Keep Mulch from Washing Away

Posted by John on June 25th, 2013

Summer is in full swing around here, which means just about every weekend we have some sort of family activity.  Certainly not complaining.  Given the choice between spending time with family or working on my house, I’ll choose hanging out with my family 100 times out of 100.  Consequently, our DIY projects have been relegated to work days.  Throw in some torrential rain and we haven’t done a whole lot around here lately.  Meh.  It is what it is.

In my never ending quest to have our home be as maintenance free as possible, I’ve had to make some changes to our mailbox flower bed.  Keep in mind, these changes are still in progress.  I didn’t feel like waiting until it was completely wrapped up.

mailbox flowerbed

The volume of rain we’ve gotten lately has been hugely helpful to our perpetually barren lawn, but has caused some problems with our mulched flower beds.  The rain washes away sections of the mulch. Sends it right down the sidewalk  It hasn’t happened in normal rainfall, just the heavy stuff.

mulch wash out

It doesn’t look terrible with the missing mulch, but it’s noticeable since it exposes the weed barrier underneath.  There’s a simple fix to keep mulch from washing away that will prevent or at least mitigate the mulch loss:  add rocks.

Around some of the flower beds closer to the house, we incorporated river stones we bought from Lowes a couple years ago (the larger stones we got for free from a community project).  We added those stones for exactly the same reason, rain washing the mulch away.  So we know first hand how well the rocks protect the mulch.

rocks around flower beds

I still need to buy a couple bags of rocks, but I had enough on hand to get started on the mailbox flower bed. I place the larger rocks down first and try to keep the spacing random. I don’t want the larger rocks to look patterned.

rocks in flower bed

stones in flower bed

So for the price of a bag of rocks, you can keep your mulch from running away from you.  You know what happens now, right?  It’s not going to rain again this summer.

Keeping the mulch in place is the upside of the stones.  The downside is it’s a little more annoying to keep the rock areas weed free.  It’s not hard, it just takes a little longer and you may have to move the rocks out of the way to get at the weed roots.  Trade offs.  It’s always about trade offs.  What would you rather do?  Weed the rocks once a month or replace the mulch after every heavy summer rain?

In other news, I’m hoping to get our bug-free garage window solution knocked out this weekend.  We’re doing one window first to validate the concept and then we’ll do the other two if we’re happy with it.  Looking forward to showing you our idea.

Stay cool!

Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,,

Mailbox Flowerbed

Posted by John on June 2nd, 2013

So even though we haven’t officially hit the summer season yet, we’ve already managed to finish one of the projects on our Summer To-Do List.  Our mailbox flowerbed overhaul is all done.  Only thing left to do is water it everyday for the rest of my natural life.  Yay!

Last week we showed you how we spray painted the mailbox and you even got a sneak peak of the planted flowers.  A couple days ago I put the finishing touches in place by adding a little bit of weed blocking fabric and some black mulch.  Here’s the prequel…

We started with a grassy area around the mailbox.mailbox before

I used a flat edging shovel to remove the grass.  This was the hardest part of the job.

mailbox flower bed

You definitely need to use the proper shovel for this work.  A regular spade shovel may work, but it’ll take longer and just frustrate you.  Use a shovel like the one in the photo below.  I bought that one at Lowes a while back.  It’s a Kobalt brand and it works beautifully.  When you use this type of flat shovel, you hit the grass from the side and basically scrape it off in sod-like chunks.  The grass comes out in little sheets or sections, which are perfect for plugging any sort of holes or bare spots in the yard.

edging shovel

With the grass removed, I worked in about 3 cubic feet of topsoil and leaf compost that I had bought in bags at the nursery right into the area I was going to be planting.  Adding quality soil will help keep the flowers alive especially since our soil is pretty much garbage.  Now the ground is ready for the plants.

