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Bonsai 101 (Everything You Need to Get Started)

Bonsai is an ancient art form and gardening pleasure. The history of this wonderful and stylish form of plant manipulation and art dates back to about the 4th century. It originated out from China and spread to Japan. Throughout Asia, container planting with trees and shrubs is hundreds of years old. They could be found in India, China, Japan, and even ancient Egypt.

The philosophy of this fabulous type of gardening and plant care is to create miniature gardens contained in pots. Each gardener can produce an amazing and wondrous world with bonsai. They do need care and focus and can be a delight in your yard.

Bonsai Tips

Four basic components are important to focus on while growing bonsai. First, is the type of tree or shrub you want to grow. Second, is the soil mixture and an extremely important part. Third, is the watering or the humidity in the environment. And fourth, care and styling of the bonsai. When considering all of these important aspects to bonsai gardening incorporate your personality and you will have wonderful miniature gardens.

Type of Plants

The varieties that you can use are numerous, it is the care of the bonsai that is important. Depending on your environment and if you want outdoor (aka temperate) or indoor (aka tropical) bonsai the trees or shrubs you use will dictate what you plant. Traditionally bonsai is an outdoor garden and keeping them indoors can damage the plant, because they will still need lots of light.

Remember that the plants used in bonsai are always found outdoors. You need to consider the tree itself; if it is a deciduous tree then you would want it to get its’ rest, if it is a tropical tree or plant then it should get full sun and have a warm and humid environment. I think this is the important part to bonsai gardening; some people try to have control of the bonsai and fight its nature.

For the outdoor bonsai the variance in temperature is an important element to consider. If you live in cold or freezing regions you would want trees that can handle the cold. Juniper, maples, and conifers are great choices for the cold zones. I have my juniper outside and it loves where I have it because of the sun. Depending on the plant they need to go dormant and will die if they are kept inside or are in warm zones that don’t get cold winters.

Indoor or tropical bonsai can be kept indoors or outdoors depending on the zone you live in. Just like all tropical plants and trees they don’t like the cold winters and will die if left outdoors in cold zones. So bring them and give them plenty of sun and warmth. They will be happy to be inside if they get enough light (remember they are outdoor plants).

Some of the great trees or plants you can use are: ficus (most common), hibiscus, and bougainvillea. There are some many choices that you should explore what will do well in your environment.

Selecting a Bonsai

When looking for a bonsai take into consideration the root foundation, the mature growth of the plant, and your environment. The root foundation of the plant will determine if the plant will survive. You want to have a strong well rooted plant.

If the plant is young and the root foundation is not well developed then it will take a long time to get established growth. Depending on how large you want it to grow to, you would want either a dwarf tree or a naturally small shrub. Also consider your style and your taste; I love flowering and fruiting bonsai. Azaleas are one of my favorite shrubs to turn into bonsai because they have such wonderful blossoms.

Bonsai Soil Mixture and Pots

This area is as varied as the plants that you choose for your garden. Depending on the plant the soil combinations of grit and humus is important. Because it is a contain plant the soil mixture for bonsai is extremely important.

For example azaleas are acid lovers they like their soil a specific way and will die if not given the right fertilizers. Bonsai is just like any other container gardening fertilizing with the right ratios is important. Do some research on specific plants and give them what they want.

One of the easiest and fun parts to bonsai is picking out the pot it will go in. This is totally an individualist element to bonsai. I like to consider the type of plant and the style of it. I have seen bonsai in pots that complement the plant and ones that distract or take away from the beauty of the bonsai.

Watering Bonsai

Bonsai is container gardening and like all container gardening you have got to think about watering. Because you don’t want the roots sitting in water having a plate under the pot is not recommended. You do want to keep them well watered if that type of plant requires it. Once again you need to look at the type of plant you have and go with what it likes.

For your tropical bonsai keeping them well watered and in a humid environment is important. One of my friends mists his bonsai with a spray bottle to keep it moist. I have heard of some people using a drip system.

One good test to know when to water is when the top layer of the soil is dry. Never over water and drown the root and never under water. Bonsai is a care intensive type of gardening and watering is just another important element to focus on.

Styling and Care of Bonsai

Well this is an area of bonsai that is divided into two areas: wiring and cutting. If wiring is the direction you want to go into then you need to consider the type of wire used. Copper and aluminum are the most common types of wire used. Basic rules to wire are for support and manipulation of style.

