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Fall & Winter Seasonal Home Maintenance Guide for the South

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy, and keep all your home’s systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for the South in fall and winter.

Key maintenance tasks to perform

• Get your heating system in order. Consider adding programmable thermostats to your home; they can help save around $180 a year on your energy bills. If you have a heat pump, make sure you install a programmable thermostat especially designed for heat pumps. Programmable thermostats for heat pumps are specially designed to keep these systems working at peak efficiency. Schedule your fall HVAC checkup promptly. Make sure you have all electrical connections checked, all moving parts lubricated if necessary, and the condensate drain and trap inspected.

• Clean your gutters. In the South, you’re less likely to have ice form in your gutters than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, debris in your gutters can … Read Full Post »

Harvesting Water With Rain Barrels

Maybe, as some predict, fresh water will become the next oil in terms of being a necessary but limited resource. However, even if that turns out to be hyperbole, regional droughts will always be with us. That means that at some point many people will be forced to conserve water. 

”The population is growing, but the water supply is not,” says Bill Hoffman, a coordinator for the City of Austin Water Conservation Program, in Texas. That’s why people around the country are turning to the centuries–old practice of collecting rain as an alternative source of water.

By collecting rain from a roof during wet months and storing it in a tank or cistern, homeowners can create an alternative supply that won’t tax the groundwater or jack up the water bill. 

And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found n wells or the chlorine in municipal supplies, it’s ideal for watering the … Read Full Post »

Mulch: Your Tree’s Best Friend

Mulching is one of the most valuable things a homeowner can do for a tree’s health. Mulch is any material placed on the soil to conserve moisture and improve growing conditions. Common materials include wood chips, bark, pine needles and compost. However, if mulch is applied too deeply or the wrong material is used, it actually can harm trees and other plants.

Proper mulching

◾ Check soil drainage in the area to be mulched. Determine if there are trees or plants that may be affected by the type of mulch. Most organic mulches work well in most landscape situations. Some plants may benefit from mulches such as pine needles or bark that acidify the soil.

◾ Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch over well-drained soils. Use a thinner layer on poorly drained soils. The wider the mulch ring, the greater the benefit. Mulch out to the tree’s drip line, if possible.

◾ Do not pile … Read Full Post »

Possum Control

Opossum are frequently considered a nuisance in and around the garden, especially when they feed on or trample plants. They can also rummage through garbage cans or “steal” your pets’ food. How to get rid of an opossum can be tricky but with a little perseverance, the backyard possum may be convinced to move elsewhere.

Backyard Possum Control

The best way to combat opossum problems is to understand their habits. While they prefer wooded areas or open fields near streams, they will take up residence in abandoned burrows; tree crevices; brush piles; or areas beneath steps, decks, and outbuildings.

These animals are also nocturnal, meaning they’re typically active only at night, sleeping throughout the day. This can make it somewhat difficult to “see” the intruder attacking your garden. However, they will usually leave some telltale signs of their presence through droppings, tracks, over turned pet food dishes or garbage cans, and plant damage. The … Read Full Post »

Carpenter Ants

Description: Fourteen species of carpenter ants occur in Texas. The largest species is the black carpenter ant,Camponotus pennsylvanicus (Fabricius) and is found primarily in wooded areas outdoors. Common indoor species,Camponotus rasilis Wheeler and C. sayi Emery, have workers that are dull red bodied with black abdomens. Worker ants range in size from 1/4 to 1/2-inch. They can be distinguished from most other large ant species because the top of the thorax is evenly convex and bears no spines. Also the attachment between the thorax and abdomen (pedicel) has but a single flattened segment.

