In Hour 1, we share a listener’s tip on how to track down rats in an attic, offer solutions for an invasive ground cover and more.
Tracking Down Rats in an Attic
In the July 30 show, Chris Welsh in Florida called to ask about eliminating the rat urine smell in his attic. He wanted to install new insulation and asked us if he should remove the old, soiled insulation before he installs new.
We told Chris that since it’s been a few years and the smell is still there, plus he’s already going to install new insulation, he should get rid of the soiled insulation. Although it can dissipate over time, there’s no guarantee. Plus, this could be his only chance to remove it, because once the new insulation is installed, it’s there for good.
One of our listeners, Dean, heard this and called to give this tip: Use a black light to find rat urine in an attic.
This is a great tip because it’s often hard to see how widespread the rat infestation is on smell alone.
According to chemistry expert Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., urine glows under a black light primarily because it contains the element phosphorus. Phosphorus glows yellowish green in the presence of oxygen, with or without black light, but the light imparts additional energy that makes the chemiluminescence easier to see.
A black light also works well to find pet urine. So if you have a problem cat that’s not keeping its business in the litterbox, use a black light to find urine spots.
Water Dripping from a Range Hood
Water is constantly dripping from the range hood in David Henderson’s kitchen. He’s spending a small fortune on paper towels to absorb the drips on the stovetop.
The duct vents to the outside of the house, he maintains a steady temperature inside, and the new roof he just had installed didn’t make a difference.
“I’ve been beating my brains out trying to figure it out,” David says. “I am 69 years old and have lived in many houses in my life but have never seen this before.”
The vast majority of the time, when a vent pipe is dripping water down through the range hood, it means condensation isn’t forming on the outside but on the inside.
Install some duct wrap insulation on the pipe to minimize the difference in temperature inside the pipe and in the attic. Since the pipe is already in place, get the type that comes on a roll, not a cylindrical form. That way you won’t have to disconnect the pipe to slide the insulation over it.
This will stop the dripping and you’ll also greatly reduce your paper towel budget!
Controlling Asiatic Jasmine
Sue wants to know: How can I get rid of Asiatic jasmine that is taking over our yard?
“It has spread from the neighbors on each side of us. Pulling it up is a never-ending task and we have gotten too old to deal with it. Help!” Sue says
Asiatic jasmine is a perennial evergreen vine that makes for a wonderful ground cover, but it’s very invasive.
First, try cutting it right at the bed, and keep it under control with a string trimmer.
We don’t often recommend using herbicides, but you might need them in this case. Cut it back as far as you can, then spray on an herbicide.
If you don’t want to use an herbicide, spray it with home and garden vinegar.
In Hour 2, learn how to paint unfinished cabinets yourself, when to paint walls in a new house and more.
Painting Unfinished Cabinets
A caller wants her unfinished cabinets professionally painted, but the professionals have given her “outrageous” estimates.
“Can I do this myself, and what kind of sprayer should I get?” she asks.
It is a fair amount of work to finish cabinets yourself, but the end result is very gratifying.
Because the cabinets are unfinished, you won’t have to worry about removing any old paint.
Basically, here’s what you need to do.
Sand the cabinets so the paint will stick.
Smooth out any imperfections with water putty or epoxy finish
Prime the cabinets with a bonding primer
Apply two coats of acrylic latex paint in either a semi-gloss or eggshell finish
Robert Lang in Kentucky just bought his first home — a new build that was completed in February 2022.
“I want to paint the interior to not only change the color but use a better grade of paint. I’ve read that I should wait before painting. If this is true, how long should I wait? Do I need to allow the house to settle before I attempt to paint?” Robert asks.
There’s no reason to wait to paint in a newly built home. There’s no way to know how much settling or expansion and contraction are going to happen.
There are so many factors that could influence it, like how wet the framing got during the building process or how many screws were used versus nails.
If there is going to be some settling, it probably won’t show up for at least five years.
Go ahead and make the house your own. Just, make sure the walls are nice and clean before you paint them.
Paint Can Tip — When you bring home a new gallon of freshly shaken paint immediately remove and clean the underside of the lid of all paint.
Then, stir —don’t shake — the paint before applying it.
And when you’re done painting, place wax paper or plastic wrap over can before tapping on the lid.
That will seal out air, free the can of crusty bits of dried paint, and keep the underside of the lid clean.
What are some of the steps our listeners should take when planting shrubs?
Sid: Before you plant shrubs, follow these three steps:
Have a plan. You need the right type of plant for your environment in the right location. Think about space, sunlight and water, then ask yourself these questions: Where will the plants go? Will the area have too much or too little water? Are they the right plants for the right place for the sunlight they need?
Lay out the bed. Use spray paint to outline the bed line, then rent a sod cutter to remove the turf and vegetation.