Also to care for the plant by not leaving it in the sun or the cold while the wire is on. And finally to remove the wire if it cuts into the plant which will damage and could destroy your bonsai.

The other method is more traditional it is the cutting or pruning method. This is where you manipulate the growth by pruning the plant in to a shape. This method is great for people who are unsure about using wire.

Some people like to use both which I feel is more common then using one or the other.

Kids and Dirt

As parents, all of us have been there. You go in the backyard to get some yard work done and tell your kiddo to go have fun moving some dirt around with their awesome new kid tractor. After spending some time pulling weeds, you notice that it’s just a bit too quiet. Next thing you know, your angel has decided he wants to help mommy by also “doing yard work”. Covered in dirt from head to toe and sticking out his tongue to show you the dirt in his mouth, you feel like you’re in one of those “wanna get away?” Southwest airline commercials. As odd as it sounds, it’s actually all good. According to researchers, dirt is quite beneficial for kids. Here are five good reasons why:

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How to Build a Retaining Wall

Retaining walls can be very helpful and there are a lot of retaining wall ideas if ever you want to build one. When creating a wall, you must have a purpose for it. In the past, walls were created to protect a nation from its enemies. Today, walls are used to provide support to buildings and infrastructures. In cases of volatile slopes in landscapes, a retaining wall can be highly efficient to help control the soil and prevent any erosion. However, in order for a retaining wall to withstand the pressure that the sloping landscape is producing, the wall must be very sturdy and the retaining wall construction has to be done properly.

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Top 14 Landscaping Tips for Beginners

Here are some valuable tips to consider before you start a DIY landscaping project or hire a professional.

Leave Enough Space

The most common mistake we see DIY landscapers make is not leaving enough room for trees and shrubs to grow. Young plants look cute for the first few years, but become real problems as their mature size becomes evident. By that time, damage may have occurred to eaves troughs, fencing, etc, and plants that have crowded their neighbors and overgrown their space often look misshaped and really out of scale. Poorly sited trees block views and detract from your overall landscaping. Be sure to read the plant tag and picture the plant at its mature size before digging the hole. If you want a blue spruce “look” but the space won’t accommodate a 60-foot tree that is 25 feet wide, then consider buying an evergreen shrub like a blue juniper, or spend the extra for a dwarf variety that will always remain small. Ask us at WT Landscapes to design your planting plan and install it; we are planting experts.

Doing Work in Phases

A great landscape doesn’t have to be completed all at one time. Doing it in stages breaks down the work into manageable chunks and also helps to ease possible financial strain. Just be sure the stages make sense and are done in the proper order. Excavation, grading and installation of hardscaping elements such as walkways, decks and steps should be completed first. Planting gardens (softscaping) is generally the very last element in the overall landscape plan. For instance, installing new stone steps and precast stone walkway may be enough for the first phase of the project with the balance of work done the following year, such as installing new gardens with new plant material, accent rocks and finishing the lawn with sod.

Call Before You Dig

Any digging in your yard using a shovel, pick or spade requires a locate request service. Underground, there could be gas pipelines, electrical services, telephone and cable TV, water and sewer connections and possibly distribution networks for utilities that serve your neighbourhood. Damaging underground services can have serious consequences: personal injury, loss of essential services, creating a safety risk for others, expensive restoration costs and potential legal actions.

Building Permits

A Town permit is not required for many landscaping projects in many towns. However, if you plan to enclose a porch or build a deck higher than 24 inches, or construct a shed or gazebo larger than 108 square feet, you will require a permit. You will also have to check Town bylaws for setbacks.

Drainage

Altering water’s natural flow patterns can cause lots of future trouble, unless done correctly. Grading the land in a two percent slope away from the house will help to keep the foundation dry. Any retaining wall has to handle the moisture that will build up behind it. Installing coarse, clear drain rock wrapped in filter cloth is an essential addition behind any retaining wall. All pathways, steps and patios should be sloped a minimum of two percent to keep them free of water and ice. As well, a two percent slope on newly installed lawns will help keep them puddle free. Effective handling of water runoff from downspouts is also important.