Time to stage the flowers.  Lisa used the potted flowers and played with the arrangement on the pavement before settling on a layout.  Then it’s just a matter of positioning the flowers in the bed and digging holes.

flower layout

We chose a Stella d’Oro for the rear most flower since it has some height and blooms all summer.  The purple flowers are Royal Candles Veronica, which are somewhat shorter and the small guys are Japanese Silver Grasses.  All of these plants were marked as ideal for dry areas and a good amount of sun exposure.  We don’t have a sprinkler system in the grass or anything that close to the road, so they aren’t going to get any water unless it rains or we water them ourselves.  The rest of our flower beds do have a drip irrigation system hooked up though, thankfully.

We were also mindful of the height these plants will reach at maturity.  We like the varying heights they have now and we don’t want the grasses in the front to tower over the others down the road.  We don’t mind them growing, we just want them to grow proportional to their current heights.

We also tried to keep them spread apart.  It sure looks like we could’ve squeezed in some more plants in that space, but we don’t want them to get overcrowded once they get bigger.  Learned that lesson the hard way.  One of our side flower beds is currently a jungle.

mailbox flowers

After I dug each hole, I would take the plant out of it’s temporary pot and slice off about half of the root system.  I heard this trick stimulates the roots and helps the plant get settled into its new location.

When all the plants were in the ground, I used about a six inch wide strip of weed blocking fabric along two sides.  I could’ve used more and really integrated the fabric throughout the bed, but I only have grass on one side of the flower bed.  Plus, it was easier, it was 90 degrees out and I was tired and lazy.  All good reasons.

Here’s what the flower bed looks like now…

mailbox flowerbed

mail box flowers

mailbox flower bed

Hopefully we’ll be able to keep them alive.

How was your weekend?

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State of our Yard: Fall 2012

Posted by John on October 16th, 2012

Hey everybody!!  Hope everyone is enjoying their Fall weather!  We just had a great weekend and it was made all the better with the warm weather.  Saturday night we did a ghost walk through a town not too far from here and Sunday we met some friends and went to Sesame Place.  So our weekend was pretty packed and between that and some added car work, we didn’t do any more work on our garage shoe rack.  Whomp Whomp.

Last week we did manage to squeeze in some light yard work.  I don’t think we’re going to be doing much of anything out there until Spring.  We will be taking some photos though of the leaves changing though!

To improve the look of our lawn, we spread out a couple of very large bags of grass seed.  Since we don’t have a sprinkler system, nor do we plan on installing one, it’s important that we stay on top of it with regular seeding and fertilizing.  We’ve considered adding a sprinkler system, but they usually run around $2500 for our front yard and they can add around $100 per month or more on your water bill depending upon how much you water your lawn.  The alternative to using city water is getting a well drilled on your property and using what is essentially the free well water to water your grass.  The advantage of the well is you can water as often as you’d like, but the well can cost around $3000.  Plus, if you don’t drill down deep enough, you can hit a vein of water that has high levels of iron in it, which can discolor your sidewalk by giving it a rusty color over time.  Sucks.  So, for at least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to skip the sprinkler system.  I can think of a lot of better places to sink $2500!!


In addition to our grass, there are a few areas of our yard that we’re going to restyle and clean up. Our shed needs some TLC.  The flower beds were the first flower beds we made at our new home and I made some critical errors when I made them.


For starters, the plants have grown somewhat beyond their original zones so I’ll need to expand the flower beds.  We still need to find a flowering plant to go in that empty window box.  This is the second straight season where we didn’t put anything in it.  For shame! 🙂


The other thing you may have noticed is I didn’t follow my own advice I dispensed in our Lesson’s Learned post for better looking flower beds.  All of the shed flower beds are straight rows with sharp corners.  That’s normally not too big of a deal, but having sharp corners makes it difficult to cut it easily in the riding mower.  Every time I cut the grass, I have to go back around the ramp with a weed wacker.  In the spring we’ll be curving and expanding this whole flower bed to both improve its looks and its maintenance ease.

In our garage side flower bed, we’re going to be rearranging and cleaning this mess up.


