Author Archives: Bob Vila

Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows – This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. You can now watch my full TV episodes online. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice and experiences with all of you.

How To: Prune a Tree

An occasional pruning will keep your trees healthy, safe, and pleasing to the eye. Follow these instructions on how to prune a tree to make sure that your cuts are effective and kind.

How to Prune a Tree

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Sometimes a homeowner prunes a tree for aesthetic reasons, trying to keep the landscaping neat and tidy. Other times, tree pruning is a matter of safety—perhaps a branch has perilously crossed paths with a power line or grown too close to a window. The last but not least reason to prune a tree is for its own good. There are many instances in which pruning goes a long way toward promoting tree health. Rather than calling in a service every time a tree on your property needs a bit of attention, you can learn the basics of tree pruning—it’s well within your capabilities!—and consequently save the considerable cost of hiring a professional.

How to Prune a Tree - Detail Pruning

Photo: shutterstock.com

Before you begin, look closely to identify the main branches that define the structure of the tree. Except in cases of severe damage, you should never remove these primary branches, because they are critical to the tree’s overall health. Another important rule of thumb: If possible, avoid pruning during the heart of the growing season; it’s better to wait until late fall, after the tree has dropped all its leaves. Also, to avoid shocking the tree, you shouldn’t trim off any more than a quarter of its crown during any one season.

Damage Control
The branches that are the likeliest candidates for trimming are those that have been damaged by storms. Choose a tool that’s appropriate given the size of the branch in question. Pruning shears work fine to remove slim branches, but for thicker growth, use a tree saw; failing that, reach for a simple handsaw.

Cut into the underside of the branch, no more than halfway through its diameter. Next, cut through the top side of the branch, being sure that your second cut aligns with your initial one. Severing the branch in two stages instead of one works to prevent the branch from tearing away part of the trunk.

Position your cuts at least a few inches from the trunk so that when you’ve finished, a protruding stub remains. It’s probably safe to reduce that stub somewhat, but do not disturb the stem collar, the thick growth that occurs where the branch met the trunk. It’s needed to help the tree heal.

Thinning Out
For healthy growth, tree branches require the free flow of air on all sides. Dense patches of foliage leave the tree vulnerable to fungi that could eventually compromise its health. For that reason, it’s recommended that you thin out the very thickest parts of the crown, but you must do so in a specific way.

In general, the best branches to remove in the course of thinning are the ones growing toward the center of the tree. Using pruning shears, cut these branches on a bias, at a point just beyond where they fork away from parts of the tree that are more obviously growing in an outward direction.

Giving Shape
Having removed all damaged branches and thinned out the overly dense sections of the tree, it’s time to consider pruning for purely elective, appearance-enhancing reasons. Don’t get too carried away. As mentioned, it’s bad for the tree if in a single season you trim more than a quarter of its crown. But if you identify any small branches that are sticking out too far or growing at unsightly angles, feel free to prune them. All the while, bear in mind that every tree has a natural shape. It’s a mistake to try fighting against a tree’s innate tendencies. Instead, prune the tree in such a way that you are helping it assume the shape that it “wants” to take.


How To: Paint Over Wallpaper

Are you sick and tired of your old wallpaper? Before you go to the trouble of stripping it off, consider covering it with a few coats of paint. Read on to find out how to do it and to figure out whether painting is the right solution for your walls.

How to Paint Over Wallpaper

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Any number of imperfections, from nail holes to degraded plaster, may lurk underneath wallpaper. Another ugly truth: The wallpaper you see may in fact be only the top layer of several applications. It’s hard enough to remove one layer of wallpaper, let alone multiple layers. If you have no plans to move, it may be worth the effort to strip away the paper entirely. But if you need a quick fix, you can actually get good results painting over wallpaper! You can achieve a brand-new look with a minimum of hassle.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Sponge
- Bucket
- Oil-based primer/sealer
- Paintbrush and roller
- Oil-based paint

How to Paint Over Wallpaper - Detail Red

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
To paint over wallpaper successfully, take the time to properly prepare the papered wall. This may involve the counterintuitive task of repairing or replacing loose or missing sections of the wallpaper. At the very least, prep work here requires cleaning the walls with trisodium phosphate, a chemical better known as TSP.

