4 Tips for Keeping out Pests When Entertaining Outside

One of the biggest pros of the summer weather – outdoor entertaining – can quickly become one of the most unpleasant experiences if the right precautions aren’t taken. Insects and pests can infiltrate any outdoor space, especially when the weather is nice and sunny. But just because there’s an increase in bugs doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your outdoor space just as much as they do. Here are four helpful tips for keeping the pests out of your outdoor spaces.

1. Put up Mosquito Netting

Mosquito netting added to an outdoor tent or as a cover for a porch can add protection against bugs, as well as making outdoor areas look nice and design savvy. They can also be added to individual patio tables and umbrellas to create a comfortable and trendy outdoor seating area, free from the threat of pests.

2. Install Tiki Torches around Your Porch

The flames from tiki torches can keep pests away, but it’s important to make sure that they’re installed in a safe area and a safe distance away from the house or any flammable materials or areas. Tiki torches also create a fun atmosphere and ambiance for outdoor gatherings and social events.

3. Plant Certain Herbs Nearby or Around Social Areas

Planting a garden of lavender, rosemary, garlic, peppermint, chives, or basil can help keep insects away due to their scents. They also provide lovely scenery and provide the extra benefit of having homegrown herbs and spices.

4. Hang a Traditional Bug Zapper

The most known way of getting rid of outdoor pests for events and parties is to use a bug zapper. These can be purchased at any hardware store and are an inexpensive way to keep insects at bay. The main disadvantage of this method is that they can be noisy at times.

These four quick tips will help you keep your outdoor entertaining spaces comfortable and bug free. For more outdoor tips and help installing more permanent measure like a screened in porch, call our experts at 1-866-FIX-MY-HOME for a free consultation or enter your zip code above to find a location near you!


DIY Projects to Rejuvenate your Lawn

Homeowners are always looking for ways to improve the look and the value of their home. One of the quickest ways to do this is to spruce up your yard by investing in a little landscaping. Luckily, this is one of the most DIY-friendly home projects that you can find. So grab your gardening tools and a floppy hat and get ready to rejuvenate your lawn with these 5 tips.

1. Choose a Focal Point

Maybe the focal point is your front door, or maybe it’s an apple tree in the front yard. Whatever it is, design your landscaping around a focal point to bring all of the elements (flowers, plants, ornaments, lighting) together in a cohesive and appealing manner.

2. Create an Inviting Gathering Area

Gazebos and pergolas are popular ways to create an outdoor gathering area, aside from a patio or deck. These can be purchased at most home improvement stores or can be built from scratch. Adding ivy or other types of plants and flowers will give it a more warm and inviting feel.

3. Use Stepping Stones to Create a Walking Path

Having a path that leads to the front door or that winds through a garden in your yard can be a great way to create a cozy and inviting appearance. These easy-to-use stones are cost-effective (some are less than $20!) and can be laid in a matter of hours.

4. Use Plants for Privacy

Most homeowners have some type of plant or flowers adorning their yard, but not many use them to their advantage. Create the element of privacy by mounding soil in your backyard and planting on raised beds. By doing this, taller plants will create a wall of privacy, and smaller to medium sized plants will be closer to eye level and more easily seen.

5. Use Concrete Ornaments

Concrete and other types of lawn ornaments are easy to maintain and can add a bit of color and personality to your yard. These range from simple concrete spheres to garden edging that’s designed to keep in flower beds and also create an organized area for plants and gardens. Call Handyman Matters today at 1-866-FIX-MY-HOME for all of your exterior projects or enter your zip code above to find a location near you!

Tips to Keep Your Trees Healthy

Trees and plants are living things just like ordinary humans and they not only need attention from time to time, but they also need the proper care and protection that enables them to live longer, healthier lives.

Trees and landscapes face various problems such as pests, storms and seasonal endurance, and it is up to you as the tree-owners to make a difference. Just giving water to your tree every day for a minute does not equal tree care.

