Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Presentation at the “Plant Yourself in the Community Event”


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This is a copy of the notes that I typed up for my presentation at this event. This was quite a good event, with great speakers, and wonderful plant finds. My speech, delivered in part with my daughter in arm, dealt with landscape effecting the home.

Good Morning, my name is Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, and I am a home inspector who lives in the area. I wanted to briefly go over some landscape factors that can effect your home. These are items that I commonly find during my inspections. Most problems are easily dealt with, and they make sense once they are brought to our attention.

Starting with trees, our property sizes are not really big enough for many trees that we want around our home. The tree should be planted as far from the home as it can grow tall, so a forty foot high tree should be planted forty feet away from the home. The roots can cause problems with our foundations and with drainage pipes. Trees also drain our soil of great amounts of water which causes our soil to contract, again causing foundation problems. Swaying tree branches can knock down our service entrance cables, better known as power lines, so we will want to prune these branches away from those lines. Swaying tree branches can also damage our roofs. More than once I have seen branches that removed the roof covering, like composite shingles, and even the sheathing, then the homeowner wondered why they had a leak. I suggest that branches should are pruned a distance of ten feet away from the roof surface. If you are looking for energy efficiency, you may want to consider having a deciduous tree to block the sun. The leaves will help cool the home during summer, but the lack of of leaves will help warm your home during the winter. Dropping leaves can clog gutters, which will cause moisture problems in our fascia, and consequently in other parts of the home. Also, we will want piles of leaves on our roofs to be removed. The leaves trap moisture on the roof covering, which also attracts pests, which in turn damages the covering.

Moving onto bushes, the biggest problem that I find is that we plant them so close to the home, that moisture does not dry out on our walls. We then can experience problems with moisture in our walls and around windows. The branches of bushes swaying in the wind can also cause damage to a wall surface like the branch of a tree. For example, bricks can begin to crumble once the exterior harder surface has been damaged. Having a one foot gap between the bush and the wall allows for an air passage to dry out the walls. Sometimes we want bushes to hide our exterior AC compressor. Again we want to maintain a distance. A worker will want a three foot space from the compressor to be able to move around the unit. At least a one foot space between the bush and compressor is needed for air flow to cool down the coils. Branches can damage the fins on those coils, so the unit looses efficiency. Shading the unit does help cool the air around it, so this can hep the efficiency.

You will want six to eight inches of your foundation to be showing. This helps prevent pest entry into your home through the weepholes of the brick, or behind the boards. However, it also help with moisture from the ground coming into the home. One homeowner in the area built up her porch where water from rain and the patio surface could flow right into the weephole, eventually damaging her carpet. You also want to make sure that the grading around the home does not allow water to flow onto the AC compressor or to the home. Hopefully the water can flow to the street or soak into the ground, so excessive water does not damage the home.

As for watering, we want to make sure that we maintain even watering around the home. We have expansive clay soils in most of Houston. If we water consistently on one side of the home, the soil expands, raising the home, while the other side sinks. Eventually this can lead to foundation problems.

Well, this was the quick run down. I hope it helps you look at you home with new eyes.

For Joy, It is Raining


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Are you planting seeds? Then you need to keep the ground moist, but this weather has not co-operated. I guess that we are gong back into drought conditions again. Fortunately, the rain has come, so I did not need to water.

I had a problem with squirrels around my home. They disrupted my seed trays, so I decided to plant directly into the ground with most plants. I like to mix up how I get my plants. Some I start in pots; some seeds go into the beds; and some plants I buy from the nursery. Unfortunately, the squirrels have been a bit more active this year, so I see signs of their digging in the garden beds, and I am not sure why they went after my seed trays. Still, the seedlings are growing, but it has meant more watering than I was expecting. Having the seed beds in trays under cover or in a green house means less watering, because the soil does not dry out. When the seeds are in the garden bed, you have the sun and wind drying out the soil, so more watering to keep the seeds viable. I am spreading hair from my dog around the garden, but this has not worked as well as I had hoped.
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Plant Yourself in the Community at the Pool


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An event is taking place this weekend at the WideWest pool this weekend, which should be fun for Houston gardeners.

Alright, this is a bit of self promotion. The pool happens to be for two communities, Westmont and Tanglewilde, but the event is open to all. The self promotion bit is that I will be one of the speakers. The idea is a plant swap. Is there a plant that you want to get rid of? Are you looking for a plant? Looking for advice about your landscape? Or maybe you are just looking to have some fun. This should be for you. The plan is to have this day begin at 9:00 am to 3:00pm on Saturday 12 March 2011. The WideWest pool is located at 3430 Rocky Ridge 77063. The speakers will be between 10 am to 11 am.
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The Excitement of Spring


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Tomato plants are in at the stores, and you will find basil too. Are you ready to start planting Houston?

Last week turned out to be much busier than I thought it would be. Besides work, I ended going to a few gatherings/ meetings. One was to set up a plant exchange event in my neighborhood; we will be calling it “Plant Yourself in the Community”. I have been asked to speak at this event about how landscapes can effect the home.At the Houston Green Scene Mixer, I found myself talking about gardening quite a bit. Particularly we ended discussing fruit trees and vegetables. Even on my inspections, the landscape became a topic. In my own garden, I thought that I would have a quiet week. I was doing some final pruning to clear tree branches growing near my electrical lines and others that came down to hit me when walking by (these being from the neighbor’s trees growing over the fences. I found myself placing quite a few plants in the ground.
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Looking for a Tree to Plant on Arbor Day Houston?


