the grocery for $3 for a 3-ounce packet.

What not to grow

Some vegetables aren’t cost-effective in an edible garden. For instance, you could spend $20 for organic seed potatoes that will yield 15 pounds of spuds from a 20-foot row planting. Compare that with the average price of white potatoes in the supermarket at $1 per pound. Then again, you can’t find Russian Banana fingerlings or Purple Viking potatoes at the grocer, so if you want a specialty spud, grow your own.

Other veggies that don’t pay to grow are ones that are finicky, like celery or asparagus. Both are labor intensive. Onions are relatively cheap to purchase, and it can be difficult to get a large yield of good-size bulbs without a massive garden.

Try growing shallots instead, a gourmet-style onion family member that produces green tops you can harvest like chives and mild flavored bulbs that cost up to $4 a pound at the store.

How big an edible garden?

The median size of an edible garden is about 100 sq. ft., according to the National Gardening Association. For a family of four, a growing space of 200 sq. ft. should keep the family in veggies all summer long. Plan to spend 4 hours a week tending your garden, with 8-12 hours for preparing the planting area in spring, shopping for seeds and seedlings, and sowing crops.

Julie Martens is a writer with 21 years’ experience in the field of gardening. Her bylines appear in magazines such as Nature’s Garden, Country Gardens, and Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living. She recently moved into a renovated 1915 home and is busily working on a new garden.

This a great article for anyone wanting to improve their yard or start an edible garden.

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Carefully plan and plot your garden to add value to your home and make the most of your time and money.

So don’t impulsively drive to your garden center. Walk your land, consult an almanac, test the soil, and make a budget. You’ll save your back, your budget, and your home’s curb appeal.

Tip #1: Get to know your land

Before shelling out money for new plants, consider what’s thrived and died in past gardens. Ask, “Is this plant doing its job? Adding beauty? Providing shade? Creating borders?” Give a pink slip to landscaping that’s not pulling its weight.

If you’re a newcomer to gardening or to the area, scout the neighborhood to see which plants look happy and which wither on the vine.

Keep in mind that even plants appropriate for your growing zone might not work in your personal patch. Your particular soil conditions, sunlight patterns, pest populations, and available water will determine what will grow. Your local cooperative extension service can analyze your soil and recommend amendments and suitable plantings.

Tip #2: Become sun savvy

Even experienced gardeners make mistakes. They plant shade-loving plants in full sun or sun-loving plants in partial shade. Before planting anything in your garden, compare the amount of sunlight your landscaping needs for the amount you have.

Evaluating garden sunlight is tricky because daylight is a moving target: Seasons change and plants mature and cast different shadows.

So before plotting plant beds and tree locations, study the movement of the sun throughout the day and, if you have time, throughout the year. Calculate how many hours of sun each garden section receives. Then check planting directions to make sure your greenery will get what it needs.

Tip #3: Become water wise

Over-watering plants can kill your landscaping and budget. To avoid death by water, know how much and when your greens need to drink: Sales tags should have watering directions.

Drip hoses are thrifty ways to water plants, because the water goes directly to roots, drop by drop. Wind drip hoses around tree bases and bottoms of shrubs. Put hoses on automatic timers to avoid over-watering.

If you have an in-ground sprinkler system, install an ET (evapotranspiraton) controller. These systems, which use real-time weather data sent by satellite to control when sprinklers turn on and off, can cut water use by as much as 30%. The controller costs between $300 and $400, depending on system size, but many municipal water agencies offer rebates, particularly in the arid Southwest.

Tip # 4: Mulch much

Spreading a few inches of mulch in landscaping beds protects your plants and shrubs from drying out, and makes beds look tidy and uniform. Mulch also keeps down weeds and moderates soil temperature.

Organic mulches–grass clippings, wood chips, pine needles–eventually decompose and add vital nutrients to your soil and landscaping. Organics also encourage worm growth, nature’s own soil tillers and fertilizers.

Shredded bark mulch from the garden center provides a rich look for your beds, adding curb appeal. It also prevents dirt from splashing on leaves.

