M&M’s Patio Facelift

M and her husband M, (I’ll call them M&M, not to be confused with the wonderful chocolate delight!) love hanging out in the backyard with their dog Gus watching the birds feed from the feeder hanging from a huge oak tree. Megan's Patio Before Because this is their “go-to” place to chill, they wanted to make it more ideal to use throughout the day and year.  To make the space more useable, they have enlisted my help to come up with a DIY (do-it-yourself) design under $2k.  BTW, the just so happened to win $2k from a contest they entered, compliments of #Lowe’s!!!

The wish list…make the patio larger for better functionality, freshen up the look of the space, and help them regain control of their overgrown garden.  With only 2 days and a small crew from #Lowe’s, I had quite a task in front of me to create a do-able project on a tight budget.

Their current space has a 10×20 rectangular patio that feels too narrow to accommodate the grill, a table, and a fire pit so I decided to add an additional 5 feet across giving them 100 square feet more of useable space.  Megan's Patio 1st DayThis will allow for a grilling and eating area, as well as a separate space for enjoying the heat from their new fire pit

fire pit

(Nebraska is much cooler overall than down here in the South, making a heating element a must in order to use the space into the cooler times of the year!).  In order to blend with their current patio, I chose a simple 16×16 #Patio Paver from Lowe’s.  The pavers nearly lined up flush end to end with the current patio!  That helps to reduce the number of cuts needed with a wet saw…using a wet saw will add to the difficulty level of the project and the time to install, but sometimes, it’s worth the effort in order to have your edges line up.

Note:  A wet saw can be rented from a local rental equipment shop.

In order to add to the current patio, the ground would first need to be dug out to accommodate for the 2″ crushed granite bed plus the depth of the paver stone…the excess dirt will be great to back fill low spots in the yard or to spread around the huge oak…always a good idea to keep tree roots covered!

Note:  Check your local quarry or stone yard to learn what your local crushed aggregate would be.  The aggregate will provide a base that is easy to level and will provide adequate drainage.

Once the ground is dug out to the appropriate depth, then you’ll follow up with the crushed stone…put down a thick 2″ bed…they were lucky with a nice flat yard!  (If you are working with a grade, then you’ll want to determine what is level and backfill as Megan's Patio Buildneeded to bring low spots up.)  Rake the aggregate level and use a tamper (see pictured to the left) to compact the base materials to help prevent uneven settling.  Finally, it’s time to lay the pavers!!!  Once the pavers are down, then you will follow-up with a coating of polymeric sand…spread it over the top of the pavers and use a broom to sweep this sand into the cracks of the pavers and finish off spraying the last little bit into the cracks with a hose.  The polymeric sand will help to keep the pavers together nicely.  That was Day 1 for M&M and the #Lowe’s UpSkill team – what a day!

Day 2, started out with tackling the overgrown garden.  M&M did some preliminary Megan's Gardenclean up before the full crew got there to help with tilling in some additional soil amendments (manure and nutrients to ready the ground for veggies!).  Then the previous barrier fence (might have been chicken wire) was replaced with chain link fence to match what they already have going around the perimeter of their yard.  As well, the Lowe’s #UpSkill team showed M&M how to tie the new fence into the existing fence and install a gate wide enough to get the wheelbarrow through.

The past day and a half has been nothing short of heavy lifting, but now it’s time for the Megan's Patio 4fun stuff…setting the tone with furniture and landscaping! Wife M, is a little more reserved and husband, M (hmmm, maybe calling them M&M wasn’t such a good idea), is a little more out spoken when it comes to decorating styles, so merging the two design preferences was interesting.  I knew the 
Megan's Patio 3wife was good with the turquoise color on the fence because M (husband) liked it so I used that as my color inspiration.  I found some cool patio furniture fitting to their lifestyle, comfy & colorful pillows and rug that make you want to sit and enjoy the space, and planters overflowing with perennials anchoring the corners of the space.  In addition, I added splashes of light with the blue glass LED solar lights and used blue glass in the fire pit to complete the look and provide an awesome ambience in the evenings!  One final design element that I failed to mention was the replacement of that pesky motion detector light mounted over the back door…thanks again to the #UpSkill Team for teaching M&M a great skill…I chose a light that blended well with the fire pit and anchoring flower planters to tie the spaces together.

