Plants for Sustainable Living

With many of us working from home or in offices, clean air is important. Air purification systems can be very expensive and an alternative and attractive solution is through the use of house plants. Not only do they look good, they also do good for your home. For offices or homes it is worth purchasing extra plants or considering indoor plant hire.

Much of the research into the best house plants for cleaning air has been undertaken by the scientists at NASA, who have spend significant time and resources researching space station living conditions. Clearly if astronauts are to spend a lot of time at a space station then all aspects of their health and well being needs to be planned, investigated and researched. Put simply every indoors plant that you may have. regardless of whether if flowers is able to purify the air in your home to some degree through the normal photosynthesis process. However NASA identified that a number process the air in a much more efficient manner, an thus are more beneficial than others when it comes to removing harmful household toxins as well as removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The best performing were able to remove 90% of the chemicals in the air in just a single day.

The plants listed by Nasa include a number of common household plants, such as Rhapis excelsa, Dracaena reflexa, Ficus benjamina and Ficus elastica.

In your home the three household toxins of greatest worry are benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethane. All three are carcinogenic chemicals that are used in the manufacture of synthetic substances and materials. The chemicals themselves are released from new materials for some time, this process can last several years in some cases, so there is an ever present release of chemicals into the air in your home.

Benzene can also be emitted from gas ovens or heaters during normal everyday use, which gives you a good reason to properly ventilate such rooms and have house plants in them. Many people are aware of the risks of carbon monoxide as well, and plants can reduce the levels of this, however do not use plants in place of a proper maintenance routine or a carbon monoxide detector.

NASA researchers suggest efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space. Most of the plants on the list provided by NASA are native to tropical and subtropical environments. With their ability to flourish on reduced sunlight, their leaf composition allows them to photosynthesise well in household light. As part of the testing each plant type was placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which chemicals were injected. Philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. Flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were rated superior in removing benzene from the chamber atmosphere. Other good performers are Dracaena Massangeana, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos. “Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves,” Wolverton said. “But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors”.

The best plants most effective in removing: Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Carbon Monoxide from the air according to NASA were as follows.
Bamboo Palm – Chamaedorea Seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema Modestum
English Ivy Hedera Helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
Janet Craig - Dracaena “Janet Craig”
Marginata - Dracaena Marginata
Mass cane/Corn Plant - Dracaena Massangeana
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Sansevieria Laurentii
Pot Mum – Chrysantheium morifolium
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum
Warneckii - Dracaena “Warneckii”

So if you don't have many house plants in your home or office, what are you waiting for!


Jobs for January

Prune apple & pear trees
The winter period is quite a good time of year to prune your apple and pear trees as they are now dormant. Trim back to one or two buds, thin out branches that are congested or rubbing against other branches. By doing these jobs you will increase the  light and air flow through the tree. Remove any "mummified" fruits still hanging on your trees as these can be a source of rot going into the new season.

Despite it being January there may still be plenty to harvest, Leeks may well be standing ready but if a sustained freeze is expected then you can dig a few up and heel them in to dug ground. Parsnips and swedes in the ground can also come up when you are ready, but until then cover them over with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground. The cabbage family should be providing some sustenance and beet leaves (perpetual spinach) and chards will be available. On a sunny day it is worth emptying your potato sacks and check for any that are starting to rot before it spread

Protect tender plants
Tender perennials such as Cordylines and Fuchsia should be kept out of the frost, so bring them into the green house or conservatory.

Brush heavy snow off trees
If you get a heavy snow fall then brush shrubs and conifers with a broom to prevent branches getting damaged.

If the ground is now frozen finish off any digging over you still need to do.

Thoroughly clean and oil your loppers, secateurs, and other hard worked tools so they’re fit for another years maintenance in the garden. Start off by giving them a good scrub with some hot soapy water and leave them to dry thoroughly before wiping over with an oily rag to stop them going rusty.

If you dont have any (or enough) then this is a good time to plant in the green especially if a friend of neighbour can provide them to you.

Helleborus 'Annas Red'

Helleborus 'Annas Red'  at the RHS Plant and Design Show 2012
One of the most stunning hellebores to look out for at the moment is Helleborus 'Annas Red'. This Hellebore which has such a deep red flower and marbled leaves, was the work of breeder, Rodney Davey. 

It took Rodney some twelve years to achieve the goal of breading a red hellebore with marbled leaves. Firstly of all he had to bread the mother plant, carefully transferring pollen from one plant to another in the hope that at least some of the seedlings created from each cross would have some of the characteristics Rodney was looking for. When he was finally satisfied with the mother hellebore that he had created, Rodney was then able to start on the next round of crosses, using the pollen from several different hellebores and the newly created mother plant. For several years he then sowed the seeds that resulted from this second round of crosses, saving only the very best from each cross, but in each batch of several thousand young plants, he rarely kept more than a handful to grow on. Eventually, however he succeeded and Anna's Red was born!

Win a Fantastic Organic Hamper

 Riverford delivers award-winning organic vegboxes and food fresh from the farm straight to your door and for this months competition we have one of their delicious hampers to give away.

Riverford offers a range of weekly organic essentials like vegetables as well eggs, milk, meat, juices and cereals, they can even deliver wine and chocolate when you need a treat and their amazing Organic vegboxes start from just £10.45. The Riverford box scheme began when Guy Watson started delivering vegetables locally to 30 friends in Devon. They now deliver around 40,000 boxes a week to homes around the UK from their regional farms. Ordering is easy and flexible, delivery is free and you don’t even need to be at home.

The prize is a large vegbox with meet that will be enough organic meat and veg to feed 4+ people for around a week. Typically 12 veg varieties with potatoes, carrots and onions most weeks. You’ll also get 3 RSPCA award-winning meat items that will always include a joint and mince, plus a different cut such as diced chicken. 

