Air-Purifying Plants Approved by NASA

Of course we all like to enjoy the flowers and bask in the sun during the summer months but let’s face it, sometimes it’s just too hot outside (these past couple of days especially). But that doesn’t mean we have to be completely void of the plants and flowers. Air-condition lovers fear not, for there is a solution to have the best of both worlds; houseplants. That’s right, houseplants, but not just any old plant; I’m talking about air-purifying houseplants. Studies show that certain plants are effective at removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from the air—chemicals that have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation. And who did the study you ask? None other than NASA.

As technology increased, interest in space exploration increased, and a domino effect of tests followed. One of the obstacles that scientists tried to overcome was purifying the air in confined spaces. There is no “outdoors” in space; well there is but you go outdoors there and you’re dead… So to keep the air safe, and the people in the air safe, NASA begin experimenting with plants. After years of research they compiled a really eye-catching infographic; listing toxins that each plant actively filters out of the air, pictures, and the health benefits or risks of each toxin or plant, respectively. Pretty neat stuff. NASA suggests having at least one purifying plant per 100 square feet of home or office space. We spend the majority of our time indoors, and if you’re going to condition your air, why not purify it as well? Check out the infographic below and start equipping your indoor spaces today!

 

infographic by NASA.

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Flood-Resistant Landscaping

In the past few weeks, a tropical disturbance that originated in the Gulf of Mexico has dropped many consecutive inches of rain on cities across the East Coast. As a result, hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, and several people lost their lives. Here in Roanoke, massive flooding shut down roads, felled power lines, and swept cars off the street. Needless to say, water has immense destructive potential, and the exterior features of a home—landscapes and hardscapes—are often most vulnerable to damage. During this past flood, one of our client’s witnessed a waterfall of flood water and debris pour over a retaining wall we recently installed into her back yard. The retaining wall survived the onslaught (thanks to the outstanding craftsmanship of our crew) but the rest of her yard was, unfortunately, crippled.

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Why Use Battery-Powered Lawn Tools?

Battery-powered lawn tools are becoming more and more popular among homeowners nowadays, and for good reason; the technology has come a long way over the years. Not only have the tools become more efficient, the price gap between battery-powered and gas-powered equipment is significantly smaller. Where battery-powered equipment was once way overpriced and under-powered, advancements in technology have helped make battery-powered lawn tools more affordable and surprisingly powerful.

 

Husqvarna Battery-powered tools

photo from Husqvarna.

They may be slightly pricier machines, and (depending on the scope of work) the extra batteries needed are an expensive up-front cost, but keep in mind when you purchase battery-powered tools you are making an investment. Unlike their gas powered counterparts, battery-powered tools require very little upkeep; there’s no routine engine maintenance and no additional costs for oil, filters, and fuel. The batteries will last several years and the tools themselves tend to be of higher quality. In the long run, battery-powered tools are the better value.

But value isn’t the only thing to consider when purchasing battery-powered tools, there are many other advantages. For one, they don’t produce emissions or harmful fumes, which is a great choice for those environmentally conscious home-owners. They are also much quieter when operating and produce less vibrations. This is good for your ears and for keeping your neighbors happy; hearing someone next door use the weed-eater for an hour is never a pleasant experience. The reduced vibrations also allow for more precision and overall easier handling.

As much as I want to encourage you to buy battery-powered tools, they aren’t for everyone and there are a few factors to consider. How often are you going to use your tools? Battery-powered tools are good for homeowners performing regular maintenance, but if you are only using these tools every other week then the gas-powered ones will suffice.  Another factor is the run time of a charged battery; each usually last for around 45 minutes to an hour. Unless you have purchased an excess of batteries (and chargers), this will be an issue to those with larger lawn care needs.

What projects will you be undertaking? Although battery-powered tools have come a long way in terms of power they still don’t pack the punch of a gas-powered engine. They are close, but as the battery loses power so too will the tool (to some extent); making those leaf-blowing days a bit less satisfying or successful. If you are planning on using your lawn tools often and for smaller projects, consider the variety of battery-powered options available. These tools aren’t only the future, they are the now, and they’re getting better and better every year.

Create an Indoor Herb Garden

An indoor herb garden is the perfect addition to any kitchen. Not only are the spices fresh, sustainable, and readily available, an herb garden will literally “spice” up any countertop or windowsill space if done right. They require very little maintenance, don’t take up too much space, and most herbs are ready to harvest in as little as 2-3 weeks. So what are you waiting for? Start an herb garden today!

