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Top 5 DIY Hacks For Testing Your Soil

Soil quality is one of the most important (and most commonly overlooked) aspects of gardening. Understanding the kind of soil you’re working with will go a long way in growing the right kinds of plants, and growing them successfully. But how can you understand the soil beneath your feet? Do you have to do lots of involved tests?

Honestly, real scientific soil tests performed by your extension office are going to give you the most accurate, reliable results. But if you want to try your hand at testing your own soil, there are several very good DIY methods that don’t take any outside help or special materials.

Here are the top 5 DIY hacks for
testing your soil:

1. Squeeze Test. This soil texture test is the easiest to conduct and to interpret. Soil basically comes in three main textures: sand, loam, and clay. And, of course, everything in between. Simply wet some of your garden soil and squeeze it tightly in your hand.

If it falls apart when you release your hand, you have sandy soil. If it holds its shape but falls apart when prodded, it’s loam. If it holds its shape well, it’s clay

2. Vinegar and Baking Soda Test. Some plants grow well in acidic soil. Some grow well in alkaline soil. Many prefer neutral soil. If you want to test your pH without buying a test kit, put a teaspoon of soil each into two separate containers. To one container, add half a cup of vinegar and stir. If the mixture bubbles and fizzes, you have alkaline soil, probably with a pH between 7 and 8.

If nothing happens, add a little
distilled water to the other cup and mix it until it’s muddy. Then add half a
cup of baking soda and stir. If that mixture bubbles, you have acidic soil,
probably with a pH between 5 and 6. If neither of the mixtures bubbles or
fizzes, you have neutral soil with a pH of 7.

3. Cabbage Water Test. Another way to measure pH level in your soil is with cabbage. Yes, cabbage…more to the point, the red cabbage variety.

Chop up 1 cup of red cabbage and
boil it in 2 cups of distilled water for five minutes. Strain all the solids
out so you just have purple to blue liquid. This liquid should have a neutral
pH of 7. Add 2 teaspoons of your garden soil to the liquid, stir, and let it
sit for half an hour.

If the liquid turns pink, you have
acidic soil. If it turns blue/green, you have alkaline soil. If it doesn’t
change, you have neutral soil.

4. Drainage Test. To measure your soil’s drainage capabilities, dig a 12-inch by 12-inch (30 cm. x 30 cm.) hole with straight sides. Fill the hole to the brim with water and let it drain. This is to saturate the soil, and it could take a while.

Once the hole has drained, fill it
up with water again, and track how quickly it drains. You can do this by laying
a pipe across the top and sinking a measuring stick into the hole. Measure the
distance between the pipe and the water’s surface every hour. Ideally, the
water should go down by 2 inches (5 cm.) every hour – this means you have
normal drainage.

If it goes down by 1 inch (2.5 cm.) or
less per hour, you have poor drainage. If it goes down by 4 inches (10 cm.) or
more per hour, you have very fast drainage.

5. Mason Jar Soil Test. A mason jar soil test can be performed with a 1-quart jar and a tight fitting lid. Simply choose a spot in the garden and dig down about 8 inches (20 cm.) deep, and fill the mason jar half full. Add clear water until it reaches about three-quarters of the way full, then add a teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Place the lid securely on the jar and then shake for at least three minutes. Set it aside and leave it alone for the next 24 hours.

The heaviest material, like sand, will
sink to the bottom while smaller clay particles will be near the top. Silt remains
in the middle. The ideal combination you’re shooting for, referred to as loam, is
about 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and 20 percent clay.

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Gardening With Kids – 5 Tips For Busy Moms

Gardening is a great activity to share with kids, and instilling a love of gardening and the world of nature doesn’t need to be time-consuming or complicated. Grab your floppy hats, slather on the sunscreen, and get busy gardening! Kids love to get their hands in the dirt, but they may need a little guidance and a lot of patience Here are five quick and easy tips for busy moms to share the love of gardening with kids.

1. Grow a few food plants. It’s good to start with veggies your kids like, but your little one may be more likely to enjoy eating spinach or other questionable vegetables if he or she grows them with his/her own two hands. Radishes are colorful and pop up quickly, but harvest them early before they become too hot.