No magical procedures are essential for a tree’s healthy survival, just a little time and some simple steps to ensure vitality. Dangerous pests, storms and disease imperil their lives in various ways. You must recognize the pests and tree diseases in the landscape and the damage they pose. Any threat should be dealt with through pesticides and insecticides, although it should be noted that some bugs are actually valuable to the trees.  It is important that these are not mistakenly harmed.

Storm-struck and disease-affected areas should be quarantined without delay to prevent additional damage or problems spreading to other trees.

Landscapes need deep-root fertilization at intervals but it should be conducted so that trees are not harmed in any way. Likewise, tree pruning and trimming are necessary for general health, and for fruit trees, this helps stimulates production. However, pruning must be conducted with care and expertise.

For the best possible results and no damage to the vegetation, it is best that you employ a trustworthy and certified arborist who can conduct the work expertly. Certified arborists make sure that they make no more changes to the original structure than necessary, to prevent unnecessary trauma or risk.  These include such delicate tasks as re-planting trees in new locations, preventing tree chopping, pruning trees in their best season, helping landscapes survive all seasons, fixing any potential storm damage, using correct fertilization techniques, treating tee diseases and tree bugs, as well as root grinding and stump removal.

If you opt to undertake these tasks on your own, make sure you are well-informed and take no steps that could endanger the life or health of your own foliage.


Select a Style For Your Yard

The first thing you need to do before making any purchases is to decide what style or theme is right for you, formal, casual, rustic, southwestern, Japanese, or something else.  There are a lot of possibilities. When you’ve made the initial decision, stay with that style and theme so the overall effect does not become confusing. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily want to combine bronze garden sculptures of saints or cherubs with rustic wooden wagon wheels.

Decide what is going to be the main purpose of your patio.  What are you primarily going to use the space for?  Do you plan to entertain a lot and cook outdoors regularly? If that is the case, make sure you have ample room to accommodate a barbeque and cooking area for a large amount of guests. Perhaps you want your patio to be more of an intimate, meditative sanctuary for basking in the sun or gazing at the stars, curling up with a good book or just contemplating life and recharging your batteries.

Create paths or walkways that wind their way from one area to the next. Paths can be very soothing and if planned carefully they can be very helpful when gardening. You can construct them from stone, brick, flagstone, gravel, or just mown turf, although be aware that grass paths need  more work. Locate benches along the pathway to create some wonderful seating areas from which to enjoy your garden or a piece of beautiful garden sculpture.

Garden structures help create forms and lines, which will give your patio design definition and dimension. This definition will be preserved even during the winter months when most plants are free of foliage. By including a pergola or gazebo, you can create a garden design that will be attractive all year round.

Choose garden and landscaping elements built to withstand the weather, sturdy, yet attractive. You can include wood patio furniture made from treated pine, cedar, teak, or eucalyptus; metal patio furniture made from wrought iron or aluminum; a trellis, an arbor, or some decorative fencing. Another element to consider is a water feature, which can bring beauty and atmosphere to a garden design.

There are many landscaping choices available to you; make your choice carefully, and then stick with that plan. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring or monotonous, just maintain an underlying theme, and remember that an asymmetrical balance is still a balance.


Add Beauty and Elegance to Your Landscape with Stonework

Landscaping is one of the easiest ways to spruce up your home and give it a fresh look. Plants, gardens, and greenery are effective in making an otherwise suburban backyard into a jungle, tropical, or flower garden landscape. The results can be serene. However, another technique homeowners are increasingly turning to that can dramatically shape their home environment is with stonework. There are few materials more earthy, solid, or enduring than stonework. Stonework can add an elegant look to any backyard and can be utilized in gardens, sidewalks, paths, patios, waterfalls, outdoor living areas, recreational areas, trails, outdoor cooking areas, ponds, and more.

Some of the most beautiful structures in the world utilize stone, and stonework can take your backyard to another world. From old-world stone walls to cobblestone paths, stone has an impact like little else.

