Holiday Plants

While the poinsettia is the plant most people associate with the holiday season, the Norfolk Island pine, Christmas cactus and amaryllis also make a perfect gift or festive accent for your own home.

Norfolk Island Pine

Although the Norfolk Island pine is too tender to reside outdoors in Montana’s climate, with a little TLC, it makes an attractive addition to any holiday décor. Soft green symmetrical branches sprout in horizontal layers from the main stem and will support very light ornaments or bows.

Ideally the Norfolk likes cool bright areas with temperatures ranging between 60-70°F and being slightly cooler at night. A spot by the fireplace, heat vent or cold drafty door would not make a very good home. It would prefer a couple of hours of direct morning sunlight, but will adapt to bright indirect light.

To maintain even growth, rotate the plant ¼ turn each week. Water the Norfolk thoroughly when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry.

Take care to saturate the entire root system and do not allow the plant to rest in standing water longer than 15 minutes. The Norfolk thrives in 50% relative humidity, which can be provided either by running a humidifier or placing the entire plant on a humidity tray made from a saucer, gravel and water.

Fertilize regularly with an all-purpose water soluble indoor plant food during the active growing season (March – November). During the dormant winter months, fertilizer is not needed.

Christmas Cactus


The Christmas cactus is best known for its bright colorful tubular flowers. They are relatively easy care plants, once you understand their calendar. They will flower when nights become longer (about 15 hours of darkness) and they are exposed to cool temperatures (50- 55°F). If the night temperature is closer to 70°F, the buds will not set and the plant will not flower. Once in flower, the Christmas cactus needs bright indirect light. Daytime temperatures of 70°F and evening temperatures of 60-65°F are ideal. Too much light or heat may cause the flowers to fade more quickly and the buds to drop before blooming.

The Christmas cactus is not as drought-tolerant as its name implies and the leaves will wrinkle from lack of water. Allow the plant to dry slightly between waterings and water thoroughly each time. It is especially important not to let them go too dry while they are flowering.

After the flowers fade, fertilize the plant monthly as you would a green houseplant.

Plants may be pruned in June to encourage branching and flowering. The sections you remove may be rooted in moist vermiculite.

As you may have surmised, a common problem with the Christmas cactus is the dropping of unopened flower buds. Causes may be a sudden temperature or light change or lack of water. Lack of flowering may be caused by interrupted darkness hours.

Streetlights, car lights or indoor lighting may disrupt the require hours of dark.

Merry Amaryllis

Whether sold as a kit or as a plant already growing, the amaryllis and its showy blooms add a festive touch to any home. Plant bulbs in a potting medium leaving the neck exposed. Water sparingly until the stem appears, gradually increasing the water as the bud and leaves appear. Do not overwater, as this will encourage rot. The stem will grow rapidly with flowers developing after it reaches its full height.

After enjoying the prolific show, cut the old flowers off the stem and let the stalk die back naturally before cutting it away from the bulb completely. Continue to water and fertilize regularly as the leaves grow. They are feeding the bulb for next year’s growth.

After the leaves die, cut them off, leaving two inches from the top of the bulb. Remove the bulb from the soil, and store it in a cool (40-50°F) dark place for a minimum of six weeks.

Check the calendar and plant the bulbs again about eight weeks from the time you want them to bloom. Plant the bulbs in a pot leaving about one inch of space between the bulb and the edge of the pot. Place in an area that receives bright indirect light and get ready for the show again.

 

Harvesting Vegetables

Vegetable gardening is almost like parenting. We wait with eager anticipation for mid-May so we can safely plant our little transplants that are so delicate. We keep an eye on temperature and moisture levels and glare at any black clouds that threaten our babies with damaging rain, wind and (heaven forbid) hail.  We become the defender against critters that dare decide to attack our little ones.

We check progress daily: “Aren’t the radishes getting big? Look at that zucchini go!” We check our results with others to make sure we are doing everything right: “How are your cucumbers doing? How do you feed them? What fertilizer do you use?”
And of course, we do a little bragging: “My corn is almost three feet high already! My tomato plant has a dozen perfect little tomatoes on it!”
Then before we know it, our little babies grew up before our eyes and we missed it! They just grow so darn fast, you wait too long and it’s too late. Overgrown vegetables! Dry pithy beans. Overripe tomatoes. So, the big question becomes, when is the best time to harvest vegetables?

