Spring has sprung and the yard work has begun!

Break out your gloves, rakes and wheelbarrows…your yard needs some attention. Get the landscaping season off on the right foot with these spring yard maintenance tips. Bring your "spring cleaning" spirit outdoors and clean old mulch off perennial beds, so they wont be smothered. Apply compost to beds and get new compost piles going. Make sure rototillers are prepared for tilling gardens and mowers are tuned up for mowing.

The following are some great tips and some common pitfalls often encountered. We hope this advice will help you to keep a beautiful yard all summer long:

Neglecting the Soil
A good lawn begins with good soil. If your lawn has you scratching your head, it may be time to get your soil tested. Unhealthy soil will spawn an unhealthy lawn. There's nothing all of the lawn care products in the world can do to solve this if you're not focusing on the right issue. Always be mindful of how important your soil is!

Mowing Too Short
Mowing can be a time consuming activity. This makes it tempting to take the grass down a little shorter. But grass is not like hair. You can shave your head and your hair will still grow back just fine. Try buzzing your grass down too short and it will leave your lawn in a world of trouble. A stressed lawn will struggle to re-grow as it attempts to recover from being cut too short. While this is happening, weeds will move in.

Failing to Mulch
Mulch is very important for maintaining a healthy lawn. It infuses your lawn with nutrients and aids to prevent weeds and control insects.

Excessive Watering
Your lawn needs water so it can be tempting to water it, water it and water it some more. But realize that at a certain point, water can become detrimental to a lawn. Water too much and you create a constantly wet atmosphere in which fungus can thrive. One inch per week is typically all that is needed for most lawns. Place a rain collector in your lawn so you're aware of approximately how much assistance you're getting from Mother Nature. You can supplement Mother Nature's work by sprinkling, but it's not as necessary as you might think; most lawns can easily go a couple of weeks without water and maintain their strength.

Forgetting to De-Thatch
Lawns develop a layer of stems, roots and shoots at the surface of the soil called thatch. These elements can prevent water and nutrients from reaching your soil and getting to the roots. Malnourished roots will result in a damaged lawn that struggles to thrive in adverse growing conditions. You should de-thatch your lawn at least once per year to keep your roots in top shape.

Check for Compaction
If your lawn is subjected to high levels of traffic year after year, it may eventually start to show signs of decline. In such cases, your lawn is probably suffering from compaction. For instance, the presence of moss plants signals compaction (among other things).

Lawn aeration is the remedy for compaction. The good news is that lawn aerators can be rented at your local rental center. The bad news is that the experts recommend postponing lawn aeration until fall. But if, during your "spring lawn checkup," you become aware of compaction, at least you can plan on setting aside some time in the fall to take care of it.

Besides compaction, the presence of moss plants also signals acidity. But grass, likes a neutral soil pH. You can solve this problem by adding lime to your soil. But don't expect a quick fix: the effects of liming are slow to take place.

First send a soil sample to your local county extension to determine the extent of your soil's acidity. The county extension will also be able to advise you on how much lime per square foot you'll need. Apply the lime using a lawn spreader.

If your lawn has been doing fine and shows no signs of suffering from acidity, don't apply lime. Liming is only a corrective measure, not a preventive measure. A soil that is too alkaline will also cause your lawn problems, so too much lime is as bad as not enough.

Is your lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic, or neglect? If so, you may need to apply grass seed to fill in those bare patches. This solution is known as "overseeding lawns." Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Five weeks after the grass germinates, apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.

However, spring isn't the very best time for overseeding lawns. Fall is the preferred time, when the new grass won't have to compete with crabgrass, which is killed off by autumn frosts. So postpone overseeding until fall, unless your situation is extreme.

Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers. But for those who prefer chemical fertilizers, Scott’s® has developed a great user-friendly lawn-fertilizing schedule. Many experts, however, recommend a lighter feeding in spring and a heavier one in late fall for cool-season grasses. Too much fertilizer in spring can lead to disease and weed problems. And if you have, indeed, already fertilized in late fall, your lawn is still "digesting" that fertilizer in spring.

In addition to the above tasks of spring lawn care, don't forget weed control and making sure your mower is ready for the mowing season.

For those who prefer weed-free lawns, spring grass care is as much about weed prevention as it is about fostering healthy lawn growth. Novices to spring grass care are often surprised to learn that not all lawn weeds are battled in the same manner. Depending upon whether a weed is an annual or a perennial, you will use a pre-emergent herbicide or a post-emergent herbicide against it. Your county extension office can help you identify the weeds growing in your lawn.

