Click inside for the weekly home and garden rail, with tips on how to update your patio, how to choose the right broker and more. Or check out these links:

Decorating Tip: Paint can update your patio set for a party


It's the perfect time of year for easy outdoor entertaining. Here are some tips from Ann Gearty, senior brand manager at Rust-Oleum, on transforming an ordinary barbecue or casual evening with friends into an event:


- Decide on a theme: For example, if you're planning a family party in the backyard, spice up the ordinary with a colorful tailgating theme. Or, transform a casual rooftop party into a magical evening by taking a cue from Shakespeare's "Mid-Summer Night's Dream."


- Set the stage: Support your favorite football team by spray-painting an old patio set, planters and other outdoor accessories in your team's colors. Even old galvanized buckets can be transformed into brightly colored beverage coolers with a little paint.


- Make it shine: Twinkling white lights on railings and large outdoor plants can set the stage for an elegant soiree. Spray paint flea market or garage sale finds like old bistro tables, wicker chairs, candlesticks and planters with Rust-Oleum Universal Metallic All-Surface Paint to give them a high-end look.


Looking for more inspiration? Visit www.paintideas.com.


- ARA


Home-Selling Tip of the Week: Choose the right broker


Choosing the right person to sell your home is one of the most important steps of selling. The following is a list of questions that may be helpful to ask while speaking with prospective real estate brokers:


1. How many years have you been in business?


2. For how long have you sold houses in this area?


3. How many houses did you sell in the past year?


4. What is your commission?


5. If I were to work with you, how would you market my house?


6. Will you organize meetings with potential buyers and will you coordinate them personally?


7. Can you give me names and telephone numbers of other families that have used your services?


- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development


How To: Clean leather furniture


Leather can be kept like new with a few simple strategies. Some upholstery cleaning tips from HomeDecorators.com:


- Moisturizing soap works well. Lather soap on a soft cloth and wash upholstery to remove dirt and grime. Make sure you don't get the leather too wet, and avoid rinsing. Leaving the moisturizing soap on the leather conditions it. Then polish as usual.


- To remove ink stains, reach for a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Dip the swab into the alcohol and rub over the stain. Then dry the area with a blow dryer. If you still see the stain after drying, apply a thick coat of non-gel, non-oily cuticle remover. Leave this on overnight and wipe off with a damp cloth.


- Always test new methods or products in an inconspicuous spot first; no two pieces of furniture are the same, and may require different care.


Did You Know …


There have been reports recently of lead in children’s lunch boxes, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says these reports are incorrect according to their tests of about 60 boxes from different manufacturers. Almost 90 percent of the results came up with less than one-tenth of a microgram of lead, a level that is not dangerous, according to the CPSC.


Home Improvements: Know what to look for in new gutters


What to consider before buying gutters:


- Gutters are formed in several profiles and sizes. Standard profiles are a simple “U” shape and a “K” style, which has an ogee-shaped front, vaguely reminiscent of the letter “K.”


- Channels are 4, 5 or 6 inches in diameter; 5-inch K-style gutters are a popular type. Matching downspouts are 2-by-3-inch or 3-by-4-inch rectangular profiles, or 3- or 4-inch-round (often corrugated) pipes. The larger systems are generally worth the difference in price because they’re less likely to clog. If trees overhang your house, 3-by-4-inch downspouts are a good idea.


- Gutters are mounted along a house’s eaves by any of several means, including straps, brackets and hangers. A crossbar hanger is particularly sturdy. It clips onto the front, goes over the top of the gutter and clips on the bracket at the back.


- Anyone who can afford about $20,000 for a seamless gutter machine can start a gutter business, so be sure to check references and get more than one bid. If you’re considering seamless gutters and one bid is considerably lower than another, check the gauge and other details.


- hometips.com


Garden Guide: When to fertilize?


Plants that die back to the ground, (peony, hosta, iris, lily) are now storing sugars in their roots for next year’s blooms. This year’s new growth on trees, shrubs and bushes (herbaceous growth) is beginning to harden off so it can survive during winter. Even tender bulbs like dahlia and canna are stocking up for next year.


Fertilizing now will change their growing cycle and force them to continue producing new growth instead of toughening off.


Fertilizer does not come with a date stamp; you do not have to use up everything you bought this year.


If, however, you have an itch, you can scratch in some fertilizer over the areas where your spring bulbs will begin their 2011 growth cycle.


- Peter Coppola is a principle master gardener from Burlington, Mass.


Backyard Buddies: Identify birds by song


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers these tips for beginners learning to identify birds by song:


- Watch and listen: When you see a bird singing, the connection between bird and song tends to stick in your mind.


- Learn from an expert: It’s much harder to learn bird songs from scratch than to have a fellow bird watcher point them out to you. Check for a nearby bird club or Audubon chapter and join a field trip.


- Listen to recordings: Start by listening to recordings of birds you see often. Play them often to make the sounds stick. The bird guide at allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.aspx has more than 600 sounds you can listen to, with thousands more available in a searchable format.


GateHouse News Service