How To Growing Black Eyed Susan Vine

Description and Overview:
Thunbergia alata, or Black-eyed Susan vine, is a frequent sight in hanging baskets at the garden center. As common as they are, most people not only don’t know what they are, they don’t think to grow them. That’s a shame, because Black-eyed Susan vine is as easy care as it is charming. The flowers have an almost pop art look to them, with a solid center surrounded by a ring of clear colored petals.

 

Leaves: The medium green leaves are a little coarse and grow opposite one another. They can be either heart-shaped or a kind of lanced arrowhead shape.
Flowers: The flowers look daisy-like at a distance, but they are actually tubular. Five overlapping petals surround a brownish-purple center tube, masquerading as a center disk. Look at the flower from the side and you’ll see how the center funnels downward.
Flowers are most commonly found in orange, pale yellow or white, but new cultivars are being created with a wider color palette.

Botanical Name:
Thunbergia alata (Pronounced thun-BER-jee-a ah-LAY-tah)

Common Name:
Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Hardiness Zones:
USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 10. Thunbergia alata is usually grown as an annual, although it has been known to over-winter in cooler climates, during very mild winters.

Sun Exposure
You will get the most flowers and the healthiest plants if you plant your Black-eyed Susan vines in full sun.

In hot climates, growing the plants in partial afternoon shade is recommended.

Mature Size:
In good growing conditions, they can reach 6 – 8 ft. (h) x 12 – 36 inches (w) Mature size depends on variety and growing conditions. Plants grown as annuals may not reach mature size.

Bloom Period
Black-eyed Susan vine repeats blooms from May through Fall.

 

Suggested Varieties:
If you are purchasing plants, you may only find them labeled as “Orange” or “Yellow”. There are more varieties offered from seed.

“Angel Wings” – White flowers with a hint of fragrance

“African Sunset” – Burgundy centers surrounded by red, ivory and darker shades of apricot and salmon

“Spanish Eyes” – Unusual pastel shades of peach and apricot

“Superstar Orange” – Traditional orange petals and dark center

“Susie Mix” Flowers in yellow, orange and white
Pretty Relatives:
Thunbergia grandiflora – Blue Trumpet Vine, Skyflower – Violet-blue trumpet shaped flowers with yellow throats

Thunbergia gregorii – Orange Clock Vine, Orange Trumpet Vine – Brilliant golden-orange trumpet-shaped flowers
Design Suggestions:
Black-eyed Susan vines grow quickly, once the temperature warms up. They will tangle themselves around the nearest support or spill over edges. They are perfect for hanging containers, but flow just as easily over walls and raised beds.

A lattice or link fence makes a good choice for coaxing and weaving your vine into a living wall, but these plants will clamber over just about anything, from the mail box to an old tree stump.

With their quick growth habit and sprawling nature, Black-eyed Susan vines can overtake nearby plants and are often grown as solo performers.

 

However a nice option is to mix the Black-eyed Susan vines with another vine that will intertwine with them. Morning Glories are often used for this purpose, particularly the purple varieties, which make a nice color combo. Purple Hyacinth bean is another good choice.

They look beautiful near shorter purple flowers, like salvia and veronica, too. On the flip side, you can play up their flair with hotter colors, like brilliant red zinnias or canna, for a more tropical look.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Black-eyed Susan vine likes a fairly neural soil pH, of around 6.5 and a soil rich in organic matter. When setting out plants, work several inches of compost into the soil, if it is not sufficiently rich to start with.

Planting: Container grown plants are fairly easy to find, but Black-eyed Susan vine is easy to grow from seed.

[Seeds may seem relatively expensive, but that’s because the seed is difficult to collect.] You can start seed indoors, about 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost date, or direct seed outdoors after danger of frost. Soak the large, hard seeds in water for a day or two, before planting.

Black-eyed Susan vine plants don’t like having their roots disturbed and it helps if you start the seed in peat or paper pots. Plant the seeds about 1/4 – inch deep and expect them to germinate within 2-3 weeks, depending on the temperature.

Maintenance:
Black-eyed Susan vine is quick growing and repeat blooms throughout the summer. That means they will get hungry and will need a light feeding every 4 – 6 weeks, with a complete fertilizer, to keep it growing strong.

Although the vines don’t like sitting in wet soil, they also don’t like being hot and dry. Mulching around the base of the plants will keep the roots cool and moist, without fear of rotting.

Since Black-eyed Susan vines are perennial, you can pot up a plant and bring it indoors for the winter. You’ll probably want to cut it back to a more manageable size when you do. You can also take stem cuttings and make new seedlings. If you’d like to try your hand at saving seeds, Mr. Brownthumb has a nice tutorial.