Check out the completed look…great job M&M and the team from #Lowe’s #UpSkillTeam

Megan's Patio 2

Wanting help to tackle a space in your yard and don’t know where to start?  Reach out to me and I’ll help you pull together a plan that will be functional and good looking!

Spring is here! Fertilizing your Shrubs & Trees

Spring offers the greatest variety of flowering shrubs…an excellent way to decorate your yard and build curb appeal!  As a former Landscaper, I would end up with extra shrubs that eventually created my little landscape retreat.  So, to say the least, I’ve got a lot of shrubs in my yard and I will need to make this a 2 weekend project with the help of my minions (bruhahaha, rubbing hands together like a sinister scientist).  I’m sure there will be a price to pay for their help but it will be worth it!

Don’t have any flowering shrubs?  Be on the look out for tips on how to design a simple flowering bed to add a splash of color…and make sure to schedule this as a Saturday morning To-Do in the next several weeks – beat the heat!

If you’re already blessed with shrubs (flowering or non-flowering a-like), then it’s time to feed them!!!

 Fertilizing your flowering shrubs will strengthen them and they will continue to produce more beautiful blooms (which, in turn, feeds those bees!!!).  Fertilizing shrubs isn’t the most fun outdoor project…there’s not a visual difference when you are done, so I suggest combining this “task” with a fresh layer of mulch to give you some satisfaction for your efforts!  

So, let’s get started…you’ll want to grab the following materials:

  • Gloves20170406_094549
  • A hard rake…”What?!?” you say…no worries, it’ll be great for your waistline!
  • Something to kneel on (optional)
  • Wheelbarrow(s) to haul everything around (think efficiencies!!)
  • Bag(s) of fertilizer – I use a standard plant food and one for those acid loving plants like azaleas and rhododendron)
  • A measuring scoop 
  • Bagged or Bulk Mulch – Learn more about the different choices in mulch

Then follow the below quick list to check this task off!!!SONY DSC

  1. Rake back mulch from around the shrubs, pulling it back just past the drip line.  The drip line is the virtual line straight down from the furthest reaching branches on your shrubs.  For larger shrubs or trees, I use tree & shrub fertilizer spikes so you get to skip step 1 and go on to step 2!!!
  2. Measure out the manufacturer’s recommended amount and spread evenly underneath the shrubs…from trunk outwards to the drip line.  For larger shrubs or trees, I use the Miracle Gro Tree & Shrub Fertilizer spikes 20170316_171441 and follow their recommendations for the number of spikes per tree/shrub…just push back the mulch to get to the earth then pound the spike into the ground – tip:  be careful not to break the spike in tough soil – you may need to loosen up the soil if yours is like the concrete we have in the Southeast).
  3. If the old mulch in the bed was a thin layer (<2”) then rake it back into place, spreading evenly over the entire area.  (You’ll notice there is less than what you just raked back…this is a phenomenon I’ve yet to figure out!!!)SONY DSC
  4. Top off the bed with a fresh layer of mulch, not to exceed 4” ideally.  My preference for mulch is a double ground hardwood mulch…it’s normally a nice chocolate brown color and looks very natural with most shrubs and trees.  And keep your mulch several inches away from the foundation of your house…helps to deter insect infestation (termites).  Here are my thoughts on  Mulch vs. Pine Straw.  
  5. Time to water your shrubs to activate the fertilizer!!!  Give the ground around the mulch a good watering to saturate the new mulch and start dissolving the fertilizer. 

Now step back and enjoy the fresh look your beds have, and reflect on how happy you have made the shrubs and the bees…Good job!!!  

Please submit a picture of your soon to be smiling flowering shrubs & I’ll get them posted in my gallery.

Also, keep an eye on your flowering shrubs, once the last petal falls, then you’ll want to check back in for tips on how to Prune your Flowering Shrubs. (coming soon)

Thank you!  Cherie

Spring is here! 1st Irrigation Start-up tips

Spring is here & everything is waking back up…I love it!!!  

In this series, I’ll cover all of my spring outdoor startups (lawn, shrubs & trees, irrigation and other outdoor spaces).  Today, irrigation system start-up!

