8 Tips for Dressing Up a Patio for Summer With Greenery, According to Plant Pros

8 Tips for Dressing Up a Patio for Summer With Greenery, According to Plant Pros

Plants are universally loved for how they add life and vibrancy to a space. So as the weather warms up, it’s only natural to want to enjoy greenery in an outdoor area, too. Outdoor plants are, of course, much different than the average houseplant. You have additional elements to consider with greenery outdoors, from the climate and location you live in to your desire and potential to landscape.

Where do you get started? Well, you might want to turn to the experts. I tapped two plant pros for their top tips on how to dress up your patio (or any outdoor space) ahead.

You’ll first want to get familiar with the area you’ll be working with. “Factors to consider when choosing plants for an outdoor space include the size of your space, how much sun and shade the space gets, what kind of critters the plants may attract, how much water the plants will need, how you will provide that water, and what size the plants can grow to be,” notes Marcus Bridgewater, author and plant influencer behind the Garden Marcus TikTok account.

It’s also important to choose plants that will thrive in your region’s climate. “Things like rainfall, average temperature, humidity, and whether it snows or not will greatly impact how well your plants perform,” says Nahal Sohbati, landscape designer and founder of Topophyla. “The easiest way to determine whether a plant will grow well in your area is to refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and rating of the chosen plant.”

You can also take a trip to your local nursery, Sohbati adds. This way, you can figure out which plants grow near you — plus, which flowers and flora resonate most with your style or vibe.

Once you get a feel for your space, you can then choose plants for different areas based on how much sunlight they get. “A few great plants for sunny areas are lavender, sweet potato ivy, and hibiscus,” recommends Bridgewater. “Plants that do well in shade include the snake plant and arrowhead plant.”

Some plants are more versatile though, which may make them even more attractive to you. “Many species of plants can be adaptive to both sun and shade, and those are typically the ones that perform best in manmade environments,” notes Sohbati. Again, take the time to look plants up on the internet and engage in conversations at your local nursery, plant store, or home center. This will help you fill in the gaps that plant care tags (those things you often find stuck in plants with info on them) don’t always address.

Flowering plants offer bright, colorful blooms that come to life seasonally. Sohbati’s favorite way to incorporate them is with natives to whatever your local habitat may be. “One of the greatest joys of gardening is being amongst nature, and when you provide habitat with the use of native flora, you integrate yourself within the local habitat,” she says. “For us in California, we especially love native Salvias (Sage), Mimulus (Sticky Monkey Flower), and Achillea (California Yarrow).”

Based in Houston, Texas, Bridgewater’s favorite flowering plants include bee balm and roses. Sohbati encourages people to look outside the box when creating color into the garden, too. “Many plants can be used for their colorful foliage and seasonal leaf color instead,” she notes. It’s not always all about the flowers!

Plant to attract butterflies.

There’s something magical about watching butterflies and hummingbirds flutter around, and it can happen in your own backyard if you choose the right flora. “Plants that attract butterflies include milkweed (especially if native to where you are), bee balm, mint, and lavender,” says Bridgewater. “I fill my garden with these herbs because of the butterflies and the amazing smells they bring.”

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, several plants also provide functional benefits like privacy. “Depending on the space, the best plants for privacy are typically upright shrubs and vines,” recommends Sohbati. “Upright shrubs like Privet do great as privacy screens, while vines like Jasmine can be trained on a trellis to provide screening.”

Sohbati notes the importance of referring to the mature size of a plant to select the right species. “When choosing a vine, it’s important to check their growth habit, whether they need a support or training, or if they can cling to the surface,” she adds.

Disclaimer here: There aren’t really any hard and fast rules when it comes to styling plants, but a good place to start is deciding whether you want a more dramatic or pared-back look.

To achieve a dramatic look, Sohbati recommends amassing a specific plant then layering in different textures and contrasting colors. Certain species naturally enjoy the spotlight. “This will depend on the region you are in, but plants with large foliage like sculptural succulents or agaves and large leafy tropical plants like giant bird of paradise can provide a very dramatic effect in a garden,” she says.

