Sensational Living®

September 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

The seasons change in September. Some days will be hot. Some days will be cool or even cold. Some days will be dry, while others are rainy, perhaps even with snow or sleet. These conditions lead to some confusion with regard to home maintenance. This especially hit me, because for most of my professional life, I have traveled extensively during September. When I left home, I always wondered, “Should I close the windows? How extensively should I water the plants? Should I have my pet care service water the plants in my absence? Should I clear my porch in case of frost? Should I move items away from the radiators in case the heat goes on while I’m away?” I don’t have any definitive answers to these questions, but I do have some guidelines to help you handle the change of seasons.

Cleaning: I strongly dislike cleaning. There are just so many things that I would rather be doing. However, once the windows get closed up, and once the heat comes on, we can often be confronted by icky scents and stale air. Here is a cleaning checklist:

Plants: I have spent many columns writing about growing and propagating indoor plants. Now you need to winterize them. When you close windows, be sure your plants don’t get scrunched. If they’ve grown over radiators or other sources of heat, invest in some poles/stakes and wrap the vines loosely, securing them at various intervals as you move upward. In some cases, your plants may have grown so much that the entire plant will no longer fit comfortably in its location with the windows closed and the heat on, so that plant will need a new home; of course, moving a plant at the end of the season, when it has become acclimated to a particular site, can be risky business, but sometimes you have to take a chance. Don’t forget to haul out the humidifers and bowls of water to increase the humidity as heating will suck the moisture right out of the air. You might even consider investing in some misters (that is, devices that spray mist, rather than individuals of the male persuasion). Most importantly, do not overwater them, and DO NOT FERTILIZE them. Due to the changing photocycle, plants will slow their own growth; this happens even in the tropics, where most houseplants originate. You may get some spindly growth, but that will be dealt with in the spring (see my columns for April and May).

Critters: As the weather cools, insects, spiders (and other arachnids), centipedes and millipedes often find their way indoors. This is good and bad. Most of all, it is self-correcting. Although I have training as an entomologist, I don’t like most insects in my home. Ladybugs are good, but they really need to find a good place outdoors to hibernate. The other insects are just pests when they get indoors, and THAT is where the other critters come in. The arachnids and centipedes you get in your home (that is, the araneids and scutigerids, mostly) are carnivores, and they will consume the insects, so don’t kill them; if there are no insects, the predators will either leave or die themselves (that’s how Nature works). Other arachnids (opilionids, or daddy-longlegs) and millipedes are scavengers (or herbivores/fungivores); they’ll stick around only as long as there is food to eat. If you are among the unlucky ones who find themselves invaded by four-legged furry critters or two legged feathered critters, you may need professional help, or purchase/rent a live trap (as I once had to do with a runaway cat that had taken up residence in my chimney, but that is another story [but one with a happy ending]!).

Air Quality: I’ve already discussed the impact of dust and sweaty furniture throws and well-traveled rugs/carpeting on air quality. Assuming that you have removed the offending parties, consider adding scent. This time of year, I particularly like to use natural scents like fresh flowers, but I’ll be returning to the use of scent in future columns (as I did in past columns). Can you smell a trend here?

Porch: Not everyone has a porch. But, consider this as advice for most semi-outdoor areas, like patios and decks (but see below for “true” outdoor guidance that I imported from elsewhere). Let’s do a survey of porch occupants:

General Maintenance: As I have stated, I don’t specialize in outdoor maintenance or in anything involving construction or carpentry or anything mechanical. I recommend that people seek specialists in those areas. I have borrowed the following hints from www.housevalues.com who are specialists in general home care (though I have made edits to make them more environmentally friendly).

Regular maintenance is important to keep your home safe, attractive and comfortable. Now, go out and enjoy the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Enjoy the harvest, and the cooler temperatures, and the changing foliage colors. Just enjoy life!