2. Depend on fast-growing, low-maintenance plants. For example, sunflowers and pumpkins grow quickly and planting the seeds is easy for small fingers. Both provide loads of seeds in late summer that can easily be roasted for nutritious snacks. (Be sure and leave a couple of sunflowers for songbirds).

3. Grow pollinator gardens. Plant a butterfly or bee garden, then explain how beneficial insects help the garden,and the entire world. Be sure your child understands that bees are friendly insects that don’t sting unless they are threatened. (To avoid stings, be sure your child always wears shoes in the garden.)

4. Walk through the garden with your child. Spend a few minutes in the garden every day, or at least a few times per week.Walk through and point out the progress since your last visit. Your child is likely to notice interesting things that you probably missed!

5. Keep it organic. Never use chemicals, including bug spray, weed killer or chemical fertilizers, which are harmful for the environment and definitely unhealthy for kids. Instead, take advantage of compost and organic material such as straw, bark chips or dry leaves. If you notice aphids or other pests, a gentle solution of dish soap and water will usually do the trick. Pull or hoe weeds when they’re small (and easier to deal with).

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7 Garden Design Hacks Anyone Can Do

Garden hacks abound online, but which ones actually work? With so many creative and innovative ideas, it is easy to see why gardeners may be drawn to these time- and money-saving options. Best of all, you don’t have to be a design specialist or seek out one to achieve the look you want, nor do you have to spend boat loads of money. You can add instant appeal and create stunning displays by implementing a few “tricks of the trade.” Here are 7 garden design hacks that anyone can do:

1. Coffee Filters – Many growers love the idea of using everyday items in the garden. One such example of this is the use a coffee filter with potted plants. Before filling the pot with soil, simply place a coffee filter in the bottom of the pot. By doing so, gardeners will prevent soil from leaking from the pot during watering. This will help to keep patios, porches, and tables clean.

2. Creative Plant Tags – Over the years, buying plant tags each season can become somewhat expensive. Another option uses large, smooth stones found within the garden. To create the plant tags, simply paint the stones with permanent paint markers. Designs can be as simple or intricate as one wishes. Though these plant tags can be highly decorative, make certain that they are placed in a safe place where they will not be disturbed.

3. Newspaper and Cardboard – Both newspaper and cardboard are just a few examples of readily available materials that can be used in the garden. Newspaper can easily be laid between plant rows to suppress weeds, or as a base for weed barrier mulch. Additionally, cardboard can be used to keep weeds out of garden paths or even to kill grass where future gardens will be established.

4. Repurposing Old Clothes – While our first inclination may be to throw out old, ragged clothes, many garments can be used in the garden. For instance, many growers choose to use old shirts as a means to support growing fruits like watermelons and squash. Strips of fabric can also be used as plants ties which support vegetables, such as tomatoes, to stakes. Old pants, shoes and boots make neat looking pots for plants too.

5. Repurposing Toilet Paper Rolls – For many, the cost of buying seed starting trays may not be an option. Luckily, household items such as toilet paper rolls can be used to start garden seeds. To plant, simply fold in the bottom of the tubes and fill the rolls with soil, placing a seed into each. Place in a well-draining location, as excess moisture can cause the rolls to deteriorate. When transplanting, place the entire roll into the soil. Egg cartons can also be used as makeshift seed starting trays.

6. Filling Large Containers – Large planting containers can make an impressive visual impact in the garden. Unfortunately, filling large containers with soil can become quite troublesome. In addition to the cost, bigger planters can become very heavy. To save effort, fill half the container with empty bottles or old plant pots. The bottles will take up space, and in turn, reduce the need for a large amount of soil.

7. Milk Jugs or Soda Bottles – Milk jugs and soda bottles have a multitude of purposes within the home garden. When cut in half, the transparent these can be used as mini greenhouses to protect newly planted seedlings. Additionally, they can be used to start seedlings via the winter sowing method. This method allows for even novice home gardeners to successfully start seeds for the spring garden outdoors without expensive grow lights.

