Don’t Neglect The Deck and 8 More Summer Lawn Care Tips

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9 Summer Lawn Care Tips

Grow, grow, grow! It seem’s taking care of your lawn is a never ending process from the beginning of Spring through Fall. Sometimes we start to veer off track with tending to our yard and giving it the TLC it needs to thrive. Maybe you’ve bought a new home that is overgrown with weeds or just desire a luscious and healthy green yard to spend your summer weekends enjoying. Where do you start?

First, you want to make sure that you have a sharp blade for your mower. If your blade is dull you will tear the grass more than creating a clean cut, causing damage. So make sure your blade is sharp. Ralph Helm Inc. offers sharpening and new blade sales!

Don’t neglect the deck. You will want to avoid placing your deck too low because cutting grass too short can cause scalping. This allows weeds to grow and spread with ease. You want to position your deck so you cut no more than one-third of the grass blade.

Once you’re ready to start mowing it is best to ditch the bag and let the grass clippings lay spread on the yard. If the grass clippings are longer than one-third of the blade, then bagging may be necessary. The grass clippings act as a natural fertilizer for your yard which means less work for you!

Mix it up a little, if you’re finding yourself taking the same path each time you mow, stop! Mowing in the same path consistently can cause ruts and compacted soil which leads to less healthy grass and increased weed infestation. It’s best to alternate paths each time you mow.

Summer get’s hot and dry, so plan on needing to water your grass. It is best to water when the sun is low. Instead of watering every other day for short intervals, spend less days watering and water longer. This helps saturate the lawn deep to the roots encouraging healthy growth. Yay, less work! When the first 3 inches of the soil start to feel dry, you will know it is time to water again.

Aerating. If you’re not familiar with it, you will be. Overtime soil becomes compact causing less air circulation and room for water absorption. You’ll want to make sure that you water a day or two before using an aerator. The aerator will pull small plugs of soil/grass from the yard allowing for better water and nutrient absorption. This alone will do wonders for your yard! Aerating is also a perfect time to over seed if you want to fill in bald spots or ensure thick growth!

Another way to improve circulation and nutrient absorption is to dethatch. When you dethatch you remove any debris that has built up between the soil and blades of grass. It’s basically like using a giant rake. Similar to aerating, it is best to do when your grass is doing most of it’s growing. Fall is typically a desirable time in the midwest.

All lawns will develop weeds, it’s inevitable. You can pull the weeds with your hands, but make sure to remove the base of the root entirely so the weed doesn’t grow back. If the yard is overgrown with weeds you can resort to a herbicide. There is a variety of specific herbicides for different types of weeds so make sure you do some research before just choosing any.

Lastly, if you are wanting that beautiful green yard, you will need to fertilize. It is best to fertilize starting at the beginning of the season mid-April then again 4 weeks later. Fertilizer can then be applied every 6-8 weeks through October. Make sure to read your fertilizer, some will want you to water before or after laying it. Don’t forget, the more you get your grass growing the more nutrients it is using up. Fertilize!

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Which type of riding mower is best, Zero-turn or lawn tractor? An in depth comparison.

With the start of spring already in the rearview and summer coming up on the horizon, our mind starts to wander. A beautiful, warm, sunny, spring day, flowers in full bloom, and the smell of fresh cut…grass. You remember the 15 year old, broken down push mower that you swear you’ll trade in for a fresh pair of shiny new wheels this time each year. Or the neighbor who has the high-tech tractor or zero-turn mower, who waves as he passes you by, placing his cold brew back in his CUPHOLDER. You decide, this is the year. The year of replacing your old, beat up push mower for the luxury ride of a riding mower, but where do you begin? 

With the world we live in, everyone wants more options which only furthers your need to educate yourself before your new purchase. Purchasing a large item in any category can be overwhelming, especially when choices seem endless. 

Do you need a mower because of large acreage? Do you want to reduce time spent mowing or you looking for something more comfortable and leisurely? How many obstacles are in your yard to cut around or between? What is your budget? 

Both the zero-turn mower and lawn tractor can mow large yards. If you ask Toro, the zero-turn will get the job done faster, up to 45 percent, and more accurately. This is because it can turn a tight 180 degrees on the spot, leaving no small patches of grass uncut which can happen with your typical lawn tractor. Lawn tractors steer like cars with a steering wheel. Which makes it a comfortable pick for consumers. But because they steer like a car, they have a larger turning radius which will lead to extra work because it will leave patches of grass, increasing mowing time.

If speed is important, the zero-turn mower may be the option for you, with an average mowing speed of 6-8mph. If you find mowing therapeutic and are not concerned about time spent mowing, the lawn tractor may be the option for you. An average speed of 3-4mph.

