Friday, December 5, 2014

The Best Way to Clean Marble Tiles

As more people use marble tiles in their kitchens, bathrooms and entryways, the demand for products to clean this material is growing. With proper maintenance and upkeep, it’s not difficult to clean marble tiles at all. Floors should be swept regularly with a soft broom, and they can be wiped off periodically with a damp cloth. Marble tile should be sealed and polished a few times a year.

To keep marble sparkling, homeowners should be sure to keep it free from routine dust and dirt. They should sweep the floor often with a soft bristled broom or vacuum it to pick up any loose dirt. This needs to be done at least two or three times a week, if not every day.

Homeowners should be aware that loose dirt can easily be ground in as people walk across the floor. If visitors have been walking around in dirt or mud, an individual might ask them to remove their shoes before walking on the marble tiles. Sand, dirt and other debris left on the bottom of the shoe is abrasive, and it will first scratch the marble and then grind the dirt into the scratches.

Many times, all that’s needed to clean marble tiles is a warm, damp mop or cloth, especially if there are spill prone kids — and adults — in the house. Fortunately, as marble has become a popular flooring option, more commercial products formulated to keep it clean have become available. Homeowners may want to have some on hand in case of accidental spillage or for regular weekly or monthly cleanings. People should be sure to read the label and follow the instructions exactly.

While vinegar is touted as a great household cleaner, it’s not recommended to clean marble tiles. The acid in vinegar can damage the surface. Soaps, even mild detergents, aren’t recommended either. If the homeowner isn't using a special marble cleaner, he or she should use warm water only.

It’s not always best to let the tiles air dry. Instead, people can get a nice fluffy towel and use it to dry the floor thoroughly. Marble tiles tend to spot and stain if they remain wet.

Every few months, it’s a good idea to seal and polish the tiles. The polish will help the floor to shine, while the sealant will protect the material from everyday dirt and grime and make it easier to clean on a regular basis. Local home improvement stores are likely to have plenty of options for marble tile cleaners, sealants and polishing agents. People who aren't sure which product is best should contact the tile manufacturer or the person who installed the flooring. Either one is sure to have some good recommendations.

How to Clean a Slate Floor?

There are several methods you can use to clean a slate floor, ranging from basic upkeep like dusting and warm water washing to more intensive methods like applying waterproof sealants and using commercial stone and grout cleaning products. A lot depends on where the floor is, how it was laid, and what sort of traffic it normally sees. People with slate floors in their bathrooms usually need to think about water damage more than a business with a slate lobby, for instance. In most cases, taking simple, every day steps to keep the floor in good condition is all that is required to keep things looking good through years of use, though homeowners should be wary of using regular household cleaners on their floors. As durable as it looks, slate is a porous substance that can easily be damaged by abrasive or acidic compounds.

Regular Dusting

One of the best ways to keep your floor clean is to dust it regularly. People don’t often think about dusting their floors in part because the dust that collects there isn’t always noticeable. Slate is generally somewhat multi-layered, though, which is to say that it isn’t always one smooth continuous surface. Simply sweeping the floor at the end of the day can remove particulates from the highest levels, but a more intensive dusting is usually needed to make sure that particulates are removed from all the cracks and crevices.
People with large slate floors are usually wise to invest in special “dust mops” or other specialized dusting tools to make the job go faster. Simply running a cloth over the stone can also work, but this usually works best in small rooms like bathrooms or entryways. Getting down on your hands and knees to dust an entire kitchen or living room floor can get tedious in a hurry. No matter how you do it, though, the main idea is to lift dust and debris off the stone.

Experts generally discourage the use of commercial dusting sprays; unless they have been specifically designed for slate or other stonework, they may actually do more harm than good. Slate is a very porous stone, which means that it easily absorbs chemicals and other substances. Most dusting sprays are harmless, but in most cases it’s better to be safe than sorry. A dry cloth is usually best, or one dampened with a bit of warm water if the dust seems particularly stubborn.


Regular mopping is also an important part of slate floor maintenance. It’s usually a good idea to get into a pattern of mopping about once a week for domestic flooring. Warm water is all you really need to get started, though it’s okay to use a little bit of mild dish detergent or soap if things are particularly dirty. You need to be careful when using soap to avoid leaving a greasy residue on your floor, though. If you put too much in the water, the stone might try to absorb some of the soap, which can leave the tiles slippery. Most professionals say to only use soap if your floors are really dirty, and even then to use only a small amount.

