Creative Uses for Dead Leaves

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Fall leaves are beautiful and awe-inspiring on the branch, but ugly and burdensome on the ground. Raking and disposing of leaves is nobody’s favorite chore, but, year after year, it has to be done. Piles of leaf rot make great hiding places for annoying pests and can choke out your grass if left unattended to. This year, instead of throwing away trash bag after trash bag of dead leaves, why not use the debris to make something useful? Dead leaves may not look like much, but they have numerous garden applications. Here are a few ideas:

Shred Leaves and Make “Leaf Mold”

Instead of raking your leaves, consider shredding them! Simply pile up leaves, shred them with a lawnmower or leaf shredder, and then store them in plastic bags until the following spring. Over time, the leaves will turn into a substance called “leaf mold” that can be used as a fertilizer. Plants love it, and you’ll love saving yourself a trip to the dump!

Use Dead Leaves in Compost

Dry, dead leaves are a great addition to any compost pile! Compost does wonderful things in the garden, and it’s easy to make. We detailed how to create a compost pile in this blog:  When adding leaves to your compost, you’ll want to balance the leaves out with a nitrogen-rich organic, ie. grass clipping, hay, manure. Blend thoroughly and then let the compost sit!

Use Dead Leaves as Mulch

For an extra simple fix, simply spread dead leaves over plantings like you would with mulch. The leaves will provide protection and eventually rot, adding nutrients to the soil. If you have too many leaves for your garden, you can always give some away to friends (although there is usually never any shortage of leaves around in the fall!)

Press Leaves into Art

This one isn’t strictly garden related, but it’s a great family project! Once you’re done making leaf mold, compost, or mulch, you can save the prettiest leaves you find for pressing. Pressing leaves is fairly simple and versatile. You can used press leaves for scrapbooking, coaster-making, picture framing, and a variety of other projects! For a detailed how-to, check out this guide:

Happy fall and happy gardening!


Best Firewoods for Your Fall Bonfire

I’m not a big fan of cold weather, so, by the time fall rolls around, I’m already looking for ways to stay optimistic about impending temperature drops and sunlight shortages. For me, bonfires are one of the saving graces of the cold weather season. There’s nothing quite like sitting around a roaring fire with friends or family, exchanging stories and roasting marshmallows. Normally, when my friends and I are planning a fire, we don’t put much thought into the kind of wood we’re burning. Anything lying around is a “good enough” option (and we’ve certainly burned our fair share of pizza boxes and newspapers). However, the kind of firewood you chose to set aflame can make a huge difference in the quality and duration of your bonfires, so, this season, I’ve done a little research into various firewood options and their benefits. Try this on for size, fire-lovers:

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For a fire that smells like Christmas morning, pine is your best bet. A soft wood with a high sap content, pine burns quickly and messily. Because of this, it makes a good fire starter, but it probably shouldn’t be the only kind of wood in your stack. Mix it in with slower burning wood to create a long-lasting, sweet-smelling fire that will stoke your nostalgia.

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The ghost white bark of the birch tree is beautiful to look at and even better to burn. Another soft wood, birch burns hotly and quickly. Because of this, the flames produce a lot of light. This makes birch an ideal firewood for particularly dark nights, when perhaps a ghost story or two is being passed around the fire.

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Oak trees are ubiquitous almost everywhere. If you’ve ever burned generic firewood, chances are you were burning oak. Its popularity isn’t without reason; oak burns for a long time and produces an ideal amount of heat. However, it is a very dense wood, so getting it started can be difficult. Consider starting with a soft wood like pine and then adding oak to maximize the productivity of your fire.

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Maple has a lot in common with oak. It’s a thick wood that, while hard to start, can burn for hours. One of the biggest benefits of maple versus other kinds of hardwoods is the lack of smoke it gives off while burning. This makes it a good option for large parties or gathering. Nobody likes a face full of smoke!

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Though less common than oak or maple, cherry is another great, long lasting hardwood. It’s known for the pleasant, sweet aroma it produces (a real crowd pleaser!) Be advised, cherry does not burn particularly hot, so I would not recommend it if you’re looking for a way to keep warm on a frigid winter night. For mild fall nights (like the ones we’re having now) it works perfectly!

Irrigation System Winterization Explained

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Every year, we get questions from our irrigation clients about how and when to winterize an irrigation system. The tasks seems daunting at first, especially when our crew comes to their property with specialized equipment and gear. Really though, winterization is a fairly simple procedure that many homeowners elect to do on their own. While we recommend that only those with experience in irrigation maintenance winterize their own systems, an explanation of what winterization is can be extremely helpful to all sprinkler system owners.

What is Winterization?