For extra lushness, Bridgewater recommends plants with big leaves like monsteras, plus ones with vines that can hang and trail like pothos. “It is one of my favorite plants, and a great addition to an outdoor space,” he notes. “I keep mine in pots and hanging planters, as pothos can spread uncontrollably.”

For a more subdued look, it’s best to stick with a minimal palette of soft-textured plants like grasses or fine-leafed shrubs, says Sohbati. Bridgewater also suggests succulents for a softer style.

Living walls and vertical gardens are newer trends that showcase plants in a unique, artistic way. Essentially, the flora decorates a wall or part of a wall, making you feel even more immersed in nature, which is especially great for urban environments or smaller spaces. “The best tips for styling living walls are to keep a theme and stick with it,” says Sohabti. “Do not just randomly fill the wall with plants. Choose plants with textures and colors that work well together and try to create masses of plants instead of individual clumps.”

Typically, living walls require more maintenance than normal potted or in-ground plants. “[So], it is also best to use plants that are adapted to cliffs or epiphytic conditions, as they will perform better in the living wall conditions,” says Sohbati.

There’s much to consider when decorating with outdoor plants, but the benefits are well worth it. “They provide different smells, shade in some places, and varying colors, shapes, and textures,” says Marcus of his plants. “This combination of different elements energizes my spirit, inspires my creativity, and helps me better my well-being.”

In other words? Don’t get too caught up in achieving a perfect look or having to grow the same thing as your neighbor. Styling plants outdoors is ultimately about finding out what you love that works with your outdoor conditions — and having fun along the way.

4 Red Flags to Always Check for Before Using That Fire Escape as a Balcony

4 Red Flags to Always Check for Before Using That Fire Escape as a Balcony

One of my favorite movies is 2001’s “Kate and Leopold,” the time-travel rom-com starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. In the movie, there’s a scene where Kate and Leopold are cuddled up outside on a couch set on her Tribeca fire escape. This scene sticks with me as the epitome of city living: having a beautified industrial outdoor space. It also sticks with me now because of one important fact: Having a couch on your fire escape is 100 percent ILLEGAL.

“You can only use the fire escape to escape a fire,” says Hilary Rovins, a broker at Coldwell Banker Warburg. “You cannot legally use it as a patio, or to store anything — including plants, bikes, etc.”

You can’t even have an air conditioner in the window that leads to a fire escape because, as Rovins says, fire escapes are for buildings that only have one staircase and no other way out. So Kate and Leo are just one big cozy fire hazard.

That being said, we all know that’s not how it works in reality. People live for that outdoor space, however tiny, especially when their apartments are equally small. The holidays are one of the biggest offenders for fire escape contraband, though as long as everything is out of the way of escaping feet, it’s usually fine.

“Many homeowners opt to string lights and decorations on their fire escapes,” says Gerard Splendore, another broker at Coldwell Banker Warburg. “As long as the holiday decor does not interfere with the fire escape’s intended use, decorating should not be a problem. Besides, what city-raised child has not been told that Santa accesses their apartment via the fire escape, as most apartments lack a chimney?”

It brings up an important question, though. People may use fire escapes for unintended uses, but is it actually safe? If you’re going to be out on your makeshift balcony, it helps to know that you won’t, you know, die. Here’s what to look out for.

If your fire escape is covered in rust, or the nuts and bolts and joints all have a bit of rust around them, that’s a red flag. It’s likely that maintenance and upkeep hasn’t been performed on the fire escape.

This one is twofold. You don’t want wobbly railings, and you definitely want handrails. It’s far too easy to fall off a fire escape and get seriously injured, and both missing handrails and loose railings are a recipe for that disaster.

Is your building — and your fire escape — an antique? If so, the “balcony” might not be the safest place to hang out. Look at the material it’s made from. Early fire escapes were made out of wrought iron, which is less sturdy over time. Newer ones are typically made from steel.