It’s important to mop the entire floor, not just the part that you see; this often means moving furniture and getting underneath or behind cabinets and other large fixtures. Pay attention to the grout, too. Most slate is set in tiles surrounded by grout, which may or may not be at the same level. Getting an even clean means working all parts of the floor in all corners of the room.

A lot of people with slate floors keep a separate stash of cleaning supplies only for use on the stone. Keeping dedicated dusters, mops, and brooms is a good way to help avoid contamination with chemicals and soaps, and can also limit the universe of dirt and other particulates that the tool comes into contact with.

Stain Removal

Slate is generally resistant to staining, and most spills can be easily cleaned off with little more than soap and water. Food spills that aren’t noticed right away can leave marks, though, as can shoe scuffs and spills of things like paint or nail polish. As with most stains, it’s usually best to get moving as quickly as possible. The sooner you notice the blemish the better, though there is often hope for marks that have been sitting for a while.

The first thing to do is to see if the mark will come up with water and mild detergent. This may take some scrubbing, but it often works. If not, you should look into slate-specific cleaning tools. Many home improvement stores and hardware shops sell stone-friendly products that have been specially designed for more porous surfaces, and shouldn’t be as damaging as other commercial cleansers could be.

Particularly tough stains may need professional help, or at least the use of more high-powered tools. Depending on the size of the blemish, you may be able to buff it out using a rotary buffing machine. You may also be able to strip off the outer-most layer of the stone, though this is usually a last-ditch effort since it can actually be somewhat damaging for your floors. Stripping the stone can release a lot of dust, so you’ll probably want to wear a face mask to avoid breathing in any particulates.

When to Consider Sealants

If your floor is heavily used or is prone to spills or staining, it might make sense to consider a professional-grade sealant. Sealants cover the slate with an acrylic or other chemical coating that essentially acts as a shield, keeping dust, debris, and other materials off of the stone. Sealed floors are usually much more tolerant to soaps and other chemicals, though owners do have to be more vigilant for cracks and other aberrations. Most seals need to be replaced every one to two years, and can be quite costly.

Preventative Care

Of course, it’s easiest to clean a slate floor if it isn’t very dirty to begin with, and a big part of slate upkeep is prevention. Using area rugs, welcome mats, and soft floor coverings is a good idea in high-traffic areas. Making a house rule to remove shoes when walking across the tiles can also be effective. You might also consider putting felt pads on the bottom of furniture so that it doesn’t scratch or mark the floor when you move it around.

Different Kinds of Slate

There are a number of different varieties, colors, and styles of slate, and while they each share the same basic characteristics, they can have slightly different requirements when it comes to upkeep and tolerance of basic wear and tear. Stones from different parts of the world come in different colors and different textures. All slate is relatively thin and nearly all varieties are prone to chipping and cracking if they are mistreated. Basic gray slate is the most common, and it is also among the most durable. If you have a more exotic floor or are concerned about how to care for more specialized tiles, it’s probably a good idea to talk to the distributor or get a professional opinion on good cleaning practices.

Cleaning Techniques to Avoid

Pretty much every sort of slate is sensitive to harsh chemicals, which is why basic water solutions are usually the best choice where regular cleaning is concerned. It is often actually the case that commercial floor cleaners can be truly damaging to slate, which makes reading labels very important. Products designed for wood, cement, or tile floors aren’t always very good for slate.

In particular, avoid anything that contains acid, as many standard bathroom cleaners do; alkaline-based cleaners should also be avoided. Never use abrasive cleaners or scouring powders without getting professional advice first. Even home remedies like vinegar and ammonia can damage slate if used improperly. These substances can sometimes be diluted enough to make them harmless, but it’s usually a good idea to just stick to water, mild soap if necessary, and slate-specific cleaners if things are really bad.

