Thursday, July 10, 2014 12:36:36 PM
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The Neighborhood

6/25/2014 10:27:00 AM  
Plow & Hearth took home the Grand Prize in the Large Business Category at the Charlottesville Area Better Business Challenge Awards last night! We were nominated in the categories: Kilowatt Crackdown, Biggest Loser, Green Leader and Top Innovator.

The Better Business Challenge is a friendly competition among businesses to incorporate sustainable practices in their day-to-day operations. Plow & Hearth wishes to thank the members of our Sustainability Committee for their hard work in making our company more eco-friendly and helping us to adopt more sustainability practices.

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Outdoor Living  
6/1/2014 10:00:00 AM  

Jeff Wilson, host of DIY Network's "Build-a-Deck"Looking to revitalize your deck or patio? HGTV/DIY Networks host and spokesperson for the Thompson's® Water Seal® brand Jeff Wilson has good news: with a just a little thought and planning, you can turn a tired old deck into the deck of your dreams…and you don’t need a lot of space to do it.

With over 25 years of home building and remodeling experience, Jeff shares the ideas and tips that he and his wife used to redesign and build their own deck and patio.


Know what you want.


When Jeff and his wife, Sherri, bought their Ohio home in 2001, they knew the deck would have to change.


“The deck was built around 1980, back when the deck trend really got started,” Jeff explained. “At that time, people didn’t treat their decks. This one had been painted a glaring white that was peeling at the time we moved in…and with the sun shining on it, it was way too bright.”


Additionally, the existing deck was very narrow.


“There was no room for a table or anything,” Jeff recalled. “You could line people up in chairs side-by-side, facing out into the yard, but they couldn’t sit across from each other and converse.”


Put thought into the project.


Jeff and his wife put a lot of thought into what they wanted from their deck – something he feels should be a part of every renovation.


“Ask yourself, ‘how will we use the space?” Jeff says. “Knowing what you want – a place to entertain or an outdoor sanctuary – is paramount.”


Like many homes built in the 1940s, Jeff and Sherri’s house is quite small. With two children and a fondness for entertaining, they decided their deck should provide the extra space they needed and wanted both for relaxing and entertaining. They carefully planned an outdoor space that combined both functions by separating the outdoor space like they did their indoor spaces, with different areas reserved for specific activities: conversation, dining, cooking, gardening, etc.


“Size it to the function.”

When planning the size of their new deck, Jeff and his wife laid garden hoses along the ground and arranged their outdoor furniture within the lines they made before committing to a plan.


“We knew we wanted to be able to do a lot with our deck, but we also knew we didn’t want it eating up the entire yard, so planning how we’d use the space was essential,” he says.


Jeff observed that some homeowners feel that “bigger is better” when it comes to planning a deck. He disagrees.


“Whatever material you use – be it flagstone or wood – needs to be maintained, so the larger the surface area, the greater the expense. Our new deck wound up being about 400 square feet all told, and only ten feet wide off the back of the house. That’s okay – the size isn’t nearly as important as the functionality.”


And with a smaller deck surface area, Jeff and Sherri were able to spend more on better materials.


“We went with cedar boards instead of treated lumber. Cedar is not only prettier and tougher than pine, it’s better when you have kids because it’s not been treated with chemicals.”


He also points out that, because he saved so much on deck materials, he was able to afford a higher end grill with a side burner. And with the materials left over, he was able to install a potting table with a roof that could double as a buffet.

Jeff's deck before the renovation.Jeff's deck before the renovation.

The finished product.


The end result of Jeff and Sherri’s project is an outdoor space that combines a screened-in porch at one end, a dining area and an outdoor kitchen with a brick oven that doubles as an outdoor fireplace in the middle, and a potting bench/buffet at the far end. The space is also made up of different levels with a flagstone floor that ties it all together.


“Every little part of the deck has a function,” Jeff explains, “and we can change it around if we need to.”


Get creative!


Jeff encourages homeowners to get creative with their decks.


“Over the years, outdoor living has evolved. We now seek to bring our indoors outside, seeing features formerly reserved for the interior of a home – such as televisions and gas fireplaces – as ways to enhance our outdoor spaces. You may want things that are different than what we wanted, but that’s all right – the sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use your imagination. And you can do it without breaking the bank.”

Jeff's deck after the renovation.

Jeff's deck after the renovation.

Currently rated 4.7 by 3 people

Fairy Gardens  
4/21/2014 8:00:00 AM  

Sure to attract garden fairies and pixies to your yard, this Miniature Fairy Garden Ivy Furniture Set
is a fun and whimsical addition to flowerbeds and planters alike.

Tell your fairies to put on their jeans, tie back their wings and grab their garden gloves because it is time to get planting! Spring is the perfect reason to make a garden for all your fairy homes and accessories that you have collected over the winter. Here is a brief overview of soil and plant selection to get you off on the right fairy foot.

How to Begin

Starting with the right soil is important to give your plants the best environment to grow in. Not all soil is equal and the easiest way to judge is by looking at it. There should be composted material with small barks bits. It should look alive, dark, rich and full of organic matter. Dirt is the lifeless, gray sandy stuff between the cracks in the sidewalk.

If you are planting edibles (plants that you eat) in your fairy garden and you are not sure of the soil quality, you can get it tested first or ask an experienced gardener for advice. If you are planting ornamentals, like small trees and perennials, you don’t have to be as cautious, but you still should see a nice blend of organic matter in the soil.

Your soil should have a good blend of compost and bark bits. For this container,
vermiculite, the white bits, are added to improve the drainage of the soil.

Starting New

A brand new garden is an exciting project because you can design it exactly the way you like, but still spend a bit of time on the soil before you begin. There are different types of garden soil in your garden bed: sandy, loamy or clay, for example. This depends on where you live and whether your garden bed has been cultivated, or used as a garden before, or not. Topsoil is meant for adding to garden beds, but compost may be a better choice to introduce more organic matter to the soil.

If the ground can be worked, meaning you can shovel it and loosen the soil; you may only need to add some compost to improve the quality for planting. If the soil is hard clay, consider building on top of the clay by using raised beds. Lasagna gardening is another ideal method for building raised garden beds on lawns without needing to rip-out the grass first.

The Gray Fairy Garden Cottage is nestled into an in-ground garden. The creamy
Adirondack Furniture Set is a pretty combination with the blue trim.

Fairy Garden Pots

Potting soil is engineered to have everything that a plant needs to keep the plant healthy. Choose plain organic potting soil with out any added fertilizers or moisture-retention. Different kinds of plants like particular types of potting soil mixes. A cactus, succulents or sedums, for example, like dry roots and will need a different kind of potting soil than a spruce or pine tree where the roots of these conifers need the soil to stay damp. This information is usually noted within the plant’s care instructions on the tag. Group plants with the same soil requirements together in the same pot. Note that topsoil, or soil from your garden bed, is not a substitute for potting soil.

Most plants like a bit of air around their roots. If the regular potting mix does not contain enough drainage material like vermiculite or perlite, you may need to add a handful or two to your soil mix. Providing a good blend of well-draining soil now, will help keep your potted miniature garden together for years.

The Miniature Stucco Fairy Garden Cottage with Thatched Roof is a great match with the Woodland Fairy Garden Set.
The colors of the cottage and the woodsy-ness of the furniture add a country feel to this miniature scene.

Selecting Your Place, Selecting Your Plants

Once you start to look for plants for your fairy garden, you will find a lot of different choices that may be a little overwhelming. Narrow down your plant selection by deciding where you want to plant your garden. If you are working in-ground, is the garden bed in shade, part shade or full sun? If you are planting in a pot, where will the pot be placed? Indoors? Outdoors in part sun? Now you can go find the trees and plants to suit that location.

Indoor plants are different than outdoor plants for most regions. Indoor plants are tropical plants that need to stay 60 degrees or above all year, and they adjust their growth spurts and flowering time by the amount of daylight. Outdoor plants need the changes in temperatures to know when to go dormant, and when to grow. The golden garden rule, is “right plant, right place,” follow this rule for the best success.

Use Sedum cuttings or small rooted drought-tolerant plant starts for your miniature planters because
that little amount of soil won’t be able to say damp. Keep them out or the rain, so the plants don’t drown.

Janit Calvo is the author of the Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World from Timber Press. For more great fairy gardening ideas, visit her web site, Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center.

Currently rated 4.8 by 4 people

Fairy Gardens  
4/16/2014 9:55:00 AM  

Fairy Tales: Plow & Hearth customers share their love of fairy gardening

Offering a fun and magical way for diehard gardeners, hobbyists and dabblers alike, to bring enchantment to their gardens, fairy gardening has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. To help you get started (or give you inspiration), we’ve talked to some of our “fairy best” customers about their own fairy gardening forays!


Fairy Tale #3: Donna A., Thomaston CT


A Childhood Pastime Blooms Into Grownup Fun


Donna Andersen has always loved gnomes and elves and is a fan of Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which features fairies. Her German mother was a collector, and when Donna was 10 they visited Germany, bringing back miniature treasures including gnomes and mushrooms, which are very popular in that country. “Fairies and gnomes were a part of my childhood,” she says.


Later, Donna received Plow & Hearth’s Elf Door and Windows as a gift, and that inspired a renewed interest in miniatures and miniature gardening. A gnome on a mushroom now guards this door, which is attached to a tree in her yard.