Pests & Problems:
Black-eyed Susan vine is not prone to many problems, particularly if the vines are kept healthy and have plenty of sun, water and air circulation. Whiteflies and spider mites can be potential problems, especially during hot weather and if brought indoors with dry heat. Keep a keen eye, to catch and treat any outbreaks quickly with insecticidal soap.

 

Learn More About Window Box Flowers for Sun

Regardless of your home’s size, style, or neighborhood vibe, there are few houses that wouldn’t be complemented by a window box. Unlike a container planter on the porch or a hanging basket, a window box is an extension of your home, an accessory that marries living plant material to your architecture. Flowers are the central feature of the window box for most gardeners, and if your home’s façade is sunny, you have a large range of blooming choices with which to create a seasonal display….MORE

The Edible Window Box

Home grown salads just got prettier. Vining cherry tomatoes and mini pepper plants act as colorful and tasty anchors for a window box bursting with marigolds and herbs. Keep flowering vegetable window boxes moist and fed with a liquid fish emulsion every week to keep them productive throughout the season.

Trailing Window Box Flowers

A window box gives gardeners the opportunity to make ample use of delicate trailing flowers that might succumb to mud splatters and insect pests on the ground. While petunias will always be popular, explore unusual trailing flowers like the tropical red chenille plant shown here.

Other trailing flowers that will spill handsomely over the edges of your sunny window box planter include trailing ivy-leafed pelargoniums, black-eyed Susan vine, and euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’ Intersperse your…MORE

Window Boxes for Urban Gardens

With the help of a window box exploding with flowers and trailing plants, even an urban garden with no bare soil can be transformed into a stare-worthy garden. To achieve this densely planted look, choose a moss lined wire window box or hayrack planter, and plant top, sides, and bottom with closely spaced pelargoniums. Add a few licorice plants at the bottom for foliage interest.

Window Box Design Made Easy

This window box is a triumph of color, texture, and form. Chartreuse sweet potato vine and the spiky purple foliage of false red dracaena ensure visual interest even when the flowers of blue lobelia and yellow million bells are between blooming cycles. The pink leaves of showy perilla plants are coleus look-alikes, but are much more vigorous and sun-loving.

Fall Flowering Window Box

When the gardening season winds down, don’t let your window box display end with a whimper. Rip out tired summer annuals and replace with autumn flowers, like these mums. You can create your fall finale with gourds and ornamental kale as filler like this gardener did, or create a densely blossomed look with other mums and asters.

Window Box Care and Maintenance

The prominent position of a window box makes it important to give the flowers a bit of extra TLC. Some flowers, like vinca and profusion zinnias, need little or no deadheading, but petunias always look better with a weekly snipping to remove spent blossoms and to maintain a compact plant. You should also fertilize every other week, and remove yellowing or dead foliage as needed.

Hay Rack Window Box Planters

You may have thought you’d never say the “M” word again if snails and pill bugs make Swiss cheese out of your marigolds year after year, but growing these easy plants away from the ground level will give you a new appreciation for this classic bedding plant. A trio of hayrack planters adds elegance to the monochromatic planting, and provides excellent drainage as well.

 

Starting Seeds in a Window Box

If you’ve hesitated to start flowers from seed in the past, try direct seeding in your window box with a flower that resents transplanting, like the forgiving nasturtium. The large seeds are easy to work with, and some varieties sport bluish (‘Empress of India’) or variegated (‘Alaska’ mix) foliage. As the flowers appear, you won’t be able to resist cracking the window to take a few blossoms for a peppery salad addition, or for a small nosegay bouquet.

 

Seaside Window Box

Coastal gardens benefit from floral cheer, but you must pick hardy plants that can withstand never ending sun, wind, and salt spray. This window box features the white flowers of sea thrift (Armeria maritima ‘Alba’) paired with Festuca glauca ‘Sea Urchin’ and Artemisia ‘Nana’,

Learn More About Container Vegetable Gardening

You don’t need a plot of land to grow fresh vegetables. Many vegetables lend themselves well to container gardening. With some thought to selecting bush or dwarf varieties, almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot. Even if you want your favorite full-size variety, if you give it a large enough pot and plenty of soil and water, it will grow just fine and reward you with plenty. Vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for container vegetable gardens.

What you can grow in a container vegetable garden is limited only by the size of the container and your imagination. How about a Summer Salad container? Plant a tomato, a cucumber and some parsley or chives all in a large (24-30 inch) container. They grow well together and have the same water and sun requirements. By late summer they might not be very pretty, but they’ll keep producing into the fall. This makes a great housewarming present, too.

Since your vegetable plants will be making their containers home for the season, you want to start them off right. Make sure there is enough space for them to grow into and choose your soil and site with care. Here is advice for getting set up and getting started, followed by container growing tips for specific vegetables.