Lilium hybrids

Common Names: garden lily
Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)

Which came first, the gardener or the lily? Lilies have graced our gardens for as long as there have been gardens! There are some 80-90 species in the genus Lilium (Formosan lily, for example), but most of us know the hybrids best, and there are thousands of them. Lilies grow from bulbs and some spread with stolons or rhizomes as well. They have stiff, usually unbranched, stems from 2 ft (60 cm) to 10 ft (3 m) tall, usually narrow leaves all along the stems, and large showy flowers at stem tips. The flowers may be trumpet shaped, bowl shaped, bell shaped, and/or with reflexed petals. Some have flowers that nod downwards, others look to the sky. All colors can be found except blue, and many lilies have sweetly fragrant flowers.

The Royal Horticultural Society and the North American Lily Society have classified the lilies into nine divisions, based on their parentage and various characteristics of the flowers and leaves:

Division I. Asiatic Hybrids - usually unscented flowers borne in racemes or umbels; leaves alternate, narrow
Division II. Martagon Hybrids - flower petals recurved, sometimes unpleasantly scented; elliptic leaves borne in whorls
Division III. Candidum Hybrids - flowers single or in clusters, sometimes scented; leaves elliptic, scattered along stem or spirally arranged
Division IV. American Hybrids - flowers scented, petals recurved; leaves lance shaped in whorls
Division V. Longiflorum Hybrids - flowers sweetly scented, large, trumpet shaped, only 2-3 per stem; leaves very narrow, scattered
Division VI. Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids - flowers scented in racemes or umbels; leaves elliptic to linear, arranged spirally
Division VII. Oriental Hybrids - flowers strongly scented in panicles or racemes, often frilly; leaves lance shaped, alternately arranged
Division VIII. Other Hybrids - includes interdivisional hybrids and odds and ends
Division IX. The true lily species, not hybrids

The Asiatic and Oriental hybrids are probably the most popular lilies in American gardens. They are easy to grow, quite cold hardy and usually need no staking. Asiatic hybrids generally stand 2-3 ft (.6 - 1 m) tall, are usually the first to flower in spring, and are the easiest to care for. The Oriental hybrids bloom later in summer, stand taller, to 6 ft (2 m), and have larger, more fragrant flowers. Also popular are the Martagon hybrids, with their strongly reflexed petals on nodding flowers - the Turk's cap lilies. Easter lily is a Division IX species, L. longiflorum.

The 80 or 90 species in the genus Lilium grow wild in temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia.

Grow lilies in well drained soil augmented with rotted organic matter. Most prefer an acidic to neutral soil, although some (including the Martagon hybrids) thrive under alkaline conditions. Cut off seed pods after the flowers have bloomed so the plant's energy will be directed into bulb growth and storage for next season rather than seed production. Leave as much stem and leaf as possible until it has dried and turned brown in winter.
Light: In general, lilies do best in full sun or, in warmer climates, full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most lilies prefer to have their stems and leaves in sun and their roots and bulbs in shade. The Martagon hybrids do well in part shade.
Moisture: Lilies demand a well drained soil. Never plant them where water may stand after rain, even for a few hours. If your soil is clayey, mix in some organic matter or leaf mold.
Propagation: Plant lily bulbs in spring or fall, as soon as you get them, since they never go totally dormant and cannot survive drying out completely. Planting depth should be about 2-3 times the bulb's height. Grown from seed, lilies can take up to four years to bloom.

Lilies look best planted in groups of 3-5. The taller hybrids will need to be staked. Consider flowering time (as well as color) when planting lilies, so that you can have a procession of flowers throughout the growing season from mid spring until late autumn. Savvy gardeners plant lilies amongst shorter flowers and perennials that will help support the lily stems. Many lilies grow fibrous roots on the stem just above the bulb each year. These types usually flower the first summer after planting, whereas lilies that do not produce stem roots may take two years to flower for the first time.
Treat yourself (and your gardening friends) to some new lily bulbs every year. They are easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and readily available from reputable mail order sources. And the variety to choose from is almost endless!

The family Liliaceae contains more than 240 genera and at least 3000 species. Aloe is in the lily family, as is asparagus, hosta, liriope, trillium and even that nasty greenbriar!

