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.

 

Eco-Friendly Appliances: Should You Go Green?

Today’s home appliances are light years better than those of just a decade ago. Their superb energy-efficiency helps you create an eco-friendly home — and they also save you money.

Many appliance manufacturers have partnered with the federal government in the Energy Star program, which makes it easy to identify energy-efficient home appliances. When shopping for a new appliance, you’ll see the purchase price and a yellow EnergyGuide label, which lists the energy rating for that particular item and compares its operating cost with similar models. This number could mean the appliance is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional versions.

Nearly 20 percent of a household’s energy use comes from appliances, which means buying eco-friendly machines could save you upwards of $80 a year, based on the samples below. But you’ll pay more upfront for most eco-friendly appliances — so is it worth it to go green? Here’s a comparison.

FRIDGES AND FREEZERS

Green versions are about 15 percent more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts because they have more precise temperature and defrost controls, better insulation and high-efficiency compressors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To make sure you’re saving money, buy the right size fridge or freezer for your family. Using a model that’s too large won’t save you as much if you can’t keep it filled. And to save even more, use freezer trays instead of the icemaker. A model with an automatic ice dispenser can use 20 percent more electricity to cycle on and off.

Lastly, don’t look for the Energy Star label alone; efficiency standards vary by refrigerator type, say the experts at Consumer Reports. A top-freezer that isn’t Energy Star-qualified might actually be more efficient than a side-by-side unit with the label. For an apples-to-apples comparison, use the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours per year the refrigerator uses, which are listed on the EnergyGuide.

Traditional: Frigidaire 20.5 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
 $819.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 509 kWh

Energy Star: Frigidaire 20.6 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
 $1,149.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 356 kWh
Estimated savings per year:
 $38

DISHWASHERS

Dishwashers with an Energy Star label are, on average, about 10 percent more energy efficient and 20 percent more water efficient than standard models, according to the EPA.

These dishwashers have “smart” sensors that tailor the machine’s cycle length and water temperature. They also have energy-efficient motors and efficient washing action to get dishes clean. This is good news, since the average household runs its dishwasher four times a week, for a total of more than 200 times per year. An Energy Star -qualified dishwasher will save an average 1,900 gallons of water over its lifetime.

Traditional: Westinghouse 24-inch
Price:
 $229.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 330 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
 $35 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Whirlpool 24 inch
Price:
 $329.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 282 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
 $30 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES WASHER

Full-sized washers that have Energy Star labels use about 35 percent less water and about 20 percent less energy than conventional models, says the EPA. A green washing machine also saves 700 kWh of electricity, more than 2 million BTUs of natural gas, 27,000 gallons of water and approximately $315 over its lifetime, according to the EPA.

Green washing machines need less detergent to get clothes clean and extract more water from laundry during the spin cycle, so you can also cut time and costs for drying, too.

Traditional: GE 3.7 cubic feet top load

Price: $449.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 477 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
 $51 with electric water heater / $29 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Kenmore 3.6 cubic feet
Price:
 $563.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
 128 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
 $14 with electric water heater / $9 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES DRYER
There is no EnergyGuide labeling for clothes dryers because the basic construction hasn’t changed much. Most clothes dryers use about the same amount of energy.

Where you need to make decisions is how the machine is powered and how it shuts off.  Dryers dry via either gas or electricity. Gas dryers cost about $50 to $150 more than comparable electric models, say the experts at Consumer Reports, but you can save in the long run with lower fuel costs. They also found that dryers with a moisture sensor can save you money over dryers with a traditional thermostat. Because a moisture sensor is faster at recognizing when laundry is dry and shuts itself off, your clothes won’t be damaged by unnecessary heat and you’ll be using less energy in the process.