Donna’s Miniature Garden Today


About 10 feet from the tree, Donna has built a fairy village using several fairy cottages from Plow and Hearth with accessories and elves from other sources, including a case of whimsical faux mushrooms from a local garden center.


“We have a stone wall with a patio and a table where we can sit and enjoy the village,” she says. She added gnomes to the village “and we have fun moving them around all of the time so my daughter’s boyfriend’s kids think they’re real,” she added.


Donna’s garden is carpeted in artificial moss purchased from a craft store and enhanced by perennials and “lots of annuals,” she says. “I particularly like our Non Stop Petunias. They are huge and they cascade beautifully over the stone wall.”


The garden is always a work in process, and Donna plans to keep adding more scenes over time. “Right now I’ve got my eye on the Plow & Hearth bridge!”



Photo: 52242

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Fairy Gardens  
4/3/2014 10:50:00 AM  

Fairy Tales: Plow & Hearth customers share their love of fairy gardening


Offering a fun and magical way for diehard gardeners, hobbyists and dabblers alike, fairy gardening has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. To help you get started (or give you inspiration), we’ve talked to some of our “fairy best” customers about their own fairy gardening forays!


Miniature Fairy Garden Tale #2: Genie S., Valparaiso, IN

Genie is a garden enthusiast whose professional background includes terms with the Nature Conservancy and FEMA. Now retired, Genie resides in Indiana on a professionally landscaped lot overlooking 400 acres of wetland.

Fairy Gardening: Fun For All Ages

Genie's interest in fairy gardening began when she help a neighbor’s kids build fairy gardens at her home. “Fairy gardens are fun for kids,” she says. “It’s always good to entertain them and to instill in them a desire to respect the environment,” she added.


While Genie enjoys sharing her love of gardening with her grandkids, “It’s really for me,” she admits. She enjoys working with miniatures and the surprises they bring. In addition to miniatures, Genie enjoys a Plow & Hearth whirligig in her garden and has her eye on our Pixie Tree, new in Spring.


Big Plans For A Miniature Garden This Spring

Genie has also done several indoor miniature gardens in her home over the years, but has since given them away to friends. Now armed with the Plow & Hearth fairy homes and accessories collected from other places, she has big plans for her little fairies this spring. “I went out and bought a bunch of stuff. Now I’m letting it speak to me to help me find the best way to use it.”


While the garden accessories wait in the garage to see the spring grass, Genie has taken photos of the area with the snow on it to illustrate the “before” stage. She has plans to keep a photo diary of the full construction, where she will enlist the help of her grandchildren. Rather than one spot in the garden, Genie envisions weaving enchanted touches throughout the property. “I always like it when you turn a corner and see something unexpected,” she says, adding that she will hide fairy things in trees and bushes, as well as in planters on her deck.


Always A Learning Process

Seeking more information about the enchanted world of fairy gardening, Genie says, “Whenever I hear about a fairy garden workshop, I’m usually there,” adding that miniature gardening “is like decorating for St. Patrick’s Day or Christmas, except you don’t need a holiday!” She noted one workshop where the leader made a fairy house, garden swing and birdbath, and used a shell for a fairy-worthy sink!


Her advice to other miniature gardeners: “Look for consistency of scale, and be conscious of your plants and where they come up,” she says.

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Fairy Gardens  
3/28/2014 12:00:00 AM  

Offering a fun and magical way for diehard gardeners, hobbyists and dabblers alike, fairy gardens have seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. To help you get started (or give you inspiration), we’ve talked to some of our “fairy best” customers about their own fairy gardening forays!

Miniature Fairy Garden #1: Mary Joriman of Port Orchard, WA

Mary Joriman’s interest in creating small-scale worlds dates back to her childhood.

“My family traveled a lot, and I learned that a cigar box could hold a lot of little treasures that were easy to take along on long trips,” the Washington state resident says.

This led to a lifelong love affair with miniature dollhouses, and finally, to fairy gardening.

“I’ve always loved to garden,” Mary explains. “About twenty years ago I read a cute story in a gardening magazine about a woman who created a miniature fairy garden for her daughter, detailing all the things she thought to put in it, and I got interested in trying it myself.”

Fun for every age

Mary talked about how fairy gardening became such an appealing hobby for her whole family.

“It’s such a pleasant, fun hobby, great for the imagination,” Mary explains. “I work on it all year round. Best of all, it’s not physically taxing, so it’s as easy for me to take pleasure in at 71 years old as it is for my grandchildren, who love to help with ‘Grandma’s magic garden!’”

Mary began by starting a small, outdoor fairy garden for her grandchildren. Her first one was simplistic, decorated with marbles and a set of tiny wind chimes that she found in a local dime store which made a soft, tinkling sound which she told her grandchildren was the sound of fairy wings.

“I don’t put fairy figurines in my fairy gardens,” Mary explains. “I like to leave them open for the fairies to find on their own…I leave that part up to the imagination.”

Her eight grandchildren found the stories she told about the fairies who inhabited the garden enthralling, which in turn inspired Mary to become even more creative with the miniature world she had begun creating outdoors.

“After we had to cut down a tree, we had a tall tree stump in the backyard, and I made that into a sort of miniature fairy ‘condo!’” Mary says with a smile.

Mary decorated her “fairy condo” with Lego® tires and tiny furniture and accessories she found in hobby stores and pet shops that sold aquarium supplies.

And it grew from there. “The best part of this for me is that I never have to be done…there’s always more I can do,” she says.

Learning more about fairy gardening

As Mary’s interest in her hobby grew, she began taking classes at local nurseries and even hosted annual summer “fairy parties,” where the invited guests could help by painting rocks for the miniature fairy garden she had created.

“Even my husband gets in on it now,” Mary says. “I’m the ‘idea woman,’ he helps with finishing up my projects!”

Mary’s fairy garden has grown to encompass much of her large backyard.

“I’ve sectioned parts of my garden so I can have a whole ‘fairy society,’” she says. “I told my grandchildren that the fairies (who are very judgmental) had no place to go on vacation, so I made a Polynesian fairy garden with boats and everything!”

Mary notes that a person interested in starting a fairy garden doesn’t need a lot of space, though.

“You can do a lot in a little space with fairy gardens. Part of the reason this hobby appealed to me was because ours was a military family, and so we had to move a lot. Having lots of furniture makes moving more complicated…but I can put as much furniture as I like in my fairy gardens, get as fancy as I like, and it doesn’t take up a lot of room. Plus, it doesn’t clutter my house up with more stuff inside!”

Mary still has her first fairy house from Plow & Hearth, which she purchased several years ago.

“It’s held up great, which is saying something with our rainy Washington weather,” she says. “I have every fairy cottage Plow & Hearth carries, and many of the fairy furniture and fairy garden accessories, too.”

Getting creative: fairy gardening as an art form

Mary enhances her fairy garden society with small-scale vegetation like miniature pansies, which provide a lot of color, and other plants suitable for container gardening. She recommends Janit Calvo’s book, Gardening in Miniature, as a great resource for finding the right plants for fairy gardens along with advice on getting started in fairy gardening and more.
“There’s just something so enchanting about fairy gardens,” Mary says. “Working with my fairy gardens is a way for me to be artistic…I’m always changing it, making it fresh and new. Something about it is so magical…I just love watching the birds bathing and hopping about in my fairy garden, even when I’m not working in it.”

Currently rated 4.4 by 5 people

2/19/2014 3:33:00 PM  

There are no standard sizes of fireplace openings in the US, so it’s important to measure your opening size carefully to achieve a proper fit. Here are some tips for finding the right sized screen for your fireplace.


For Square Fireplaces:


Step 1.

Measure the width of the opening from inside the face of the opening at both the top and bottom.

Step 1

Step 2.

Measure the height from the hearth surface (where the screen will sit) to the top of the opening at both the left and right sides of the fireplace.


Step 2


If the measurements are different, go by the largest number to be sure the screen will cover the opening completely.


TIP: Measure the distance between any trim at the sides and top of the opening to be sure the screen will cover the opening, but not run into or overlap the trim pieces.


For Arched Fireplaces:


Step 1.

For an arched fireplace opening, measure the height of the opening at the center as well as at both sides of the arch to get a clear idea of how the screen will cover the opening.


Step 3


Step 2.

To ensure you have about an inch or more of overlap for the screen at the face of the fireplace opening, choose a screen that is at least one inch taller than the height and two inches wider than the width of the fireplace opening for a safe, attractive fit.


Step 3.

The two screen sizes most commonly available are 39” wide by 31” high and 44” wide by 33” high.  If your fireplace opening will not fit in the range of those two sizes, you may consider getting a custom screen made to precisely fit your opening.


TIP: Keep in mind that measuring for your fireplace screen will depend on whether you want a single or multi-paneled fireplace screen. Single panel fireplace screens should match the measurements of your fireplace’s firebox, with an additional 1 to 3 inches added to the total height, to ensure total coverage. Multi-panel fireplace screens need extra length to create the decorative, curved effect, so you should add an additional 10 to 12 inches to the total length and 3 to 5 inches to the total height when measuring the firebox.


Need help, or would like to review custom screen options? Visit or call 1-800-866-6072 for further information or to place an order. For help measuring your fireplace, visit your nearest Plow & Hearth Retail Store.


