Turf Wars

admin : June 6, 2013 1:51 pm : blog, features

By Doug Jimerson

I received a phone call the other day from my youngest son, Graham, who currently lives in Los Angeles. He told me that he’d applied for a job near our home in Iowa, and that if he was hired, he’d be moving back to the Midwest in the next month. I was totally shocked. After all, he’d wanted to live in California since he was very young. Plus, he has a good job and a nice studio apartment.

So, when I asked him why the change in attitude, he said “Well, I miss my old friends, you and Mom, and I even miss mowing the yard.” First of all, I was glad his Mother and I were a little higher on the list than mowing (although coming in second after his friends stung a little), but what surprised me was that he mentioned mowing at all.

As a kid, he and his brother barely stepped outside and hated being asked to do anything resembling yard work, especially mowing. For them, mowing meant losing valuable time on the computer, as well as getting hot and sweaty in the Iowa heat.

But, then about eight years ago, things changed. I retired my ancient riding mower and purchased a brand new, zero-turn model that transformed the job of mowing overnight. Graham was particularly smitten, and immediately claimed the mower as his own.

From that moment on, I never had to mow again and never had to nag him. He’d just grab his headphones, hop on the mower, rev it up, and take off, taming the turf around our trees and garden beds.

In fact, I’d often come home from work to discover he had mowed the yard without prompting. I’d ask him about it, and he’d always say something like, “I was noticing it was getting a bit ratty.” I was surprised because I didn’t think he’d look up from his computer long enough to notice if the house was on fire, not to mention if the lawn OUTSIDE needed mowing.

Once Graham left for college, I got to reclaim the mower, and now I really enjoy zipping around the farm. So, when I heard Graham might move back to Iowa, I had mixed emotions. Sure, I love him and would be thrilled to have him closer to home. But, on the other hand, do I really want to give back my mower? Maybe I ought to buy a second machine, just in case.

Doug Jimerson is a writer, garden expert, and owner of Studio G. Previous to Studio G, Doug spent 30 years as editor-in-chief of the Garden and Outdoor Living Group at Better Homes and Gardens.

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Mowing Advice

admin : May 29, 2013 4:47 pm : blog, features

By Doug Jimerson

I grew up with circus people. Or more precisely, circus person. As a young man, my grandfather worked as an acrobat in a traveling circus. He and his two partners would go from city to city, showing off their precise movements on the fulcrum, trampoline, and balance beam. By the time I knew him, however, my grandfather had long since retired from the circus and worked for a New Jersey power company washing streetlights from his perch high above the streets of Jersey City. He always told me that the key to his success in both jobs was “to be precise and pay attention.”

My grandfather also loved his lawn.

With precision and attentiveness, he managed the maintenance of his lawn in the front of our house. Actually to call it a lawn is overstatement. It measured 10×30 feet, and at least half of that space was a steep slope to the sidewalk. Much of the area was shaded by tall Norway maples, and my Grandfather was constantly trying new fertilizer or seed mixes to thicken up the grass beneath the trees.

My grandmother used to joke that he probably knew each blade of grass personally.

When I turned 8 years old, my grandfather decided it was time for me to learn to mow. Properly. He was always clad in a vest (with pocket watch) and cap. While I mowed, he paced back and forth on the front porch stoop, telling me in great detail how to push his spotless, well-oiled reel mower. I was a good student. Back and forth I mowed the turf, taking care to not leave visible lines or marks in the grass.

He showed me the correct way to position my body in order to gain better traction and speed. He was never hard on me. Just precisely instructive. He wanted me to understand that sometimes the simplest things in life, like mowing a lawn, can be the most satisfying.

I think about my grandfather’s love of lawn when I mow my own. And I feel the same pride in mowing the right way, my grandfather’s way: with precision and attention.

Doug Jimerson is a writer, garden expert, and owner of Studio G.  Previous to Studio G, Doug spent 30 years as editor-in-chief of the Garden and Outdoor Living Group at Better Homes and Gardens.

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Understanding Your Credit Score

admin : April 25, 2012 1:45 pm : blog, guest contributors

A High Credit Score Can Help When Financing Outdoor Power Equipment

By David Adams, Retail Finance Manager, The Toro Company

You’ve heard those obnoxious jingles on television – ones that relate bad credit scores to working in seafood restaurants or driving beat-up cars. So how do you keep that credit score high in order to make use of financing on the mower of your dreams?!

The first step may be understanding what a credit (FICO) score actually calculates. Simply put, a credit score is the numerical representation of your credit worthiness based on your history of using credit. The FICO range is between 300 and 850, with the higher score being better.

Calculating exact scores is a trade secret, but it can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Payment History (35%) – Do you pay your bills on time?
  • Credit Utilization (30%) – What’s your ratio of current revolving credit debt to available revolving credit?
  • Length of Credit History (15%) – How long have you managed credit?
  • Types of Credit Used (10%) – What’s your mix of revolving, installment, or other credit?
  • Recent Credit Searches (10%) – Have you recently been applying for, or opened, new lines of credit?


Keeping scores high can be as easy as paying bills on time. If you’ve made late payments in the past, changing this behavior going forward is the quickest way to raise your score.

Closing any unused credit lines, like credit cards, won’t improve your score and will likely hurt it. You want to have a low ratio of debt to available credit. Closing down lines of credit reduces your available credit, which increases your debt ratio.

