Go Green Indoors: Five Easy Houseplants to Grow

Why struggle with houseplants that drop leaves, need constant care or look sickly? To keep your green home décor looking beautiful, choose houseplants that will thrive in the low-light and low-humidity conditions in most homes. Houseplants not only add a living element to your décor, but they also help clean the air by drawing in carbon dioxide and releasing fresh oxygen.

Try one (or more!) of these nearly foolproof plants that anyone can grow:

Aloe
No home should be without this versatile, healthful plant. Grow it on the windowsill in the kitchen, in a sun-filled bathroom or on a table near a window in the living room. Aloe likes a cool, sunny location that’s not too hot (heat can dry out the leaves). Give it a roomy pot of about 6 to 8 inches across with excellent drainage, as it hates soggy roots.

Aloe grows best in a standard potting mix for houseplants and needs only occasional watering, so keep it on the dry side. The best part is that this plant gives back. Cut off a leaf and squeeze out the juice to soothe and heal minor cuts, scrapes and burns.

Oxalis
This tidy little plant is often referred to as Cape shamrock or Four-leaf clover plant. In the wild, it’s known as wood sorrel.

Oxalis is grown from little tubers that sit just under the surface of the soil in a wide but shallow pot. Buy an established plant and let it grow to fill the pot for a full, lush look. Give oxalis a sunny to partly-sunny location in your home on a table near a window in the living or dining room. It likes a cooler location as its tender stems and leaves will dry out in hot, direct sun. When and if they do, just pull them off the plant to clean it up.

Water this plant well when the surface is bone dry or when the plant droops. The bonus of oxalis is that it blooms beautifully. Stems rise up from the tubers through the leaves topped with clusters of tiny pink, purple or white trumpet shaped flowers. At night, the leaves fold up and reopen in the light of day. In the summer, put it outside in a semi-shady area on a deck or patio. If the plant stops blooming for a period of time, give it a rest. In the fall, put it in a cool, dark place such as a basement or garage and give it a drink every month or so. In the spring, bring it back into a semi-shady place, and it will be rejuvenated to bloom again.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)
You just can’t kill this plant. Spider plants seem to thrive on neglect.

Buy an established plant or ask a friend for a “baby” that grows on the end of a long stem from the mother plant. If you start with a baby plant, fill a small pot with standard houseplant potting soil and anchor the roots into the soil with a hairpin-shaped paper clip or piece of wire. Water it well and let the soil dry slightly. You almost can’t over-water this plant, which is the cause of most houseplants’ demise. If you forget to water it for a long period of time, it folds its leaves to let you know it’s thirsty, then bounces right back after a good drink.

Grow spider plants on a sunny windowsill in any room of the house; it will thrive nearly anywhere there is light. It produces tiny white, fragrant flowers along its stems from time to time. Pull off the dead leaves to keep it neat, and clip off some baby plants to share with friends or make new plants. You can even put the babies in a vase of water where they’ll root and grow for years.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera Hybrids)
When it comes to cactus, most people think of thorns and pain -- but not with this variety. Christmas cactus’s smooth, dark green segmented leaves are fleshy and full of moisture. It has the water retention properties of a desert cactus without the spikes.

There are basically three types of this plant, all depending on the bloom time. Christmas cactus is supposed to bloom in late December. Thanksgiving cactus tends to bloom in late November. And Easter cactus might bloom in late March or early April. But you really can’t count on these bloom times. The plant might bloom weeks earlier or later than expected, depending on the amount of sun or darkness it gets. Blooms are generally orchid-like with delicate pink, white, red or orange petals on the outermost tips of the leaves.

Christmas cacti like to be pot-bound -- you can leave them in the pot you bought it in for many years. Some say the trick to getting your plant to bloom is to give it long periods of darkness, then bring it out into the light a few weeks before its bloom time. That might work, but generally, if the plant is watered two or three times a month, it should bloom well nearly on schedule. In summer, bring your plant outdoors to a semi-shady location, then back inside before the first frost of the season. Break off pieces of the leaves at the nodules, let them cure for a few days, and pot them up to share with friends.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria Triasciata)
Tough as nails, this leathery, striped plant is nearly indestructible. Snake plants like a sunny to partly-sunny location on a windowsill or table near a good source of light. It quickly fills the pot and demands little attention except for a good drink about twice a month. These plants have a shallow root system and can grow in a wide, deep saucer or shallow pot in standard houseplant potting soil.