Irrigation systems are such a wonderful asset to any landscape, especially when you’re getting ready to drop some $$$ into your lawn on things like equipment to aerate, seed, starter fertilizer, lime…you don’t want it all to go to waste!  So, let’s make sure the irrigation is in good working order first.  So, out we go to the timer or valve box to see what winter may have done to the system.  This should be a fairly easy “To Do” that can be checked off your list quickly and can be fun trying to avoid getting wet!!!


Spray Head

First, I like to run each zone long enough to watch every head go through it’s entire cycle to ensure adequate coverage from each head.  Our system has two types of zones, gear head and spray head zones.  Gear heads will send the water out in more of a stream-like fashion and are mainly used for grass areas.  The spray heads do just like their name states, they send the water out in more of a misting spray and are primarily used in the beds with your flowers and shrubs…also sometimes found in natural areas.


Next, as each gear head zone runs, I  use the irrigation adjustment tool to make any necessary changes to the gear heads rotation. Hopefully you kept the tool your irrigation contractor

Gear Head

gave you, but no sweat!!!  Head down to Lowe’s or another hardware store to purchase one.  In some cases, the irrigation heads can be adjusted using a screwdriver – take a look at the top of the head to see if there’s an insertion point for the tool or a screw.  Sometimes during the winter, the gear heads will get out of whack and need a slight adjustment for coverage correction.   Most irrigation heads will adjust in a similar way…


To make adjustments:  insert the tool in the top of the head, or use the screwdriver, SONY DSCand turn it to the left or right to increase or decrease the degree of rotation.  Most heads will add the additional rotation to the back side of the cycle (to the right).  Because of that, you may need to adjust the starting point of the gear head (left side) by twisting the shaft of the gear head towards the left to the new starting point – make sure you do this with the rotation of the cycle to avoid stripping the gears. Then let the head (or heads) go through the entire cycle one more time to double check your adjustment(s).

Last, check your spray zones to ensure they are popping up and retracting properly.  Usually they don’t get out of adjustment, but they can get dirty. If you have a spray head that is not retracting once the zone is shut off, then turn that zone back on and press the spray head down several times until it feels like it is moving freely.  Doing this will help wash out any dirt or debris that is hindering the head from retracting.  Or, you may have just the opposite problem where the head isn’t coming up – many times it’s because the grass has grown over that head – just clear the way and all should be good!

If you need to do some repairs, then follow these tips in how to Replace Irrigation Heads. SONY DSC And, you’ll want to check out the Watering Schedules I use here in the Southeast as a reference.  Make sure to adjust your irrigation timer for your spring watering schedule

Rain Sensor
  • a lot of timers have a seasonal adjustment option.  Also, if you don’t have one, you may want to consider adding a rain gauge to measure the moisture, this will prevent your system from running when unnecessary.

If you have a unique system that requires alternate methods of adjusting, please post them below.  As well, if you have a drip zone, let us know what you do anything to maintain those lines.

You are now ready for your next landscape retreat project Lawn Startup!  Thank you!  Cherie

Taming the Jungle


Another #Lowe’s #TheUpskillProject a success thanks to the hard working home owners and the team from Lowe’s of South Lincoln, NE!  The Upskill projects are a way for Lowe’s to assist homeowners to learn the skills to tackle some of the projects around the house that don’t necessarily require a tradesman to complete.

These new Nebraska homeowners, we’ll call them L&J, had the skills necessary to take on some of the projects inside their new home but wanted some direction on how to handle the outside…in particular, taming the jungle, aka their backyard.  (The jungle is what they called it, not me!!!)


It appeared the previous homeowners did enjoy being outdoors and using the space, but it was really difficult to understand how they were using it…there were strange pieces & parts everywhere!  Regardless, it was fun to ponder the old use and then start envisioning the new use!!!

So, I found out that L&J love spending time outside with their pooch and wanted a space they could use 3 seasons a year.  The parameters for the project…$2000 budget, demo/clean-up, expand the current patio, build a pergola, plant shrubs and install everything in 2 days!

I was excited about this project because it had good bones to build from.

IMG_0420The current patio was a nice size, there was a privacy fence that we could use to our advantage and L&J had some items we could reuse (we weren’t repurposing everything…just the good stuff!).