When it comes to maneuverability, the zero-turn rates highest. It allows you to mow around lawn hurdles such as sheds, pools, trees, gardens, the house, fences, with ease. Lawn tractors have low maneuverability. This makes it harder and more tedious to mow around obstacles, again increasing time spent mowing.

Know how far obstacles are apart from each other in your yard. This will effect how large of a deck size your mower can have. A larger deck size will help cut time mowing but may not be the option for you. Zero-turn mowers tend to have larger decks, 60 inches or larger. Tractor decks are typically smaller, measuring 54 inches or less.

Does your yard lay flat, or are there areas it slopes? If it slopes, you may want to consider a smaller deck so the cutting blades don’t dig up the yard. According to SFGATE, it is recommended by “Consumer Reports” website to choose a lawn tractor over a zero-turn mower on hills that have slopes greater than 15 degrees. Although, both can be dangerous and caution should always be taken.

Beware, some mowers are claimed nearly zero turn. This is not the same as zero-turn, as it does not turn the complete 180 degrees causing disappointment when navigating.

Both the zero-turn mower and lawn tractor are built for comfort. The lawn tractor may have more leisurely options such as arm rests or cup holders.

Lastly, budget. What are you wanting to invest in a mower? Lawn tractors are less expensive than zero-turn mowers. This is because there are more options. It’s typically the consumers first choice since it is similar to a car with a steering wheel and consumers find comfort in that. Zero-turn mowers, although more expensive, are more accurate and allow you to finish mowing quicker.

Now with all information in hand, make your thoughts of a new riding mower more than just another daydream this year. Come on over to Ralph Helm

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Getting Rid of Weeds Naturally

Getting Rid of Weeds Naturally

There is nothing worse than weeds taking over your garden, but when it comes to lawn care, getting rid of the weeds is one of the most time consuming, frustrating tasks. Are you fed up with unwanted weed infestations killing your plants and vegetables, but you don’t want to resort to using harsh chemicals to get rid of them? Fortunately, there are several ways to get rid of them naturally. Here are just a few natural ways to get rid of your weed infestation and still have a healthy, chemical-free garden.

Pull Them Out

This is by far one of the most natural ways to rid your garden of weeds, unfortunately, it is also one of the most time consuming. However, if you stay on top of pulling them, the task will get easier each time. The best time for weed pulling is when the ground is moist, so try to pull them immediately after watering the garden. It is also best to pull root and all out, but be sure to wear a pair of gloves so you don’t get stuck with thistles and thorns. Once you have them all pulled out, add them to the compost pile or some, such as purslane and dandelions taste great when cleaned and added to your favorite salad.

Homemade Herbicide

To make a safe, chemical-free herbicide simply fill a spray bottle with 2 cups of vinegar, ½ cup of salt and about !/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Stir the ingredients well to make sure the salt dissolves. It is best to only use this solution in areas away from your flower and vegetable gardens. For example, spray the solution around the foundation of your home and cracks in the driveway and walkways.

Prevent Germination

Corn gluten meal is basically a corn by-product, but it prevents germination of seeds, preventing them from growing into weeds. The best way to use corn gluten meal is to lightly spread it around the base of already established plants (after your transplants and seedlings have taken hold). After you harvest the garden, spread the corn gluten meal in the area just harvested to prevent the growth of late-season weeds.

Give Them a Shot

A shot of Vodka that is. If you struggle with weeds in a garden that gets a lot of sun, mix 1-ounce of vodka, 2-cups of water and ½ teaspoon of liquid dish soap in a spray bottle. The vodka will dry the weeds out, causing them to die. Once the weeds are dead, pull them out to prevent regrowth. Make sure to protect the surrounding plants because the vodka will also dry them out.

If you are starting a garden from scratch, it is often helpful to clear the garden bed and lay a piece of landscaping plastic over the ground before planting. The covering will help to smother weeds and prevent them from sprouting up and through your garden. If you have an already established garden, try placing newspapers, old shower curtains or even old carpet samples throughout the garden to smother weeds and prevent growth.

Whether you need more information on how to naturally get rid of weeds or it’s time to get new lawn equipment, visit Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center, our staff will be happy to help you with all of your landscaping concerns.

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Why Your Lawn Needs Organic Lawn Care

Everyone loves a lush green lawn. Although they look great, the care that goes into keeping our lawns so green is actually incredibly hard on the environment. Not only does it use up a lot of water to keep a lawn looking lush, but many of the chemicals used end up going straight into our ground water. Organic lawn cares aims to change that, offering products and techniques that will keep your lawn looking great while still being safe for the environment.