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Currently rated 5 by 1 person

2/21/2013 3:20:00 PM  

When it comes to at-home water conservation, nothing equals a rain barrel. Placed near a gutter or downspout, it collects precious rainwater that can be used to water your garden and indoor plants and even wash your car, lowering your monthly water bills. And rain barrels don’t have to be boring, either – in addition to the traditional shape, there are barrels shaped like urns, boulders, log racks…some even have a space to let you place a plant on top.

And if you feel like getting creative, even better – Plow & Hearth's own Weather-Resistant Polyethylene Plastic 55-Gallon Rain Barrels can be painted to either blend in with the background or “pop” as a unique work of art. Here are the steps to help you get started:

Step 1.

Clean the rain barrel’s surface. Vinegar is a great cleaning choice because it’s environmentally friendly and very economical while still effective for killing most mold, bacteria, germs and odors. Just add one part white distilled vinegar to one part warm water and apply it to the barrel’s surface with a sponge, allowing it to dry naturally. Two parts ammonia mixed with one part water also makes an effective cleaning solution.

Step 2.

Rough it up. Once the rain barrel is completely dry, lightly sand it with a sheet of very fine sandpaper (900 or 1200 grit is recommended). This will help the paint to adhere to the rain barrel’s surface. (Note that while most brands of paint specifically designed for plastic surfaces will say this step is not necessary, it will definitely help keep the painted surface of your rain barrel looking fresh.)

Step 3.

Zap the dust. Vacuum the barrel’s surface, then rinse it with clean water to wash away any dust remaining. Dry the barrel with a microfiber or other lint-free cloth, or allow it to air-dry in the sun.

Step 4.

Apply a primer coat. You’ll definitely need a latex-bonding primer coat when using acrylic, tempera and oil-based paints. Paints designed to adhere to plastic surfaces (which we recommend you use) say you can skip the primer coat, but consider adding one anyway – it’s the best way to guard against the cracking, peeling or flaking that can occur to a painted rain barrel that’s being used outdoors.

Step 5.

Pick your paints. As long as you’re using a primer coat and a seal, you can use most types of outdoor paint on your rain barrel, but for longevity we recommend paints designed to go over plastic surface. Krylon Fusion For Plastic® is an excellent choice, and can be found, along with other suitable paints, in most body shops. One spray can will cover an entire rain barrel, but two cans will provide a more even finish (particularly when working with darker colors).

Step 6.

Start painting. Cover the spray can’s spigot and overflow valve with masking tape and shake the can vigorously for about two minutes. Remove the tape and spray the rain barrel in a sweeping motion, keeping the nozzle at an even distance of about 8 to 10 inches from the surface. Apply thin coats (allowing at least 30 seconds between the first and subsequent coats) to prevent runs and drips.

Step 7.

Get creative. You can paint your rain barrel to blend in with your house or outbuildings, but don’t be afraid to make it stand out – a shiny metallic rain barrel can add a touch of elegance to your outdoor space, while using more than one color can look chic. Or get in touch with your inner artist and recreate landscapes, favorite cartoon characters, geometric designs, or an original creation of your own. You can even make it a great outdoor project to enjoy with the kids, resulting in a unique garden accent with great memories attached.

Step 8.

Seal it. Once you’ve finished painting your rain barrel, apply a clear polyurethane finish to help keep the paint from cracking and flaking while the barrel is being empty or filled.

With these simple steps, you’re free to turn your water-saving, eco-friendly rain barrel into a fun, backyard fashion statement. Enjoy yourself, and be sure to share a photo of your artistic creation with us when you’ve finished – we’d love to post it on our blog!

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Currently rated 3.8 by 4 people

2/21/2013 3:19:00 PM  

Making sure your plants have enough water is essential to the health of your garden, but making sure no drop is wasted is key to keeping down your water bill. When and how you water your garden will not only ensure that your plants will flourish it will help conserve water and keep costs down.

Watering Methods

Saving water means saving money on your water bill. These tips offer a water-wise approach to gardening.

How Often?

In most cases, an inch of water a week will supply what most established plantings need (as well as abide by most municipal water restrictions). Instead of applying that inch through shallow, frequent waterings (which actually waste water without meeting your plants’ needs), do it once a week in one deep watering. This will ensure deep rooting, leading to stronger, healthier plants.

Go Native

“Naturescaping” – the practice of using plants that would normally grow in the area where you live in your yard and garden – is one of the very best ways you can save water and enjoy thriving plants with a minimum amount of care. Native plants have had thousands of years to adjust to an area’s normal rainfall, soil and climate. Once established, they require little or no watering. Another plus to naturescaping is that it offers food and shelter to local wildlife and attracts native songbirds to your yard.

Keep It Small

The bigger the plant, the more water it needs – the same goes for crowding your plants. When choosing shrubs to plant, don’t go with a variety that will grow larger than you need it to, and be sure to keep it pruned. And if you’re tempted to crowd plants along a walkway, keep in mind that plants that look sparse at first will fill out as the seasons pass.

Load Up On Mulch

“Mulch” refers to any protective material added to the surface of soil. Not only does mulch save you work by cutting down on weeds, it helps to prevent water loss keeps flower beds moist. There are two kind of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches can be made up of bark chips, pine needles, compost or even grass clippings and ground-up leaves. Organic mulches add nutrients to the soil.

Inorganic mulches (made from pebbles and gravel, plastic, recycled materials or landscaping fabric) also keep the soil moist and have added advantages in that they won’t attract pests or need to be replaced every year.

For new plants and shrubs, a ring-shaped “bank” of mulch or soil that’s the width of the tree (including branches) can be filled with water which will then be slowly absorbed instead of running off, ensuring your plant gets the maximum benefit of the water.

Get To Know Your Sun Spots

Pay attention to where, when and how long the sun shines on your garden. Then, put dry-soil plants in sunny locations and plants that need a lot of water in shaded areas. Next to the house is a good place for water-needy plants – runoff from the roof can help cut down on how often you have to use your hose.

Reuse And Recycle Water

There are other ways to make use of rain runoff – a 25' x 40' roof can drop as much as 600 gallons of water during a moderate rainfall. Rather than let all that water go to waste, capture it in a rain barrel! All you need is a capture system consisting of roof gutters and downspouts (an attractive rain chain also works), a large-capacity rain barrel and a garden hose. The rainwater you collect will be great for your plants and a cost-effective way to fill re-circulating water features and birdbaths.

Plant Hardy Grasses

A lawn can take in more than 20,000 gallons of water each year. Consider switching to a water-resistant variety. Hardy choices include Bermuda grass and buffalo grasses, both of which need 20% less water than fescue or bluegrass.

Mow Less

The higher your grass, the more it shades the roots from the sun and the more it prevents moisture from evaporating. Raise the height of your mower to no lower than three inches.

Stay Cool When Planting

The best time to plant or transplant is early spring or early fall. The cooler weather means your plants will need less water to get established, and when summer rolls around, their root system will work more efficiently.

Get An Early Start On Watering

Watering during the heat of the day means your plants will lose part of the life-giving liquid to evaporation, so water in the cool morning hours. It might seem logical to water in the evening when the sun is down and temperatures are cooler, but this puts your plants at risk for developing mildew and fungi.

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2/21/2013 3:18:00 PM  

For a garden to "work" visually, it needs to have more than just complementary flower colors and interesting foliage for when plants aren't in bloom. Also important is vertical interest – a feature or features that draw your eye up, causing you to scan and process the whole of the garden as a tapestry.

Arbors, trellises, and obelisks are all effective and affordable means of drawing the eye up and giving the garden a third dimension – height. But which do you choose? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish, the style of your house, and the kind of gardens you like. Here’s some more information to help you decide what will work best for you and your garden.

Arbors, Trellises And Obelisks: What’s The Difference?

Although all three are intended to show off an array of flora and are capable of drawing the eye up and creating a focal point, arbors, trellises and obelisks are distinct structures that have distinct functions in a garden.

• Trellises. A trellis is a flat latticework used to support climbing plants or vines. It can be a simple panel attached or propped against the side of a building, or a freestanding structure in your yard or garden. Trellises can be almost any size – some are even small enough to use in a container to support an ivy geranium or other climbing plant.

Trellises are most useful for providing a framework on which to create interest, particularly up against boring, undifferentiated walls. They can also be used to divide a garden into separate and distinct garden “rooms,” essentially forming living walls.

• Arbors. An arbor usually incorporates a trellis into its structure, creating a tunnel-like passageway of climbing plants. Arbors have a continuous run of latticework from one side of the “tunnel” to the other, often in an arched shape. Arbors are a wonderful way to show off your favorite blooms, and when covered with a sheaf of roses, morning glories or other blossoms, make a visually stunning addition to your outdoor space.

An arbor can be used to create a transition between areas in a larger garden—separating a kitchen garden from a cutting garden, for example—or can be used to create a sense of drama right at the entrance of any garden.

• Obelisks. Obelisks are tall, tapering, four-sided or spherical towers, which usually end in a pyramid shape at the top. Like arbors, their sides incorporate a trellis on which climbing plants can grow; they can also be used to suspend hanging potted plants.