Yikes, right?  It used to be so nice!!  When we planted everything, it looked much more tame.  Like this…


Most of these plants just grew wildly bigger than we expected and started to overcrowd the bed in a bad way.  Dense flower beds can be nice or a hot mess.  This one is a hot mess.  We’re going to have to figure out what to do with this bed.  More than a couple of these guys will probably be transplanted.  I think we’ll probably reshape the flower bed as well.

That’s the bad stuff.  Here’s the good..  tall-grasses-2-1024x682

We love these tall grasses, especially when the extend those tall seedy things.. whatever they’re called.  Paging Mike McGrath, there’s a blogger than doesn’t know what he’s talking about.


So, that’s what’s going on in the yard.  The trees really haven’t started changing color quite yet, but stay tuned for some yard pictures when they do.

Are you scheming and planning what you’ll do with your yard next year or are you just enjoying the Fall weather?

Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,, , , ,

What I’ve Learned About Flower Beds

Posted by John on September 19th, 2012

Instead of bringing you a post on some of our latest outside work as I’d planned, I’m forced to goto Option B and discuss something else.  I was hoping to come home from work and snap some quality photos of our mums, and the finished front door paint.  However, due to some pretty nasty weather, those pictures will have to wait for now.  So, onto Option B, What I’ve Learned About Flower Beds.

Full disclosure:  Lisa and I still do not consider ourselves to be green thumbs.  I think I can say with some level of confidence that when we moved into our current home, we had sort of a blackish gray thumb.  Let’s call it a charcoal thumb.  We killed plants.  It happens.  They just tended to die on us.  We’ve since improved our game through many lessons learned.  Our garden isn’t perfect, but I think we’ve learned enough to dispense some garden advice.

What I’ve Learned About Flower Beds

1.  Curved lines are more attractive than straight.  This one is a biggie.  If you’re just starting to make flower beds, try to add some curves.  Professional landscapers rarely lay down straight flower beds.  Some straight sections you may not be able to get away from, but when possible go round or go home.  If you already have straight beds, it’s easy to add some curvature.  Just shape a garden hose to the profile you like and mark the outline with spray paint or a shovel.

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2.  Use landscape fabric to keep weeds out.  Unless you love spending your free time yanking weeds every week, I’d pop for the fabric.  It’s not hard to incorporate it if you already have beds.  It’s also perforated enough to allow water to run through it.  They tend to come in varying levels of quality identified by their life expectancy.  I’d go with a good 15 year roll or better.

3.  Add a drip irrigation system if you don’t already have a sprinkler system for your lawn.  These systems consist of a roll of flexible tube that gets run in the flower bed.  You punch holes in it or add nozzles and you connect the hose to a battery powered control valve/timer that sits on your outside faucet.  It’s very inexpensive and supremely DIY.  The hose can sit under the landscape fabric or over it, so if you already have an established bed, you can add this and throw some extra mulch over the hose to hide it.  It’s a great way to keep your plants alive without having to water them everyday by hand.  After all, these plants can get pretty expensive.

mailbox flowers

(via greengardenista)

4.  Add depth by planting flowers or shrubs with varying height.  In my opinion, this is the hardest part of having a sweet looking flower bed.  Staging the plants appropriately so they all show off their natural beauty yet getting the height and depth right to maximize the wow factor.  If you stick with plants that all have roughly the same height, you could be losing out on some visual interest and curb appeal.  We need to add a lot more depth in our garden.  Right now it’s too one dimensional.  This mailbox photo is from Lisa’s Outside To-Do List.  We’re hoping to get to that mailbox project done in the spring.

I’m hoping to get some much needed outdoor work done before it starts to get too cold.  This weather is perfect for garden work.

What are your tips or suggestions?  Are you planning on any Fall garden upgrades?

Posted in Fall,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,, , , , ,

Dead or Dormant?

