Power Leaf Blowers

August 16th, 2011 admin Posted in Garden Equipment No Comments »

For years I watched my neighbor use his power leaf blower in the vacuum configuration to pick up his leaves and wondered why he would even use such a tool instead of a rake to pick up the leaves? I actually thought he was lazy at one point since I did not find it that hard to rake and stoop to pick up the leaves. What I did notice was that his yard always looked cleaner than mine and of course it was always clear of leaves. He never put out as many bags full of leaves as I did either in the fall even though we had approximately the same number of trees in our respective yards.

Well one day I was at a Black and Deck outlet store browsing around and looking for something to purchase when I came across a power leaf blower on sale for half price that also doubled as a vacuum . One of the store clerks asked me if I had any questions so we started to talk about this power leaf blower. He had one and thought it was one of  the best tools he had for his garden. I was a bit surprised and of course challenged him on this subject to see why he felt as he did, figuring I was just getting a sales pitch.

Advantages of a Power Leaf Blower

Turns out that you can collect all of your leaves into one big pile in less than half the time it takes to rake them into a pile. If you happen to have trees and shrubs together, the leaf blower can easily blow the leaves from out of the garden and from around the shrubs much easier than you ever could with a rake. Everything works better on a day when there is little or no wind since you may end up competing with the wind in blowing the leaves into one pile and it works much better when the leaves are dry.

This same store clerk also said that once you convert the power leaf blower into a power vacuum, to pick up the leaves, this machine will mulch the leaves and compact them into a much smaller space. He apparently had a large yard with lots of trees and would put out 40 or 50 bags of leaves every year to the curb. Now with the mulching leaf blower he is able to cut this down to less than twenty bags.  At $5 for 5 bags, that is over a $20 savings in bags alone, not to mention the time he saved.

The power leaf blower I ended up purchasing cost me $45, so in 2 years it would be paid for just in the number of leaf bags I save every year since we also have a large yard with lots of trees.

There were two other advantages that I had not considered about this leaf blower. The first was that we have a tree with tiny leaves which are next to impossible to rake  and pick up. Now with the power leaf blower in vacuum mode, it is a simple quick job to pick up all of these small leaves. The second advantage is that traditionally I would wait until all of the leaves were down and then I would go out and rake them. As a result many leaves would blow into our pool making it a a bigger job to clean out the pool in the spring. With the power leaf blower, I am out there a couple times a week collecting the leaves since it is actually so easy.

I have not apologized to my neighbor for all of the negative thoughts yet and I probably will not. I really should since this new tool – power leaf blower – is such a great solution to picking up leaves in the fall.

A Word of Caution

All tools should be used with care and with safety in mind and the power leaf blower is no different especially when you are using it to pick up leaves in the vacuum mode. The way this machine works is that there is an attachment that you place on the machine that will pull the leaves into the machine, were they encounter a spinning disk with blades on it. These blades spin and a very high RPM and mulch the leaves as they come in contact with the leaves. The mulched leaves are then blown into a bag which you must empty from time to time.

Always turn the machine off before emptying the bag and before making any adjustments or repairs to avoid putting fingers in the wrong place. When you are picking leaves up with the power leaf blower in vacuum mode, be very careful that you do not suck any large sticks, pieces of bark or large nuts such as walnuts into the machine. At the very least it will make a loud grinding noise and at the worst you could shear off one of the blades making the power leaf blower unusable! Better to pick them up by hand than ruin your new power leaf blower.

When you are blowing the leaves into a pile, never point the blower at someone or have someone in the path of were you are blowing the leaves. There can be small pits and pieces thrown into the air and they can end up hitting a bystander in the eye if you are not careful.

These machines do a great job, allow you to make more efficient use of your time and also actually save you money by reducing the number of leaf bags you need every year to bag your leaves. One of these days I think I will go over and let my neighbor know how great these machines are and it was because of him that I purchased one. That probably is as close as I will get to apologizing for all of those negative thoughts I had about his power leaf blower.

If you have comments about power leaf blowers feel free to leave your comments particularly if they will help our readers.

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Power Hedge Trimmers

August 2nd, 2011 admin Posted in Garden Equipment No Comments »

Power Hedge Trimmers are one of the best tools available for gardeners that have a lot of shrubs and hedges around their yard. I inherited an old Black and Decker from my father in law and have been using it for over 30 years. It happens to be electric and although it only has a short 24 inch cutting blade on it, this machine has been a mainstay for me for all of these years.