Using a sturdy scissor, clip off any dried-up leaves and cut out any that have brown or dead ends, and it will continuously send up new shoots. Snake plants will send up yellowish-white flowers on wiry stems, but it might take many years to see flowers, so grow them for their leaf color instead.



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Photos: Corbis Images

20 Clever Uses for Plastic Bags

Even with the world going green, plastic bags seem to be everywhere. Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags a year, but they recycle less than 1 percent of that amount, sending 300,000 tons into landfills, according to the Clean Air Council. Those bags that are dumped into landfills don’t biodegrade. Instead, sunlight breaks them down into particles that contaminate our soil and water.

Why let this happen when there’s a solution? It’s easy and eco-friendly to reuse plastic shopping and sandwich bags. Try these ideas to put plastic bags to new use. (Of course, remember to wash well before reuse!)

SANDWICH BAGS

 

  1. Pastry bag. Why buy a pastry bag when you can use sandwich bags? Put your icing, deviled egg mixture or whipped potatoes into a sealable bag and push the air out. Seal the bag and snip off a corner. Start with a small hole and try to pipe. If necessary, you can make the hole larger.
  1. Funnel. Just snip a corner off, fill and funnel. You’ll be able to pour anything from peppercorns into a peppermill to olive oil into a decorative container.
  1. Cheese storage. Fresh cheese just tastes better than pre-shredded. Save the time of having to grate cheese for every pizza and make up a bulk batch. Double-bag and store in the fridge or freezer to preserve freshness.
  1. Chocolate melter. Mess free! Put chocolate in a sealable freezer bag. Fill a pan or bowl with hot water. Put the bag in the water and, in a few minutes, you’ll have melted chocolate. Double duty alert! Snip off a corner of the bag and you have an instant pastry bag (see above).
  1. Closet cedar. Love the smell of cedar but don’t have the cash to do your whole closet? Buy a bag of hamster bedding chips and place a handful in a resealable sandwich bag. Punch some holes in the bag and hang it on a hanger in the closet. The cedar will also keep fabric-munching moths at bay.
  1. Pencil case. Make sure your students always have pens, pencils and crayons ready by putting some in a zippered sandwich bag. Punch three holes in the bottom of the bag and slip it onto the rings of a three-ring binder for even more organization.
  1. Makeup case. Keep your luggage free of goopy spills by putting toiletries into plastic bags. You can do this for jewelry too. Use one bag per “outfit” so that necklace and earrings are together, and all your necklaces don’t get tangled into one mess.
  1. Clutter keeper. Corral junk drawer items in bags. This is perfect for batteries, marbles, crafters beads and even rubber bands and clothespins.
  1. Cold pack. Freeze a wet washcloth (or several of them) in a sandwich or freezer bag so you’ll always be ready when the kids twist an ankle or hit their head.
  1. Baby wipe holder. Save some money by making your own baby-safe wipes, then storing them in zipper-lock sandwich bags. The earth-friendly wipes will stay wet for months. To make the wipes (courtesy of www.babies411.com): Cut a roll of paper towels in half width-wise. Place the paper towels in a deep bowl.  Combine 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons baby wash or shampoo, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of baby or olive oil. Pour liquid over towels and soak through. After 10 minutes, flip the roll over. Take the cardboard center out, place the paper towels in a sandwich bag and you’ll be able to pull the wipes out one by one.

