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Lawn Care Maintenance Tips to Revive Your Frozen Turf

April 29th 2014

Lawn Care Maintenance Tips to Revive Your Frozen Turf

Has the Polar Vortex Wrecked your lawn?  Here's how to bring back the green.

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon of House Logic (NAR)

A polar vortex has pounded lawns this winter with ridiculous sub-zero temperatures and record snowfalls. So don’t be surprised if parts of your lawn — especially in low-lying areas — are dead on arrival in spring.

"Snow acts like a cover, but ice is bad for turf,” says Chris Lemcke, technical director of Weed Man USA lawn care. "Ice freezes plant cells and crushes blades and leads to death.”

Freeze-thaw-freeze conditions are even worse for turf roots, which can become brittle and die.  Road salt also is bad for lawns. The turf near streets and along driveways and paths may need resuscitation or replacement when spring grass should be greening up.

Dead or Sleeping?

When snow and ice melt, your late-winter turf starts awakening from hibernation and changes from brown grass to green; if your lawn died, it won’t change color.

The best way to see if your lawn is dead or sleeping is to tug the brown areas. If the turf comes up easily, the roots have failed and the grass is dead. If there’s resistance, then there’s hope.

How to Bring Lawns Back

When is the right time to bury your dead lawn — grass, roots, clinging soil — in a compost pile and start growing new grass?

  • After the last chance of frost
  • When night temperatures top 35 degrees
  • When soil temps reach 50-65 degrees

Dead patches of lawn are easy to pull up because no roots bind the turf to the soil. Cut around dead areas with a spade, then yank up the patch. 

Then it’s time to reseed.

1.  Scatter seed on soil and lightly rake it in.

2.  Water daily with a light mist for 15 minutes to keep soil moist. If the soil dries out, seed will not germinate.

3.  When seed germinates, water deeply.

4.  Feed young blades a high-phosphorous fertilizer.

5.  Let grass grow at least 3 inches before its first cut. 

If you can afford sod — 8-30 cents/sq. ft. compared with $28 for a 5-pound bag of seed that’ll cover 2,000 sq. ft. — Lemcke recommends laying sod on dead patches instead of seeding. Sod is more forgiving when it comes to watering and resists weeds better than seed.

An Ounce of Prevention

You can’t control the weather, but you can mitigate winter’s affect on your lawn.

  • Add topsoil to low areas of your yard to reduce the impact of ice. Then reseed or sod.
  • If you notice dead turf where you piled shoveled snow, spread out your snow pile next year.
  • To reduce salt damage, apply deicers after you shovel snow, so salt doesn’t seep into your grass. Also, use calcium chloride-based deicers, which do less damage than sodium chloride-based salts.

Read more: 

April gardening checklist

April 23rd 2013

April gardening checklist

Gardens start to come alive this month, and if the weather cooperates, it's a time to plant, water everything and take care of the lawn.

By Sally Anderson of MSN Real Estate



In some areas, April brings the first signs of winter's end; in others, it's the gateway to hot, summery weather. But in most climates, it's the magical month when gardens start to come to life.

Remember to adjust gardening tips to fit your own growing season — but most important of all, wait until the last frost date to put tender plants in the ground.

Here comes the sun, which means that greenhouses are starting to heat up. On warm days, be sure your greenhouse is well-ventilated. Give more regular care to greenhouse plants by stepping up your watering and fertilizing schedule. Also make sure to check your greenhouse thoroughly for pests.


Container gardens
Even beginning gardeners can brighten up a terrace, patio, deck or windowsill with containers tumbling with flowers.

  • Use hanging baskets, pots of all sizes and planter boxes — or ask the kids to help you paint old pails or coffee cans — for clusters of color.
  • Fill containers with bulbs and bedding plants to be transplanted in warmer weather, or make permanent plantings.
  • Spark up potted shrubs and trees by surrounding them with dashes of perennial color.
  • Group cactus plants of different heights and shapes, or try your hand at a container bonsai garden.
  • Apartment dwellers, if you haven't made a windowsill herb garden, what are you waiting for?