Posted by John on September 30th, 2011

Just got back from a long work trip and found myself with some rare free time and decided to wrap up the mulch on the last flower bed I added.  It had been a couple weeks or more since the last time i had been over on that side of the house and right away I noticed some changes.  First off the big Japanese Silver Grass I planted to hide the electric meter looks pretty rough, dead even.

Here’s what it looked like when I planted it.

tall grasses

Here’s what it looked like today.

dead tall grass

No, that’s not Rod Stewart’s hair piece, that’s the same grass. Looking a little peaked today are we?  So the big question is… is this grass dead or dormant?  If there are any green thumbs out there, I’d love to hear your opinion on this one!

The bad news here is the other grasses look OK.  Why is that bad?  Because that means this one is probably dead.  The good news is the nursery where i purchased this grass has a one year money back guarantee.  I think I’ll be taking advantage of that policy, unless someone advises me otherwise.  May be lazy and wait until the spring anyway though.  TBD.

This past month we’ve had a lot of rain.  Despite my earlier effort to install the downspout extenders, I’ve still gotten some run off, albeit a minor amount.  The front edge of the flower bed has a good amount of sand from all the rain.  So, once the mulch is in place I would expect the rain to move the mulch as well.  I may have to add a small extension piece to the current extender.  Here’s a shot of the run off.

flower bed runoff

One of the bright spots in this bed has been this tall fringe flower.  It’s been turning some leaves red and then dropping them. Looks beautiful.

fringe flower

It’s also been producing a few flowers.

fringe flowers

Now onto the mulching.  If you’re interested in learning how to edge and mulch a flower bed, check out this post.

mulch bed

For now, I’m just going to leave this downspout trowel in place.  Next spring, I’ll extend it and rock it out.

japanese grass

All done.  Immediately after I took these photos, I removed the tags from the plants.  I like to procrastinate with those.

side flower bed

My transplants look pretty decent as well.  If you recall, I moved two crimson pygmies that were in rough shape over behind the fringe flower.  They were originally in the front of the house early this past summer before I had installed a drip irrigation system.  They didn’t do so well so they were relegated to the plant cemetery.  The plant cemetery is the small area behind the shed that is nearly in shade all day.  Consequently, a couple plants I’ve had back there in pots have sprung back to life.  Except, they’re evil now.


Before I moved this one here, it had purple leaves, not the green shown here and it looked bare.  I think these will pull through nicely.  I also moved a pygmy over to the side of the shed.  This one is still in critical condition.  However, the plant I moved from the shed is thriving along the side in the new bed.

other shrub

So that’s it for new plants this year.  We’re very happy with how the flower beds came out.  Next year I’d like to add a few more plants to each bed and try to increase the depth and play with the height some.  Not bad for a first try though.  I think I’ve had my fill of mulch for a while too.  Next year I’ll probably just have a lawn cutting service freshen up the beds with a couple inches of mulch rather than me do it.

Anyone still doing yard work or are you all done for the season?

Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,,

Using a Shrub as a Tree

Posted by John on September 12th, 2011

Ever have one of those weekends where you plan to do a couple simple, well planned chores and despite all your efforts, you don’t finish either one?  Well, I had one of those weekends.  I planned to start and finish two projects, the first one, which I’m writing about in this post is the flower bed on the OTHER side of the house.  The garage side of the house, I finished here.  The second project is a bed crib side table for our baby.  I’ll write about that project in a day or two.  The flower bed is all done except for the fabric, mulch and drip nozzles, but I’ve done a few posts on the stuff already (here, here and here), so I’ll just stick to the meat and potatoes and show you the grasses and shrubs we picked.

Here’s what I started with…

Lisa and I did the trick with the garden hose to get the basic flower bed layout down.  I wanted to have the new bed flow seamlessly into the side.  I had originally planted that Japanese Silver Grass there to try to hide the electric meter and the landscape lighting transformer, but it hasn’t held up too well.  The other couple shrubs there were simply placeholders since at the time, I had an excess of plants, but a shortage of places to put them.

