7 Ways to Prevent Weeds From Growing in Your Yard

Weeds in sidewalk

Weeds are a dreaded sight for anyone who takes pride in his or her yard. Like many people, you may feel like the only way to keep these invasive plants at bay is to invest in professional garden care. However, there are several do-it-yourself tactics for driving off or killing weeds that are easy and economical. If you’re struggling to keep your yard free of weeds, try the following measures to get those intruders under control once and for all.

1. Leave Your Soil Alone

There most likely are already weed seeds in your soil, lying dormant and waiting for the right conditions to support growth. By leaving your soil as undisturbed as possible, you can lower the likelihood that these seeds will receive enough sunlight to begin sprouting. Instead of tilling your soil with a machine, do it by hand to limit the amount of dirt that gets churned up.

Rather than planting your flowers and vegetables directly in the soil, consider planting them in an overlying layer of compost or bagged soil. This can further reduce the risk of weeds growing in.

2. Suppress Weed Growth

In addition to minimizing soil disturbances, you should proactively stop seeds from developing into pesky weeds by covering your soil with materials that block sunlight. For the best effects, you will need to create a layer that is two to four inches deep to ensure that stubborn weeds don’t poke through. The following items are all affordable, easily accessible and highly effective as mulches or sun blockers:

  • Store-bought mulch. Beneficially, any kind of mulch will hold in moisture and add nutrients to your soil.
  • Grass clippings. These clippings, which smother weeds and fertilize the soil, act as a natural and readily available mulch.
  • Newspapers. When layered with other types of mulch, newspapers ensure that sunlight and even oxygen can’t reach the soil.
  • Carpet swatches, wallpaper or shower curtains. These items help block sunlight when they are placed underneath a layer of mulch.

Many kinds of plants can make effective mulches, but one type of dried grass that you will want to avoid using is hay. Hay can contain seeds, which could leave you dealing with other unwanted plants growing in your yard.

3. Crowd Out New Growth

Another measure that can inhibit weed growth is a crowded planting design. The key is to eliminate barren or empty spots that allow weeds to take root. If you have a lawn, make sure to reseed it in areas where the grass has died.

You should also make aeration and fertilization regular yearly practices. If you grow vegetables or flowers, consider planting them in a diamond pattern, which leaves fewer gaps than conventional rows do. If you loosen the underlying soil down to a depth of 24 inches, you can plant your flowers or vegetables very close together without worrying about the roots crowding each other, since the roots will be able to grow downward.

4. Try Natural Measures

Pulled weed

If you prefer natural garden care, you’ll be glad to know that you can usually prevent weeds from growing in your yard by using a simple home remedy. Treating your soil with corn gluten meal can stop weed seeds from germinating. This treatment has the same effect on virtually any seed, though, so make sure that you only apply it once your vegetables and flowers are well-established.

If weeds have already grown into your yard, you can kill them by applying vinegar, vodka or salt. Vinegar is a natural herbicide. Vodka can be mixed with water and a little soap to act as a desiccant. Like vodka, salt dries weeds out, and it additionally stops them from taking in nutrients. It’s important to use these three treatments with caution, however. All of them can kill the plants that you are deliberately growing, and salt will render any soil that it comes into contact with unusable in the short term.

5. Apply Herbicides

The use of chemical herbicides can also help prevent weed growth. Spraying a store-bought herbicide before weeds begin sprouting can halt unwanted growth without causing any harm to established plants. Make sure to use a pre-emergent herbicide about three weeks before you normally start seeing weeds appear in your yard.

To deal with weeds that grow even with this treatment, you can make your own homemade herbicidal soap. However, make sure to use it carefully, since it can kill plants that you aren’t trying to eradicate as well as weeds. To make the soap, combine equal quantities of dish soap, vinegar and water, and then spray it directly onto the weeds.

6. Remove Them by Hand

Removing weeds by hand is an effective option if you want to avoid the use of harsh chemicals and ensure that no harm comes to your flowers or vegetables. You’ll need a trowel or small shovel so that you can dig down and access the roots. Protect your hands and limit the spread of seeds by wearing a pair of gardening gloves.

Make sure to fully remove the weeds, including the entire root system, or they will grow back later. To improve efficiency, try weeding when the soil is damp. Many people find that pulling weeds is easiest early in the morning or after a storm.