Don't let your garden dry out before it even hits full stride. Get into the rhythm of watering regularly early in the season to ensure happy, healthy plants.

  • Set up a watering system to minimize the work of regularly watering your garden beds. Make sure a hose or watering can is accessible in areas that you will water often throughout the growing season.
  • In container gardens, make sure that your geraniums, pansies and other container plants are getting enough water.
  • This is an ideal time to check on the moisture of plantings at the base of evergreens or under eaves. These are often left parched, even in rainy climates.

Weekend projects
Carpenters and carpenter wannabes: Lots of garden projects are easy enough for beginners.

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Try to devote one weekend of each spring month to building projects, and beautify your garden with simple or elaborate embellishments.

  • Make a simple entry trellis to frame your walkway with a shower of climbing roses.
  • Garden paths, from basic steppingstones to brick or timber steps to colorful flagstones, can meander cottage-style or lead directly to a meditation pond.
  • Add benches to frame your deck or patio, or build a bench to encircle a large tree for dappled shade in summer.
  • For vertical variety in your container garden, make a pot trellis for creepers or climbers to cling to — you'll even have time to spare for building raised vegetable beds or a wall trellis for clematis.


Lawn care
Want the greenest lawn on the block? Well, start now or forever hold your peace with a less-than-lush lawn.

  • Between now and May, after grass is well-established, give the lawn a light raking before fertilizing.
  • Choose a spring fertilizer that contains moss killer if moss is a problem.
  • You can now overseed your lawn (using about one pound per 300 square feet) to help fill in bald patches and fight the return of weeds and moss.
  • If your lawn has begun growing in earnest, you can also aerate it now, making it more absorbent and reducing summer water needs.
  • Start cranking up your mowing schedule and put those grass clippings to work. Adjust your mower to cut only one-third the length of its blades, then leave the clippings on the lawn. They'll feed the growing grass much-needed nitrogen as they break down.
  • Make sure newly sown grass is getting enough moisture.


Planting trees and flowers
In some areas, the time has passed for transplanting large shrubs and trees, but in many climates you can still plant deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, perennials, hardy annuals and rock-garden perennials such as yarrow, rock jasmine and small dianthus.

  • Geraniums and fuchsias that have spent the winter in hiding should be repotted for a fresh start.
  • Midspring is also a good time for planting dahlias, most lilies and gladioluses for summer blooms, but hold off a bit longer on sensitive canna lilies and tuberous begonias.
  • If you haven't planted or set out berries yet — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries — now's your chance. Just be sure they have plenty of water.

In most areas, April is the real start of the outdoor vegetable garden, especially perennials such as asparagus, although it's probably still not warm enough to plant heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

  • Wait until the end of the month to plant corn and beans, but you can put potatoes, onions, radishes and other root crops in the ground now — or anytime. Before transplanting, start hardening off cool-loving greens and root-crop seedlings such as cabbage and lettuces, carrots, chard, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Place planters of root vegetables in a shady, wind-protected area, moving them daily for more sun exposure.
  • Until a few days before planting time, bring the planters back indoors at night.
  • If it's warm enough at the end of the month, start sowing seeds directly into the soil.

Shearing, pruning and grooming
From now until late spring, the time is ripe for shearing and pruning evergreens of all kinds.

  • Cut only in the green foliage areas to ensure that branches will regrow, and maintain that nice draped evergreen shape by keeping the top smaller so that bottom branches will receive needed sunlight.
  • Stop pruning roses and buddleias, and prune fuchsias late in the month.
  • After rhododendrons bloom, remove the spent flower clusters with clippers or snap them off by hand.


Mulch and compost
Don't neglect the soil in which your garden grows. Mulch and compost add valuable nutrients, as well as protection from heat and drying out.

  • Even in areas you haven't yet planted, but especially around shrubs and perennials, add a light layer of mulch to help summer water absorption.
  • Mature trees, climbers and roses (now that you've stopped pruning) should also be mulched now.
  • Start turning your compost regularly, and mix old and new compost together with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
    Don't let pests enjoy the fruits — or vegetables for that matter — of your gardening labors. Take precautions early and throughout the growing season to keep your plants healthy and edible.
  • Treat newly planted fruit trees for pests after the first buds appear on branches.
  • Keep protecting new shrubs and fruit trees from unexpected night frosts.
  • Especially now, after planting tender seedlings, make a slug-and-snail tour armed with a saltshaker, or bait slugs with shallow bowls of stale beer.