An obelisk’s primary function is to draw the eye. At the center of a wheel-shaped herb garden, toward the back of a border that's overly two-dimensional, or at the end of long path, an obelisk can grab your attention and hold it. With the right “clothing,” it can be a real showstopper.

Materials and Style

Trellises, arbors and obelisks can serve both decorative and functional purposes. Stylistically, there’s a spectrum ranging from casual to formal. Choose a material and design that will blend in gracefully with the look and style of your house and garden.


Vinyl structures are durable and require no maintenance while having the look of classic painted wood. This allows them to be used in both formal and informal or more rustic settings. Their durability enables them to last for many years and makes them ideal for supporting perennial climbing plants like wisteria or roses.


Wooden trellises, arbors and obelisks will weather naturally to blend in with and complement a more rustic, natural setting. Woods like cedar, eucalyptus, fir and cypress are durable and if left unpainted will weather to a natural grey color. Because wood isn’t as sturdy as vinyl or metal and it requires more maintenance than those materials, it’s best to use it for supporting lighter, annual climbing plants such as Morning Glories or Moonflowers.


Perfect for classic English-style gardens or sleek, contemporary outdoor spaces, steel structures come in a variety of styles from simple to ornate. Steel has the advantage of strength, value and flexibility of design and, like vinyl, is capable of supporting fast-growing, heavy perennials. Steel structures win the vote for formality, but they do require a bit more care than vinyl structures – although they come with a durable powder coat finish, they will need to be touched up with paint over the years to maintain an even finish and prevent rusting.

Whatever’s right for you and whatever you choose, the added vertical interest you bring to your garden is sure to raise it to a new level.

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2/21/2013 3:17:00 PM  

Providing places for wildlife to raise their young is an essential element of a Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site. Adding a nesting box (also known as a birdhouse) to your yard is one way to help meet this requirement for certification while turning your avian visitors into residents.

Why Set Up A Nesting Box?

Setting up a nesting box in your yard can provide an essential nesting area for various species of birds. While many species are able to hide their nests in dense foliage or grassy meadow areas, others require holes for nesting. Some birds, such as woodpeckers, can excavate their own nesting cavities in dead or decaying trees. Others depend on the abandoned nesting holes or natural cavities formed from fallen branches for places to build nests. Recently, however, an increase in development and removal of damaged and dead trees has left many cavity-nesting birds with fewer natural places to raise their young. In addition, invasive birds, such as the European starling and the house sparrow, compete with native bird species for the use of the remaining cavities. Adding a nesting box to your habitat will not only benefit native bird species, it will also give you an opportunity to monitor and enjoy birds.

There are dozens of bird species that can be attracted to nesting boxes including, blue birds, wrens, chickadees, finches, swallows, purple martins, woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls. Properly constructed houses can be purely functional, or decorative and whimsical in design. Placing a number of different houses around your property can invite different species to set up house. Aside from the fun and personal satisfaction of hosting bird families in your houses, many of these birds are voracious insect eaters and will help reduce insect populations naturally. Most birds tend to return to the same areas and houses where they have been successful in raising young. Thus, adding birdhouses to your property will only increase the chance that you will see new generations of these beautiful and beneficial birds every year.

Purple Martin Gourds
Purple Martin Gourds

Building Or Selecting A Nesting Box

Although most birds prefer natural cavities for nesting, with the correct design a nesting box can serve as a good replacement. There are numerous types of bird nesting boxes available commercially. Each box contains different features and is targeted at a particular bird species. But not all nest boxes are created equal.

There are several features to consider when purchasing, or building, a nesting box. Check that the box is well constructed and contains these basic features:

  • • Constructed of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir)
  • • Lumber for walls that is at least ¾ of an inch thick to provide insulation)
  • • An entrance hole of the appropriate size to allow desired birds to enter but keep larger birds out
  • • An entrance that is the correct distance from the floor to accommodate the nest
  • • An extended and sloped roof to keep the rain out
  • • A recessed floor and drainage holes to keep the interior dry
  • • Rough or grooved interior walls to help fledglings exit
  • • Ventilation holes to allow the interior to remain cool
  • • A side or top panel that opens to allow easy access for monitoring and cleaning
  • • No outside perches, which aid predators and other harassing birds

It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.

It is also important to make sure that your box incorporates features preferred by the particular bird species you hope to attract. These features include the entrance hole size, the height at which the box is posted, and the type of habitat surrounding the box. When purchasing a nesting box research the physical requirements of the species that you hope to attract and make sure that you are investing in a functional, rather than ornamental, birdhouse.

Check the Birdhouse Network of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more specific information on species preferences.

Shop All Bird Houses

Where To Place Your Nesting Box

The habitat available to you will be the primary factor determining the type of birds you can attract for nesting. Make sure that you place birdhouses in a location where the target bird species is likely to reside. Avoid putting nesting boxes in areas where herbicides and pesticides are used. Not only do these chemicals decrease insect populations - the primary food source for most cavity-nesting birds - but they can also harm birds directly. The box can be mounted on a tree or a pole. Placing the box on a pole with a predator baffle to protect the birds is often more successful. Make sure that the box is attached securely enough to withstand severe weather and winds. Also take into consideration the direction in which your box is facing and how much direct sun it receives. Many birds will reject boxes that face due west, for example, because the box may stay too hot. Before placing your box, research habitat, nest height and direction preferences for the species.

Bluebird House Set
Bluebird House Set

When To Set Up Your Box

Make sure your nesting box is in place well before the arrival of breeding season. In the southern part of the country boxes should be in place no later than February. In the northern regions, boxes can be placed outside before mid to late March. This will give birds a better chance of finding and using your box, and it may even be used for winter cover if put outside earlier. Don't be discouraged if birds don't find the box in the first season; sometimes it can take a few years for the birds to find the box.

Monitoring And Cleaning Your Box

Once breeding season begins monitor your box for activity. You can enjoy watching adults quickly dart in and out as they build their nests or feed hungry nestlings. If your box is first discovered and used by invasive bird species consider removing the nest. Doing this regularly will likely encourage the bird to move to another location and free the box for use by native species. Once eggs have been laid you may want to monitor the progress of the nest. Lightly tap on the box before opening the panel to allow the adult bird to leave. So as not to become a nuisance limit your viewing time to less than a minute once a week. Keep track of the progress of the nestlings. This way once they have fledged and the box is no longer in use it can be cleaned. Some birds will not use cavities with abandoned nests in them and removing the debris cuts down on ectoparasites for the next set of nestlings. If you remove the nest in a timely fashion you could enjoy two to three broods per season!

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2/21/2013 3:16:00 PM  

We all remember those lectures we got about the birds and the bees, but chances are an important part of that lecture was left out. Collectively, this diverse group of wildlife including insects, birds, bees and bats, are known as pollinators. They contribute to a healthy ecosystem by transporting pollen from one plant to another to facilitate fertilization. In fact, bees are responsible for pollinating more flowers than any creature on earth. We see pollinators everywhere during the summer months, but where do they go during the fall and winter, and what enables them to produce fruit and seed when the weather warms up again?

Off-Season Activities of Pollinators

Many bees and other insects die, leaving their eggs or pupae to lie dormant. These are tucked away in sheltered places-behind bark, under dead leaves, buried in soil-where they are protected from frost until the following spring, when life can continue. Others survive as adults, hidden in similarly sheltered spots.

In contrast, some pollinator species undertake astonishing journeys to avoid unfavorable weather conditions. Monarch butterflies and rufous hummingbirds fly thousands of miles across North America. Long-nosed bats make shorter, but no less rigorous migrations over hundreds of miles of desert. The monarch butterfly has arguably the most amazing migration of any creature. During the summer, monarchs may be found as far north as central Canada, but as summer fades millions of butterflies head south towards a few small patches of forest in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. Some fly more than 3,000 miles, taking over two months to complete the journey. There are also many smaller overwintering sites on the coast of California, but the Mexican sites are the winter home for more than 99 percent of the population. Here they gather to overwinter in the cool, stable conditions provided by Mexican forests.

The journey north next spring is undertaken in two generations. As they fly north from Mexico, the butterflies lay eggs on flowering milkweed. They may lay eggs for a thousand miles before dying. The generation born from these eggs will fly further north again as the milkweed flowers. The monarchs that reach Canada may be two generations removed from those that overwintered in Mexico. Some hummingbirds undertake an equally impressive trek. Along the West Coast, the rufous hummingbird breeds as far north as Alaska, and the ruby-throated hummingbird breeds across central and eastern parts of the continent into southern Canada. Both species overwinter in Mexico. To reach their winter territory, some birds travel well over 2,000 miles! Along the migration route, they stop at flower patches to lap up carbohydrate-laden nectar and feast on fat and protein-rich insects that together provide energy for the exhausting flight. Hummingbirds are known to live for over a decade. To have completed this annual migration so many times is a pretty astonishing achievement for a bird that weighs less than a nickel!

Preparing For Migration

The lesser long-nosed bat over-winters in Mexican caves and migrates several hundred miles north into southern Arizona and New Mexico as warmer temperatures and longer days allow desert flowers to bloom. Migrating pollinators need rest stops along the way. Rufous hummingbirds, for example, cannot complete the entire journey on one tank of nectar and insects. Monarch butterflies need milkweed on which to lay their eggs to ensure the next generation of migrants. Sustaining pollinator populations means ensuring that plant resources are available along their route. Patches of nectar-rich habitat act as stepping-stones that the pollinators can move between, together forming nectar corridors across landscapes altered by agriculture and development.