TSP is such strong stuff that it must be diluted. Mix it with water in a bucket, aiming for a ratio of one half-cup for every two gallons of water. Closely follow the manufacturer’s usage directions, including the labeled safety warnings. Adequately ventilate the room in which you are working, and don’t forget to wear protective gear.

TSP can be applied with a sponge or even an extra paintbrush. Once the TSP has dried, use a damp (but not dripping wet) rag to remove the chemical from the wall. Tread carefully. Too little water, and you may not get the chemical off, thereby compromising the paint’s ability to adhere. Too much water, and you run the risk of damaging the wall.

STEP 2
If after you’ve gone to the trouble to paint over the wallpaper it ultimately starts to peel, you’re not going to like how it looks. One way to prevent subsequent peeling is to apply an adhesive compound where the wallpaper is most vulnerable—at the seams where it meets the ceiling and floor. An even better approach is to coat the wall with a combination primer-sealer. Not only does primer-sealer minimize the chances of peeling, but it also provides a surface to which the paint can readily adhere. Use an oil-based primer-sealer, not a water-based product; after all, water and wallpaper don’t mix. Whether or not you choose to seal and prime, be sure to opt for an oil-based paint when you’re ready to coat the walls.

STEP 3
Once the walls are clean and you’ve applied the primer-sealer (if you’re going that route), give the walls enough time to dry. You are now ready to begin painting. Approach the job as you would any other painting project: Use a paintbrush to cut in at the corners and along edges, then let the roller do the rest. You’re probably going to need a couple of coats.

Let the first coat dry completely before you proceed to the next one. During the interim, consider sanding the wall. It’s tedious, yes—less so if you own a power sander—but sanding minimizes imperfections and could greatly improve the finished appearance of your work. Either way, the very last step is to paint the top coat. When you’re finally finished, stand back and admire the difference. Where once there had been wallpaper you had tired of, you’ll now see gleaming, freshly painted surfaces!


What Would Bob Do? Unsticking a Double-Hung Window

When a double-hung window just won't open, the most likely culprit is a bad paint job—but there are other possible perps. Here's how to get the window unstuck and figure out who done it.

How to Open a Stuck Window

Photo: prweb.com

My wife and I recently moved into a rental house, and we cannot seem to open the double-hung windows in the bedroom. That was just fine with us during the winter, but now that it’s warm out, we really want to let in some fresh air! Suggestions?

We’ve all been there: Try as you might to open the window, the sash refuses to budge. Almost invariably, sloppy painting is to blame. Double-hung windows are fairly complicated contraptions, and each part has its own name (even some professionals have a hard time keeping all the proper terms straight). Technically, a window ceases to operate correctly when paint enters and dries in the space between the sash—the movable part of the window—and the jamb stops and parting stops—elements that direct the sash’s up-and-down path. Fortunately, you don’t really need a vocabulary lesson to open a stuck window. All you need is a blade.

Photo: byroncompany.com

Run your utility knife along all the joints that surround the sash. And don’t forget to address the rear side of the top edge (you may need to climb up on a step stool in order to see what you’re doing up there). Now put the knife down and give the window a try. It should open—if not easily, then with a bit of fussing. Once you’ve got it open to the breeze, use the stub of a candle to lubricate the channel along which the sash travels. The wax doesn’t leave a mess and should make it much easier to operate the window in the future.

If doing the above makes no difference, I recommend removing both the upper and lower sashes. They need more attention than you can safely administer while they’re in place. Furthermore, the issue may be something more serious than mislaid paint. To be certain, though, you’ll want to get a good look at the thing.

Removing the sashes involves a handful of steps. Start by taking out the screws in the interior stops. Next, carefully pry the stop molding free from the lower sash. Proceed to pull out the parting strips—and sometimes that’s easier said than done. If the strips have been painted and are stuck, reach again for the utility knife. Score the joints that surround the strips, then pull—hard if you must, but carefully. Once those parting strips are out of the way, both sashes (the upper one first) should come out rather easily.