Jasminum sambac

Common Names: Arabian jasmine
Family: Oleaceae (olive Family)

Arabian jasmine is a bushy vine or scrambling shrub with shiny dark green leaves and fragrant little white flowers. Some of the evergreen leaves are in whorls of three and others are in opposite pairs. The long, angular shoots twist and twine as they clamber and sprawl over and through any support they can find. The waxy snow white flowers are about 1 in (2.5 cm) across, borne in clusters of 3-12, and intensely fragrant. They fade to pink as they age. Arabian jasmine blooms throughout the summer - and almost continuously in warm climates. The fruits are small black berries, but are seldom formed in cultivation. By far, the most common form of Arabian jasmine in cultivation is 'Grand Duke of Tuscany' (sometimes called 'Flore Pleno'), which has double flowers that look like miniature gardenias. Expect an Arabian jasmine to grow no more than 6-10 ft (1.8-3.1 m) high and just as wide in frostfree areas; smaller when it has to regrow from roots following a winter freeze.
Arabian jasmine has been in cultivation for centuries - so long, in fact, that its origin has been forgotten, but it was probably India, where today it is one of the most commonly cultivated ornamentals.

Arabian jasmine, like most of the other jasmines, is very easy to grow in almost any moist, but not waterlogged soil.
Light: Arabian jasmine likes full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Supply plenty of water during the summer growing season, but reduce watering in winter.
Propagation: Arabian jasmine is easy to propagate from semi-ripe cuttings taken in summer, especially if you can keep them under intermittent mist for a couple weeks.

Arabian jasmine is often grown in a pot, on the patio or deck in summer and brought indoors in winter. Prune frequently to maintain a desirable shape. In frostfree climes, grow this fragrant beauty in mixed hedges or allow to sprawl in masses or as a specimen plant, pruned to a compact shrub. Here at the Christman homestead, we have an Arabian jasmine in a big pot on the front porch - where we can smell its sweet perfume whenever we walk by.
The dried flowers of Arabian jasmine are used by the Chinese to flavor jasmine tea. In Hawaii they use the flowers in leis. In India they're used in garlands, and Arabian jasmine is the national flower of the Philippines.

Modern Garden Gates

Tulipa spp.

Common Names: tulip
Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)

There are some 120 species of wild tulips and more than 2300 extant named varieties of garden tulips. All tulips are hardy bulbous perennial herbs with mostly basal, straplike leaves. The flowers are usually cup or bowl shaped and usually have six tepals. However, there are tulips with star shaped flowers, double flowers, and tulips with tepals that are reflexed, elongated, or fringed. Most tulips produce a single flower on a central stem, but some species bear multiple flowers. Most tulips bloom in the spring. Tulips have been developed in nearly every color except true blue. Irregular stripes, streaks or speckles in tulip blossoms are called "broken" colors and are the result of a virus infection. Tulips with broken colors are often very attractive, and were formerly very valuable, but nowadays are hard to find.
By international agreement, tulips are classified into 15 divisions and tulip names are registered in the "Classified List and International Register of Tulip Names", published in the Netherlands by the Royal General Association of Bulbgrowers. The 1996 edition lists some 3000 names for tulip species, garden cultivars, extinct cultivars and invalid names that are synonyms. The first 11 divisions include the garden tulips, all presumably derived from a single ancestor; the other four divisions are "botanical" tulips which are wild tulip species and hybrids of them.

The wild species of tulips are all native to temperate regions of the Old World, mainly central Asia. They come from climates that have cold winters and dry summers and grow from near sea level to high in the mountains, usually on arid, stoney, hillside meadows. Based on genetic evidence, it is believed that all of the myriad varieties of garden tulips originated from a single wild ancestor. However, no one knows for sure what that ancestor was, and it is possible that whatever species did give rise to garden tulips is no longer extant.