Look for spots where the paint flakes off the fire escape. That’s a bad sign — it means rust can seep in beneath the paint and potentially wear away at the metal. Plus, it’s a sure indicator that maintenance hasn’t been done.

Jennifer Billock

Contributor

Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer, bestselling author, and editor. She is currently dreaming of an around-the-world trip with her Boston terrier.

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Cornhole Game: How to Build the Board

Cornhole Game: How to Build the Board

Cornhole, a game that’s been around for centuries, is a popular pastime for tailgate entertainment or backyard fun. You just need a cornhole board and some bags — and a free afternoon with family or friends!


History of the Game

Many people believe a cabinet maker in Germany invented the cornhole game in the 14th century. 

As the story goes, Matthias Kuepermann found a group of boys throwing stones into groundhog holes for fun. Worried for their safety, he crafted the cornhole board, replacing groundhog holes with wooden boxes with round holes and stones with bags filled with dried corn.

Because of its simplicity, the game hasn’t evolved much. These days, the corn-filled bags are sometimes replaced with plastic and resin beads. But some die-hard cornhole enthusiasts insist on using real corn kernels.  

Players in the United States even compete at state and national levels. And now, there are efforts to make the cornhole game an Olympic sport

You can build a cornhole board for your backyard. The process is simple, but it might require a few specialty tools if you don’t already have them on hand!


Child grabbing a cornhole bag from the top of a cornhole board game in a backyard.
Whether you’re passing time in the backyard or competing for bragging rights, the cornhole game is a fun activity for all ages.

Building Your Own Cornhole Board

Materials

  • (2) 2-by-4-foot by ½-inch plywood
  • (4) 2-by-4 studs
  • (4) 3/8 by 4-inch carriage bolts
  • (8) 3/8-inch washers
  • (4) 3/8-inch nuts
  • (16) 3-inch wood screws
  • (24) 1-½-inch wood screws
  • Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue
  • Drill
  • 3/8-inch drill bit
  • 6-inch hole saw
  • Miter or circular saw
  • Carpenter square
  • Tape measure
  • Sander and/or sandpaper
  • Exterior paint or wood stain and spar varnish

Hands holding a pencil and a carpenter square on top of a piece of wood.
Use a carpenter square to get accurate angles for your cornhole game’s leg pieces.

Cut the Cornhole Board’s Wood Pieces

Using a carpenter or speed square, mark 25 degrees and cut along that angle. Then mark a straight line 12-and-1/4 inches from the angle’s long side. Repeat this three more times to create your boards’ legs.

For the frames, you’ll need four straight cuts at 21 inches and four straight cuts at 48 inches.

Edge of a piece of wood cut at 45 degree angles.
The 45-degree cuts on the leg pieces will make them easier to fold

Now back to your leg pieces. You need to cut them on the square side to make them easier to fold and unfold. Mark 1 inch in from each side and 1 inch down on each side. Connect those marks with a straight edge to draw a 45-degree angle on each corner. Cut the two triangles on each leg.


Assembling a wood rectangle.
Lay your cornhole game frame on a waist-high table for easy drilling.

Assemble the Frame

To mark the hole for the legs to attach to your frame, measure 1 and 3/4 inches from one side and 1 and 3/4 inches from the short end. Drill all the way through with a 3/8-inch drill bit. Then set aside.

Drilling in a a screw to a piece of wood clamped down on a table next to Titebond III Ultimate wood glue.
Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue will keep your frame in place and add some waterproofing to your cornhole game.

To lay out your frames, lay two 48-inch pieces parallel to one another and set the 21-inch pieces at the ends, between them. Apply a bead of wood glue rated for exterior use, like Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue, and attach the pieces together with 3-inch screws.

Apply more wood glue around the top of your new frame, and set the 2-by-4 sheet of plywood in place. Attach it with 1-and-1/2-inch screws through the plywood into the frame below.

To create the hole for the bean bags, mark 9 inches from one end, then measure and mark the center of the board near that 9-inch mark. 