 

photo by flickr user Nuwandalice.

Choose your Herbs

You can start your herbs straight from the seed or purchase small plants from a local nursery. Good choices for herbs include dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Another option is microgreens; small fast growing greens like arugula, cilantro, radish, and basil. These are a healthy addition to any meal, whether topped on a burger or mixed in a salad, and can be snipped within 2-3 weeks. Better Homes and Gardens has a great how-to on microgreen gardens here.

Pick your Containers

Get creative! An indoor herb garden is both practical and aesthetically pleasing if you pick the right containers. They will give your countertop some character or bring a dull windowsill to life. Use individual containers for each herb to ensure each has the right amount of nutrients it needs. Pick containers with drainage holes that will rest on waterproof saucers or one big waterproof platform. Choose a location that allows for at least 4 hours of sunlight a day or equip your indoor garden with grow lights. The indoor air can be dry so choose a moisture retentive potting soil and be sure to keep a spray bottle nearby; spritzing often.

 

photo by BHG.

Harvest and Enjoy!

Be sure to store harvested herbs in a cool place and in an air-tight container. If you happen to cut off a little too much, the excess will keep in the fridge for about a week. Most herbs take very little time to grow and an even shorter time to grow back. To restore nutrients in your soil be sure to add all-purpose plant fertilizer to each container once or twice a month. Now that you’ve learned some tips about indoor herb gardens it’s time to enjoy all the fresh herbs and spices!

Escape the Heat with Shade Trees

photo by Kat on flickr.

It’s that time of year again and the days are warming up! Although we’ve had a fair amount of rain in the past couple of weeks, there are easier ways to cool off. Try planting shade trees for a permanent solution to those hot summer days. Shade trees not only provide a retreat from the heat, they offer homeowners privacy and increase property value by up to 15%. Most want to go straight for the traditional Maple or Oak, but when choosing a tree there are a few factors to consider.

It’s no secret that larger trees with big bountiful leaves provide the most shade, but it comes at a cost. A temporary escape from the heat for us turns out to be a permanent life in the shadows for others. Plants and grass will have a hard time growing in an area void of sunlight. Consider mulching below the tree or choosing one with smaller leaves. These trees still provide shade while allowing filtered sunlight to the vegetation below. Another benefit of the smaller lighter leaves is their tendency to blow away in the fall. We’ve highlighted two of our favorites below.

 

photo by Geneva Wirth on flickr.

Thornless Honey Locust

The thornless honey locust is a fast growing tree most known for its small rounded leaflets. The leaves are a beautiful bright green during spring and summer and transform into a vibrant yellow in the fall. No need for a rake, those yellow leaves will fall off and shrivel up to almost nothing; carried away by the slightest breeze. The thornless honey locust grows 40 to 60 feet tall and wide with branches starting at 5 to 15 feet above the ground. When fully mature, the tree takes on a rounded or oval shape and tends to flatten out on top.

 

photo by sparkleice on flickr.

River Birch

The river birch is another relatively fast growing shade tree identified by its unique curling bark. When young the bark is a silvery white-gray and will slowly change to pink, reddish-brown or black over time. The leaves are a jagged green teardrop that turn yellow in the fall. In the winter and spring the river birch will produce flowers, and in the summer it produces cones. A mature river birch will typically be anywhere between 40 and 70 feet tall, although some grow up to 90 feet.

 

P.S.

Let’s not be selfish! These trees don’t have to exclusively provide shade to us, but they can provide for our homes as well. Some are reluctant to place trees close to their house, but with risk comes reward. Strategically placing trees around a home is a natural way to cool down our living spaces and saves on utilities; those with shaded homes cut down on air-conditioning costs by 50%. Use trees around the home to create a layer of privacy or to mask any unappealing views from sight. So what are you waiting for? Let your shade trees start spreading their roots today.

 

Get Your Child Gardening

photo by Chiot’s Run on flickr.

Gardening, quite literally, gives children the perfect platform to grow. They get to experience responsibility, a sense of ownership, and the excitement of seeing a tiny seed transform. Spending time in the garden is an opportunity to soak up the sun and a great introduction to the “magic” of nature; something our little ones will learn to know and love. Grow vegetables, plant flowers, plant trees, there’s really no limits. Let their curiosities run wild. Gardening with children is a win-win, you’re spending quality time together and also producing healthy homegrown vegetables or beautiful flowers to enhance a landscape. Here are a few tips to help you and the kiddos get started.