Containers and Pots for Vegetable Gardens
Selecting Containers: Containers for your vegetable gardens can be almost anything: flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, wooden boxes, nursery flats, window planters, washtubs, strawberry pots, plastic bags, large food cans, or any number of other things.

Drainage: No matter what kind of container you choose for your vegetable garden, it should have holes at the base or in the bottom, to permit drainage of excess water. Vegetable plants will die if left sitting in wet soil.

Color Considerations: You should be careful when using dark colored containers outdoors because they absorb heat which could possibly damage the plant roots.

 

If you do use dark colored pots, try painting them a lighter color or shading just the container, not the plants.

Size: The size of the container is important. For larger vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, you should use a five-gallon container for each plant. You can grow these plants in two-gallon containers, however, you need to give the plants considerably more water. There’s more on container size under the tips for specific vegetables.

Soil and Fertilizer
You can use soil in your container vegetable garden, but potting mixes are much better. Peat-based mixes, containing peat and vermiculite, are excellent. They are relatively sterile and pH adjusted. They also allow the plants to get enough air and water. Mixing in one part compost to two parts planting mix will improve fertility.

Using a slow release or complete organic fertilizer at planting will keep your vegetables fed for the whole growing season.

Watering
Pots and containers always require more frequent watering than plants in the ground. As the season progresses and your plants mature, their root system will expand and require even more water. Don’t wait until you see the plants wilting. Check your containers daily to judge the need for water.

Wind
Wind can be a real hazard for any container-grown plant, and tall vegetables – like tomatoes or trellised cucumber and squash – become top heavy as they produce fruits. Try to place your containers so that they are not in an overly windy location. A breeze will provide nice air circulation and help prevent fungal diseases, but a strong wind can topple plants and containers and can also shred leaves and dislodge fruits. If you are gardening on a raised deck or a rooftop, it may be necessary to provide some type of wind block.

Some Tropical Flowers You Can Grow Anywhere

Tropical Flowers for Every Garden

Datura, bromeliad, and impatiens flowers
Jamie McIntosh
Tropical flowers bring a sense of “more” to your garden: more color, more fragrance, more size, and even more butterflies. Discover 14 tropical flowers that will bring their exotic beauty to gardeners in any climate.

Hibiscus

The tropical hibiscus brings a flamenco vibe to the patio and container garden even for beginners. When it comes to the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, if you provide ample sunshine and generous water, you will receive nonstop blooms up to eight inches in diameter throughout the growing season.

Like many tropical flowers, the brilliant colors of the hibiscus are a beacon to butterflies. You can choose varieties that complement any color scheme, as the blooms come in hot shades like yellow, orange, and…MORE

Bromeliad

The complicated anatomy of a bromeliad bloom begs for closer inspection, both from insect and human admirers. In fact, the Bromeliaceae family is a large and diverse one that includes plants like pineapples and the grey curly Spanish moss popular in craft displays. Gardeners who refer to growing bromeliads in general are probably talking about the Aechmea or Guzmania genera, two groups that encompass many popular garden plant varieties.

 

Clivia

Clivia miniata, sometimes called Natal lily, is coveted by many gardeners as a tough houseplant that thrives in low light areas. Not only will clivia grow in your previously barren north-facing windowsill, it likes to be on the dry side, grows best with minimal fertilizer, and is happiest when root bound in a crowded pot. Finally, the perfect tropical plant for those with a slightly brownish thumb!

Chenille Plant

The chenille plant will grow for any gardener who provides it with ample water and sunlight. Also known as red-hot cattail, Acalypha hispida may need supplementary lighting with a grow light to successfully overwinter.

Orchid

The orchid family (Orchidaceae) contains hundreds of genera and tens of thousands of species, so if you haven’t experienced success yet with these exotic plants, give it another try. One type that is particularly forgiving for beginning gardeners is the moth orchid, Phalaenopsis. Although orchids look great growing as a collection, due to their low bloom count, a more frugal strategy is to start with one moth orchid for a few months as a trial plant, and then grow your collection from there.

Jasmine

Jasmine adds two elements that benefit all gardens: fragrance and height. This twining vine is somewhat hardier than other tropical flowers, and will survive winters in USDA growing zone 7. Jasminum officinale vines produce flowers from late spring through early fall, and need to have an indoor dormant period throughout the winter months.

Jasmine is a slender but vigorous vine that gardeners can keep in bounds with frequent pruning. Provide it with full to partial sun and regular watering.