Some considerations to consider for stone include thickness, size, cost, and look. Stone comes in many different looks, textures, and varieties including white limestone; Flagstone, which comes in several colors and varieties; Split Face Quarry Stone; Marble; Natural Mountain Boulders; Arizona Creek Rock; Pennsylvania Blue Stone; Tumbled Blue Stone; and various specimen of large slab, among many others. Simply viewing the different types of stone can be the inspiration behind creating a landscape because of vivid colors, shapes, and appearance.

Next, after plans and stone are agreed upon, the actual walkway, patio, or other structure is defined in the yard, then steel-reinforced concrete is poured to create the mold. A masonry sand and Portland cement mixture is smoothed into the area, then the stone is shaped and set in place with mallets to insure a level and stable walking surface with proper slope for water drainage. The last step in the creation of the landscape is the stones which have been chosen are mortared into place.


How to Let the Outdoors Meet Your Indoors

With the Spring bulbs once again starting to poke through our garden’s previously frozen soil, those of us who are gardeners start getting very busy indeed. March is always the time of year when those chores like the pruning back certain varieties of roses and fruit trees, sowing grass seed and preparing raised beds for their summer and autumn harvests well and truly gets underway.

However, for many people, it’s also the time of year when they can again start considering their extra room to their house. I am of course referring to their ‘outdoor living’ area where many a warm sunny evening will no doubt be wiled away with a cool Gin and tonic or summer barbecue.

The term ‘Inside/Outside Living’ started being touted on many of televisions home and garden shows. For some, the idea of Inside/Outside living really refers to a decked area and a table and chairs, and where opportunity (and weather!) permits, using this area to eat, drink and socialize.

Garden architecture design has definitely changed over recent years.  Some people have taken the concept of Inside/Outside living a step further…literally. Instead of simply having an area of garden reserved for table and chairs, some have actually designed their garden so it actually meets the home. This is very often through the use of patio doors or large glass windows butting right up to the garden’s deck area without stepping up, or down. The advent of the increasingly popular ‘glass curtain’ has meant some lucky home owners can literally peel back the physical boundary between property and garden.

Here are some suggestions to help create a perfect Inside/Outside living area:

You can create sounds that could be heard inside the main living area from outdoors.  Perhaps the sound of relaxing trickling water? Wind chimes always work well.

Wildlife: Encourage birds to feed on feeders near to the back of the property. Grow shrubs and plants which will encourage pollinating insects. One of the cheapest and most common of bedding plants, the Marigold, is perfect for attracting the likes of bees and ladybirds, which in turn actually help defend your garden from common pests.

Lighting: The seasons in colder climes make it near impossible to enjoy an all year outdoor living area without some serious heating solutions. But by using lighting wisely, the garden can at least be seen, and therefore still feel like part of the rest of the property all year round. Why not try solar powered lighting on decked areas and let the sun neutralize your electricity bill a little? Sunken deck lights work well and actually look better in the colder months. And don’t forget low level colored spotlights – a throw of light across a flower bed near the rear of your property not only aids security but creates a pleasant glow in the evenings.

If you are an avid barbecue enthusiast, consider building a custom outdoor cooking area? Spanish architecture brick barbecues are becoming increasingly popular and literally give you an outdoor kitchen area. ‘cut and come again’ produce.

So, if like many you start to feel claustrophobic at this time of year after enduring months of colder, darker weather, it’s time to consider the potential of an inviting outdoor living area to chase away next winter’s blues.


Tips for Choosing the Right Birdhouse

Whether you go shopping for a birdhouse or you choose to build one, you must consider what kind of bird that you want to attract to your yard. Different species demand different types of homes.

For example, wrens prefer small, ordinary homes while a purple martin requires a bigger home, a bigger entry, and it must be painted white on the outside. You will need to ensure that all paint is water-based.

 Chickadees are attracted to birdhouses that resemble wildlife. If you would like to place a birdhouse in your garden, then the bird that you might attract would be the Finch. They would have no problem living close to your home.

