Your spring and summer guide to outdoor living in Kansas City
Having a plush outdoor living space where you enjoy spending time can be one of life’s ultimate luxuries. Whether you’re entertaining, working outside, enjoying native wildlife or just plain digging in the dirt, this guide will get you one step closer to your dream outdoor space.
How to create an outdoor office
Remote work is making corporate offices a thing of the past, and people are turning to nontraditional workspaces—including outdoor ones.
“Your outdoor space is an extension of home,” says Kris Kiser, head of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade association for toolmakers. He says there are so many benefits to spending your workday outside. “The outdoors is a great place to destress, and it’s great for anxiety relief.”
Here’s what Kiser recommends to make a functional outdoor workspace.
Figure out a power plan. Make sure that wherever you set up your workspace there are outlets nearby or within an extension cord’s reach. If internet connection in the space is spotty, invest in an extender, which will broaden coverage. (And, of course, make sure this setup will stay totally dry, for safety.)
Add in wildlife. Sitting in nature has so many benefits on the brain. Kiser suggests adding in pollinator-loving plants and a water feature to attract wildlife to join you in your workspace. “Most animals and insects won’t even bother you unless they feel threatened,” he says.
Provide shade. If your outdoor workspace is in a sunny spot and it’s hard to see your computer screen, invest in an umbrella to keep you shaded. Or, if you’re in it for the long run, plant a tree. Even when you’re in the shade, make sure to lather up on SPF.
Opt for grass. If a grassy spot is available to you for your workspace, that will keep the area cooler than a hardscape surface. “Grass is twenty to thirty degrees cooler than a hard surface,” Kiser says. “In the summertime, that’s a great way to keep cool.”
Have functional furniture. Patio chairs usually have deep seats, which is great for comfort but not ideal for a full day of Zoom calls. Test out weatherproof chairs that are firm, comfortable and have good back support. A patio table should work heightwise—just be sure to opt for one with a smooth surface so a wireless mouse and keyboard can function easily.
Grass-growing tips from Kauffman Stadium’s head groundskeeper
When it comes to grass, Trevor Vance knows what he’s talking about.
“My top responsibility is making sure the playing surface of the K is not only safe but beautiful,” he says. See what tips he has for making your lawn as beautiful as the Royals’ outfield.
1. Keep a sharp blade. “If you’re gonna mow your yard, you have to make sure you have a sharp blade,” Vance says, adding that a dull blade will rip and tear the grass. He suggests buying two blades at a time—one for the mower and a fresh, sharp one to store for later use.
2. Understand your climate. Vance says that Kansas City is one of the most difficult places to maintain grass because of its climate. “We can get as cold as Canada and we can get as hot as Texas,” he says. Before laying seed, do your research and consult a professional.
3. Know when to mow. Be sure to mow when your grass needs it instead of when it’s convenient. When grass is actively growing in the spring, you’ll need to cut it more often than when it grows slowly in the heat of summer.
4. Water in the morning. Water your grass by mid-morning instead of at night. “It’s like putting the baby to bed with a wet diaper,” Vance says. “You want it to go to bed dry.” Otherwise, you’re opening up the possibility of disease growth on your turf.
5. Manage your turf at a height. When you’re mowing your grass, Vance recommends cutting off no more than a third of the blade of grass at a time. “If you’re normally managing your turf at two inches, then you need to cut it before it gets to over three inches or you’re gonna have to cut it down in height.”
6. Fertilize in the fall. Vance recommends fertilizing your grass around Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. That way, by the time spring rolls around, your grass will be established, green and healthy.
How to prep your garden tools for spring
It’s time to dust off your tools after a long winter. Working with dull, dirty tools can be a safety hazard and can spread diseases across plants. Plus, prepping your tools for spring gets them looking nice and new again. Here are some top-notch tool-prepping tips you need to know.
Give them a clean. Use a wire brush to remove caked mud from metal spades, hoes and shovels. Soak blades and shovels in a gallon bucket of hot water and about one-half teaspoon of dish soap for fifteen minutes.
Sharpen up. Use a bastard file to sharpen shovels and hoes, keeping a forty-five-degree angle as you file. To sharpen pruners, use a wet stone to make a few smooth strokes from the center bolt to the edge of the blade, matching the beveled edge.
Spruce up handles. Clean up handles with a stiff brush or sanding sponge and then wipe them down with a rag and coat of vegetable oil to condition them.
