Get rid of gophers with a gopher fence

Installing gopher fence underground

Installing gopher fence underground

For most people, gopher control consists of setting traps or using poison. Those methods do not deter gophers and I want to keep them out of my yard altogether. An underground wire fence will do that as it creates a permanent barrier between gophers and plants.

I’ve previously documented my battle with gophers which led me to replace the grass with concrete and gravel. That worked extremely well and I now have a beautiful, low maintenance backyard. But there was one area left unprotected, my vegetable garden.

For many months the garden was undisturbed until the gophers decided to come back and see what’s up. And that’s when I knew the time had come to put an end to this once and for all.

One of the gopher tunnels in the vegetable garden

One of the gopher tunnels in the vegetable garden

Read on for the step by step instructions.

If you have raised beds to protect, you might want to check this out.

For gopher-proofing a new lawn, you might be interested in this article.

Materials for an underground gopher fence

½” x 4′ x 25′ 19-gauge hardware cloth (I got mine from Home Depot)
Tie wire for attaching pieces together
12″ concrete pavers
Wire cutters and pliers
Measuring tape

Hardware cloth and concrete blocks for making gopher fence

Hardware cloth and concrete blocks for making gopher fence

The most important component is hardware cloth. Nothing else will do. Don’t even think about using chicken wire because gophers can chew through that with no problem.

My vegetable garden is outlined with concrete blocks and my idea was to sandwich the hardware cloth between those and 12″ concrete pavers.

I figured that my garden would need three rows of hardware cloth that would overlap by about a foot. There doesn’t need to be that much overlap, six inches would be enough.

Vegetable garden before installing gopher fence

Vegetable garden before installing gopher fence

How to install an underground gopher fence

Dig a hole

The first step was to dig a very large trench to the depth of about 14″. I did this in three sections knowing that there would be three rows of hardware cloth to cover the entire area.

The worst part was trying to find a place for all that dirt. There were piles everywhere, sitting on top of tarps and cardboard to keep dirt from getting into the gravel.

First section dug out of garden about 14" deep

First section dug out of garden about 14″ deep

Measure sides and bottom to get hardware cloth length

Once a section was dug out, I got in the hole and used the measuring tape down one side, across the bottom and up the other side. That figure was for cutting out a length of hardware cloth for the section.

This process is very much like sewing where you measure, cut and attach pieces together, only using wire instead of fabric.

Measuring inside the hole for hardware cloth

Measuring inside the hole for hardware cloth

Cut matching piece of hardware cloth

Hardware cloth was rolled out and secured with concrete blocks. It wanted to curl up on itself.

I measured the correct length and cut across using wire cutters.

Measuring out a length of hardware cloth

Measuring out a length of hardware cloth

Bend hardware cloth into shape and install

The hole was about 14″ deep and I wanted the hardware cloth to start about 2″ below the concrete block edging. So I bent the sides of the mesh down 12″. After I bent the first edge, I opened it back up and bent the other sides down.

Bending it was pretty easy. I cut a notch in the side at the 12″ mark and folded the wire down on itself, making sure the edges lined up. Then I walked sideways all the way across to the end.

At the corners I cut down one side so the pieces would come together to form a right angle.

This resembles the way a cardboard box is put together. The photos below illustrate this process using a piece of paper.

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And here’s a photo of the real thing.

Hardware cloth bent to fit inside trench

Hardware cloth bent to fit inside trench

I put the finished bent wire piece in its place inside the hole and, voilà, it was a good fit!

Installation of underground gopher fence

Installation of underground gopher fence

Put concrete pavers around perimeter

Concrete pavers all around the perimeter will keep the hardware cloth in place.

Hardware cloth held in place by pavers and dirt

Hardware cloth held in place by pavers and dirt

Fasten rows of hardware cloth together

I used pieces of rebar tie wire every 3 to 4 inches to connect the sections and corners together. I started cutting the pieces longer to make them easier to work with.

Fill in hole with dirt

I thought this would be the easiest part but the dirt didn’t want to all fit back in the hole. It needs a lot of tamping down as you fill and I just did a little of that by walking on it. Then I watered it down thinking that would help it settle more.

Here’s a pictorial showing the project as it progressed:

It took about three days to put all the dirt back in and I still have some leftover!

Vegetable garden after installing gopher barrier

Vegetable garden after installing gopher barrier. Notice the pile of dirt leftover!

The whole project took about a week. Nobody can see any sign of the gopher barrier and pavers as I intended.

At long last the war is over and I won!

In related news, my next door neighbor reports gophers have now started tearing up their lawn.

Concrete backyard makeover

backyard makeover after photoGrass is a high maintenance landscaping choice with very little payoff. You spend all week watering it so that you can spend all weekend mowing it. Just doesn’t make sense. And aesthetically, it’s ho-hum boring.

