Fall is the perfect time for home and garden projects

Welcome to autumn! Now, get to work!

Early fall is ideal for many home and garden projects. The weather is just right — not too hot, not too cold. October usually is mild and dry, which is why it ranks as the No. 1 month for painting in Sacramento. That also applies to planting new lawns (or turf alternatives) and refurbishing landscapes.


Likewise, those perfect conditions inspire a plethora of projects, indoors and out.

Everything starts with a plan, said Anitra Mecadon, host of DIY Network’s “Mega Dens.”

“No matter your budget, have a plan,” Mecadon said. “Take measurements; that’s the most important step. Get some graph paper. Know how to make your money work for you. You can’t do a simple room without a plan. That’s where people go wrong.”

For remodeling projects, Mecadon starts with the walls; they’ll create the framework for everything else.

“Most people don’t think about the walls unless they’ve had (mold or mildew) issues in the past,” she said. “We spend so much money to create the space, but don’t think about the walls.”

For her TV show, Mecadon specializes in man caves, media rooms and party places — areas that can get noisy and maybe a little crazy, especially during fall’s football season. She recommends Purple brand drywall, particularly Hi-Abuse and Hi-Impact XP drywall for areas that need that extra protection from excess revelry.

“Once you install it, you don’t have to think about it,” she said of the drywall. “You can hit it with a baseball bat and not hurt it. It also forms a sound break; no matter how loud the game gets in surround sound, you won’t wake anybody else up.”

Speaking of walls, think of them as a canvas for decorating ideas, Mecadon added.

“Walls are for more than just paint,” she said. “Make them work for you.”

For example, use a wall as a showcase for a hobby or favorite pastime.

“Create a pattern,” she said. “(For a baseball fan), I made a grid of baseballs. Use what you love as a piece of art. It can make a very dramatic impact.”

For more traditional decorating, Mecadon loves molding.

“It adds style and texture to plain walls,” she said. “It doesn’t even have to be typical molding. You can use recycled barn wood or photo framing. It makes the whole wall look like solid wood.”

Tasks for indoors

Before you tackle new projects, take a look at what you already have and take care of it, according to the experts at consumer rating service Angie’s List. Autumn months annually see a spike in requests for chimney sweeps and furnace fixers. Get ahead of the curve by taking some time out for basic maintenance.

Where to start? Angie’s List offers this fall checklist of advice:

• Service your heating system. An estimated 80 percent of emergency calls answered by heating specialists are the result of improper maintenance. Schedule an appointment soon so you can beat the rush and help avoid a breakdown on a cold night.

• Check and replace furnace filters. New filters lead to more efficient operation of your home’s heating system, which cuts your energy costs.

• Protect your pipes. Insulate water lines that may feel the cold. (Don’t forget faucets.) Clean out all water lines to remove potential clogs and prevent major problems. Clogs can freeze and cause pipes to weaken and burst.

• Drain and refill your water heater. Eliminating sediment build-up from the holding tank can improve the water heater’s efficiency by 50 percent.

• Add insulation to your attic. This is one of the lowest-cost options for improving the energy efficiency of your home, says Angie’s List. If you see exposed 2-by-4s in your attic, you probably need more insulation.

• Seal drafts. Caulk and weatherstrip where airflow is detected. Walk through your home with a lighted stick of incense or a candle. Drafts will pull the smoke in that direction, making it easier to determine where cold air is seeping in.

• Schedule a chimney sweep. Creosote buildup can lead to a chimney fire. Have your chimney inspected at least once a year. Beat the winter rush by doing it now.

Tasks for outdoors

The change of seasons is upon us. You can see it on your lawn and patio – leaves.

As the City of Trees, Sacramento has more than its share of autumn cleanup. Dried and fallen leaves seem to be everywhere. What to do?

Make compost. According to Family Handyman magazine, you can use your lawn mower to chop and bag fallen leaves. Instead of raking, run over the leaves with the mower and let it bag them up. Then, add the chopped leaves to your compost pile (or start one).

