Posted by John on September 17th, 2013
It was a good summer. I only got sun burned once. Or twice. Got to the beach a few times. Good stuff. As far as home improvement projects go, this summer wasn’t too bad either. Let’s take a look back and see what we got done and what we postponed.
We started off the summer with a post on our Spring and Summer Goals where we listed around 9 projects. We got a whopping 2 done. It’s just like that Meatloaf song, “Two out of Nine Ain’t Bad.” Not one of his better hits.
The first outdoor project we attempted was the DIY Concrete Planter. We had mixed results with the monogram, but overall we still really like the planter. I am still planning on retrying this soon. We’re going to double down and make two at the same time and try to make them darker.
After the mailbox work, we shifted gears and finished redesigning and coding our own WordPress Theme. This upgrade had been hanging over my head for months. I really like the feel of the new theme, but there are still a number of changes I want to incorporate.
Before heading back into the garage, we installed some UV window film to prevent further sun damage in our entryway. It was tricky to install, but it will probably end up saving us hundreds of dollars worth of damage to our stained wood.
Finally, we finished work on our garage improvement. That alone was around 9 or 10 posts.
So what did we skip? For the most part, landscaping. We still need to clean up our side flowerbeds (see the hot mess above). One is heavily overgrown and the other needs a tall shrub or tree to anchor the layout. In order to get it done now though, we would have to rush through it. So, we’re punting it until the spring. Womp Womp.
We have a lot of exciting Fall work lined up and we’ll be building some new furniture shortly. So stick around!
How much summer work did you get done? What did you skip?
Posted in Garage and Tools,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,Garage and Tools, Landscape
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,flower beds, Landscape
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…
I used a flat edging shovel to remove the grass. This was the hardest part of the job.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Hopefully we’ll be able to keep them alive.
How was your weekend?
Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,flower beds, garden, Landscape, mailbox
Posted by John on May 27th, 2013
Hope everyone had a happy and safe Memorial Day! Thanks always to those who gave their lives in defense of the freedoms we hold dear.
This past weekend we had a small family get together for our daughter’s Christening. Good times. We also managed to squeeze in some gardening and DIYing, of course. As much as I am a fan of outdoor projects, they beat me up. Outdoor work is HARD! If it’s not the heat, it’s the 400 lb wheelbarrow or the shoveling or the lifting. Killer. We decided to tackler a project that’s we’ve been dying to get to for some time now. Here’s the inspiration pin we’ve been staring at…
We’re going to break this project up into a couple posts, although you’ll get a sneak peak of both in this one. We’ll start with the painting the mailbox. Although the pin doesn’t have a painted mailbox, we wanted to gloss ours up a bit.
Here’s how to paint a mailbox..
We’ll start with what our mailbox looked like before we started.
Nothing special here. The mailbox and post are PVC and were installed by the builder. We haven’t touched it since we moved in. Recently it’s been covered in bird crap and has started to develop some cracking in it. Now, we checked some new ones out at Lowes and there is a black version of this exact same mailbox for around $11. Great deal, right? Well, the low priced black mailbox isn’t as glossy as we were looking for, it was more of a matte finish and the glossy ones were metal and started at around $30 (a couple were $60). We already had a can of gloss black spray paint, so we only had to spend around $3 for a can of primer. Good deal.
After thoroughly cleaning the mailbox with some dish soap and water while it was still attached to the post, we removed it to paint it. It was attached to the mounting bracket with four screws.
We also snapped off the front cover and the red flag. It was much easier to paint them without them attached.
We primed the pieces in the garage over some cheap plastic tarp. Here’s a tip: to avoid the mailbox (or whatever else you’re spraying) from sticking to the tarp, move the part in between sprays that way the paint won’t build up in one spot on the tarp.
After two coats of grey primer and two coats of gloss black, we re-installed it onto the post. The grey primer was perfect since we were going from a white to a dark color like black.
Here’s how it looks now.. you can see the flower bed as well, although we’re still working on that.
If I knew it was going to be that easy, I would’ve done this much sooner. It also helped that we worked on it during a holiday, so there was no mail delivery to deal with. We still have to add a couple more plants, put in some weed screen and then mulch it.
What did you do this weekend?
Posted in DIY Projects,Outdoors and Landscaping,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,Landscape, mailbox, paint
Posted by John on May 20th, 2013
We’re back. Just had one of those weekends where we did next to nothing. No home improvement projects to blog about. No chores. Nothing. Watched a ton of Doctor Who. It was everything I hoped it would be. My batteries are officially recharged.
I’m trying to keep up the frequency of our posts, but I’ve been taking some extra time during the week to work on our new blog theme. I haven’t touched it since Christmas and just decided to start from scratch again. So far so good. I think you’ll like it. Keeping it simple. In any case, trying to keep three posts a week and make time for a theme build just isn’t happening. Working in web design or graphic design in general is not an area of strength for me so it’s mostly slow going.
In other news, it’s been a while since we’ve had some direction around here. We just got done a major carpentry project and dabbled in some concrete work. I think it’s time for a new to-do list so you know what we’re planning.
