Monthly Archives: November 2014

How to clean outdoor toys

The dirtiest items in your backyard are likely the ones you want clean the most: kids' toys. You may know how to clean your outdoor furniture (and properly use covers!), but many parents aren't sure how to get backyard toys in squeaky clean condition. Since many are porous, they can accumulate a ton of dirt and grime after spending quality time outside with bugs, leaves and bad weather. Cleaning needs vary by toy, but there are a few tips that can help you get your kids' outdoor play area back on track.

Step 1: Prep
Before you do any cleaning, check the area for bugs, which often hide in small crevices. If you find any nests, you may have a bigger problem on your hands – be sure to report any significant findings to your exterminator.

Next, brush off dirt using a broom. It will be tough to clean big clumps once you bring out the soap and water, and this will help cut down on your overall cleaning time. You may find a few nasty bird droppings, but they will easily come off with a disposable wipe.

Step 2: Power wash
Power washing is an efficient way to start cleaning your kids' toys. Move the them to an open area away from any outdoor furniture, as everything in the surrounding area is likely to get wet or dirty.

You can use any cleaning solution you want, but a mix of detergent and vinegar with help kill germs and remove grime. Gently wipe the cleaner all over the toy – the goal here isn't to start removing dirt, but to evenly disperse the solution. Next, it's time to power wash! How close you get to the toy at this stage will determine how intense the cleaning process is. It may move around a bit, but that's ok.

Don't worry if you don't own a power washer, however, as you can instead opt for a car wash mitt. Spray the toy with your cleaning solution, and gently start scrubbing. After you're done, rinse the toy off with a backyard hose.

Step 3: Detail 
Most of the grime should be off your children's toys by now, but small crevices, obscure holes and lingering stubborn dirt may require additional detailing. Any kind of bristle brush will do the trick in these spots, and old bottle brushes in particular are said to do a wonderful job.

In the event that dirt is still hanging on for dear life after you've completed all these steps, a stronger cleaning solution may do the trick. Combine 2 tablespoons of bleach with a gallon of water and spray down the furniture, then try scrubbing again.

Wipes designed for the cars' interiors can give the toys an extra polish as a bonus. Some parts of outdoor play areas, like sandpits, unfortunately can't be cleaned after it's been filled with sand. To ensure that this area is as clean as the rest of your outdoor toys, be sure to invest in a cover!

Prepping your backyard for Thanksgiving

Although the weather has cooled off by Thanksgiving, your outdoor spaces are still plenty useful. Fall leaves make your yard a beautiful setting for your holiday feast, so don't neglect the space. As you plan your menu, decorate your home and invite friends and family, take some time to get your yard in Thanksgiving shape. Here's what you'll need to do before that highly anticipated Thursday arrives:

Make room on the grass
Lawn space is valuable during Thanksgiving, as many families traditionally grab the old pigskin to play a game of football. If you and your loved ones enjoy this sport around the holidays, then you know you'll need room – it's hard to tackle safely when you're dodging lawn ornaments. Rearrange your yard so the grass is free of obstructions, such as bird feeders, outdoor furniture sets and fountains. You'll be able to put everything back after the holidays, but for now, it needs to make way for the big game.

You can also set up end zones in your yard. Use chalk paint to mark the goals so your family won't debate whether a run was in fact a touchdown – this may just put an end to common Thanksgiving disputes! 

Create warmth on the deck
Your deck or porch is the perfect spot for football spectators as it's away from the grassy playing field. Place your outdoor sectionals on your deck and face the pieces toward the lawn. That way, grandma can watch the family play football in comfort – or she can get in the game! Besides, relaxing outside after all that good food will be nice – you just need to make sure you and your guests will be warm. Drape throw blankets on the backs of your chairs that feature fall colors. 

If you have a stone porch, you can place your firepit on top so you'll have a way to heat up the space. When your family needs to warm up their fingers (cold hands don't catch footballs very well), they'll be able to spend half time by the fire. Save all the leaves you rake for your firepit, as they produce a fragrant scent sure to put you in the mood of fall.

Decorate for the occasion
While you want your lawn to be free of obstacles, you can deck out your porch for the holiday. Get cushion covers in fall colors, such as red, orange or yellow. Place gourds on your coffee table along with branches to create a autumnal centerpiece. Wheat, grasses and leaves also make for great additions to your decor. For instance, instead of filling a vase with just flowers, fill in your bouquet with stalks of Indian rice grass. You can even turn pumpkins into candle holders by carving a hole down the middle. 