This was a 2 day build, so L&J got a jump start on some of the demo and clean-up in order to make more time for learning new skills…like laying a paver patio! My final design was an 8′ patio expansion using 16×16 pavers (to blend with the current concrete patio) and a pergola…this filled the space behind the privacy fence making the best use of the square footage for this new outdoor living area!

Once the Lowe’s team arrived, it was non-stop work on the patio until 10pm!

IMG_0477After a day like that, you’re so tired you don’t even care if you take a shower before crawling into bed…all you want is to lay down!!!  If you’re thinking of tackling a patio on your own, you can do it…you just don’t have to install it all in one day…spread it out over the weekend!

IMG_0823Meanwhile, screening shrubs were being planted in strategic spots to create a bit of a visual barrier between L&J and their 5 backyard neighbors…yes…they have 5!!!

Once the patio was finished, it was on to building the steel frame pergola with canopy.  This element was essential for providing some shade from the afternoon sun and making this space useful during hours that normally weren’t used before.  The kit went together without a hitch allowing L&J to move on to IMG_0984assembling the glider…being taller, they were apprehensive about this item but were pleasantly surprised to find it fitting for them and their space!

Because of the cooler climate and the desire to use the space 3 seasons a year, the need for heat hit hard on my mind…I’m always cold, so I could only imagine how cold I would be in the spring and fall in NE!!!  So, I incorporated two “warm spaces” in the design…one just to hang out around a fire pit (the glider is perfect for this area!) IMG_4636 and another under the pergola at the table…cards anyone?!  The results…a warm inviting space you want to relax in for hours! IMG_4634




Are you interested in updating an outdoor space at your home?  Let me know if you would like help getting your thoughts into an easy to follow plan.  I love hearing about each new space – I look forward to working with you!!  Cherie


The bed located on the left side of this picture was a project L&J completed confidently after gaining the additional skills from working with the Lowe’s Upskill 360 Team.

Nice job L&J!!!

Projects under $2k – A Place in the Sun

I had the recent opportunity to work with a wonderful 20-year-old homeowner on creating a space out front to enjoy in the evenings after work.  As a new homeowner, home maintenance and landscaping are both foreign territory!  Here to help was the Upskill 360 Team sponsored by Lowe’s!

Once all the “before” photo’s were loaded and I had a chance to hear the homeowner’s vision on how she would like to use the space.  Then I sprang to the challenge of pulling together a functional, aesthetically pleasing and do-it-yourself friendly design all under $2000!
Homeowners Goal:  Low maintenance plants, sitting area, warm, cozy yet free flowing, farm/country style, prefer greens & whites to compliment the pink climbing rose at the front entry

  • Size: Big enough for a small sitting patio!  (The bulk of the blocked/useable space was 14×9!!)
  • Facing:  West – sun in the evening when in use
  • Requests:  Keep the Rose bush

The covered porch is nice but not quite large enoughBistro Set to put a bistro set on…so creating a sitting space that didn’t make them feel like they were on display was one of my main goals.  A couple opportunities I also needed to  keep in mind was the sun and on-going maintenance.  The homeowner wanted something easier to maintain.

The following design created just the space the homeowner was looking for…a patio area large enough to accommodate a bistro set toting a tilting umbrellaTilting Umbrella to block the setting sun in the evenings!  I took advantage of having an electrical and water source and incorporated a barrel water feature…the sound is so relaxing and it’s great for adding Barrel Water Featurebackground noise to drown out unwanted sounds or conversations!  Because the goal of the space is  aesthetics and functionality, I kept the look simple – straight lines, simple color scheme and the use of the same plants over again in patterns.  And to give the homeowner that warm, free-flowing feel they prefer, I chose soft, whimsical plants to surround them…check out Barrel Planterthe barrel planter at the turn in the sidewalk…that will one day have phlox flowing over the edge inviting you to run your hands over it!!!!Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 12.02.28 PM

But don’t count this space closed after dusk!  The use of landscape lighting Landscape Lightingin just the right way can create the ambience wanted to kick back with a glass of wine or any sort of poison you choose.  In this design, I used path lights in a pattern that will light the whole space versus just the sidewalk.  This layout eliminates dark spots making it easy to use at night and will showcase all the cool new plants!

All these products were available at the local Lowe’s.  The homeowner will be installing this design in 2 weeks – I’ll post the “after” pictures then.