When your irrigation system is winterized, it is essentially shut-down and prepared for the winter months. Sprinklers are turned off and excess water is blown out of all pipes with pressurized air. This ensures that freezing temps won’t cause water to expand in irrigation pipes, which could lead to the pipes becoming damaged or ruptured. Thus, winterizations are normally done before the onset of freezing temps, which, depending on which climate zone you live in, could fall anywhere from late September to late November.

How Winterization Works

First, your irrigation’s water supply needs to be shut-off. To do this, the irrigation system’s shut off valve must be activated. The shut off valve will likely be inside in a basement or utility room where the other water controls are.

Then, (for automatic systems) the systems controller must be shut-down. This can be done by shutting off signals to individual valves and turning off “zones” one-by-one, or the controller can be turned off entirely, which may save energy during the winter. If you’re attempting this yourself, see your controller’s manual for specific instructions.

Once that’s taken care of, water in the backflow device is drained. In some cases, the device can be deconstructed and stored for the winter. In more temperate climates, the backflow can be left alone or simply insulated to protect it from deep freezes. It’s essential that all excess water is removed from the backflow—backflows are expensive to replace or repair.

Along with the backflow, all pipes must be drained. This can be done a few different ways: manual drain, automatic drain, and blow-out method. Blow-out method is the most effective, but also the most dangerous. It should not be attempted by anyone who does not have irrigation system maintenance experience. For more information on manual and automatic draining, visit this site:

If the system is blown out, an irrigation tech will clear the system using a large air compressor (50-125 cubic feet per minute). The compressor is attached to the main water line via a coupling or hose bib. Before compressed air is blown through the system, the backflow’s isolation valves are closed to ensure that pressurized air is not shot through the backflow. Zones will generally be blown out starting with the farthest zone from the compressor and working up. Air is blown into each zone until water is done exiting the heads, at which point the zone is completely dry.

Once all zones are dry, isolation valves on the backflow are turned to a 45 degree angle (1/2 open) and the system is considered winterized until it is turned back on again in the spring. Now, your system is ready for the winter, and your water bills are probably going to be a little bit cheaper for a couple months. Hallelujah!

DIY Halloween Decorations for Your Landscape

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Halloween decorating is something I look forward to every year. Usually, I start thinking about it in late August and my decorations are up by the end of September. I know, that’s a bit premature, but there’s really only one time of year when it’s acceptable to hang skeletons and glow-in-the-dark cobwebs over my fireplace. I like to maximize the season as much as I can, but all that decorating and prepping can be pricey. This year, my housemates and I spent over $50 on decorations for our living room and kitchen alone, and most of that loot was from the dollar store. I’m sure you can imagine how much money we could have spent if we had gone to a more expensive store, or if I had actually purchased a LED fog machine off Amazon like I wanted to. If you’re a Halloween enthusiast like me and my friends, it helps to have cheap, DIY decoration ideas at the ready. So, this year, I’m making a list of the coolest (and cheapest) decoration ideas I could find:

  1. Tree Ghosts

When I was growing up, there was nothing I loved more than walking through my cul-de-sac in October and seeing sheet ghosts swaying in the wind on neighborhood trees. These props are eerie looking at night, but not so scary as to alarm your neighbors. All you need is a white mylar balloon, a sharpie, and some gauze fabric, tulle, or a translucent sheet. Here’s a link for step-by-step instructions:

  1. Spider Wreath

A creepy twist on classic front door décor, the Halloween wreath is easy, cheap, and casually unnerving. You’ll probably have to make a trip to the craft store, but it’ll be much cheaper (and more fun) than buying premade decorations. Plus, after Halloween has ended, you can transition this wreathe into a holiday decoration! All you need is a wreathe form, white fabric you don’t mind cutting up, and some plastic spiders:

  1. Customizable Gravestones

These darkly humorous decorations are perfect for tricking friends and family members. The simple and cheap tomb stone designs can be customized to say anything. If you can’t think of the perfect caption, a stone memorializing “Al B. Bach” is always good for a chuckle:

  1. Burlap and Leaf Garlands

For those that aren’t into creepy decorations, these easy garlands are the perfect neutral fall accessory. They take barely any time or money, and can be easily replaced with Holiday lights once the season passes:

  1. Typography Pumpkins

Though many consider pumpkin carving a die-hard tradition, these typography pumpkins are cleaner than their cut up counterparts. There are many different ways to design typography pumpkins, but this how to recommends using chalkboard and gold spray paint to create an especially cool effect:

  1. Jack-O-Lantern Shade Covers

These cute light covers can dress up your dining/living room without overdoing it. The orange paper gives the room a soft orange glow and they’re easy enough for kids to make:

Do you like this list? Have something to add to it? Comment and let us know!