Once the flower bed was edged, it looked like this…

At this point, I was ready to install the plants.  But, then there was an incident with a snake.  Between me and the shed, I ran into a 3 foot long black snake.  The snake was chilling in the grass with it’s head up and it’s forked tongue darting into the air.  I’m pretty sure (not really sure at all actually) the snake was a Queen Snake due to it’s coloration.

So after throwing a garden hose at the garden snake, it slithered away into the high weeds that border our property.  Crisis averted.

Now back to the shrubs.

Lisa and I wanted to put a tall plant at the widest point of the flower bed to give some depth and height to the side of the house.  The easiest way to do this would be to throw a tree there, but we weren’t really interested in a tree.  Something about the long term worry about the size of the tree and the foundation.  So this is what we did instead…

That tall plant there is a Razzleberri Fringe Flower and it’s not a tree, it’s a shrub.  It’s been groomed to look like a tree through regular pruning.  It’s tied to a stake to keep it straight, which it will need for another few years.  I also replaced the grass with a more full, healthier version and relegated the other grass towards the end of the yard near the downspout.  The small shrubs in front of the fringe flower are Norway Spruce.

Not done yet…

I have a nice full shrub to the left of the fringe flower, which was there to begin with and I wanted another one to balance the bed out, so I had to rob Peter to pay Paul and took one from the side of the shed.  The photo above shows it planted on the right of the flower.  I also added two crimson pygmies behind it that I had pulled from the front of the yard a while back.  They weren’t holding up well to the summer heat and the direct sun, especially since I hadn’t yet put in the drip irrigation system.  They did alright back in their pots.  Right now they look pretty bare, but I’m hoping a north facing flower bed and regular watering will perk them back up.

So how was your weekend?  Did you get done everything you wanted to?

Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,,

Hide Utilities with Landscape

Posted by John on August 25th, 2011

With August winding down it’s time to put our landscaping work into high gear.  I sure don’t want a frozen 3 foot high pile of mulch on my lawn come December.  With grad school night classes starting up again for me this week and the Flyer’s season starting soon (I try to watch every single game), my time for projects will be limited.  There’s still a fair amount of work to be done outside…

Our list of outside projects before winter:

1.  Finish both flower beds on the side of the house

2.  Repair the erosion and bald spots on the front lawn

3.  Replace the mailbox with a black hand-stenciled unit

4.  Repair the septic clean out pipes I’ve run over with the tractor

5.  Seed and fertilize

So, I took advantage of some comp time and left work early to take care of a bare flower bed.  Here’s what it looked like a couple weeks ago.

We had already prepped the area with the intention of completing it while we were working the front, but that didn’t happen.  A couple of weeks ago we purchased three Japanese silver grass plants and dropped them into a few spots with the goal of adding some interest to that area and more importantly, to try to hide the gas meter.


Here’s what my beautiful wife picked out…

This lineup consists of three Scotch Heathers, three Russian Sage plants and a Phantom Hydrangea.  Everything was on sale at our local nursery.  The hydrangea is most definitely nearing the end of it’s flowering for the season and is showing signs of browning, but for $10 off original price, I’ll take it.  Now that we have August flowers covered, we’ll have to add some spring perennials next year.

While we were at it, we also wanted to clean up the edges of the flower bed and improve the flow into the back yard.  We’ve been told by garden folk that you never want to have a flower bed with straight lines.  So, we used the ol’ lay down a garden hose to trace out a serpentine flower bed trick (see second photo above).

By the way, this garden shovel is amazing at clearing the top level of grass off and for edging flower beds.  A spade shovel doesn’t quite measure up to this task.  Highly recommend it.

Here’s how the bed looks with the plants in the ground…

Yeah, well, looks better in person.  Maybe next time I’ll take the photo BEFORE I water everything.  I mean, look at that Russian Sage on the right, it looks like I stepped on it!  So that’s how you hide utilities with landscape.

I’ll post some photos after I finish mulching it.

