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Keep Mulch from Washing Away

Posted by 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 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?

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

State of our Yard: Fall 2012

Posted by 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.. 

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 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 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.

shrub

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 ,,