Saturday, December 13, 2014

Growing Mickey Mouse Plants

Mickey Mouse plant (Ochna serrulata) is named not for the leaves or blooms, but for the black berries that resemble the face of Mickey Mouse. If you want to attract butterflies and bees to your garden, Mickey Mouse plant is a good choice. The plant is suitable for growing in climates where temperatures never drop below 27 degrees F. or -2 degrees C.

What is a Mickey Mouse Plant?

Mickey Mouse plant, native to subtropical southern Africa, is also known as carnival bush, Mickey Mouse bush or small-leaved plane. The plant is a small, semi-evergreen shrub that reaches mature heights of 3 to 8 feet.

The plant loses its shiny green leaves in spring, but they are soon replaced with new, pink-flushed foliage. Sweet-smelling yellow blooms form at the tips of the branches in spring. The flowers don’t last long, but the petals soon turn bright red, which cover the plant in early summer. Shiny black berries are suspended from these petals.

How to Grow Mickey Mouse Plants

Growing Mickey Mouse plants isn’t difficult. Although it grows in nearly any well-drained soil, it thrives in soil that is amended with compost or other rich organic material. Mickey Mouse plant tolerates either full sunlight or partial shade.

Mickey Mouse plant care is minimal given suitable conditions. Although the plant is drought-tolerant, it is stressed by extended dry periods.

An occasional pruning after fruiting keeps Mickey Mouse plant neat and shapely.

The plant is often distributed by birds that eat the seeds and, in some cases, can become weedy. If this happens, you can leave the plants wherever they pop up, or you can dig them up and move them to another desired location.

Keep in mind that the seeds may be poisonous. Therefore, plant carefully if you have children or pets.

Mickey Mouse Plant Uses

Mickey Mouse plant is a good border plant, or you can trim a row of shrubs and turn them into a hedge. The plant does well in rock gardens and is easily grown in containers. Additionally, the plant fits well in a wildflower garden. Because it tolerates wind and sea spray, it is also a good choice for a coastal garden.




Fertilizing Plants With Kitchen Scraps

We all know compost, or "black gold" as some like to call it, is an ideal mate to your plant soil. Composting also reduces the amount of trash volume you send to landfills, and consequently the amount of harmful methane emissions released in to our atmosphere. But not everyone has the space or sheer willingness to have an outdoor compost pile or worm bin. If you want to reap the benefits of this natural fertilizer but don't have the patience or compost heap, you can immediately use these three food scraps to nourish potted or garden soil and tremendously improve plant growth.
Banana Peel
Filled with potassium, this disposable skin helps plants grow flowers and fruit when used as an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers. You can literally plant the whole peel under the soil near the roots of the plant such as a rose bush, or just throw the peel on top of the soil and let it decompose. If you are afraid of attracting pests or animals, try liquefying the banana scrap in a blender with one quart of water before pouring it on to your plant or bush.
Coffee Grounds
Just like you may need that cup of coffee to energize your day, our plants need the nitrogen and minerals found in used coffee grounds to boost their life. Other natural elements that sustain plant growth such as calcium, copper and potassium are also found in our caffeine byproduct. Some experts suggest using the grounds only on acid loving plants or on alkaline soil, Start slowly by mixing modest amounts in to your potted plants or garden-try 1 tablespoon for pots and one cup for gardens. I also suggest drying the grounds before using them so there is no concern over mold growth.
Sustainable Enterprises suggests sprinkling used grounds around plants before watering for a slow-release nitrogen, or dilute with water for a gentle, fast-acting liquid fertilizer.
Egg Shells
Those plants really are apart of the family—you can feed your household scrambled eggs, then feed your plants with the leftover eggshells. The soil around potted plants, your vegetable garden and outdoor trees will get an incredible boost from the shells calcium composition, which is almost 98 percent of the shell.
First wash and dry out the eggshells. Then, place them in a bag or blender and crush them in to a powder-like consistency. Simply sprinkle the eggshell powder around your trees and plants.

Cleaning Glass Without Streaks

Window cleaning is one of those tasks that begs to be hired out -- all that spraying and reaching and wiping, and you end up with a mess of streaks that catch the light just so.
It doesn't have to be that way. Cleaning glass, whether it's a window or a mirror or a coffee table, is more about the tools than the elbow grease. With the right stuff in your bucket, you can get your glass streak-free.
Here, five tips that can get you to that sweet spot, the first of which is as basic as it gets: If you're diluting your cleaner, dilute it with something clean.