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7 Strategies For Pain Free Gardening

Gardening truly is a labor of love. It’s rewarding, good for you, and gives you beautiful outdoor spaces, but it sure does hurt sometimes. From knee pain to back pain to cuts and scratches, gardening just hurts. It doesn’t have to be that bad, though. Use the following 7 strategies for pain-free gardening to take at least some of the discomfort out of your favorite hobby:

1. Stretch and warm up first. Working in the garden is like a sport, and in any sport, warming up is essential to minimizing injury risk. Before heading out to the garden, do some basic stretches and warm up with simple exercises. Some good ones to try are crunches and planks for the core, squats for the legs, and yoga poses for flexibility and balance.

2. Take breaks. When you have a chore to get done, you just want to get it done. But spending three hours in a crouched position pulling weeds is going to cause pain, no matter how fit you are. Take breaks from gardening every 30 minutes or so to walk around and stretch. Or, just alternate your activities: pull weeds for 15 minutes, water for 30 minutes, then go back to weeding.

3. Padding is your friend. Don’t be a hero and spend the day kneeling on the sidewalk. Get knee cushions to reduce impact on your joints. A padded garden seat is also useful for your rear end and will give you a better position to be in than crouching or squatting.

4. Choose the right tools. Ergonomics are big these days as it becomes clear that repetitive motions or sitting for too long with poor body position can cause serious pain and even damage. Look for gardening tools with ergonomic design so that when you use them your body is in a more neutral position for less pain. Choose tools that are the right size for you as well, which makes a big difference.

5. Watch your posture. It’s easy to stoop or round your back and shoulders when spending so long in the garden. If you can focus on your posture, and keep it proper as you work, you’ll have less pain in the long run. Keep your shoulders back and your spine straight. Focus on using your core muscles to keep you in this healthier position.

6. Lift heavy objects the right way. It’s all too easy to acquire back pain and acute injuries by lifting something the wrong way. When picking up big bags of mulch, potted trees and shrubs, and heavy watering cans, squat and lift with your legs, not your back. Use a back brace if necessary.

7. Strengthen your core. Gardening itself is a great fitness activity, but if you add in some additional strength training, you will have a more pain-free experience. Work on your abdominal and core muscles a few times a week with moves like planks and crunches. A stronger core helps you move better and hold your body in neutral, pain-free positions for longer periods of time.

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5 Garden Themed Easter Basket Ideas

Are you looking for something a
little different to put in your kids’ Easter baskets this year? Are you trying
to focus less on candy and chocolate? Why not embrace spring another way and
get your little ones excited to get into the garden? Here are our top 5 garden
themed Easter basket ideas.

Get started early
– Easter falls at a different time
each spring, sometimes a little early to go tilling the soil. There might even
still be snow on the ground! That’s a great excuse to start plants inside, though.
Fill your basket with potting soil, small peat pots, popsicle sticks for
labeling, and easy to grow seeds, and you can get planting that very day.

Beat the sun
– Gardening means being out in the
sun, and gardening in spring usually means being out in the sun for the first
time in a while. It’s important for everyone to protect themselves, but
especially little guys and gals. Sunglasses and hats (with garden patterns like
bugs and flowers for extra fun) will get them excited to get outdoors and planting,
but with a practical bonus.

Find the right tools
– It’s easy to find small, fun
garden tool sets for little hands, and they look great poking up out of basket,
too. Kids’ tools often come in different colors that you can coordinate a whole
basket around, if you’re making up several.

Add something sweet
– It is Easter after all, and if
you want to have a little something sweet in your basket, look for garden
themed candy, like chocolate flowers or carrots. (In a pinch, remember that bunny
rabbits do love gardens just as much as we do).

Carry it all
– It’s good to have a way to carry
everything, especially if you’re trooping in and out of the house. A
garden-themed bag can double as an Easter basket, but a blank canvas bag is a
lot more fun to decorate.

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5 Mulch Colors That Can Increase Yields

Most of us are familiar with bark mulch, that decorative and yet useful weed barrier and moisture conserver. Bark mulch comes in several hues, but there are also different colored mulches made from plastic that can increase yields. They do this by increasing soil temperature and focusing sunlight. These easy-to-use mulches also conserve moisture and help prevent weeds. The choice of color will depend upon what you are growing but there are clear, black, red, silver, white, brown, green and even blue mulch colors!