VEGETABLE HARVEST STORAGE
Asparagus Harvest the third year after planting.  Cut spears at their base when they are 6-8″ tall.  If cut too soon, the yield will be less.  If cut too late, spears will be large and tough. If you must store asparagus, trim the stems and stand them in a glass with a couple of inches of water.  Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2-3 days.
Beans Harvest before beans become tough and stringy.  If you can see the bulge of a bean through the pod, the bean is over mature and the pod is too tough to eat.  Pick beans after the morning dew has dried. Store unwashed in plastic bags in the vegetable crisper for up to three days.
Beets Beets can be harvested whenever they reach the desired size.  Beet sprouts, including tops, can be eaten raw or roasted.  Beets larger than 3″ may become tough and fibrous. Leave one inch stem and taproot intact to retain moisture and nutrients.  Store unwashed beets in loose or perforated plastic bags in refrigerator.
Broccoli Cut the central head with 5-6 inches of stem after the head is fully developed, but before it begins to loosen and the individual florets start to open.  Removing the central head allows the side shoots to grow for later harvesting. Store unwashed in loose or perforated plastic bags in vegetable crisper for 3-5 days.  If left unrefrigerated, it will become woody.
Brussels Sprouts Cut sprouts off the stem when they are firm and about one inch in size.  The lower sprouts mature first.  Remove the lowest leaves when the sprouts are harvested.  Harvest before the leaves turn yellow. Brussels sprouts will lose flavor after being harvested.  Store unwashed sprouts for only 1-2 days in plastic bags in vegetable crisper.
Cabbage Harvest anytime after heads form.  For best yield, harvest when they are firm, but before they crack and split as exposed leaves becomes unusable. Store unwashed, uncut heads in a loose plastic or perforated bag for up to two weeks.
Carrots Harvest when carrots are at least 1/2-3/4″ in diameter.  Harvest before they are overgrown 1-1 ½” in diameter.  They will lose flavor and may become woody.  Carrots may be left in the ground until a killing frost.  Immature carrots, including tops, can be added to salads. Trim carrot tops to one inch and store in loose or perforated plastic bags in vegetable crisper.  They will keep for several weeks.
Cauliflower Harvest main head by cutting stems when head is 6-8” in diameter.  Mature heads should be compact, firm and white.  To keep heads white, tie outer leaves above the heads when they start to get big. Harvest a week or two later. Store unwashed in loose or perforated plastic bags in vegetable crisper for 3-5 days.
Corn, Sweet Sweet corn should be picked when a pierced kernel produces a milky juice.  If it is not ripe, the juice will be clear.  Other signs to watch for are the silks browning and drying and firmness of unhusked ears. Fresh corn needs to be used quickly as it starts to lose its flavor and sweetness.  Store in loose or perforated plastic bags and use within 1-2 days.
Cucumber More than other vegetables, this depends on the variety planted and their designated use – fresh eating or canning.  Harvest as the desired size.  If they go too long, they will be bitter.  Leave a one inch section of stem on the cucumber. Store unwashed in loose plastic bag for up to one week.
Eggplant Harvest when fruit is still glossy.  Cut vine with shears or knife rather than breaking stem.  Leave some of the stem attached.  When fruits become dull or brown, they are too mature for culinary use.  Eggplants bruise easily, so harvest gently. Eggplants do not like cool temperatures and do not store well.  Use immediately for best flavor or they may become bitter.  Wrap in plastic for no more than 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
Lettuce Harvest whenever it is large enough to use.  Harvesting every other plant leaves more room for remaining plants to grow. Store unwashed in plastic in refrigerator for as few days as possible.
Muskmelon Harvest when the stem separates easily from the vine.  You may actually see it starting to split from the vine. Once picked, they will soften, but not sweeten further.  Store at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Onion Harvest after tops of onions wilt naturally.  Pull mature onions and allow to cure and dry in well-ventilated are for 2-3 weeks. After bulbs dry, cut the tops 1-2 inches long and store in cool, dry, well-ventilated area.
Peas, Garden Harvest when pods are swollen.  Peas on the lower part of the plant mature first. Garden peas keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.  Store unwashed in perforated or loose plastic bags.
Peas, Snow Harvest when pods have reached full length, but are still flat – about 5-7 days after blossoming. Store unwashed peas in plastic bag in refrigerator up to two weeks.
Peas, Sugar Snap Harvest every 2-3 days as pods start to fatten, but before peas grow too large. Store unwashed in perforated or loose plastic bags in refrigerator for up to three days.
Peppers, Bell Peppers may be harvested at any size desired.  Green bells are mature at 3-4 inches long, firm and green. Store unwashed bell peppers in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for up to a week.  Green bells last a little longer than yellow and red bells.
Potatoes Early potatoes can be harvested when you see the plants begin to flower.  For late potatoes, wait 2 weeks after the foliage begins to die back. Store in a cool, dark area with good ventilation.  Do not refrigerate potatoes.  Potatoes can be stored at room temperature for a week or two.
Pumpkins Press your fingernail into the rind.  If moisture appears, fruit should remain on the vine, but pick before a hard freeze.  Leave 2-3 inches of stem to prevent rot. Leave in warm, dry well-ventilated area for 10 days before placing in storage.  Whole unblemished pumpkins can be stored up to six months in cool (45F-50F), dry area.  Do not refrigerate.
Radishes Harvest when young and tender for optimal flavor.  Oversize radishes can be tough and woody.  All radish greens are edible. Remove the tops before storing.  Leaves drain moisture and nutrients from the radish during storage.  Greens can be stored separately for 2-3 days.  Store wrapped radishes in plastic bags for 5-7 days.
Spinach Harvest when leaves are about an inch wide.  Don’t wait too long or bitterness will set in.  Leaves can be picked off or the entire plant may be harvested. Unwashed leaves will store for 3-4 days loosely packed in a plastic bag in vegetable crisper.  Use prewashed leaves within 1-2 days.
Squash, Summer