(I think that mulch is extremely important. It protects the plants from the elements & reduces the amount of water needed. I like to put shredded mulch on first because it decomposes & it is cheaper. Then I put 2-3 inches of bark nuggets on top. It more expensive but it keeps the lighter shredded mulch from washing or blowing away. I have been an avid gardener for many years in 3 states & the Caribbean, each with completely different climates . Annalisa)

Tip #5: Color your garden

Stick to a simple color scheme for flowers and blooming shrubs in your garden. Your landscaping will look more cohesive and professional.

Massing plants of coordinated colors creates a sense of luxury and order. If you like pinks, add lavenders and blue-hued plants. If hot red is your color, mix with yellows and oranges.

Keeping to a single color family in your garden also narrows your focus when roaming plant center aisles. If you are a gardening newbie and can’t tell a tea rose from a trumpet vine, ask the store’s plant expert for help. Most will be glad to exchange their knowledge for a sale.

Also, gardening catalogs and websites often group complementary colors together. Some even provide a complete landscape plan, which you can faithfully recreate.

Tip #6: Avoid invaders

Ivies, grasses, and vines will fill in your garden quickly, and just as quickly take over your landscaping. Once these “invasives” take root, unearthing them is difficult, and in some cases, impossible.

Your garden center doesn’t call these spreaders “invasives.” They are billed as “fast growers” or “aggressives,” but often that’s code for non-native plants that take over the landscape and crowd out locals by stealing nutrients, light, and water.

(Native plants are used to the local weather & soil conditions &  generally need less water & attention. Annalisa)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a list of invasives that includes various ivies, grasses, weeds, vines, self-seeding varieties of bushes and shrubs, and even seemingly innocuous herbs, like mint. Your county extension service can steer you toward the species best suited to your garden. Warning: If you love growing mint, grow it in a pot on your deck or patio.

Tip #7: Beware of neighbors bearing green gifts

You should love thy neighbor, but don’t ever take cuttings from their gardens unless you know exactly what they are and how they grow. Self-seeding perennials, such as Black-Eyed Susans and coneflowers, will quickly fill bare spots with splashes of color. If you tire of them, just grab a spade and dig them out.

But if a neighbor extends a slender stalk of Rose of Sharon, or other invasive tree species, run away screaming. These trees will spread throughout your yard and grow roots so deep that only a professional–or the better part of your weekend–can dig and pull them out.

Tip #8: Plant shade trees for natural A/C

Shade trees planted on the south and west sides of a house reduce cooling bills–up to 25%–and lower net carbon emissions. So include shade trees in your landscaping plan.

Choose shade trees according to their size at maturity, which could be 20 years away. Dense deciduous trees–maples, poplars, cottonwoods–are good selections because their leaves cool your house in summer, and their bare branches let light in during winter. Plant them close enough to shade your house, but not so close that they will overwhelm the space.

If you want a faster growing shade tree, about 2 feet per year, select a northern red oak, Freeman maple, or tulip tree.

Tip #9: Power down your lawn mower

The Environmental Protection Agency says gas-powered lawn mowers contribute as much as 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Switching to new generation electric and push-reel mowers—which are lighter, quieter, and kinder to your lawn than power mowers—reduces emissions and cuts fuel consumption.

To mow three-quarters of an acre of grass with a power mower requires 1 gallon of gas. As gas prices head to $4 per gallon, you could save $100 a year by switching to a muscle-powered or electric machine. An electric or good push-reel mower costs $150 to $250, so it will quickly pay for itself.

Tip #10: Grade your landscaping

Once a year, walk your property, cast a hard eye on your garden beds and ask, “Is that plant doing its job? Is it growing into its space, or wandering wherever it likes? Are leaves healthy or spotted with mold and pests? Are these greens improving curb appeal or just making my house look overrun?”

If a plant or shrub isn’t working out, it’s compost. If shrubs are growing too close to your foundation–1 foot away is good–transplant or prune them.

Make sure trees are growing no closer to your house than the width of their mature canopies. Otherwise roots can burrow into foundations, and overhanging branches can trap moisture against the roof or siding, leading to rot and insect damage.