Serve warm beverages
While you're doing your Thanksgiving shopping, pick up ingredients for warm drinks. That way, your family can sip on something hot as they enjoy your backyard or take a break from football. For the people who don't drink alcohol, hot cocoa and apple cider are perfect options. Those who do drink may enjoy a rum cider recipe.

Best places to store your outdoor furniture this winter

As snow starts to fall in cooler regions of the country, you should consider what to do with your outdoor furniture sets. Leaving them outside in winter can cause damage, so indoor storage is a must. Though your pieces are built for outdoor use, the freezing temperatures, moisture and winds often associated with the season are a bit harsh – plus, you want your investments to stay in the best shape possible (no snowy seat cushions for your furniture). Here are a few ideas for where to store your outdoor furniture during winter:

A shed
If you have a shed, you may consider putting all of your outdoor seating there for winter. Most homeowners use their sheds for outdoor items, so your furniture will fit right in.

Storage tips: Make sure your shed is water tight so moisture from snow doesn’t get inside. Liquid can work its way into the cracks in your furniture, which isn’t good when it goes through freeze and thaw cycles – the water expands into ice, making cracks bigger. Because some sheds aren’t as secure as, say, your house, you should make use of your furniture covers. They can help prevent unwanted moisture from sliding into your pieces.

The basement
Many homeowners use their basement as storage area, and you can too. If you have a basement, consider putting  your outdoor furniture there for winter. You may need help carrying the bigger pieces down the stairs, so be sure someone else is with you during your backyard winter prep – a patio hammock is not as light as you may think.

Storage tips: Make space before you start moving the furniture so you’ll know everything fits. Some outdoor chairs fold up into a nice box shape that’s easy to stack while others are a bit more cumbersome. By planning your storage ahead of time, you won’t have to fumble around to make space. As with the shed, be sure to cover all of your pieces. Basements are notorious for leaks. In fact, you may even want to check your basement for water leaks and repair them prior to moving your items inside – flash floods aren’t common in winter, but you never know!

Garages may be intended for vehicle storage, but with a bit of finagling, yours can become a winter home for your outdoor seating. Depending on how large your garage is, the space may only be adequate enough to hold furniture that folds flat (i.e., lounge chairs).

Storage tips: Most of the horizontal space will be taken up by your cars, so use vertical area instead. Hang your folding pieces on the wall so they don’t eat into your floor space. If you have a lot of extra room in your garage, you may be able to place larger pieces in there too.

Sitting above your house may be an untapped space: the attic. If yours is finished (or at least finished enough for storage), you can use it for your outdoor furniture.

Storage tips: Attics can be cold and leaky, so make sure yours is all patched up before you place your items inside. As always, use the furniture covers.

Plants that repel mosquitoes

While mosquito season may be waning, it's never too early to start planning your spring landscape. Mosquitos pose a pesky problem for many people who spend a lot of time in their backyards during the warmer months, particularly if they are doing a lot of outdoor entertaining. A plethora of spray repellents, candles and clip-ons are on the market for mitigating the issue, but many contain harsh chemicals and run out quickly. If you're looking for a natural alternative, look no further: Mother Nature's got your back. 

You've probably used citronella candles, but the perennial clumping plant is actually far more potent. It grows up to 6 feet high and has an incredibly strong aroma that mosquitos hate. You can buy them already grown from gardening centers or you can plant them yourself – either method will work just fine. 

Lemon balm
Lemon balm is surprisingly a member of the mint family. It is a tough, aggressive plant that is resistant to drought, making it relatively low maintenance. It will take over your garden if you aren't careful, however, so be sure to contain it to its own pot. 

According to a 2010 study by the University of Iowa, catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET when it comes to repelling mosquitos. Cats really do love this plant, so don't place it near anything you don't want getting trampled by outdoor kitties. 

These flowers contain pyrethrum, which is found in many insect repellents on the market. Often used as landscaping borders or planted alongside other blooms, they need full sunlight and fertile soil to grow. Marigolds, like citronella, can be purchased fully grown at gardening centers or can be planted from seeds. The flowers are indeed beautiful but will attract wasps, so don't leave these guys on your patio dining table.

One of the most convenient popular mosquito repellents is basil, as it will serve you well both indoors and outdoors. Grow this herb in your garden to keep the bugs at bay, then bring it inside to flavor your food. The two varieties recommended for deterring bugs are lemon basil and cinnamon basil. 

Its unclear why bugs despise the scent of this plant, but they certainly do. Place it in pots near common entryways to your home like windows and patio doors, or place a decorative bucket on your patio dining table. When you want to fragrance the interior of your home, simply bring a few sprigs inside. 

Peppermint should keep the mosquitos away, but if it doesn't, there's no need to worry: it makes a great itch relief treatment too. Pro tip: This makes a particularly useful bug repellent during mojito season, if we do say so ourselves.