(including Patty Pan, Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck and Scallop)

Pick on a regular basis when mature, young and tender. Store unwashed in refrigerator for use within 3-4 days.
Squash, Winter

(including Acorn, Butternut, Hubbard and Spaghetti)

 Press your fingernail into the rind.  If moisture appears, fruit should remain on the vine, but pick before a hard freeze.  Leave 2-3 inches of stem to prevent rot.  Winter squash varieties have a long shelf-life and can be stored for up to 3 months in a cool (55F-60F), dry place.
Tomatoes

The longer you leave it on the plant, the more flavorful they will be. Tomatoes ripen from the inside, so when the outside looks ready, and feels soft, pick it. Do not refrigerate.  Cold temperatures ruin their flavor.  Store stem up, not in direct sunlight, between 55F-75F.  Use within 1-3 days of harvest.
Watermelon Harvest when the light green, curly tendrils on the stem dry, bottom of the melon where it touches the soil turns from light green to yellow Keep uncut melons at room temperature for 2-4 days if not fully ripe, then refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Store cut melon in a covered container for up to 3 days.
Zucchini Harvest regular zucchini when they’re about 6-7″ long.  Harvest round zucchini when they’re about the size of a cue ball. Store unwashed in refrigerator for use within 3-4 days.

 

High Temps and Watering

Are you caught up in that perpetual battle between high temperatures and watering? Let’s discuss your battlefield, weapons you have at your disposal and take a look at a few strategies that will help you have a winning yard.

Know your enemy
What exactly is the enemy you’re trying to fight? It’s the combination of high temperatures, dry soils, evaporative winds and all other factors that create drought-stress in your lawn and plants. Plants that become water-stressed will be more vulnerable to pests, diseases and winterkill than healthy plants.

Reconnaissance
Do some good reconnaissance in your yard. Know your soil type. Soil with more clay will be slower to absorb water and will hold it longer, whereas sandy soil will absorb water more quickly and dry out faster. Take a walk across your lawn. If your lawn is in drought-stress, your footprints will linger and the color of the grass will not be bright green, but a green tinged with blue or gray. Examine the structure of the trees, shrubs and other plants in your yard. Signs of under-watering may include wilted or curled leaves with crispy brown edges, especially towards the top and outer extremities, whereas plants that are over-watered may have older leaves that are yellow and wilted and new shoots may be pale green.

Strategies
A good watering program is the best strategy. The importance of deep watering cannot be emphasized enough. Frequent, shallow watering encourages a shallow root system. When roots stay near the surface of the soil, they are at a greater risk of drying out. Deep watering encourages a root system that is well-developed with a better tolerance for periods of drought.

Lawns require 1 inch of water a week, which is best applied all at one time. In this heat, 10-15 minutes worth is just fumes, whereas 1 inch gets below the surface and into the roots. A moisture meter is a simple and inexpensive way to measure the moisture in the soil. To measure water output of sprinklers, place small empty containers such as tuna cans at strategic spots in your yard. After watering, measure the level and adjust watering times accordingly. To prevent wasteful water runoff, do not apply water faster than the soil can absorb it.

In our area, applying 2-3″ of water at a time on trees and shrubs is recommended. If the trees and shrubs are young (less than 4 years), apply water inside the dripline of the tree near the trunk. However, if the trees and shrubs are older, their root system is more extensive and watering from the edge of the dripline outwards is recommended. A deep watering may last 2-3 months depending on soil conditions and species of the tree. Aspen, birch, cottonwood, dogwood, maple, spruce and willow need more water than green ash, caragana, cotoneaster, lilac, pine and Russian olive.