Gardeners in zones with short growing seasons and too few sunny days can really benefit from plastic mulches. Because they raise soil temperature, heat-loving plants will settle in more quickly and have much more rapid growth. Many are made of post-consumer materials, so you’re being a conservationist while bumping up your crop. With care, you can use plastic mulch for several seasons and some areas even have plastic mulch recycling programs. Below are 5 popular mulch colors that can help increase yields in the garden:

Red – This mulch is particularly useful for heat-loving fruit crops and herbs. Cilantro and basil will produce more leaves and get bushier with a red mulch. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra and strawberries will show their appreciation with bigger fruits and brighter color and flavor.

Silver – Silver is a curious tone that doesn’t seem to fit in with gardening. However, its secret is in its pest fighting capabilities. This color has been shown to be a wonderful deterrent against aphids and whiteflies, and in cucurbits, it reduces incidences of cucumber beetle damage. Silver also increases yields in peppers as compared to that of black mulch.

Green – At least green is a color commonly found in nature, but what does it do as mulch? In trials, green colored mulch was shown to enhance the ripening and production of melons. Make sure the mulch is IRT (Infrared Transmitting), however, for better results.

White – In areas with extremely hot temperatures, white mulch is used to keep soil cool around some plants, especially those early spring crops that bolt in high heat. These might include peas, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower.

Blue – Strangest of all is blue plastic mulch. Blue is second only to red in its ability to raise soil temperatures. It also amps up production of summer squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupe.

Research is still going on with more colors of mulch. Orange, and especially yellow, show promise as production enhancers. However, yellow mulch seems to attract certain garden pests, most notably cucumber beetles. The evidence seems to suggest that plastic mulches have several beneficial impacts and are worth investigating as garden helpers.

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Top 5 Secrets To Great Garden Soil

Healthy soil is a living thing filled with billions and billions of micro-nutrients such as fungi, bacteria, algae,protozoa and yeast. In fact, experts at the University of Ohio Extension say a tiny spoonful of soil holds more microbes than there are people on earth. The soil is also home to beneficial nematodes, mites and, of course, the friendly earthworm.

Great garden soil holds moisture,provides nutrients for plants, and remains loose and well-aerated. With healthy soil, you can grow beautiful, lush plants with a high degree of resistance to pests and disease. The question is, how can gardeners maintain healthy soil?Read on for five simple secrets to great garden soil.

1. Provide plenty of organic matter.This is one of the best things you can do for your soil. Dig in plenty of organic material such as rotted manure or compost, preferably at least 2 or 3 inches (5-7.5 cm.) of rich organic matter every year. Be sure to mulch around plants to keep the soil cool and moist. Good mulch includes bark chips, pine needles, straw or chopped leaves.

2. Plant a cover crop. Growing cover crops needn’t be complicated, and the plants will replenish nutrients, break up compacted soil and help keep weeds in check. Useful cover crops, depending on your particular climate and growing requirements, include peas, vetch or other legumes; grass such as rye or buckwheat; brassicas like radishes or mustards; or a combination. Plant seeds about a month before the last frost, then till the plants into the soil in spring.

3. Start a compost bin. Add green materials such as grass clippings or kitchen scraps (no fat, bones or meat) along with an equal amount of brown material like paper, dead leaves or twigs. Compost may take a few months or a few years, depending on the type of bin, temperature and aeration. The result is a rich material that improves moisture retention,decreases pests and disease and reduces the need for harmful chemicals.

4. Introduce worms into your soil.For example, purchase red worms and start a worm bin. You may be surprised how easy (and fun) growing with worms can be. You can also add worms to your compost bin, or directly into the soil. Be sure the soil has plenty of mulch and organic material to provide nutrients. Worms break down organic matter, increase the amount of air in the soil, improve drainage and leave rich manure (castings)that benefit plants.

5. Be gentle with your soil. Let the soil dry in spring. Never work the soil when it’s wet, as you risk damaging soil structure and creating hard, compacted ground with little air and no space for roots. A simple readiness test is to squeeze a handful of soil, then try again in a week or so if the soil drips or forms a tight ball. Avoid walking or driving over damp soil whenever possible. Loosen the soil with a fork and avoid excessive tilling.