Hummingbirds are not at all shy, and can be viewed at close range when they visit feeders placed near the house or on windows. Fresh sugar water in feeders will supplement their regular diet of nectar and insects and help ensure that they will be regular visitors to your yard all summer.

The shy, solitary bees, like orchard bees, can help fill the gap in pollination left by the declining American honeybee. These bees are harmless and have solitary nests rather than hives. A nest of small, hollow tubes in which they can raise their larva helps keep them in your yard.

Mason Bee Lodge  
Mason Bee Lodge

Our Produce Depends On Pollinators

Pollinators are responsible not only for the continued existence of healthy plant communities - and therefore the ecosystem upon which we rely - but their pollination service also provides us with much of the produce we humans need and enjoy. Unfortunately, pollinators as a group are on the decline worldwide. Habitat destruction through sprawl, use of chemical pesticides, spread of invasive non-native plants and animals, and sometimes just plain ignorance about the important role pollinators play are some of the causes for this decline.

Help Pollinators By Providing Their Habitat

Experts at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) say the most important things you can do now in your yard to accommodate pollinators, or attract pollinators next spring are: plant native plant species as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; plant host plants for butterfly caterpillars; replace lawn areas with prairie or meadow nesting sites; and discontinue the use of chemicals and fertilizers in your yard.

To learn more about specific pollinators in your area, check out the Wildlife Finder at NWF's web site, including info on how to create wildlife-friendly landscaping through NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. When your habitat meets all the criteria for sustaining wildlife, it can be certified by NWF as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat site.

Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society contributed to this article as part of the efforts of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

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2/21/2013 3:15:00 PM  

Chances are good that you’ve already seen them. Stink bugs are an agricultural pest and a home-invading nuisance. The annoying, shield-shaped brown bugs hitched a ride to the US in cargo shipments from Asia in the late 90s, and now – thanks to their proclivity for procreating four times a year and the absence of natural predators – they’ve spread to 33 states.

What makes them so annoying to homeowners is their tendency to move in when it gets cold. While it’s true that they don’t bite, sting, or do damage to your home like termites will, and they don’t breed at the time of year when they’re seeking cover, most folks still balk at the idea of sharing living quarters with hundreds of prehistoric-looking insects.

Even worse, they stink.

While you can grab up the occasional ant or spider with a paper towel or napkin, crushing a stink bug in such a way releases its primary defense mechanism – a liquid toxin with an offensive smell - a powerful odor that will bring even more of these menacing insects your way. In fact, just chasing them can have the same result.

The Science of Stopping Stink Bugs

Unfortunately, getting rid of stink bugs isn’t so easy. Stepping on them is out, and exterminators report that common pesticides don’t work. So how do you get rid of these creepy critters?

The Best Defense – Prevention

The best way to get rid of stink bugs from your home is keep them from getting in, so make sure your house is properly sealed. Before the nights start to get cold in late fall, check the outside of your house carefully for cracks or holes the bugs can use to gain access. Put screens on all windows and doors that don’t already have them. For those that do, be sure they don’t have any holes. Also, don’t leave any unnecessary lights on, as stink bugs, like other flying insects, are attracted to light.

Suck Them Up

Not just for eliminating dirt and cobwebs anymore, vacuum cleaners are very effective when it comes to sucking stink bugs out of their hiding places without crushing them. A bagless vac won’t cut it, though – use a vacuum cleaner with a bag, then, once you’ve vacuumed the bugs up, immediately seal the bag and take it somewhere far away. You may crush the bugs in the bag once the bag is sealed, but be sure you don’t do it in the house! Our Stink Bug Chute is another great way to pick them up without crushing or touching them.

Soap And Water

Are stink bugs gobbling up your ornamental trees and shrubs? An effective way of removing them from your plant life is to shake leaves so the bugs fall off into a bucket of soapy water. The soapy water prevents them from flying away.

Potent Problem, Powerful Solution

Most pesticides won’t easily penetrate a stink bug’s tough exterior, but some chemicals have been proven to be helpful in controlling stink bugs. These include pyrethrum foggers, deltamethrin, cypermethrin and cyfluthrium. A non-chemical alternative that has been reported to work is diatomaceous. The effectiveness of these agents may be improved through use of a “spreader sticker.” Spreader stickers improve the performance of insecticides by helping them to penetrate and stick to the insects.

If you choose this route, plan to do it during the fall, before the stink bugs start to migrate indoors. Use a sprayer to spray the surrounding area as well as the outside of your home. Spray the treatment up as high as you can outside your house and allow it to drip down for complete and thorough coverage. A well-sprayed structure will provide an invisible wall of defense that the stink bugs will not be able to penetrate. Most homes will require two to three gallons of the treatment to get good coverage, so it's up to you whether it is worth it to have added protection from stink bugs.

Call In Reinforcements

When all else fails, and there’s just too many of the critters for you to handle, it might be time to call in a professional. A certified pest controller will be able to fully protect your house from the pests by securing all the common places through which they usually enter. They may also know of techniques to better control the control stink bugs.

Our Stink Bug Trap To The RESCUE! ®

Made in the USA, the RESCUE! ® Stink Bug Trap is designed to work outdoors, capturing stink bugs before they ruin your garden or get in your home. The reusable trap comes with two, one-week supplies of a pheromone attractant that lures stink bugs in while remaining odor-free to people. Refills are available so you can maintain a stink bug-free environment all season long.

Worried the Stink Bug Trap will attract stink bugs to your yard? Don’t be – it works only to catch those stink bugs within a 20-foot radius, so only the bugs that were already in your yard and garden will be drawn in, trapping them before they damage your garden or invade your home. Nor will the Stink Bug Trap capture those bugs that are beneficial to your garden. Safe and affordable, the Stink Bug Trap is an easier answer to controlling your stink bug problem.

Rescue Products

Want to learn even more about these pests? Get The Scoop On Stink Bugs in our online guide.

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2/21/2013 3:14:00 PM  

Whether you live in a log cabin or a condo, you can make a place for wildlife right at your backdoor. It’s easier than you think. There are three basic steps to creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

Assess Your Yard Or Garden Space

The first thing you need to do is identify the habitat elements that already exist in your yard or garden space. You may be surprised to find you're already providing some habitat for wildlife!

Native plants that provide food and cover are the backbone of every habitat. Make a list of all the plants in your yard, including everything from trees to wildflowers.

Try to determine which of your plants are native to your area and which are not. Which existing plants might provide food such as seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar? Which plants might provide safe cover or nesting places?

Do you have any dead or dying trees? If so, don’t reach for the chainsaw! Dying or dead trees are excellent habitat features. They are excavated and used by woodpeckers, flying squirrels, and a multitude of insects and cavity-nesting birds, such as owls, bluebirds, chickadees and wrens.

Determine how your yard might already provide water for wildlife. This could be in the form of a pond, water garden, stream, vernal pool or birdbath.

Make a list of any structures that provide habitat elements, such as bird feeders, nesting structures, rock walls or log piles.

Finally, consider the physical features of your yard, such as sun and wind exposure and soil conditions.

Provide The Four Basic Elements

All species have four basic requirements for survival: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.


1. Food

Birds are a major component in your backyard habitat. They play a crucial role in the natural “management” of the larger environment and your own backyard. By helping to pollinate flowering trees and plants, and eating insects and seeds birds contribute to the natural checks and balances built into our environment. Providing birds with food, water and shelter in which to raise young gives a great deal of pleasure to the landowner and helps ensure a healthy bird population.

Feed birds year-round with seed feeders to ensure that the local population and migrating birds have a constant food supply. Hummingbird feeders can be used from late spring through early fall.

Shop Bird & Squirrel Feeders

Select plants that provide natural foods such as fruits, seeds, nuts and nectar. Choose your plants to provide food for backyard wildlife throughout the year. Native perennials and annuals provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. As one program participant says, "Hummingbirds like ice-cream cones and butterflies like pizza." This is because hummingbirds tend to visit tube-shaped red flowers, such as Bee Balm, Wild Columbine and our native honeysuckles. Butterflies prefer flat or clustered flowers, such as Purple Coneflower, phlox, and zinnias.

By choosing native plants suited to the site conditions, little maintenance, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or additional watering will be necessary for the plants to thrive. This all adds up to time and cost savings as well as a healthier habitat for you, your family, and the wildlife that inhabit your yard. Supplemental feeders can provide nectar for hummingbirds in the summer months and a variety of seed (sunflower, niger, safflower, and millet) for other birds throughout the year. Keep in mind that bird feeders should only be used as a supplement to natural food provided by native plants.

Shop Hummingbird Feeders

2. Water

Wildlife need water for drinking, bathing, and, in some cases, breeding.

Water can be supplied in a birdbath, a small pond, a recirculating waterfall or a shallow dish. If you’re lucky enough to have a natural pond, stream, vernal pool, or other wetland on your property, make sure to preserve or restore it as these are excellent aquatic habitats.

A small pond set into the ground provides water for drinking and bathing, as well as cover and reproductive areas for small fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles.

However you decide to provide water, make sure you do so year round. This can easily be done with a thermostatically controlled birdbath heater to provide water during subfreezing weather when the need for water is critical.