Closely inspect the sashes. If they are damp and the wood appears to have swelled, then paint isn’t your problem. The most likely explanation is that missing or poorly installed flashing on your house’s exterior is allowing water to soak the window frame when it rains. Flashing repair typically involves limited removal of house siding. The best thing is to get a professional’s opinion before deciding what to do next.

What if your inspection of the sashes doesn’t reveal any water damage? My suggestion is to scrape the window and sand it down, more or less, to bare wood. Add a coat of primer and then a fresh coat of paint, being careful not to leave any areas of buildup. Let the paint dry and then reassemble the window.

When doors become stuck, high humidity is often the cause. Although that’s rarely the case with double-hung windows, it’s not out of the question. So if you live in a very damp home, consider running a dehumidifier in the room that has the stuck window. By the same token, if it’s a bathroom window that’s giving you trouble, run the exhaust fan during and after your showers. Similarly, a stubborn sash in the kitchen may be aggravated by stovetop cooking; run the exhaust fan during meal preparation and see if that helps.


How To: Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

While enchanting to look at, deer are the nemesis of the home gardener. If you are wondering how to keep deer out of your garden this summer, consider one—or more—of the recommendations detailed here.

How to Keep Deer Out of a Garden

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Though deer look innocent, home gardeners know they can be a menace to plants and trees. Gardeners also know that barring Bambi from the backyard is never an open-and-shut case. For one thing, deer are talented jumpers, able to surmount any fence less than eight feet tall. Through the years, however, savvy green thumbs have figured out a variety of effective ways to keep deer out of the garden. One—or a combination—of these tricks may be the solution you’ve been seeking.

Plant Selection
Yes, deer have favorite foods. In particular, they love fruit trees, ivy, and high-protein crops like peas and beans. So one way to keep deer out of the garden is not to grow any of the species they like to snack on. But if you truly love and wish to grow any of the same plants that deer love and wish to eat, then position those varieties closer to the protection provided by your house. At garden borders, aromatics like lavender, mint, or garlic can help mask the scent of the sought-after plants in your beds. Also, note that deer dislike picking their way through bushes with thorns, so consider lining the perimeter of your yard with prickly vegetation.

Barrier Construction
For many homeowners, building an eight-foot fence around the property to deter deer likely seems like overkill. But if you have other reasons to consider a fence of such size, be it privacy or security or both, then the side benefit of wildlife deterrence might make the construction worth it. Bear in mind that ideally the fence should be opaque, so deer cannot glimpse the treats beyond the barrier. If you have a smaller fence, you can make it a better deer deterrent by attaching chicken wire to the top and tilting the mesh at a 45-degree angle in the direction from which the deer would be coming. Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to fence off your entire property. Netting (or another equally manageable obstacle) can go a long way toward preventing deer from disrupting your vegetable patches or young, delicate seedlings. Also worth considering are motion-sensitive sprinklers; deer don’t like this sort of surprise! At night, motion-activated lights are effective for the same reason.

How to Keep Deer Out of a Garden - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Repellents
The least expensive, most hands-on methods of keeping deer out of the garden involve homemade or store-bought deterrents, applied either directly or very near to the plants in need of protection. Regularly rotate the repellents used, as deer are quick to learn but wary of the unfamiliar. Try any or all of the following:

• Because deer are not fond of hot spices, you can bring safety to your plants by treating them with a homemade chili spray. Simmer a pinch of red pepper flakes in a pan of water, then strain the liquid into a spray bottle.

• At your local home center, keep an eye out for repellents containing, among other things, the urine of wolves, coyotes, or any other natural predators of deer. Be sure to follow the spray manufacturer’s instructions closely.

• Scatter human hair near your plants, or stuff an old sock with hair and hang it from a fence post. Deer are naturally shy and leery of dangerous situations, so they’re unlikely to approach if they sense people are nearby.

• If you own a dog, let him out into the yard as often as possible. The pet’s scent, which lingers long after it’s gone back indoors, can usually be counted on to keep even the most reckless deer at bay.

