Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Q: We want to start the New Year out right and do something with our landscaping.

We bought the house from you last year and it didn't have anything but a small lawn and an overgrown vegetable garden. We want to get the biggest "bang for our buck" so we thought we'd ask you for advice. You may recall that we are on a very tight budget, so we can't afford a designer or anything.

A: Almost every landscape consultant I've ever talked to and most books on landscaping say to invest first in trees. Trees and large shrubs are your foundation plants. These will need the most time to grow so you want to start your landscape with good, solid, native trees.

You can also add fast growing maples and other species that can give you some color and texture. I have a silver maple that I got as a whip from the National Arbor Society that we planted years ago. It's over 30 feet tall now. It's beautiful in every season and gives needed shade in the summer. Check out the Arbor Society and other non-profit plant organizations. They are a wonderful source of free advice.

Next add shrubs, particularly those that attract birds and butterflies. There are many good sources online for bird friendly plant ideas for our region. Shrubs may also need some time to get established but are well worth it. Add some ground cover, particularly to get rid of some of that lawn, and finally your flower beds.

It's always good to have a plan. Before you plant anything get some good landscape books at the library or bookstore, and don't try to do too much at one time.

My last bit of advice -- do the irrigation first! When you want a beautiful yard it's hard to start with digging up the place and laying down pipes, but a good irrigation system will save money, water, and your plants! You don't want to do it later when you're tired of high water bills and too many hours of watering. Happy gardening!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Q: We are getting all settled in the wonderful house you sold us a few months ago.

But being a couple of "city kids" as well as first time home buyers, we don't have clue about what we should be doing to get ready for bad weather and power outages. Where do we start?

A: If you haven’t done it already, be sure to clean out your gutters. If the gutters are clogged with leaves and debris the rainwater will just flow over the gutters and down the sides of the house. That can rot out your siding. Once it freezes those gutters full of leaves form an ice dam and water will not only cascade off the roof but will wick up into the underlayment of the roofing and rot the roofing out.

Be sure you have plenty of flashlights, safe candle holders and candles and even some battery powered lanterns. This Thanksgiving most of us at the south end of the Island were out of power for about six hours. We still had a good time at my house because we had alternative heat, lots of candles and lanterns, and our turkey was already out of the oven when the lights went out. We were lucky.

It’s really important that you have your chimney cleaned. Creosote build up is one of the major causes of house fires. Be sure your furnace has been serviced and the filters cleaned or replaced. We all spend more time indoors at this time of year and need to protect the quality of our indoor air. Clean off walkways and decks so that they don’t get slick and slippery. Add non-stick strips or outdoor carpeting on decks for safety. Clean dryer vents. Have your car serviced and keep ice scrappers and extra blankets in the car.

I have a list of tips to be ready for power outages that I’m happy to share with anyone. You can pick up the list at my office or ask for it and I’ll email it to you. There’s a lot to know to be ready.