Designing Safe, Comfortable Steps

Some steps are downright uncomfortable and unsafe, whether made from wood, stone or concrete. Professional landscapers use the formula 2R + T = 27. This means two times the Rise (stair height) plus the Tread (stair depth) should add up to 27. For instance, if you have 7″ risers, then your tread depth should be 13. This formula always works to create comfortable and safe steps.

Pressure-Treated Lumber or Red Cedar for Outdoor Construction

Current market prices put PT lumber about half the cost of red cedar. Cedar is considered a higher quality wood; it has decay-proof natural protection that keeps it looking good for decades, whereas PT (spruce, pine fir) lumber has been chemically treated to resist rot and generally lasts around 20 years in outdoor situations. Both PT and cedar can be stained, painted or left for a natural weathered look, but PT wood must first dry out before any coating is applied. Cedar lumber has been kiln dried and pieces are generally straighter. Note: Constru

ction labor prices should be the same, whether cedar or PT lumber is used in a project. Ask WT Landscapes to give you a quote using both types.

What To Do With Problem Shady Areas

Grass thrives in sunny areas. Forcing sod to grow in heavy shade using fertilizer is not very effective. Our recommendation is to use the shade to your advantage, converting it into a garden full of shade loving plants, or creating a low-maintenance mass planting. Our plant choice for

 mass planting in deep shade and tricky areas where nothing else will grow is geranium macrorhizum (bigroot geranium). It grows about 12-15 inches high, is almost evergreen with attractive green foliage turning bronze in fall, reliably hardy, grows in any soil and light conditions and spreads quickly into a dense planting but is not invasive. WT Landscapes can install thousands of these plants as required at a very reasonable rate, creating an appealing mass planting which provides a low maintenance, weed-free solution for any size area.

Weed Growth Between Interlocking Stone Pavers

Since the early 2000’s, professional landscapers have been using polymeric sand to seal stone pavers from weed growth. It costs more than regular sand, but is worth it. Once installed, the gluey substance in polymeric sand firms up to create a barrier, keeping moisture and soil out and preventing weed seeds from getting a toehold.

Cheaper is Not Always Better

Buying shrubs and potted plants on sale at the local box store may save you a great deal of money. However, you mi

ght not get exactly what you expect. Box store employees are not plant experts and often do not properly care for plants once the shipment is unloaded. They generally provide no planting advice or care instructions. Can you rely on your own knowledge to identify healthy plants? Although prices at specialty landscaping stores might be higher than superstores, the specialty stores often have better selection, knowledgeable employees and other products and assistance you may not even know you need. You can trust the plant material from WT Landscapes. We offer our clients a 24 month replacement guarantee.

Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is the newest term in low maintenance gardens using plants with low water requirements. The goal of xeriscaping is to build a sustainable garden that helps plants survive dry periods on their own, without heavy reliance on supplemental watering, fertilizer and other maintenance tasks. Key elements in successful xeriscaped gardens are: 1. Picking drought tolerant plants 2. Proper planting procedure so plants get a good start 3. Applying mulch to the soil surface to prevent water evaporation and inhibit weed growth 4. Watering new plants for lengthy periods allowing water to penetrate deeply, until plants are established.

Inexpensive Plant Sources

Make friends with neighbors whose gardens you admire. Ask them to think of you when the time comes to divide their hostas, ornamental grasses and other valued perennials. Join the local garden club and attend their plant sales. This is usually an excellent way to buy choice plants inexpensively and you can usually receive good growing advice from these experts. Beware of free plants unless you trust the source. Do not accept any plant that spreads easily. It may be invasive and take over your garden and you will forever regret planting it.

Why Grow Native Plants

When choosing trees, shrubs and garden plants for your property, it is important to understand the difference between native and non-native species. “Native” plants are those that evolved in Ontario and have adapted to the regional climate, soils and wildlife. “Non-native” species or “alien” plants were introduced from other parts of the world. Although they are often very beautiful, non-native species can be invasive and may alter the ecosystem of an area. They can out-compete native plants and take over the landscape. Native plants have natural controls like insects or disease to curb their growth, unlike the non-natives. Native plants are familiar to local wildlife and provide natural habitat and food for birds and butterflies. Because they have evolved to the local conditions, native plants are usually easier to grow; they conserve water and once established, require water only in the worst droughts. Obviously, you can grow different kinds of cactus in Arizona but attempting to do so in Michigan would be pointless. Again, focus on the plants you most commonly see in your area or ask at your local nursery what does well in the region.