Most homeowners will have some shrubs that need trimming every year, even if it is just the shrubs that the builder provided you with. Most will do minimal landscaping, providing you with the mandatory shrub in front of the house. More and more people are doing some level of landscaping around their home, with some arranging for landscapers to design and install thousands of dollars worth of small trees, hedges and shrubs.

Whether they are self installed or they were installed by a landscaper, they all need trimming within a year of planting and a power hedge trimmer is one of the best tools to perform this work. Many people will let their plants become over grown until it becomes a real mess. At this point some of them even have to be removed, because it is impossible to trim them properly and still have them look presentable.

Hire a Landscaper

If you are the type that is not comfortable using a power hedge trimmer around your yard or perhaps just do not want to be bothered with this type of work, then the best solution is to either not plant any shrubs or to hire a landscaper who will come twice a year to prepare your shrubs in the spring and trim in the fall.

Many trees and shrubs will benefit from being fertilized in the spring and mulch spread around the  base to protect the roots from drying out as well as to provide a finished trimmed look to the gardens. There is a proper time to trim shrubs as well and it really depends on the type of shrub or hedge that you have. Some can be trimmed all year round, since they grow so fast, while others should only be trimmed in the late fall. A power hedge trimmer is one of the best tools to use for this purpose and your landscaper will come equipped with everything they need to perform the work quickly and leave you with a well manicured landscape.

Do It Yourself

Many people would rather do the trimming themselves for a variety of reasons. Some will do it simply because they can save a few bucks, while others will do it because they enjoy the work and like to take the time to mold the shrubs in exactly the way they want them to appear.

Either way a good power hedge trimmer is a useful tool that can make your life a lot easier. Most consumers will use an electric trimmer with an extension chord that will stretch to all corners of their yards. If you have a large yard that will not accommodate an electrical chord then you need to purchase a power hedge trimmer that is gas powered. They are just a little more expensive than the electric ones and require a bit more maintenance due to the gas engine.

Trimming Hedges

Most shrubs are easy to get at and can be trimmed while standing on the ground and walking around the shrub. Hedges on the other hand present more of a problem. A tall hedge is going to require someone getting up on a ladder to reach the higher points, which is fine as long as you take the proper precautions.

If you do get up on a step ladder, there is a tendency to lean out to reach as far as you can which can make the ladder unstable and you could tip over. Always arrange for someone to hold the ladder steady to prevent you from tipping and falling while holding a running power hedge trimmer in your hands. This point is very important since many people are injured in just this manner every year.

Another approach is to purchase a power hedge trimmer that has a longer cutting blade. Some will come with a 40 inch blade which will reach a little bit further. Other models come with extend-able shafts that allow you to reach longer distances, especially if you need to reach the top of the hedge from the ground or if you are on a ladder and must reach across the top of the hedge to trim the top. These can be very useful and much safer to operate than trying to lean across the top of the hedge while holding an operating power hedge trimmer in your hands.

Not Recommended

I mentioned that I have this old power hedge trimmer which works very well. I have a hedge that is about 12 feet high and 5 feet across at the top. I obviously cannot trim this hedge without using a ladder and I need an extension as discussed in the above paragraph.

I looked for a power hedge trimmer that was on sale and at the time could not find one, so I made a work around that works great for my situation, however I would not recommend it for everyone.

I took an 8 foot one inch diameter steel pipe that I had laying around and duct taped my power hedge trimmer to the steel pipe. With that simple solution I now have a power hedge trimmer that can reach to top of my hedge from the ground and across the top of my hedge while standing on a ladder with someone holding the ladder for me. I had to lock the on switch in the on position and I have to hold the power hedge trimmer with the pipe out a long distance which means that the leverage makes the trimmer feel heavier than it really is.

Never the less this solution works for me and the cost was a bit of duct tape which I have to replace every couple of years. As I said it is not recommended for everyone, however if you are comfortable using power hedge trimmers you might try it and save some money.

Comments on this post are appreciated and any ideas that our readers find useful.