My lawn had also become an all you can eat buffet for gophers. I needed to get rid of both.

The design inspiration for this backyard makeover, since I happen to live in the city, was a concrete urban garden. I love rambling country gardens but I also happen to love the hardscaping in malls and industrial parks. So my thought was to combine a bit of both—modern concrete with bright, colorful flowering plants.

Because this is arid California, I wanted to use plants with low water requirements. I also wanted to keep the cost down by staying away from underground sprinklers, water features, gas or electric lines, or anything that would require a permit. And of course I wanted to do most of the work myself.

So now I’m going to show you the before and after photos, then I’m going to go through all the steps it took to get there. At the end there will be more after photos.

Before photos

My backyard was a sea of grass surrounded by mismatched walls. A real snoozefest.

After photos

The new concrete backyard has walkways, sitting areas and flowerbeds surrounded by my signature purple walls. The color scheme is purple, blue, pink and white. Vibrant and alive!

Concrete backyard makeover step by step

Tore out the lawn

The first thing I did was to remove the grass. This took about three weeks with just me, a shovel and two pairs of gloves.

Here’s how it looked when I was done.

backyard with grass removed

Backyard after digging out grass

Created a landscape design drawing

I hired a landscape architect to design the new concrete backyard keeping these things in mind:

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Modern design
Gopher and termite resistant
Weed control
Privacy
Fencing around air conditioner and trash cans
Shade
Space for relaxing and entertaining
Herb and vegetable gardens
Low water plants
Color, color, color!

I ended up making a few changes to the plan as I went along.

Installed concrete pavers and gravel

This phase was one I couldn’t do on my own due to the size and weight of the 24″ x 24″ concrete pavers. You can read the details here.

When the work was finished it looked like this.

24" concrete patio pavers installed

Patio pavers installed

The rest of the gravel work I did on my own after planting the trees.

Painted concrete walls and planted trees

This was essential to bring color and uniformity to the walls. I painted them myself then planted trees, and here’s the end result.

concrete walls painted purple

Concrete walls painted purple

Made a fence to hide garbage cans

I’d never made a fence before but I figured it out. I like the look of the galvanized steel.

DIY garbage can fence made from roofing panels

DIY garbage can fence made from roofing panels

Created flowerbeds and finished graveling

I went to Home Depot and got 4″ x 2″ x 8″ gray concrete bricks to outline the flowerbeds. They cost 29 cents apiece.

I used a level, tape measure and wood boards to keep the lines going straight. It was really tedious because if you start veering off the slightest little bit, by the end it’s way off.

outlining flowerbeds with concrete bricks

Outlining flowerbeds with concrete bricks

And as much as I tried to avoid it, some of the bricks had to be cut. I learned how to do that using a hammer and chisel by watching YouTube videos.

As I was outlining the flowerbeds I also installed the rest of the weed block. When each section was done I spread gravel around.

The photos below show the addition of an air conditioner fence and a small privacy screen.

I moved all that gravel, five yards worth, using nothing but a five gallon paint bucket.

A mountain of gravel in my driveway

A mountain of gravel in my driveway

Bought patio furniture and umbrellas

The backyard started coming to life when I put the furniture in. I got it from Walmart.com, their Mainstays collection. I was really happy to find this shade of blue which just happens to match my house! The furniture is very sturdy and sleek.

New patio furniture and umbrellas

New patio furniture and umbrellas

The umbrellas were from Amazon. I really agonized over this decision. The original plan called for sail shades which would have been ultra modern but turned out to be way too expensive.

Then I considered a canvas patio cover and that was also much more than I wanted to spend. So I ended up with these umbrellas because I like the offset design and the solar lights. Oh, those solar lights are magical at night!

Umbrella with solar lights at night

Umbrella with solar lights at night

Here’s what I did to make the umbrellas look more like a permanent installation. I buried them under the gravel with four heavy tiles weighting down the stand. Altogether they weigh around 100 pounds. The tiles came from Home Depot.

Planted the flowerbeds

Along the side of the garage I planted herbs: oregano, thyme, chives, basil and cilantro. The vegetable garden in front of the trash can fence has lettuce, yellow squash, flat leaf parsley and jalapeños, along with some pansies for color.

I’ve already been harvesting the lettuce and squash, but the parsley and jalapeños are taking much longer to come in.

my vegetable garden

My small vegetable garden with lettuce, parsley, jalapeños and yellow squash

The other flowerbeds are planted with flowering trees, shrubs, annuals and ground cover.