Give a little love to your houseplants, and they may give back to you. For example, did you know spider plants help to purify the air by removing carbon monoxide?

  • Give houseplants a boost after their dreary winter: Gently remove topsoil and replace it with a top-dressing of compost.
  • Repot plants that have outgrown their winter containers. Use the next size up, and cover the drainage hole with screen mesh or a pot shard to prevent soil from washing through.

April home-maintenance checklist

April 22nd 2013

April home-maintenance checklist

Fix fences, tighten your home’s energy efficiency, repair a screen door and make 8 cheap, fun improvements to give your home’s entrance some spring sparkle.

By Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

Finally, it’s spring. To celebrate, do a few improvements indoors — tweaking your home’s energy efficiency and getting doors to operate smoothly — and then get outdoors to do some work that shows off your home’s exterior. Install a new screen door or repair an old one. Maintain fireplaces and gas appliances while avoiding the scammers who pop out of the woodwork like bugs this season. Repair fences. Remove stubborn stains from concrete garage floors, patios and sidewalks. And try one or all of our eight cheap and fun ways to give your home’s entrance some exciting spring sparkle.

Install a programmable thermostat

Energy is wasted when you push up the temperature when the room feels cold or turn down the heat manually when it’s too warm. You can save about $180 a year with one of these devices.

A programmable thermostat lets you set the temperature in your home, then leave it. The most useful products give you options for establishing different temperatures for day and night (62 at night, for example, and 65 during the day), weekdays and weekends (keep the house cooler while you’re away at work and warmer when you’re home) and also let you turn the heat way down during vacations without changing your daily settings. (Learn more and find out how to get a federal tax credit and possible rebates in this Energy Star article on programmable thermostats)

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Cut energy expenses further
While you are in the mood to reduce energy consumption, call your electric utility and/or your heating-fuel company to ask about financial incentives for installing energy-efficient appliances or improvements. Some utilities subsidize the cost of improvements: adding insulation or weatherstripping, or installing that programmable thermostat, for example. Others give rebates for purchasing Energy Star appliances such as water heaters, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, heat pumps and fans. Also, remember to take the federal tax credit for such purchases. See the entire list at the Energy Star site. Senior citizens may qualify for additional subsidies.

Look for additional savings: Many states offer additional incentives. Find programs in your state on this map, at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Straighten out problem doors
Walk around the house with a can of silicone lubricant and a rag, trying each door. If a door is sticky, open it partway and pull the hinge pin out. The pin is found in the center of the hinge, in the joint between the plate on the wall and the one on the door. Lightly oil the pin and the hole into which it will fit, using the rag to stop drips. Drop the pin back in place.If a pin is stuck in a hinge, use a hammer and small screwdriver to knock it all the way out. Sand off accumulated oil, dust and rust from pin and lightly lubricate it before reinstalling. You may have to do this with both pins.


Repair or replace screen doors

Get ready for bug season by hanging screen doors. You can repair torn screens yourself:

  • Measure the screen opening. You’ll need overage, so add at least an inch to each side. Bring the measurements to a hardware store and purchase a new length of screen.
  • The screen is held in place by a flexible cord fitted into a channel that runs around the screen frame. Lift out the cord. If it is old and brittle, measure it and buy new cord at the hardware store.
  • Place the new screen over the opening, fit it snugly in place by settling the cord in its channel around the entire opening (poke it in place with a screwdriver). Trim the excess screen with scissors or a box cutter.

If the door sags, see if you can tighten it by replacing missing or corroded hinge screws. If that doesn’t work, or if the door is bent or battered, purchase and install a new aluminum screen door.