Scan 3


Lawn Start-up…the follow-up

Earlier this spring, I engaged in a challenge to overcome the bare spots and weeds in my lawn.  The battle continues!!!  Check out the steps I took initially in my Lawn Start-up blog.  Currently, I feel “neck and neck” with this war (such a strange sounding description…neck and neck).  Anyhoo, the bare spots are much smaller but the weeds are relentless!

The results are mixed.

I’ve got grass coming up in both my full sun areas and in the areas that are now shaded – yay!  But I’ve also got a lot of “other” stuff growing in as well.  Grrr, I have another name for that “other” stuff but I’ll keep this clean…and, optimistically speaking, it’s green!

20170426_180413The shaded areas seemed to take a little longer to really take off.  But once it did, I liked what I was seeing with the grass sprouts.  I did have some seed wash away with the rains we hadn’t gotten, but the heavier clumping that occurred will assist slowing the water through that side of the yard.  Every little bit enables stronger coverage the next go ’round!  One thing I did notice in both areas of shade…they now have a new weed that wasn’t there last season.  Joy-joy! 20170426_180525 The weed seems to pull up very easily so I’m going to try to tackle it manually instead of weed killer.  This will give me an opportunity to over-seed immediately and in much smaller spots and will make it more feasible to keep it moist during germination.

As for the full sun sections…I saw similar results only sooner than in the shaded area.
20170426_155523.jpgI did see the grass come in, but with it came a lot of clover too!  Back to the fertilizing for me!  My soil is very acidic (clay)…I do a lot of fertilizing and nurturing but I guess…just not enough!!!

It is time to hit the lawn with some fertilizer again.  Because of what I’m seeing with so many clovers in my yard, I’m going to use one of the higher nitrogen fertilizers.  Clovers thrive in soil that is lacking in nitrogen.  Sta-Green has a couple high nitrogen fertilizers to choose from; I used the Sta-Green Starter fertilizer because I overseeded the entire yard.  This time around I’m going to use their slow-release 29-0-5 in the hopes of strengthening the soil against the additional spread of weeds.20170427_102140

After the fertilizer is down for several weeks, I’ll load some more pictures up to show the progress for my problem lawn areas.  Also, I’ll let you know my next steps for prepping the lawn for the brutal southern summer yet to come!

The quest to win…I mean for a thick green lawn continues!!!  Best of luck to you in your battle!  Cherie

Mulch vs. Pine Straw

As a landscaper, I would cringe when a customer20170406_094613
insisted on using Pine Straw for all of their ground cover needs.  I’m okay if it’s to freshen up the natural area that is chock full of Pines but, when you’re suggesting using it in all the beds surrounding your home…that’s when my nose starts to turn up!
Yes, I’m a ground cover snob…I’m sure you weren’t aware my kind existed!!!  Nonetheless, in the next few moments, I’m going to try to convince you to be a ground cover snob too!

20170406_105000First and foremost, aesthetics!  What is more pleasing to the eye…thin, graying pine needles…or thick, chocolate brown mulch?!?  It is true, pine needles break down much more quickly than the more robust double ground hardwood mulch.  The needles are thinner and have more air surface allowing for decomposition to occur more quickly.  Within a short time the pine needles will turn gray and go from a fluffy covering to a flat dusting over your bare earth.

Second, function!  Because mulch offers a thicker ground covering solution, your plants will be stronger and healthier.  The extra moisture retained in the mulch will keep the plants roots cooler in the summer and better supplied overall.  This environment adds
to the plants ability to produce more brilliant blooms (in addition to regularly fertilizing your shrubs).  This also means, there is less opportunity to lose plants to heat or dehydration…very important with new plants or if your area is experiencing drought like conditions.20170406_104833

Finally, cost!  Mulch doesn’t break down as easily and is able to absorb and retain more moisture than its weaker counterpart.  Therefore, you will be replacing it less and watering less.  This is great news if you are paying city water to irrigate your property – this means shorter and fewer watering times!

Here’s some additional information regarding the different versions of mulch on how to choose your mulch!

Beauty, function and cost savings…what more could you ask for?!?  

Retweet, Like or Comment…if I have convinced you to become a ground cover snob too!

Thank you!  Cherie