Watering in the cool of the early morning, just as the sun rises is best. This reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation and ensures that the lawn and foliage of plants are dry before nightfall. Wet foliage during the night encourages fungus in lawns, mildews, rusts and other diseases.

Another strategy for maintaining soil moisture is to mulch. In lawns, leaving grass clippings on the lawn during hot weather will help prevent evaporation and water runoff. However, remove the clippings at the end of the hot weather to prevent disease. Or, instead of grass clippings, top-dressing the lawn with a thin layer (1/8″ to ¼”) of compost is recommended. This will also help prevent evaporation while adding organic matter to your lawn. The MSU Extension Service Guide recommends keeping your mower set 2-3 inches high during warm weather. Longer grass will help conserve water by keeping the soil cooler and minimizing evaporation.

There is no perfect watering schedule, but by being vigilant in monitoring soil moisture and observant as time passes and temperatures change, you and your yard will be victorious in the battle with the heat.

Introduce Kids to the Joy of Gardening

Do you remember playing outside in the summer, digging in the dirt, making mud pies, and trying to catch bugs? Children and the outdoors just go together; it’s a natural affinity. Harness that energy and curiosity by involving them in your garden. Gardening teaches responsibility, offers short term and long term rewards and is something you can enjoy as a family.


Children of all ages can participate. Even small children can help plant larger seeds such as corn, peas, beans, pumpkins and sunflowers. Give older children a space of their own and let them choose what they would like to grow. If you don’t have a lot of space for a flowerbed or vegetable garden, plant a container garden.
Plant some quick-growing and maturing seeds such as radishes in your garden spot. They germinate quickly and mature in about 3 weeks. Harvesting the little red balls is fun, even if the kids don’t like to eat them. Other fast germinators are corn–5 to 7 days; cucumber–7 to 10 days; lettuce–7 to 10 days; and watermelon–5 to 7 days. Some flower seeds that are quick to germinate include Centaurea (bachelor’s buttons)–7 to 10 days; Dianthus (Sweet William)–5 to 10 days; Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy)–5 to 10 days; ageratum–6 to 10 days; cosmos–5 to 7 days; sweet alyssum–8 to 15 days; zinnia–5 to 7 days; and marigold–5 to 7 days. Kids are tactile by nature, so choose plants that are kid-friendly. Herbs such as lemon verbena and mint are wonderful aromatics and kids will recognize the fragrances.


One fun project with herbs is to plant a pizza garden. Choose plants that you can actually use in making homemade pizza – onion, garlic, basil, oregano and tomatoes. Use the shape of a pizza as a design inspiration and mark a big circle, divide it into wedges and plant a different plant in each wedge.
Do you remember making forts? You and your children can grow a couple of cool hideouts: a bean teepee or a sunflower house.


To make a bean teepee, all you need is six tall poles, twine and pole bean seeds. Bamboo stakes that are nine to twelve feet tall will work great. The poles can be shorter, but that will make the roof of your teepee lower. Make a six-foot circle in the garden. Place your poles around the circle and poke them about three inches into the ground. Tie the tops of the poles together with twine and then stand back to admire the skeleton of your teepee.
Plant bean seeds around your six-foot circle, but be sure to skip a two-to-three foot section for your entrance. Beans grow quickly and soon there will be a nice shady place to hide from the hot summer sun.
You can also grow a hideout with sunflowers. Draw the footprint for this hideout in the soil. Will your sunflower house be a square? Will it be round? Design your house in any shape you like. You could even make more than one room, but remember to leave space for doors; otherwise you might not be able to get inside!
Once you’ve drawn your plans, plant your sunflower seeds. Be sure to use the seeds that will grow tall. There are many varieties that reach seven to twelve feet. Sunflowers also grow quickly and soon you will have a hideout that you and your children designed yourselves. You can also plant bean seeds around the base of the sunflowers to help fill in the “walls”.
Remember to have your children help with the upkeep of the garden. The reward is the experience itself; however, fresh veggies and shady places to play in are fun, too!

Welcome Spring with Easter Lilies

Nothing announces that spring is here as well as the bright white trumpet flowers of the Easter lily. Standing for purity, virtue and innocence, the traditional Easter lily boasts several four to six inch fragrant blooms on top of an eighteen-to-thirty inch leafy green stem.

