Storage ShedsPortable canopies and tents, and storage sheds and playhouses, can add entire new dimensions to your backyard and property. They provide shelter, storage space, and dozens of decorative opportunities. For parents determined to provide a safe environment for their children, they also present some unique challenges. But more importantly, they provide chances to teach your kids important lessons while enjoying their company.

Canopies and Tents in the Yard and Away

The most important fact to remember – and, not surprisingly, among the most obvious – is that canopies and tents are not toys, and they are not playground equipment. In fact, children climbing on canopy frames can seriously damage the legs and support trusses and tear the canopy material. Even canopies with weight bags, ground stakes, and other anchoring systems can capsize if a child hangs from or climbs the legs. Under no circumstances should a child sit atop the canopy cover while the canopy is deployed.

On a more upbeat note, setting up and taking down a canopy or tent is a great way to teach children the importance of caring for their possessions and to help improve their motor skills. Placing children in charge of the assembly before an event, or letting them take care of the maintenance afterwards, gives them a character-building task that’s not too complex or that requires elaborate physical exertion.

Canopies also make good central, outdoor meeting places during lawn-keeping projects or for times when too many trips indoors for glasses or water or sunscreen would eat up too much time. Just deploy the canopy in an area of the yard and use it to shelter a water cooler, towels, sun protectant, and other supplies.

Canopy Care Involves the Whole Family

CanopiesAs an ongoing practice, parents should always dismantle and store the canopy away when it’s not in use. This will protect children from possible injury but also make sure the canopy stays in top condition for as long as possible. For a complete guide to family canopy safety, click here.

Backyard Storage Sheds Bring Something for the Entire Family

One of the modern storage shed’s greatest advantage lies in its variety. Suitable for dozens of purposes, storage sheds are also available in a giant array of sizes and styles. They’re constructed from vinyl and metal as well as the traditional wood, and some wooden models feature decorative elements including cupolas, window shutters, front porches, and decorative eaves.

But for all the external variety, the storage shed isn’t necessarily just for storage. Sheds also make great centerpieces for flowerbeds and other landscaping. Families can also renovate their interiors, as well, making them display spaces for collections or for holding household items and supplies (off season holiday decorations, extra linens and clothes, et cetera) that need the extra storage space. Many storage sheds include floor kits as optional extras, making the shed more like an “outdoor closet” than a separate, exterior storage container.

Shed Safety and Preservation

A properly maintained storage shed can last as long as your house itself. And like the house, it should be kept safe from the elements. Follow all instructions in the owner’s manual, and remember to keep the interior clean and free of insects and small animals.

Proper maintenance will vary according to your shed’s particular construction. Vinyl and plastic sheds will need little more than an occasional washing and rinsing to remain in good condition. Wooden storage sheds, while more attractive, will often require more care and preventative treatment.

Storage Sheds and Family Safety

Storage ShedsEven though their low roofs may offer an irresistible climbing temptation, parents should keep their children from using the sheds as climbing or playground equipment. This is also true of the exteriors of playhouses, and even (perhaps especially) the frames and support beams of swing sets and play sets.

If sheds are used to store hazardous equipment – such as lawnmowers, power tools, and saw blades – the shed should be kept locked whenever not in use. Remember at the end of tasks to lock all entries to the shed, including any opening windows. Use a heavy-gauge padlock or combination lock, mounted high up on the doors, to prevent children from simply snapping the doors open.

Storage Shed Decoration and Renovation

Storage sheds and playhouses also present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. Read about the best – and most cost-effective ways – to renovate and beautify your wooden storage shed by reading our complete guide here. For additional details on adding flowerbeds to your storage shed, read our easy how-to tutorial.

Children’s Playhouses Are Fantastic Dreams Come True

PlayhousesSimilar in size and scale to the storage shed, children’s playhouses represent probably the ultimate in children’s toys. Large enough to become a “house” of their own, they are available in many different styles and themes, from fanciful cottage to frontier schoolroom. They’re sturdy enough to last all childhood long, too, and assemble from a prefabricated kit that comes with complete instructions.

Much like storage sheds, playhouses present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. For a complete guide to renovating a shed or child’s playhouse a fun project for the whole family, see our guide elsewhere on this blog.

Storage ShedsIn some ways, it’s tempting to think of the storage shed as any home’s “branch office.” A storage shed provides valuable sheltering space and can increase the beauty of your yard or property. It can also serve as recreation or entertainment space for parties and other backyard events.

With the wide variety of choices available to consumers looking to add a storage shed to their backyard landscape, it’s important to understand several areas of interest.

Storage Shed Materials and Construction

What do you picture when you imagine a storage shed?

For many, the popular image remains that of the no-frills vinyl or metal shed propped against the back of a house or barn. All the same, larger wood- and cedar storage sheds provide greater amounts of storage and recreation space while also offering powerful decorative potential.