Water Features

The sound of water adds another creative dimension of design in your garden and gurgling or dripping water provides a calming effect, perfect for meditation gardens and setting a mood of tranquility and relaxation. You’ll spend a bit more money installing a water garden fountain, and it will require some maintenance, but the effects are generally worth it. Ornate water features are sufficiently eye-catching to serve as garden focal points, if positioned correctly. Ask WT Landscapes to incorporate a water feature into your garden design.

9 Ways to Keep Flies Away From Your Horses

Owning horses on your property is not always a walk in the park as you have to keep up with flies including the dreaded horse fly as well as other insects. Mild winter weather from March to October, especially in the Northwest, can contribute to a serious fly season. Other regions can have violent biting insect seasons which is stressing to the horse owners.

Unlike other wild animals, horses cannot escape from these insects and as they try to swish and stomp them, they consume a lot of energy. Fortunately, they (and you) can get some relief as we’ve put together a list of nine strategies that will keep your horses from getting bugged.

1. Lights Off

Most insects such as biting midges, horse flies, deer flies, or face flies do well in a well-lighted place. Therefore, ensure that the lights are off and stable horses on a hot day or before and during dusk. This will keep insects away from your horses.

2. Fly Masks and Sheets

Fly management utilizing a fly mask is common and one of the most effective methods that every horse owner should know. That being the case, you can keep flies away from your horse by masking them which protects their ears, jowls, and eyes.

Some of the best and most effective masks to use include open-weave, fly sheets, and mesh blankets and will go a long ways to helping keep flies away from the body of your horse. You can also protect the legs of your horse using fly boots.

3. Air Circulation

Mosquitoes and biting midges are naturally poor flyers. This means that a well-ventilated area with properly erected fans outside a stall helps with the movement of air. This helps keep small pests away from the barn which in turn keeps your horses safe.

4. Bait and Fly Traps

One of the easiest ways to keep small flying insects away from the horses is by using sticky traps. You can hang fly paper ribbons, rolled sheets, and brightly colored sticky tubes in the barn but ensure they are in a position where they cannot come into contact with birds, pets, and horsetails as they swish.

To get rid of horse flies and other large flies, you’ll want to invest in (or build) something similar to a Horse Pal fly trap. This is a large trap that attracts visual hunters such as horse flies and deer flies. They fly gets trapped in the metal portion of the trap and quickly dies from the heat of it being in the sun.

Regardless of whether they have an attractant or not, bait and fly traps will work effectively in trapping adult flies. If you decide to use traps with attractants, remember to place them away from the barn and horses to prevent the pests and flies from being drawn into the barn.

5. Dry Ground Grazing

Eensure that at the onset of the summer, you graze them on higher drier pastures to prevent creating muddy areas which flies are naturally attracted to. Once the wet lower pastures dry out, you can have the horses graze there.

6. Get Predators to Help

At this time and age, technology is at its best and you can order almost anything with a click of a button. You’ll find some companies that sell fly parasites which can be ordered online and delivered to you in a matter of days.

These fly parasites are excellent in reducing fly population as they’re nocturnal wasps and tend to lay eggs in the developing pupae of flies and thus reduce the population of flies. The best thing about these fly predators is that they are harmless to animals or humans. Why not consider them?

7. Harrow Pastures and Collect Manure

The first step towards eliminating mosquitoes and flies is by doing away with their breeding grounds completely. That being the case, you can keep flies away from your horses by gathering manure in paddocks and drag the pasture from time to time to break the manure piles.

When you drag a harrow over the land, you dry up the manure making the place unfavorable place for breeding. Harrowing also gets rid of muddy areas that could otherwise shelter mosquito larvae.

8. Cover Up Manure and Compost Piles

Flies breed best on fresh manure and if you want to keep them away from your horses, remember to use tarp or another simple covering to cover up manure piles. In addition, do the same with compost bins and this will help make the breeding habitat unfavorable for any flies.

9. Plan Ahead

Having a horse requires you to have a good plan. This means that by understanding when pests increase, you can plan on the right strategies to control them. One way to do so is by increasing the population of good predators and putting out nesting boxes which will create a habitat that will be used as bait for the pests.

Also, you can plan on when to start a fly predator program for the next spring so you’ll be well-prepared next year.