GROCERY BAGS

 

  1. Package padding. Foam packing peanuts usually end up in the landfill, plus they’re a nightmare to clean up. Create an eco-friendly home by using plastic grocery bags to protect valuable items you plan to ship. Include a note asking the recipient to reuse the bags.
  1. Produce keeper. The fruit and veggie bags from the produce section are perfect to reuse the next time you go grocery shopping. Toss them in your tote and reuse during your next trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market. If the bags get wet, hang them to dry to prevent mildew.
  1. Hand protectors. Not looking forward to that messy job? Put grocery bags on your hands for cleaning the toilet or paintbrushes. You can also put one on when the phone rings and you’re wrist-deep in pie dough.
  1. Flower pot fixer. Instead of tossing that cracked flower pot or vase, re-glue the container and slip a plastic bag inside. It’ll be ready for peonies in no time.
  1. Purse reshaper. Handbags should be stored upright, not piled on the closet floor. Help them keep their shape between uses by stuffing them with crumpled plastic bags.
  1. Paint pal. Whether you’re doing arts and crafts or painting the bedroom, plastic bags have many uses. Wrap wet paintbrushes while you grab lunch to prevent the brushes from drying out. Slip one over a paint tray, or put a smaller bag in the bottom, to make cleanup a breeze. Put them under trays and cans to catch drips and spills. Spray paint a small item inside the bag to prevent splatters.
  1. Crochet material. Because bags are so durable, they make great “yarn” projects. You can crochet everything from slippers to clothing; find inspiration at BagsBeGone.
  1. Pet pillow. When the padding in Fido’s bed isn’t so fluffy anymore, take it out and replace it with crumpled plastic bags. Or, if you’re handy, make your own pet pillows for friends and family and the local shelter. Sew two pieces of fabric together (with a zipper on one end for easy restuffing). Pack with used plastic shopping bags.
  1. Travel mate. Keep clothes clean in your suitcase by placing shoes in grocery bags. Use another one as a laundry bag to keep dirty duds away from clean. You can use them for short trips, too: put wet bathing suits in a bag to contain the drips on the way home (just remember to take it out when you get home!).
  1. Small wastebasket. Grocery bags are a perfect fit for bathroom or bedroom wastebaskets. You can reuse the bags over several cleaning frenzies if you’re just tossing in used paper towels and other non-icky disposables. Keep a few bags on the bottom of the wastebasket for a quick change when you do need a refresher.

 

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New Uses for Old Things: 10 Ways to Repurpose Old Items

Our landfills are growing by the second -- but there’s plenty that we can do to help, while also adding some extra functionality or style in our homes! Find decorating inspiration in these five unique ways to reuse items you already have. Mother Nature will be pleased.

Bottle Beauties

Instead of tossing empty glass wine, beer or soda bottles, take a look at them from a different angle. Many bottles have a beautiful shape or color, and could easily stand alone as decorative vases. For a modern look, consider painting the exterior of a bottle in a color that matches your home décor.

If your bottle has a label, soak it in hot sudsy water (use dishwashing detergent) for 5 or more minutes until the label becomes soft. Gently peel it away; use a scrub brush to remove any leftover residue. Before use, clean the insides of the bottles too -- fill ¾ with warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid. Cover the bottle with your finger or hand and give it a good shake. Rinse until the suds are gone and place upside down on a towel or dish rack to dry.

On a Roll

Empty toilet paper rolls are tossed in the trash faster than you can flush. Give them a new shot at life by using them to organize and store extra cords (the ones you’re not sure what they go to but you’re too afraid to toss them) to keep them from getting tangled. Wind a single cord into each empty paper roll and store side by side, standing up in a shoebox.

Book It

Do you have a pile of old books that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of but are just gathering dust? Opt for this unique idea: Purchase shelf brackets that are slightly smaller than the width of your favorite hardback books (from spine to opening). Secure the bracket to the wall and place the book on the bracket to create a decorative shelf. Stagger a few favorite tomes in a cohesive display and top with bud vases or small decorative items.

Display Case

Do you have an old cutlery tray that no longer has any use? Line the inside of the tray with pretty fabric or paper scraps -- or paint it a favorite color. Attach small cabinet knobs and/or tiny hooks within each segment of the tray and use them to hang and organize favorite necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Mad About Mason

Empty mason jars have so many reuses you might find yourself overwhelmed with the options. Here are some of our favorites:

•      Fill the jar part way with sand or rocks and top with a tea light candle. A grouping of these beauties will provide lovely candlelight for an intimate gathering.

•      Use them as single bud vases, grouping three or more together for extra effect.

•      Use them as drinking glasses at backyard BBQs -- and save the planet from more tossed-aside plastic cups.

•      Store useful items such as sewing kits, colored pencils, ribbons, office supplies or any other items you find yourself stashing away in your junk drawer. The clear view allows you to easily see what’s inside so nothing ever feels too lost.