Ginger

Aromatic as they are beautiful, flowering ginger plants are an excellent alternative for gardeners who have little or no direct sun in their landscapes. However, as is the case with most tropicals, hot and humid conditions are required for thriving plants. Zingiber types include the red bracts of the Awapuhi, used in some premium shampoos. Zingiber Neglectum ‘Pagoda Jewel’ looks like an alien life form, but grows with ease in moist, well-draining soil. Bring your ginger plants indoors.

Protea

Looking like a cross between an artichoke and a thistle, protea flowers are a staple in tropical flower arrangements due to their very long-lasting cut blooms. The African natives sport blossoms that are fuzzy, leathery, and quite drought-tolerant. Protea plants are more frost tolerant than most tropical flowers, and can stay outdoors all year in zone 8. Plant proteas in a sandy potting mix, and water once or twice a week. A half day of sun is adequate to coax blooming in late winter through.

Bougainvillea

Anyone who has visited a Mediterranean country will conjure memories of their trip by cultivating this vigorous vine, which grows throughout sunny, dry climates. The vines demand a full day of sunshine, which means you shouldn’t plan on overwinter the plants in your home. However, the cheerful magenta or red bracts will appear quickly on new transplants you install in the spring. Bougainvillea blooming may taper off during summer, but will peak in the fall, as it thrives when day and night.

Anthurium

Anthurium, or flamingo flowers, are most happy when their environment is humid bordering on muggy. The flowers are bracts that come in red, pink, white, and dramatic burgundy hues. The shiny surface of the bracts lends a lacquered appearance, which stands out in dappled sunlight conditions. Provide flamingo flowers with rich, moist soil, and protect from temperatures below 40 degrees F.

Medinilla

Medinilla magnifica, also known as pink maiden, is a departure from many tropical flowers in that it prefers a shady site in the garden. If you have cared for an orchid, treat your medinilla the same way, as it grows as an epiphyte in the wild. Pot it up in orchid bark, water sparingly, and provide it with dappled sunlight and moderate temperatures. A daily misting will keep your medinilla going through the dry environs of a winter windowsill.

Penta

There’s nothing like a few pots of pink, purple, and red pentas to bring the butterflies and hummingbirds flocking to your deck or patio. Clusters of star-shaped flowers appear throughout the summer on 12-inch tall plants, and ask for nothing more than full sun, well-drained soil, and average water.

Canna

The widespread availability and rapid growth habit of cannas make them one of the most popular tropical plants in home gardens. If you’re plagued by soggy, boggy soil, make cannas a garden staple, as they will even grow in standing water. It’s almost impossible to give these hungry giants too much sunshine or nutrients. A weekly shovel of compost or manure can help taller varieties like ‘Phaison’ reach their potential.

Angel’s Trumpet

Everyone should grow a Brugmansia at least once in their lifetime. The sight of hundreds of bell-shaped fragrant flowers in late summer will bring a smile to your face every day. A variegated cultivar like ‘Snowbank’ will make plants interesting even out of bloom. Provide these shrubs with a large container, partial sun, and regular water. Prune hard in the fall when you bring it inside for the winter.

Know The Best Flowers for Hanging Baskets

Do you have a favorite garden flower that always seems to have its head in the dirt, especially after a heavy rain? This flower may be the perfect candidate for a hanging basket. Many flowers suitable for hanging baskets are pendulous, top heavy, or creeping, which makes them look lovely when displayed from a container at eye level or higher. Some hanging basket flowers even attract butterflies or hummingbirds, giving us a close-up view of wildlife antics on our porch or deck.

Begonia

For those who don’t have the right climate to grow fussy fuchsias, begonias can act as a plant double. The half-hardy Begonia boliviensis has the same tubular, pendulous flowers as fuchsias, but can handle the heat and humidity of Southern summers. Other tuberous begonias that look great in hanging baskets include the Nonstop Mocca series, which are fully double and resemble roses.

Black Eye Susan Vine

Not many vines flourish in a hanging basket, but thunbergia has the right combination of exuberance and restraint that makes it a showy container plant. The annual vines will scramble up the chains of the hanging basket as well as spill over the sides, sporting one-inch flowers in white and gold shades.

Fuchsia

Gardeners living in areas with cool, wet summers can’t pass up the opportunity to grow this amazing, shade-loving tender perennial. Although the plants do tend to wither in summer weather, you can look for one of the more heat tolerant varieties like ‘Astoria,’ ‘Jupiter,’ or ‘Surprise.’ A little fuss will prolong the beauty of fuchsias in hanging baskets: the plants respond well to daily misting, regular fertilizing, and diligent deadheading.

