AgriLife Extension helps Habitat homeowners in San Antonio

Bryan Davis, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Bexar County, gives prospective Habitat for Humanity homeowners in south San Antonio tips and advice on how to maintain and protect their lawns and landscapes. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)

SAN ANTONIO – Recently more than 20 future Habitat for Humanity homeowners sat on folding chairs in the unfurnished living room of the newly built home of Cindy Flores in the Palo Alto subdivision of south side San Antonio.

The prospective Habitat homeowners from throughout the city were there to hear Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts offer advice on ways to help protect and maintain homes they hoped to occupy.

Since 2005, AgriLife Extension has been working with Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio, helping hundreds of prospective homeowners get the information and training needed to fulfill Habitat program requirements for becoming homeowners.

As more than 650 volunteers from churches, schools, businesses, community groups and other organizations constructed Habitat homes and laid sod on dozens of nearby lots, the aspiring homeowners listened to instruction on pest exclusion and control, lawn maintenance, landscaping and more.

Molly Keck, Texas AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management specialist in Bexar County, shows prospective Habitat for Humanity homeowners how to use the contents of the free AgriLife Extension ISEC kit each received at the recent training related to home protection and maintenance held on San Antonio's south side. (Texas AgriLife Extension Serivce photo)

Molly Keck, integrated pest management specialist, and Bryan Davis, county agent for agriculture and natural resources, both with AgriLife Extension in Bexar County, provided the group with objective, research-based information, tips and advice. The presentations also were provided in Spanish with the help of Flores and Vanessa Jimenez, a volunteer interpreter who had previously helped with Habitat-related program instruction.

“We’re glad to have AgriLife Extension here to help us with these future homeowners,” said Melanie Moreno with family services at Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio, who oversaw the educational presentations. “People in our Habitat program have to provide 300 hours of sweat equity and attend educational programs like these presented by AgriLife to help them understand more about how to be responsible homeowners before they are allowed to take ownership of their homes.”

Many future Habitat homeowners have never owned or been instructed on some of the practical aspects of protecting and maintaining a lawn or landscape or how to keep pests out of a home, Moreno noted.  The advice and information they received on pest management and lawn care could be put to use immediately once they occupied their homes.

“The main points I wanted to get across to the group were that these future homeowners needed to properly irrigate their new lawn to establish it, as well as maintain it properly, including keeping the grass cut to an appropriate length for the type of turf grass and soil conditions,” Davis said. “I also wanted them to learn which were the best types of trees and plants for their landscape and the proper way to plant and irrigate them, plus to learn to use mulch for better water retention since South Central Texas is a drought-prone region.”

Davis took the group on a walking tour of nearby yards, explaining and showing the results of proper and improper landscaping and lawn-maintenance practices.

“See that bush over there,” he said to the group. “That’s an oleander. It’s got beautiful blooms, but you don’t want one in your yard if you have small children or animals, because they might eat the leaves or flowers – and those are toxic.”

With South Central Texas in the “severe” drought stage according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Davis explained that water conservation and proper irrigation were important aspects of home landscaping. He emphasized that homeowners should know the proper amount of water needed to irrigate lawns and gardens, plus noted that xeriscaping can both conserve water and save money on a monthly water bill.

“I paid close attention to the parts about yard mowing, watering and planting,” said Peter Gonzalez, who attended the educational program with his wife, Vanessa. “I know I’m going to do most of that, so I made sure to listen carefully.”

Keck spoke to the group about AgriLife Extension’s ISEC method of pest management, which stands for identify, sanitize, exclude and control, as well as other aspects of insect control.

“You want to keep the grass next to your home’s exterior walls trimmed as many insects live and breed in that higher grass and near your foundation,” she said. “And be sure you don’t have any branches touching the roof of your house because that’s one way cockroaches and other bugs can get into your home.”

Keck noted how keeping surfaces clean and putting items in secure containers also would reduce the instance of insect pests in their new homes.

She also showed and demonstrated the contents of an ISEC pest management kit she provided for each attendee, which included insect traps and items for excluding pests.

“I’ve got mice in the house I’m moving from,” said Flores, who will be living in the new Palo Alto area home with her mother and two children. “The tips picked up last year while I was in this pest management class will keep me from getting them in my new house. It’s important to me that I keep my yard and house in good shape and don’t allow rodents, cockroaches or other pests to get in.”

“The aspect of Molly’s presentation I feel is very beneficial to our future homeowners is when she discusses using the least toxic and safest pesticides, especially since our average household has 2.5 children,” said Mary Anguiano, Habitat’s family services program coordinator.

Anguiano noted that she has incorporated Keck’s recommendations into her own household.

“It was interesting for me to find out how we could use the traps in the kits they gave us to see if there were gnats coming from the pipes under our sink,” said Vanessa Gonzalez. “I never would have thought to check there.”

Anguiano said the future Habitat homeowners always appreciate the information and advice they receive from AgriLife Extension experts during the program’s educational presentations.

“We have a nine-month-old and we want to make sure our (new Habitat) house will be clean and safe for her, especially since kids get into so many things,” said Peter Gonzalez.

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