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5 Surprising Places To Find Low Cost Goodies For The Garden

For many city dwellers, small garden spaces are an absolute oasis and much needed escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Though the options when planning such a space are limitless, the costs of achieving the desired look may begin to add up quite quickly. Luckily, there are several easy ways in which to save money and create an amazing outdoor space while staying within the confines of a tight budget. Below are 5 surprising places to find low cost goodies for the garden:

1. Online Sites and Communities – In our modern age, the internet is obviously an invaluable resource. However, it can also assist in the creation of a beautiful outdoor space. Online gardening communities and forums are filled with passionate growers. Many of these groups are willing to share their gardens, as well as offer group plant swaps or exchanges. Being an active member of these groups is a great way to grow your garden at a low cost, and expand your knowledge.

Phone applications, Facebook marketplace, and other websites, like Craigslist, are often exceptional places to find bargains on anything from plant containers to outdoor patio furniture that is being sold at fair prices. When purchasing using these methods, make certain to take necessary steps to do so safely. Always take proper precaution when meeting anyone online to purchase goods. Pay close attention to any signs of fraud or malicious intent.

2. Flea Markets, Estate/Yard Sales, and Garden Clubs – Many garden features can be found locally at flea markets and sales of various types. These sales are especially fun to browse, as they guarantee to offer a very unique selection of garden goods. Quirky planters and garden ornaments (gnomes, mirror balls, etc.) can offer an original flare to outdoor spaces.

Local garden clubs are also a great place to find bargain prices on high quality plants. Often used as a fundraiser, buying from annual garden club plant sales support local gardeners, as well as offer a great alternative to buying plants at retail prices.

3. Free Mulch – Many gardeners use mulch in various applications throughout the garden. While weed suppression is an obvious benefit, utilizing mulch also helps to retain moisture and decrease the need for frequent watering. Excess mulch material is often offered free of charge by local tree trimming services. In many cases, this will also include free delivery to the home.

4. Retail Stores – While the cost of plants purchased at retail stores and garden centers may begin to add up, there are some ways to get the most for your money. Don’t be afraid to browse the sale section of these stores. Many garden centers will only charge full price for plants that are lush. Though plants that have been marked for clearance may not look as healthy as others, they can oftentimes be nursed back to health once planted in the garden. In addition to the sale rack, many retailers may throw away plants that they believe to be beyond quality for sale. In some cases, these may also be worth “rescuing.” Before ever taking any discarded plants, always make certain to ask permission from the retailer.

Your local dollar store or thrift shop are also great place to find neat gardening stuff at a cheap price.

5. Cuttings from Friends and Family – By far, one of the most popular ways in which to obtain plants on a budget is through propagation by cuttings. While not all plants can be propagated in this manner, many can. More often than not, friends and family members are more than happy to allow a few cuttings to be taken from plants within their own gardens. Not only is this process cost effective, but it can also add sentimental value to the garden, knowing that it was established with the help of loved ones.

While taking cuttings is relatively easy, growers should research the variety of plant which they intend to propagate. Some newer plants are patented, which prohibits individuals from taking cuttings.

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Top 10 Self-Seeding “Annuals” That Come Back Each Year

Everyone loves annuals because they’re flashy and they fill in flower bed space, giving you color and visual interest all summer. But wouldn’t it be great if you could get those advantages along with a plant that comes back year after year? You can if you select annuals that re-seed themselves. Here are the top 10 self-seeding annual plants:

1. Alyssum. This pretty, sweet-smelling flower grows like a mat, which makes it perfect for edges of beds and walkways or even around the edge of a mixed container. Avoid hybrids of alyssum, though, as they may not grow true from seed.

2. Nasturtium. Nasturtium flowers provide bright, sunny blooms,but also edible leaves and flowers. Let the seeds drop after the plants bloom and you should get them back next year.

3. Calendula. Also known as pot marigold, this is another sunny-colored flower that is edible. Let some of the flowers proceed to seed and get more next season.

4. Hyacinth bean. Go for this climbing vine if purple is your color. Hyacinth bean produces purple flowers, stems, seed pods, and even leaf undersides. Both the flowers and seed pods are attractive and decorative.