Other varieties of storage shed include plastic, plastic resin, metal (usually aluminum), and special canopy-style sheds that use a flexible tarp stretched over a rigid – again, usually aluminum or stainless steel – frame.

Many storage shed models are listed as “wood prepped-for-vinyl,” or a similar term. This means that the shed’s walls are prepared for mounting vinyl sides across their exterior. The walls may themselves be constructed from particleboard or oriented strand board (OSB.)

Storage Sheds and Weather Protection

The materials used to make the storage shed will determine its potential resistance to the elements. Many models of shelter, regardless of their materials, will list their weather resistance certifications and qualifications as a central part of their features. Such features often play a great role in determining a shed’s cost. For example, higher snow load and wind resistance sheds and portable shelters sometimes cost more than less fortified models. This is largely because the materials used to make them are more expensive and harder to manipulate during production.

Storage Shed Functionality

Storage ShedsRegardless of their weather resistance, the functions of a storage shed are limited only by the imaginations of their owners. Many owners simply choose to employ the storage shed as a kind of “backyard closet” that holds landscaping and lawn care equipment. Others use their shelters to store additional or surplus household supplies such as clothes and linens, or extra furniture or appliances.

Storage sheds, especially those that are sealed against the elements, can provide ideal shelter and display space for collections, memorabilia, and family keepsakes. Qualified electricians can rig many models for electric light, adding to their display potential.

Choosing the Right Size

The answer to any size question remains purely subjective. Nevertheless, when shopping for a storage shed, remember to leave “room to grow.” By buying a larger shed than you need right now, you give yourself the blessing of extra space to store equipment and other goods you acquire in the future.

Wood Storage Sheds’ Decorative Potential

Storage ShedsSome wooden storage shed models include “real” house decoration features including wooden floors (either optional or standard) and glass windows and shutters. Others include gable windows, eaves and shingled roofs, and fenced or semi-enclosed porches.

Standard and optional decorative features vary – often wildly – among manufacturers but also from model to model. When deciding which storage shed to purchase, it’s important to carefully understand what comes as a basic feature to each shed and what must be ordered at additional costs.

Sunroom and Greenhouse Storage Sheds

These versatile shed models combine the horticultural advantages of greenhouses and sunrooms with the storage functionality of the basic storage shed. Several such models are available from a variety of manufacturers.

Children’s Playhouses and Cottages

Similar in shape and construction to storage sheds, children’s playhouses – also called children’s cottages – offer any child a wonderful playtime destination. They’re available in a variety of motifs and themes: cottage, schoolhouse, country church, and many others. Like storage sheds, they’ll require assembly and decoration, including painting. They also include the same range of options as many storage sheds.

How To Build The Shed: DIY vs. Contractor

Storage ShedsStorage shed kits are built for relatively quick assembly using basic carpentry tools. However, to the novice builder these instructions can appear complex and hard to understand. Local contractors and woodworking professionals (carpenters, handymen, et cetera) may be available to complete the assembly for shed owners reluctant to risk time-consuming setup mistakes. As with any construction job, an estimate of all costs should be obtained before an agreement is finalized.Shed owners should also feel free to ask for references when making their contractor selection.

Schools bells ring, baseball season winds down and football season warms up. The end of summer draws near, with autumn and winter coming right behind it. After 2012’s record setting heat wave summer, homeowners should take extra precautions when getting their backyard, patio, and lawn ready for the cold weather months.

Listed below are seven tips to help everyone make sure their yard and patio get through the snow, rain, and sleet with a minimum of hassle and damage.

Make Sure Your Storage Space Is Suitably Weather-Resistant

Storage Sheds

A plastic resin storage shed

Especially for homeowners in parts of the country with a lot of snowfall, choosing the right storage shed or portable garage or shelter is an absolute must. Learn your shed or shelter’s snow resistance level, and find out what steps you can take to augment its weather resistance.

Caring for your storage shed, no matter what its construction type, is much like performing routine maintenance on your house. Make sure the roof and foundation are in good condition, that the windows and doors do not leak, and that the entire structure is free of pests, rodents, and termites. Perform the checks in autumn, before the cold weather complicates inspection.

Cover Your Swimming Pool – And Protect Its Machinery – Against Freezing

Both in-ground and aboveground pool owners should cover their pools with manufacturer-recommended tarps. Also, lower your pool’s water level so that it is below the skimmers’ entrances. This will prevent damage if the pool water freezes.

Take precautions to protect the pool’s pumps, pipes, and other machinery against damage from freezing. Such steps can include blowing water out of pipes and draining water from the filters and wrapping the pipes with insulation. You may also want to cover exposed machinery with a weather-resistant tarp. Remember that freezing conditions can occur even in the Deep South.