Check your flowering plants and shrubs to see if they are indeed flowering. Too few or dull blossoms should rally after a dose of fertilizer or layer of compost. An inexpensive alterative to commercial fertilizers is manure tea. Fill the foot of old pantyhose with a clump of cow or horse dung, tie the hose to the watering can handle, and let the manure steep in water. You can get weeks of nutrition from a little bit of dung.

Jeanne Huber is the author of 10 books about home improvement and writes a weekly column about home care for the Washington Post.

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

The success of any landscaping project depends on having a plan and sticking to it.

First, consult a pro

To figure out how to allocate your landscape dollars, start by picking the brain of a pro. Even if you have a naturally green thumb, a trained professional can save you from wasting money on wrongheaded ideas and open your eyes to possibilities you haven’t considered. There are various types of landscape pros, and their expertise is priced accordingly.

If your yard has major issues or you have grand ambitions, consider hiring a certified landscape architect to design a comprehensive plan that includes such things as irrigation, lighting, architectural features, soil conditioning, and, of course, the growing stuff. A verbal consultation costs about $100-$150; a detailed plan can run from $300 to $2,500. The American Society of Landscape Architects offers a state-by-state “firm finder” on its website.

Landscape designers typically charge less than degreed landscape architects and are a good choice for simpler projects that don’t require construction. Horticulturists specialize in plants, not necessarily design. Then there are landscape contractors, the design-build firms of yard work. Start by asking friends whose gardens you admire for recommendations. Your local home and garden center is another good source for contacts.

Set your priorities

Before you get any dirt under your nails—or hire someone to get dirty—you need to make two lists: a) what you want and b) what your property needs. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but the exercise is important for setting priorities. It would be folly to spend big bucks on an outdoor kitchen before resolving potentially disastrous issues such as a diseased tree or drainage problems.

The first question that a professional will likely ask is: What do you see yourself doing in your yard? Hosting Sunday barbecues? Doing the crossword puzzle in a hammock? Swimming laps? Growing vegetables? Clip pictures of outdoor spaces you like and don’t like to clarify the feeling you’re trying to achieve.

Remember that part of your landscape budget will go toward the “b” list. Those are things that may not lend themselves to sexy magazine spreads but can protect your property value—not to mention enhance your quality of life—by lowering water bills, reducing the need to mow or rake, or blocking the view of your neighbor who hot-tubs in the buff. We’re talking about practical considerations such as irrigation, fencing, lighting, equipment storage, privacy, and security.

Create a “floor plan” to target costs

To ballpark costs for materials and labor, think in terms of square footage, which is how landscapers charge. According to Costhelper.com, hiring someone to create a “naturalistic garden” averages $11 a square foot; the cost can double for a formal garden with walls and water features. And don’t forget to factor in long-term maintenance such as mowing, mulching, and pruning. (Sweat equity, anyone?)

If you’re designing your own plan, start by measuring your property or getting a plat survey from the county. You might even be able to find a topographical map indicating features like slopes and swales. You can sketch the basic layout to scale using old-fashioned graph paper or landscape design software. Prices have come down considerably on the latter, but quality varies widely, so check online reviews before purchasing. A free option: Google’s Sketchup, with cool apps for trees, pavers, shrubs, outbuildings, and the like.

Once you have the parameters, create a floor plan, marking off different sections just as you would rooms of a house. The front path is the foyer, there might be a “dining room” with a picnic table, a shady “bedroom” for a hammock, a “rec room” with play equipment. Consider the costs for each area of your plan, including materials, equipment, furnishings, greenery, and any specialized labor like irrigation or electricity.

Think long term

If your ambitions exceed your wallet (and whose do not?), go back to your priority list and pick a section or projects to tackle as your budget permits, advises Angela Dye, principal designer/president of A Dye Design, a landscaping firm in Phoenix, Ariz. “What is the absolute most important thing you need to have done?” she asks. “What is bugging you most?”

A carefully conceived plan will keep you on track during this gradual transformation, both in terms of vision and budget. And remember that patience pays off. “Additions or renovations can start losing value once completed,” says Jim Lapides, spokesman for the American Society of Landscape Architects. “A landscape literally grows in value over time.”

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House magazine. The secret to her Washington, D.C., garden is blood, sweat, tears, and mosquito repellent.

Annalisa Weller, Realtor®, Certified International Property Specialist

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