7. Heat Things Up

Heat can be a great tool for removing established weeds. One easy approach is to simply pour boiling water directly onto weeds. This should kill even the toughest plants after just a few applications. You also can invest in a weed torch, which heats the water present inside weeds to kill them. Once you get used to this approach, it can be very effective, although it isn’t safe to use on poisonous weeds. When using either method, remember to take precautions to protect yourself, such as wearing close-toed shoes and clothing that covers your limbs.

Keeping weeds out of your yard can feel like an overwhelming task, but it’s important to remember that even a small amount of regular work can go a long way. Practicing smart preventative measures and treating any weeds that do appear quickly can keep your garden looking beautiful and leave you with more time to focus on the plants that you actually want to grow.

14 Simple and Effective Home Cleaning Tips

We are well into spring–have you started your spring cleaning yet? Although tidying up your house is probably not as exciting of a spring activity as relaxing outdoors is, you can’t deny that a neat living space looks great and really does improve your mood. Here are some of the top tips for keeping your home clean this spring.


Appliance Care

Clean Kitchen Ice Maker

Instead of putting all of your cleaning off to do in a single day, remember that it’s easier to do small, daily maintenance tasks. By practicing this method of cleaning, you can avoid doing a major cleaning project every week or two–giving you more free time to enjoy the springtime. A good place to start is in the kitchen: try to wipe up spills and clear away stray crumbs as soon as you notice them. Also, make sure that your appliances are cleaned often: remember to wipe down your mixer, blender, ice maker or hot plate right after using to avoid stuck-on grime and streaks.

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8 Dangerous Items in Your Home

House Cleaners

Although most people recognize the dangers of a car accident or a home fire, they often overlook some of the ordinary items in their homes that can also pose a safety risk. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the organization that regulates recalls, estimates that 33.1 million people are injured each year by household consumer products in the United States. Here are eight common but dangerous items you can find in your home and what to do to minimize their risks.

1. Household Cleaners

Although people use household cleaners everyday, they rarely think about the dangers they pose.

Read the labels of most of the commercial cleaning products in your home, and you’ll quickly notice the list of warnings and dangerous ingredients. Some warnings caution you to avoid contact with the eyes or skin, but that’s not the only danger they pose. In fact, many of these also release toxic pollutants into the air. Using them in an area that isn’t well ventilated can pose serious health hazards. Here are a few common cleaners and the hazardous ingredients they contain:

  • Air fresheners:

    Air fresheners can contain compounds like nitrogen dioxide which do more to pollute your indoor air than to freshen it.

  • Cleaning Container
  • Bleach:

    Anyone who has come into contact with undiluted bleach can attest to its danger. Not only can it cause burns on the skin, it’s also dangerous to inhale in an unventilated area.

  • Toilet Bowl Cleaners:

    Like bleach, most toilet bowl cleaners can cause burns if they come into contact with the skin or eyes.

  • Oven Cleaners:

    There’s a reason that commercial oven cleaners power through caked-on grime. The corrosive alkalis in oven cleaners make quick work of a dirty oven. Unfortunately, they can also do serious damage to your respiratory system if inhaled and to your gastrointestinal tract if ingested.

Even if you banish dangerous household cleaners, you don’t have to give up on a clean house. It’s easy to mix together effective cleaners with less toxic, common household ingredients. With an initial investment in vinegar, baking soda, borax, and liquid soap, you can whip up batches of cleaners whenever you need them. There are also many nontoxic, natural cleaners on the market.

2. Cosmetics

From shampoos to lotions to makeup, most bathrooms are overflowing with cosmetic products. However, many popular cosmetics actually contain harmful ingredients. One common ingredient–specifically, parabens–is a plasticizer. Although parabens may extend the shelf life of cosmetic products, they are linked to reproductive and developmental problems in animals. Read labels carefully and opt for products with short lists of recognizable and natural ingredients.

3. Lead Paint

Lead paint is probably one of the more recognized dangers in the home. With recent attention and educational campaigns, most homeowners are aware of its hazards. Exposure to lead paint can affect the central nervous system, blood, brain, and kidneys of people who are exposed.