Lantana

In frost-free areas, common lantana can become somewhat of a thug, growing into a wild woody shrub that scrambles through fences and overtakes flowerbeds. However, the vibrant flower clusters of lantana provide reliable tropical color for a long growing season, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Choose a small weeping variety for your hanging baskets like the yellow and white ‘Patriot Popcorn’ or the yellow, pink, and orange ‘Patriot Rainbow.’ If lantana is overly vigorous in your area,…MORE

Lobelia

It’s best to think of lobelia erinus as a seasonal plant for early spring, as it thrives in moderate temperatures. Your hanging basket will be covered with a mass of electric blue flowers and contrasting white throats that appeal to butterflies. At the end of June, don’t waste any time trying to coddle the plants; replace them with million bells, lantana, or another heat-loving plant.

 

Million Bells

This cousin of the petunia won’t tucker out when the temperatures rise. Million bells produce little or no seed and don’t require deadheading to stay in bloom. All they need is moist soil and a full day of sun to keep your hanging baskets vibrant.

 

Pelargonium

You may know these by the more common name of geranium, but pelargoniums are annuals, while true geraniums are hardy perennials. The bold texture, bright colors, and trailing habit of pelargoniums make them ideal for hanging baskets. Deadheading is necessary to keep the plants blooming until frost.

 

Petunia

Petunias have always been a classic favorite for hanging baskets, but some gardeners have given up on them after struggling with plants bedraggled by disease and rainstorms. Try millifloras which bloom continuously without the need for pinching, or multifloras, which perform in hot, wet summers.

 

Portulaca

Place portulaca, or moss rose, in a site where it will receive sun for most of the day. When the plant sits in shade, its flowers will close up. Pair moss rose with other heat-loving, drought tolerant plants like wandering Jew, which will provide color between blooming cycles.

Sweet Alyssum

Sitting near a sweet alyssum hanging basket is like being in the presence of a fragrant cloud. These flowers have a strong honey scent that attracts butterflies and bees. The appealing trailing habit of sweet alyssum can turn shaggy as the season progresses, so don’t be afraid to reinvigorate it with a summer haircut.

Tips to Prevent Burglaries

Ever wonder if your home is a target for burglaries — if burglars look hungrily at your poorly lit, flimsy front door? View your home the way a burglar would, and think about what you see. Boosting your home security will give you peace of mind, and help prevent a robbery.

How to Make Your Home More Secure

You don’t have to barricade your doors and windows to keep burglars out of your home. But you do need to make sure that your home is protected, with no weak spots where burglars can enter or hide out. Here are some ways to strengthen your home security:

  • Door security. Use solid metal or wood doors with deadbolt locks, and hinges without removable pins when possible. If you have sliding glass doors, secure them with screws that keep them from being lifted off their tracks and lock them with a deadbolt lock. Make sure all doors in the house, including patio and side doors, are secured at all times.
  • Close the garage. Keep your garage doors and windows closed and locked, including those doors leading from the garage into the home.
  • Light your home. Make sure doors and windows are well lit. Exterior and interior lighting is important for deterring burglars. No burglar wants to get caught trying to break in through a door or window with a light shining brightly on him or her.
  • Lock windows. All windows on the main floor of your home — which are probably pretty easy to get into — should be securely locked. Also secure all screens and storm windows, and basement windows as well.
  • Protect upper floors. If you home is two stories or higher, don’t underestimate a burglar’s ability to climb up to get inside. Keep trees trimmed away from windows to prevent climbing in, and make sure there is no access to a ladder. If upper windows have locks, use them; if they don’t, consider installing them.
  • Trim shrubbery. Don’t give burglars a place to hide by allowing landscaping to get too lush or overgrown, blocking windows and doors. Keep all trees and bushes around your home neat and trimmed.
  • Talk to neighbors. If you are concerned about home security and burglaries, talk to trusted neighbors. Neighbors can do more than lend a cup of sugar — ask them to let you know if they see anyone suspicious around your home, and offer to do the same for them.
  • Fence in your yard. A fence, particularly one with only a narrow gate, may deter burglars. A fence makes it more difficult to get in and out, especially lugging big, awkward items like a TV out of your home.
  • Consider a burglar alarm. An alarm can certainly scare off burglars and offer you peace of mind. A loud alarm will sound when your home is broken into, and some alarms automatically call the police or a security company when triggered.
  • Take a self-defense class. If you’re worried about how to react if an intruder breaks in, consider taking a self-defense class. You’ll learn how to surprise a burglar, and have him heading for the door — and you’ll feel more confident in your abilities.
  • Get a dog. Most dogs make a lot of noise when they hear something suspicious, and the last thing a burglar wants is for people to be made aware of his presence.

Home Security When You Travel

You may be particularly concerned about home protection while you’re traveling or on vacation, and rightly so. Burglars look for good opportunities, like plenty of time to break in without worrying about someone coming home and disrupting them.