Give Them Their Own Space

Whether it’s a spot in the garden or their own separate bed, it’s essential to give kids their own space to grow. They can help you in the “adult” garden all they want, but be sure to dedicate an area that they can have all to their self; it’s crucial to a child’s development. This gives children a sense of responsibility and also sparks their creativity. It gives them the freedom to experiment. A separate gardening space teaches children independence and gives them that feeling of being a “big kid”. Repurpose an old sandbox or place a stake in a section of the garden. Be sure to clearly label their area and emphasize ownership!

Choose Plants that Grow Fast

This is a big one. Children want to see results! Checking their little garden each day is what makes gardening fun for kids; watching seeds sprout, flowers bloom, and new plants take shape. It’s important to have things happening in the garden otherwise kids become disinterested. If they are just starting out, make sure to plant vegetables or flowers that will sprout up quick. Sunflowers are a must for young gardeners; try planting one, or two so the first can have a friend. Sunflowers sprout within a week and grow to 2 feet tall in a month’s time. Radishes are another plant for quick results. Although not typically tasty to the younger ones, radishes have a very short growing season; after 20-30 days they are ready for harvest. Another good crop for children are potatoes. They’re an easy and “fail-proof” option as they tend to grow under almost any conditions. Red potatoes will mature faster than white and are ready to pull from the ground when the plant collapses. Try cherry tomatoes to offer some variety in preparation. Place 2’ stakes beside each seedling and let your children watch them climb to the top. The growing season is about 50-75 days and lightly tying the vines to the stakes will keep them headed upwards. Lastly, and certainly nonetheless essential, is the coveted pumpkin. A staple for any child’s garden, the pumpkin seed will sprout in a week and are ready to pick and carve in 80-120 days.

Help Out Behind the Scenes

Gardening is a big responsibility for our children and its okay to give them some help when they aren’t around. This will keep them interested, keep their plants healthy, and keep them happy to see their plants doing well. Tending to a garden is not always glorious and the last thing you want is for gardening to feel like a chore. Add some extra water or prune flowers and weeds where needed to ensure the garden maintains its “magic” factor and your kids remain engaged. If your seedlings are having trouble, consider changing up the soil or adding more compost or fertilizer. If all else fails, visit your local nursery and buy plants that have already sprouted. Take your young gardeners so they can see all the different varieties of plants and pick their favorites.

Mix Education with Fun

Watching plants grow and getting their little hands dirty is not only a fun experience for children but it also provides opportunity for education. Teaching kids how to be sustainable and grow their own food is something they can utilize for a lifetime. Experiment with different types of vegetables and flowers to see what really sparks their interest.  Use gardening as a stepping stone to other aspects of nature. Visit a local farmer’s market to see what others are growing, or even sell vegetables of your own. Take them on a hike and stop to see the wild flowers or plants. Do anything to get them excited about the outdoors. As for the slightly older kids, harvesting crops is a great time to educate them with aspects of cooking; a way for them to see out the entire process from seed to table. No matter which route you choose, get your children outside and start gardening today!

Starting a Compost Pile

photo by Edward H Blake on flickr

 

Have you ever considered composting? It’s an easy and environmentally-friendly way to create nutrient-rich fertilizer from discarded waste; such as kitchen scraps, grass trimmings, wood ash, etc. It’s a technique that has been around for centuries, proving to be a literal lifesaver for those in extreme climates.

What is compost? Compost is decomposed (or decomposing) organic material. It’s a process that occurs in nature, whereas dead material is constantly recycled back into the earth, keeping soil rich and fertile. A compost pile is just a more concentrated sped-up version of this cycle.  Modern composters redirect up to 30% of household waste from trash bins, which saves space and money. All you need is a small 3’ x 3’ section to begin.

 

Choosing a Location

When choosing where to start a compost pile there are a few factors to consider. Choose a level location that allows for a couple hours of sunlight a day. Decomposition only occurs when the pile has the right amount of moisture, too much sunlight and the process will come to a halt. If your pile does dry out, a quick spray with the water hose and your back in business. Another factor to consider is distance. You don’t want your pile too far from the house if tossing scraps, or too far from your garden. Also, keep the pile away from nearby trees or other long rooted plants. The roots will soak up all the pile’s nutrients.