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Aromatic Cedar Bat House

Audubon Bat Shelter

Purple Martin Houses

Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log or mulch piles.

Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens and purple martins can be placed in your backyard.

Aquatic animals, such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, and other insects, deposit their eggs in ponds, vernal pools, and other wetlands.

Butterflies require "host" plants that serve as food sources for butterflies during their larval (caterpillar) stage. Butterflies almost invariably lay their eggs on the host plant preferred by the caterpillar, so make sure to include some of the host plants in your habitat.

Native honeybees are essential pollinators for many trees and flowers, but their populations are in decline. We can help fill the pollination gap by providing homes for solitary bees like orchard bees.

Mason Bee Lodge

Benefits of Attracting Wildlife

Besides adding visual interest to your yard and garden, wildlife is important for insect control. Did you know that 99% of the insects in your yard are beneficial? One-third of all the food we eat comes as a direct result from pollinator insects, while many insects prey on the annoying ones, like mosquitoes. Besides throwing a damper on your outdoor gathering, mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases (like West Nile), and pesticides (in addition to being hard on the environment and dangerous to children) aren’t much help, since they also kill the “good” bugs – bugs like dragonflies, who eat millions of mosquitoes, but don’t bounce back as fast their food source does after exposure to insecticides.

Birds and bats also eat millions of pesky insects every day, so encouraging them to come to your backyard is a definite advantage and a much healthier alternative to pesticides – for you and your family and the environment.

Certify Your Habitat

Already meet the requirements for certification? Visit the National Wildlife Federation and learn more about certifying your yard online today!

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2/21/2013 3:12:00 PM  

It wasn't so long ago that composting was considered a fringe activity, something you might find ardent back-to-the-landers doing out on their country acreage, but certainly not a practice within the realm of most suburbanites' experience. Today, however, many towns and small cities are encouraging composting like never before, sometimes offering compost bins at subsidized rates, often providing instructional materials or workshops on how to compost, while simultaneously ceasing the curbside pickup of readily compostable materials like leaves and grass clippings. At the same time, sales of bagged compost are way up, as are sales of all manner of composting equipment. Suddenly, it seems, composting has become mainstream.

Why Compost?

Organic gardeners rave about it, but what's the big deal about compost? Why can't you just feed your plants some 10-10-10 and be done with it? Well, i's like the difference between eating a well-balanced meal made from fresh, natural ingredients, and eating a multivitamin and a bag of chips. In the short term, you'd be fine with either, but you wouldn't want to subsist on the latter diet for long. The same is true in your garden. Initially, your plants will respond vigorously to chemical fertilizers, but they won't attain the naturally robust good health they would if you provided them with compost. And with composting, you can be part of the cycle of life - instead of throwing away kitchen scraps and yard debris, you can turn them into valuable compost that your plants and soil will love.

Not only does compost contain all of the major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) in forms readily available to plants, but it also contains a wealth of minor and trace elements as well as billions (yes, literally billions) of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other soil creatures that will continue to break down organic and inorganic matter in the compost and in your soil, providing a long-term, steady feeding of nutrients to plants.

In addition, because of its loose, fluffy, cake-flourlike texture, compost improves the tilth, or structure, of all garden soils, both increasing the drainage of clay soils and binding together sandy soils, enhancing their moisture retention. Regardless of where you garden or what you grow, compost will make your plants healthier and more vigorous and increase their flowering and fruiting like no other substance you can give them. Simply put, composting is the best possible thing you can do for your garden.

How Long Does It Take?

Many gardeners don't compost simply because they perceive it to be more difficult or complicated than it really is. In truth, composting---rotting really---is a natural process that will occur even without any effort on a gardener's part. If you just put all your garden waste, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and autumn leaves into a giant pile, you'd have good, usable compost deep within the pile in a year and a half or so.

Actively engaging in the composting process just speeds the whole process up greatly. Researchers have found that it's possible to make finished compost (that is, compost that is so completely broken down that none of its component materials are distinguishable) in as little as 10 days. Practically speaking, most home gardeners can make a good batch of compost every 3-4 weeks; over a growing season, that's a lot of free fertilizer of unparalleled quality.

The ABCs of Composting

So, how do you make compost? There are four key words to remember: green, brown, air and water. What this means is that, to make compost, all you have to do is bring together moist, fresh, predominantly green ingredients (grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps, and the like) and predominantly brown ingredients (dead leaves, straw, hay, wood shavings or chips, etc.), ensure that the mix remains damp, and turn it all every few days to reintroduce oxygen to the pile. While the soil and leafy scraps usually have enough of the proper microbes to get the composting process started, for fresh batches of material and rotary composters you can add our Compost Starter to quicken the composting process.

Adding worms to your on-ground composter and or garden soil will also speed up the composting process, and will add extra soil nutrients (from the worm castings). Keep adding worms from your finished compost back into fresh material. That's it. In less than a month, you'll have rich, crumbly, brown compost that you can add to your garden soil, use in containers, or mulch with.

Containers and Ingredients

Compost can be made anywhere, in virtually any kind of container, or in no container at all---just a big pile. A bin or tumbler will keep the process neat and manageable, however, and will make it easier to add air to the mixture. To start your compost pile, reduce the size of the ingredients you're using in the pile by chopping them with a machete, a sharp garden spade or other tool. Autumn leaves can be shredded quite well by repeatedly mowing over them. Then add all the ingredients together, layering them in 3-4-inch-thick layers if you're using a bin, or just tossing them together if you're using a tumbler of some sort. Strive for somewhere between a 5:1 and an 8:1 ratio, by volume, of brown materials (fuel for the organisms that will decompose the pile) to green, but don't get too fussy about it---if the proportion is off, it's easy enough to recognize and to remedy.

There are many different styles of outdoor compost bins that fall into one of two categories:


A rotary-style composter can be placed anywhere and keeps all the material organized and off the ground—important features for some yards. Rotary composters produce compost quickly because they are easy to turn and aerate the material, but they tend to dry out more quickly.


An on-ground compost bin keeps material contained and in contact with the soil, which helps keep moisture content high and adds naturally occurring microbes and worms to the process. Consider using two bins at once: one to pull finished compost from and another to add new material to. Switch the bins once your finished compost is depleted.


It's optimal to have a small cart at hand around the yard and garden to collect and organize compostable materials from weeding, pruning, clipping and raking.

Kitchen countertop compost crocks offer a clean and efficient way to collect kitchen scraps. While a one-gallon size is good for small families, a one-and-a-half-gallon container works for larger needs. Options range from plastic to ceramic to stainless steel (click on image to right to view the many varieties and sizes sold on Each compost crock comes with charcoal filters to eliminate any smells in the house. You can also place biodegradable liner bags directly into the compost.

Green and Brown: Getting the Balance Right

A pile that doesn't heat up within 24 hours needs more green material. A compost thermometer is very handy for determining the temperature near the center of the pile, which should rise to approximately 150-160F. Often, however, you can see a pile steaming and can feel its heat even from the outside of the tumbler or over the top of the bin. A pile that develops an ammonia-like smell needs more brown materials; just work some more into the pile, and the aroma should go away.

Moisture and Air Speed Decomposition

The air and water requirements of a composting operation are similarly low-key. The mixture of materials should remain about as moist as a wrung-out sponge---damp, that is, but not soaking wet. If the mixture seems too wet, damp is perfect, give it a turn to mix and aerate. Layer in some dryer material, stems or straw to help the air flow. If it is too dry, sprinkle on some water and add fresh, green leafy material. Remember, the more often you turn a pile, the quicker you'll have compost, because most of the composting process is carried out by aerobic (oxygen-using) bacteria. If you decide to build your pile in a traditional square bin, you'll want to have an extra bin next to it, so that you can move the pile from one bin into another. If you use a tumbler of some type or rotary composter, turning is easier yet: All you have to do is spin or roll the container to re-oxygenate the pile.

Tips and Troubleshooting

Not much can go wrong with a compost pile other than the two conditions mentioned above---a pile that doesn't heat up and one that develops an ammonia-like smell. Altering the ratio of ingredients one way or the other will generally correct things. You can prevent any problems with critters visiting your pile by keeping animal and dairy products out of your kitchen compost container. Vegetable and fruit scraps are excellent "green" additions. When your compost looks black and earthy and most of the added material has become unidentifiable, it is ready to use.

Using Your Compost

Once you've cooked your first batch of compost, what do you do with it? As mentioned above, it's excellent as an addition to garden soil, container mixes, or used as mulch. Depending on the ingredients you used, there may be coarse pieces still in the compost. If you intend to use your compost as mulch just leave it coarse, however, if you plan on using it as potting soil or for seedlings, you'll want to break down these coarse pieces. The best way to deal with these is to screen the finished compost through a piece of hardware cloth stapled to a frame (or through a "riddle," a tool designed for just such a purpose).

Starting All Over Again

Anything that doesn't sift through the screen can be returned to your pile or bin for further breakdown. And be sure to save a bit of finished compost to start the next batch: The rich microbial life within that compost will get things off to an even faster start next time around.