Take these extra precautions before heading out of town so that you don’t leave your home vulnerable to burglary:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are securely locked.
  • Leave lights on inside and outside your home, such as front porch lights, and side and back door lights.
  • Turn on a radio to make it seem like someone is home. Better yet, install a timer to turn on lights and a radio or TV at specific times of the day.
  • Instead of boarding your dog, leave Fido home and hire a pet sitter to care for your dog – and your home.
  • Have mail and newspapers collected every day, or stop delivery ahead of time.

What Kids Should Know About Home Security

Security measures should become second nature for every member of the family, even the youngest ones. Try these strategies:

  • Teach children to be careful about keeping doors locked, and not be careless about forgetting to lock or close a door or window here or there.
  • Make sure children know not to open the door for strangers. This can never be repeated enough.
  • Once old enough, kids should know how to operate the burglar alarm system, and have it on when they’re home alone.

Home security is a family affair. It takes everyone’s involvement. No matter how safe your neighborhood, don’t be careless around your home — someone may be waiting to take advantage of it.

Learn More About Seasonal Tips for Clean, Safe Air

Indoor air quality may be invisible, but it still has an impact on your family’s health and your home safety. Levels of many pollutants can be far higher indoors than they are outdoors — and indoor pollutants can seriously affect your health. Major factors impacting indoor air quality and home safety are air circulation and moisture levels.

Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.

Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.

Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.

Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:

  • Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
  • Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
  • Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
  • Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.

What’s in Your Garage?

In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.

Tips for Year-Round Home Health

These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”

Spring

  • Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
  • Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
  • Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
  • Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.

Summer

  • Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
  • Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.

Fall

  • Clean humidifiers in preparation for seasonal use.
  • Remove screens from windows where they might trap condensation on glass, promoting mold growth.
  • Sweep the chimney to remove creosote buildup and inspect for necessary repairs.
  • Seal any openings on the exterior of the house to prevent rodents and other pests from entering.

Winter

  • Test for carbon monoxide and radon levels.
  • Clean humidifier(s) regularly when in use.
  • Clean air vents on heating systems and space heaters, and be sure to service your furnace/heating system at least every other year.

Following these maintenance tips can help you and your loved ones breathe easy all year long.

Survive a Hurricane

Hurricane season arrives every year toward the end of summer, and the first storm of the 2011 season — Irene — is threatening the U.S. East Coast. Though it’s too early to determine exactly where the storm will hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that if you live along the Atlantic coast, you should start preparing well before the storm comes to your area.

While many who live in hurricane-prone areas already consider themselves pros at hurricane prep, it’s a good idea to review these safety precautions before a storm rolls in.

Before the Hurricane:

A joint report from FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that you plot out the safest and most effective evacuation routes before a storm strikes. Once you have an evacuation strategy in place that will keep you, your family, and your pets safe, don’t neglect these important, but easy-to-forget steps.

“Remodel” your home. Purchase plywood and other materials to board up your windows, and install straps to fasten your roof to the frame structure — this should help minimize roof damage. And don’t forget to trim those trees and bushes; doing so can cut down on the amount of post-hurricane debris you’ll have to clear.

Fill up your tank with gas. In the event of an evacuation, the last thing you’ll want to do is wait in line at a gas station — that’s why you should fill up before a storm gets close and keep your tank filled throughout hurricane season. Also, if the gas stations in your area become inoperable, filling up in advance will ensure that you still have enough gasoline to get out of town.

Stock your pantry with good-for-you foods. Once a hurricane hits your town, you can expect power outages and limited access to grocery stores — which means you need to prepare a healthy meal plan in advance — one that includes foods with a relatively long shelf life. For protein, stock up on canned tuna, chicken, or salmon, as well as beans and nuts. Keep fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes on hand; frozen fruits and veggies will keep in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours after power goes out. Stock up on healthy snacks, such as high-fiber, low-sugar cereals, rice cakes, and energy bars (which offer a lot of healthy calories in a small package). Most important: Don’t forget about hydration. The National Hurricane Center recommends storing enough drinking water — one gallon per person per day for three to seven days.

Have a pet plan. Do you know what to do with Fido and Fluffy in the event of a hurricane? The National Hurricane Center suggests keeping a current photograph of your pet on hand and ensuring that your pets have collars with identification (in case you get separated). And don’t forget to consider your furry friends in your evacuation strategy — if you’re planning on staying in a hotel along your evacuation route, locate pet-friendly hotels or pet shelters nearby before you leave.

Keep your documents dry. Important documents — such as birth certificates, insurance information, and social security cards — should be kept in a safe, dry place (even if that means taking them along with you in an evacuation).

Insure yourself. Make an inventory of the contents in your home (consider documenting them in a video diary), in case you need to file an insurance claim after the storm. Be sure to include your most valuable and expensive assets, such as electronics. Also, review your homeowners’ insurance plan. In a press release, Weather Channel’s hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb noted that flooding is not covered under most policies.