Install a chimney cap
You could send out an invitation to birds and squirrels to come nest in the warmth of your chimney, or you could install a cap to protect the stack from dripping rain and uninvited critters. A cap, sometimes called a “crown,” shelters the opening while it lets smoke escape. A cap prevents wind from entering your home and helps create a good draft that feeds your fireplace or stove with oxygen. Metal chimneys usually come with caps, but if yours doesn’t have one, ask the manufacturer for advice. Caps are not appropriate for all chimneys. Ask your chimney sweep to inspect the chimney each year for damage and to advise you on whether to install a cap.


Beware chimney-sweep scams
Yes, you should have your chimney swept by a professional to remove flammable creosote that builds up inside the flue from wood smoke. (If you don’t use the stove or fireplace much, you can wait two to three years between cleanings.) But not every chimney sweep is right out of “Mary Poppins.” Door-to-door scammers prey on homeowners, dangling deliciously low prices, then pressuring owners into “repairing” expensive but fictitious problems. Protect yourself by using a chimney sweep with an established business in your town. Check a company’s track record through the Better Business Bureau and locate certified sweeps at the National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Read: Smoke out a crooked chimney sweep

Have gas-burning furnaces and appliances inspected
Every year a licensed gas technician should clean out dust and debris and examine the appliance for safety, efficiency and repairs. Find a repair pro through your gas company or utility or search the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association's site.

Don't Overlook a Home's Potential

April 12th 2013

Don't Overlook a Home's Potential

Cosmetic issues are easy to remedy
Home shopping for first-time homebuyers it's an exciting, albeit nerve-wracking, experience. If you're like others in the market for their first home, you probably have in mind exactly how your soon-to-be home will look.
But it's important not to fall into the bad decorating, dingy walls and dirt-bare back yard equals bad-home trap. If you don't see past the hideous wallpaper, funky light fixtures and avocado green carpeting, you may miss out on a home with great potential.
And, if you're looking for a home in a seller's market where homes are being snatched up as soon as they go on the market, you'll come to realize you can't be choosy if you want to make a competitive offer.
One of the first things to do is to get pre-approved for a loan and determine the maximum you can afford to offer for a house. Don't look at homes that are asking for more than 5 percent above your maximum, otherwise you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment if you find the perfect—but outside your budget—home.
So what to do?
The floor plan of the home is extremely important. If a floor plan isn't quite to your liking, consider rearranging it or adding on. If you're looking at an existing home and will need to remodel or expand to suit your needs, the estimated cost of renovation needs to be considered when making an offer.
Also, consider the features of a home:
  • Walls. While these are among the easiest to remedy, they also make a huge first impression. If the walls need to be painted, are covered in wallpaper or are painted a color you find distasteful, picture them crisp and clean in the color of your choice—that's how they could look after you paint them.
  • Floors. Like walls, carpet or floor surfaces that are old or outdated can be easily replaced. You could even ask for a carpet allowance in your bid, especially if you're in a buyer's market.
  • View. Things like old, ugly—even dirty—windows and window treatments can make a view appear less desirable. Those things can be improved, so unless the only view you have is of your neighbor's clunker on the side of the house, don't get hung up on what is surely a fixable view.
  • Landscaping. Your best bet is a moderately landscaped yard because you can always improve landscaping without spending too much. Worst case, even if you're looking at dirt, landscaping is one of the easier projects to tackle. Plus you get to design it however you'd like if you're starting from scratch.
  • Closets and garages. You can never have too much storage space, which is why so many newer homes have three-car garages. But if you encounter a converted garage that is now a bedroom or storage room, don't give up. Converted garages can almost always go back to their original purpose without much cost or labor.
  • Kitchen. The most popular room in the house, many homeowners want their kitchen to be large and have modern appliances. Don't let outdated color schemes deter you because there's nothing like a fresh coat (or two) of paint to make a kitchen your own. Plus, if you like the rest of the house enough to make an offer, you can give the kitchen a minor spruce-up with some new appliances or a major overhaul complete with new countertops, cabinets, and flooring.
  • The exterior. If the home doesn't have good curb appeal, try to picture it with a fresh coat of paint and revitalized landscaping.
  • Pools. If you want a pool, buy a home with a pool already built in. Pools are expensive and you will not get a full return on the cost when you go to sell. Let someone else lose the return. The cost of repairing a pool is less than putting one in, so if you're looking at a home with an old pool that looks like it's in bad shape, it's still a better bet than putting one in later.
When making an offer, consider what you can't live without, as well as your budget. Also, be sure you hire a professional home inspector to inspect the house. If the home's systems are in good working order and the house has everything you want except a minor item or two, make an offer accordingly.
Most importantly, keep in mind that unless you're building your dream home from scratch, you'll probably never find the perfect home. But seeing past a previous owner's bad decorating choices to the core of the home and its potential for livability will yield you the home you've always wanted. It may take some work, but hey—it's yours.

