Archive for June 30, 2013

Renewing the Deck

After a hard day's work, it's one of our favorite pastimes to enjoy the views from the deck, but the harsh exposure took its toll on the wood.

At the end of the day we love to relax on the deck and look at the garden, watch the clouds or the setting sun. I say that because our deck was in awful shape — definitely wouldn’t want to look at it. We just finished a long process of renewal which I will walk through step by step. It’s done now and we couldn’t be happier at how it turned out.

The deck is on the south-facing side of the house, which means it is exposed to really damaging sun, intense storms and wind. On the positive side, the view of the Potomac River is beautiful, and the elevation is good for an evening breeze.

The top item on our long list of decisions was how we wanted to finish the deck surface. For years, we just used clear deck sealer which would result in a pretty, weathered gray finish, although didn’t provide the wood with enough protection from the elements, which resulted in the need to replace the wood after only 10 years. This time around, we decided to use a combination of finishes to give the deck a more smooth, “boat deck” finish. We chose a color that is close to the color of the front door, our teak outdoor furniture, and the hardwood flooring in the home for a more cohesive look.

When choosing a color for your deck it's nice to consider the other elements at your home. In this case, we chose a color similar to the front door.

First, we replaced the deck surface with premium grade pressure-treated pine. The wood that we received from the lumber yard was, well, not of premium quality, but with lots of work, it was cut and laid into place, screwed down, and gave us a fresh new surface to work with. I let it cure over the winter while I worked on some of the other elements in the project.

Our deck has a significant amount of  railings, undercarriage and arbors, which all got a thorough scrubbing and painting. Next, I turned to the coach lights by the doors. They had been a bright brass but had tarnished badly over the years, so I painted them a beautiful black, which looks great!

A fresh coat of paint to the white trim set off the wood tone of the deck. This photo was taken after the first layer of toner had been applied.



By Spring, the deck had been through a dramatically harsh winter – Snowmageddon as it was called around here! A power washing got it prepped, and a layer of sealer/toner in a deep shade of Canyon Brown was applied — the first of two layers. The second application evened out imperfections, and the colored pigment in the toner gave the deck a good basis for protecting the wood.

Refreshing the old coach lamps was easy with a coat of black paint!

After letting the sealer/toner cure for about a month, the final topcoat was applied. We used a product that is a marine-grade “teak color” varnish for coating boat decks. We have used it on our outdoor furniture for a decade, but never on the deck surface. It took the deck from “nice” to “WOW”! The deck now has a beautiful surface that repels the rain and has a depth of sheen similar to a fine grade of teak. All in all, I have to admit it was a HUGE undertaking, but the end result is great. Time will tell how long it lasts, but if the deck holds the finish like the furniture has, it will be good for years to come.

It is so gratifying to see the rain just bead up and roll off the new finish!

I have to say this was a really physical project and I am so glad it’s finished! Time to drink in the scenery now from the deck chairs — only this time I might be looking AT the deck instead of the garden!

A close-up of the finished product. Time to mark this one off the to do list.

Ahhh! Now it's time to sit down and think about my next project. Hey, I think I need some more plants up here on the deck....

Summer Garden Spruce-up Tips!

Welcome Readers – Happy Summer!


Hi readers! I’m devoting this segment to some questions that I think a lot of us can relate to and some terrific garden tips I have received.

Let’s get rid of the mushrooms for good…..

First up: Getting rid of those nagging little (and sometimes BIG) mushrooms that crop up in the yard after a rain. Wearing gloves (because some of them can be poisonous!), remove the mushroom cap and discard. Then, with a pointy trowel or weeder, dig out the little stump and roots completely. Lastly, sprinkle some powdered or granulated lime where the mushrooms appear. This will help to make the soil more alkaline and banish the mushrooms for good. This has always worked well for me.

Renewing your Ivy is easy as a few well placed snips!

Next up: I had a friend with a patch of Ivy which had lost all of its leaves and was just a patch of bare stems and not so pretty anymore. This can happen for lots of reasons — someone walking on the ground cover, doggies doing their business, or like in my friend’s case, a tree had fallen on it.

There is a really easy fix for this! Simply take your snippers and cut the stems here and there in the bare areas. That’s it – the Ivy will sprout new leaves quickly and will fill back out in a week or two with lots of fresh new leaves. This works on most of the other “sprawling” types of ground cover, like periwinkle and pachysandra too.

Be sure to give it good watering if you know it to be a (ahem!) “doggie spot” to neutralize the remains. ‘Nuff said on that, but this brings me to a related tip. If you are a dog owner and have those bright green patches in your grass, I have a tasty way of making sure those spots don’t happen anymore. Give your dog a few ounces of tomato juice a couple of times a week (most dogs LOVE it!), it will change the acidity of their urine so as not to create a spot. So easy!

To get rid of ugly stumps- drill holes and fill them with epsom salts!