•      Create a hanging vase or candle holder: Wrap sturdy wire around the opening of the jar (under a ridge so it’s secure). Then use another piece of wire to wrap through that first wire at two points to create a handle. Hang from a wall or garden hook and fill with flowers or a tea light candle.

Bonus Round!

Looking for even more ideas? Try these five quick-and-easy reuse ideas for everyday items:

•      Turn old picture frames into cute little serving trays.

•      Use old shower hooks to hang purses in your closet.

•      An old hanging shoe rack can easily organize your pantry. Hang it on the door and separate snacks or spices in the pockets.

•      Need more jewelry organization? Use a cupcake tray to hold small items.

•      Use large clamp binder clips to keep computer and phone charger cords handy. Clip them to the edge of your desk and pull the cord end through the metal clamp hole.

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Eco-Friendly Home: 11 DIY Cleaning Products

Looking to create a more eco-friendly home? One of the best ways to go green and save money at the same time is to make your own household cleaning products. With just a handful of ingredients (many of them probably already in your pantry), you can whip up all the cleaners you need to keep your kitchen, bathroom and whole house clean and odor- and germ-free without toxic chemicals.

With the exception of a couple common -- and safe -- household products such as hydrogen peroxide and Borax, all the basic ingredients used below are edible: distilled white vinegar, baking soda, kosher salt and lemon. A few drops of an essential oil -- citrus, lavender or eucalyptus, for example -- will add a fresh scent. Used in various combinations, you can tackle just about every cleaning project around your home.

DRAIN CLEANER

1. If you ever made a volcano in science class, you’ll understand the properties at work in this homemade drain-cleaning solution. Pour ½ cup baking soda followed by 1 cup distilled vinegar down a stopped-up drain. Wait 15 minutes and then pour 4 cups hot (not boiling) water down the drain.

MILDEW AND MOLD

2. Combine ½ cup hydrogen peroxide with a cup of water in a spray bottle. Spritz on problem areas and wait an hour before wiping down the surface with a rag.

3. Make a paste from equal parts distilled white vinegar and Borax (an all-natural mineral powder that disinfects, cleans and deodorizes). Apply to moldy or mildewed grout and let sit for at least an hour.

BATHROOM DISINFECTANT

4. Mix equal parts baking soda, Borax and Kosher salt. Sprinkle on the tile, sink, tub, vanity top and toilet -- any place you would use a powder cleanser.

TOILET BOWL CLEANER

5. Pour ¼ cup baking soda and 1 cup distilled white vinegar around the bowl. Let it sit 15 minutes, then scrub and flush.

GLASS AND MIRRORS

6. Mix 4 cups of warm water and ¼ cup distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Rather than paper towels or cloth, use old newspapers for a streak-free finish: Newsprint will leave no lint.

ALL-PURPOSE KITCHEN CLEANER

7. Fill a clean spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water (add a few drops of an essential oil such as orange or lemon if you want to cut the vinegar smell). Use it to clean appliances, countertops, even the kitchen sink. And for a non-scratch abrasive cleaner, sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge.

SILVER POLISH

8. This method makes quick work of your silver flatware after a party or holiday meal, but it isn’t as effective for large pieces. Line the bottom of a glass baking dish (large enough to hold your silverware) with aluminum foil. Bring 2 liters of water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda to a boil and pour into dish. Place silverware a few pieces at a time into the dish for 10 or 15 seconds, then remove with tongs. For larger pieces, make a past of baking soda and water. Rub onto tarnished surfaces with a soft cotton cloth and rinse.

FURNITURE POLISH

9. Combine the juice of one lemon -- about a half a cup, straining out the pulp and seeds -- with a cup of olive oil in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well to emulsify. Use on a soft cloth to clean and recondition wood furniture.

CARPET CLEANERS

10. To freshen carpet odors, sprinkle with baking soda and wait an hour, then vacuum.

11. For carpet stains, spray with a solution of vinegar and water and let sit for 15 minutes, then use a brush and warm soapy water to clean the stained area. For fresh grease spots, dust generously with corn starch, wait 15 minutes and then vacuum.

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