Smart Gardening: Best Apps for Your Garden

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For some, gardening is a way to escape from the endless buzz of technology. Texts, emails, and work notifications can easily disturb the peace that comes with cultivating your own flowers and produce. On the other hand, technology has been a great aide to gardeners, allowing them to schedule, plan, and keep track of productivity with ease. So, while “app” and “gardening” may seem like polar opposites, gardening apps are becoming increasingly popular with (I think) good reason. Smart gardening apps can help gardeners maximize the peaceful, fun aspects of gardening while minimizing stress. If you’ve yet to give them a try, it’s worth a shot. I know there’s a lot of choices out there (there’s an app for everything, after all!) so here’s a list of starting points. Who knows, some of these might just change the way you garden forever!


Have you ever used the song identifying app “Shazzam?” This is a lot like that, except it’s for trees and shrubs instead of songs. You simply pluck a leaf from the tree or shrub you’re trying to identify, photograph it against a white background, and then the app will show you what kind of plant the leaf came from. This is especially useful for gardeners who get major “garden-envy” when they’re trying to plan next year’s plantings.

Perennial Match

Perennial match is an app that helps you plan before you plant. It can tell you what kind of plants do best when grown next to each other, what kind of plants thrive in your climate zone, and it will even take into account height preferences and shade tolerances! It’s basically a little encyclopedia of plant knowledge that you can carry in your pocket.

Garden Compass Plant and Disease Identifier

Pest and disease identification and treatment is one of the hardest jobs a gardener has. This app makes it significantly easier to get your plants the help they need, fast. If you notice any strange ailments in your garden—curling leaves, discoloration, dry spots—you can use this app to snap a picture and send it to an expert who will diagnose the problem and offer a potential solution. It’s not foolproof, but it certainly cuts down on time spent troubleshooting on google!

Life Diary

This simple app is a great organization tool for busy gardeners who have trouble keeping up with all their day-to-day tasks. With Life Diary, you can log when you water, fertilize, and add new plantings to your garden. The app will also map your gardens growing progress for you, so you can spend more time doing and less time wondering what you’ve already done!

Garden Squared

Garden Squared allows you to virtually lay out gardening plots and try out different bed dimensions before you begin building. You’ll never have to deconstruct a poorly-planned garden bed ever again!

Landscaper Companion

True to its name, this extensive gardening app is the ultimate companion for both amateur and professional landscapers. With detailed information on more than 26,000 plants, Landscaper Companion is the ultimate resource for just about anyone who spends a lot of time in nature. Even casual hikers could benefit from having this virtual encyclopedia close at hand. After all, nobody likes finding out a plant is poisonous after they’ve touched it.

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Stopping Fall Pests

If you thought garden pests were a summer problem, you are unfortunately mistaken. Fall brings its own challenges when it comes to pest control and containment, and some fall pests prove even more challenging than the summer ones. Your best plan of attack is to be well-prepared. We’ve done some research on common fall creepy-crawlers and how to keep them at bay with DIY methods!

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Cabbage Worms

Cabbage worms like to let their pupae overwinter on cold-hardy plants. When those pupae come of age the following season, the results are frustrating, to say the least. You may be tempted to let durable plants like kale and Brussel sprout stand during the winter, but these crops can easily become cabbage worm breeding grounds. Cut back and prune plant remains as soon as the growing season is over to prevent future infestations!

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Leaf Beetles

Leaf beetles are a common ailment of Viburnum shrubs. They drop egg cases on the undersides of young tree branches in early fall. Once leaves have fallen, it’s easier to spot these camouflaged cases. You should check your Viburnum plants thoroughly and prune off any affected wood to eliminate the problem. You can continue checking and pruning for leaf beetle eggs throughout the winter and into early spring.

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Squash Bugs

Squash bugs are, by many accounts, the absolute worst. Some gardeners have had to burn their crops in response to an infestation. Some varieties of squash, such as butternut, are resistant to infestations, but don’t let these pesky bugs keep you from enjoying your favorite fall vegetables. Squash bugs, like cabbage worms, like to overwinter on plant debris. Dead leaves, old wood, and rotten growth all make excellent hiding spots. As soon as you see leaves and debris start piling up in your yard, rake it away! Turning the soil can also dislodge some of the bugs’ hiding spots.

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We wrote about keeping deer under control here:  Building barriers from wood, wire, or other materials is a popular method of prevention, but nothing works 100% of the time. If you have a deer barrier, it’s important to check up on it during fall and winter to ensure it has not been damaged by weather or falling branches. A broken deer barrier won’t stop anything!

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Though cute, rabbits can cause major havoc in the garden. Fencing is usually the best way to keep them out, and, on the plus side, they’re a lot less agile than deer. Even a small fence can suffice, but beware of rabbits burrowing underneath the fence to find food. Using a mesh backing that extends about one-foot into the ground should do the trick.

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Mice and Voles

An overgrown lawn is a kind of paradise to mice and voles, so keep your lawn clean-cut for as long as it keeps growing. Mice will try to find indoor habitats as soon as it starts getting cold out, so setting up mouse traps around the perimeter of your house might not be a bad idea.

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