Or use a bagless mulching mower. That grinds the fallen leaves into little pieces. Those tiny flakes settle into the turf and decompose, making them natural lawn fertilizer.

When you do rake, use a big rake; it really does make the job go faster. Family Handyman recommends a leaf rake 30 inches wide. A “no-clog” rakes save more time — the tines don’t skewer leaves.

Traditionally, lawns rate high on the fall to-do list. October ranks as the best month to plant a new lawn or restore an old one. It’s also a good time to replace a lawn with water-efficient alternatives.

The dry summer months took their toll on turf, which means many lawns may look a little sad. The landscape experts at Angie’s List had these pointers:

• Read before you seed. Get expert advice about what your lawn needs before you buy a product. Don’t assume that every product will perform well on your lawn just because it’s in a store near you.

Sacramento’s hot summers demand turf varieties that can take the heat. Among those recommended by the University of California for our area are Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, zoysia grass, St. Augustine grass and tall fescue. For higher elevations with cooler temperatures, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues and perennial ryegrass become candidates. Bermuda and zoysia hold up better to high traffic and drought. Fine fescues tolerate shade and heat better than bluegrass.

• Overseed and fertilize now to give the products time to work. A second round of fertilizer may be needed later in the fall.

• Don’t do everything at once. Weed controls should be applied at least three weeks before seeding. If you missed that window, wait until the new grass has matured enough to receive at least three mowings.

• Read before you apply any weed controls or fertilizers. Follow label directions so you don’t do more harm to your already needy lawn. Don’t use all-purpose herbicides for general weed control. Attack weeds with herbicides designed specifically for those weeds. Be mindful that herbicides can drift to neighboring plants. For example, don’t use Round-Up around roses.

• Is your lawn sick or just tired? According to Angie’s List, turf disease is common this year in areas hit by drought. If weakened by summer weather, Bermuda grass won’t recover on its own and will likely be overtaken by stronger weeds. Dry patches or yellow or browned areas may indicate disease.

If you’re unsure if your grass is really dead or just looks that way, take a picture of the problem turf to show to a reputable lawn-care expert. Consult your local nursery or master gardeners.

• Remember: This was not a normal year. Your lawn may need extra help this fall. Because of the unusual summer weather, evaluate whether the products you’ve been using for years are what you need this year, say the experts. You may need something extra to help your lawn recover.

Landscape pros Chris and Peyton Lambton, hosts of HGTV’s “Going Yard,” start their fall to-do list with the things that tend to get forgotten — summer bulbs left in the ground or leaves mounded around trunks. The Lambtons offered these tips for Sacramento gardeners:

• Dig up dahlias and other summer bulbs. Left in the ground, they can rot during wet winter months. Bring them inside for winter to store in a cool, dark place. An old net bag or pantyhose are ideal for hanging bulbs in the garage, basement or protected shed; they’ll stay dry with enough ventilation to prevent mold.

• Clear debris from the base of flowering plants and shrubs. Fallen leaves and debris from trees and shrubs can accumulate around plants. That can create a haven for plant diseases if left over winter. Mounded leaves around the base of trees or shrubs can also lead to crown rot.

Fallen leaves also deprive grass or other ground cover of crucial sunlight during autumn months. Leaves also can accumulate and get wet, leading to mold growth and a breeding ground for pests.

• Divide and spread out perennials that are overgrown in certain areas. Share some with friends and neighbors. October also is a good time to move perennials that haven’t been working in their current area. How do you know a perennial needs a new home? It may not be getting enough sun to bloom — or looks crisped by too much afternoon heat. Overcrowded perennials tend to bloom less, too.

• Clean your gutters. Gutter blockage of dead leaves and other muck can cause serious water damage to your roof and walls. Check your gutters again after all the leaves have fallen.

• Clean and store outdoor furniture (indoors if possible). This will prevent rust and damage from freezing. In storage, allow for some airflow. Encasing the furniture tightly in plastic could lead to moisture damage.

• Check your exterior lighting before the dark nights ahead. Adjust (or install) timers to turn lights on at dusk and off in the morning.

The effort you invest now will pay dividends next spring.

Source: Sacramento Bee

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