5. Balsam. For a self-seeding annual to grow in your most difficult shady spot, try balsam, or touch-me-not. These are related to impatiens, and they will grow rapidly up to 18 inches (46 cm.) tall and self-seed with vigor.

6. Tobacco plant. These plants are easy to grow in a variety of conditions and will reach heights up to three feet (one meter). You’ll get pretty flowers in red, pink, purple, white, or even chartreuse. In addition to a self-sower, expect tobacco flower to bring hummingbirds to your garden.

7. Vine petunias. Petunia is a popular annual for its showy, abundant, trumpet-shaped flowers. Unlike typical petunia annuals, the vine petunia will grow well in some shade and will spread to cover the ground or climb up a trellis.

8. Cosmos. These pretty flowers bloom abundantly and can give you a wide range of colors. Try delicate pastel blossoms or bold and vibrant reds or oranges. Cosmos is a good self-seeder and also draws pollinators.

9. Forget-me-nots. With delicate little lavender or blue flowers, forget-me-nots are definitely hard to forget. They self-seed more readily than almost any other flower, to the extent that you may need to thin them a little bit each year to keep your beds manageable.

10. Gloriosa daisy. This pretty annual variety wins out against its perennial cousin black-eyed-Susan in stunning and bold appearance. As an annual, though, you do have to rely on its re-seeding itself to get more next year, so let some of those gloriosa daisy flowers develop seeds.

Why plant annuals year after year? Work smarter, not harder in the garden. Use varieties of annuals that will happily re-seed themselves and appear again next spring.

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Top 7 Plants to Encourage Good Luck

Most of us are familiar with the fabulous powers of a four-leaf clover to bring luck, but what other plants have such significance?We can all do with more luck, whether it’s in love, money or health. Growing these fortune making plants will not only provide blessings but add beauty tot he home and landscape. So, if you’re looking for some flora that will attract prosperity and good fortune to your family, here are the top 7 plants to encourage good luck.

1. Lucky Bamboo – This is a classic lucky plant that is often gifted. It is easy to grow and will even thrive in an office building and spaces with limited light. Lucky bamboo is not a true bamboo or even a grass. It is a Dracaena and the more stems the plant has, the more attracting power it brings.

2. Jade Plant – Another easy to grow specimen, jade plants are traditionally thought to bring wealth and attract business. When placed at the entry to the home, expect good fortune to all who’d well there. The succulent has slightly chubby, rounded leaves and an attractive tree-like form when older. In Feng Shui, rounded leaves bring good luck.

3. Money Plant – As the name suggests, the money plant is thought to bring happiness, prosperity and financial good luck. A common houseplant, it is also a popular gift, often bestowed at graduation to give young people a good start at life and business. Glossy heart-shaped leaves may feature gentle variegation and larger specimens boast braided stems.

4. Peace Lily – If you are looking for a flowering plant that is low maintenance, peace lilies are a good fit. The name stems from the white spathe that unfurls above the foliage, representing a white flag of surrender. Expect a sense of calm and well-being when this plant graces your home.

5. Orchids – Outside of their outstanding good looks, orchids are more than pretty flowers. They are said to enhance romance and can help attract a new love or boost a current relationship. There are many varieties from which to choose and their beauty also brings peace to the heart and the home.

6. Hawaiian Ti Plant – Polynesians believed the ti plant had mystical powers and warded off evil. It is a tropical foliage plant that comes in many colors, including the most amazing fuchsia hue. Some even have striking blended colors on the leaves.

7. Basil – In India, the basil plant is considered holy and attracts love, beauty, wealth and more.Even better, a pot of basil on the kitchen window sill will attract culinary inspiration. Basil is delicious in many regional cuisines including Italian, Indian, Thai, etc.

Surrounding oneself with plants of any sort can help cleanse the air, emit relaxing scent and simply pretty up the area. Almost any plant has the ability to enhance our lives, making us feel better. That’s a lucky practice that will bring good fortune.

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5 Smart Ways To Stay Safe In The Garden

Gardening can be both a passion and a pleasure. To keep it that way, you need to garden smart, which includes putting safety first. You may think that no place could be safer than your serene and peaceful garden. But more gardeners than you might think suffer health issues from their outdoor plant work. Avoid preventable problems with these five garden safety tips.

