QWe have a number of large trees on our property and have to clean up a lot of fallen leaves in the autumn. Do you have any tips for making the work easier? -- C. Landis
AI share that problem, and have been looking for ways to cut leaf cleanup work for years. If you have a mulching lawnmower, one technique is to run it over the lawn at intervals during leaf-falling season. The mower will cut the leaves into tiny bits that will not harm the grass. This works well in the early part of the season, but when the heaviest leaf fall occurs, other methods are needed.
I found that a combination leaf blower and vacuum greatly speeds up and eases the heavy work. One of these tools can virtually eliminate raking. I have used several vacuums, and last year invested in a Craftsman (Sears) Power Propelled 4-in-1 Plus (about $670; www.craftsman.com). Less expensive blower-vacuums are also available at Sears and other home centers. The 4-in-1 Plus is a walk-behind tool that is self-propelled, which is a big advantage over vacuums that require pushing or carrying. My technique is to blow leaves into a fairly thick layer, then use the vacuum to scoop them up and shred them. The shredded leaves are collected in a bag, and have to be dumped somewhere, of course. They can be used for mulching around plants or bagged for disposal. I dump mine in a wooded area, where the mulch helps keep out weeds and wild roses.
A problem with this tool is that the collection bag, when filled with shredded leaves, can be quite heavy and difficult to empty. It often takes some violent shaking to discharge the packed leaves. That might be very difficult for a slightly built person or someone with back problems.
Before buying the walk-behind vacuum, I used hand-held leave blowers to put leaves in piles. I then raked them onto a plastic tarp and pulled them into the wooded area for dumping. This worked well, but is more time-consuming and harder work than the blower-vacuum.
When using any vacuum, give animals and birds a break by not vacuuming up acorns and nuts. Blow or rake the leaves to a clear space before vacuuming.
In some areas, leaves must be placed in recyclable paper bags and left at the curb for collection. There isn't much that can make this easier, but I did find that placing the bag in a large trash container will help keep it open and upright while it is being filled. I also tried a snow shovel for scooping up leaves for bagging and that worked well.
My white garage door had a black fungus on it, which I removed with bleach and a heavy-duty cleaner. I repainted the door, but the fungus returned. How do I keep the fungus off? -- Nancy
You might have better luck in removing the fungus with a special mildew cleaner, such as Mildew Check or Jomax. These cleaners are sold at many home centers and paint stores. When you repaint, use a mildew-resistant paint such as Zinsser's Perma-White (www.zinsser.com; available in colors as well as white). You can also add a mildewcide, sold at paint stores, to regular paint to increase mildew resistance.
We want to add a porch to the front of our house and got several quotes from contractors. The prices seemed high. Do you think the cost of home improvements like this will fall if we wait a few years? -- R. Dodd
Barring a major recession, my guess is that the cost of home improvements is more likely to increase than to decrease. Prices of building materials, labor and fuel keep rising, and there seems to be no end to the demand for housing. In some areas, contractors in some fields have so much work they don't bother to return phone calls from prospective clients. If you want to build that porch, it is very unlikely that waiting will save you money.
A silicone sealant that was used around our kitchen sink has become dirty and we haven't been able to clean it. Is there an easy way to remove the sealant? What do you suggest as a replacement? -- R. Talisetti
Silicone sealant or caulk is rubbery and often can be pulled out in strips. Work an end loose with a sharp knife and pull carefully. As a replacement, I would use a mildew-resistant bathtub caulk such as Polyseamseal (www.polyseamseal.com).
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Questions cannot be answered personally.