Applying Pre-emergent Herbicides
If you know that you have a problem with the annual weed, crabgrass, then fertilization in spring should go hand in hand with the application of pre-emergent herbicides. As their name suggests, pre-emergent herbicides address weed control not "after the fact," but before their seedlings can even emerge. Pre-emergent herbicides accomplish this by forming something of a "shield" that inhibits seed germination. Don't undertake the core aeration task discussed on Page 1 after applying pre-emergent herbicides: to do so would be to "puncture" this shield, thereby decreasing its effectiveness.

Crabgrass begins its assault on lawns in spring, when its seeds germinate. In fact, it is suggested that overseeding be carried out in autumn, rather than spring, based in part on the threat posed by a spring crabgrass invasion. "So why not just begin by killing the crabgrass first with a pre-emergent herbicide?" perhaps you ask. Well, the trouble is that most pre-emergent herbicides work against not only weed seeds, but grass seeds, as well!

You can appreciate the dilemma here. Overseeding is incompatible with the application of most pre-emergent herbicides. Yet, faced with competition from crabgrass in spring, you may find it difficult to establish your new grass. So while it's still possible to overseed in spring, it's simply easier to do so in fall. There will be no competition from crabgrass then, because the fall frosts kill off crabgrass.

If you must overseed in the spring, look for a product called, "Tupersan." Unlike other pre-emergent herbicides, Tupersan will not damage germinating lawn grass seed. But if you're committed to staying away from chemicals altogether in your spring grass care, postpone overseeding till fall.

Applying Post-emergent Herbicides -- Or Pulling Weeds
Keep an eye out for the emergence of the perennial weed, dandelion, during the spring season, unless you find the presence of their cheerful yellow flowers in your lawn desirable. At the very least, you'll want to snap off their flower stems before they produce seed. If you're more ambitious, you can dig them out by the roots. Spraying dandelion weeds with post-emergent herbicides is more effective in fall than in spring. If you do choose to spray, select an herbicide for broadleaf weeds like 2-4-D.

A great resource for identifying weeds and recommendations for herbicide application is your local county extension office. They are the local experts on weeds indigenous to our geographical location and can also give you advice on how to control weeds that are invading your lawn and gardens.

Garages, Shops, and Barns…Moving Beyond Just Storage

Homeowners have always had a need for additional storage space – outside of the home. We need to keep our vehicles protected from harsh weather, our tools stored for future use, and our animals need a place to eat and sleep as well. Not to mention all the other valuable things we seem to collect over the years the longer we live in our homes.

We love extra storage space, but hate the way the average prefabricated storage building looks. Most are unattractive, cheaply made sheet metal or plywood box with all the durability of a rice-paper umbrella. This explains why many sheds are relegated to the deepest, darkest corner of the backyard. Some neighborhood associations have even banned outbuildings altogether because they consider them eyesores.

In the past, your barn, shop, or garage tended to be strictly practical, often made of metal and sometimes sold as a pre-fabricated structure delivered to one’s property on a truck. That is changing rapidly. Versatile designs with enough flexibility to fit comfortably into any yard have become the norm. The installation of widows, both sizes and amounts, lets you create just the right amount of interior sunlight and shade, while keeping the storage building within your budget. In other words, you can have practicality, flexibility, and a beautiful and stylish backyard building, all in one. But you need to plan ahead.

Pre-Planning your Building.
When you decide to build a garage, shop or barn, invest some time considering what other uses the building might serve in terms of storage and extra space. Many people find themselves in need of storage to accommodate items such as a lawn mower, patio furniture, and pool supplies. However, your garage, shop, or barn can be planned to serve as a very functional and stylish workshop or a combination of both storage and workshop.

A tractor or riding mower can be well protected from environmental elements with an outdoor shed designed to house your landscaping equipment. Heavy-duty flooring and ramps will help to properly support mowing tractors. If you are an avid gardener, you will really enjoy a backyard shed that offers enough storage space for supplies and provides an area in which you can begin to start planting bulbs or re-pot plants. An optional workbench allows for easy access to garden supplies and a more comfortable potting and transplanting area.

A professional artist or avid hobby enthusiast may find an outdoor storage shed provides a great space for use as a small studio. Optional shelving will help to organize and store supplies. Whatever reason you find yourself in need of an outdoor storage building, it is important to think through all the possible uses.