1. Cover up – Sun rays are essential to plant growth, but too much sun and/or excess heat isn’t good for any gardener. Plan ahead and manage the amount of sunshine you get. First, cover up to avoid too many rays. Wear a comfortable, wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved tops and long pants. In addition, cream on broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen and wear good sunglasses.

2. Schedule work time – Sun rays can be especially damaging during the heat of the day. So you want to schedule your outdoor work time to avoid the noon-to-two o’clock hours. Drink lots of water as you work and if you start feeling hot, take a break until evening. Sunstroke is a real thing and an avoidable one for a gardener.

3. Invest in good gloves – Your hands do the bulk of the gardening work, so don’t leave them out there on their own. Buy yourself a good set of gardening gloves to protect your digits from blisters and bug bites as well as soil dangers. Remember,your soil contains lots of things other than clean dirt. It has both bacteria and fungi that are native to the soil and also materials you have added, like fertilizers and pesticides. These can turn cuts into infections fast.

4. Change activities often – You maybe in great shape, but still, repeating the same motion over and over doesn’t make for a happy body. And many central gardening activities tend to be repetitious. So when you are digging, raking or hedge clipping, take a break. This goes for any repetitive activity. Do something different for a time or just take a break. Rotating tasks every 15 minutes is a good rule of thumb.

5. Treat tools with respect – Lawnmowers,weed whackers and anything motorized can really do you harm. To be safe, you need to know what you are doing, understand the dangers and keep your tools in tip-top condition. Save some tasks for the experts. For example, trimming tall trees or rototilling might look doable, but these chores are also dangerous. It may be time to call in an expert.

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5 Surprising Benefits Of Gardening

We know that gardening is rewarding. Working in the garden is good exercise that helps us work out stress and anxiety. Gardening provides an opportunity to commune with nature, and benefits the environment by providing pollen and nectar for bees. Gardening can even help us do our share in the battle against global climate change. Those are a few things we know about gardening, but there may be rewards you haven’t yet considered. Here are 5 surprising benefits of gardening.

1. Gardening benefits the hands and wrists. You may not believe this one, but it’s true. Planting, digging and pulling builds strength, flexibility and coordination in your hands, fingers and wrists. Gardening may even offset some of the stiffness and soreness resulting from typing, texting and other repetitive tasks.

2. Gardening improves the quality of sleep. You don’t need to exhaust yourself in the garden in order to sleep better. Research indicates that even light activity in the garden, combined with plenty of fresh air, reduces stress, tires you out and improves the quality of sleep.

3. Gardening boosts self-esteem. Growing a garden successfully requires an investment of time and hard work, but it all pays off with beautiful flowers or luscious vegetables. As you gain additional skills, the garden gets even prettier. Enjoying your wins, both large and small, is a real confidence booster.

4. Gardening tightens tummy muscles. Weeding, raking, digging, trimming and pushing a mower or wheelbarrow are hard work, but in time, you’ll notice stronger core muscles and a flatter tummy. Be sure to stretch your muscles before you begin and after gardening, and don’t overdo it.

5. Gardening revs up the immune system. Scientists studying the soil have discovered that soil is good for you. It contains beneficial bacteria that improves the immune system, increases happiness, and helps ward off infections. Research also indicates that working in the garden may prevent certain types of allergies and minimize the severity of allergic reactions.

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Top 5 Tricks To Keep Garden Tools Like New

You have to work out regularly to keep your body healthy as you age. Similarly, it takes some effort to keep your garden tools working well as they get older. Most of us admit to having tossed dirty shovels in the garage, or uncleaned clippers in the tool chest. But you know it’s not good for the tools. To keep tools looking new and performing well, regular cleaning and maintenance is a must. Read on for some tricks you can use to accomplish this.

1. Clean those tools – We may as well break it to you right away: to keep your tools happy and healthy, you’ll need to clean them off every time you use them. A proper cleaning doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time, but it is really important in maintaining tools in good condition. When moist soil gets on tools, the moisture can rust steel surfaces and dull metal blades. And fungi, pest eggs and weed seeds can also cling to these tools and get spread around the garden with each use.