Installed solar lights as hose guards

I got these wonderful color changing solar lights to put in the corners of the flowerbeds. They were installed in a way that also makes them work as hose guards.

hose guard from solar light

Hose guard from solar light

Added a fire pit/BBQ

A fire pit was not part of the original plan but I needed to put something in the center of the patio. Having one makes the backyard an inviting place to hang out at night.

fire pit in center of patio

The fire pit doubles as a grill

Besides being super affordable, the design adds a funky touch to the decor. You might have noticed I’m all about celestial art, so I was drawn to the cutout stars and moons. The color ties in with the rusty bougainvillea trellis and the cinnamon colored bark on my crapemyrtle trees.

And another really great thing is that it’s also a functioning grill!

Added a garden trellis as a focal point

Every room needs a focal point and outdoor rooms are no different. I couldn’t resist this freestanding trellis when I saw it and knew it would be perfect. Naturally I had to Lynda-fy it with color and bling. Read all about that here.

And that brings us to the end of the project after months of planning and labor. The total cost was just under $13,000 but would have easily been three times that much if I hadn’t done most of the work myself.

Now let’s take another look around my brand new backyard.

A picture tour of the new concrete backyard

 

Installing weed barrier

weed barrier for low maintenance landscape

Prevent weeds from taking over your yard by installing weed barrier under a layer of gravel or mulch. Just a few of hours of labor done once will free up many more hours you can spend relaxing in your backyard oasis.

This is the type of project that one person can do easily as I’ve done in my new concrete and gravel backyard.

Weed block fabric topped with gravel makes for about the lowest maintenance yard you can have. Here are some tips for installing it.

Using weed barrier fabric effectively

First of all, I do not recommend using it in flowerbeds. In my yard landscape fabric is used everywhere else.

To work effectively it has to be covered with a thick layer (about 4 inches) of gravel or mulch to block light and prevent seed germination. I prefer gravel because it will always look good and will not have to be replenished like mulch does. And because it can’t be dragged into the house on my little dog’s fur.

The first thing to do is figure out the square footage (length x width) and add 20 to 25% to account for overlap. Then get a heavy-duty weed barrier. The one I used was Scott’s landscape fabric from Home Depot.

weed barrier

Scott’s landscape fabric

Preparing the area

Prepare the ground by weeding it and raking it smooth. I also think it’s better to plant trees and shrubs first before installing weed block. You can plant them afterwards but care must be taken not to leave soil on top of the cloth.

Rolling out the weed fabric

Lay out a strip of fabric leaving some extra at the beginning, end and side where it might come into contact with a wall or garden edging. The next row should be overlapped on top of the previous one by at least 6 inches.

Tacking down the fabric

sod staple

Six inch 11-gauge sod staple

Weed block fabric needs to be anchored so it doesn’t get blown away before you get a chance to cover it.

Sod staples can be pushed into the ground at one foot intervals all along the edges. You’ll definitely need those if you’re going to be using mulch as a topper.

But with a gravel topper you can just use bricks to hold the edges down until you spread gravel on top. The weight of the gravel is more than enough to keep it in place.

Working around plants

What I do is roll it down to the plant, fold it back then cut along the fold up to the plant. Then I snip the fabric all around the plant until the fabric is lying flat. Underneath the seam I put down a large scrap piece to overlap so that no ground shows through.

weed barrier

Mama’s little garden helper

Maintenance

Because there’s no such thing as 100% weed protection, eventually a stray one will pop up here and there. Sometimes they come up from the ground, and other times they grow on the surface. Either way, they should be removed before they have a chance to make big holes in the weed barrier.

I carefully push the gravel away from the weed until I see the root, then I pull the whole thing out. If it’s grown up through the fabric and the entire root doesn’t come out, I spray a little herbicide on that spot before covering it back up.

And that’s about it. You can now enjoy your low maintenance yard for many years to come.

My blinged out garden trellis

blinged out trellisTrellises are mostly used for supporting plants without much thought given to their decorative possibilities.

But they can also be used to add layers of interest to your garden, especially if you customize them to complement your decor.

When I saw this trellis I knew it was just the thing I needed as a spectacular centerpiece in my backyard.

The catalog photo

Yardistry circle garden feature

Yardistry circle garden feature

I just fell in love with the unusual design of this trellis. My favorite part is the circle which reminds me of the full moon, and I’m all about moons, suns and stars.

This is a great photo, but the trellis is more of an accent in the background. My plan was to make it the focal point with a pop of color and some sparkles.

The before photo

circle garden trellis

So here it is after assembly and before painting. Let me tell you, putting this together was no easy feat. I did about half of it on my own and then my kind neighbor came over and finished it for me.

We put in place for painting on top of cardboard so the paint wouldn’t splash all over the rocks.

The original color to me is ho-hum and drab, almost blending in with the gravel. Definitely not the look I wanted.

Bring on the color!