Protect Your Lawn With Mowing, Over-Seeding, Aeration, and Fertilization

Greenhouses

Store fragile plants inside a greenhouse

You’ll keep a greener lawn all winter long by over-seeding it  with grass that thrives in cold weather. Experts recommend over-seeding about six weeks before the first expected hard freeze.

Mow your lawn frequently during the fall. This will shred fallen leaves, helping them feed the grass. However, rake up any excess shredded leaves as they’ll block sunlight and encourage rodent and insect growth. Try to keep your grass at about 2.5 inches in height.

A late-autumn fertilizing will help give your lawn the food it needs for a healthy hibernation. Take precautions, however, when dealing with these potentially dangerous chemicals.

Aerating involves making small holes in your lawn, the better to let in oxygen and fertilizer nutrients. The aeration process is simple and time-efficient, and the tools are available from most hardware and hardware rental stores.

Remove Dead and Dying Plants From Your Flowerbeds

The debris and decaying matter left behind as annuals and dying plants decompose can block sunlight, nutrients, and rainfall from reaching healthier and perennial plants. Though it’s tough to know when to pull the plug, some judicious culling can help nurture your hardier plants. Greenhouses can help store plants, but remember to keep them free of snow pileup and other weather hazards.

Give Your Fences, Decks, and Wood Structures A Fresh Coat of Sealant

Shade Sails

Make sure any backyard canopies are water-permeable, or take them down for the season.

Sealants (also called water proofers) protect your wood fences, decks, and structures from both weather and damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. To test your sealant’s effectiveness, just splash water across its surface. If the water is quickly absorbed into the wood grain, it’s time for a recoating.

Experts recommend sealing wooden decks once a year, ideally in the late summer and early fall when temperatures are relatively mild. This keeps the sealant at its freshest – and most effective – during snowfall and hard freeze months. Fences should be recoated every two to three years, as the foot traffic that wooden decks endure helps to rub off their sealants at a faster rate.

Remove all furniture or decorations, and give the wooden surface a thorough cleaning first. Allow the wood to dry for two to three days before applying the sealant.

Safely Store All Equipment and Machinery

Storage Tents

Storage tents and shelters can serve dozens of purposes.

Don’t forget that your yard and garden equipment, tools, recreational vehicles and machinery are all subject to the cruelties of Old Man Winter. Storing them in a weatherproof or weather-resistant shelter will help protect them against the elements and humidity.

For additional protection, enclose your recreational vehicles (motorcycles, four-wheelers, bicycles, et cetera) in specially designed sleeves and slipcovers.

 

Pack Away All Unused Lawn and Garden Furniture

It’s true that many lawn and garden furniture sets and pieces are engineered and treated to resist the elements. But there’s no reason not to preserve them even more by giving them additional shelter. Putting your tables, chairs, and other pieces away inside a storage shed or portable shelter, ideally wrapped inside weather-resistant covering, will help to keep them looking like new.

Before storing away your yard and garden tools, give them all a good cleaning and polishing with machine oil. This will help against rusting and other elemental damage, and work to keep them like new until you need them again in springtime.

CanopiesThe summer of 2012 isn’t done with us yet! As record temperatures continue bedeviling much of the United States and the rest of the world, the cooler, refreshing temperatures of autumn seem to take longer and longer to arrive.

The blazing heat may have you staying indoors and away from the backyard and patio you’ve worked hard to renovate and enjoy. But the dog days of summer don’t have to keep you penned up. Take some cool relief from the ideas and tips listed below.

Give Your Patio A Shade Sail Cover

Shade Sail CanopiesShade sail canopies combine the functionality of traditional canopies with the versatility of a portable canopy cover. The finished result is a beautiful, elegant canopy that can block most (if not all) of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays while still providing some much needed sun blockage. If you live in an area with a lot of rainfall – those daily showers that only seem to make things steamier – make sure you get a water-permeable canopy. Their specially-constructed fabric allows rainwater to pass through without pooling atop the sail’s surface.

Most sail shade canopies come with installation hardware included, and can be hung over patios, decks, and swimming pools in only minutes.

Cover Your Backyard With a Portable Canopy

CanopiesCreate a shade oasis in your backyard with a portable canopy. Modern portable canopies are easy to set up, block virtually all sunlight and UV rays, and assemble and break down again in minutes. They’re perfect for backyard parties, get-togethers like barbecues and garden parties  - especially wedding receptions and birthday celebrations. They’re also incredibly handy to keep around for everyday use.

Set one up in the middle of your backyard and give yourself a place to rest while completing yardwork, an area to sit while the kids enjoy the backyard, or just a place out of the sun to enjoy some fresh air.

Canopies also come ready to take on a wide array of accessories, too, including anchor kits, weight bags, sidewalls, and headbands.

Stay Fresh And Cool With A Misting System

Misting Tents

Doesn't that look refreshing?