Keeping out deer is not an exact science. An approach that works wonders for one homeowner might fail miserably for another. Try several of the possibilities outlined above and determine which are most effective in your area, then remember to mix up your chosen strategies, keeping the deer on their toes and out of your garden!


How To: Get Rid of Crabgrass

Clumps of crabgrass can make even the most velvety, lush lawn look ratty. Here's how to put a stop to marauding crabgrass before it even gets started.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass

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If you are one of the many homeowners who labor in pursuit of the perfect lawn, then you know what a menace crabgrass can be. A true bully, crabgrass grows more quickly than—and subsequently crowds out—the Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or tall fescue into which you’ve invested time, money, and no small amount of sweat. It’s no easy feat, but there are proactive steps you can take to prevent crabgrass from taking hold. The most important? Applying herbicide.

To get rid of crabgrass and ensure that it doesn’t return, the best offense is a strong defense. Early in the spring, when the crabgrass has all died back over the course of winter, apply a preemergent herbicide, which contains chemicals that are designed to kill weed seeds before they even sprout. Be careful, though. Some products of this ilk kill not only weed seeds, but all seeds. Take the time to be certain you are purchasing a product that accommodates your lawn-care plans.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass - Herbicide

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To be absolutely sure that you’re using the most effective means of controlling crabgrass, consult your local garden supply store. Carefully explain what exactly you’re trying to achieve—specifically mention crabgrass—and ask someone at the store for the best recommendation for your situation.

While preemergent herbicides address the problem of crabgrass in a direct way, you can successfully minimize weeds simply by growing the fullest, healthiest lawn that’s within your power to cultivate. Crabgrass cannot take root on a lawn where it literally has no room to grow. That said, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate lawn weeds entirely, so if you wish to supplement your application of preemergent herbicide, try any—or a combination—of the following methods:

• Being that crabgrass has shallow roots, its growth can be curtailed by watering the lawn deeply but infrequently.

• Close-cropping the lawn leaves it vulnerable to weeds of all types; set your mower blades a few inches higher.

• There’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned weeding; make it easier on yourself by watering the lawn first.

• If crabgrass grows despite your best efforts, spray the weeds directly with a post-emergence herbicide.

If you regularly care for your lawn and give it extra attention at certain pivotal times of year, then you can maintain beautiful green grass with a minimum of imperfections. Imagine the joy you’ll feel as you proudly survey your picture-perfect lawn, the best in the neighborhood. Now quit daydreaming, and get to work!


How To: Clean a Grill

Keeping your barbecue clean will help prevent flare-ups and ensure that you're serving up tasty, succulent morsels instead of burned, ash-speckled messes.

How to Clean a Grill

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For some of us, summer doesn’t mean sunbathing on the beach or hiking along a mountain trail—it means grilling burgers, hot dogs, steak, fish, and vegetables on the backyard grill. While barbecue lovers argue passionately about the secrets of perfect grilling, there’s one thing everyone agrees on: To produce great-tasting food, a gas or charcoal grill must be clean, not greasy and overrun with char. The more often you clean the grill, the less residue you’ll have to deal with, so the task will only get easier. Follow these simple steps to clean a grill quickly and effectively, using common household items that you probably already have on hand.

STEP 1
If it’s been a while since you last had a chance to clean the grill, start the process by filling two large buckets—or an even larger plastic or metal basin—with warm, soapy water. Remove the cooking grates from the grill and submerge them in the water, leaving them to soak for a spell. If yours is a charcoal grill, it’s not a bad idea also to remove and soak the ash catcher and the grate that holds the briquettes. Finally, remove and set aside any other parts, such as the drip pan, that easily come free.

How to Clean a Grill - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Next, use a rag to clear out all the loose dust and ash from within the grill. Follow up with a stiff wire-bristled brush; intermittently dip it into a bath of soapy water and use the tool to scrub off all the caked-on residue. With a gas grill, take extra care here not to disturb any of the connections to the propane tank.

STEP 3
Turn your attention to the grill grates that have been soaking in soapy water. The grease and caked-on residue should be looser now than at first, but it’s still probably going to take some elbow grease to get satisfying results.