Lead paint was commonly used in homes built pre-1978. If you have an older home, have the paint tested. If you notice peeling paint in your older home, don’t tackle the job yourself. Instead, call in professionals experienced in lead paint removal.

Even if you don’t own an older home, you may be exposed to lead paint. Many toys and dishes made in China contain lead paint. In particular, watch for made-in-China products that are red or yellow, colors that are frequently made with lead.

4. Pressed Wood Furniture

From wood paneling to chipboard or particle-board furniture, pressed wood can be found in many homes. Pressed wood is made by gluing many thin layers of wood together to create a stronger, lighter product than solid wood. The glue, however, can pose health hazards. Many pressed wood products use urea-formaldehyde in their construction. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause a host of health ailments ranging from watery or burning eyes to asthma attacks. Because new pressed wood releases more formaldehyde, avoid purchasing any new products containing it.

Dangerous extension cords

5. Mothballs

Mothballs are another dangerous item often found in our homes. Mothballs contain naphthalene, which can actually destroy red blood cells. Although scientists don’t yet know if naphthalene causes cancer in humans, it has been proven to cause cancer in animals. The EPA requires mothballs to come with a warning label cautioning buyers to avoid breathing in their vapors. Trade out your mothballs for cedar chips. Not only do they smell better, they are a far safer alternative.

6. Extension Cords

In and of themselves, new extension cords are not dangerous. However, without proper use and care, they can quickly become hazardous. They are, in fact, a leading cause of house fires. To avoid dangers, check the voltage capacity on any extension cords you use. Just because there is an open spot on the extension cord doesn’t mean that you can plug in all your appliances. Also, be sure to check extension cords frequently to make sure they are not showing any signs of wear. If you notice exposed wires or worn spots in the cord, it’s time to trade it in for a newer model.

7. Prescriptions

Prescription medications can be dangerous to anyone that misuses them. Be sure to always follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to the proper dosing of your medications. If you have small children or pets around your house, you should be extra wary of where you keep these prescriptions. Consider keeping them on the top shelf of your pantry or cabinet. Another option is to invest in child-locks for your cabinet doors, which makes it challenging for little hands to open them and grab what is inside.

8. Gas Space Heaters

Gas space heaters put out a lot of heat quickly, making them a popular purchase. Most are labeled as suitable for outdoor use only. However, people sometimes overlook that and use them inside. In enclosed spaces like a garage or bedroom, gas fumes are extremely dangerous, carrying a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to only use gas space heaters outside, and stick to electric space heaters inside your home.

Make your home a safe haven. Weed out as many dangerous household items, like toxic cleaners and mothballs, as you can. Use caution when using things like extension cords. Read labels carefully and look for safer alternatives whenever possible. By eliminating or limiting these eight hazards, you can rest easy knowing that you and your loved ones are safe in your home.

8 Tips to Bug-Proof Your Home

Ants

Springtime means budding trees, blooming flowers, soft breezes and, unfortunately, an influx of bugs. Eager to stretch their wings and legs and go in search of a food source, a host of bugs may soon start eyeing your home as a possible new residence. Making sure you bug-proof your house can help keep the bugs outside where they belong. With these eight tips, you can protect your home against unwanted guests.

1. Make Your Surroundings Inhospitable

Like humans, bugs have preferences when it comes to making a new home. In order to discourage them from cohabiting in your space, make your surroundings as inhospitable to them as possible. Spending some time cleaning up both your house and yard provides a first line defense against bugs. Being overly neat and clean around your house and property effectively makes you a rude host to these unwanted visitors.

  • In your yard, dump out any standing water. Stagnant water attracts mosquitoes. In fact, mosquitoes need water to pass through their lifecycle. Within a short time, just a few mosquitoes can lay hundreds of eggs in standing water. These eggs soon hatch into hundreds of new mosquitoes.
  • Mosquitoes aren’t the only insect hoping to take up residence in your yard. Wood piles are cozy and dark, making them ideal homes for a variety of crawling bugs. Be sure to keep piles of wood or debris away from the side of your home.
  • Inside, keep your home clean and tidy. Bugs, like ants, are searching for a food source. It’s easy for crumbs to accumulate on tables, countertops, and on the kitchen floor. A quick wipe-down after meals and frequent sweeping of kitchen and dining room floors can minimize the food trail.
  • It’s just as important to avoid standing water inside as it is outside. A lone mosquito can lay eggs inside your home just as easily as it can in the yard. Cockroaches also need a water supply to survive so drying up potential water sources can discourage them.