How You Can Go Green with Your Lawn Care

The first step is to choose a type of grass that can easily thrive in your climate. Although another type of grass may look a bit better, if it is not built for the weather and soil conditions in your area, you could end up using significantly more water to keep it healthy. Not only is this hard on the environment, but it’s hard on your wallet as well. Try to water your lawn as infrequently as possible, only when it is starting to look a bit dry.

Additionally, you can go green by mowing your lawn to be more favorable for grass to grow and less favorable for weeds to come through. This can be done by simply mowing with your mower blades high. Leaving your grass, a little longer will shade the intertwining weeds and prevent sun from getting to them. If the sunlight cannot get to the weeds, then they cannot grow and with your lack of weeds, you won’t have to use a lot of weed killers and pesticides.

When it comes to choosing pesticides for your lawn, try to use them as sparingly as possible. Look for products that are labeled as “organic,” “eco-friendly,” or “green.” These types of products use fewer harmful chemicals, opting instead for natural ingredients that can produce the same results. The fewer chemicals in your lawn care products, the safer your lawn will be, not just for the environment, but for your children and pets as well.

Get Everything You Need for Organic Lawn Care

Here at Ralph Helm Inc., we offer a wide range of lawn and yard care products and can help you maintain your current yard equipment for many years to come. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you keep your lawn looking its best.

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Understanding Your Yard and Different Soil Types

Understanding Your Yard and Different Soil Types

You may think that soil is just the dirt that your plants grow in and that it doesn’t really matter which type your yard has. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The type of soil on your property can make a major difference in the health and growth of your landscaping. All soil is made up of a mixture of rock particles, sand, silt and clay in varying proportions. Here are a few of the most common soil types to get you started:

Light Gravel Soil

Soil that is high in gravel and sand can absorb and release water the most quickly of any soil type. Because of fast draining, it does not retain many nutrients either, making it a poor choice for most landscaping styles. However, desert-type plants can thrive in this type of soil.

Medium-Textured Soil

This type of soil is the easiest to work with because it retains a lot of nutrients from decomposing plant and animal matter. This kind of soil absorbs water very well, making it suitable for just about any type of plant to grow successfully.

Dense, Heavy Clay

This type of soil has the finest particles; it can become dense and compact very easily. This makes it tricky for plant roots and air to get into the soil, making it difficult to grow things without tedious care and treatment. Once it absorbs water, it takes a very long time to release it. It can also become hard and cracked during dry weather.

Improving Your Soil

If your soil is of the medium-textured category, lucky you! You won’t have to do much in the way of soil care. However, if your soil falls into either of the outside categories, all hope is not lost. You can change the texture of your soil by combining it with homemade compost or manure. Not only will this change the texture of the soil, but also the nutrient content, making it easier to work with.

Stay Committed to Your Yard

Regardless of the soil type in your yard, you’ll also need a variety of yard and lawn care equipment to truly keep your landscaping looking its best. Here at Ralph Helm Inc., we’ve got everything you need to care for your yard, so browse through our selection today!

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Is It Time to Dethatch your lawn?

Grass, like other plants, has an underground root system that is topped by a living above ground shoot. Between the root system and the top layer, is a layer known as thatch. Although thatch is natural and beneficial for your lawn, too much of it can create problems in the growth of the grass. Thatch is made up of roots, leaves and stems; some are dead and some are living, so it forms a natural part of the growing process. However, dethatching is essential if the thatch layer is thicker than ½ of an inch. Excess thatch is often caused by lawn care treatments such over watering, over fertilizing with too much nitrogen and/or mowing too high as well as having heavy clay soil.

Problems Caused by Thick Thatch

When there are thick layers of thatch between the root system and the top layer of living grass, it can create a number of problems with the growth by:

  • Blocking sunlight from reaching the lower blades of grass
  • Buildup of moisture which can lead to disease
  • Prevents fertilizer, pest control and/or water from reaching the soil
  • Creates an uneven lawn
  • Leads to shallow rooted grass

How to Know When to Dethatch the Lawn

There are a few things you can do to determine if you need to dethatch the lawn, including:

  • Visually inspect the grass to determine how thick the thatch is. If it is difficult to see the soil, it typically means the thatch is too thick.
  • Feel the grass. A thick layer of thatch will be tough to push your finger through. If the grass feels bouncy or spongy when you stand on it, it usually has a thick layer of thatch.
  • Measure the depth of the thatch by using a hand trowel or a spade to remove a small layer of the grass and soil. If the thatch layer lying on top of the soil is 2 or more inches thick, it’s time to dethatch.