Plants are a sustainable and natural way to repel mosquitos, but they will also make your backyard even more beautiful. Try planting a few varieties around your outdoor furniture for itch-free entertaining! 

Growing a moss lawn

Ethereal and aged, moss is a coveted backyard backdrop seemingly found exclusively in the exteriors of vintage homes and forest floors. Once it takes root, moss will flourish year-round, always stays green and requires minimal (if any) upkeep. A great alternative to grass in stubborn, shady spots, this plant adds a layer of charm to outdoor seating areas and a touch of character to any existing landscaping. Moss may be slow to grow, but growing a green carpet in your backyard is possible regardless of where you live or how old your home is.

Preparing for moss
The first step of crafting a moss lawn is clearing away any existing shrubbery or grass, as an area of nothing but dirt is needed. Arrange your outdoor furniture somewhere outside the intended growing zone for the time being, then dig up all vegetation by the roots using a shovel. Contouring the bare ground is an important next step, as moss needs flat, level soil to make progress.

Luckily, this simple plant will grow in almost any kind of soil as long as there isn't too much sand. If you're worried that weeds or other small shrubs will grow back, you can use a pre-emergent to hinder the process. Moss will filter ground water after it has taken root, but run off will prevent it from spreading in the early stages. A good way to mitigate this is by forming a water barrier using rocks or stone.

There are two main types of moss: acrocarps and pleurocarps. The former are taller, upright mosses, while the latter are the flatter kind typically seen in expansive areas. While pleurocarps more easily form the desired carpet or lawn look, combining the two will create a collage of textures and colors that will make your backyard even more compelling. This looks especially cool when done in a shaded area where you'll put outdoor dining sets or firepits.

Planting the moss
Moss can be transferred directly onto the prepared soil. Water it generously and walk on top of the area afterwards to help it more easily attach. The next step: patience.

Caring for your moss lawn
Due to its primitive nature, moss needs little in the way of maintenance. Although it grows slowly, there are several things you can do to expedite the process. Moisture is an important contributor, so dedicating two minutes a day to watering helps immensely. Continuously removing loose materials like leaves or pebbles will also promote forward movement.

While growing a moss lawn may take some time, it adds considerable depth and makes a home feel like it has rich history. 

How to put on a stellar yard sale

You know what they say: acceptance is the first step toward change. In our opinion, it's also the first step of garage organization. There is no overcoming an excess of clutter, no matter how fantastic your garage organization systems may be. When it comes to making the most of your space, a yard sale is a great place to begin. The sale itself may seem intuitive, but we scoured the advice from garage sellers past in search of tips and tricks that might maximize your earnings and minimize leftover junk.

Sign up your friends
It's standard psychology: the more stuff you have, the more people will come. Hosting a group garage sale is a great way to have fun with your friends and attract a flock of customers from all over town.

Purge everything
Be totally ruthless when you're clearing out your home and garage. The more stuff you get off your wall shelves, garage cabinets and closet floors, the more organized and decorative your home will be after the sale is said and done.

Come up with great ads
Half the battle of a garage sale is getting people there. Marketing is a great way to instigate a little traffic, especially if it's posted on every major intersection as well as Craigslist and Facebook. The more creative and interesting your ad is, the better, so don't be afraid to make it goofy and compelling.

Think like a retailer
To get the most out of your yard sale, think of it more like a store. Put merchandise up on tables, hang clothing on real racks and spend a little extra time making the price tags fun. Putting the best stuff in your driveway will encourage people driving by to stop in, while offering grocery bags as shopping totes will likely compel customers to purchase more than one item. Use signs to mark off specific sections, like clothing, toys or furniture.

It's also a good idea to keep some extra change on hand for the folks that come in with little in their pockets. It will discourage excess price haggling and make your transactions must quicker.

Make it fun
Getting the crowd energized at a yard sale is just like pumping them up for a party. Blast some good tunes, chat with your neighbors and have a few frosty (or toasty, depending on the season) beverages on hand.

Sell low
While this may seem counterintuitive if you're trying to make some good cash, it will encourage people to buy a higher quantity of items, ultimately spending more money overall. If your main goal is clear out your junk as possible, this is a great way to get stuff to fly off the shelves.

Garage sale shoppers will often be willing to pay more than you think, so it doesn't hurt to start off the bargaining by asking them what they'd be willing to pay.

Announce the end time
When it's almost time to set up shop, post another ad on Craigslist or Facebook, letting people know when the end time is and that everything will be free at that point. This ensures that you're not left with anything clogging up valuable garage storage after the sale is over.