Growing tulips is a little more difficult than most spring flowering bulbs. Tulips should be planted in beds without competition from other plants. Fertilize with phosphorus and potassium, but keep the nitrogen down, as this leads to excess vegetative growth and fungus disease. Bonemeal or superphosphate is recommended. If the soil is acidic, it should be neutralized with limestone. Tulips should not be planted in the same place for more than 2 or 3 years in a row.
Light: Tulips appreciate full sun, and do best when planted on a south facing slope. However, in zones 7-10 they should be positioned in a site that is partly shady, or at least shady during the midday.
Moisture: Tulips need a soil that is well drained but still capable of holding some moisture during dry periods in the spring growing season. If it is necessary to water, do so between the plants, avoiding the stems. Tulip bulbs need to be kept dry during the summer and winter.
Propagation: Tulip bulbs should be set out at the end of autumn for flowering the following spring. If set out too soon, they may begin to grow and get caught by frost; too late and they won't have enough time to develop an adequate root supply. The bulbs of garden tulips are planted so that their tops are 6-8 in (15-20 cm) beneath the ground surface - up to 12 in (30.5 cm) deep if you plan to leave the bulbs in the ground for more than one season. (Note that this is deeper than for most bulbs.) The bulbs of botanical tulips are planted just 4-6 in (10-15 cm) below the ground surface. Tulips can be maintained perennially if the bulbs are lifted after flowering and allowed a dry, airy rest during the summer. Dig the bulbs after the leaves begin to yellow, but before they have turned completely brown. There are some cultivars (in the Kaufmanniana, Greigii and Fosteriana divisions especially) and many species (T. sprengeri, T. sylvestris, for example) that can be naturalized in a meadow or lawn and allowed to remain in the ground. Mature tulip bulbs produce offsets that can be separated after lifting and planted out at the appropriate time. It may take several growing seasons before the young offset bulbs start flowering themselves. It is possible to stimulate increased production of offset bulbs by making a cut on the mother bulb with a knife.

Tulip breeding takes skill and patience. Most of the modern hybrids are sterile, and seed can be produced only by hand pollinating between two different cultivars. Of course, you never know what will result from such crosses, and it takes 5-10 years of growth before a tulip produces its first flower. Most of the wild tulip species produce seed abundantly. However, germination requires exacting conditions, usually including a period of cold storage.

Tulips are usually grown in formal beds or in containers, and are at their best when grown in masses. Many gardeners, especially when design is critical, plant new tulip bulbs each year and avoid the trouble of lifting and storing the bulbs, or the disappointment of sporadic bulb survival. Tulips are ideally suited for forcing in containers: In autumn or early winter plant 5 or 6 bulbs in a 6 in (15 cm) pot and cover with fine mulch or potting soil. Keep the pot in a cool greenhouse or cold frame until it is filled with roots, usually after 6-10 weeks. Then, put the pot in a warm room until growth is well underway. Once flowering begins, the pot can be displayed in the house. Don't overlook the use of wild or botanical tulips in the rock garden or in a naturalistic meadow garden. The species tulips and their hybrids usually can be left in the ground permanently.
Tulip flowers lack nectaries and therefore are not attractive to butterflies and most other insects.

Ogier Ghislen de Busbecq, Ambassador from the Holy Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire, was apparently the first educated European to see the beautiful tulips growing in the gardens of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Apparently the Turks had been growing, hybridizing, selecting and appreciating tulips for centuries, although the flowers were unknown in Europe. Busbecq sent tulip bulbs back to the Imperial Gardens of Vienna in 1554. A few years later the French botanist and gardener, Carolus Clusius ("The father of all beautiful gardens"), was appointed Prefect of the Imperial Gardens, and spent the next 14 years selecting and hybridizing Busbecq's tulips. In 1593 Clusius accepted a professorship at Leiden University in Holland. He brought his tulip collection with him, and established the Hortus Academicus, the first botanical garden for ornamental rather than medicinal plants. By this time Dutch gardeners already had tulips, but they weren't nearly as special as those of Professor Clusius. Unfortunately the good doctor was more interested in his hybridizing experiments than in selling his precious bulbs. So, on what was probably a dark and stormy night, lawless bulb rustlers broke into the botanical gardens and stole Clusius' tulips. The stolen bulbs started the Dutch tulip industry and spawned the "tulipmania" of the early 1600's, in which gardeners, merchants, investors and speculators paid exorbitant sums for special (often broken colored) tulip bulbs. Some people spent the equivalent of thousands of dollars for a single tulip bulb. The madness lasted for several years and spread throughout Europe, but ended abruptly in 1637 when the supply caught up with demand.

Today tulips are still the world's most important ornamental flower cash crop. The Dutch produce more than 3 billion tulip bulbs annually; some are grown out for cut flowers but most are exported (especially to North America, Germany and Japan) as bulbs. Tulips are grown commercially in the United States, too - especially in the Skagit Valley of northwestern Washington, and around Holland, Michigan; both areas hold annual tulip festivals.