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Do you want to celebrate Arbor Day? Do you want to help high school students too? Then I know where you need to be this coming Saturday.

My brother and I are sitting in the grass watching the children at play. His daughter and my youngest daughter have discovered the best game to play: working in the garden. They are churning the soil of what will be a new garden bed at my brothers house, then they work with two pots and the potting soil. We begin to discuss our current vegetables, and out hopes for the new season. My brother mentions that he hopes to have a few more trees in his yard. He is hoping for fruit trees. (He keeps giving the trees that he obtains to others that he feels are more deserving). I told him that I knew where he should be.
    There will be an event celebrating Arbor Day here in Houston. Green Team America and the Green Bank have partnered to bring us trees. Did you lose a tree after Hurricane Ike? In the aftermath of the hurricane, I went with my pruning saw to many homes in my neighborhood to remove trees from roofs. The homeowners eventually chose to remove many of those trees. That is a shame. We need to care for our trees by pruning them properly and planting them in the right locations. This event promises to help us with those choices. Here are the details:

    Next Saturday, February 26, 2011, from 8:00am to 11:00am
    at Green Bank location on Greenbriar  at the US 59 (4000 Greenbriar)
    More than 500 trees will be available

    For a suggested $10 donation, you can find a tree for your yard.
Tree varieties will include: Flowering Cherry, Pear and Plum; Magnolia; Red Buds; Crape Myrtle; Cedar Elm; Burr Oak; Chinquapin Oak; Live Oak; Shumar Oak; Chinese Pistache and a few citrus. I like the fact that there will be advice on hand on how to deal with the planting and care of these specimens on hand.  I have seen poorly planted or maintained trees during my home inspections, so I know how valuable this advice can be.
    Another fantastic facet of this event is that it will be benefiting Green Team America. This is a non-profit that helps high school clubs that have an environmental focus. This group helps connect them to other clubs with this focus around the country and the globe. I love promoting science studies in any form, so this non-profit is doing a good thing in my book.
    Thank you Green Bank for taking part in this event. I am going. My brother is going. I hope to encourage other friends and acquantainces, so maybe you will be there too. I know that your children will love being involved with a tree planting.

How Can Yard Work Hurt the Home


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During my home inspections, I see various examples of landscaping, from the I do not care to the lavish.What can happen to any type of landscape is the damage to home systems by yard work.

How did that happen? I am asked that question often when pointing out a finding. The answer is not always clear. Did the house sink, or was the patio installed at a higher grade? Sometimes the clues reveal the proper response, but other times they may not. Sometimes the answer is clear o me, but my clients can remain skeptical. That happens when I blame the problem on yard work. Surely, a person would not do that (that being the cause of the damage). Yet, I see it often enough to formulate an idea of what has happened.
cleanout with broken cover
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In the Aftermath of the Frost


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We were expecting snow last night. I have ice on the plants. The garden continues.

My children awoke with a sense of wonder. Would they see snow? They did have the day off from school, so plans are being made. I would rather not drive. This is not the Houston that we are used to. I did make a few preparations, but many of these preparations had already been in the works. Beds were heavily mulched earlier. The avocado tree had its cover, and I finally pulled out a cover for the hibiscus plants. In the morning, I went out to see the state of the garden.
garlic under icemustard laying downice on collards
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Holding Patterns: Cleaning up and moving things around the yard.


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Not much is happening, so I am still in preparation mode for the new planting season.

We needed the rain. I am glad for the sun. A visitor from Germany reminded me how lucky we are in Houston during the winter months. There is an unease in my bones though. In Chicago as a lad, I could not do anything here in the garden, so I played in the snow. With our weather, I can still enjoy the flowers, but there is not much that I can do that will not succumb to frost. I decided to have everything ready to go, where I could simple set the plants or seeds into the ground, so my task began.
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The Hard Freeze in Houston


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Finally we are getting rain, and the cold weather has arrived. This is the time for freezing temperatures to keep hitting us.

The hard freeze came and went, and life in the garden continues. Long periods of freezing temperatures can come back until the end of winter, so I am stilling watching my plants. I expected the tomato plants, eggplants, and peppers to suffer. I also thought my coleus to die back. However, I was not sure how bad the damage would be to other plants. My wife was quite worried that we would loose many plants, like last year, so she wanted to head out to cover plants. Last year’s freeze hurt plants that had never been effected in the past. With trepidation, I walked out into the garden to asses the fate of my plants.
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Carrots, Onions, and Peas in the Winter Garden


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You may not think that gardeners would be planting during this cold snap, but I am.

I am having too much fun watching others cover and uncover their plants. Our temperatures have been going from nearly 80F to 40F on a biweekly basis. I was walking through my local nursery, and mainly I am finding only a few varieties en masse. This is not the time to be considering a new bed for vegetables; is it? With the relative mild Houston winters, we could be planting year round. I spotted onion sets by the door, so I became inspired to expand my vegetable endeavors.
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Greetings

This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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