Repairing lawn patches

After purchasing a beautiful set of outdoor furniture, building a dazzling pool and setting up a patio dining table and firepit, the last thing you want is to ruin an otherwise flawless backyard with a smattering of bald patches in your grass. Though they can be incredibly frustrating, they are actually quite easy to patch up.

Start with root of the problem
Though repairing law patches is relatively simple, it won't do you any good if you don't first treat the cause. Many things can hinder the health of your yard, from insects to mold to pet urine and foot traffic. By establishing and eliminating what's causing the problem, you'll prevent yourself from having to do another round of repairs down the road.

After you've determined what went wrong, dig out a square- or rectangle-shaped swatch of the area, being sure to get all the way around the damage. You will want to remove the dirt and soil to a depth of four to six inches. Be wary of cables while you're digging – hitting a phone line is a quick way to make a bad problem worse! Next, fill the hole with soil or compost, being sure not to pack it too tight or loose. A good way to get it to the right level of compaction is to gently lay in the recessed area and water it. 

Option No. 1: Fresh seed
The cheaper of the repair options, fresh seed can be installed in the bald area if the temperature outsides is above 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle it in an even layer on top of the soil or compost. Rake gently into the soil, establishing as much seed-to-soil contact as possible, and be sure to water the lawn every morning and night until the seeds begin to germinate. After that, continue to water your yard at least once each day.

Option No.  2: New sod
A second option for repairing your yard's bald patches is new sod, which can be purchased in sheets. Cut a square the size of the excavated portion of lawn, laying it directly onto the soil or compost. This method can be done in colder temperatures and requires a bit less watering, but is the pricier of the two options. The square of sod may initially look jarring, but it will integrate itself in with the rest of your grass in no time.

Now that you've laid down new turf, it's important to implement a few preventative measures. While the fragile new grass is growing, set up a few stakes surrounding the area, tying them together with string as a sort of barrier to foot or pet traffic. You can use a fertilizer if you want to give your lawn a little TLC, but be careful not to use anything too harsh – a gentle seaweed fertilizer is usually recommended instead.

Outdoor tasks you should do before winter

Fall always goes by too quickly, ushering in the icy grip of winter. In the month or so left before Jack Frost pays a visit, you should do what you can to protect your yard and everything in it – after all, you've put so much work into your lawn, garden and decor, and you'd hate to see snow ruin it. Knowing what you need to do is the first step to prepping your backyard for winter, so we've compiled a list of tasks you should put on your to-do list.

Seed your lawn
Cold weather kills plants and can cause your beautiful lawn to be patchy come spring. Fortunately, by taking action now, you can protect the consistency of your grass. The key is over seeding. Spread plenty of seeds on your lawn and care for them about six to eight weeks prior to the first freeze (that means get on it now!). That way, the grass will have a chance to build a strong root system that can survive frost and snow.

Bring in plants
Delicate and tropical plants can't handle the intense cold of winter, so you'll have to shield them. Move your plants from the ground into pots and bring them indoors. Make sure the pot is large enough for the roots of your flowers. During this time, you can take cuttings from your plants to cultivate new ones for springtime.

Clean and store furniture
Outdoor furniture sets may be durable, but they shouldn't be left out in the cold, literally. Extended exposure to ice and snow isn't good for the material. As such, you should keep your furniture in a sheltered area, whether it's your basement, garage or shed. Before you do, follow these cleaning steps:

  • Brush off debris using soft bristles (like those on a paintbrush).
  • Spray down with water and let dry completely.
  • Scrub cushions and covers using gentle, fragrance-free soap.
  • Rinse and let the cushions dry.
  • Store your furniture.

Cleaning your patio furniture now will ensure it's in good shape come spring. If you have a patio hammock or umbrella, you should clean those as well.

Clean your grill
Take grates off your grill and clean them. Clear it of ash if you have a charcoal-burning model. When the grill is clean and dry, you can cover it and move it indoors. However, never bring the propane tank in the house. Instead, detach it following the manufacturer's instructions and cover it with a plastic bag outdoors. You can keep your grill outside if you want, though we recommend covering that as well – you don't want snow to rust the metal.

Clear debris
Sweep away dirt and debris from your patio, and rake leaves in your yard. Be sure to place the leaves in the correct disposal bag, or the garbage-removal company won't take them away. Leaves left on the grass can choke your lawn, making it patchy and messy when the snow finally melts.

Whether we're in for another Polar Vortex this winter or not, you should make sure your yard is ready for the season. You still have time left this fall to protect your furniture and lawn. 

Should you have outdoor furniture in a covered space?