Site Selection.
Selecting the proper location for your garage, shop, or barn is just as important as choosing the type of building and will in part be determined by the amount of property you have to build upon and the size of the shed you want. Where you intend to place the building should be decided before you build and should be placed where it will be complimentary to the existing surroundings. The building should also be placed where it will be convenient to access. Your building should blend nicely into the existing landscape. In addition to selecting a ground area that is flat and not prone to flooding, you should try to avoid placing your building in the middle of a high-traffic area. You must allow enough room to maneuver equipment you store inside.

The beauty and practicality of shed windows.
When you chose your building design and various features, carefully consider windows. Be sure to balance visual appeal with design. Transom windows over a double door on the gable end look spectacular. Windows make your building more attractive, especially if you add flower boxes.

Most discerning homeowners desire a well designed and solidly constructed building that actually enhances the beauty of the yard, home and neighborhood. Nowadays you can choose from a variety of designs that offer so much more than just storage space. Working with an architect and custom builder can easily afford you a variety of options and building designs that can be adapted for uses as a potting shed, workshop, children's playhouse, home office, or retreat. The possibilities are endless! Even a typical storage shed can be well-designed and well-constructed, making it practical and beautiful. If you are going to invest, even a small amount, in some type of storage building –make sure your structure will actually enhance the beauty and value of your property.

Easy tips for creating a stunning master bedroom suite

Not sure how to decorate or what colors to use in your master bedroom/ bathroom? Here is a method of decorating a master bedroom suite that is both affordable and easy. Here are some simple steps to get started.

1. Shop for a bedding set and coordinating accessories. I love the bed in a bag sets that most major department stores carry. Most stores carry additional accessories that you can purchase in addition to the bed in a bag. Additional window treatments can be purchased for use in your bathroom and finding coordinating towels and bathmats should be a piece of cake.

2. From your bedding set pick two wall colors for the room. Be bold and pick a light color and a dark color. The darker color will be used on one or two walls creating a focal point in the room. Make sure that if you have trim around your windows and doors that you choose a color to accent the trim that ties in with both your dark and light color and the fabrics used for bedding and window treatments.

3. Decide where the two colors should go in the room and paint it. Remember that the darker color will require a primer coat of paint first or your paint job could end up with hollow spots or streaks.

4. Adding a decorative curtain rod, simple yet elegant side tables and lamps and a few of your favorite framed family photos will add the necessary finishing touch making your master suite a place that is comfortable and matches your personal style.

Keeping your bathroom pristine – Tips for the Queen of Clean

Having a clean bathroom is an important part of having a clean and healthy home. And having a clean bathroom doesn’t have to be such a chore.  House cleaning professionals know some great secrets to get the bathrooms they clean sparkly and germ free without damaging the many different surfaces found in the average bathroom. Here are some of the best tips for cleaning bathrooms quickly and efficiently.

Windows, glass and mirrors will clean up easily with a mixture of 1/3 cup of white vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol with water in a 32 ounce bottle. This simple inexpensive spray is made of ingredients that you have around the house, and is one of the best glass cleaning solutions around and has been used for years by cleaning professionals.

To keep alkaline spots from forming on your glass shower doors and bathtub walls, apply a light coating of car wax. Glass shower doors and bathtub walls are porous, and the car wax coats those pores, making cleaning these areas easier. Don’t coat the tub itself with car wax, however. The coating will make the bathtub slippery and dangerous. Car wax will need to be applied twice a year to be effective.

Once a week, clean your showers with an orange type of cleaner. To make this cleaning a bit easier, spray the orange spray on the shower and let it set for ten to fifteen minutes. This allows the orange cleaner time to dissolve the grime and eliminate some of the work for you. Using liquid soap, natural soap, and Dove also eliminates some of the soap scum and build up that can occur, making your bathroom cleaning job easier, as well.

For really nasty soap scum build up, you may need to take more drastic measures. Spray down the shower areas you want to clean with undiluted orange cleaner and let it sit on the surface. Or wipe the surface area down with concentrated orange cleaner and an old rag. Let the solution sit of the surface for a while. When you can scratch the soap scum off with a fingernail, the scale is starting to loosen, and your scum problem will soon be solved.

White scrubbing pads help make your bathroom surface cleaning go faster. Only use the white bristle scrubbing pads, as these tend to eliminate scratching of the various surfaces found in your bathroom.  Keeping the scrubbing pad moist will also make your scrubbing job go more quickly for you.