Conclusion

Keeping pests away from your horses isn’t as difficult as it seems. The only thing to keep in mind is that by controlling their breeding and dwelling habitats such as manure and mud, you keep pests away.

In addition, do your best to minimize other odors such as sweat, garbage, urine, and rinse sweaty horses on a regular basis and this will keep your horse from getting bugged. Be sure to check out some other great ideas on Pinterest or Tumblr.

Installing an Outdoor Security Camera System

You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your home and your family. Many people who are vigilant about the safety of their home and family are choosing to install security systems to alert them of intruders. The best way to protect your family from intruders, however, is to prevent them from getting into the house in the first place. For that reason, more and more people are installing outdoor security systems.

Owning a security system may sound like something that is only for the very wealthy or the sort of thing that one might see in a James Bond film, but advancements in technology are putting the once complicated and expensive gadgets into the hands of ordinary folks. A simple surveillance system, consisting of a few cameras and a monitor, can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and easily installed by even a relative novice.

Protecting Valuables

security camerasFor valuables, you need to realize that even if you have a good quality safe to store valuables in, most thieves can get into it with time. I personally take the safety of my family very seriously and thus invested in a top rated gun safe. While I love technology, my gun safe has to be mechanical. For instance, Fort Knox makes the very best mechanical gun safe. I determined that after literally reading a dozen gun safe reviews sites that are out there because of all the competition in the industry. A good outdoor security system can go a long way to keep what’s inside the safe out of the hands of bad guys.

Range

A wireless camera may have a transmitting range of up to 100 feet, which is far enough to mount cameras along walkways, near the garage, or over the front door. The camera then transmits images to a receiver that sends the pictures to a television or VCR. A more expensive system can send a signal an even greater distance. You can have your cameras running constantly, set them to run during certain hours—such as when you are away or when you are sleeping—or you can get cameras that are motion activated. With the right software, you can even monitor your cameras via the internet when you are away on vacation.

Lighting

A good security system will also include adequate lighting. Lighting is perhaps one of the simplest, least expensive and most common sense parts of a security system. Most criminals will not approach a well-lit home for fear of being seen. The lighting will also be necessary to help cameras pick up images at night. You may decide to put your lighting on a timer, have motion detection lights or simply operate your lighting manually.

It is important to keep your family safe and protect your home. The security system that helps you do that does not need to be either complicated or expensive. In fact, security can be as common sense as adequate lighting around your home. One thing is certain, though: knowing that you have systems in place to keep your family safe will allow you to sleep better at night.

Tree House Safety for Kids

A tree house to children is a place to call their own. The vision is of five bikes leaning against a tree with five little boys huddled in their tree house telling secrets and designing a most important sign that reads, ‘no girls allowed’.

…Or you might find the same scenario with five little girls instead.

There’s nothing like a hideaway for children, and a tree house can be exciting and entertaining  as well as adventurous. However, there should always be rules and precautions put into force in order to keep the children safe in such a high environment.

Before you get started

kids-tree-houseDo you need a building permit to build a tree house for your child? Some neighborhoods do have municipal regulations. However, it depends on the nature of the house you’ll be building.  Are your neighbors going to have it in their vision when they look out the window? Will it infringe on anyone’s privacy. More often than not, a neighborhood regulatory group wouldn’t become involved unless a neighbor makes a complaint.

Tree damage

We would certainly be kidding ourselves if we thought that tree houses do not do damage to trees.  Just stomping by foot at the base of the tree tightens the soil, which can be harmful to the roots. So, to minimize this damage, support the tree by putting fasteners, but not too close as it can cause weakness to that part of the tree.

The height of your tree house

If you can’t be assured of your child’s safety on the street, in the backyard or in a playground, how then can you guarantee his or her safety ten feet off the ground? And that is the standard…ten feet. However, at the bottom or the base of your tree, it would be advisable to add a good foot of mulch. Sand, gravel or even wood chips can still harm your child in the event they fall, so mulch is the best form of cushioning. Remember, kids are daring and it doesn’t take much for them to jump down rather than take the ladder you for them.