Easter Lily

There are over 63,000 retailers who market Easter lilies as part of their spring line up of blooming plants. From that group, over 53% of the purchases made in those stores were Easter Lilies. Easter Lilies, (Lilium longiflorum), have large trumpet-shaped flowers with a strong fragrance. 95% of the 11.5 million plants grown per year are grown on the border of California and Oregon, but the plant is native to the Ryukru Islands of southern Japan and the islands of Okinawa, Amani and Erabu.

Growing Easter Lilies at our Heights Garden Center

U.S. production of the Easter lily began in the early 1900’s when a WWI soldier from Oregon brought a suitcase full of bulbs when he returned home. During WWII the supply of bulbs from Japan was blocked and a small group began growing them domestically where they are still being produced today.
Here are a few quick tips to keep your lily blooming:
• Display your plant in bright, but indirect sunlight.
• Protect your Easter lily from drafts and heat sources, such as fireplaces, heaters and appliances.
• Remove the yellow anthers from the flower centers. This helps prolong the life of the blossoms and prevents the pollen on the anthers from staining the flowers, your hands, clothing, tablecloths, rugs and anything else it can find its way to.
• Cool daytime temperatures in the 60-65 degree F. range will prolong the life of the blooms. The temperature can be even cooler at night.
• Water the Easter lily only when the soil becomes dry to the touch and don’t leave it dry for an extended period of time.
• If the lily’s pot is in a decorative foil wrapper or container, be sure water is not accumulating under the pot. More plants die from over-watering than under-watering.
• Remove flowers as they fade and wither.
After May 15th, you can transplant your lily to an area in your yard that gets approximately 6 hours of sun per day. A little shade is OK. Your plant will grow a little larger than it was in the house – possibly 25% larger. If it is planted in an area that gets less than 6 hours of sun, the plant will grow larger, but it may not bloom.
To plant, remove the plant from the container and loosen the root system. There will be some torn roots; don’t panic, it’s better for the plant to have a less-compacted root system. Plant the bulb a few inches deeper than it was in the container and cover with soil. Water thoroughly and fertilize as you would other garden plantings. Soon after planting, the old top will wither and die. Again, don’t panic, new shoots will soon emerge that may flower in July or August.
Some gardeners have good results when over-wintering lilies, although they are not reliably hardy. To improve your chances for over-wintering success, mulch the plants with at least 4″ of straw in the fall or for best results dig up the bulb(s) and store indoors for the winter and replant in the spring in the same fashion as other tender bulbs.

Planning for Spring Gardening

Plants foster an appreciation of growing, living, thriving, reproducing and dying. For me, the outdoor landscape of a home is more than improving “curb appeal.”  Of course, I appreciate the beauty of a manicured yard and botanical perfection, but what I notice is the passion that people exude when they work on their gardens. For some, the act of gardening is based in science; for others, it’s a hobby that fills a seasonal need. Still for others, it is about design and self-expression. In any case, gardening, no matter the level, is still gardening.
As we begin the spring season, it is important that we take the time to really think about what worked and what didn’t work in our yards. As we try to get value for every dollar spent, we want to ensure that we purchase healthy plants and place them in an area where they will not just survive, but thrive.
Ask yourself questions like these:
Did you like the color of the zonal geraniums, petunias or other annuals last year?
Did the perennial hosta get too much sun?
Have you seen something in another yard, magazine or on Pinterest that you want to try?
Did you or Mother Nature do some tree trimming this winter? If so, light changes for your beds must be considered. What once thrived in a shady spot will be tortured in an area that is now going to have more sunlight.
Make a plan:
Now is the time to get out the graph paper, pictures of your yard from past seasons, a current picture of the area and start planning. First, identify the location of perennials in the bed. Consider what colors and textures you would like to incorporate this year and start choosing your plants.
Amend your soil, clean away leaves and debris from the winter season and start dreaming. Remove dead annuals from your container gardens and amend that soil as well. It will be great to get a head start on all of the prep work!
Check out your gardening tools and assess their viability for the season. Is the handle of your shovel giving you splinters? It’s time to either sand the handle or get a new one. How about that leaky hose that always has bothered you? Having your lawn mowers and other small engine machines repaired this time of year is easier because the repair shops aren’t busy yet, but in a couple of weeks their schedules will be filling up fast.
As the daylight increases in the evening and we prepare for spring – dig in the dirt! It will feel good to get out there and get some good exercise and it will be fun to be in the midst of spring’s promise.