As you might remember from a previous blog, I have had several trees that were destroyed in recent storms, leaving unsightly stumps in the front lawn. A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me an email that had a stump rotting remedy which I am going to try (Yay!- and thank you so much!). Drill holes in the stump then fill them with epsom salt. In about a month it rots the stump making removal easy. I will report back on the success of this tip, but several people have said it works well.

This brings me to my last little tip for this segment. A friend just posted a terrific way to keep the bugs away from patios/decks, and said it worked great. Take limes or tangerines, and poke some holes in them with an icepick, and fill the holes with cloves. (Similar to the pomanders many of us make at Christmastime!) Place them in a bowl on your outdoor table, and enjoy your bug free patio. Lasts for a couple of weeks at least!

Don’t forget to refresh your topiaries, and other potted plants with some fresh soil and slow release fertilizer.

I would like to thank Michaelanne, Terri and Laura for their questions and tips. I hope you are enjoying this Spring to Summer transition in your yard. It seems there are always things to be done around mine. I have just finished replacing my Springtime Pansies with Vinca and Geraniums for the hotter Summer days ahead.  I have repotted the Ivy topiaries with fresh soil. (I love to use them along the front walk.) A gentle reminder for those of you with Azaleas, Rhododendron, Hollies, Junipers, or other acid loving plants, that this is the time to feed them. Let me know what you are planning for your gardens this year, I always love to hear!


So long for now- next time a segment on refreshing a deck!

Update on the stump–  Epsom salts works! It is now November, and the stump had softened up to the point where it was easily chipped away. Now I will fill in with some soil and sod. Thank you Terri for the tip!

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.





Managing Rain water in your Garden- Keeping it where you want it!

With the heat of the Summer right around the corner, I have some tips on how to make the most of the rain Mother Nature bestows on our gardens. There are many simple things that many of us can do to improve our ability to “tap” into this free resource. I have been working on installing many of these in my own garden over the years, and will say that they have made a huge difference in the health of plants and trees.

The picture to the right shows a border that I planted right next to the street where my yard is graded downhill away from my house. By installing this garden on the perimeter of the property it absorbs the rainwater keeping it in the yard, and preventing it from spilling out to the road, or going down the storm drains. With all the pollution that gets into the streams and rivers from residential yards, this tip alone can be one of the most beneficial things we can all do.

Groundcovers of all types are a wonderful way to filter the rainwater and slow it down. Especially on hillsides this is important. Not only will it hold the soil in place, but they will absorb the nutrients from the fertilizers so they will not become a problem elsewhere. The runoff of nitrogen from fertilizers has caused damage in most of this nation’s streams, rivers and tributaries. It is also very important to regularly sweep out curbing to make sure that any sediment which collects doesn’t make it’s way into the stormdrains. The other terrific benefit of  groundcover is that they shelter the soil from the sun, so the roots of all surrounding plants have more time to drink in the rain, again- less run-off. With so many groundcovers to choose from there is one for every need- flowering, evergreen, shade/sun tolerant, wet/dry conditions- there is one for you! I must have at least a dozen varieties in my garden, they are a true workhorse. Here are some pictures of some of my favorites.

In the flowering category creeping phlox can't be beat!

Liriope, both solid green and vareigated work in almost all sun conditions, and get beautiful sprays of purple flowers in the Autumn.

Periwinkle with it's glossy evergreen leaves is one of the toughest hillside groundcovers, and beautiful early Spring flowers to boot!

Pachysandra is a staple in many gardens because of it's soft evergreen foliage and spreads easily to cover an area quickly.

O.K., enough about groundcovers. Another way to slow down and divert rain is with rocks of all types. Whether it’s gravel, boulders or cobblestones, they are all terrific to manage water. I have replaced my downspout splashguards with cobblestones which diverts the rain over a larger area. At the last house I lived in, I dug pits in all four corners of the yard and filled them in with large gravel to create drywells. These drywells were then covered with mulch so that they were not visible. When it would rain, the excess would naturally seep into them and slowly absorb into the earth.  We had no storm drains there so this was a great solution. There are fantastic rain gardens created in a similar way with water loving plants installed around the border. Drywells and rain gardens can be configured into what ever size you need to contain the excess water you receive in your yard. Larger boulders can also be used to slow water on steep hillsides, and retaining the soil to keep the ground stable. Here is an example from my yard right after a storm showing how well these cobblestones hold the soil on the hill under my deck. These are just set in sand and compressed.    Of course for smaller needs there are also rainbarrels and rain bladders. Their extra bonus is that they store the water for future use.

One last tip for holding the water in place where it will do the most good is simply keeping the soil loose by incorporating lots of compost and then topdressing it with mulch. In my own experience even in a flat yard, this can collect more than an inch of rain- all on it’s own- in a single storm!

Now if we could just add a few more hours to each day to get it all done! I wasn’t kidding when I said these steps took me a few years to complete, but I have to say it was worth all the effort! Hope you all have a fantastic Summer out in the garden. Enjoy!

From my home to yours- Happy Gardening!


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