To be in with a chance simply tell us your favourite home cooked meal, and why you like it.

Extra entries can be made by sharing this competition on Twitter (include #DiligentGardener) or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook.

An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 31 January 2014. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the valid entries and will be announced here on the blog. Whilst it is possible to leave "anonymous" replies on the blog, please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win.

Plant SOS – Looking after your garden in winter

 If you’re lucky enough to be living near the equator, then you don’t have to worry about winter. But the rest of us stress and prepare for winter from as early as August. Don’t just abandon your garden to the elements over winter. There are lots of steps and precautions you can take to save the lives of your plants, and here are a few of the basics:

1. Move less hardy plants indoors or into a greenhouse - heated if possible. If you’re unsure whether or not your plant is less hardy, just search for it on Google – find out where it’s from and if anyone recommends you take it in over winter. If you have a heated Greenhouse, make sure you get ahead of spring and furnish it with a few plants and maybe a sapling fruit tree; YouGarden has a great range of fruit trees.

2. Don't allow snow to build up on the roof of your greenhouse or on the netting of fruit cages – they aren't designed to take weight. Move any items that are likely to be damaged by sliding snow away from the roof if possible. This might seem obvious, but many people forget. The crash of a collapsing greenhouse is a dreadful sound, and it’s impossible to clean up in the snow.

3. Wrap terracotta pots in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap to protect from frost. Alternatively, they can be wrapped in straw. If they're empty, put them away in a shed or garage. This isn't technically a plant tip, but it’s very important, and your plants do stand a better chance if their pots are intact. The Daily Mail wrote a great article with tips for wrapping terracotta pots; have a read if you’d like to know more.

4. Any plants that can't be moved can be protected with straw or horticultural fleece. Do not use bubble wrap for this; it will create a cold, damp environment and cause plants to rot. Taller plants should be firmly secured to their supports to minimise wind damage.

5. Make sure you clear footpaths of snow as soon as possible. Remember: hard packed snow is as slippery as ice and you can't tend to your plants from a hospital bed. This is good advice even if you don’t enjoy a spot of winter gardening. Keeping your garden clear will make every other job you do all the easier.

There you have it. These tips should see most of your garden plants through the long winter and into spring. Don’t get too down about the garden this season; remember that the cold gets rid of all of the pests for a few months. Take the good with the bad, eh?

Stylish Boot Scraper

Dont you just hate getting mud in your home after a day in the garden. Particularly at this time of year when the ground is wet, and any digging generate piles of mud and mess.

I was recently sent a very smart boot scraper from The English Lamp Post Company.This is made from cast iron and is very solid. I particularly like the brushed sides to get rid of mud on the side of your boots.

In the past I have resorted to scraping mud off on the side of the step and then bending my leg to get the mud off the side. Well no longer will I need to perform strange gymnastic movements with this delightful item. Its retail price is just £29.99 which makes it pretty good value for the quality of the item too. I have no doubt that this will be at my back door for many years to come, and will no doubt help save arguments over making a mess inside - although Im sure I can manage that from time to time anyway.

If you fancy one for your muddy boots be sure to check out their website.

Help Your Garden Weather the Winter and Preserve Decor Like Lemax

Harsh weather conditions of any kind can be tough on your garden, and winter tends to have some of the harshest conditions. Even if you don’t live in a cold-weather climate, winter rain can do some serious damage to plants and garden decor a like. If you've invested time and money into your garden and acquired lots of equipment and decor to keep your garden beautiful and healthy, you don’t want to replace those elements every year after a harsh winter. Here are a few tips for taking care of and preserving your garden elements to keep them functioning for the long-term.

Caring For Equipment
In a world where much of the manufactured equipment doesn't last as long as it used to, it’s important to take extra care to ensure that you don’t have to purchase new equipment every year. Garden hoses, pond filters, bird feeders, and other equipment can take a beating. When the weather begins to settle into winter, take extra care to evaluate what you can remove from the outdoor space and take indoors to hibernate for the winter. Remember that not being able to find something is almost as costly as breaking it. Set aside space in an out building or your garage to store the equipment in an organized way, so you can find what you need next season, instead of having to go out and buy a new one. Rather than leaving a hose coiled up on the side of your garage, bring it inside to prevent it from cracking or drying out. Hang hoes, shovels, and gloves in designated areas.

Caring for Decor
Decor needs extra care. You can leave it out all winter long, and the snow may look quite fetching on it, but chances are your decor will decay sooner if it’s not removed during harsh winter weather. Road salt and sand can also take a beating on it, if your decor is anywhere near a road. Mill Race Garden Centre has lots of decor options and may be able to suggest ways to care for decor. As a rule, cover your decor elements with tarp or plastic to keep sand and salt off of each item, or remove them from the garden altogether, and place them in a safe, warm location for the winter. They will certainly last longer with proper care. Some decor will take more care than other decor, so at the time you purchase it, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of how delicate each product is. Be sure it can weather at least three of the seasons out of the year, so you don’t have to take it out and put it away more than once a year. You’ll also want to be sure your decor can hold up under constant watering when you water your garden.

Caring for Plants
Properly cover plant and flower beds when the frost starts to set in. Many annual flowers were made to weather the winter, but they may need some extra packing or fencing to keep them safe throughout the winter. For many plants, you’ll also need to be aware of how they will be affected by the first frost, which typically happens at night. Be aware of when the first frost will come, and prepare accordingly. It can be much more cost-effective to properly care for annual plants in the winter, rather than purchasing new ones each year. Plants can last for many, many years with proper care and nourishment, and so can your garden decor. 

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