15 Ways to Enhance Your Home’s Air Quality

Houseplants not only enhance your home with beauty, they also help cleanse the air. There is a wide variety of toxic chemicals lurking in your home, and while you can take steps to minimize them, some are not easy to get rid of. Spider plants, peace lily plants and mothers-in-law-tongue plants are just a few of the best houseplants for purifying air in your home. In 1998 in a now famous joint study, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) found that houseplants can absorb harmful toxins in enclosed spaces with little air flow.
Seeking to solve this problem, a promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution was to take a look at nature’s life support system, plants. The initial testing was for the indoor purification of the air from the chemicals Benzene, Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Formaldehyde.
Benzene is a commonly used solvent in such items as gasoline, inks, oils, paint, plastic and rubber. Furthermore, it is used in the manufacture of detergents, pharmaceuticals and dyes.
Formaldehyde is found in virtually all indoor environments. Its major sources include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, particle board, or pressed-wood products. Consumer paper products, including grocery bags, waxed paper, facial tissue and paper towels, are treated with urea-formaldehyde resins. Many household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde.
Trichloroethylene, TCE, is a commercial product that has a wide variety of industrial uses. It is used in some printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives.
In the NASA/ALCA research it was determined that some plants are better than others for purifying the air indoors. It is estimated, as a result of this research, that 15 to 20 of these test houseplants can purify the interior of a typical house of 1,800 square feet. Or, 2 to 3 plants in 8-to 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet.
This study has been the basis for succeeding studies about indoor plants and air cleaning abilities. While plants are slower than air purifiers, they’re more natural, cost effective, and therapeutic. Plants are also known to increase mood and productivity, enhance concentration and memory, and reduce stress and fatigue.

The top fifteen plant types to purify the air of your indoor living spaces are the following:

1. Peace lilies, Spathiphyllum, are one of the best at absorbing chemical vapors like acetone, which is found in nail polish remover, and the alcohol in hair products and household cleaners. Eliminates formaldehyde, benzene, TCE, xylene, ammonia and more. Easy care that tells you when it needs a drink—the leaves droop. Water and it perks right up. Prefers low, indirect light, and can thrive under fluorescent lighting. Great for the bathroom.

DSC00448

Spathiphyllum or Peace Lily

2. Rubber plants, Ficus elastica, relieve your allergies by drawing dust and allergens to their high humidity leaves where they stick instead of lingering in the air. Easy care. They need medium bright indirect light and moderate temperatures. Water when the soil is dry.

DSC00443

Ficus elastica or Rubber Plant

3. Golden pothos, Epipremnum aureum., are adept at absorbing benzene—found in plastics, furniture wax and tobacco smoke—which cause drowsiness and dizziness. They also eliminate xylene, toluene, benzene, carbon monoxide and more. Easy care. Let dry between waterings.

DSC00441

Epipremnum aureum or Golden Pothos

4. Snake plants, Sansevieria sp., commonly called mothers-in-law-tongue, work overnight to lower levels of carbon dioxide, keeping oxygen levels higher during the day. The result? Better air quality, which helps you think better and feel more productive!

10-17-11 sanseveria plant

Sansevieria or snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue

5. Orchids, Phalaenopsis and others, clear the air of headache producing cigarette smoke, paints, ammonia, dry-cleaning chemicals, plastics and cosmetics. Display a beautiful orchid to clear these from the air. Care is simple. They require medium light, cooler temperatures, and avoid overwatering.

4499 orchid in ceramic 22x5

Phalaenopsis orchid

6. Dracaena plants, such as marginata and Janet Craig, gobble up odors and the toxin TCE found in paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives. Also excellent at removing xylene, toluene, benzene. Easy care. They require bright light but not direct sun. Water thoroughly and let the soil dry between waterings. Mist often or wipe the leaves with a damp cloth.

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Dracaena plant

7. Bromeliads, many different species, are unlike most plants whereas they give off oxygen during the night instead of the day, helping you breathe easier overnight. They require a sunny spot and keep the center vase filled with water.

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

8. Boston ferns, Nephrolepsis sp., remove more formaldehyde from the air than any other plant. A toxin found in furniture, clothes and carpeting, it can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and trigger asthma symptoms. Ferns love light shade and plenty of moisture. They love a humid environment such as a bathroom.

Fern

Nephrolepsis or Boston Fern

9. English ivy, Hedera helix var., banish mold. Researchers found that when the vines were brought into a room, 60% of airborne mold vanished! They also eliminate benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, TCE, and more. Ivy is shade-and cold-tolerant, so it can be put practically anywhere, even in a drafty room or dark hallway. Keep the soil damp and mist regularly.

DSC00439

Hedera helix or English Ivy

10. Bamboo palms, Chamaedorea seifritzi and other palms are tops for removing the worst three household toxins—benzene, formaldehyde and TCE, They also pump much needed moisture into the air, especially during the cool months when heating systems dry the air. They require bright, filtered light, and allow the top of the soil to dry out before watering.