Many homeowners have covered decks, verandas, three-season rooms and conservatories. If you're among them, you may wonder what kind of furniture is the best fit for those spaces. Can you pick traditionally indoor items, as they'll be shielded from the elements, or are outdoor furniture sets a safer option? The short answer is pieces constructed for outdoor use. Of course, we've got plenty of reasons why that's the case.

Sunlight is the bane of vibrant, wood and fabric furniture, and the outdoors are its domain. Your covered deck may be somewhat safe from the harmful power of ultraviolet rays, but even sheltered outdoor spaces get more light than most indoor ones. Generally, furniture meant to be placed inside your house was not built to cope with the intensity of direct sunlight, which is why outdoor furniture is the better option. Pieces constructed for use in your yard are weatherproof and made of more durable materials, such as rattan wicker and aluminum. Such material won't dry out due to extended exposure to UV rays the way wood does. Plus, those pieces are also resistant to color fading.

If your outdoor sectionals do start to fade, you can replace the cushion cover to restore vibrancy without having to buy all new cushions. If your living room sofa faded, you'd need to reupholster it, which costs way more money than cushion covers.

Stray rain
A conservatory is probably shielded from rain, but a covered deck is not. Sure, rain that falls straight down won't land on your porch sofa, but add a little wind to the mix and you're out of luck. If you're the type who'd rather be safe than sorry (which we're guessing you are because you're reading this post), then you'll feel more comfortable if you outfit your deck with outdoor furniture sets. The pieces are weatherproof, so a little rain won't hurt them. Droplets on a standard sofa, on the other hand, can induce mold and mildew buildup – no one wants to sit on a moldy couch!

Should the weather forecast warn of a brewing gale, we recommend evacuating your outdoor furniture. While the pieces are durable and designed for outdoor conditions, heavy wind and rain make for a bad mix. Your pieces will last longer if you pull them inside when the extreme weather warning sounds.

Resort style and comfort
This point is last because it's not as important as the other two, however, style is still something worth considering. While many homeowners decorate their decks the way they would their living rooms, the outdoor space has it's own look. Think of it as resort style. The wicker furniture with cozy cushions helps you feel like you're lounging by a pool – and maybe you are! The covered areas of your yard may see less environmental conditions than your lawn, but by decorating in the resort style, you'll make the space feel like a continuous one. Layout and design needs that kind of continuity to make the area easy to navigate and visually appealing. 

Setting up a basement bar

Winter is coming, and the store shelves are officially filling with troves of holiday decor. While some luckier folks in the warmer areas of the world will be able to host their celebrations outdoors throughout November and December, many of us will have to move our shindigs inside. While there are many ways to entertain indoors, there are few household rooms more ripe with possibilities than your very own basement. Luckily, turning your basement into a bar requires little more than a few barstools and bar tables

The basics
A basement bar can be as small or large as you want it to be. Whether you opt for one the size of a bookshelf or a full-sized, professional-grade spread, there are a few things you'll need as the backbone of the project. In order to make the basement most conducive to hosting, it's a good idea to plan for a bar with a sink – also known as a wet bar.

Many basements already have plumbing and electricity, particularly if it has a bathroom. It's a good idea to set up an at-home bar close to these lines to eliminate costs associated with wiring additional ones. A fridge is a must-have for wine, beer and sodas and are offered in many fun sizes, shapes and colors. Pro tip: attaching a wall-mounted bottle opener next to your refrigerator will make cracking a cold one even easier for the attendees.

A durable, easy-to-clean bar counter and smattering of bar tables will encourage your guests to move around a mingle, while ample barstools mean that everyone gets a seat. Many people even choose to install a TV in their basement to create an at-home sports bar. To make yours on par with your favorite pub, try throwing a few couches and a pool table into the mix. 

Last but not least, make sure you have a waterproof, durable floor underfoot, as messes happen no matter what room the party's in. Carpets can give the TV-viewing area a homey feel, but the actual bar itself should be easier to keep clean and stain-free. 

The trimmings
Indoor bars are perhaps the easiest room in the house to customize since they function as their own separate entity. This means that basements are great places for themes, whether you opt for retro '70s or island cabana. While bartending accessories and the liquors themselves serve a functional purpose, every item can contribute to the basement bar aesthetic.

Regardless of your theme, a great way to make your space more authentic is by mixing materials. Clear, modern chairs with a marble bar countertop and brushed copper serving trays can create an eclectic vibe, and multicolored glass bottles can inspire a color theme. Even small items like napkin holders or cocktail shakers can add to the bar's cohesive decor. 

Basement bars are an exciting addition to any home, especially for those entertaining during the holiday season. Though nothing beats a backyard bash, indoor bars are a close second.