Saturday, May 31, 2014

Top 10 Low-light Plants

Just because your yard is shaded doesn't mean you can't grow stunning plants and flowers. You might even be surprised by how much vegetation prefers minimal sunlight.
While many perennials favor light shade, some will still blossom in relatively dense umbrage. Flowering annuals, on the other hand, have quite different preferences. Generally, the more sunshine they get, the better. They don't flourish well in intensely dark areas, but some like light shade more than full sun.
Whether your garden is blanketed in shadows, or you simply don't want to give your greenery much attention, you'll fare favorably with these 10 agreeable plants. All of them thrive in low-light areas and produce eye-catching flowers that pop with color.


Bleeding Heart
Jacob's Ladder
Lily of the Valley
Wild Violet
Hosta Lily

Miriam Araujo
561 213-2363

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Go Green: 5 Ways to Cut Your Energy Costs

Implementing energy-saving measures in your home will reduce your utility usage and costs. Every bit you save has a far wider impact, however. You'll also lessen your consumption of the Earth's natural resources and eliminate a portion of the air, water and soil pollution that occurs in the process. Start with five methods to cut your energy costs and create an impact.

1. Change Your Light Bulbs

While lighting may not be your biggest drain on electricity in the home, it accounts for up to 20 percent of your electricity bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. By switching from traditional incandescent light bulbs to compact florescent lights (CFLs), you can save about 75 percent of the electricity used for each and every bulb replaced. Over the bulb's lifetime, that equals around $30 or more. That's a significant savings when you multiply it by the number of bulbs you use. Look for CFLs displaying the Energy Star logo for best results.
Tip: Install motion sensor switches in rooms where family members often forget to turn off the lights.

2. Perform Regular HVAC Maintenance

Up to half of the energy used in your home goes to your heating and air systems, depending on where you live and the condition of your home. Short of buying a new HVAC system with a better energy rating or fueled with an alternative energy source such as a heat pump – which requires a large upfront investment – proper maintenance will help your furnace or air conditioner use less energy. Clogged air filters force the system to strain and run more, driving up energy use and leading to more frequent breakdowns and repairs. Change your filters at least every three months or sooner if needed. If it looks dirty, it's time. Also, hire a qualified HVAC repair technician to give your system an inspection and "tune up" at least once a year to maintain efficiency and proper operation.
Tip: Install a programmable thermostat to regulate home temperatures. Lower the temperature whenever you will be gone more than a few hours.

3. Seal and Insulate Your Ductwork

An efficient furnace, good insulation and thermostat temperature settings only go so far to save you money. If your HVAC air ducts leak, you could be losing 20 percent or more of your heated or cooled air – you might as well leave a window open all year round! Not to mention that leaky ductwork can circulate fumes and gasses, such as carbon monoxide. This can lead to poor indoor air quality, aggravated health problems or worse, as the Energy Star website explains. Sealing and insulating your ducts is the solution. Use mastic (a glue-like sealant) and metal-backed foil tape to seal each joint and seam. Afterward, wrap the ducts with special insulation designed for ductwork.
Tip – Insulate water pipes, especially the hot water, with pipe insulation for greater energy savings and comfort.

4. Stop Air Leaks

Where is air invading and escaping from your home? Prime problem areas include around electrical outlets and light switches, door and window frames, entry points where cables and lines of any type run into the house through the walls or floor, and surrounding wall- or window-mounted air conditioning units. Also check around gas lines or pipes, fireplaces, attic access doors or hatches, and around any vent or fan. Outside the home, use caulk to seal corners in the siding and wherever two materials meet, such as around water faucets and dryer or stove vents, chimney-to-roof joints and the foundation top. Inside, weatherstripping, caulk and expanding foam insulation can work wonders.
Tip – Don't stop here. Take a look at your insulation and determine if it's degraded and needs replacement or if it's adequate to reach your area's minimum R-values.