I used two colors (blue and yellow green) to coordinate with my patio furniture, along with a dark purple which relates to my purple walls.

The main color is citron (yellow green) which really adds pizzazz. The front of the circle is blue and the inside is dark purple.

I used a small foam roller and brush to apply two coats of paint. The paint has a satin finish for a little bit of shine.

blinged out trellis

After painting but before bling

Hanging in the center is a wonderful sun mobile (there’s that celestial thing again!).

Okay, so this looked pretty good but I needed more.

Adding bling to the trellis

I’ve been dying to do a project using old CDs and I figured this was the time to try it.

blinged out trellis

Bling added to circle

I cut up three or four CDs and glued the pieces on with E6000.

The after photo

blinged out trellis

Definitely an eye catching statement piece.

The big picture

This is pretty much what I see from my bedroom window. Eventually when those trees in the background grow to their full size, the trellis will still pop.

blinged out trellis

Blinged out trellis as a garden focal point

I’m really loving my new backyard and my blinged out trellis!

Want to see the backstory? This is where it all began.

Quick outdoor fabric privacy screen

fabric privacy screenUsing a shower curtain as a privacy screen

Most of the walls in my backyard are solid except for this one small six foot wide section of chain link fence. Even with slats you could still see right through it, and that bothered me.

I considered various options like attaching corrugated steel panels to the fence, planting a vine or attaching privacy mesh fabric. None of those appealed to me. I just wanted to keep it simple and find a way to make it work using something I already had on hand.

Instant solution

The solution came right out of my linen closet—a fabric shower curtain! It’s been there for a while since I no longer have need of one. I kept it with the hope I might find a use for it one day.

Turns out it was exactly the right size, it wasn’t see-through and the colors go well with my backyard decor.

What’s even more amazing is the shower curtain rings actually fit right over the top rail of the chain link fence!

Attaching shower curtain to fence

fabric privacy screen

Shower curtain rings snapped onto top rail of chain link fence

To hold the sides in place, I tied the curtain onto the posts with dental floss threaded through a needle.

fabric privacy screen

Using dental floss as thread

Hopefully the dental floss will hold up. If not, I’ll replace it with fishing line or plastic twine.

Before and after photos

I’m happy that I was able to repurpose the old shower curtain and really thrilled that it cost zero dollars!

See what else is going on in my new backyard.

DIY garbage can fence

trash can fence15Trash cans. We all have them but who really wants to look at them. Mine were in full view from my kitchen window so I decided to make them disappear behind a fence.

After not finding anything suitable online (in terms of size, style, material and price), I thought maybe I could just make one. How hard could it be, right? And it was actually pretty simple except for one teensy little thing which I’ll tell you in a minute.

While browsing at the hardware store, the corrugated roof panels caught my eye. The galvanized steel looks modern and the silver color blends in well with the gravel and concrete pavers. I figured I could attach those panels to metal posts, the kind that go into the ground by stepping on them.

This is what I bought:

Materials for making a garbage can fence

  • 2 corrugated roof panels, 24″ x 6′, $23.08
  • 2 14-gauge steel u-posts, 5′ long, $5.40
  • 5 boxes of machine screws, #12-24×3/4″, $5.90
  • Wiss tin snips (straight-cut), $9.88

Altogether I spent $44.26 plus tax.

Other tools used

A drill, level, tape measure, wrench, screwdriver, garden gloves, straight edge and marker

The plan

My plan was to cut the panels to 54″ tall, bolt them together, mark and drill holes to match the posts, install the posts and bolt the panels to the posts.

Normally you’ll see outdoor garbage can screens in an L shape. I wanted to have access to the bins from either side, so I just needed a fence with one panel.

For an L-shaped fence, I would have installed another section at a 90 degree angle to the first one.

And here’s what not to do

Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT drill the holes for the posts before you put the posts in the ground. Because, believe it or not, trying to get the posts in the right position to line up with the predrilled holes is practically impossible.

That caused me hours of aggravation.

What I should have done

I should have put the posts in first, then marked the holes and drilled them. Oh well, live and learn.

How to make a fence for trash cans

Step 1: Mark cutting line on panels

If the panels need to be shortened, mark the portion to be cut off using a straight edge and a marker.

Note: Handle these panels with care or use garden gloves. All the edges are very sharp!

Mark cutting line on roof panel

Mark cutting line on roof panel

Step 2: Cut with tin snips

Be sure to protect your hands with heavy garden gloves while cutting.

The cut edge will be rough and a little wavy. I planned to install the panel with the cut edge on the bottom, buried in gravel.

Cut roofing panels with tin snips

Cut roofing panels with tin snips

Step 3: Mark drill holes

Mark panels for holes that will be used to attach the panels together.

to attach panels together

Mark holes

Step 4: Put matching holes in the panels

I find it easier to make a starter hole before using the drill.