STEP 4
Allow enough time for all the newly cleaned parts of the grill to dry completely. Once they have done so, reassemble the grill. You’re all done—unless you’ve got a gas grill, in which case it’s recommended that you take a moment to confirm that the burner is working properly and that the flame shield is in the right place.

Get into the habit of cleaning the grill after each use; the longer charred food remains on the grates, the more difficult it becomes to get off. Let the grates cool, then spray them with vegetable oil and scrub with a wire brush. Lastly, wipe down the grates with a paper towel. By regularly following the regimen described above, you can avoid the hassle of having to give your grill a time-consuming and laborious cleaning. Now, who’s hungry?


How To: Get Rid of Cockroaches

If you've had recent roach sightings, grab an effective insecticide or try some of these home-brewed tactics for getting those pests out of your house.

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches

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You’re not alone in wanting to get rid of cockroaches. These creepy-crawly insects are a major problem around the country—around the world, even—particularly in dense urban areas. Because they are fond of heat and humidity, they’re most likely to be found in the kitchen and bathrooms. And if you see one, chances are there are many more lurking out of sight. Calling the exterminator may be your first reaction, but you can save money by following the steps below to get rid of those unwelcome visitors.

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

The next time you see a cockroach, resist the temptation to run away. Instead, screw up your courage and follow the roach to determine how the insect may have found its way into your home. Common entry points are areas around windows; at the joints between walls and floors; where cabinets meet the wall; near radiators and heating pipes; and in gaps around gas or water lines. Seal every hole or crack you come across with silicone caulk.

To eliminate the cockroaches that are living in your midst—the ones under the stove or behind the refrigerator—you have several weapons at your disposal. The most obvious is to use an insecticide, be it a gel, powder, or bait trap. Countless such products exist on the market; choose one formulated specifically for cockroaches. Apply your choice wherever roaches love to hide, but remember to keep your pets and children away from these often toxic treatments.

If you prefer, you can concoct a homemade cockroach killer from some common household products and boric acid, which is readily available at your local pharmacy. Mix equal parts boric acid (which kills the insects), sugar (which attracts the insects), and flour (which binds the ingredients), laying down a thin coating of the powdered blend wherever you suspect roaches are hiding.

Yet another way to lure and kill roaches is with beer. Cut the top off a plastic soda bottle, pour a little beer into the bottom of the container, and then place the top of the bottle upside down into the base so its neck serves as a funnel. Roaches enter the trap in pursuit of the beer but then, unable to escape, they ultimately drown. Once you’ve successfully used the beer trap to claim a few victims, you can dispose of the whole thing without ever having to touch the bugs directly. Great!

Roaches are nothing if not persistent; it may be necessary to keep up your campaign for as long as several weeks. Once you’re confident that your home is roach-free, help keep it that way by maintaining the highest possible level of cleanliness in your bathrooms and especially in the kitchen. Keep food in sealed packages and take out the trash regularly. Clean up immediately after eating or cooking. With a little luck, the infestation won’t recur.


How To: Clean Leather Furniture

Leather is a surprisingly durable, easy-care upholstery material, but it does require occasional cleaning and triage. If your leather furniture is looking tired, follow our suggestions for perking it right up.

How to Clean Leather Furniture

Photo: shutterstock.com

With its rich color and supple feel, leather furniture invites an element of luxury into your room decor. Fortunately, despite its opulence, leather doesn’t require the kind of painstaking maintenance you might associate with other refinements. Inevitably, however, there comes a time in the life of all leather chairs, chaises, or sofas when a little care is called for. Rest assured that it’s not difficult to clean leather furniture, and the process involves only supplies that most homeowners keep readily at hand.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Vacuum (with brush attachment)
- Clean cotton or microfiber cloth
- Vinegar
- Small bucket

How to Clean Leather Furniture - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
When you set out to clean leather furniture, the first step is to remove all dust and loose debris from the piece. You can do so easily by means of a vacuum cleaner outfitted with a brush attachment. Don’t forget to clean between the cushions of the furniture, if there are any. Once finished, wipe the whole thing down with a cotton or microfiber cloth.