Of course, you will need to consider what birds live in your area. You might need to do some additional research to be certain that you will be meeting the needs of the birds that you want to attract into your yard.  

If you are thinking about building your own, here are some tips to ponder:

*Consider the material that you will be using. Wood is naturally the best material to use.

To provide natural water resistance, using cedar and redwood are your best options and the use of galvanized screws or nails is preferred.

*Make sure that there is proper drainage and ventilation for obvious reasons.

*The birdhouse will need to be cleaned at the end of the nesting season. Provide either a hinged roof or wall section for easy access.

*Perches are not a good idea as they can provide easy access for predators such as cats.

Lastly, if you are placing more than one birdhouse, take into consideration the species that are territorial. They tend to chase all the other birds off. So either give them some extra space or choose another type of bird to attract.

Of course, you don’t want to forget to add a birdfeeder or two. This also helps to invite birds and provides food while they are raising their families!

The fine feathered friends that you will attract will bring you much pleasure. It is worth taking a little extra time to meet their needs!


The Outdoor Heart of the Home

Whether one credits the perpetually growing interest in culinary expression spawned by reality shows and networks dedicated to all things edible or the inability to sell one’s house because of the down housing market, one thing is certain: Outdoor kitchens are trending upward.

In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects’ “Home Design Trends Survey” for second quarter 2010 highlighted outdoor-living spaces as a bright spot in an otherwise economically bleak report. The survey noted a scaling back in other special renovation project categories. Residential architects, however, expressed excitement and opportunity in outdoor-living-space projects in the survey, saying it rivaled only home offices in levels of popularity among home renovators.

As 2012 begins stronger economically than the past several years, it reasons that outdoor-living projects will spark even further interest within the home renovation industry. And, because kitchens are considered the heart of the home, most homeowners seem to look here first when wanting to replicate an aspect of their house in an open-air setting.

As with a more traditional interior kitchen, having a basic understanding of how the space for an outdoor kitchen will be used is integral to successfully approaching its design.

Typically, the design might flow around a cooking unit of some kind. While gas grills alone can run the gamut from inexpensive to luxurious, more considerations become possible all the time. Wood-fired pizza ovens are the latest craze, and some manufacturers are now making convection ovens and wood-burning rotisserie grills with features that make them suitable for outdoor use. In addition, identifying a theme—whether Tiki bar, palatial stone or wooded rustic—will help unite the overall direction of the project.

Of course, with an exterior space, bigger factors also must be considered. In what kind of climate is the home located? Location is not necessarily a limiting factor; outdoor kitchens can be created and utilized from Maine to California. However, understanding weather patterns for the area and what the owner expects from the space is critical to determining the appropriate construction and amenities. Incorporating a separate heating element may be desired to help extend the practicality of the space. Additions, like wood-paneled roofs, may be necessary to protect the area from precipitation and shade it in summer heat.

Landscaping is another factor not considered in the typical interior kitchen renovation, but critical to the exterior one. An outdoor kitchen should sustain harmony between the interior and exterior, perhaps through inclusion of elements of the structural exterior as well as the natural environs. Conferring with a landscaper in this regard may prove valuable to the overall process.

Depending on the space and budget, even more amenities can be added to provide the convenience of inside to an alfresco setting. Outdoor refrigerators, sinks and cabinets prevent the hassle of running back and forth for supplies or ingredients. Weather-resistant couches, lounge chairs and even televisions can create an entertainment venue. Adding an exterior sound system also cultivates a unique mood as does exterior lighting, like lanterns, spotlights or pagoda lighting, which should be chosen to match the developed theme.

Choose materials that are durable, low-maintenance and virtually impervious to weather. Concrete, marble, stainless steel, and solid-surface or acrylic-based materials are good choices. Now is a great time to be in the market for such items because more companies are identifying the outdoor-living trend and expanding their product lines to cater to this growing niche.