If you have a plastic shower curtain, you can wash it in the wash machine on a gentle cycle. Let the curtain hang to dry, do not put it in your clothes dryer. Or by a cheap plastic curtain from the dollar store near you and use it as a liner to your decorative curtain.  Throw it away when it gets dirty and replace with a new one.  Or you can spray your plastic shower curtain with orange cleaner and let the cleaner set for 10 minutes before wiping it clean.

Alkaline deposits can cause some disgusting rings around your toilet bowel even if you clean it regularly. If you pour a cup or two of white vinegar in your toilet tank once a month, you can eliminate this problem. The amount of vinegar needed depends on the hardness of your water.

Clean tile and slate with warm water only. Prevention becomes essential with these floor surfaces. Regularly apply a sealant found in tile stores to slate, tile and especially the grout. Clean spills immediately with warm water, as prevention is the best cure.

Cleaning stains out of grout can test your patience and often times the use of certain cleaners will only remove the sealant and cause further problems down the road. The porous nature of grout means liquid cleaners seep right through and do little to remove the stain or dirt. First thoroughly spray a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water directly on the spot. Let that set 15 minutes and repeat. Do not use this mixture on colored grout. Peroxide is bleach, safe but nonetheless bleach. It removes the color from colored grout.

If the stain refuses to budge, soak a heavy-duty paper towel with straight peroxide laying the towel on top of the stain. Cover the towel with plastic wrap to prevent the peroxide from drying out quickly. The towel holds the peroxide on the surface giving it time to dissolve the stain. If that doesn't work, mix a paste of straight peroxide and baking soda. Allow the bubbling to subside. Apply to the stain and let it set. Re-spray with peroxide as it dries out.

Shaving cream sprayed on stains also does a good job removing them and is usually safe for colored grout. Make sure to test an inconspicuous spot first before using this cleaning method.  Another option is to visit your local tile store and ask for about a cleaner stick that resembles chalk. It is safe to use on colored grout and works wonders. After you remove the stains from the grout, remember seal your grout again to prevent future stains.

Creating your own private retreat

Your master bedroom is not only a bedroom meant for sleeping and storing your personal effects, but your private retreat in your home. It is a place you can unwind and relax after a long day. So, your master bedroom/bath designs should be an extension of this retreat.

Remember, this is your private space, so it should meet all of your needs. Creating an atmosphere and living area that is more spacious and accommodating are two important factors for the master bedroom/bath. Practical features for daily use and spa-like relaxation additions are now being combined in many master bedroom/bath plans to provide the ultimate design and functionality and the best retreat for the homeowner.

Finding balance in your design

So how does one achieve such a combination? As you conceptualize your plan and layout the room, focus on two main goals: functionality and practicality. Once you have determined the layout and size of the space where the master bath will go, you’re ready to begin planning and design. What’s the best way to achieve balance between essential aspects and luxury additions? Just keep in mind all the parts of your master bathroom design that appeals to your everyday basic needs first and then incorporate the luxury items to accompany them.

Planning the layout of your master bedroom/bath is critical for both function and enjoyment. A professional designer can really help in this area. The latest trend is for large, open bathroom spaces. This allows couples more space to complete essential morning tasks without getting in each other’s way. Separate vanities are also a great design option and very practical for couples and allows each person their own space for grooming and storage of personal care products. Many master bedroom bath designs now design an open space leading directly into walk-in closets.

One of the most important decisions you will have to make in the master bedroom/bath design is the type of shower and tub you want to install. Do you want a separate tub and shower, a combination of the two or just a shower? Combination showers can even have a steam option for luxury purposes. Or you can incorporate a shower with separate tub with water jets for a hot tub feel indoors. Many people opt for a shower, which is practical, and a luxury bathtub for when they want to relax.

Anyone can incorporate luxury items into their design

Before making final decisions on your design check out all your options. Visit a showroom and talk to a professional about the various design elements and special features. There are many great new features for bathtubs, showers, and whirlpools. Newer and more efficient luxury appliances are now being made at reasonable prices and are giving homeowners spa like choices that have not been previously available to the average homeowner or incorporated in older custom home designs.

In general, master bedroom bath designs are no longer a small space with a tub/shower combo and a toilet. More and more master bedroom bath designs are being created to make a place to unwind, pamper and relax. Combine those functions with practical designs for the busy mornings before work and you will have a winning bedroom/bathroom making your home more enjoyable and desirable for resale down the road.