For example, if you have $3,000 of debt on Credit Card A with a total credit line of $5,000 and no debt on Credit Card B with a credit line of $5,000, your total credit available is $10,000 with a debt of $3,000 (30 percent debt ratio). If you were to close that unused Credit Card B, your total available credit would drop to $5,000. With your outstanding debt still at $3,000, your debt ratio has now doubled to 60 percent, which lowers your score.

The bottom line is your score plays a big role in your chances of being approved, not just for credit, but for the best available rates and terms. Scores over 700 are generally considered good and will likely get you approved. The best available terms – like zero percent interest or no payment financing promotions – usually go to those with higher scores. A lower score could land you with interest rates in the teens or not qualify you at all.

By working on paying bills on time and keeping a low debt ratio, your FICO scores will start to rise. But scores aren’t the only thing lenders look at. They will look at how stable your life appears to be, too. Things like the length of time at a job or living at an address can also play an important role in the decision.

So start living smartly and establish a stable playing field — and maybe those nagging TV jingles will leave your head for good!

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Container Gardening- Get Creative

admin : May 31, 2011 6:57 pm : blog, features

Yes, containers full of flowers are ubiquitous in the garden centers, but how about creating your own unique horticultural creation? Get creative, get going, and get a container to express your garden impulses. But before you start, container gardening has a few essential rules that can make or break your potential display.

Good drainage is the most important element. Make sure your container has at least one drainage hole and add a layer of small rocks to the bottom to prevent the hole from becoming blocked. Not many plants like to sit in soggy soil any more than you would!

Other elements to insure success include:

A light mixture of good potting soil, peat moss and compost or a pre-packaged potting mix will work well. Mix in a little slow release fertilizer if your potting mix does not already contain some. Use fresh soil each year. Last year’s soil can be dumped in the garden.

Clay or pottery work well for most situations and come in every size possible. Metal pots are attractive but can absorb excessive heat, so use a plastic liner inside a metal pot. Plastic/fiberglass is attractive, lightweight and holds up well. Cement will work but it’s heavy -DUH! Ceramic is colorful but can be expensive. If the budget will allow, go for it. Wood looks great and weathers nicely but will eventually rot. All will work – use your imagination. I’ve even seen an old boot delightfully planted with daisies and ivy. In any case remember: DRAINAGE!

Where you place your container will determine what plants will thrive. Hot, sunny locations will require more frequent watering but will nicely house the brightly colored annuals and perhaps some ornamental grass for added interest. Shade offers opportunities for the endless variety of shade-loving annuals and perennials. And for the in between – anything goes, try it. Attractive containers look great in those locations where there is no soil – decks, patios, stairs, porches, docks, balconies, hanging on a wall, window boxes, etc. But remember DRAINAGE!

Heavy shade locations will accommodate hostas, impatients, any variety of shade- loving annuals and of course, there is the mixed light location, which can work for most anything. A plant is like a kid, if it doesn’t like the location – it will let you know. Variety is what pumps up creativity. Try trailing vines with tall grasses, or perennial plants, which can be transplanted to the garden for the winter. Vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, herbs – mint, basil, rosemary, etc. How about personal- size watermelons draping gently over the sides of large containers? Sweet potato vine adds texture, color and interest as it spills down the sides of large containers, but don’t try to reap the harvest…


Water daily, sometimes twice a day if necessary, fertilize frequently, and prune plants when necessary. Most important, have fun with your creation!

One other note, how about some accessories: Consider a house to invite a bird, pinwheels to deter hungry critters, an old picture frame with a mirror for curious lookers. Have fun!!! Did I mention DRAINAGE?

Ellen Watson - Hennepin County Master Gardener, University of Minnesota Extension Office

Ellen Watson – Hennepin County Master Gardener, University of Minnesota Extension Office

Article by Ellen Watson – Hennepin County Master Gardener, University of Minnesota Extension Office

Pictures by Mary Meyer – Extension Horticulturist, University of Minnesota.

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Drip, drip, drip…

29 Minute Gardener : April 5, 2011 11:01 am : blog, guest contributors

Toro drip irrigation is very versatile.

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a little obsessed with drip irrigation. For me it’s a huge time saver. I don’t have to spend time dragging the hose around, setting up sprinklers or carrying a watering can. Best of all, drip irrigation is a better, more efficient way to use water in the garden. My friend Laura, who is known as the “Drip Diva” at Toro tells me drip irrigation can be up to 90% more efficient than other watering methods. That’s because it delivers the water right to the root of the plant – exactly where the plant needs it, without any overspray and less evaporation.

I’ve got drip installed in just about every garden space in my yard, from my second story window boxes to my vegetable garden and each and every container. Including this crazy stacked container tower.

Installing drip in this container took a lot less than 29-minutes. Pick up a Toro Blue Strip Drip Starter Kit at your local home center or at It’s cheap, only around $10! If your shopping at a home center be sure to look in the plumbing department – that’s where they hide the irrigation

First hook the kit to your hose. Run enough tubing to get to the area you’d like to water. Use the connectors and emitters to bring the water right to the plant. Turn on the water and ta-da, no more sprinkling cans!

Here’s a little extra tip. While you’re at the home center grab a hose end timer. When we’re at the cabin for long weekends, this little gadget waters my gardens and containers for me.

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