The misting systems that you’ve enjoyed at outdoor festivals, concerts and amusement parks are now readily available to the public. Some even run on city water pressure, meaning there’s no need to buy a pump. Sold with canopy tents or by themselves, misting systems deliver a fresh, refreshing spray of cool water, letting you recharge and relax when the sun gets too hot to handle.

For additional water pressure (meaning additional refreshing power), consider buying a medium- or high-pressure misting tent or misting system.

Screen Out the Heat With A Screened-In Porch

Patio EnclosuresPatio enclosures keep you shaded and protected from mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and other flying pests while remaining easy to install and take down. Their weather-resistant roofs mean they’re ready for years of long life, and you can even match the roof’s color to your house’s paint color or decorative plan. They’re big enough to enclose all of your back porch or deck of just a portion of it.

If your home doesn’t have a back porch, don’t worry. There’s a huge variety of screen houses that give you all the benefits of a screened, enclosed relaxation area but remain freestanding anywhere in your yard. To protect your entire backyard from flying pests, install a mosquito magnet and watch your yard’s flying pest population dwindle to nothing – fast.

Pergolas and Gazebos Are Elegant, Permanent Heat-Stopping Solutions

Pergolas

A cedar pergola

Besides remaining one of the most elegant decorative elements you can give your backyard, the pergola also makes a great frame for shade sail coverings, sun-blocking (and sun-welcoming) vine and liana growth, and as a shelter for your patio furniture and fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. The rugged, handsome pergola frame will beautify any patio, porch, or deck, helping to your home’s comfort (and property value) while helping shield you from direct sunlight.

Of course, you can give your entire backyard a gorgeous new centerpiece by installing a gazebo. Whether built from scratch or from a kit, gazebos bring undeniable ambiance all by themselves or when decorated with flower beds, LED lights, and patio furniture. And they make great places to relax, hang out, and spend time with friends and family.

Use Your Portable Shelter or Garage To Keep Yourself Cool

Canopies

Semi-permanent canopies also make great picnic pavilions.

When you must beat the heat, re-employ the portable or semi-permanent shelter you use to cover boats, vehicles, and other machinery as an oasis. Most modern outdoor canopies and portable garages are built for the long haul against sunlight and severe weather, so they’re more than capable of keeping you and your family cool. They also make perfect temporary coverings for plants and other pets who need some relief from direct sunlight.

Remember too that the transition doesn’t have to be permanent. Just empty out your portable shelter for a day or afternoon, and enjoy its cooling shade all you want before replacing your machinery.

Keep Your House Cool With An Awning

Awnings It’s a sad truth that most people don’t recognize exactly how much direct sunlight affects their home energy bills – especially sunlight that enters through windows and doorways. By installing a retractable or fixed awning, you can block heat uptake that warms your house, while preventing harmful ultraviolet radiation from penetrating window glass and damaging furniture and carpet. There are even awnings specially designed to work with low-overhead doorways, too.

Some modern awnings feature top-flight materials including lightweight aluminum frames and high-endurance acrylic canopy coverings. Many models are also available in dozens of color and style choices.

By the way, remember that protecting yourself from sunburn and other harmful effects stemming from exposure to ultraviolet rays takes more than just a beautiful backyard. Read our guide to preventing sunburns and UV damage elsewhere on this blog.

 

Gazebo

A gazebo surrounded by landscaping

It’s either a moment of frustration or inspiration for millions of homeowners: looking out on the empty or practically-empty expanse of lawn and wondering how to transform a flat square of grass into something worthy of the dream home it surrounds. Fenced-in backyards present a special challenge: they’re enclosed, making them more intimate, but that same limited space can make design and renovation options seem limited, too.

But empty or neglected backyards and lawns are really just “rough clay” awaiting sculpting into something which any homeowner can feel proud to call home. Here’s seven ideas to jumpstart your backyard and lawn’s journey from blah to bravo:

Furniture Isn’t Just For the Patio

Don’t get us wrong, patio furniture is lovely. But there are also dozens of chair, table, and entertainment options available for the backyard itself. Adirondack chairs provide a touch of classic Americana, while hammocks and swings make great places to unwind on a long, lazy summer or weekend afternoon. For the ultimate in mid-lawn entertaining, go with a portable wet bar or fire pit set up out in the grass. Set up a couple of ottomans or cushions to put your feet up, and sit back.

Set Up A Gazebo or Pergola

Gazebos have served as centerpieces and crown jewels of some of finest private landscapes in the world. Modern gazebo kits are remarkably affordable and even come in a variety of styles and designs, the better to suit your own house’s period design. While they function best in larger yards or property areas where they don’t overwhelm the available space, they make attractive design contributions to even medium-sized backyards and enclosed properties.