Add soil: Make sure to build the soil up. You can use top soil, bagged soil or an organic specialty blend. The main goal is to add some kind of amendment to the existing soil so your plants will have the nutrition they need.
When digging holes for your plants, go wide. The hole should be three times the width of the container. Giving it that space to grow out is much more important than how deep the hole is.
However, you don’t want to dig the hole too deep to where water settles around it. Plant it level to the ground or about a half inch above the soil level. You want water to drain away from the base of the plant.
Then add natural mulch, like pine straw, bark and hay. It will create a mat that will prevent weeds from growing. Weeds sprout from seeds that can be spread through the wind. If you create a thick layer of mulch, it will prevent the seeds from reaching the soil.
Landscape fabric also does this, but personally, I don’t use it because of the climate I live in. It stays hot almost year-round in south Alabama, so landscape fabric tends to trap heat underground and damage roots. Also, it can push water to low areas and lead to root rot.
Mulch also insulates the roots, preventing them from getting too hot and cold. And it keeps moisture in the soil from evaporating too quickly. As natural mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.
Best Time to Prune
What are some general tips about pruning? When is the best time and are there different steps for different plants?
Sid: All plants require some pruning to keep them in shape and promote healthy growth.
There’s lots of nuance in pruning but a general rule for flowering plants is you want to prune the plant after it blooms.
Many people have strong opinions on trimming and pruning crape myrtles. What’s your opinion?
Sid: A crape myrtle blooms off new growth. So, some people hack away at the branches to stimulate this new growth. But this isn’t necessary — you can still produce new growth and keep the shape of the plant with selective pruning.
Select pruning eliminates an ugly knuckle from forming and maintains full foliage. Here’s how to do it.
First, prune cross branches — branches that are rubbing together and growing across from each other. You want the tree to grow up and out, so trim the branches that are growing toward the middle.
Then, prune broken branches and any branch that’s smaller than your pinky.
The positive impacts of gardening are almost endless, especially when it comes to our mental and physical health. These benefits fall into two main categories: “active” and “passive.”
Active benefits are all about getting to work and doing something in your garden, helping you clear your mind while getting your hands dirty. Gardening, and similar physical activity outside, does your body wonders.
Studies show spending more time outdoors leads to fewer long-term health problems, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. These benefits include improved heart health, flexibility, strength, and dexterity — all leading to better mental health.
Contrarily, backyard gardening’s passive benefits are about simply being in nature or outdoor space. It provides a positive distraction from stresses in your life.
Many studies show just being in nature has a positive impact on our stress levels and brain chemistry, according to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Backyard gardening also helps you “feel alive,” letting you take your mind off work while giving you a new sense of purpose outside of the daily grind.
Backyard Gardening By Your Senses
The goal of backyard gardening is to create a yard and garden that reflect how you want to live outside. Doug recommends designing your mental health garden according to your five senses.
Sight: The simple sight of a breathtaking array of plants, an arrangement of your favorite flowers, or interesting objects in your garden is bound to boost your mood.
Taste: Growing your own fruits, veggies and herbs will provide you an incredibly rewarding harvest, in more ways than one. Not only are you able to enjoy the produce you have grown for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but you get the personal satisfaction of a job well done.
Hearing: Creating habitats for birds and other animals will add the sounds of nature to help you relax in your garden. Also, add wind chimes and water features that’ll produce soothing, stress-relieving sounds.
Touch: From the light, feathery textures of flower petals, to the rough surfaces of tree bark or bush stems, touch goes a long way in giving you a deeper sense of connection to your garden. This all ties back to a combination of active and passive benefits of backyard gardening, helping you establish a deeper sense of purpose.
Smell: Certain smells can bring back forgotten, happy memories. Add fragrant flowers and herbs to your garden bed, so you can literally “stop to smell the roses.”
Tips for Designing Your Mental Health Garden
When designing a garden, create “rooms” connected by meandering paths that let you get away from it all. These rooms provide mini spaces that you can retreat to, so you can rest, unwind, and feel restored.
However, your outdoor spaces don’t always need to be quiet and sedentary. If you enjoy being outside with others, creating gathering spaces in your yard is a great idea. And, if you have an outdoor hobby like exercising, painting, or writing, you can create spaces to do just that.
You shouldn’t get ahead of yourself and start creating a ginormous garden right off the bat. Start small, simple, and stress-free, and grow your garden out from there. Pick easy-to-grow plants that require little maintenance or start a simple vegetable garden in a raised bed.
So, start backyard gardening today — your mental health will be better off because of it.
Looking for more tips to breathe new life into your outdoor spaces? Check out Exmark’s Done-In-A-Weekend project series, featuring simple, budget-friendly DIY projects.
U.K.-based online garden center Primrose has published a report on the most popular flowering plant of 2021, and it’s neither roses nor tulips, but instead, petunias.