10-17-11 Palm

Chamaedorea seifritzi or Bamboo Palm

11. Philodendron, many var., removes formaldehyde fumes often found in new rugs and carpets. Keep in medium bright light, and allow the soil to become slightly dry between waterings. Give it a shower from time to time to keep the leaves clean.

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Philodendron

12. Spider plants, Chlorphytum var., removes formaldehyde and xylene fumes often found in new rugs and carpets. Super easy plant. Prefers bright light, with some direct sunlight especially in the winter. Keep them out of hot midday sun, which may scorch the leaves. Water plentifully in active growth, keep moist. In the rest period allow the top inch or so to dry out between waterings.

13. Chinese evergreen, Aglaonema var., eliminates benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, TCE and more. Water moderately and allow soil to almost dry out before re-watering.

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Aglaonema or Chinese Evergreen

14. Flamingo lily, Anthurium andraeanum, eliminates formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia. This beautiful blooming plant prefers medium light, such as a slightly shaded window and plenty of moisture.

anthurium

Anthurium

 

15. Chrysanthemums or Florist Mums, are ranked the highest for air purification. They’re shown to eliminate common toxins, such as formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and ammonia. Easy care. Check the soil’s moisture every other day, and keep damp. Treat yourself to a fresh pot every six weeks!

6 inch Mum in Tin $21.99

Chrysanthemum

All plants require regular fertilization during the active growth period between February and October.

 

Creating Your Own Unique Christmas Tablescape

By now, you’ve decked the halls, hung the stockings and may be finished with your Christmas shopping.  As you sit back and take a break from the holiday hustle, here are a few ideas to inspire your “tablescape” plans for the holidays. If you’re an avid gardener, just think of your dining room table as a plot of ground outside and fill the center with color, dimension and texture.

Theme
Think of your theme and what message you would like to convey. A table that sparkles sets a more formal tone while a woodsy or outdoorsy theme lends itself to a more casual look. Think of your tablescape as a way to connect with your guests.

Sparkles
This look involves anything that shines or is glittered. Place a collection of glass and crystal in varying heights. Use vases, glasses, goblets, bowls and votives. Fill each with little shiny glass balls and a few with matte finish for variety. Add some silver or gold candleholders and you’ll have a very fun sparkly table. Mirrors under the whole display will add a little extra drama.

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Outdoorsy
If you have red twig dogwood, juniper bushes or mountain ash berries in your yard, you might have everything you need. Take an old wooden crate and fill it with pinecones and berries and place on the table at an angle. In two cylinder glass vases, arrange red twig dogwood branches. Make sure all the dogwood is of similar height and just arrange in a spiral style. Cut some fresh juniper or other evergreens branches and scatter around the box. Use several votive candles and place a few miniature shiny ornaments in the cones for some contrast. If you don’t have a wood crate or box, use a fresh evergreen wreath, lay it flat on the table and carefully wire in the pinecones.20141101_084214

Personalized
Arrange items of significance down the center of the table. Use favorite pictures of guests printed in black and white or sepia tones in simple frames. For the guests that you don’t have pictures of, add a simple ornament that denotes something about them like volleyball, an antique paintbrush or a rainbow trout! Place each of these items in and among fresh evergreens or holly. Everyone will love looking at the tablescape because of its variety. The best part will be when you, the host, take time during dinner to tell everyone at the table why you picked what you did and why the people are special to you.

Christmas Traditions: Why do we do what we do?

Several years ago, I saw a Shoebox Christmas card featuring that crabby character Maxine, who said something about it being strange that we celebrated Christmas by sitting in front of dead trees eating candy out of socks. I started wondering about some of our holiday traditions. Why do we do some of the things we do?
As I started doing some research, I found that many of our traditions stem from ancient customs and early religious beliefs. Many of these practices started out being very simple and as time passed, we have taken them to a new level without really knowing their history.

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Why do we decorate with evergreens?
Today, we decorate with evergreen garlands and wreaths, holly, mistletoe and of course, the center of our holiday décor, the Christmas tree. Decorating with greenery has ancient origins and was used by Egyptians and Romans in winter solstice celebrations to symbolize new life. Of course, the evergreens they used were not the pine, fir and cedar that we in the north use, but they used the branches from date palms and other native evergreens.
In the northern climates of Europe, holly was believed to have magical powers since it remained green through the harsh winter and was therefore placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.
Wreaths, with the never-ending circle, are rich in symbolism. In ancient Greece and Rome, wreaths were a sign of victory. Greeks awarded wreaths to victors in sporting events. Both Christian and pagan traditions include wreaths. Today, our modern custom of hanging wreaths on the front door is descended from ancient Rome. On the New Year, ancient Romans would celebrate and wish each other good health by exchanging branches of evergreens. It became their custom to bend these branches into a ring and display them on their doors. Germans and Scandinavians started the practice of placing evergreen trees inside their homes or outside their doors to show their hope in the coming spring.