2. Watch for Invaders

Cockroach

Ants send scouts to check out a new area before sending in the troops. When you see a lone ant, don’t ignore it. Take care of any initial invaders promptly before they can carry the message back to the rest of the hill. Likewise, keep an eye out for other bugs like cockroaches and crickets that may sneak inside. If you catch them early, it’s much easier to eliminate them from your home before they make it their home too.

3. Guard Your Perimeter

Bugs search for ways into a cozy home. Eliminate the easy entry points. First, seal your doors or install door sweeps to fill in any under-door gaps. Weather stripping isn’t just for winter. Install it for both doors and windows to seal openings. Be sure to check for openings around pipes, vents, garage doors, and windows. Caulk any cracks you find to seal up obvious entry points.

4. Screen Your Windows

When warmer weather comes, many people like to open the windows and let in some fresh air. Make sure that both your windows and doors have good screens so that you’re not letting in more than fresh air. Check existing window screens to be sure they are in good working order. Repair any rips or tears that could let bugs inside. If you have a patio sliding glass door, invest in a sliding screen. Screens keep the fresh air coming in and the flying bugs and other debris out where they belong.

5. Keep it Clean

Food is a beacon to bugs. The pantry is a hotspot for these crawlers, which is why you should be sure to keep dry foods sealed and put away. Plastic or glass storage containers can seal up bug favorites like sugar and cereal. Don’t leave dirty dishes on the counter or in the kitchen sink. Also, avoid leaving overripe fruit out on the counter, which can increase your risk of a sudden infestation of fruit flies.

Be sure to take out the trash promptly as many types of bugs love to burrow into an overflowing trashcan. If you have a lot of food scraps, don’t just toss them in the kitchen trash can. Instead, keep compost and food scraps sealed, and take them out frequently.

Don’t forget about pet food either. Rather than leaving food out all the time, which can quickly become a creepy-crawly smorgasbord, feed your pets more frequently in portions that they can eat in a single setting.

6. Use Safe Chemicals

If, despite all your best efforts at warding your home against insects, you spot a bug or two, don’t despair. You can still get rid of them by using some common household ingredients. Many bugs, like ants, are repelled by strong smells. Reach for the vinegar and spray or wipe down surfaces where you’ve spotted bugs. Ants also do not like cinnamon so sprinkling a line across windowsills or on counters can keep them out.

What about everyone’s favorite home-invading critter, the cockroach? To get rid of pesky roaches, make a cockroach cocktail. Cockroaches love both cocoa and sugar. By mixing either with dichotomous earth or Borax, you can kill any roaches that eat it.

7. Encourage Natural Predators

Cockroach

You can also turn to natural exterminators. By attracting bug predators to your yard, you can help control the bug population. Bats, for example, can eat thousands of mosquitos. They’re also not picky, willing to snack on flies, wasps, and spiders in addition to mosquitoes. To attract bats to your yard, build a bat box and mount it high on a pole.

Bats aren’t the only natural bug predators though. Warblers and swallows also love to eat mosquitos. Put out a birdhouse with some birdseed or nectar to attract them to your yard. To encourage birds to stick around, keep a fresh water source available. Do remember to change it daily or invest in a moving water feature. Birds do not like stagnant water, but mosquitos certainly do.

8. Call in the Pros

When all else fails, you can always call in the exterminators. If your bug situation has gotten out of hand, consulting with a professional can help you get on top of the situation. Exterminators can give you information and options for addressing infestations.

This spring, spend a little time bug-proofing your house. With a few tips and a little preparation, you can discourage bugs from invading your space. By creating a less-than-welcoming environment, you can keep bugs where they belong, outside your home.

Clean With Steam: Why You Should Clean Filthy Floors With Steam Mops

If you’re only worried about how dirty floors look when your family and friends come tramping through your house in their shoes, think again. You may be exposing them to more health hazards than you think. I would know because I have a husband, three kids, two birds and two dogs living under my roof.

