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Ready to barbecue? Fix up your backyard with these tips

Summer is around the corner, which means it will soon be time for outdoor entertaining. If you have a lot of work ahead of you to get that backyard in shape, check out "Room for Improvement" by Barbara Kavovit. Step-by-step instructions guide you through the more common do-it-yourself projects. Kavovit was invited on "Today" to share her advice for three common fix-ups: building a window box, fixi
/ Source: TODAY

Summer is around the corner, which means it will soon be time for outdoor entertaining. If you have a lot of work ahead of you to get that backyard in shape, check out "Room for Improvement" by Barbara Kavovit. Step-by-step instructions guide you through the more common do-it-yourself projects. Kavovit was invited on "Today" to share her advice for three common fix-ups: building a window box, fixing a flagstone path and cleaning or repairing a deck. Here's an excerpt from her book.

Flower power

Build a window box planter

Time: About 2 hours

Window boxes are another great way to add charm and color to the front of your house (although there’s nothing stopping you from installing them in the backyard windows). You can change the flowers with the season — annual petunias or impatiens in the spring and summer, mums in the fall. Or you can fill them with dwarf evergreen shrubs for year-round greenery. Plant herbs, and you’ll have a window kitchen garden.

Consider painting the boxes to match the color scheme of your house. You can paint the boxes to match your trim or choose an entirely different but coordinating color that blends with both the house and the trim color. Staining the wood gives the boxes a rustic and natural look, especially pretty with shingle-style homes. Crisp, glossy white gives boxes an old-fashioned appeal. Have fun and get your kids involved! Painting is a job many children can help with.

What you need

  • 2 pieces of 8-foot cedar or redwood 1- by 8-inch board
  • Power drill
  • Water-resistant wood glue
  • 4 1-1/2 inch screws
  • 2 1/2-inch galvanized screws
  • Wood buttons (to cover screw holes)
  • Waterproofing sealer, stain, or paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Silicone caulk
  • Bedding plants
  • Stones
  • Potting soil

How to get it done

  1. Determine the measurements for your window box based on the width of your window. For a 4-foot window, cut two 6- by 48-inch pieces for the front and back of the planter. Cut one 6- by 48-inch piece for the bottom. Cut two pieces from the scrap boards to measure 6 inches wide and 8 inches tall. For the anchor pieces, cut three 6-inch-long pieces.
  2. Lay out the pieces and dry-fit them together. Make any necessary adjustments to the pieces.
  3. Use a drill to make pilot holes through the faces of the front and back pieces as needed. Drill pilot holes along the bottom face of the bottom piece. For example, a 48-inch window should have four holes, drilled at 12-inch intervals. Glue the pieces together. Place the 1-1/2-inch screws about 1/2 inch from each end and then roughly every 8 inches to attach the pieces together. Use wood buttons to cover the holes.
  4. Drill 1/8-inch holes in the bottom of the planter for drainage.
  5. Stain and seal the planter.
  6. Attach the three 6-inch pieces to the side of the house, 1/2 inch below the window frame, with 2 1/2-inch screws. (Do not extend these pieces beyond the sides of the window frame.) These strips will act as spacers between the window box and the wall to allow air to circulate between them.
  7. Align the back piece of the window box with the tops of the strips. Drill pilot holes through the back of the window box and the strips.
  8. After you’ve secured your strips to the house, apply a bead of silicone caulk along the top edge of the strip. Attach the window box to the strip by screwing three 2-inch screws per strip on an angle, approximately 1 to 2 inches down from the top of the mounting strip.
  9. Put a thin layer of stones on the bottom of the planter before adding potting soil. You’ll have improved drainage and less soil loss. Now go ahead and plant your bedding plants.

All Hands on Deck

Clean and stain a deck

Time: 2 days

You need a good weather day for this project. Avoid staining the deck in extreme (hot, cold, or windy) weather. Wear old clothes, be sure to wear safety glasses, especially when pressure washing, and wear rubber gloves to prevent your skin from getting stained.

What you need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Warm water
  • Bleach
  • Long-handled bristle scrub brush
  • Deck cleaner
  • Small bucket or paint roller tray
  • Wood stain
  • Large paintbrush or long-handled roller
  • Small paintbrush

How to get it done

  1. Put on rubber gloves and safety glasses. Use warm water, bleach, and a long-handled bristle scrub brush to scrub and clean the mildewed and particularly dirty areas of the deck. Apply the deck cleaner, following the manufacturers instructions, and then let the deck dry completely.
  2. Pour the stain into a small bucket or paint roller tray. Using the large paintbrush or long-handled roller, apply a few strokes, working quickly to roll or brush the stain onto the deck. Apply the stain lightly and evenly without overlapping the edges. Use the small paintbrush for hard-to-reach places, like deck railings and corners.
  3. Allow the stain to set for at least 24 hours, then sit back and enjoy a cold drink on your newly stained deck.

Safety note

An electric pressure washer can be used for the heavy cleaning process, but keep in mind that it can be hazardous. The force of the water can cause injury to people, animals, or even any loose siding or shingles on your house. If you do rent one, follow the rental company’s instructions for use and make sure your work area is completely clear of potential hazards.

On the right path

Create or repair a flagstone path

Time: A weekend

One of the first things I added to my yard was a random pattern flagstone path. I used large pieces, so I had a strong male friend help me move them in exchange for a barbecue dinner. But smaller pieces make a beautiful path, too, and you may be able to lift them yourself or with the help of a friend. You can also use uniform square stones. Check out what’s available at your local nursery or stone yard. And remember, when lifting anything heavy, use your knees, not your back, to do the work!

What you need

  • Able-bodied friend, spouse, or teenager
  • Chalk and chalk line or hose
  • Shovel
  • Sod cutter or edger
  • Enough construction-grade sand to cover the area to a depth of 2 to 3 inches
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Flagstones of various sizes or uniform sizes, depending on the look you want
  • Carpenter’s level
  • Rubber mallet
  • 50–50 mixture of sand and black topsoil or clay soil
  • Utility broom
  • Hose with spray nozzle

How to get it done

  1. If you can, enlist someone else to help with this project. Determine the location of your path, and mark out the length and width with a chalk line. You can also mark it with a hose.
  2. Using the shovel, dig out the path to a depth of 3 inches. Be sure to remove any roots and weeds and clear the area so that only soil remains. Tamp down the soil with your feet to compact it as much as possible. You can use a sod cutter or edger to create a line. These tools are easy to use and can be rented for a few dollars a day at a rental center.
  3. Add about a 3-inch layer of sand. The depth of the sand should allow the stones to sit flush with the grass. Use one of the stones to check and adjust the depth as you go. Use a carpenter’s level to check that the sand path is true.
  4. Put each piece of stone in place and set it with a rubber mallet. Push sand under the edges of each stone until it is level. Continue laying stones, matching contours or edges to allow a bit of space (1/2 inch to 1-1/2 inches, whatever you desire) between each stone. If you’re using random-size stones, place large pieces first and then use smaller pieces to fill in the spaces left.
  5. After all the stones are set, sweep a 50-50 mixture of sand and black topsoil or clay soil (I used clay soil, and I think it works best) to form the “grout” between the joints. Sweep away the sand and dirt from the top of the stones and wash down with water using the spray nozzle on your hose.
  6. After the path is dry, sweep in more sand and dirt mixture to the joints. You may have to continue the sweeping and washing process for a couple of days until the joints are tightly filled.

Excerpted from “Room for Improvement,” by Barbara Kavovit. Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Kavovit. Published by Rodale Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.