An alternative to the gazebo that’s growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, the free-standing pergola offers a backyard and patio centerpiece that makes a distinct design statement while staying versatile enough for a variety of design plans.

Cover Your Yard, Pool With a Canopy

Canopies

A sail shade canopy

Canopies are sturdy enough to stand in your backyard year-round, but most modern canopy models are designed to break down in minutes. Canopies are great ways to provide shade and shelter in your backyard, patio, and pool areas, and some come with sidewall accessories to afford you extra privacy when you want it.

Shade sail canopies offer a stylish twist on the usual canopy cover, and work well to provide cover to part or all of the pool or back patio areas. Many are water permeable, meaning they can be left up even during rainy weather.

Light Up The Trees, Fences and Bushes

Much like the strings of holidays lights seen everywhere in December, LED light chains make warm and relaxing accents to backyard decor. Their durable and energy efficient construction makes them ideal for nighttime illumination, and they’re a great way to express your creativity. Just string, twist, and rope them around your trees, across fences, and over and above bushes and shrubbery to get a unique “glittering” effect.

Make An Area Just for the Kids

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably invested in a larger backyard at least partly to give your children a safe place to play and just grow up. As you plot out your backyard renovation plans, you might want to leave room especially for the children. A playset or playhouse will give them years of fun- and imagination-filled adventure, and give you the peace of mind of safe and dependable entertainment for your children and their friends.

Install A Greenhouse or Storage Shed

GreenhousesGreenhouses aren’t just a way to spruce up your backyard. The right greenhouse can supply your family with plenty of incredibly fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices. It’s not every backyard decorative touch that can actually make you healthier while bringing your backyard additional beauty.

Storage sheds take the storage and maintenance pressure off your garage and carport. They make ideal parking places for lawn mowers and other equipment, and for storing seasonal decorations and other family or household items that aren’t needed year round.

Plant Flowerbeds Wherever You Can

Flowerbeds and gardens make great decorative additions to many of the ideas suggested above. Raised flowerbeds are surprisingly easy to build – many can be finished in a single afternoon. (Check out our guide to planting them here.) Come spring and all summer long, you’ll be able enjoy the color, texture, and vitality they’ll bring everywhere a flower blooms.

 

PlayhousesA backyard playhouse is the answer to a child’s fondest wishes. But have you thought about how to make it even more special?

Just like the home, backyard, and patio, a playhouse makes a wonderful “blank canvas” on which to express your best creativity. Of course, you’ll want to give your child the most beautiful decorative plan you can imagine, but have you thought about including them in the decision making?

It’s no secret that children love to express their imagination, and psychologists have spoken for decades about the importance of allowing children to express themselves in a healthy, artistic manner. Studies show such nourishment of a child’s inner mind leads to greater self-esteem, creative thinking, and overall emotional adjustment for many years to come. Including your child in all steps of the creative process is a wonderful way to nurture those creative impulses while bonding with your child amid a fantastic, permanent undertaking.

But there’s more to playhouse renovation than just planting flowers and painting the walls. Consider the following:

Make Plans Together

There’s an old saying among carpenters and wood workers: “measure twice, cut once.” That old adage certainly applies to putting your ideas and plans down on paper, before you and your child commit to the playhouse decoration. Many children love to draw and color anyway, so the planning stage makes a great time to encourage your child to brainstorm different versions of your plans.

Once you both have several different “blueprints” of color and decoration in mind, you can agree which ones look best.

Use the Decorations to Talk About Money and Teach Saving

PlayhousesParents who have a fixed amount of money to spend on decorating the playhouse can use the opportunity to teach their kids about budgets and funding. Explaining to children that different parts of the decorative plan all come from the same amount of money will help them to understand responsible spending and saving. Simply tell the child that there is so much money to spend, and each part of the decorations will take part of that money. Parents might also wish to use visual aids to represent the “funds,” including jelly beans, figurines or other small tokens.

Save money by looking for bargains at local hardware stores and chains, especially during weekends and holiday weekends when bargains and specials are often at their best. Make sure your child comes along – they should participate in every part of the renovation process,

Plan Your Decorations in a Sensible Order

For children, sticking to a decorative plan can sometimes be challenging – it’s tough for kids to keep their abundant enthusiasm focused. That’s when parents need to help their children rein in their energy and focus on one decorating task at a time.

Ideally, the walls of the playhouse should be painted first, followed by any trim such as shutters, porch railings, eaves or other decorative elements. Following the painting, you and your child can begin landscaping and adding other trim. (Check out our guide to adding flowerbeds to your playhouse for more information on playhouse landscaping.)

Once those are complete, you may also wish to begin decorating the inside of the playhouse, too. Remember that interior decor should also come from the same decorating budget you teach your child.