How to Dethatch the Lawn

It is best to use a dethatcher when the lawn is only lightly moist; it shouldn’t be too dry or too wet. The following steps will guide you through the dethatching process:

  • Just before dethatching, mow the grass to about half of its normal height
  • Using a dethatcher, go over the lawn with at least two passes, but change the angles of each pass. For example, do the second pass at a 90-degree angle to the first pass. This will ensure you are removing all of the excess thatch.
  • Use a rake to clean up the debris. The thatch can be used as compost or mulch.
  • If you dethatched about the time when you would apply seasonal fertilizer, apply the fertilizer after dethatching and be sure to thoroughly water the lawn.
  • If dethatching created bare spots reseed and rake the seed into the soil. Cover with organic matter, sand or soil.

After dethatching the lawn, it may look somewhat ragged, but if the dethatching is done at the right time, your lawn will quickly recover, with a healthy fill in. To prevent future thatch, it is important to practice good lawn care techniques, including regular water, fertilizing, mower and aeration.


Contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center to learn more information about dethatching, including the best type of lawn care equipment for the task.

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All About the Importance of Lawn Aeration

A beautiful lawn requires a wide variety of basic lawn care practices, such as fertilizing, watering and mowing. However, one of the most important tasks necessary for a beautiful lawn is aeration, which is necessary to ensure that much-needed nutrients find their way into the soil. Aeration is an essential element to a lush, healthy lawn because along with the nutrients, it also allows water and air to penetrate a layer of lawn thatch.

What is Aeration?

Aeration is the method used to create “pockets” or channels for air within the soil beneath the grass. These channels allow the water, nutrients and roots to move easier. If the grass is covered with layers of thatch or dried grass, it becomes compacted, making it extremely difficult for fertilizer and water to find their way down to the roots of the grass. Aeration relieves the compaction of soil, making it easier for the proper circulation of air, nutrients and water deep within the soil.

Does Your Lawn Need Aeration?

Not every lawn needs aeration, so here are a few things to be aware that will help you determine if aeration will be beneficial for your lawn.

  • Heavy use- if your lawn has a lot of heavy use, such as kids frequently running through it or the dogs are often outside playing, the ground is most likely compacted and needs aeration.
  • Your lawn was established by sod- soil layering most likely exists. Soil layering means the finer textured soil typically found in sod, is laid over the existing flat dirt, which creates a barrier between the two types of soil. The soil on the sod will typically “soak” up the water and nutrients, preventing them from reaching the deeper soil.
  • Lawn from new home construction- during the construction process, the existing topsoil is often stripped or buried, causing the grass roots to sink into the subsoil, which deprives it of its much-needed nutrients.
  • Dry, spongy grass- if your grass tends to dry out easily and/or it feels spongy, there is probably excessive thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead grass that builds up between the blades of grass and the soil. The thatch compacts, preventing nutrients and water from reaching the roots.

Aeration can help you achieve a beautiful lawn, but it is important that you use the correct tools and correctly do the task. If you feel your lawn could benefit from aeration, there are specially designed tools that can help to make the process go much smoother. Once you have completed the aeration, it is important to maintain the lawn with good lawn care habits, such as regular watering, fertilizing and appropriate mowing.

To learn more information about the importance of lawn aeration or about the best tools to use for the task, contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center.

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Landscaping Tips to Help Sell Your Home

Landscaping Tips to Help Sell Your Home

Staging can help improve your home value and sell your property more quickly because it makes the interior look bigger, newer, and more desirable to potential buyers. However, unless you make the exterior landscaping look just as appealing, buyers may never cross the threshold to see what’s available inside your rooms. Here are a few landscaping tips to help improve your curb appeal.

Prune trees and shrubs.

Dead branches, overgrown shrubs, and trees with unsightly shapes turns buyers off, no matter the season. Take time to shape your foliage with pruning so the green acts as a natural frame for your home. If any large trees or bushes block the architectural features of your home, consider cutting the plants down to size or removing them entirely.

Add color.

Color delights, surprises, and accents great swathes of green. The easiest way to add color is to plant blooming annuals. Groupings of flowers that are the same color have more visual impact than grouping of multicolored petals. But don’t be afraid of using different colors at different points in your landscape. Because color attracts attention, you can use it to lead visitors to specific parts of your garden, such as to a bench, water features, or viewing point.

Make repairs.

Wander around your landscape and view your exteriors, including your home, at least once. Look for areas that need repair, such as a broken stepping stone, torn window screen, or leaky faucet. Make these fixes yourself or get professional help. You don’t want homebuyers finding these problems because they tend to overestimate the cost of repairs and will mentally deduct those amounts from their offers.