STEP 2
Having inspected the furniture in the course of dusting and wiping it down, you now understand which parts of the piece look the worse for wear. These are the areas on which you’re going to focus the lion’s share of your cleaning efforts.

STEP 3
To address the problem areas, you can use a simple but effective homemade cleaner, comprising equal parts vinegar and water. Mix the two in a small bucket, then dip in the corner of a cloth. Wring out the cloth so that it’s damp but not wet, then proceed to wipe down the soiled parts of the leather. Rinse the cloth after every few strokes to avoid spreading any dirt.

STEP 4
Next, follow up with a dry cloth, making sure to go over every area that you treated with the water-and-vinegar solution. At no point during the process should you let the leather become soaking wet; saturation is one of the material’s enemies.

Stain Removal
Has a careless guest spilled something on your leather furniture? Don’t despair—you can probably prevent the accident from leaving a permanent stain, but to be successful, you’ll need to work quickly. Different stains demand different remedies:

• Wipe away grease stains with a clean, dry cloth. Do not add water, because the fluid could help the grease soak into the leather. If the grease has dried by the time you notice it, try sprinkling baking soda onto the area in order to draw out the grease. Leave the baking soda on for a few hours, then brush it off with a rag.

• If there’s an ink stain on your leather furniture, rubbing alcohol may be the key to removing it. Dab alcohol onto a cotton swab, then wipe the stain until it clears. Keep in mind for the future that many homeowners have reported luck using rubbing alcohol to remove pesky patches of either mold or mildew on furniture.

• Notoriously vulnerable to stains are white and beige leather. To remove blemishes—particularly dark-colored spots—from such pieces, opt for a mixture of equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar. Combine the two into a paste, apply it to the stain, then leave it in place for 10 minutes. Wipe it away with a damp cloth.

Be wary of experimenting with stain removal products on leather; some may do more harm than good. Always first try a cleaning agent on an inconspicuous part of the furniture. (That way, if things go awry, nobody is likely to notice!) If none of the above tips or tricks prove helpful, consider seeking the assistance of a pro.


How To: Test Soil pH

Make sure you have the best possible environment for your plantings by checking your soil's pH. Here's how.

How to Test Soil pH

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Soil matters. To the plants you wish to grow in your garden, nothing is as important as what’s in or missing from the soil on your property. After all, the soil composition makes or breaks your plants’ chances of thriving. While there are many details to learn about your soil’s makeup, the pH level is the best place to start, because some plants prefer soil that is acid (for example, azaleas) or alkaline (carnations) or neutral (grass). To plan and maintain a healthy garden, therefore, you’ve got to know where you stand pH-wise. Fortunately for backyard gardeners, you don’t need a chemistry degree to test soil pH. In fact, it’s simple.

How to Test Soil pH - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Here’s perhaps the easiest of all ways to test soil pH: Head to the nearest home center or nursery, and pick up a testing kit. When used correctly, such kits are fairly reliable. Not every kit involves the same order of operations, but generally the process begins with digging a small hole, two to four inches deep.

Move any twigs or stones to the side, then fill the hole with distilled water—that is, water that is neither acidic nor alkaline. (If you don’t have any on hand, you can buy a bottle from almost any grocery store or pharmacy.) As the hole you created in the soil turns into a muddy pool, insert the test probe. Now wait.

After about a minute, you should get a reading. If the pH registers as being lower than 7, that means your soil is acidic. Higher than 7? Your soil is alkaline. (Exactly 7 means your soil is neutral.) Bear in mind that most plants do well in soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If yours falls within that range, consider yourself lucky. No small number of gardeners must amend their soil to make it hospitable.

Before calling it a day, take the time to test the soil pH in several different parts of your garden. Even in a small yard, pH variations—sometimes considerable ones—are common. A plant that wouldn’t adjust well to one corner of your property might live very happily in another location.

An alternative method of testing soil pH involves—believe or not—the red cabbage that’s been lurking at the rear of your refrigerator. What you do is chop the cabbage into small pieces before boiling it in a pot of distilled water (again, refrain from using tap water; the H20 used must have a neutral pH).