Go Distilled
Most of us don't consider what's in the water we use to clean. In truth, it usually doesn't matter. But with glass, you see absolutely everything, so water content can make a difference -- especially if you have hard water.
If you're diluting your glass cleaner, consider using distilled water. It doesn't have all the minerals in it that can be present in the water from your tap, so it won't leave behind any streaky deposits on your bathroom mirror.
Of course, the cleaner you're diluting matters, too.

Vinegar Uses
Vinegar is one of those all-purpose ingredients that's tough to live without. It's as great on a salad as it in on your mirror, and it costs practically nothing.
Whether you're out of your usual glass cleaner or you're just looking for a cheaper option, vinegar can do wonders for your windows and mirrors. A vinegar-water solution (50/50) works great -- just spray or wipe it on like you would any other cleaner.
The smell will stick around for a bit, so if you gag at the scent of vinegar, you might save this streak-free cleaner for outdoor glass.



Minimize Suds
There's nothing like a bunch of suds to leave your glass full of streaks. This isn't a problem if you're using vinegar or straight glass cleaner -- no soap there. But if your coffee table is truly dirty and you're adding soap to the solution, remember: Go easy.
It doesn't take much soap to get rid of that dirt, and using too much will result in an overly dense cleaner that can leave a streaky residue on the glass.
And speaking of residue: It's perhaps the biggest glass-cleaning mistake so many of us make.

Banish Paper Towels
You know that bucket of glass-cleaning supplies you carry through the house when it's window day?
There should not be a roll of paper towels in it.
Paper towels leave not only streaks, but linty ones. Instead, go for a microfiber cloth, a squeegee, or, best yet, a handful of newspaper. Your morning read does an amazing job on glass.
If you go with the newspaper, be sure to wear gloves. That ink gets everywhere.
Finally, the finishing touch.

Buff It
Even if you do exactly the right things, you can still end up with a streak or three. In that case, the simplest solution is to finish the job with a quick buff.
A chamois or a microfiber cloth is best, although a regular rag will do. Keep it dry, and just buff over the glass when you finish cleaning it. You'll find those streaks just disappear.
As always, keeping up with the job makes it a whole lot easier. The less dirt and grime your windows accumulate, the less time you'll spend cleaning them -- a quick vinegar spritz, newspaper swipe and you're on your way.

Swimming Pool Maintenance Tips

Keeping your pool sparkling clean doesn't have to be as cumbersome as you might think. All pools are different, and so are their maintenance needs. However, they all share one commonality: The secret to pristine pool health is regular, routine care. If you choose to handle common problems like murky water or broken pumps on your own, make sure to always consult manufacturers' manuals before fixing or using equipment. No matter if you rely on a service company to take care of your pool, you still need to do a few things on your own to ensure your pool stays in good condition for years.



Skim Debris and Clean out Baskets
Skimming the pool's surface by hand every few days is one of the fastest and easiest ways to keep your pool clean. Floating debris will eventually sink, becoming harder to remove. Use a long-handled net called a hand skimmer or leaf skimmer to remove leaves, bugs and other unwanted items. Skimming significantly increases the efficiency of the pool's circulation system and lowers the amount of chlorine you'll need to add to your pool. Cleaning out strainer baskets at least once a week also helps circulation and lowers chlorine demands. Locate strainer baskets attached to the side of aboveground pools and in the pool deck of inground pools. Simply remove the plastic basket and shake it out; spraying the inside with a hose can help dislodge stubborn objects.



Vacuum the Pool and Brush Walls and Tile
A pool should be vacuumed every week to keep water clear and reduce the amount of chemicals you need to add to it. There are many types of pool vacuums. If you have a manual design, work it back and forth all over the surface of the pool like you would if vacuuming carpet. It's good form to slightly overlap each stroke. Check the filter each time you vacuum, and clean it if necessary.
But vacuuming isn't the only maintenance that should be done once a week. Brushing the walls and tile helps minimize algae buildup and calcium deposits so they don't fester and become larger problems. The material your pool walls are made of dictates what kind of cleaning tools you should use. Select a stiff brush for plaster-lined concrete pools and a softer brush for vinyl or fiberglass walls. For tiles, use a soft brush to prevent scratching or degradation of grout. A pumice stone, putty knife or a half-and-half mixture of water and muriatic acid can also work well.



Clean the Pool Filter
There are three kinds of pool filters: cartridge, sand and diatomaceous earth. While there are different maintenance procedures for each type, all require periodic cleaning depending on the type of filter and how often a pool is used. Cleaning the filter more often than recommended can actually hinder the filtration process. A clean filter is less efficient than one with a mild amount of dirt in it because the dirt helps trap other particles, which removes debris from the water. However, you don't want to let the filter get too dirty. A sign that it's time to clean is an increase in flow between the pressure gauge and flow meter. Clean the filter when the difference reaches 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms) per square inch.