Using a 6-inch hole saw, cut a hole with your mark at the center. A hole saw this large can be a little tricky, so take your time!

Flip the board over to attach the legs.


Drilling a leg onto the underside of a cornhole game board.
Folding legs will save storage space.

Attach the Legs

On the end of your board with the hole, set your legs in either corner with the longer part of the angle on top. Clamp the leg half an inch from the end and use the existing hole in the leg to drill a 3/8-inch hole through the frame. Then sand the ends of the legs to round the cut angles.

Next, slide a carriage bolt through the hole from the outside, then one washer, a wood leg, another washer and finally the nut. Hand tighten.

Repeat as necessary until both of your cornhole boards are assembled!


A stained cornhole board game with red and blue bags.
Stain your cornhole game for a finished look or customize it by painting it with your team colors.

Add the Finishing Touches

No matter which finish you choose for your boards, first sand them thoroughly

Start with 150- or 180-grit sandpaper. Once you’ve sanded all of the surfaces, step it up to a 220- or 300-grit sandpaper to create that smooth, slick surface that’s synonymous with cornhole boards!

Gloved hand applying stain to a cornhole game board.

Staining: In long, even strokes rub your wood stain with the grain of the wood. Follow with a clean rag to wipe up the excess stain. Once it has dried for a few hours, start applying a clear topcoat, like spar varnish, that is safe for outdoor use.

Let the coat completely dry before sanding with 220-grit sandpaper, wiping clean and applying another clear coat. Repeat for a third time.

Painting: If you’re choosing to paint your boards, select an exterior semi-gloss paint and make sure your design covers all the wood on the top so the surface will be appropriately slick. Several coats might be required.

Once your topcoat or paint is dry, you’re ready to start keeping score! 

To get your backyard ready for more summer fun, add some hanging string lights. Use planters or shepherd’s hooks to keep the good times going past sundown.


Further Reading

6 Sites Where You Can Buy (and Sell!) Your Used Camping Gear

6 Sites Where You Can Buy (and Sell!) Your Used Camping Gear

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Now that spring is here, chances are you may be ready to head outside and explore. And if you want to genuinely immerse yourself in the experience, there’s no better way to do so than to sleep outside. Having an outdoor space to call home after hiking, fishing, or stargazing can help you feel at one with nature, but investing in gear can seem daunting. However, purchasing a tent, camping stove, or a simple backpack doesn’t have to cost a fortune if you consider pre-owned equipment. If you’re already a camping pro and need to upgrade your sleeping bag, your castoff can get a new lease on life while helping fund the cost of your new gear.

So, before buying everything brand-new or dropping your gently used items off at the local donation center, think about using a resale site to save or make a little money. Although you can find pre-owned adventure items on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, outdoor-specific sites can help you hone in on your needs. Here are six sites designed for buying and selling used camping gear.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or heading out on your maiden camping trip, Out&Back offers everything you need to have a successful experience. This is partly because they only accept and sell trustworthy brands, such as Mountain Hardware, The North Face, and Big Agnes. As a seller, the process is relatively simple. “All you have to do is fill out our online form,” says Barruch Ben-Zekry, founder of Out&Back. “We give sellers an instant cash offer, we pay for shipping, and we pay in cash as soon as we receive the item.”

Because Out&Back handles the gear, they guarantee the quality of their products, offer free returns, and ensure that each item goes through a hospital-grade cleaning process. As a purchaser, you can also feel good about reducing waste. “By purchasing used items, you’re not only helping our environment, but you’re saving tons of money,” adds Ben-Zekry. “Used gear performs just as well as new, so save the money, save the planet, buy and sell used outdoor gear.”

The name REI is synonymous with quality outdoor equipment. Although their main website sells everything from hammocks to lanterns, REI’s used section is where you can save money on camping items. “The inventory is returned REI gear, and most of it is in excellent condition,” says Ian Swallow, who produces adventure guides with his wife, Emily. REI also backs its used product line, which is a significant point for those cautious about buying pre-owned things.

