Q: Our lawn mower is 5 years old, and although I've changed the spark plug and the oil regularly and keep the blade sharpened, it has gradually developed a shaking problem that gets worse as the engine is revved. There's also oil leaking from the blade shaft area. Is it better to get a new engine or a new mower, and how long should a mower last?
A: "The shaking you're experiencing makes me think that the blade might be imbalanced," says Pam Bryan of the La Habra Fix-It Shop. "If it's been improperly sharpened, it could create that kind of vibration. That could also be causing the oil leak since the vibration is putting stress on the shaft and the bearings.
"As far as changing an engine, if you need it, as long as the body's in good shape it's probably cheaper to do that. It's unusual for a homeowner to do that since they wear out their mowers very evenly. Professional gardeners on the other hand wear out their motors first because they're used so much."
Q: With all of the work I do on my house and car, I'd like to have a power ratchet to handle some of the tough nut-removing jobs I face. Can those cordless electric tools do the job or should I go all out and get air tools and a compressor?
A: "The rechargeable electric tools are great to use around the house," says Robert Valdez of Clark Dye Hardware in Santa Ana. "They can give you a fair amount of torque, they recharge easily and they can be used anywhere. The disadvantage is that for really tough jobs where you need it to work for hours, it's not going to hold enough power.
"The air tools will give you that power, but they're going to be bulky and expensive when you include the cost of the compressor. You have to really examine what your tool needs are and go from there."
Q: We're considering extending the patio in our back yard and I want to lay the concrete myself. My neighbor says the concrete mix that was used for our driveway is the same for our patio, but I want to be sure so the extension will match the original concrete. Is it the same?
A: "Generally, contractors use what's called pea gravel, or 3/8 rock, for patios because it's easier to finish and easier to place," says Tim Stanford of City Concrete in Stanton. "Most driveways are made with a five-sack 3/4 rock mix. They're both rated at about 2,000 pounds per square inch, so it's just a matter of preference as to which you choose."
Q: Do you have any guidelines on how to raise and care for orchids? I had a plant given to me and do not know how to care for it.
A: "It really depends on the orchid, there are so many different varieties," says Mary Sandin of Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. "There are some you can plant outside in Southern California and others that must be inside. Two of the most common that you see are Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium. Both need warm indoor growing environments.
"They can use a lot of humidity, so you can probably place them over a humidity tray or grid, but you don't want the plant to sit in water. They need good filtered sunlight. In the home, an unobstructed east-facing window is best. Otherwise, they can be in front of any window that's sheared by curtains or an overhang. If the foliage begins to turn yellow, that's a sign that they're getting too much light.
"Orchids don't store water so they need to dry out a little, but not too much. Normally they're grown in bark and you run the water past the roots. Usually they need to be watered twice a week. Don't get water on their leaves and don't use cold water."