Speaking of mulch, here’s a before and after showing how much mulch is left…

I think it means something…

Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,,

Drip Irrigation System Installation and Flower Bed Fixes Part 2

Posted by John on August 15th, 2011

Back to work on our drip irrigation installation…

To see Part 1, click here.

So today I got an early start on the front flower beds with the goal of finishing up as much as I could until more drip irrigation hose arrives next week.  I’ll leave a small bare batch un-mulched so I can bring the 1/2″ hose over to the bed from the other side of the walkway.

Before shots…

First job this morning was to get the small grasses planted and continue with the landscape fabric.

In the picture above you can clearly see the 1/2″ drip irrigation supply line draped about 8″ away from each plant.  There is a tee behind the dwarf spruce.  Later, I’ll run 1/4″ lines from the main 1/2″ run over to the small grasses.  To get the curve right, I used hold down pins to keep the 1/2″ line from moving.  On this half of the bed I’ll run my main drip hose under the landscape fabric, but the other bed, I’ll run it over the mulch and cover it after it’s all in.

After about 4-5 hours of work, I got the entire front mulched (except for a small, necessary bare patch).

All finished.  Admittedly, our flower bed is low-key and kind of boring.  We get it.  However, we’re really not green thumbs by any stretch of the imagination, so we’re taking baby steps for now.  I think we’ll be adding levels of complexity as time goes on, but for now, I’ll be thrilled if nothing else dies!!

Posted in DIY Projects,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,, , ,

Drip Irrigation System Installation and Flower Bed Fixes Part 1

Posted by John on August 12th, 2011

Lots to do this week!!

We got 3 cubic yards of black mulch and four flower beds to go!

Weeds, weeds and more weeds

There are a couple of landscaping lessons we’ve learned since we moved into our new house.  The first and arguably the most important is the necessity of landscaping fabric on flower beds.  Unless you enjoy weeding, they are a huge time saver.  The second is the necessity for regular and frequent watering of all our shrubs and decorative flowers.  We’ve already had to remove several crimson pygmies because they’ve dried out and shed a ton of leaves.  We were hoping Mother Nature would take care of our flower beds, but that hasn’t been the case.  Luckily, our other shrubs, like our sky pencils and hollies have been relatively unharmed by the local dry spell.

To combat the natural heat waves and dry times, we’re installing a drip irrigation system.  For under $200, we can water every plant automatically, everyday, twice a day.  We purchased the components to the system from www.irrigationdirect.com.    The drip irrigation system primarily consists of a battery powered control valve, a 1/2″ main water supply line and some small nozzles.  The main water supply line just snakes around the plants you want to water and then connects to the control valve.

We’re coinciding our drip irrigation installation with our mulching and rehab of our dilapidated flower beds.

We’re starting this drip irrigation installation from the end of the line and working towards the house, but it can be done the other way around.

The 1/2″ line and cutters

The manufacturer recommends to let the 100′ coil sit in the sun for a bit to soften the plastic before you work with it.  Once it’s soft, we’re going to unwind it and run a length of it under the sidewalk to bring it over to our small detached flower bed.  Since this irrigation line is soft and kinks and crushes easily, it’ll have to be run through a PVC pipe or other conduit.  To learn how to get a PVC pipe under a sidewalk, check out our previous post here.

The 1/2″ line run under the sidewalk

Now that the pipe is through, I add an elbow fitting and run it along the sidewalk over to the detached bed.  I’ll then add a tee and another elbow and run a small length of 1/2″ line in two segments right past the pom-pom plant and the small hollies.  At the end of every run, the 1/2″ line needs to be capped.  I’ll add the actual nozzles at the very end of the project.

One of the nice advantages of drip irrigation is that it can be run over or under mulch, so it can be added to existing flower beds with relative ease.  I’ve actually run out of 1/2″ line, so I’ll just finish up as much of the mulch as I can until more of it arrives.

Now for landscape fabric, mulch, downspout extenders and stone…

To see Part 2, click here.

Posted in DIY Projects,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,, , ,

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