Create a hurricane supply kit. Stock up on emergency food, water, and equipment, and don’t forget to test everything to make sure it works. According to the National Hurricane Center, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water (1 gallon per day per person for 3 to 7 days)
  • Food (non-perishable packaged and foods, baby food, utensils, and healthy snack options) — don’t forget the non-electric can opener!
  • Prescription medications
  • A first aid kit
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Battery-powered cell phones
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Clothing and rain gear
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Toiletries
  • Pet food, pet medications, a pet carrier or cage, and a leash
  • Tool set
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Toys, books, and games

During the Hurricane

If you’re in a “watch area” or a “warning area,” stick by your radio or television for official weather bulletins — and leave immediately if officials instruct you to evacuate. If you live in a mobile home, high-rise building, or on the ocean, you should strongly consider leaving — people and property in these areas are most at risk. Be sure to unplug all small appliances like toaster ovens and alarm clocks; you may be directed to turn off utilities and your propane tank as well.

If you choose to stay at home, go to a small interior room — away from windows and doors. During the “eye” of the storm — the period of calm found at the center of the hurricane — remember that the storm is not over. Winds will pick back up as soon as the eye passes.

After the Hurricane

Steer clear of closed roads, bridges, and areas with downed power lines — and don’t reenter an evacuated area until it’s declared safe. When inspecting your home, check your gas, water, and electrical appliances for damage (and be sure to use a flashlight during your inspection — not a candle, which could easily start an accidential debris fire and lead to even more damage). Also, stay away from tap water until you hear from health officials that it’s safe.

Learn More About Childproofing Essentials for a Safe Home

Childproofing your house can be difficult! The process is an ongoing one to ensure a baby, toddler, and child safety at home or to keep kids safe while visiting a friend or relative’s home.

Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, reminds adults to consider a child’s developmental stage when childproofing a home.

  • Infants are barely mobile, but even young babies can roll or otherwise move considerable distances.
  • Crawlers and early walkers can get into trouble anywhere.
  • Older toddlers can be extremely curious and resourceful about climbing, opening doors, and getting into places that may surprise adults.

A good approach to childproofing your home is to see each room through eyes of a child. Get down on the floor and look around. Ask yourself questions like, “What’s that? Can I put it in my mouth? What would happen if I crawl in there?”

A Childproofing Safety Check for the Whole House

Once you start childproofing, you’ll probably notice safety hazards throughout the house, from the laundry room to the linen closet. Be methodical during your childproofing “tour” of your home. Count the number of electrical outlets within a child’s reach, including those behind furniture. You’ll need a plastic electrical outlet safety cover for each one.

Next, pay special attention to choking hazards. Make sure that cords hanging from drapes or appliances are tied up and out of reach of curious hands. Babies and young children can also choke on balloons, jewelry, toys, coins, rubber bands, decorative rocks or marbles in potted plants, and hundreds of other things.

Sharp objects like knives, cooking utensils, and gardening implements should be kept out of sight and, ideally, out of a child’s reach or locked up. That goes for cleaning supplies too – kids shouldn’t be able to get to them. Poisoning is a common, but preventable occurrence. If you don’t actually use a particular chemical or cleaning agent in your house, don’t keep it; if you do need it, lock it up. Just in case, keep the number to the 24-hour nationwide poison-control center handy: 1-800-222-1222.

If you have guns in the house, keep them unloaded, out of sight, and locked away from children and teens of all ages.

Room-Specific Childproofing Safety Check

Make sure each room in your home is checked for its unique hazards:

  • In the bathroom. Keep all medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, out of sight, and use safety latches on medicine cabinets. Keep scissors, tweezers, and other sharp objects out of reach. To avoid burns, set the hot water heater no higher than 120 degrees. Never leave your child unattended in the tub, and place toilet lid locks to keep small children from playing in the toilet bowl and possibly drowning. Store buckets upside down to prevent any water accumulation; remember that small children can drown in just a few inches of water.
  • In the bedroom. A crib should be a safe haven for babies to sleep, so remove all toys, comforters, pillows, and other items that pose a risk of suffocation. As babies begin to sit up on their own, move mobiles out of their reach. Maintain smoke alarms in or near each bedroom and test them to make sure they actually work. If not, replace older devices with new smoke detectors.
  • In the kitchen. When cooking on the stove top, use rear burners, keep handles turned toward the back of the stove, and don’t leave the room when the stove is on.
  • In the basement and garage. Hang tools and ladders out of reach, and store any gasoline, lighter fluid, paints, pesticides, or other chemicals in a locked cabinet.
  • At windows. Windows are an often-overlooked aspect of home safety. Remember, screens are designed to keep insects out, not to keep kids in. Don’t place furniture under windows, which creates an invitation to climb and explore. If you do open your windows to let a breeze in, be sure the windows are out of children’s reach.