Step 5: Bolt the panels together

Use a screwdriver and wrench to tighten the nuts and bolts.

Panels bolted together

Panels bolted together

Step 6: Put fence posts in the ground

For this step you need to know how far apart the posts will be and how deep to put them. Posts will fit inside a groove on each end of the steel panel.

Mark the spots on the ground where the posts will be placed. I made a hole in the ground with a screwdriver.

Put the posts in by stepping on them. Use the level to check that they’re straight. Use a tape measure to make sure the posts are the right distance apart and at the same height.

Step 7: Mark holes on panel to match the holes in post

Position the panel on the post and mark the holes with a Sharpie. The panel should be placed with the cut edge being on the bottom.

Mark holes for attaching to posts

Mark holes for attaching to posts

This step would be much easier with two people, but you can use wood or bricks to prop up the panel at the right height.

I used bricks to hold the panel in place.

Use bricks to prop up the fence panel or have someone hold in place

Use bricks to prop up the fence panel or have someone hold in place

Step 8: Drill the holes and attach panel to posts

After the holes are marked, take the panel down and drill the holes. Then prop (or hold) it back up while you put the bolts in. And you’re done!

Before and after pics

So there you have it—a simple DIY fence for under $50.

Ah, no more trash cans in view. It’s a beautiful thing!

Click here for the next installment in the backyard makeover,

DIY hose guides from solar lights

hose guard from solar lightWith my new flowerbeds in place, I’ve been finding it darned near impossible to drag that heavy hose through the yard and keep it out of the beds. So I decided to look for some hose guides and found that there are two choices: really cheap and ugly ($4 apiece), or decorative and expensive ($20+ apiece).

So I thought, there must be a way to make one that’s cheap AND decorative. And for good measure, I also decided it should serve another purpose.

Here’s what I came up with: a solar garden light turned into a hose guide. Brilliant!

Looking at the features of a good hose guide, I found they should have a long, sturdy post with a section in the middle that spins around, making it easier to pull the hose.

I decided to use rebar for the post. It comes in different lengths but I went with the ½” rebar that’s 24″ long, and costs just under $2 apiece. (Getting a longer length and cutting it yourself would be even cheaper.)

rebar and solar light

24″ long rebar and solar light

The crucial part was finding a solar light with a cylinder that would fit over rebar, with enough room for it to spin.

I found these really pretty solar garden lights that change colors. Comes in a set of 12. The tube is just the right size.

The hardest part about this project (which is not that hard at all) is hammering the rebar into the ground. It took less than a minute. I just hammered it in until the piece sticking out was the same length as the tube, about 8”.

rebar pounded into groundThen all you do is drop the solar light on top. Boom, you’re done! Easy, peasy and only $4.50 apiece.

During the day, they look like a nice modern accent in my landscaping.

hose guard from solar light

Hose guard from solar light

And at night, they’re enchanting!

solar hose guard at night

Solar hose guard at night

 

Painting outdoor concrete walls

painting concretePainting concrete and masonry is extremely tedious work, but the payoff is so worth it. I decided to paint my backyard walls as the next step in my modern backyard makeover. It was the only way to unify the look of three different cinderblock walls and the side of my neighbor’s garage.

I learned a few things in the process, with the main one being you need way more paint than you think.

With that in mind, the first thing to do is figure out the square footage of the walls to be painted. The formula is: Length x Height = Square Feet. Or you can just plug the numbers into this handy square footage calculator.

Tip for choosing a paint color

Paint swatches on cinderblock wall

Paint swatches on cinderblock wall

Before buying paint, bring home paint chips, several in each color. Cut them apart and combine the small swatches to make one larger swatch. Tape them to your outside wall and look at them during different times of the day.

Colors look so different depending on the amount of light. Usually you need a more intense color that won’t get washed out in the bright sunlight.

How much paint to buy

I went to the hardware store to get Kilz2 primer and Behr Premium Plus exterior flat paint. Coverage for Kilz2 primer is listed as 300 to 400 square feet per gallon, and coverage for Behr is 250 to 400 square feet. So I bought what I thought was enough to do the job and ended up having to go back a couple more times to buy more. It turned out the actual coverage was about 89 square feet per gallon. BIIIIG difference!

My cinderblock walls had never been painted before and their texture is extremely rough which is probably the worst case scenario in terms of coverage.

And here’s what else I learned.

Supplies needed for painting concrete

Besides paint, you also need a brush, tray, roller with a long nap (¾”), a long handle for the roller, cardboard or tarp to mask off the ground.

How to paint concrete and masonry

Step 1: Clean the surface

Either power wash or use the hose to wash down the walls. Let dry overnight.