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Garden Fountains

June 21st, 2011 admin Posted in Garden Equipment No Comments »

Have you ever been to someone’s home and visited their garden to find a beautiful tranquil environment with fountains placed at strategic points around the yard? I have the fortunate circumstance of being invited to my neighbors backyard quite often during the summer for a cool brew. We sit in the backyard under a shade tree and listen to the sounds of the birds, and the tranquil sound of running water. He literally has at least 7 fountains at last count plus a Coy fish pond. It does not matter were you sit in his backyard, you can always hear the soothing sounds of water dripping from his fountains. For many people just the sound of running water creates an environment that relaxes them. For my neighbor he has created a small oasis in his backyard, complete with shade trees, a regular garden and numerous shrubs that decorate his yard and of course his fountains.

At first I thought the fountains were a bit much, however it is actually quite pleasant to sit in the shade on a hot summers day, sipping a cold beer, listening to the sound of water dripping and solving the world’s problems as two old guys will do. He even has a old whiskey barrel  cut in half and filled with water with two gold fish in it. The fountain that he also placed in this barrel not only provides added pleasure, it also oxygenates the water for the fish as well. He added some water lilies to provide shelter for the fish for them to hide under, to keep the sun from heating the water and they are also able to feed on the roots.

The Basics of Water Fountains

You need a container, preferably something decorative that will withstand the spring through fall elements, a water pump with a ground protected electrical source near by, something for the pump to connect to that will spray the water over the surface of your container. That’s all you really need besides water to get started.

Of course you want something that is also pleasing to the eye and compliments the rest of your backyard as well. Many hardware stores carry all sorts of fountains for just this purpose. You can find your largest selection in the spring and early summer at most of these stores. Also if you are looking for sales, visit in the very early spring or at the end of the summer.

Of course you may not find the selection to be very good, however you can often come across some very good deals as well with some fountains up to 50% off the original price. For the more daring and creative people, you can also create your own fountain, using a small water pump and bits and pieces to create a nice water fall effect.

Choosing Your Fountain

Garden fountains can be quite small, hanging on a fence or small post to very elaborate affairs that require a lot of work to install and maintain. My neighbor considers himself to be a bit of an artist. He has several small ones that just hang on the fence, several free standing fountains, a bird bath of course, an old milk can  and the double fish pond were the water cascades from one pond over rocks into the second pond.

He built his yard over several years and he considers it to be a work in progress. The point of this is that you should select your fountains with an overall plan in mind so that they compliment each other and they compliment the yard as you design and fill it in. I don’t think that he has a specific plan that he is following and will complete. Instead he is constantly revising it and adjusting his plan. If he sees a fountain that he really likes, he will figure out a way to incorporate it into his yard.

Maintaining Your Fountain

The amount of maintenance that you need to perform will vary on a lot of factors, however rest assured that even the simplest or smallest fountain is going to need some maintenance.

Every day the wind picks up particles of dirt and blows them through the air, some being deposited into your fountain. Birds also drink from the fountain, dropping bits of material into the fountains as well. Bottom line is that over time, depending on were you live, you may have to clean out your fountain once or twice a year. It is pretty simple to do, just disconnect the pump from the electricity, empty the water and give your fountain a good scrubbing.

You may notice also that the flow of water may decline. There will be less and less water coming out of whatever is connected to the pump. This usually means that silt has built up around the pump or even in the hose connected to the pump. Again you need to give everything a good scrubbing with your garden hose. Sometimes you may need to blow water up the hose to dislodge any silt that has accumulated in the hose as well. I have one fountain were I have to do this procedure almost every month. Just take the garden hose and hold the end of the hose against the end of the pipe and it will clear the obstruction pretty quickly.  It gets a lot of wind and the birds love it. Need less to say I have to clean the entire fountain on a regular basis.

If you live in northern climates, you will also have to empty the water in the fall, remove the pumps and plants so that they do not get damages by the frozen ice. His fish pond is about 5 feet deep, so he shuts off his water pump and removes it for the winter. He adds another pump that blows air into the bottom of the pool to add oxygen and to also keep the water from freezing. The fish do find since there metabolism slows down considerably in really cold water. They usually all survive quite well.

If you have fountains and would like to comment on this post or add descriptions of your fountains, please do so. Our readers will enjoy them.