    Install safety locks on windows throughout the house. Windows should still provide a viable escape in case of fire, however, so make sure they’re not painted shut. Also, if you have window fans or air conditioning units, make sure at least one window in each room is not blocked.

  • In the backyard and around decks. If you have a pool, maintain a tall fence around it (usually determined by local building codes) and keep it locked when not in use. Never allow your children to swim unsupervised. Be sure that doors leading to the yard, deck, and any balcony also have childproof locks.
  • On the stairs. Safety gates should be positioned at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs.

Childproofing your entire house probably isn’t necessary if children are there only as guests, but focus on the area or rooms where visiting children will spend the most time. And keep in mind that young children should be supervised at all times, so everyone can remain safe and sound.

Make Your Older Home a Safe Home

Homes built today must adhere to strict safety codes. Older homes, while offering plenty of charm and character, are more likely to have safety issues — potential problems can range from lead paint and asbestos to faulty wiring and wobbly stairs.

But you can make an older home a safe home. Educate yourself about some of the dangers associated with old homes and take any necessary action to transform your older house into one that’s as safe as possible.

The Dangers of Lead Paint and Asbestos in Older Homes

Certain materials used to build and remodel older homes are no longer used today because of safety concerns associated with them. These materials include:

  • Asbestos.Asbestos was used in insulation, shingling, millboard, textured paints, and floor tiles in older homes to make them resistant to fire. But when asbestos becomes airborne, it can be inhaled and can accumulate in your lungs, potentially leading to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and fatal scarring of the lungs. Since asbestos-containing materials are usually not dangerous when they are in good condition, it is usually best to leave these materials alone. But if you’re planning on remodeling your home and removing them, you will need to contact local environmental health officials to find out how to have these materials properly removed and, equally important, properly disposed of. If you aren’t sure if you have asbestos-containing materials in your home, a professional asbestos inspector can do an assessment and advise you.
  • Lead paint.Lead-based paint was once commonly used to paint homes, but health professionals now know that airborne lead can lead to serious health problems, such as damage to the brain, nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. If your home was built prior to 1960, there is a good chance it contains lead paint. Like asbestos-containing materials, surfaces with lead-based paint are usually not dangerous if they are in good condition. But lead paint that is chipping or disturbed by friction or remodeling can cause lead poisoning. You can hire a professional who has been trained in dealing with lead paint problems to test your home and help you remove it or make your home safer. If you have children and you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, have them tested for lead exposure.

If you are considering purchasing an older home, you should first determine if asbestos or lead is a problem, especially if you are planning on renovating or restoring the home. Always make sure qualified professionals inspect the house and determine the extent of the problem.

Fire Safety Hazards in Older Homes

Another potential problem that can keep an older home from being a safe home is an outdated electrical system. While older electrical systems had no problems supplying enough power in previous years, many have trouble keeping up with today’s increased power demands. This can result in electrical fires — in fact, electrical fires are three times more likely to happen in homes that are more than 40 years old compared to homes that are only 11 to 20 years old.

Signs that your home’s electrical system may be outdated include:

  • Your circuit breakers trip often
  • You need to replace fuses frequently
  • Your lights are dim or flickering
  • You have seen sparks in your electrical system
  • There are unusual sounds coming from your electrical system, such as buzzing or sizzling
  • There is an unusual burning smell, which could be a sign of a hot wire inside your wall
  • Your switch plates or electrical covers are hot
  • You have experienced a mild shock from your electrical system

If you suspect your electrical system may be outdated, have a licensed electrician inspect it. This is especially important when you are deciding whether to buy an older home, since updating an electrical system can be costly and may affect your decision. The following electrical upgrades often need to be made in older homes:

  • Two-hole outlets should be replaced with three-hole outlets
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets need to be installed in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Add extra outlets to eliminate the need for extension cords
  • Circuit breakers should be replaced with an arc fault system

These changes do not usually need to be made all at once. For budgeting purposes, fix the most dangerous elements first and the others over time.

4 Musts for Maintaining Your Older Home

The longer you live in your home, the more likely you’ll need repairs and renovations to make it safer. Consider the following:

  • Make sure your stairs are stable and secure
  • Ensure that your stair handrails, treads, and risers are up to code
  • Install good lighting throughout your home
  • Change smoke alarm batteries every year and replace the alarms every 10 years

It’s important to keep your home in good repair and to make safety updates over time. Keep a log of all improvements and create a schedule to help you stay on track.