 

Prepping the Pile

Once you have chosen a location, you can begin preparations for the pile. To prevent animals from getting to your compost, such as raccoon or deer, its best practice to place wired or wooden fencing around the area. It’s also more aesthetically pleasing to have a decomposing pile of scraps hidden from view. Next, if your location has grass growing, turn the ground. This will kill the grass and create a nice base layer to host the decomposition. Add 2-3 feet of grass clippings and leaves to the turned soil and your prepping is complete.

 

Creating Compost

Now that we have a base layer it’s time to start adding to it. If collecting kitchen scraps, consider placing a container with a lid under the sink that you’ll empty once a week. This method makes collecting easy. If odor becomes a problem, keep another container of dried shredded leaves or newspaper to pour on top of the scraps. Paper and cardboard can be added to compost if it’s not glossy or exposed to harmful chemicals. It’s very important to have a balanced layered compost pile. Too much household waste will cause odor and attract animals and flies. When adding scraps, it’s best to add another layer of leaves, grass clippings, or hay on top. This ensures an odor-free and moist compost. You always want to have a nice balance of green and brown material. Consider keeping a trash bin of leaves and clippings close to the pile.

 

Waste to Avoid 

Although anything organic can decompose, some waste will slow the process or even contaminate the pile. Avoid pet waste as it will introduce unwanted parasites and microorganisms to the soil. Wood ash and sawdust from untreated wood are great, but don’t use charcoal ash or shavings from processed materials; these introduce sulfur and harmful chemicals. Avoid meats, fats, and diseased plants or weeds. It’s also important to note that size matters! Smaller waste is easier to decompose. Chop kitchen scraps into small pieces and introduce light even layers of trimmings to reduce clumping.

 

Reaping the Benefits

Congratulations! You’ve just started a compost pile that’s creating nutrient-rich soil at this very moment. For best results, turn your pile every couple of weeks to keep the contents moist and decomposing evenly. Use the enriched soil in flower beds, potted plants, or sprinkled throughout a tilled garden. Keep some of the dead material to kickstart the decomposition again once you’ve used the soil. Repeat the composting process to keep utilizing household waste and clippings to create top-notch fertilizer for all your needs.

Perfect Perennials to Plant in the South

Summer is almost here and it turns out we aren’t the only ones that like to soak up the sun. Add a touch of color to your garden or spice up your landscape with easy to maintain, sun-loving perennial flowers. “Perennials” are plants that will bloom for multiple years, dying out in the colder months and growing back again from their rootstock in spring. Some even retain their foliage year-round. Plant perennials to enjoy the scenes and scents of these beauties throughout the seasons, year after year. Here’s a few of our favorites:

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Rooftop Landscapes: Making Use of Roofs

In cities across The United States, urbanites have found a creative way to “green” their cramped spaces: building rooftop gardens and landscapes. Practically, there are several benefits to building a green space high above the ground. On rooftops, sun is ample, soil conditions are well controlled, and deer can’t eat into your flowers and produce! A garden can also beautifying an otherwise nondescript roof. As more and more people and businesses explore the possibilities of rooftop gardening, previously dull city skylines are becoming flush with verdant color.

Rooftop Garden

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Investing in Outdoor Living

When young professionals or families get ready to buy their first house, landscaping is typically an afterthought. More immediately pressing is the interior design of the property, and how well it accommodates both need and comfort. Though some prospective homeowners might think at length about the amount of acres a plot has, or the levels of sunlight/shade a yard gets, most are more preoccupied with the square footage of the house itself—how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, the size of the kitchen and hallways, etc.

No doubt, interior design is incredibly important to homeowners; after all, most of us spend the majority of our time inside. But overlooked landscaping can make a home feel unfulfilled. A thoughtfully curated landscape encourages homeowners to spend more time outside—gardening, grilling, swimming, playing sports, and indulging in relaxing moments with family and friends. Considering the increasing amount of Americans working sedentary jobs and then coming home to a generally sedentary lifestyle, making use of outdoor space and finding good reason to spend time outdoors is now a key component to creating work/life balance. Investing in good landscaping is one way to encourage you and your family and friends to find that balance. Plus, the money you put into your lawn and landscape will likely return to you in the long run; properties with polished outdoor living spaces are more valuable than properties without them.

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