5. Unplug It!

Perhaps 10 percent of your energy cost goes to "energy vampires" or "ghosts" that steal your electricity. These are appliances and items that use power even when they aren't actually on and working. Think of anything with a clock, timer, LED light or digital display. Even your phone charger keeps pumping electricity long after the phone is full if you leave it plugged in. To stop this useless drain, turn off nonessentials when you're done with them. Consider using power strips to plug in items and simply turn off the strip when you're finished.
Tip – Look for the Energy Star label, which indicates energy efficiency, when purchasing home appliances large and small.

Miriam Araujo
561 213-2363

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hummingbird Plants in the Garden

With wings that beat up to 200 times per second and the ability to hover straight up and down, sideways, backwards, and even upside down, hummingbirds need a lot of energy.
Although hummingbirds will eat insects, most of that energy comes from the nectar of flowers, and you can invite these guests to dine in your garden by planting known hummingbird plants.

Hummingbirds Everywhere

There are 320 hummingbird species in North, Central, and South America, so chances are you will find at least a species or two that call your region of the country home. Many of the hummingbirds found in the United States migrate and overwinter in Mexico, returning to northern climates in spring, and moving to higher elevations as wildflowers start to bloom.

Seeing Red – Hummingbird Plants

One of the best ways to attract hummingbirds is to grow known hummingbird plants in your garden. You're not just limited to summer flowers. There are many trees, shrubs, vines, and perennial flowers that attract hummingbirds. They bloom during different months and can extend the seasons in which you will see hummingbirds in your garden. To attract your native hummingbirds, plant some native plants in your garden. These hummingbird plants will be especially adapted to the hummingbirds in your areas as they have evolved in association with one another.
The plants most known as hummingbird plants are those with nectar-rich, red, orange, or red-orange tubular flowers. There are other flowers that attract hummingbirds, but flowers that are the brightest red are the most effective at capturing their attention. Old-fashioned, single-flowered blossoms, as opposed to double-flowered hybrids, are the best at attracting hummingbirds. The reason for this is that older plant species typically have more nectar, and it is easier for the hummingbirds to access than in double-flowered plant varieties. A few good hummingbird plants to consider adding to your garden are Fuschia magellanica (hardy fuschia), Monarda didyma (bee balm), and Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine).

Plan an Escape Route

When hummingbirds are feeding, they are vulnerable to attack from neighborhood cats and other predators like crows and jays. While feeding, a hummingbird's head can be deep inside a flower, and it may not see a predator approaching. For this reason, it is important to provide a variety of plantings that can serve as a means of escape.  A good way to offer protection against cats, for example, is to grow hummingbird plants that are at least 2 feet tall. Hanging pots of fuschias, geraniums, and red impatiens will also attract hummingbirds and allow them to feed safely.

Provide a Source of Water

Hummingbirds are attracted to birdbaths, but they are particularly attracted to the sound of running water. Fountains or any device that provides a spray or fine mist is best.

A List of Hummingbird Plants

This list is not comprehensive but should provide plenty of variety for your garden.
Abelia grandiflora (Glossy abelia)
Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon)
Aquilegia formosa (Columbine)
Arbutus unedo (Strawberry tree)
Canna spp. (Canna)
Chaenomeles japonica (Flowering quince)
Cleome spinosa (Spider flower)
Dahlia merkii (Dahlia)
Delphinium (Delphinium)
Digitalis spp. (Foxglove)
Fuschia magellanica (Hardy fuschia)
Gladiolus spp. (Gladiolus)
Heuchera spp. (Coral bells)                                  
Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon)
Iris spp. (Iris)
Kalmia polifolia (Bog laurel)
Kniphofia uvaria (Red hot poker plant)
Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
Lilium spp. (Lily)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Lonicera spp. (Honeysuckle)
Monarda didyma (Bee balm)
Nicotiana spp. (Flowering tobacco)
Pelargonium hybrids (Geranium)
Penstemon spp. (Penstemon)
Phaseolus spp. (Scarlet runner beans)
Rhamnus purshiana (Cascara)                                      
Ribes sanguineum (Red-flowering currant)
Sambucus spp. (Elderberry)
Scabiosa spp. (Scabiosa)
Syringa spp. (Lilac)
Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium)
Weigela florida (Weigela)

Miriam Araujo
561 213-2363

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spring-Cleaning and Home Maintenance Tasks

When warmer temperatures come, refresh your home with an annual spring-cleaning, including important maintenance tasks for the interior and exterior. Not only will it give your house a "face-lift," it will make your home more comfortable and will help prevent costly repairs later.
Here are the essential tasks for both inside and outside your home.