Professionally Service the Heater
Pool heaters typically require the least maintenance of all pool equipment. Gas heaters can work fine without being serviced for a couple years, and electric ones can last even longer. Consult your manufacturer's manual for specific care instructions. Sometimes, calcium scales build up inside the tubes of a heater and restrict flow, preventing the water from heating adequately. If this happens, recruit the help of a professional because the heater may need to be disassembled and have its tubes cleaned out with a wire brush or acid. Hiring someone to service your pool can cost $100 or more per month, depending on the maintenance your pool requires.

Check and Maintain Water Level
A lot of water will be lost throughout the swimming season largely because of evaporation and normal wear and tear, such as swimming, splashing and exiting the pool. When you remove debris with your skimmer throughout the week, that's also a good time to check the water level. Ensure it doesn't fall below the level of the skimmer, otherwise the pump could be damaged. If the water is low, use a garden hose to bring it up to safe levels.
If you drain your pool to perform maintenance or once the swimming season has passed, be careful to not let the pool sit empty too long. As a general rule, it's best to leave water in a pool throughout the winter because the weight of the water counteracts with forces from the ground pressing up against the pool from below.

Maintain the pH Level
Pool water should be tested regularly to make sure it's clean and healthy. The pH scale is a measurement of acidity or alkalinity that runs from 0 to 14. A reading between 7.2 and 7.8 is ideal; this range is safe for swimmers and helps sanitizers work at top efficiency.
You can monitor your pool's pH level with a testing kit. There are many kinds of testing kits available; however, most homeowner versions are either reagent kits or test-strips. Reagent kits aren't too difficult to use. You take a sample of pool water, then add liquids or tablets to it. The water changes color, indicating its chemical balance. Test-strips work differently. When you submerge them in the pool for a few seconds, dyes they contain cause them to change color. Next, match up the strip to a color chart to determine the pool's pH level. Use this information to gauge what kind and how much of the chemicals your pool needs.



Supercholorinate Water
Organic contaminants like ammonia or nitrogen build up in a pool over time. Massive amounts of such contaminants can interact with a pool's chlorine to form chloramines, which give off that potent chlorine smell that many people associate with pools. To get rid of this harsh odor, it's necessary to superchlorinate -- or shock -- pool water back to normal chlorine levels. While it may seem counterintuitive, adding a large amount of chlorine to a pool can make the undesired odor go away. Some pools should be shocked once a week, while others can go a significantly longer time. Follow manufacturers' instructions before superchlorinating your pool to get the best results.

Find and Repair Leaks
Sometimes it's difficult to determine if low water levels are due to evaporation or a leak. You can discover leaks in your pool by conducting a simple bucket test. Fill a plastic bucket three-quarters full of water. On the inside of the bucket, mark the water line. Place the bucket in the pool, then mark the water line on the outside of the container. (If the bucket has a handle, remove it to allow for better stability while floating.) Let it float for two or three days. If the water inside and outside the bucket has gone down the same amount, your pool is losing water due to evaporation. However, if the pool water level has gone down more than the water inside the bucket, your pool has a leak. That's your cue to call a professional to have it patched.

Winterize Your Pool
Where you live determines whether or not you should winterize your pool. If your location experiences temperatures that drop below freezing, you'll need to take steps to ensure that your pool stays healthy. Residual pool water left in pipes can freeze and cause damage. To prevent this from happening, use an air compressor to blow water out of the pool's plumbing when swimming season is over. Also, drain as much water as possible from the filter and heater. Any remaining water can be eliminated using nontoxic antifreeze (caution: this is different from antifreeze for vehicles). Disconnect the heater, pump and chemical feeders, the latter of which should be cleaned and stored.
Finally, clean the pool: skim, brush walls, vacuum, empty skimmer baskets, close skimmer line valve, lower water level to approximately 18 inches (45 centimeters) below the coping and supercholorinate. Lastly, cover the pool to keep out debris.

Open Your Pool for Swimming Season
If a pool is properly winterized, it can easily be reopened come swimming season. Most importantly, don't remove the pool cover until you've cleaned the area around the pool. Sweep or hose away debris to prevent it from getting into the pool. Next, use a garden hose to fill the pool to its normal water level. Reconnect everything that was disconnected. Water will need to flow through the circulation system, so open the skimmer line valve. Test the water for its pH level, then shock the pool. It'll take a week or more before the pool gets balanced and becomes swimmable. Leave the pump running 24 hours a day, and reduce the run by only an hour or two each day until the water is balanced.