Guide to building a perfect summer container garden
If there’s one thing that can up your curb appeal with just a few materials, it’s a container garden.
There are a lot of factors to consider when creating a container garden. First, and most importantly, you want to be sure that the plants you use work for the space and season. To determine the amount of sunlight your container garden spot will get, look at the area at one to two-hour intervals, starting with when the sun has risen fully and lasting until dusk.
Julie Cruz, co-owner of Adorn, a custom container garden-assembling business, uses the popular thriller, spiller, filler method to assemble her planters. Thrillers are plants with height that add drama to a container garden. Fillers are plants that help fill in gaps to make it feel fuller. Spillers are plants that hang over the edge of the planter.
Before planting pots, Cruz always starts by filling the bottom half of the container with cut-up pool noodles or pinecones before adding potting soil to minimize the amount of soil needed. She also uses an extended-release fertilizer when she plants. In every container, she leaves a layer of mulch about an inch thick at the top. “In the summer, it serves as a way to keep the moisture in,” she says. Here are a few of Cruz’s favorite summer plants for containers.
For sun: mandevilla, dipladenia, hibiscus
For shade: cordyline, Chinese fan palm, macho fern
For sun: lantana, succulent, purslane, angelonia
For shade:periwinkle, impatiens, begonia
For sun: Mezoo, trailing lantana, Supertunias, calibrachoa, trailing vinca
For shade: creeping jenny, vinca major, vinca minor, fuchsia
Bee populations are steadily declining—here’s how to help
As the world turns from brown to green, one thing that has become a telltale sign of the changing seasons is the hum of bees.
Unfortunately, bee numbers have steadily declined over the years, which is a huge problem—if the bees were to disappear altogether (and they very well might if the decline continues), then our food source would be in danger. “When you start thinking of food—like apples, peaches, pears, fruits, all the berries, even things from tomatoes to peppers—these are all insect-pollinated,” says Steve Buback, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Although it’s difficult to track the decline of wild bees, it’s known that they are continuing to be killed off by pesticides and lack of habitat.
KC itself, however, might actually be helping native wild bees. “Kansas City, in particular, is in a unique position,” Buback says. “A lot of times, cities can serve as a refugee area. We can go into cities like KC and find more bees on a per-acre basis than you would in rural areas.” This is partially due to the pollinator-driven flowers planted around the urban area outside businesses and bordering city blocks that aren’t often planted out in rural areas.
The decline in honey bee populations is a whole different issue. Christine Faltynowski, owner of The Kansas Bee Company, says that honey bees “have an issue with mites. The colony collapse disorder has affected our bees, and that is mostly due to mites that are living on flowers.” The honey bees bring back the mites to the beehives where the mites can grow, forcing the bees to leave the colony. Between the pesticides that farmers use and the invasions of other species, honey bees face a bleak future.
To help the bees, the simplest solution is to be lazy with your yard. The more plants there are—yes, including weeds—the more pollen bees will have access to. You can also help native bees by planting native flowers that will attract them, such as purple coneflower, blazing star and foxglove.
When building a pool, this designer suggests looking at it from another angle
When it comes to building pools, Kurt Kraisinger likes to think outside the box—or, should we say, rectangle.
“For the last couple years, there’s been a whole evolution of pools,” the owner of Overland Park landscape and pool architecture firm, Lorax Design Group, says. “It used to be that a pool was a sixteen-by-thirty-six rectangle with a ladder in the deep end and four feet of concrete around it.”
Now, Kraisinger says a huge part of building pools has been rethinking your vantage point—not how the pool looks from the deck but from your view inside the pool.
Infinity edge pools have been on the pool scene for a while—especially at resorts and upscale apartment buildings—but they’re becoming more common in residential spaces. Kraisinger compares it to looking out upon a large body of water. “Historically, when you stand in a body of water like an ocean, you’re looking out to where the water marries up with the background,” he says. “It’s an endless kind of view.”
Another way to play with perspectives in pool design is to create a sunken seating area. “When you’re sitting in a sunken seating area, you’re looking across at water a different vantage point,” Kraisinger says. “You’re like, ‘Wait, I’ve always experienced it while sitting up on a chaise lounge and looking down at the pool.’”
Perimeter overflow pools and spas are becoming increasingly popular, too. Kraisinger says to think of it like a champagne fountain: “You raise that water elevation up toward the same level as the deck and it gives you a whole different experience,” he says. “You have a gutter around the perimeter of the pool that you don’t see and that water just drops off into the gutter.”