Rent a power wash from your local home center and clean up exterior hardscapes like your driveway, porch, and stone walls as well as the outside walls of your home. Freshly cleaned spaces look brighter, roomier, and more attractive. This is a cost-effective way of making your exteriors look new, if you can’t afford to repaint them.

Eliminate the clutter.

Children’s toys, pet accessories, or gardening tools that are strewn across a yard detract from the beauty of landscaping and may turn off buyers that don’t have children or pets. Put these items away before the first open house so all buyers see in the landscape are the greenery and hardscapes that belong there.

Mow the lawn.

A well-tended green lawn communicates to buyers that the owner takes good care of the entire property. So mow your green spaces regularly and fill any bare spots with grass seed. Contact Ralph Helm Inc. Lawn Equipment Center if you want more information on taking care of your lawn and landscape.

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Indoor Projects to do Before the Spring

It’s easy to hole up during the winter, assume that it’s too wintry to accomplish any home improvement projects and throw in the towel until springtime. But you don’t have to! Winter is the perfect time of year to tackle some of the indoor home improvement projects you’ve been putting off. The best part? Since you’re cooped up inside far more during the winter, you’ll appreciate your upgrades even more!

1. Bathroom Remodel

Whether you have a full remodel in mind or just a facelift, now is a great time to upgrade your bathroom. Updating the tile, fixtures, and even replacing your bathtub and flooring is a great small indoor project that yields big rewards. Imagine winding down from some cold snow shoveling in an oversized whirlpool bath in your newly updated bathroom. It’s the kind of project that pays off big time–in your own comfort and your home’s value.

2. Kitchen Update

Replacing your appliances, updating your backsplash, or updating your cabinet hardware (or all your cabinets!) all make great wintertime projects. You can’t beat the coziness of a refreshed, updated kitchen with new appliances to facilitate all the baking that’s bound to happen during the winter season.

3. Painting

If you keep waiting for the perfect opportunity to paint your living room, maybe this weekend is it! Painting is the least expensive way to completely overhaul the look and feel of a room, so enlist a few people to help and go for it!

4. Replace Light Fixtures

Old-fashioned light fixtures can age an otherwise lovely space in a heartbeat. Replace your out-of-fashion sconces and overhead lights with more efficient, more attractive options that fit your decor and style.

5. Make Over Your Closet

If you have to dig through a pile of stuff to find what you need in your closet, it’s time to make a change. Start by tossing all the clothes you don’t wear anymore, then consider adding shelving, hooks, shoe racks, or other storage solutions, so everything has a place. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to get ready for the day when your closet looks nice and your wardrobe is organized and streamlined!

For more ideas for winter remodeling projects or help getting started on your list, check out our blog for more winter home maintenance ideas, and stop by Ralph Helm in person to talk to an expert! We have everything you need to make big changes this winter season–and we’ll help you make your home more comfortable and cozy than ever, even when the snow is piling up outside.

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Getting Stadiums Ready to Host the Super Bowl

Getting Stadiums Ready to Host the Super Bowl

There is so much more that goes into preparing a football field for hosting the Super Bowl than simply tending to the grass. In the days and weeks leading up to the big game, the field must undergo myriad tests to ensure that it is game-worthy. The ultimate goal is for the field to be as close to pristine as possible so that it creates a fair and safe environment for both teams. The last thing anyone wants is for the results of the game to be affected or for their favorite player to be injured due to an unsuitable playing surface.

Brand New Sod

For over 25 years, the National Football League has had a policy that requires new sod to be installed on the Super Bowl field before the big game. This ensures that the turf is as fresh as possible so that it can provide the best conditions on game day. The sod is specially grown for this purpose and has been meticulously cared for in the months leading up to the game. It is brought to the field in strips rolled up like carpet for easy installation, which takes about two days to complete.

Testing for Hardness

Within the last 72 hours before the game, the field is tested for hardness at several key points around the field. Any areas that do not meet the league’s strict standards must be fixed and retested before the game can be played. This test is even applied to fields with synthetic turf, measuring the infill beneath it for the same hardness standards.

Mowing Every Day

Once the new sod has been fully installed at the host stadium, it is mowed nearly every day to keep it in top condition. On the day of the Super Bowl, the head groundskeeper for the host field has the honor of being the last person to mow the field before the game.

Give Your Lawn the Super Bowl Treatment

Even if your lawn is nowhere near the size of the Super Bowl field, you can still give it the same level of care. With high-quality lawn equipment from Ralph Helm Inc., your lawn will be the envy of all your neighbors. Visit one of our three Illinois locations, or browse through our lawn care products online.

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