Step 2: Apply primer

Primer applied to cinderblock walls (not garage)

Primer applied to cinderblock walls (not garage)

I believe this step is necessary for walls that have never been painted before. I used Kilz2 primer. I also used a large piece of cardboard to keep paint from splattering all over the ground.

One thing I noticed when painting is that I had to press really hard to try and get the paint down into all the nooks and crannies.

Step 3: Apply paint

Painting on top of primer coat

Painting on top of primer coat

The next day after the primer is dry you can apply the paint. Again, I used Behr Premium Plus.

Step 4: Touch up or add a second coat

The following day, go around looking for spots you missed, and there will be a few.

Step 5: Bask in the glory of your newly painted concrete walls

And treat yourself to a well-deserved glass of wine!

Check out the before and after

Here’s the before:

Before painting concrete walls

Before painting concrete walls

And here’s the after:

Concrete walls after painting

Concrete walls after painting

Soooo much better! Now I have a nice background to work with.

More projects and tutorials to follow as the backyard makeover continues.

Purple: Love it? Hate it?

Let me know what you think about this paint color. Would you dare to be this bold?

How to install 24″ concrete pavers

installing concrete paversLast year, after a long and never-ending battle with gophers eating my lawn in the backyard, I decided to rip it out and install modern, low maintenance landscaping. I also felt it would add value to the property by creating an outdoor living space.

So I hired a landscape architect to draw up a plan for me. The main component of the plan was the installation of 24″ x 24″ concrete pavers with gravel in between.

Architectural drawing for modern backyard design using 24″ concrete pavers

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Backyard landscape drawing with concrete pavers

Those little squares are the pavers. They create a path from my back porch (bottom right of the drawing) to three patio areas (toward the middle).

This is what $500 got me, but I’m passing it along to you for nothing, so if you can use it, you’re welcome.

How to install 24″ concrete pavers

Step by step photos and instructions

Being the DIYer that I am, I really wanted to save a ton of money and do all the labor myself. The project started off well with me tearing out all the grass. Then I wanted to learn exactly how to install the concrete pavers.

My landscape architect was not forthcoming at all about the process. Extensive searching on the internet yielded nothing in the way of step by step instructions. But I did learn that each 24″ paver might weigh about 100 lb, so I caved in and hired someone to do it for me to the tune of $7,200, OUCH! This would have been much cheaper if the whole thing had been done with poured concrete, but the pavers give it a modern and unique look.

Adding to the cost was my choice to use the highest grade of concrete paver (who knew they came in different grades?). I think it’s called Stepstone and they’re supposed to be a lot more durable. They also had to be special ordered.

I ended up taking photos to share with you in case you’re brave enough to attempt this on your own. The plan was modified a little by eliminating the space between pavers on the three patio sections. All the other stones have 6″ between them.

Step 1: Mark out the design

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of just this, but what they did is use wooden stakes and string to outline the area. (You can see a few of them in the picture below.) This included the pavers plus a 6″ border on all sides. The rest of the yard I would do myself later.

Step 2: Level the ground

digging out and leveling ground

Digging out and leveling ground

They removed 4″ of soil and leveled it as they went along.

Step 3: Cover the area with weed blocking fabric

Cover the ground with weed block fabric

Cover the ground with weed block fabric

Be sure to use a commercial grade weed block for this step.

They also threw some sand on top of it which I believe served to hold the fabric in place.

Step 4: Add a layer of aggregate and compress

Add aggregate on top of weed fabric

Add aggregate on top of weed fabric

This photo shows aggregate being placed on top of the weed fabric. Aggregate is primarily coarsely crushed stone. It adds a stable base for the pavers to sit on. Eventually it becomes almost as hard as concrete.

Aggregate smoothed out

Aggregate smoothed out

Machine used to compact aggregate

Machine used to compact aggregate

Then the aggregate was smoothed out and compacted with this gas-powered piece of equipment. I don’t know what it’s called, but this is what it looks like.

I’m guessing this layer was about 2″ thick. They had to leave room for sand and the pavers which are about 1½” thick.

Step 5: Add a layer of sand and level

Add sand on top of aggregate

Add sand on top of aggregate

The sand is meant to fill in all the gaps to make a smooth surface for the patio stones.

The sand was leveled by laying two parallel metal rods on the ground and dragging a piece of wood over the rods.

Sand leveled over aggregate

Sand leveled over aggregate

This photo shows most of the sand after being leveled.

Step 6: Lay pavers

Install pavers on top of sand

Install pavers on top of sand

Lay the pavers on top of the sand.

Keep pavers in a straight line

Keep pavers in a straight line

To keep the pavers going in a straight line, rows were marked with string and stakes, with pieces of wood to act as spacers in between.