How To Practice Good Renovation Safety

PlayhousesIt almost goes without saying that children shouldn’t be allowed to use lawn or painting tools without careful parental supervision. It’s important, too, to stress that parents should be very clear that children shouldn’t attempt to decorate or renovate without a parent or older sibling helping out. Sharp tools, chemical paint, and even loose soil and dirt can pose risk of injury and illness.

For older children, keeping them away from the work-in-progress likely won’t be an easy task. Parents can avoid such potentially hazardous situations by compressing the total renovation time into a single day or two.

Adding Accessories and Furniture

Besides paint and flowers, accessory furniture makes a great way to personalize and brighten the playhouse interior or front porch. Child-sized furniture works fine, of course, except that children might outgrow it in a relatively short amount of time. Using smaller-scale adult furniture makes an elegant, cost-effective compromise.

Use the Playhouse to Build Character

Once the renovations are complete, the playhouse can become a great opportunity for children to learn the value of proper care and keeping of their possessions. Explain that the playhouse’s upkeep is their responsibility, with all cleaning and watering of plants to be part of their household chores. Ideally, this discussion should take place before the renovations begin, or before the playhouse kit arrives.

While children shouldn’t be held responsible for repairs that might lead them to injure themselves, they should definitely take charge of day-to-day maintenance. In that way the playhouse becomes not just a toy but also a means of learning important lifelong character lessons.

 

PlaysetsFor most homeowners, the summer months are the prime time to enjoy their backyard. The long days, mild nights and of course the holiday weekends and vacations can make the lure of the outdoors irresistible.

In the summertime, parents and party hosts alike can follow these tips to keep their backyards, pools, decks and patios clean, safe, and healthy.

Make Sure Your Lawn Is Enclosed and Secure

Especially for people living in the outer suburbs or countryside, loose wildlife and stray pets can pose a significant health risk to yourself and your pets. Secure your backyard or property by checking your fence for holes or for burrows along its base.

For areas without fences, use an animal repellent system to discourage stray pets and local wildlife from coming on to your lawn.

Inspect Your Deck, Gazebo, Playhouses and Playsets

The elements and normal wear and tear can leave your wooden backyard areas unsafe. Check foundations and sunken posts to make sure the concrete is secure and that rot and mildew have not eaten into the wood. Also, make sure that no nails, screws, or splinters protrude from the lumber’s surface. Playsets and playhouses should be on level ground and secured to their foundation.

The undersides of railings, eaves, and elevated decks and tree houses are common areas to find wasp and hornet’s nests, and small wildlife like snakes will sometimes nest in the dark areas beneath decks and raised playhouses. Use an exterminator to check beneath such areas, or carefully spray them with pesticide from a safe distance.

Keep Your Grass Clear of Debris, Holes

Storage ShedsLoose trash, rocks, leaves and branches, and small holes or divots can present risks for twisted and sprained ankles, painful falls, and cuts and bruises. Use extra sod or loose dirt to fill any holes, and call an exterminator if the holes persistently reappear. Remember that loose leaf piles and other organic matter can serve as breeding grounds for insects.

When mowing and trimming your lawn, keep children at least 30 feet away from the machinery, and remove all debris before cutting and trimming. Even small pebbles and sticks can become dangerous projectiles when they collide with a mower’s or edger’s blades. Remember to wear long pants and protective shoes when conducting any lawn cleanup or repairs.

Spray for Insects, But Stay Wary of Pesticides

Keep pesticides locked up in the utility room or storage shed at all times. When spraying for pests, keep the lawn closed off from children and visitors for the recommended time found on the insecticide’s instructions.

Mosquitoes and other flying insects can present not just an annoyance but also a risk of disease and other infections. Reduce mosquitoes’ breeding capacity by clearing your property of standing freshwater, especially within shaded areas. Mosquito repellent systems can also reduce local insect populations when used consistently over time.

Keep Your Patio Furniture Looking Like New

Patio Dining SetsIronically, heat and humidity are the natural enemies of patio furniture, leading to mildew and rot that can spoil both good looks and comfort. If you use lawn sprinklers, cover the furniture or move it out of the spray area to prevent standing water from helping mildew spread. Clean vinyl and plastic furniture by using warm water and gentle detergents. (Check the furniture instructions for specific cleaning guidelines.)

Clean your patio or deck floor by sweeping up loose debris and trash. Using or blower or just pushing the stray matter into the backyard only causes small bits of it to get trapped or stuck under furniture and in nooks and crannies. Trash and debris swept into the yard will eventually finds it way back onto the patio floor.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen

Finally, protect yourself in the backyard by using sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing when participating in backyard activities. You’ll prevent sunburn and avoid simple injuries like nicks, cuts, and scrapes. Keep a first aid kit either on the patio or nearby: for example, within the pantry of the laundry room, guest bathroom, or any room located just inside the house.