In Love With Two Houses?

April 11th 2013

In Love With Two Houses?

What to consider when making the final decision
As you find yourself heavily immersed in house-hunting mode, you may encounter a situation in which you're torn between two houses. Perhaps you and your spouse each have a favorite, or perhaps you both like two houses equally - or think you do.
Making a final decision and determining which house to make an offer on shouldn't be taken lightly. The decision should be made rationally and not guided by emotion.
Of course, you may not have the luxury of taking your time on deciding which house you'd like to pursue. You may be in a market in which homes in your price range get snatched up as quickly as they go on the market, perhaps even attracting multiple offers.
But in some situations, you may find yourself torn between two houses. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is take pen to paper and outline your family's needs, your budget, and the pros and cons of each house.
Some things you'll want to compare include:
  • The neighborhoods. If the two final contenders are in different neighborhoods, evaluate the pros and cons. If you have kids and being close to a park is important, you'll want to consider that. How close are shopping, restaurants, church, and other services? Are the streets maintained? Do homeowners landscape and maintain their homes nicely? How long will your commute to work be?
  • The schools. If you have school-aged children, you definitely want to consider the reputation of the neighborhood schools. You can usually find general district information and state standardized test results online. But once you're this deep in the process, you'll want to visit the schools and receive the information first-hand from school officials. You should also talk to teachers and parents.
  • Crime. Go to the local police or sheriff department and ask about crime in your specific neighborhood. You might find theft or vandalism to be more prevalent in one area than another.
  • The houses compared to others in the neighborhood. While it may boost your self-esteem to have the biggest house on the block, it's typically a better idea to stay away from purchasing the neighborhood monster. When it comes time to sell you'll find that the lower value of your neighbors' homes will shrink your home's value.
  • Appreciation. If the two homes you're eyeing are in different parts of town or different neighborhoods, ask your real estate agent to retrieve sales of homes in those neighborhoods over the past few years. If one neighborhood shows an annual average 8 percent increase and another is skyrocketing at 15 percent, you may have your decision made.
  • The sellers' situations. If you don't know already, ask your real estate agent how long each home has been on the market. Usually the longer a house has been listed, the better chance the seller will accept an offer lower than asking price. Conversely, if the house has been on the market for just a couple days, the sellers will probably wait for a better offer if you offer less than the listed price. Your real estate agent might also be able to dig up additional information about the sellers, like why they're selling. If it's a job-related move or a divorce, the sellers likely want to move as quickly as possible, meaning you have a better shot at them accepting a lower price.
  • The houses themselves. If you haven't already, you should make a list of the amenities and attributes you want your house to have. If you want that first-floor home office, a large, open back yard for the kids, or a gourmet kitchen, be sure to include that on your list. Then, rate how each house measures up to each need on your list.
  • Drawbacks. Likewise, make a list of the cons associated with each house and determine how much of a negative impact each will have.
As you carefully weigh all the factors, it might become clear that one house is more enticing than the other. Or, you may find the houses are still equally appealing. If that is the case, be sure you look at the homes more than once. You may notice something you didn't the first time around - something that could sway you one way or the other.
In fact, you should probably visit each home at least two more times, at different times of the day to get a feeling for how the house and neighborhood look and feel in the morning versus late afternoon or evening. Once you make a decision and an offer, you can take comfort in knowing you may still have a back-up if the deal falls apart.

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