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Buying a Lawn Mower

June 7th, 2011 admin Posted in Garden Equipment No Comments »

Every year millions of consumers purchase new lawn mowers for their homes. Some can afford to take their time to comparison shop, while others are dealing with an old lawn mower that has just broken down and they need to cut the lawn before the grass gets too long. Doing a little research and comparison shopping between models and vendors, and looking for sales can save you many dollars with little or no effort. You just have to be prepared to not purchase the first lawn mower that you see. Even if it means borrowing the neighbors lawn mower for a week or two, could mean that you save a $100 or more by taking advantage of a sale.

Deciding What Kind of Lawn Mower to Purchase

For most people all lawn mowers are the same as far as manufacturers are concerned. They may have an allegiance to one or another because they have had a good experience in the past with a particular manufacturer. Most manufacturers produce excellent products these days and it really comes down to what features that you are looking for.

Features to Consider

One thing to remember is that the more features you are looking for, the higher the price is going to be. So if you are cost conscious or have a top price in mind, then you may have to limit yourself in terms of the features that you get with your new lawn mower. From my experience with lawn mowers there are some features that are more important than others that you will want to take into account.

Easy Start

This is probably one of the most important features. All lawn mowers are pretty easy to start, however some are a little more complicated than others. For example if you are uncomfortable operating a choke or adjusting a choke then you probably want to stay away from this type. Many require you to press a primer 4 or 5 times before starting. Once started the engine  then self adjusts the choke as the engine warms up, which is a convenience many people will appreciate.

Handling Grass Clippings

Many lawn mowers, but not all of them have a combination grass catcher, mulcher and side discharge feature. These lawn mowers can be quickly switched between modes by the operator without the need of any tools. The mode you use really depends on personal preference, the condition of the grass and the length of the grass.

Typically it is not a good idea to try to mulch wet grass or long grass. Mulching works best with short dry grass! Many operators will use a grass catcher to capture the clippings which then must be disposed of in a compost bin or picked up by your local garbage collection. Finally there is a side discharge unit which basically spreads the grass clippings on the lawn were they will gradually degrade over time. Within a day or two these clippings will disappear into the lawn, however you do have to deal with these clippings on the lawn for a short period of time.

Height Adjustment

Most push style lawn mowers will allow you to adjust the height of the cut. This is important since fast growing lawns can be cut shorter while in slow growing dry conditions you may want to let your lawn grow a bit longer to protect the roots during dry times. Most lawn mowers will have an adjustment on each wheel which are easy to adjust without the need for any special tools. Some will have a single adjustment mechanism which adjusts all of the wheels at the same time. Larger lawn mowers will have more height adjustments and riding lawn mowers can be adjusted from the operators position without needing to stop the lawn mower.

Self Propelled Models

Consumers have a choice between lawn mower that they must push and those that are self propelled. I have owned a push mower for many years, and really did not think about it too much. My lawn mower was not difficult to push and it gave me a little extra exercise when I was cutting the lawn. I recently picked up a new lawn mower and got a self propelled lawn mower on sale for the same price as a push lawn mower.

There are basically two types of self propelled lawn mowers. One type powers the front wheels while the other type powers the back wheels. Both types seem to work equally well, however it really comes down to personal preference as to which one you purchase. I personally like the front wheel self propelled machines because I can tip the front of the lawn mower up by pressing down on the handle which causes the front wheels to lose traction. This is really great for turning corners and navigating around objects in the lawn.

Now that I have a self propelled lawn mower, I have to say that is is a really neat feature to have especially if you have a lot of lawn to cut. All I need to do is engage the handle to enable the drive to work and steer. Pretty easy! I may not get quite as much exercise, but that is more than made up by the speed that I walk to keep up with this lawn mower.

Larger Lawns

If you have a large lawn to cut every week or even more often, you may want to consider a riding lawn mower if you do not want to walk behind either a push lawn mower or a self propelled lawn mower. At the very least you will want to purchase a lawn mower that has a wide deck so that it cuts more lawn area per swath.  Even a 22 inch lawn mower will cover a large lawn much faster than a 20 inch lawn mower for example. Typically riding lawn mowers have a much wider cut which will make short work of many lawns. You will find that the cost to purchase one of these machines is much more expensive that a typical push type lawn mower that is suitable for most consumers.

If you have comments or suggestions regarding other features that you feel are important to consumers, please leave your comments on our blog!

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