Exterior Spring Maintenance

You can start your spring-cleaning and maintenance either inside or outdoors, according to your preference. Since some things take a little longer than others, don't feel like you must do it all in a day or even a weekend. Spring lasts several weeks!
Take a good look at your roof. Scan for missing shingles, uneven surfaces indicating damage, or other evidence that the roof needs repair.
Clean your gutters and check your downspouts. If you don't feel comfortable climbing a ladder, hire someone to do the work for you.
Inspect your home's foundation. Look closely to ensure leaks (usually indicated by damp or discolored spots) and cracks have not formed, and repair as needed. Consult a professional for large cracks that may signal foundation failure.
Clean your chimney. If you burn wood in a fireplace or wood stove, a spring-cleaning attacks the creosote while it's fresh. If you're comfortable on your roof, you can DIY. Otherwise, hire a professional chimney cleaning service.
Wash your windows. Substitute a mixture of half vinegar and half hot water for professional glass cleaning products.
Switch out storm windows for screens, and doors as well. Mend any torn screens immediately to prevent small insects from entering.
Check porches, decks and other structures for signs of rot or damage. Repair as necessary. Use this opportunity to power wash and refinish patios, decks and porches if needed.
Schedule an HVAC system check and tune-up. Replace ventilation filters at the same time. Yearly maintenance and regular filter changes help extend your HVAC unit's life.
Turn on the water to outside faucets. Hook up water hoses and ensure everything works properly.
Check your siding or brick. Keep an eye out for termites, carpenter ants, pest damage, evidence of water leaks, holes or other damage. Repair as appropriate.
Inspect your sidewalks and driveway. Sweep clear of debris and ensure the walkways are level and safe for everyone. Hire a professional to repair these areas if necessary.
Clean out your garage. Get rid of trash or chemicals that may create a fire hazard. Sweep out dirt and debris. Look over the garage door, ensuring it seals well and any automatic opener is in good repair. Also check the garage door opener safety sensors.

Interior Spring Maintenance

Test every ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet in your home. To test, plug in a portable item such as a nightlight or alarm clock. Press the "test" button on the outlet – it should turn the item off. At the same time, the "reset" button should pop out. When you push the reset in again, power should come on once more. Consult an electrician for assistance or information.
Check each smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your house.
Clean your carpets. Carpeting can harbor millions of germs, bacteria, mites, and a variety of other contaminants. Even carpet that looks clean may be dirtier than you think. Perform a DIY deep cleaning or hire carpet cleaners to do it for you.
Test your basement sump pump if you have one. Pour a 5-gallon bucket of water into the reservoir. The sump should start. If it doesn't, consult a professional. During spring's heavy rains, this item will help keep your basement dry; you don't want it to fail when you really need it.
Clean any ceiling fans. Reverse the blade direction to ensure it directs the air down, with the blades turning counterclockwise.
Dust exhaust fans such as those in the bathroom.
Test the door seals on your refrigerator and freezer. Insert a dollar bill between the door and frame, and then close the door. If you can slip the dollar bill free, you need a new door seal. Check the interior temperature with a thermometer. Also, pull out the appliance and clean the coils on back. Dirty coils can lead to higher electric bills and appliance damage.
Depending on your home and situation, you may have other appliances and areas that need attention. Every spring, inspect your entire home, keeping an eye out for things that will help keep you comfortable and ready for the rest of the year.

Miriam Araujo
561 213-2363