Each year, thousands of Arizona residents email or call Romero’s radio show with questions about everything from preventing fires in their chimneys to getting rid of tree roots in their sewer systems. His goal is to provide answers that suit the specific lifestyle wherever someone lives in Arizona. Here are questions about home maintenance and improvement from the Tucson area.
QUESTION: I’m living in a new house in Tucson and I’m trying to plant a vegetable garden. It seems as if the soil here is the hardest, most alkaline soil I have ever worked with. The garden so far has pretty much a failure. So I’m thinking about building raised planter boxes. Where should they be located, and should I make them out of wood or masonry?
ANSWER: The material you choose depends partly on where your garden is located. Does it have to look good? Is it going to be highly visible to the outside world or is it on the side of the house?
You can build those planter boxes out of many materials. If you use stacked pavers, your boxes could be handsome and maintenance-free for a long time. If you use masonry blocks, you may have to finish the outside to keep water and soil from leaking out. You can also buy garden cloth to line the planter to prevent leaks.
You want to locate the boxes in an area where they will get at least a half-day of sunlight.
Remember you have to get into the boxes to work there — to weed, cultivate and harvest. So build those planters about 4 feet across and at a height where you can sit down and reach in to work on it. If you want a planter bigger than that, you can build a little pathway going across the box. Put some pieces of PVC pipe on the corners so you can stretch frost cloth or bird or shade cloth over your plants as needed.
You need about 6 inches of planting soil on top for planting. But remember, the whole reason you are doing this is to use good soil, not the native soil you have been struggling with. So buy a raised bed mix or mix your own from peat moss, composted material and vermiculite. Use good organic material.
By the time you are done, your project may be expensive, but it’s the only way to go. The first time I tried a garden in my backyard, using native soil and then enhancing it, it took eight years of tilling before plants really took off.
Q: Can I seal a leaking metal roof with rubberized roof coating?
A: A number of products can be applied to metal surfaces to inhibit leaks, but their success depends on the condition of the roofing material you are treating. If your roof just has a few pin holes or fastener locations that need to be sealed up, these coatings can work well. But if there is heavy rust or the metal is not in good condition, replacement is probably a better long-term solution.
Generally, instructions for using these products call for removing rust and dirt first. Some also call for sealing joints, cracks and flashings with seam tape. Then you can spread the rubberized coating on the roof.
Q: My 12-year-old town house has a garage in a separate building. I recently had work done there and the workman pointed out that black mushrooms are growing on the threshold of an exit door. Why is this happening, and what should I do?
A: You don’t have a mushroom problem, you have a moisture problem. Something near or around that garage door is creating a moisture-rich environment and helping those mushrooms grow. You need to find the moisture and stop it. Then the mushrooms will dry up and go away.
If this happens during a wet time of year, it could be due to rain draining off the roof or being blown against the door. Maybe a drainage scupper hangs right above the doorway. You may have to install some gutters to carry water away from the garage. But if this mushroom crop pops up at a time of year when there is no rain, you could have a leak in a water or sewage pipe running under the garage or through a wall. Such a leak might be a more serious problem; you probably should call a plumber to find out.