The flower was found to be every gardener’s favorite bloom, according to the company’s sales data, selling more units than any other plant. It’s not hard to see why: petunias are bright and lively, have a sweet scent, and are easy to grow and maintain.
“Perfect in plant pots, among shrubs or in flower beds, petunias can be easily grown almost anywhere outdoors,” wrote Primrose. “They also come in a choice of striking colors, from hot pink to intense purple to rich red.”
Next on the list of 2021’s most popular plants are cherry blossoms, geraniums, apple trees, fuchsias, verbenas, rose bushes, clematis, wisteria, and lavender.
“It’s no surprise that U.K. gardeners opted for well-known, long-established plants in 2021. With such a turbulent year, many of us wanted stability and turned to the trusted, traditional flowers that we know and rely on, like petunias and geraniums,” explained Primrose’s gardening specialist Evie.
“Shades of purple were common too, such as with the popular verbena, wisteria and lavender. Perhaps this was the beginning of the Pantone Color of the Year 2022, Very Peri, as we began to embrace more originality and creativity in our gardens by adding a pop of purple.”
For indoor plants, kalanchoe was the most loved, outselling more than 30 different houseplant types — including monstera and philodendron — and made 19 percent of all houseplant sales.
“It’s interesting that most of our favorite houseplants are tropical or subtropical, since not many of us could travel in 2021,” said Evie. “For many of us who were missing island hopping across white-sand beaches and soaking up the sunshine, a tropical houseplant could have been a way to bring the holiday back home.”
“Surrounding your home with lots of leafy houseplants is a great way to reconnect with those tropical locations while enjoying the other benefits of plants, like improved mood and better air quality,” she added.
“We can expect the houseplant takeover to continue in 2022, as Pinterest recently predicted that we will choose plant-based interior design to stay connected with nature — another good reason to invest in plenty of houseplants!”
You can check out Primrose’s full report, which also lists their top 10 bestselling trees, top 10 garden trends for the year, and the trends that withered in 2021.
If you’ve seen a toilet that looks like a Chia Pet pop up on your social media feeds, you aren’t dreaming.
Ali Spagnola, a Los Angeles-based digital creator and artist, found herself with 30 leftover pounds of chia seed. So she did what anyone would do in that situation: she covered her toilet with it and made it into a porcelain Chia Pet.
“I just covered my entire toilet in chia seeds. I will be watering it daily over the next week. Do you want to see if it grows into the weirdest Chia Pet on the planet?” Spagnola asked her 213,000 Instagram followers, sharing the daily videos across a variety of social media platforms.
Spagnola coated the toilet in medical bandages to create a fabric that the Chia seed mixture would adhere to, and headed to her studio three times a day for seven days to water the seed-covered toilet with a spray bottle. She started to see results pretty instantly.
“Day 2, already roots coming in! This is awesome!” she says to the camera.
By the fourth day of meticulously spritzing the toilet, it began sprouting.
After a week of watering the toilet, Spagnola did what people were most curious about: She actually used it as a toilet. With the camera rolling and declaring herself the “proud owner of the world’s weirdest chia pet,” she gave her honest review of the luxe latrine.
“Now it is an overgrown throne. My sprout house. And it’s time to see what it feels like. Let’s take it for a spin,” she tells the camera, while pulling down her pants and taking a seat on the chia commode. “Wow this is so odd, and pleasing. It’s just a little bit moist, but in a satisfying way. It is so comfortably mushy and delightful, and it smells so fresh.”
When Apartment Therapy asked Spagnola, she admitted that yes, she did actually use the toilet to go to the bathroom, versus just taking a quick seat for a blip on the camera.
“Here’s the exclusive — yes of course. I gotta get the full experience,” Spagnola told us.
As you’d expect, the responses from followers new and old seem to be a bit mixed, but generally everyone seems to possess the same amount of fascination and abhorrence, said Spagnola.
“I’m pretty sure everyone is disgusted and intrigued at the same time,” she shared. “There’s something about this piece of work that makes people polarized within themselves. Everyone feels both of those things simultaneously.”
As for what’s left on her overgrown throne, which she stopped watering after a week, it’s still alive, but barely.
“It’s still there. I’m actually walking there right now,” she said. “It’s not fully dead yet. It’s hanging on for dear life.”
As you’d expect, Spagnola’s already ample amount of followers got even heftier after the chia toilet stunt.
“The chia toilet has gotten me a significant amount of new followers on multiple platforms,” said Spagnola. “It seems to resonate wherever I put it.”
Megan Johnson is a reporter in Boston. She got her start at the Boston Herald, where commenters would leave sweet messages like “Megan Johnson is just awful.” Now, she’s a contributor to publications like People Magazine, Trulia and Architectural Digest.