Winged reproductive carpenter ants should not be confused with winged termites (Isoptera). Ants have elbowed antennae, distinctly veined wings of different sizes (large forewings and small hind wings) and a narrow portion of the body (waist) between the thorax and abdomen. The acrobat ants, Crematogaster sp., also occasionally nest in wood. These ants are much smaller and have a heart-shaped abdomen that is often held up over their bodies. They … Read Full Post »

How to Save Water With a Sleeping Lawn

The average lawn size in the U.S. is about 1/5 of an acre, or a little less than 9,000 square feet, and it takes at least 624 gallons of water to apply 1″ of water on 1,000 square feet of lawn. It thus takes a total of more than 67,000 gallons to apply 1″ of water per week to an average lawn for three months during one summer. Even if you only halve that amount by allowing your lawn to go dormant, you’re still conserving a tremendous amount of water–enough water to supply a family of three’s drinking water requirements for 61 years.
Whether you want to help conserve water or you just don’t have time to water your lawn regularly, letting your grass go dormant during the hottest months of the year can help. A dormant, or “sleeping,” lawn will turn brown, but with proper care the underground crown of the grass plant will survive. In fact, … Read Full Post »

Should You Upgrade Your Breaker Box?

Whether or not to change out the breaker box is a question many homeowners have faced. Age, period built, brand, maintenance, environment, and cost are just some of the factors to consider when making this decision. There are a few options for any upgrade, but it really comes down to the needs of the individual breaker box.

In order to understand the needs for a service change, there are a few items within the service that need to be defined. An electrical service generally includes four major parts: the weatherhead with associated wire (which may be underground), the meter base and enclosure, the service feeder to the breaker box, and the breaker box itself.

The weatherhead is where the utility connects to your service. The associated wiring and conduit is generally governed by the utility, even though the homeowner is normally responsible for its parts and installation. The meter base is where … Read Full Post »

What Bed Bugs Are & What They Do

If you ever heard that nursery rhyme “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” you know these critters bite in the night. But most of us never heard of them in real life until now.

Some fast facts…

•              Life Stages: Eggs hatch into nymphs. Newly hatched nymphs are tiny—about 1/16th of an inch.

•              Nymphs—which look like small adults—become adults in 5 weeks. They go through 5 molts to reach adult size—meaning they shed their old, smaller skin 5 times. They must feed before each molt.

•              Females can produce 5-7 eggs per week, laying up to 500 in a lifetime.

•              Bed bugs grow fastest and lay most eggs at about 80°F.

•              They feed only on blood.

•              They feed when people are sleeping or sitting quietly, often when it’s dark.

•              They seek shelter in cracks and crevices when not feeding.

•              They poop out “blood spots.” Spots look like dots made by a fine felt-tipped marker. You’d see them … Read Full Post »

Tips for Aerating the Lawn this Fall

Hardly anyone thinks about the dirt the grass grows in, but the health of the soil is a key component to a great lawn. Grass does best in soil that drains well and has a rich, loamy texture.

Poor soil invites many lawn problems, including weak growth, which makes the grass subject to damage from insects, disease or weather conditions. If the soil is compacted or made of heavy clay, it may not drain properly. If it’s sandy or silty, it won’t hold water and will dry out too quickly.

Core aerate the soil every fall or every other fall. This process pulls 2- to 3-inch-long cores from the ground, where they stay until they disintegrate in a couple of weeks, feeding the soil as they do. Core aeration helps keep thatch, or dead root matter, under control and loosens compacted soil. The holes allow water, oxygen and other nutrients to work … Read Full Post »

Tips for dealing with Drought

We’re experiencing a drought that is close to becoming a record setter for this time of year in the Houston area. Here are some of ABC’s tips for keeping your outdoor environment in good shape.

Watering and Irrigation

-If you have an irrigation system, make sure that all zones and sprinkler heads are operating correctly and covering adequately.

-For most lawns, watering a couple times weekly is adequate.  Plant beds may need additional watering, especially if they drain well.

-Over-watering is detrimental, contributing to a number of root damaging diseases and yellow, weak plants.

 

Mowing

– St. Augustine needs to be mowed weekly. Higher mowing helps St. Augustine conserve moisture.  Shorter mowing heights shock St. Augustine, forcing it to expend energy and moisture growing new blades, and ultimately weakening and thinning it.

-Bermuda and Zoysia lawns are healthier cut much shorter and more often.

-Make sure your mower blade is sharp, reducing moisture loss.  Dull mower blades fray the … Read Full Post »