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Why do we decorate with lights?
From ancient times to modern day, candles have always been used in celebrations. As Christianity spread, candles were placed in the front window to guide the Christ Child as he wandered from house to house on Christmas Eve. Martin Luther is credited with beginning the custom of putting candles onto trees symbolizing the Christmas star and its companions in the night sky.
During the Victorian era, it became popular to use candles and decorate the Christmas tree with ornaments. This was endorsed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 when they displayed their own ornately-decorated tree at their palace despite the practice being condemned by religious leaders. In the late 19th century, gas lights were also used on trees and electric lights were invented.
The first electrically lighted tree was done by Thomas Edison in the 1880s. Today we see lights in all colors and styles decorating more than the Christmas tree.

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
This tradition descends from customs of several different cultures. Kissing under the mistletoe was a tradition of Greek festivals and marriage ceremonies. There is also the legend of Freya, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. The legend says that a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe. Men would pluck a berry each time they kissed a girl under the mistletoe. When the last berry was gone, there would be no more kissing.

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Why do we hang stockings?
As this story goes, after his wife died, a man squandered his fortune and left his three daughters penniless and without a dowry; therefore, it was very unlikely that they would marry. In those days, men didn’t usually marry women without a dowry.
The three sisters had left their stockings hung by the fireplace to dry. A generous local bishop, St. Nicholas, knowing of the girls’ despair, rode by their home on his horse, saw the stockings hanging there and tossed gold coins down the chimney. Miraculously, the coins landed in the stockings, becoming the very first stocking stuffers.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Why are poinsettias given as gifts at Christmas? This tradition has its roots set in a story that takes place in Mexico. There are several versions of this legend, but the message is the same.

Long ago, in a small village in Mexico lived a young girl named Pepita and her older brother Pablo. Like all children, Pepita and Pablo loved Christmas. The village came alive with festivities and everyone participated in the decorating of the church and the piazza in front of it. Even the children made gifts to bring to the church on Christmas Eve to give to the Baby Jesus.

Pepita wanted to make something very special to bring to the Baby Jesus. She had helped her mother weave blankets, so she thought she would make a wonderful colorful blanket. She worked at the loom for hours, but Pepita was too inexperienced to weave a blanket by herself and ended up with a tangled mess of yarn. She was heartbroken. She wanted so much to march in the procession to the church with the other children, but she didn’t have a gift to give to the Christ Child.

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On Christmas Eve, the villagers began to gather in the piazza. Holding lit candles, they started to sing and move in a procession to the church. Hiding in the shadows, Pepita watched as the other children started to parade past her with their gifts for the Baby Jesus.

“What are you doing here in the shadows, Pepita? Why aren’t you with the other children?” her brother Pablo asked coming over to her.

“I don’t have a gift for the Baby Jesus,” Pepita replied her eyes welling up with tears. “I tried to make a beautiful blanket, but it was all tangled.”

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Pablo hugged her and said, “Pepita, don’t you know that the Baby Jesus will love whatever you give Him because it comes from your heart. Love is what makes every gift special.”

Pepita looked around and saw some tall weeds. Quickly, she fashioned a bouquet and covered it with her cloak. She ran swiftly into the church. The children were in front of the nativity scene placing their gifts around the figure of Baby Jesus. Suddenly embarrassed that she had picked a bunch of weeds, she stopped in the middle of the aisle.

All eyes turned to her.

“What is Pepita’s gift? What does she have under her cloak?” the other children whispered.

What should she do? Should she run out? Should she go forward? Starting to panic, she looked at all the people watching her. Then, her eyes found her brother. With a smile, he simply nodded. Feeling encouraged, Pepita moved forward to the nativity scene stopping to kneel in front of the Baby Jesus. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, she said a soft prayer and opened her cloak to let the weeds tumble out.

Voices gasped, “Look! Look at those glorious flowers!”
Startled, Pepita opened her eyes. She was stunned. The bunch of weeds had turned into a bouquet of brilliant red star-shaped flowers. All who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.
And outside, too, every weed now bore a bright red star.
Pepita’s love had created a miracle.
From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.

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