Floor Mop with Steam

According to recent research from the Scott Kelley Biology Lab at San Diego State University, which was published in the scientific journal Genome Biology, we live with an array of bacteria we bring into our homes via our shoes. All of this bacteria may affect our family’s health.

In fact, you track in dirt and more all over your house when you don’t leave your shoes at the door. Your pets bring in even more than things, like dust, dirt, bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi and other allergens.

Germs on your floors matter because they can exacerbate allergies and make you sick. For example:
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How to Clean Your Ice Machine: Step-by-Step Instructions

It can be easy to take some machines for granted. Ice makers are a machine that might get overlooked in the maintenance department. When you go and grab some ice from your machine, you might not think about how long it has been since it was last cleaned, or even notice that the quality of your ice cubes has gone downhill.

Ice Maker

Like any other machine that you own, regular maintenance and cleaning will help keep your ice maker in great working condition.

Why Cleaning is So Important

Water — especially hard water — naturally has many different minerals and microscopic sediment in it. If left unfiltered, these minerals can build up in your machine. Eventually, it becomes clear to the naked eye just what is in your water. Dirt and rust are two culprits that can clog up your machine over time. Lime scale and mold can also build up and make it difficult for your machine to produce ice.

If left unclean, all of this buildup can lead to unnecessary wear on your ice maker. Even if you use a filter, at some point your machine will need some cleaning. The good news, however, is that cleaning your machine will help it to maintain peak ice production and keep your ice looking and tasting great. It can also prolong the overall life of this important kitchen appliance.
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21 Ways to Clean with Vinegar

Vinegar

Most cleaning products fall into one of two categories: toxic or expensive. While both types will clean almost anything, or at least what they are designated to clean, there’s a third option. It’s inexpensive and not at all poisonous to humans. It’s multi-purpose as well–one container will take care of laundry, kitchen cleaning, even bugs and weeds. You don’t have to look farther than your kitchen cabinet for this “miracle cleaner” – Vinegar.

Vinegar is a weak form of acetic acid that forms through the fermentation of sugars or starches. It is completely edible, and cannot harm your stomach and is safe to use around children. And luckily for us, many things can be cleaned using it.  The uses of vinegar are nearly endless. In addition to cleaning, it is an excellent item for cooking and even home science experiments.

For most uses you can fill a spray bottle with a vinegar and water mixture, which will make it much easier to use.  Here are 21 popular uses for cleaning with vinegar:

Uses around the House:

  • Removing stickers and sticky things that have been stuck around the house on walls and furniture.
  • A bowl of vinegar in room overnight gets rid of constant unpleasant odors.
  • If something is spilt on the carpet soak up as much liquid as possible with towels or sponges and spray with a mixture of half vinegar, half water. Wait 2 minutes and then blot with towel.
  • Wood paneling can be cleaned with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup vinegar and 2 cups warm water.
  • With persistent stains, you can mix 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap and 1 cup warm water. Follow the procedure above and then dry with a hairdryer.
  • To clean windows, spray with half vinegar, half water. Wipe clean with either newspapers or cloth.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt in one cup vinegar and 1/4 cup of flour can be used to create a polishing paste for silver, pewter, copper or brass. Apply to item, let stand for 15 minutes, rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

Bathroom Uses:

  • Soak showerheads in vinegar overnight to remove deterioration or chemical build-up.
  • When cleaning the toilet bowl, spray vinegar to get rid of rings and spots.
  • To prevent mildew, spray shower walls and shower curtain with vinegar.

Kitchen Uses:

  • Spraying  vinegar along doorways, windowsills, countertops, cabinets, etc. will get rid of ants.
  • Wash your sink out with vinegar and pour some down the drain to remove unwanted odors.
  • For a clogged drain,  pour in 1/2 cup baking soda and ½ cup vinegar. Rinse with warm water after bubbling occurs.
  • Vinegar is great for removing odors and bacteria  from a chopping board after use, as well as your hands after handing smelly foods like onions and garlic, etc.
  • Use it for any counter tops or surfaces.
  • For microwave cleaning purposes, put a bowl of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup water inside and cook until it boils. This will get rid of odor and unstick food stains from the walls of the microwave.
  • Vinegar and salt together can be used to remove stains from china.

Who would have thought you could get so much out of such a common product!