PatiosStrip away everything that makes a patio a patio, and what’s left? A stretch of outdoor flooring? Maybe an overhang?

Just like your home decor, it’s the design accents that mark the difference between a patio that’s just a wide open space and one that’s a hub of relaxation and entertainment. It’s true that almost any furnishings will help fill space on the patio, but creative home design – the kind that builds that hub – is about so much more than just putting down a few chairs and a table on which to rest drinks. In every way that counts, the patio is really a room in your house – albeit one that has no ceiling.

Choosing the right table and chairs is crucial, but additional furnishings can play a large part in giving your home the patio it deserves. Choose carefully, and don’t be afraid to take your time in finding exactly the right furnishings and elements that suit both your needs and your decorative plan.

Don’t Limit Your Thinking To One-Size-Fits-All

The most traditional, and most common, patio table and chairs are full-sized sets that are essentially just kitchen dining tables constructed for the great outdoors. But such models aren’t necessarily perfect for smaller patios – or rooftop or backyard decks. For those areas, installing a conversation or chat set will still give the area a definite centerpiece but still let you keep the most free space available.

Smaller conversation sets also create a better sense of intimacy than full-size sets, so they’re better for entertaining small groups – or just individuals. They can also go in a corner or off to the center of a patio or deck area, to allow room for other decorative elements.

Use Canopies and Umbrellas, But Keep Plenty of “Airspace”

PatiosFor smaller patios and decks, an over-sized umbrella can swallow too much of the deck space beneath it. Your umbrella shouldn’t be larger than the table it covers, and it should be high enough that guests don’t have to duck down to sit down. Elevate your patio umbrella so that its central ring (the top of its tassels or overhang) reaches about eye level.

Two intriguing alternatives: the shade sail canopy, which hangs overhead when connected to the eaves of your house or a pole implanted in your yard; and the pergola, an upright, free-standing or mounted trellised arch that can shade some or all of your patio or deck.

Decide What Food and Drinks You Want Available

Your image of a perfect patio or deck likely includes a barbecue pit and possibly also a wet bar. Both come in various shapes and sizes, with grills using different kinds of fuel – typically either charcoal or propane – and wet bars with a variety of features including sinks and coolers.

Just like with the patio table and chairs, it’s important to measure our your total floorspace and then allocate the amount you want to setting up your grill and bar. If you’ve got the space, you can install built-in grills and bars alongside your outdoor fireplace or entertainment center. Bars make great corner accents, but smaller and even portable models can go almost anywhere on the deck or even stand at the edge, in the backyard.

How To Use A Large Amount of Space

Patios

A chimenea

On the other hand, if your patio or deck has an wide or expansive floor space, your challenge becomes using that space in ways that don’t make the area look sparse or indifferently furnished.

A pergola (mentioned above) can help divide your patio or deck space into separate, covered and outdoor areas that can serve different purposes or roles in entertaining (underneath for food and drinks, outside for entertaining). Pergolas also make great bases for vines and climbing plant growth

Outdoor fireplaces make amazing patio centerpieces. They’re often situated at the edge of patios, sometimes at an angle that encourages placing furniture around them. Though wood-burning fireplaces are the most traditional, patio owners may find that gas- or electric-powered models save time and money on cleanup.

Smaller patios can install space-efficient chimeneas, which provide plenty of warmth without a minimum of maintenance and cleanup.

Don’t Forget the Plants

The more vegetation you introduce to your patio, the more lush it becomes. Keep your patio tidy by avoiding plants  or vines that spill over onto the patio or deck floor. Remember too that plants need varying amounts of shade and water. Grouping like-functioning plants together will save time in watering and care.

Keep Your Patio Going After Dark

Don’t rely on your backyard’s area lights to bring illumination to your patio or deck. LED lights, light chains (not all that different from those used during the holidays) and outdoor lamps all create atmosphere and ambiance when used to light your area creatively. As a rule of thumb, keep your table and chairs relatively brightly-lit (alternately, use candle light) and try different lighting schemes in the other areas. Judge what works best by walking about fifty feet or so into your yard and taking a look back at your handiwork.

Party Canopies Memorial Day is just a couple of weeks away, and after the long, lazy days of June comes the excitement and spectacle of Independence Day. If you’re planning on throwing a backyard party for the holidays or just to get some friends and family over, you want the celebration to be the best you can make it.

Renovating your backyard to be the best space it can be is another matter entirely. But despite what you may think, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your backyard or patio looking party-ready. Simply take the following steps.

Get Your Backyard Into Clean Shape

Just opening the doors and cracking open the ice chest was fine for the parties you threw in college. But as a homeowner, you want your backyard to make the same statement about your sense of class that your house would make during an indoor fete.

Take the opportunity to spruce up your backyard, too. Install a popup canopy to offer a place beyond the patio where guests can congregate. Plant flowerbeds around your storage shed, and use its front porch (if it has one) as a second place to serve drinks and food.

