We recently painted our house and found wood rot, which necessitated a lot of repair and replacement work on the clapboards. What can we do to prevent wood rot? — J.T., Swanzey, NH
Homeowners should inspect for wood rot annually. This is a good time of the year to check the condition of exterior trim, clapboards, windows, porches, and decks, because you’ll have time before winter sets in to do any necessary repairs.
Wood rots when it gets wet because the dampness provides an environment favorable for fungi to breed; the fungi eat the cellulose and break it down. Any moisture can potentially attract the types of fungi that attack wood.
Early detection is the key to retarding deterioration. The simplest tool you can use to check your wood is an ice pick. Look for blistering, cracked, and peeling paint, or wood that appears spongy. Gently push the ice pick into the wood. If the pick digs in an eighth of an inch or more, there’s probably rot. Treat the area with a borate-based fungicide; then repaint or resurface the wood. If there’s major damage, replace the trim or clapboard before the fungi really take over. Wood-moisture meters are available at home-improvement and hardware stores, starting at about $100. It can save you time and money by catching a moisture problem before the fungi have a chance to settle in.
— Polly Bannister, Yankee Home Editor
Cats and dogs love to dig in my flower garden and make a mess. I’d appreciate your help. — J.F., via e-mail
Making areas other than your garden more attractive would be one solution for your own pets. For your cats, set up an outdoor litterbox and encourage them to use it by rewarding them when they do. Plant a patch of catnip around it, too. For your dog, provide an alternative play area, set up a run, or put a fence around the garden.
If your visitors are neighborhood pets, try making your garden an undesirable destination; fence it off. Scent repellents may work, but some chemical formulations may not be appropriate around edible crops. (Check with your local garden center.) Or apply natural deterrents, such as cayenne pepper and garlic, to your plants.
Placing mothballs, hair (from your barber or salon), or citrus-fruit peels near the plants may be effective. Sharp stones or thorny branches, or planting your flowers through a lattice screen, will keep dogs and cats away, too. Gardener’s Supply Company (Burlington, VT; 888-833-1412) offers “Cat Scat,” a plastic mat with soft spikes that deters digging. Motion-activated sprinklers or an ultrasonic noise alarm activated by a motion sensor are other alternatives.