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Outdoor Living  
2/21/2013 3:11:00 PM  

Fresh air and a change of scenery are reason enough for planning a picnic, which can be as simple as spreading out a blanket in a local park and sharing a baguette and a hunk of cheese with a couple of friends. It's a great way to shift gears, slow down, and take stock. With a little planning, though, picnicking can be elevated to an art form of sorts, or at least become the kind of memorable event that you look forward to and make time for each year.

Plan A Picnic Around An Outdoor Event

With warm weather comes outdoor music events in the form of festivals, concerts, and the like. Look in the Arts section or equivalent of your local newspaper or keep your eyes open for postings in grocery stores, coffee shops and other likely local haunts. Once you've found an event that sounds like fun, make a phone call to find out about bringing food and beverages. If you get the go-ahead, start planning, because there's just no better way to enjoy music outdoors than accompanied by a light but varied feast of cold salads, fine cheeses, imported salami and prosciutto, a few fancy pastries and some fresh fruit to top it all off---a smorgasbord of prepared fare, in other words, either homemade, if you prefer, or from the local gourmet shop or deli. And even, in the unlikely event that you can't find a musical event nearby that permits picnicking, that's no reason not to enjoy a regal repast at your local park.

Stock Up On The Right Supplies

The first step in preparing for your gourmet picnic is to pack all the utensils and accessories you'll need. Just make a list of what you'll be serving, then assess what you'll need for each of these dishes or items. Basics include a cutting board or two, a cheese knife, paring knife, large bread knife (especially if you're planning on picking up a watermelon), serving spoons, forks, spoons, knives, plates, bowls, good sea salt, a pepper grinder and napkins. You might also consider wineglasses and a corkscrew, as well as whatever else makes sense for your intended menu.

Be sure to organize food and utensils into totes and baskets that are easy to carry and store. Put the perishable food into an insulated tote.

Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

As far as the menu itself goes, try to provide a broad range of tastes and textures---the wider the range, the more it will feel like a feast. Think in terms of appealing contrasts like crisp, salty tortilla chips with cool, creamy guacamole or a juicy, fresh salsa; gourmet deviled eggs; smooth, rich Brie cheese with a loaf of coarse, chewy peasant bread; and, flaky, crunchy pastries with juicy, succulent strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, and other fruits. And of course, there is nothing better than the aroma and taste of fresh grilled food in the open air. Bring a portable grill to easily cook up your favorites anywhere.

Beyond The Blanket

Spending time away from home in a pleasant outdoor setting with good company and a good meal is the essence of a successful picnic. Bringing the right gear and keeping it simple and organized will keep everyone comfortable and happy. Many of us really don’t like sitting on the ground so, bringing some folding chairs will add to the relaxation.

Set a table rather than laying everything out on a blanket. Bring along a folding table and chairs, a linen or cotton tablecloth, and an enclosed candle or oil lamp if you'll be dining at dusk. Your picnic will become the stuff of memories as well as a regular ritual that you look forward to each summer.

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Selecting & Caring For Furniture  
2/21/2013 3:10:00 PM  

Furniture made primarily for outdoor use comes in an astounding diversity of styles and materials. Steel and aluminum---both cast and extruded, various plastics, wicker (and weather-resistant imitation wicker), different kinds of stone, cast stone, cement, and a number of woods are used to make tables, chairs, and benches for relaxing and enjoying the great outdoors. Styles range from rustic to rococo, classic---Adirondack chairs, for example---to modern. Most folks already have a pretty good sense of what they like, but there are many other practical considerations that can help make this season's purchase one you'll be happy with for many years to come.

Cost Versus Value: How Long Do You Want It to Last?

A very basic question, but one that many homeowners fail to ask, is how permanent an investment is this furniture. Is it just extra seating for a graduation party or a similar one-time event? Maybe it makes more sense to rent or to buy inexpensive chairs that, though not as durable as they could be, will do the job satisfactorily and at a great price. Most of the time---as a general rule---you're better off springing for quality, but if all you're after is a temporary solution, it makes no sense paying extra for something you neither need nor want.

Value-Priced Lightweight, All-Weather Resin Outdoor Wicker Seating
Value-Priced Lightweight, All-Weather Resin Outdoor Wicker Seating

What's Its Real Function?

Do you want a little bistro set at which to enjoy coffee and the paper? Or are you looking for a full-size outdoor dining table for gatherings of extended family? Are you looking for a short bench---seating for two---beneath a romantic, rose-covered arbor, or is it a large, family-size boot bench for the mudroom you've got in mind? Does the bench need to be very comfortable (are you going to be sitting in it for long periods of time), or is it more decorative, primarily a landscape feature at which you might pause to rest occasionally.

It really helps to be clear about what you want, to have more than just a generic sense of function. Picture in your mind's eye how you'll be using the furniture you're considering purchasing, then let that mental vignette help determine not just the size of the table or bench, but also the material, its placement, any accessories you might need (an umbrella stand or planter boxes, for example), even the plantings. After all, what you're creating is not merely a dining area or a seating solution---it's a spatial experience. So, enjoy; it's kind of like playing architect.

How Tough Does It Need To Be?

Degree of exposure is another consideration when you're buying outdoor furniture. A bench for a veranda or screened-in porch will obviously take far less abuse than one located at the edge of a bluff overlooking the ocean or even just sitting out in the open in the middle of the backyard. And whether you plan on bringing the piece in for the winter or leaving it out in the elements should also factor into your choice of materials and construction. So long as you know where a piece of furniture is going to live---year-round---it's a relatively straightforward matter to identify materials that will meet the demands of that situation.

When selecting furniture for outdoor use, be sure to pay attention to the materials from which it was made. High-quality recycled plastic, PVC, cast aluminum and fiberglass are great choices. Prefer the look of wood? Teak, cedar, eucalyptus and cypress are durable, long-lasting, and require little maintenance. Steel or wrought iron furniture can be very durable, but need to be cleaned and painted occasionally to avoid rusting. Painted wood furniture will also need to be repainted if left in the elements.

No matter how tough your outdoor furniture is, using furniture covers during the off-seasons will cut down on maintenance and cleaning and to increase its life span.

What About the Off-Season?

If you're in the market for a granite-slab bench for pond-side contemplation, chances are you'll place it carefully once and leave it in that same spot ever after. A lot of outdoor furniture, however, migrates indoors each year once the autumn leaves have fallen and the first frosts are settling in. For this reason, whether a piece can be stored easily may also be a consideration. Does the furniture you're considering buying fold or stack, so it won't take up a huge amount of storage space? Or better yet, can it be used somewhere indoors over the winter, perhaps in a sunroom, den, or finished basement? Again, your choice of material, construction, and even style will dictate a piece's suitability for indoor use.

Poly-Wood™ Adirondack Furniture
Poly-Wood™ Adirondack Furniture

Maintenance is Minimal

For the most part, you don't need to worry about maintenance when choosing between various kinds of outdoor furniture. Why? Because a little warm, soapy water a couple of times a season will generally keep all non-wood furniture looking good, year after year. For really tough stains, a scrubby pad (such as the ScotchBrite sponge pads made for washing dishes) may be necessary, but not often.

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Outdoor Living  
2/21/2013 3:09:00 PM  

Eating outdoors should be fun, hassle-free, and low-key, not---except, perhaps, for the rare outdoor wedding reception---al fresco interpretations of a formal dinner party. Keeping a few basic principles in mind will ensure that things stay loose and enjoyable. Essentially, you just want to make sure your outdoor dining area is situated in a spot that's cozy, protected, and comfortable, that the menu is not overly complex, and that you anticipate and prevent potential problems.

Make An Outdoor Dining “Room”

Creating a cozy outdoor dining area is easy. Just remember that most people are more comfortable in a situation where there's a wall (or preferably two) anchoring the dining area. That's why attached patios and decks are so popular. If you don't already have a patio or a deck, though, it's still quite easy to create a pleasant outdoor dining area. Enclosure on at least two sides is the key. Use an exterior wall of your house as one of the sides of the outdoor dining area (try to make it convenient to the kitchen), and plant a hedge to form another, adjacent "wall" of the dining area, as well as to screen out any distractions or eyesores. One of the fastest ways to do this is by planting sunflowers, which can quickly grow very tall. For a somewhat more formal yet still casual look, consider a hedge of hydrangeas. Or, if a very formal look and feel is what you're after, choose classic boxwood. It will take a few years for these shrub hedges to fill in, but a fence could be put up in the meantime, then removed as the shrubs put on some size. The goal in any case is to create a bit of privacy and enclosure, as well as a sense of place.

Define A Space

Consider using structures like an arbor or trellises to help define a dining area in the yard. Containers with plants or planters with attached trellises are an easy and portable way to create the feel of an outdoor dining room, especially on a deck or patio.

Metal fencing or screening, or portable willow screening, are also easy and pleasing ways to help establish a cozy outdoor dining area. Another way of setting off and highlighting an open dining set in the yard is to add a pergola or gazebo as a decorative feature over the dining furniture.

Eucalyptus Bench Planter
Eucalyptus Bench Planter

Serve Up Simplicity

Keeping the menu straightforward is also important to relaxed outdoor dining. Save the five-course extravaganza for a special indoor dinner party when the weather's not so fabulous. For balmy summer dining, however, you want to keep things simple. Basic barbecued fare is always delicious, but the addition of cool summer soups (like gazpacho) and fresh garden salads---whether a traditional green salad, a spinach salad, or freshly dug new potatoes scrubbed and tossed with olive oil and chives---make for a more memorable and enjoyable dining experience, and they're easy to prepare ahead of time.