No matter what direction an outdoor kitchen project follows, opportunities abound to recreate the heart of the home—and enjoy outdoor living—virtually year-round.


Caring for your Lawn in Spring

The sight of new grass growing in spring often leads the homeowner to run out and spread fertilizer to help the young blades along. This is actually the opposite of recommended practices for most lawns. The proper time to apply fertilizer is in the fall, when the roots that will sustain the plants through the following summer are actively growing. Even if the fall feeding was missed, any spring feeding should be limited to a light feeding (1/2 pound of actual nitrogen, i.e., 5 pounds of 10-10-10, per 1000 sq. ft.) after the initial flush of growth has subsided, probably sometime in May or early June.

Though spring is the time to apply lime to your grass, this should only be done if the soil deems it necessary. Most lawn grasses grow best at a pH level of 6.0 to 7.0, so it’s good to have your soil’s pH analyzed every two to three years to be sure you are staying in that range. Horticultural experts always say that the soil test result should include recommendations on how much lime to apply on your lawn soil.

Horticultural studies have also proven that seed sowing efforts will have a good chance of getting optimum results during spring as long as your lawn is well watered and cared for with the right amount of fertilizer.  The grass will be stronger and healthier if you can water daily until the plants are established. Water approximately once a week throughout the summer, keeping in mind that the tops of the grass may look great, but the roots are not as long and dense as those of the grass in an established lawn.

Avoid cutting too short when your lawn requires its first cut. Mow to about two inches during the spring, then raise the cutting height another half inch when summer arrives. Mow frequently so that no more than one third of the grass blade is removed at one time.

It is recommended that you apply pre-emergent herbicides between the middle of March and the middle of April to control crabgrass and the emergence of bull worms. Crabgrass generally emerges about the time of dogwood bloom, and the pre-emergent herbicides used to control it will not affect crabgrass that is already up and growing.  March is still a little early for dethatching and actual pesticide application, so after taking care of the few necessary lawn chores for early spring, you can relax and save your energy for summer mowing.

Trees and shrubs surrounding your lawn will also need extra attention. Make sure you apply some amount of fertilizer on surrounding trees and shrubs so they won’t absorb the nutrients meant for your lawn.

These easy-to-follow maintenance tips can make your lawn the envy of your entire neighborhood.


Tips for Mowing Your Lawn

Cutting your grass isn’t rocket science—or is it?  Well, no.  But you may be damaging your lawn in ways you hadn’t considered.  Consider the following:

 Many people have a preference for a close-shaved lawn.  It does look great, and when the grass is that short, it means it won’t require mowing again for a longer period of time.  But when grass is cut too low, the roots aren’t able to burrow as deep into the soil and tap into the available water.  Allow your grass to get a bit longer and gain a firmer hold.  Not only does this keep it greener, it also reduces weed growth when the grass is thicker; it allows less room for weeds to find nutrient sources.  A slightly longer lawn is a healthier, more vibrant one. 

 When mowing new grass, cut it with the blade at a high setting, then, over successive cuts, reduce the blade height.  Too drastic a cut can damage fragile, new turf.

 Keep your mower well-maintained for the sake of both the machine and your lawn.  Clean the underside of your mower after every use.  A good hose-down at the end of every day is recommended.

 Do not try to force the mower to cut faster than it can effectively do the job.  Not only will this give your lawn a ragged appearance, but the heavier clippings clog the blades.  Develop a consistent rhythm of pushing the mower forward and then pull it backward in short strokes.  This allows the motor to pick up the revs.

 Of course, it goes without saying that under no circumstances should you ever put your hand in the collection chute to clear blockage while the engine is still running.  The mower should not only be turned off, but a few moments should be allotted for the blade to stop spinning.  It’s also a good idea to remove the spark plug cover.  Fingers—unlike blades of grass-do not grow back.

 These steps may require that a larger block of time be set aside to have your lawn looking its best, but it’s well worth the added effort.