Step 7: Fill in cracks with sand

Fill in cracks with sand

Fill in cracks with sand

Sand goes in between the blocks that are pushed together. It gets laid on top of the cracks and then a broom is used to sweep it into the cracks and sweep away the excess.

Step 8: Fill in spaces with gravel

Put gravel in between concrete pavers

Put gravel in between concrete pavers

Gravel was used to fill in the 6″ gaps in between pavers.

See the before and after

This is what the backyard looked like before starting this project:

Backyard before grass was removed

Backyard before grass was removed

And this is what it looks like after installing the concrete pavers:

Patio pavers installed

Patio pavers installed

And there’s lots more to come

So what did you think about this project? Do you think this is something you could do yourself? I’m just really glad I hired someone to do it for me. They did a fantastic job. And since then I’ve been busy working on the rest of it.

Wait ’til you see what else has been done! You won’t believe the transformation! Check back later for updates.

The next installment is here.

If you want to see the completed backyard makeover, please click here.

 

Easiest way to dig up grass

Remove grass for landscaping

Remove grass for landscaping

Digging out your lawn is a tough job, but I’ve discovered there are ways to make it somewhat easier.

Right now I’m nearly finished removing all the grass in the backyard, almost 2,000 square feet, to make way for new landscaping. And I’m doing it all by myself with a shovel.

In the beginning it seemed like an endless task until I got a system going. Read on to find out the easiest way to dig up grass.

Landscaping your yard? Call 811 before you dig.

Notify the utility companies by calling 811 from anywhere in the USA. They will come out and mark buried utility lines.

Backyard “before” photo

backyard before photo

Backyard before photo

There’s not much going on this backyard. The grass is doing nothing except feed the gophers, which is my main reason for wanting to get rid of it. In its place I’m going to create an urban garden with sitting areas, raised beds and planters.

The little yellow flags along the left side are there to mark the gas line. I won’t be planting anything in that section.

Save money and do the digging yourself

Want to find out how much you can save by doing the work yourself? Check out the link below.

Protect your body before digging

  • Wear two pairs of gloves. This is crucial. I started getting blisters fast when I was just wearing one pair of regular gardening gloves. So I looked around and found a pair of soft white cotton gloves. They fit very snugly. I started wearing them underneath my garden gloves to prevent friction, and that kept my hands from getting new blisters.
  • Cover up from the sun. Make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants so you don’t get fried.
  • Use sunscreen or a large hat to protect your face. If you’re going to wear sunscreen, I recommend one with zinc oxide. Or you can do what I do and wear mineral makeup as sunscreen.
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Drink water before and keep water handy. This seems like it would be obvious, but the first day I didn’t take any water outside with me and didn’t drink enough later. By the end of the day I was a little dehydrated and my kidney started to hurt.

Wearing two pairs of gloves will help prevent blisters

wear two pairs of gloves to prevent blisters

Wear two pairs of gloves to prevent blisters

Tips for the easiest way to dig up grass

  1. Work in sections about 5 feet long going across the width of the yard
  2. Cut strips about 12 to 14 inches wide using a spade
  3. Dig all around the strip with a shovel, about 6 inches deep to get all the roots
  4. Roll up the strip of grass
  5. Shake off the excess dirt while rolling up the grass

Step by step photos for removing grass

Step 1: Work in 5′ long sections

dig out grass in rows

Dig out grass in rows

A row in progress.

Step 2: Cut a strip of grass

cut a strip of grass

Cut a strip of grass

Ideally you would use a spade for this. I didn’t have one so I found this handsaw in the garage. It works just fine.

Step 3: Dig all around the cut strip of grass

dig out a strip of grass

Dig out a strip of grass

Be sure to dig down at least 6″ to get the roots.

Steps 4 and 5: Roll up the strips of grass and remove excess dirt

roll up strips of grass

Roll up strips of grass

You need to remove the large dirt clods as you go along to make rolling the grass easier. My soil is very heavy clay and I chopped at the clods with the shovel or used the handsaw.

At this point the yard is about half done

finishing a section of yard with grass dug out

Finishing a section of yard with grass dug out

You can see the rolled up grass along the newly dug up rows.

Leave the rolled up strips of grass at the end of the row

grass strips rolled up

Grass strips rolled up

Let the grass dry up. Afterwards, you can compost it, throw it out or chop it up and dig it back into the ground to improve the soil.

Backyard “after” photo. Mission complete! No more grass.

backyard after photo

Backyard after photo

Altogether, it took about three weeks for me to dig up this large backyard by hand. The next step is to install pavers, gravel and plants. The little mounds you see in the photo represent my landscape plan “drawn” with dirt.