Ensure A Stress-Free Dining Experience

Just as critical as creating the right kind of space and serving simple yet inspired fare is making sure that minor but annoying things don't destroy the mood and drive you indoors on a beautiful July or August evening. Citronella-scented candles or oil lanterns can help keep mosquitoes at bay, and food covers can keep other pesky insects off of your carefully prepared dishes. Unbreakable dinnerware and serving platters can eliminate the possibility of a treasured dish being broken, spoiling your evening. And something as simple as a napkin holder can keep you and your guests comfortably in your seats rather than scurrying across the lawn chasing a flock of fluttering napkins.

Woven Outdoor Serveware
Woven Outdoor Serveware

Find Comfortable Seating

The kind and style of outdoor dining furniture you choose will help set the stage for beautiful meals. Choose dining furniture that will complement the look and feel of your home so the outdoor dining area can be come a natural extension of the overall style of your indoor and outdoor rooms. Wooden dining furniture made from teak, eucalyptus or cedar has the warm appeal of natural wood, is very durable, and low-maintenance. Resin wicker furniture offers the classic, casual outdoor look and comfortable feel without the fragility and extensive upkeep of traditional wicker. Cast aluminum can be elegant, comfortable, highly durable and easy to maintain. Wrought iron and steel dining furniture are great choices for value and style that will fit in anywhere, but occasional touch-up painting may be necessary. For more information on these materials, check out our Outdoor Furniture Buying Guide.

The Difference Is In The Details

Adding an umbrella not only provides comfortable shade, but a splash of contrasting color, as well. Durable outdoor seat cushions help keep everyone comfortable right through dessert. New cushions are also a quick and easy way to update an older dining set.

Furniture covers are available that cover the entire dining set. Using covers will extend the furniture life and insure that it is clean and ready to use.

As with most things in life, a bit of forethought will reward you many times over---in this case, with a pleasant, relaxed dinner and an enjoyable evening under the stars.

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2/21/2013 3:08:00 PM  

Most people become gardeners gradually, by falling in love with particular plants, one by one—a swath of daylilies or daffodils down the road from your house perhaps, maybe a flowering cherry tree by the post office, then a fulsome, old-fashioned peony at the local garden center. Before long, these serial love affairs have blossomed into an obsession with all plants, and the afflicted (blessed?) gardener has accumulated quite a collection---which may or may not have anything to do with each other.

Choose Your Blooms

The next stage in a gardener's development occurs when composition of the garden—selecting plants for their contrasting or complementary bloom colors, agreeable foliage textures, and the like—starts to become more of a priority than simple acquisition of beautiful plants for their own sake. A sure sign that a gardener has advanced to this stage is when plants start coming out as regularly as they go in: “No, no, this just won't do here; I'll just have to move it somewhere else.” Slowly, beautiful gardens begin to take shape—a gorgeous rose, peony, and iris border in soft pastels, for example, or perhaps a shady nook filled with hostas, foxglove, and bleeding heart. But the common feature is the thought and attention given to how well all of the plants in the garden area relate to each other.

June 2012 Garden Basket
Six Months of Flower Gardens

Create a Theme

The final stage in a gardener's education is when the gardener starts looking over the various flowerbeds, flowering shrubs, and so on, and asks, “How do all of these relate to each other? How do I make all of this feel whole?” And the secret to that is in creating outdoor rooms. Some can be grand like a ballroom---an orchard, or a pond and its surrounding garden, for example. Others can be much more intimate, just a little brick patio surrounded by a tall fence on which you have clematis growing perhaps. The thing to remember about garden rooms, though, is that just as with indoor rooms, the basic elements you're working with are walls, floors, ceilings, focal points and entrances/exits.

Divide It Up

You can create a sense of enclosure (provide walls) with many different materials: Hedges, walls, fences, mixed borders with a few tall shrubs, or any combination of these can be used. Floors are more obvious yet: A lush turf, a brick or bluestone patio (or path), gravel, and a bed of pine needles or bark mulch, all give a garden room a different sort of character. A ceiling in a garden room might be just the sky, but it could also be a large, vine-covered pergola extending over a patio area, or a grand shade tree. Focal points really add to the character of garden rooms by giving the eye something to, well, focus on. A sculpture, a bench at the end of a path, a lone, giant terra-cotta pot at the intersection of two paths, an outdoor fireplace—these and other details can all be used to give a garden room a sense of place. Lastly, don't forget about the entrances or transitions between garden rooms. Arbors, gates, and bridges are just a few of the possibilities for clearly defining where one garden room ends and another begins.

Find a Focal Point

If you have a large garden room with an open central space to work with, a pergola is a nice focal point that can also be used to define a seating area. In a smaller area, plantings around an obelisk trellis in wood or metal will help create central anchor to the room. To help create garden walls or dividers, use flat trellises to help define corners and fill out long spaces. Decorative wrought iron trellises, obelisks and arbors can stand alone as interesting garden elements, but they also act as a structure for climbing plants that will create a more solid wall affect. To enhance a low spot, wet area or small stream, a bridge can act as either a central focus or inviting entrance. Use an arbor to accent entrances to the room or to help define pathways in the garden. Arbors in wood, metal or vinyl, like trellises, can either stand-alone or support climbing plants. Willow screening is a casual and rustic way of creating a wall affect or hiding things from view within the room.

Arbors and Terllises
Arbors & Trellises

Boundary Lines

Wrought iron garden edging and fencing are traditional ways of establishing the boundaries of garden rooms. A decorative garden fence and gate, lined with flowerbeds, creates a new room even in an open space. On the floor, stepping-stones can lead you into a garden room, define paths through plantings, and help divide the space between flowerbeds. Garden benches are a classic way to add a focal point to the corner of a garden room that is also a comfortable, restful place.

Lutyens Garden Bench
Lutyens Garden Bench

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Outdoor Living  
2/21/2013 3:06:00 PM  

With just the toss of a throw pillow or the placement of a cushion, you can completely transform the look and feel of a room—without spending a fortune. Whether you're adding a pop of color to a formerly lifeless loveseat, making your outdoor spaces more inviting, or giving your furniture a little extra ease, you’ll find that cushions and pillows are key to refreshing your atmosphere easily and inexpensively.

Decorate With Ease

Adding new cushions and pillows is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways to update your décor. With all the colors and styles of cushions and pillows to choose from, it’s important to always keep your end design goal in mind.

Before getting started, take into consideration the colors, textures and overall look of the surroundings. You’ll want the color and pattern of the cushions to coordinate with your style of furniture, any decorative accents, umbrellas, containers and flowers.

While colorful floral patterns or bright stripes make a bold statement that can complement color themes in your yard, garden or home, solid colors and simple stripes can blend into their surroundings beautifully and act as subtle accents.

Another decorating idea: use your new cushions and pillows to create a look that coordinates with one of your current indoor décor themes.

Make Yourself Comfortable

Imagine tucking a nice, well-fluffed pillow behind your neck, kicking back, and enjoying a good book on a pleasant evening. While cushions and pillows certainly add an element of beauty, they’re also designed for comfort.

Cushions are available in a wide array of shapes (long or short, square or round, seat or back) sized just right for any type of furniture—whether an outdoor wicker glider or an indoor wooden rocking chair; patio swing or kitchen chair. Once you determine the size, you’ll have the perfect amount of padding to make your favorite spot extra cozy.

The various shapes and sizes of throw pillows also offer a simple way to make seating more comfortable.

Lumbar pillows help ease back discomfort while sitting, and add great lower back support.

Comfort From The Ground Up

Floor cushions offer a casual, comfortable alternative to traditional seating—and they’re perfectly mobile (some even feature handles). Just pick them up and tote them to another spot when you want to change the view, mingle with someone new, or get out of the sun. Scatter them around the pool, fire pit, deck or use them as extra seating for porch, patio and deck parties. Kids are also big fans of floor cushions. Their portable design also lends itself nicely to travel.

Floor Cushions

Indoor Or Outdoor: Fabric Matters

Although indoor and outdoor cushions provide the same functional and decorative benefits, they’re quite different when it comes to fabric.

Because indoor cushions don’t need to withstand the elements the way their outdoor counterparts do, they are made from less-durable fabrics. Some have zip-off covers that can be machine-washed. Others need to be spot-cleaned. Sometimes the cover is sold separately from the fill.

Some outdoor cushions are made from polyester that is UV-protected to resist fading, and treated to resist soil and stains. Here are some polyester options.

Other types of outdoor cushions are made from solution-dyed acrylic fabric that is both fade- and stain-resistant. This style of outdoor cushion is finished with edged piping for a tailored look. See some styles here.

Cushions and pillows, whether for indoors or out, are either filled with foam, poly or fiberfill for comfort and durability.

Storing Cushions

Indoor or outdoor, you’ll want to store your cushions and pillows away when not in use to help maximize their lifespan. Exposure to direct sunlight and cold weather elements can really take its toll on cushions and pillows.

Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry your cushions and pillows before storing them so they’ll be ready at the first sign of warm weather. Always follow the cleaning instructions as cleaning varies depending on the fabric.

Breathable fabric bags are great storage options, as are cushion storage boxes, benches and chests.

Storage Box

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