Another perk is that sellers also have the opportunity to get store credit toward future purchases. “They also just added a new feature where you can trade in old gear for REI gift cards,” adds Swallow. Trading now and buying later is the perfect option if you aren’t sure what you want to purchase or if you’re going to swap camping for a different hobby, such as biking or snowboarding, as REI supplies products for a wide variety of outdoor activities.

Patagonia is known for its clothing. Of course, you may want to outfit yourself from head to toe for upcoming adventures, but by keeping an eye on the Worn Wear section of their website, you can score equipment at about half of the original price. “Although they focus more on clothing, you can find some great Patagonia camping gear (sleeping bags, backpacks, etc.),” offers Swallow. Like REI, Patagonia has a trade-in program where you can receive gift cards for gently-used items.

Additionally, purchasing from a well-known brand offers the security of using a retailer you’re already familiar with. Gaby Pilson is an outdoor educator and prefers to use retailer sites like Patagonia when purchasing used gear. “I like these manufacturer-specific sites because they give me confidence that whatever I’m buying will be in good shape, even though it’s used,” she advises.

If having used camping gear at your fingertips via your smartphone sounds appealing, the Rerouted app is the way to go. Although they have a website where you can purchase pre-owned things, downloading the app is a must if you want to sell your castoffs. Like eBay, Rerouted lets you upload and list equipment to sell directly to buyers. 

“One of the coolest new apps out there for buying and selling used outdoor gear is Rerouted,” recommends Kevin Callahan, who co-founded a campervan outfitting company. “The app allows users to upload pictures of gear they want to sell and lists it in just a click.” Additionally, because folks are constantly listing new items, Rerouted allows you to create a custom profile to help find exactly what you need as sellers list equipment on their site.

Although Outdoors Geek is known for renting outdoor supplies, you can score big by watching their preowned section. Mikaela Ferguson is a former wilderness guide who recommends scouring the gently-used area of Outdoors Geek’s website to purchase items. “Outdoors Geek has a gear rental program, and they sell the used gear when they’re done with it,” she says. “If you don’t mind using gear that’s been used by many people (appropriately cleaned and in working condition, though), they have some good prices — especially for sleeping bags and pads.” Another interesting point about Outdoors Geek is that you can rent items prior to purchasing to give equipment a road test before making a total financial commitment. 

If you have items to sell, Geartrade offers a variety of options depending on your preferences. Either send them used camping goods or list things yourself — either way, you don’t have to pay for shipping. “One of the coolest features is that they give free shipping labels to either send the gear to them for listing or shipping if you want to sell it yourself,” advises Mark Joy, who is an avid outdoorsman. “They offer everything outdoor adventurers need to get outside at a discounted price.”

Joy also recommends Geartrade due to how user-friendly the site is. “It’s organized really well by activity, type, and brand, and you can also do general searches,” he says. In addition, using a reselling site like Geartrade encourages reducing waste while helping you clear out things that may otherwise go unused. Whether buying or selling, one person’s pre-loved item can become someone else’s next great camping find.

Create the Ultimate Outdoor Oasis With These Stylish (and Affordable!) Walmart Finds

Create the Ultimate Outdoor Oasis With These Stylish (and Affordable!) Walmart Finds

Apartment Therapy received compensation for this post, which was written and edited independently by our editorial team.

If you’ve been waiting to upgrade your backyard for the spring and summer, consider this post your sign to get started. The warm weather is quickly approaching, and if last year is any indication, patio decor and accessories are going to fly off the (virtual) shelves as more and more homeowners look to take advantage of their outdoor spaces.

Whether you boast a few acres or a modest patio, there are plenty of ways to dress up your zone so that it not only functions better but looks better, too. From party-ready Bluetooth speakers and atmospheric lanterns that lend a romantic glow to the modern rocking chairs of your dreams, Walmart has it all — at wallet-friendly prices, of course.

To help you on your way to your dream backyard oasis, we’re rounding up some of our favorite outdoor living picks from Walmart to help you make the most of your alfresco spaces in style. Cheers to sunny days ahead!