Setting goals

Mental games

To make an overwhelming task seem more manageable, I set daily goals for myself. For example, I would try to do one 5 foot long section per day. Then I broke that down into smaller goals.

In the morning I would decide to tear out four strips of grass before taking a break. Later one I would come back and do four more, etc. Sometimes I felt good enough to keep going. Altogether I worked about four or five hours a day.

Should you dig up your grass or kill it first? Depends on the type of grass. Get these answers and more in this video.

Removing your lawn will save you money with lower water bills. And you can even get paid to do so. Most communities have a program which will reimburse you up to a certain amount. Check with your utility company for more information.

 

Getting rid of gophers in my yard

What works and what doesn’t to get rid of pocket gophers

gophers in my yardI’m declaring war on gophers. They’ve been going to town in my backyard long enough. In fact, it’s been going on for decades on this property. For years my dad used traps to kill them, but that’s pretty gross and not something I can do. And they come back eventually.

After my dad was gone my mom took over. She would flood the holes for days hoping to drive them into the open. Sometimes one would pop out, wet and disoriented, and she would spear it with a garden tool. Again gross, and a disturbing picture of my mother.

My mom’s gopher spear

gopher spear

Gopher spear

So now it’s my turn. I’ve put poison into their tunnels. I might not see them for a while but then they’re back. I’ve also had success a couple of times putting dry ice down the hole (it releases odorless carbon dioxide and they die). But the last time it didn’t work and I wasted $8 for nothing.

Identifying pocket gophers

Gopher tunnel in my backyard

Pocket gophers can cause property damage and physical injury

gopher tunnel in my yard

Gopher tunnel in my yard

Digging down just a few inches reveals a gopher tunnel. Tunnels can be as long as 800 feet. This one goes underneath the concrete walkway.

Besides the appearance of unsightly mounds, gopher tunneling weakens the ground. Sometimes the ground can cave in, causing injury to people and animals. Concrete and other structures such as pools can be undermined to the point where they collapse. I’m concerned this might happen to my walkway.

Gopher feeder hole

pocket gopher feeder hole

Pocket gopher feeder hole

Besides creating large mounds of dirt in the yard, gophers also leave these feeder holes. This is where the gopher has tunneled over to a tempting patch of vegetation and pulled the plants in by the roots. Then it backfills the hole leaving a round circle of dirt.

I’ve actually seen this in progress as blades of grass disappear into the ground. The gopher is able to feed without ever coming out into the open.

Other gopher control methods

I’ve heard that putting Juicy Fruit gum in their tunnel will kill them if they eat it. Don’t believe it. I tried that and when I came outside later, they had pushed the gum out of the hole and it was sitting on top of a nice fresh pile of dirt. A dollar wasted.

One method I would love to try is to sic a gopher-eating snake on them. The thought of a pesky gopher being devoured by a snake gives me more pleasure than I should probably admit. No doubt it would be successful but then I’d be left with a snake in my yard!

Another thing I’ve heard about is this tool called a Rodenator that blows up their tunnels and kills them. Also a very satisfying thought but it can backfire, literally.

Stop feeding the gophers

gophers systematically eating my lawn

Gophers systematically eating my lawn

Lately I’ve been passive-aggressive. A couple of months ago I stopped watering the lawn they’ve been feasting on. Unfortunately, we’ve had some rain and now green shoots are popping up again, along with some new gopher holes. But I think I’m on to something. The only way to get rid of the gophers forever is to get rid of their food. I have a plan. Stay tuned and I will be sharing that with you soon.

Update: February 2014

A couple of days after publishing this, the gopher started going after a small patch of green grass. So I dug up the rest of it myself (the gardener must think I’m crazy) and I haven’t seen the gopher since. He must have gone to look for greener pastures. Even so, I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of them because they always come back.

I’m planning on getting rid of the lawn they find so irresistible, replacing it with trees and shrubs, and possibly surrounding the perimeter with wire mesh installed below ground. A drastic solution for sure, but I’m not that keen on grass anyway. I’d much rather have a garden full of flowering bushes, raised beds and a nice little patio to sit and enjoy the view.

Protect your yard from gophers

How to get rid of gophers for good

I’ve learned that you can protect your yard by installing a gopher fence underground all around the outside boundary. This would be feasible for anyone with a small to average yard.

What you do is get wire mesh called hardware cloth which runs about 24″ tall. Then you need to dig a trench 24″ deep using a pick. Hard work for sure, but a great way to work off your frustration with destructive gophers. And when it’s finished, no more gophers.

Update: April 2014

In April I began removing all the grass from my backyard. Guess what, I haven’t seen a gopher since! I’m making room for a new urban garden with concrete pavers and gravel. As an added bonus, I’ll be saving money by not having to water the lawn anymore.