The Checklist

March, time to put your house in order

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Clean closets

Spring officially begins March 20. Devote a cold, rainy day earlier in the month to one of the spring-cleaning rituals that still makes sense: Clean out your closets, or tackle the one or two in the worst shape. A few tips:

-- Take out everything and sort it. Recycle whatever you don't need.

-- Vacuum all the crevices.

-- If you don't have a system that allows you to use the space efficiently, switch to high and low rods or install shelves above, below or to the side of hanging garments.

-- If clothes are dusty, briefly tumble them in a dryer before you put them back.

Tune up your air conditioner

While the weather's still cool, schedule a heating and air conditioning company to tune up your air conditioner. Maintenance should include checking the components, lubricating fans and motors, tightening or changing belts, testing the capacitors and crankcase heater, and calibrating the thermostat.

You can also do a few things yourself. Clear leaves, grass clippings, pollen and other debris from the screen of the condensing unit. Clean out the condensate hose so it doesn't become blocked with algae. And keep an eye out for drip marks on the compressor and tubes; these could point to a leak.

Tidy up the garden

As the weather warms and days lengthen, head outside for a big spring cleanup.

-- Clip off spent perennial foliage, and rake leaves.

-- If you have a backyard compost system, stockpile those "browns" for the soon-to-come day when you'll have an overabundance of "green" garden trimmings. Then you can make compost by layering them in approximately equal amounts into your compost bin or pile.

Plant natives

If you want more birds or butterflies in your garden, consider adding native plants, which produce nectar and fruit when the creatures need it most. The U.S. National Arboretum (202-245-2726, is sponsoring a native plant symposium March 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Beltsville Area Research Center. The $89 fee includes early admission to a native plant sale. If you want to skip the symposium and just shop, you can get into the sale free from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Regional nurseries bring the plants, so attending is one way to do all of your shopping in one trip.

If you live in Fairfax County, you can order bare-root seedlings of native trees and shrubs through the Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation District (703-324-1460, The plants are small but easier to plant than container-grown specimens, and they aren't as likely to have root problems. Plus, with six of these seedlings going for $10.95 and 10 bare-root shrubs for $15.95, you can grow a whole landscape for what you might spend on one large potted tree or shrub.

Gather ideas

Looking for inspiration for landscaping a small space or outfitting it for entertaining? Or do you want to learn about home improvements that can lower utility bills? You'll find plenty of tips for these and other issues at the Washington Home & Garden Show March 11 through March 13 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center (801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW). The hours are Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adult admission is $12, but you can print a $3 discount coupon good for the first day from the event's Web site,

-- Jeanne Huber

Updated March 1, 2011

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