Tree Limbs

Thick, thick, thick.  At least a foot thick.  

tree-limbTry to keep in mind that twelve inches spell s-a-f-e-t-y, keeping in mind that you’re not the one picking the tree for your house, the tree is out there picking you. Just like people, each and every tree is different so let them guide you. Allow for its growth and consider sunlight.  When you find that tree, the first thing you want to look for is rotting wood, peeling wood and signs of distress. It might be wise to call in a tree specialist before you make the choice yourself on which branch or two you believe is suitable for building a tree house.

Wooden Walls or wooden rails

Walls.  First of all, the kids will be using this as a personal hideaway. Why in the world would they want everyone to see them tell their secrets through guard rails? Additionally, walls are safer.

 Final precautions

  • Never allow a child under six years old to go into the treehouse alone.

  • Build a real ladder onto the tree to the treehouse rather than a rope ladder. In fact, in order to avoid accidents of strangulation, it is best to keep all ropes and trains away from the treehouse.

  • It is generally not recommended to allow kids to sleep overnight in a tree house. Instead, do a family backyard campout with a tent and all. Get some good sleeping bags for the kids and even some sleeping sacks for the younger crowd. This type of wearable blanket for toddlers allows new walkers the freedom to walk around with them.

Bottom line, it’s all about the children. What you are considering to build for them should afford them adventure, happiness and safety. Look into permits, keep it at a safe height, stay away from ropes and chains and surround the children with walls to keep their secrets safe.

Backyard Fencing

As most homeowners know, a backyard can provide you with the opportunity to work, play, or just relax. An outdoor area can give you a real sense of freedom, but you still want to protect the area and keep it safe and secure surrounding it with a fence for both safety and security. There are a wide variety of fence styles to choose from, some being better than others. Below is some basic information about the different fence types and how they may benefit you.

Stockade Fence

stockade-fence

A stockade fence (or privacy fence) is made of wood. The most common types of wood these fences are made of are pine, cedar or fir. A stockade fence can provide safety, security and privacy. This type of fence will consist of wood slats panels. These panels are assembled close together. The panels are nailed to wooden posts.

Gone are the days of using a hammer to build one. With the price of air compressors so low, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a top of the line compressor. If you’re on a strict budget, take a trip to your local Harbor Freight and you can get a descent Central Pneumatic model for under $100. If you’re asking yourself, “what size air compressor do I need?“, send me an email using my contact page.

Once constructed, these wood panels can be stained or painted the color you choose. This type of fence is very durable and when stained or painted it increases its durability.

A stockade fence has many great advantages. You can choose to build the fence yourself or have it professionally installed. One disadvantage of having a stockade fence is that after years of being in the weather, it will start to rot if the wood is not treated. Fortunately, a paint spray gun will make short work of the job which often takes days with a traditional brush. If you’re working on a relatively small yard, a small pancake model will probably be the best portable air compressor option for you. These types of fences not only make excellent backyard fences, but they make the perfect garden fence too.

PVC Fence

pvc-fenceA PVC fence is highly durable. This fence is made of highly durable plastic and will never rot. This type of fence has many great money saving and time saving advantages because it is man made and it does not need to be stained or painted. It comes available in a wide variety of colors for you to choose from so you can select it to match your home. Prices for PVC fence will vary and can range from being very expensive to inexpensive. This will allow you to choose the right PVC fence that will fit into your budget.

Chain Link Fence

chain-link-fenceA chain link fence is extremely durable because it is made of galvanized steel. It will never rot. The material that this fence is made from is able to withstand extreme climate conditions. This type of fence is attached to steel posts which are secured in the ground. This is one of the most easiest fences to install if you plan on doing the job yourself. This fence comes available with vinyl coating that is usually green or black in color. A chain link fence alone does not provide much privacy, but if you install the vinyl slats, which is an extra, then you can have all the privacy you need. The only disadvantage with this type of fence is that over time it can rust, but if you choose one with a vinyl coating then you will not have that problem.

8 Tips to Save Your Back According to the Pros

back-pain-landscapersNo matter if you’re just out of high school or enjoying retirement, back pain will affect almost 80% of people over the course of their lives (according to some studies). While some people unfortunately don’t have any say in it simply due to their genes, most instances are very much preventable. Those with physical jobs or hobbies by default have a higher risk of injuring their back.

Anyone involved in landscaping or gardening (whether professionally or as a hobby) will tell you that you need to take extra care of your back to avoid injury. Here are 8 ways to prevent back pain for landscapers and gardeners according to the professionals.