Don’t Skimp On the Decorations

A party is the chance to transform your backyard into a celebration space that your guests won’t soon forget. Decoration schemes for Independence Day are self-explanatory: flags, banners, streamers and other patriotic gear. But you can also use light strings (just like at Christmastime), banners and streamers, and other party decorations throughout the party area. Your gazebo, canopy, storage shed, and backyard deck all make great places to string with lights, banners, and other decorations.

Be Prepared for Unpredictable Weather

Patio Furniture In the event of sudden showers, where will your guests go? If you’re partying in the park, a party canopy makes a great shelter to wait out the rain. On the patio, a sail shade canopy will keep rain off but also protect guests from the hot summer sun, too.

Monitor weather forecasts, of course, but keep your eye on the weather around your party area. It never hurts to have a contingency plan, including asking a group of family members or friends in advance to help you scramble the food and drinks inside when the wet weather arrives.

Remember That Seating Is Essential

If you’re serving food (and let’s face it – it’s not really a backyard party without food) you need to anticipate seating for all your guests. Patio tables and chairs will provide places for some, but for the overflow you’ll need to take special considerations. Borrow chairs from your neighbors, or take the opportunity to invest in new patio furniture that will replace the set you already have.

Some guests will be happy to eat in lawn chairs, so make sure there’s plenty of those available, too. Plastic lawn chairs can be attractive while still lightweight and durable.

Take Precautions Against Insects

Mosquito MagnetsAsk most people their least favorite thing about the great outdoors and you’ll likely hear “mosquitoes” or “bug bites” more often than not. For backyard parties, installing a mosquito magnet can drastically reduce the local mosquito and flying “no see um” population when used continuously. Plan to use the mosquito magnet well in advance of your celebration, to give it time to work its pest-clearing magic.

Storage ShedsWhen you’re planning to beautify your storage shed or playhouse, there are few better ways than adding a raised flowerbed. Relatively inexpensive but long on color and texture, even the most basic raised flowerbed adds depth and structure to your backyard or garden landscape.

Building a raised flowerbed is not difficult, but it’s a project that takes careful planning and especially good time management. The right tools and supplies also play a vital role in making sure your new flowerbeds bloom and stay healthy all spring and summer long.

Plan Your Garden Before You Dig

Know your soil and your climate before you decide on which plants you’re going to include in your new flowerbeds. Plants and flowers react differently to different soil types, and your soil’s moisture level will vary according to rainfall and time of year.

Assemble the Right Set of Tools

You’ll need the following tools to build a raised flowerbed:

  1. Can of spray paint – bright orange or red works best
  2. Garden rake
  3. Speed shovel
  4. Weed and grass killer
  5. Leaf rake
  6. Bags of Soil
  7. Flower plants from a nearby nursery or garden center
  8. Knee pads, sunscreen, and old clothes

Tip: Save money by borrowing the tools from friends and family. Just make sure to clean the tools before returning them.

Mark Out the Flowerbed Territory

PlayhousesUsing the spray paint, sketch out the shape and contour you want the flowerbed to follow around your storage shed or playhouse, painting a line in the grass to show its outer edge. It’s a good idea to make a diagram first, to act as a “map” for the flowerbeds’ final shapes. As the old saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.”

After the shape of the flower bed is marked off, spray the weed and grass killer everywhere inside it. This will remove the weeds and grass in a couple of hours. Remember to take all safety precautions described on the product’s label.

Get Digging!

Once the grass and weed killer has done its work, it’s time to dig! Use the shovel to dig around the flower bed’s outer edge, to a depth of about six inches. And don’t waste the dirt you dig – just throw it into the center of the flowerbed.

Add Potting Soil and Conditioner

Mix in potting soil, soil conditioner, and compost with the soil you’ve moved from the flower bed’s edge. Ideally, the finished soil mound will rise several inches and then gradually slope down to the outer edge. Use the leaf rake to pulverize larger clumps of dirt and soil, and get a thick topcoat of potting soil spread evenly throughout and around the storage shed or playhouse.

Plant Your Flowers

Storage ShedsRemove the plants from their transport containers and arrange them according to the directions on their label or name card. Start from the outer edge of the flowerbed and work your way in. Tip: you might have to use your garden rake to bust up stubborn clods of earth and soil.

Dig holes for the plants and bury them only up to the top of the roots (the place closest to the trunk.) Be careful to bury all roots, and to spread the soil evenly around the plant base.

Apply Water And Plant Food

Once all your new flower plants are in place, spray some plant food and make sure your plants are thoroughly watered. The water will help tamp down the new soil and help your roots get started in their new settings.

Make sure to water – but don’t over-water – your flowerbeds frequently. See the plants’ directions for times and schedules.