After about 10 minutes, the boiling water should turn violet. Remove the pot from the stove, strain out the cabbage, and pour a portion of the water into two separate containers. To one container, add a small amount of vinegar. Into the other container, sprinkle a couple of pinches of baking soda. The result, assuming no missteps, should be one container of pink (acidic) liquid, another of blue-green (alkaline).

Now pour the remaining violet water into yet another empty container, only this time add in a spoonful of soil. If the water turns pink, that means your soil is acidic; if blue-green, your soil is alkaline. The stronger the color change, the more acidic or alkaline the sample. If the liquid does not change color at all, then your soil is neutral. Science!


How To: Remove Paint from Concrete

Removing paint from concrete is a time-consuming endeavor, but a determined DIYer is certainly up to the task. Here's how to get it done right.

How to Remove Paint from Concrete

Photo: shutterstock.com

Concrete is porous, which means that it readily absorbs liquids like paint. With this ease of penetration, paint can seep millimeters deep into a concrete surface. As a result, it can be a challenge to remove paint from concrete, but it can certainly be done. How long will it take? That depends on the size of the area you’re dealing with. But it’s safe to expect that you won’t be knocking this out before lunch. Think of removing paint from concrete as an ongoing process, not as an item for your weekend to-do list.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Broom (or clean cotton rag)
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Long-handled brush
- Putty knife
- Chemical paint stripper
- Protective gear
- Pressure washer
- Clay powder or kitty litter (optional)

STEP 1 
When you set out to remove paint from concrete, the first thing to do is clean the surface of the concrete thoroughly. Prepare a solution of soap and water, or better yet, diluted trisodium phosphate (TSP)—in which case, be sure to wear gloves. Meanwhile, sweep or wipe off the concrete, removing as much loose dust, dirt, and debris as possible. Now proceed to work the soapy water or TSP into the concrete by means of a long-handled brush. Rinse the area afterward, allowing one to three hours for the surface to dry.

How to Remove Paint from Concrete - Detail Concrete

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
If some of the paint has already begun to chip or peel, scrape it away with a putty knife. Having done so, get ready to apply the chemical paint stripper. You need to use one designed for the type of paint you’re trying to remove. In other words, use oil-based paint stripper on a surface coated by oil-based paint. Not sure which type of paint is on the concrete? If you’re uncertain, your best bet is to opt for an oil-based paint stripper.

Once you’ve covered the concrete with a generous layer of paint stripper, let it sit for six to eight hours. During that time, a chemical reaction will take place, the magical result of which is the removal of paint. Remember that if you’re working with paint stripper, it’s imperative that you wear the appropriate protective gear: a respirator (or at minimum, a dust mask), long sleeves, and good pair of rubber gloves.

STEP 3
For this stage of the job, so long as you’re working on a compact concrete patch, you can probably get by with a wire scrub brush or a paint scraper. On a larger surface, to make things much more manageable, it’s recommended that you rent a pressure washer from your local home center (or borrow one from a neighbor).

Having set the pressure washer at 3,000 psi, go ahead and blast away the paint stripper residue. Soon enough, you will see whether or not it will be necessary to repeat Step 2. It’s not unreasonable to anticipate having to apply and then wash away multiple applications of paint stripper.

Paint Spills
What if you spill a gallon of paint on the garage floor, or accidentally leave a thick splatter of bright orange paint on the driveway? To clean it up, you would follow the same basic steps outlined above, with one important exception. Instead of applying a layer of paint stripper alone to the concrete, you would apply a paste made from the stripper and a superabsorbent material, such as finely ground clay powder or pulverized kitty litter.

Nonchemical Solutions
There are alternatives to using a paint stripper, but they’re all more labor-intensive. For instance, on a concrete surface of modest size, you can opt to use an orbital sander. Likewise, a floor buffer can get the job done on a larger scale. But perhaps the most effective nontoxic option is a soda blaster, a tool very much like a sandblaster, except that instead of sand, it shoots out sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). You can most likely rent one—and buy the baking soda in bulk—at your local home center. Because all of the above options create fine particles, a dust mask or respirator is a must if you’re working indoors.