Sleep well. It may seem like an odd tip, but getting a good night’s sleep allows your body to recover and prepare it for the next day. If you are a stomach sleeper, you’re not doing yourself any favors. The best sleeping position for lower back pain is on your side with a knee between your legs. Making this simple change is a great place to start.

Stretch and warm up. As with almost any physical activity, you lessen your chances of injury when your body is warmed up and your muscles are loose. Since lower back injuries are by far the most common, you want to mainly focus on your lower back, hips, and hamstrings. Below are some great stretches to try that should literally take less than 5 minutes.

back-stretches

Use proper form when lifting. This goes without saying but you should always focus on using your legs to do the bulk of lifting instead of your back. We were taught this in gym class in school but it’s very easy to forget unless you make it a subconscious habit. The more energy that is being used by your back, the higher the chance of injury.

Keep manual lifting to a minimum. Overexertion is one of the main causes of back injuries. No matter how focused someone is on keeping proper form and lifting with their legs, you will get tired and your form will suffer. Make use of wheelbarrows, dollies, and hand trucks whenever possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help with especially heavy objects.

Know your limits. Just because someone else is carrying a 40 pound bag of potting soil or pushing a wheelbarrow filled to the rim with rocks doesn’t mean you should do the same. Lessen the load and make and extra trip or open the bag of soil and shovel some into a wheelbarrow.

Use the right tools. Long handled garden tools should be used as much as possible. While a short handled shovel may give you more control, you will likely be working in an unnatural bent over position with your back taking the full grunt of effort. Long handled tools make you use your legs more. If you are on the taller side, consider making the investment in some telescopic tools which actually adjust to your height.

Switch tasks on a regular basis. While not always possible, different jobs use different muscles. By switching things up, certain muscles get less fatigued which allows you to better keep good form. Similar to going to the gym, you don’t want to simply bench press for dozens of sets. You want to instead give muscles time to recover by going to a different exercise (or job).

Ice, ice, baby. If it’s good enough for professional athletes, it’s good enough for landscapers. Icing reduces inflammation, pain, and helps you recover quicker. Apply ice to sore muscles as soon as possible.

While back injuries or even chronic back pain is never 100% preventable, following these tips will greatly lower your chances of developing issues with your back.

Fixing a Leaking Water Heater

While it may not seem like a huge deal if your water heater is leaking, it’s actually more of an issue than you may think it is. That small pool of water in your closet or garage can over time cause mold to grow and even result in water damage to your home. That leaking hot water heater may also indicate a much more serious and possibly dangerous issue; therefore it is crucial you act quickly.

Troubleshooting the cause of the leak should be your number one priority as it’s possible the leaking is actually from a different source such as water pipes or other appliances. If you’ve determined there’s no other possible source, the culprit is most likely the water heater.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer and want to try repairing or doing maintenance on your water heater to save some money, turning off the power is always the first step. With a gas water heater, simply turn the dial at the front of the water heater to “OFF”. On electric water heaters, you’ll need to turn off the correct breaker at your main circuit breaker panel, most often located in your garage.

Once the power is off, you’ll want to shut off the flow of cold water heading into the water heater by turning the inlet valve that’s located on top of the water heater to the “closed” position. If the leak is above this valve, you will need to follow the cold water inlet pipe until you see a secondary valve further down the line, sometimes it’s located on the outside of the house.

Once these two safety precautions are done, it’s time to investigate where the leak is coming from. Below are the most common areas for water heater leaks. Generally speaking, if your water heater is leaking somewhere from the top, the leak can be fixed. If you’ve determined the water heater has a leak near the bottom, the tank may need to be replaced.

  1. Pressure relief valve (TPR valve). Usually located at the top or top-side of a water heater, its purpose is to relieve excess pressure that may develop inside the tank. This part is known to fail over time.
  2. Inlet or outlet piping. Check the pipes and connections at the very top of the water heater.
  3. Drain valve. Located at the bottom of the tank, this simple valve is used for water heater draining and flushing.
  4. Water heater tank. This is the worst case scenario. If the actual tank is leaking due to corrosion or other internal problem, complete water heater replacement is the only real fix.

If you’re fairly repair savy, most water heater repairs are not too difficult. www.waterheaterhub.com is a decent site for more troubleshooting advice and instructions on how to replace common water heater parts.