Fall a good time to tackle home improvements

By Debbie Arrington
Sacramento Bee

Fall weather was made for planting.

“It’s a terrific time,” said Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware’s home expert. “This time of year, you find fabulous deals at nurseries, trying to clean out stock.”

Added Manfredini, “It’s always a good time for pruning.”

Leave alone spring-flowering shrubs or trees such as lilacs and magnolias, but most others can be safely pruned in fall or early winter.

“Here’s my trick for pruning: Take a walk,” Manfredini said. “Go 10 to 15 feet away, then take a look at the shrub. You don’t want to change the shape of the shrub too drastically. Take a few cuts, step away, take a few more.”

When pruning, restrain from removing more than a third of the plant’s growth. Too much cutting can damage the shrub.

“Don’t just go crazy,” Manfredini warned, “or it will look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

Also high on Manfredini’s autumn to-do list: lawn care.

“No. 1 is the lawn,” he said. “What you really want to do is give it a good rake. It’s what people don’t do enough of. It’s not about the lawn; it’s the thatch. You want to get it out. A metal-tine rake works best. And it’s an awesome workout on a fall afternoon.”

Next step: Aerate the soil.

“You’re taking out little plugs and exposing the soil,” Manfredini explained. “You’re letting the lawn breathe.”

Healthy soil needs that oxygen. Manual aerators (available at home-improvement centers) punch little holes in the soil or pull out small plugs. (That also allows roots more room to grow.) For bigger lawns, power aerators can be rented at tool-rental stores.

“This is also the perfect time for fall seeding,” Manfredini said. “You fill in all those gaps. … The seed will germinate in a couple of weeks. And if you seed now, it allows for quicker green-up in the spring.”

Don’t forget to feed the lawn and garden, too.

“It gives it a little boost before the winter,” Manfredini said.

His favorite fertilizer? “Milorganite. It’s fabulous all-natural fertilizer with iron. It’s wonderful any time of year. But if you put some on your lawn now, next spring you’ll have the greenest lawn ever.”

Other jobs on Manfredini’s fall checklist:

— Watch out for rodents. “This is when they’re looking to come indoors. Don’t let them. A mouse can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Fill all those little holes and gaps around the house. Pull anything that’s piled up against the house at least a foot away. Don’t give them a place to hide.”

— Filling those little holes and cracks will help save energy and keep your home warmer this winter, too. It’s two benefits from one task.

— Speaking of heating, get a tune-up for your HVAC system. “It should be an annual checkup,” Manfredini said. “Call a licensed contractor for an inspection. It costs about $100, but will save you much more.”

— Change the filters in your HVAC system, too. “Use the pleated filters,” Manfredini said. “They cost more, but they have 10 times the trapping capability of spun fiberglass. It improves your indoor air quality dramatically. While you’re at it, put a reminder on your calendar to change the filters again every other month.”

— Clean the coils of the refrigerator. “It’s the hardest-working appliance in your home; it needs some TLC,” he said. “Most refrigerators, all you need to do is remove the plastic toe kick. It just pops off. Then with the (crevice) attachment on your vacuum, suck out that dust. You’ll be amazed. And your refrigerator will operate a lot more efficiently, too.”

— Make a pre-holiday safety check. Halloween starts the season of home visitors. Replace burned-out light bulbs. Remove any tripping hazards. “I’m a believer in non-slip rug mats under area rugs,” Manfredini said.

— Keep locks working right. “We use them all the time, but how often do we think about the locks on our entry doors?” he said.

“Get some powdered graphite lubricant. Put a paper towel or newspaper on the floor (to protect flooring). The graphite (dispenser) looks like a cake decorating tool. Give it a little puff, then articulate the key a few times in the lock. It stops sticky locks and it’s that simple to do.”

Decorating tips

When decorating for fall, it’s all about getting cozy, say experts. Colorful piles of pillows invite you to nestle into the couch. A basket of blankets or throws keeps thoughts of impending winter cold at bay.

Warm hues offer a rich autumnal look, said Ross Manning, senior marketing officer of Tuesday Morning. “A palette of cocoa, rust and gold evokes the spirit of the season.”

Accents such as plush pillows, throws and an upholstered side chair give a room a cozy feel without a lot of effort.

Fall colors can be carried over to other furnishings. For example, transform a lamp in seconds by adding self-adhesive ribbon from a crafts store to the shade, Manning suggested. Place a patterned place mat under the lamp to add a quick dose of color to a side table.

Fashion and home decor often share color cues. After reviewing 2012 fall collections from top fashion designers, color expert Pantone put together its Fall Color Report. French roast brown, honey gold and titanium gray will be the must-have neutrals. Consumers also will be seeing a lot of pink flambe, ultramarine green, bright chartreuse, Olympian blue, Rhapsody mauve and rose smoke.

Pantone’s perfect color for fall 2012: Tangerine Tango.

That’s also Pantone’s official color of the year. And orange is a traditional fall favorite.

“Personally, I love orange,” said interior designer Pam Steinberger of Warehouse Paint of Auburn, Calif. “I like it any time of year.”