With the end of my spring grad class and the weather getting warmer, it’s officially outdoor season here. While there are still a good amount of indoor projects on our to-do list, the vast majority of our work plans are aimed at exterior projects.
Here is a list of the projects we’re planning on tackling this spring (what’s left of it) and summer. Most of these ideas are going to be relatively low cost. We were hoping to get started on a deck build, but have decided to punt that at least into the fall.
1. Clean and organize the garage. Our garage is the bane of Lisa’s existence. It’s dirty, unkempt and filled with bugs year round. This is now priority numero uno. In order to bring the garage up to something more tolerable, we have a series of tasks slated for this space.
-Apply another coat of epoxy on the floor
-Add shelves and additional storage
-Do something about our God-forsaken window treatments
-Add stroller storage
-Paint the interior door black
-Dress up the stairs
2. Flower bed fix ups. Time to bring these once proud flower beds up to snuff. Our front beds are in decent shape, but our side beds are overgrown and are in need of re-edging and some additional work.
3. Flower bed by mailbox. Remember this pin? We’ve been pining after this look for months. It’s time to make it happen. Hoping we can make a big improvement to a small space.
4. Add more exterior lights. One of our first posts when we started blogging was the landscape lighting we added. I’d like to make the exterior of the house pop a bit more and take care of some dimly lit areas. A couple more spot lights should do the trick. Oh and I need to take some quality SLR shots of the house lit up at night.
5. Drip irrigation. Also one of our earlier series of posts. I bought enough supplies to take care of the entire perimeter of the house, but still need to add the system to one of our side flower beds. You’ll get a refresher on drip irrigation installation. Piece of cake.
6. Add motion sensors to our exterior spot lights. Quick. Easy. Need to do it.
7. Shed flower bed. After we built our shed, I gave it a rectangular flower bed that wrapped around its three sides. Looks okay, but is impossible to cut easily with a riding mower. I’m going to reshape the beds to make this sort of maintenance easier by incorporating curves.
These last two are inside-the-house projects, but so what.
8. Family room trim. Our family room is big and plain (old photo). We’ve been kicking around some ideas on how to add some character and interest without breaking the bank. Keep an eye on our Pinterest activity in the near future for hints of what we’ll be doing. I’d ideally love to be done with this project before I start my last grad course at the end of August.
9. TV Console. Thought I’d be knee deep in plywood by now, but think this one may wait for a rainy day. See this post for more info on this project.
Ambitious list? Sure is. I work better with longer lists. Gives me something to shoot for.
What’s on your spring/summer to-do list?
Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping,Outside. Tagged in ,garden, Landscape, lighting
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.
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 ,fall, flower beds, grasses, Landscape, seeding
Posted by John on April 17th, 2012
We don’t have green thumbs. Our lawn probably is never going to be the nicest on the block. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t try right? It’s April and while we should probably be thinking about some outdoor projects soon, we’re still going to be working on some indoor stuff for a while. Late last summer we beefed up our flower beds and added a drip irrigation system to keep our plants from dying. That was kinda ambitious. This outdoor season we’re not planning on being very ambitious at all. We may add some…. what do you call them… “plants” to our existing beds.. maybe some more mulch. Here’s the current state of the front yard.
It looked so nice in the fall right after we planted everything. Fresh mulch too.
Here’s the flower bed on the side of the house.
and right after we planted it…
It’s in need of some attention…
The front looks about the same…
Some of the weed barrier has become exposed and that grass looks pretty ratty.
In its glory days while I was adding the drip irrigation system.
We clearly need to add some more mulch, but we’re probably just going to use a landscaper to top us off. I mulched all the flower beds last year and I don’t feel like having a giant pile of mulch in my yard again this year…
The grass is in just as crappy shape. We don’t have a sprinkler system installed for the entire yard and we don’t really plan on adding one quite yet. They can be a nice chunk of change. I really need to seed more often.
The whole strip between the sidewalk and the road is the worst. I need to till it all up and start over. I’d really like to do something near the mailbox as well.
This weekend I finally had a chance to fertilize using a corn gluten based product. Corn gluten is a kid/pet safe fertilizer that is organic instead of the traditional chemical weed killer. It’s actually pretty effective against weeds despite it’s kid safe nature.
It only kills pre-emergent weeds and not already grown weeds, but it’s better than nothing if you’re trying to stay organic. Since it prevents weeds from germinating, you can’t seed your yard until after about 6 weeks or the corn gluten will prevent them from growing as well. I’ll keep you posted on how it works.
Any outdoor plans on your to-do list?
Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,Landscape, lawncare, outdoors
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.
Here’s what it looked like today.
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.
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.
It’s also been producing a few flowers.
Now onto the mulching. If you’re interested in learning how to edge and mulch a flower bed, check out this post.
For now, I’m just going to leave this downspout trowel in place. Next spring, I’ll extend it and rock it out.
All done. Immediately after I took these photos, I removed the tags from the plants. I like to procrastinate with those.
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.
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 ,flower beds, Landscape
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.
Posted in Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,flower beds, 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…