Use a hose to clean garden tools that come in contact with soil. If necessary, scrub them with a hard-bristle brush.Tools that don’t touch soil, like pruning shears and knives, can be wiped down with water and a little paint thinner. Dry each tool with a rag after cleaning.

2. Keep tools oiled – Steel garden tools rust when they are exposed to oxygen, even if you clean and dry them properly. Many gardeners use motor oil as a low-cost rust preventer thinned out with kerosene. Some people also use WD-40. You can also use linseed oil or sunflower oil. Before storing the tools away, brush the steel surfaces with the oil to prevent them from oxidizing.

3. Removing rust – If your tools have already rusted, you’ll need to do a little more. First, try getting the rust off with 80-grit sandpaper. If that won’t work, clean off the rust with a stiff wire brush. If the rut has pitted a steel surface, you’ll need to use an electric drill with a wire-brush attachment.

4. Storing tools – Everybody is guilty of leaving tools outdoors at least once in a while, but you probably know that doesn’t do the tool any favors. Gardening tools and moisture do not make happy bedfellows,and rust and rot can result. To keep your tools strong and efficient, bring them inside whenever you are done for the day. The ideal garden tool storage involves hanging them up so that no part of a tool touches the ground at all.

5. Handling handles – The tips so far have involved keeping the steel part of the tools clean and rust-free. But you have to handle the handles too. Every season, take a look at the wooden handles on gardening tools. Sand out any splintering areas and wipe on tung oil or boiled linseed oil with a clean rag. Remove excess oil before putting the tools in storage.

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Top 7 Herbs for Healing a Broken Heart

One of the most amazing occurrences in life is to fall in love, but the loss of such a relationship can be devastating. The real physical and emotional pain can take a toll on day to day life. Sleep and eating may become affected and sometimes we turn to certain bad habits to help us over the hump. Pharmaceutical remedies may help us cope with heartbreak, but they come with side effects, high costs and potential addiction. But what if there was a way to naturally relieve the symptoms of a broken heart?

Mother Nature has her own way to help us feel better, and it may be just outside your back door. Common herbs and plants can help melt away melancholy, fight fear and make spirits soar anew. Here are the top 7 herb plants for healing a broken heart:

1. Skullcap – The name is almost macabre, but this pretty little herb is featured in many heart healing recipes. Skullcap is purported to calm the mind and prevent thinking in circles, where no matter how hard you think you come to the same ineffectual conclusion.

2. Lavender – Any bath aficionado is aware of the hypnotic, calming effect of lavender. Its aromatherapy softens all the edges and both relaxes and calms the soul. All these effects are beneficial as we go through a grieving period.

3. Borage – With its cute fuzzy stems and brilliant blue flowers, borage is a treat in the garden but it can also drive away sadness and help bring in a little light.

4. Valerian Root – You may have seen this in tea form as a sleep aid. Its relaxing properties will help bring sleep back into your life and calm a frantic mind. A cup of valerian tea or drop full of tincture should bring restorative sleep and sweet dreams to help heal your soul.

5. Lemon Balm – Another herb with aromatherapy properties, the name is apt as it also provides a balm to a wounded heart. Solace for the soul can be had in a cupful of lemon balm tea or even a bath soak with this delightfully sensory herb.

6. Holy Basil – There must be something that ties pleasant scents to happier thoughts. This basil herb has heavenly aroma and brings balance to heart, mind and body.

7. Rose – A plant that is often used to represent love, roses are also crucial to healing a broken heart. The hips are high in Vitamin C and boost your health and energy levels. The petals make a soothing bath and the flowers themselves are a reminder that life is full of beauty and worth waking up for a new tomorrow.

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Top 10 Plants For A Chocolate Inspired Garden

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Sure, there may be a few out there, but for most of us there’s nothing quite like the rich, creamy succulent taste of this sweet treat – chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, chocolate ice cream, chocolate candy, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolaty hot cocoa, chocolate cream pie, chocolate truffles, and the list goes on and on.

This much loved “sweet” didn’t start out that way though…it was actually first enjoyed as a bitter beverage nearly 4,000 years ago. That’s right, ancient Mesoamericans cultivated cacao plants (Theobroma cacao), the original chocolate tree from rainforests of Central America, and then fermented, roasted and ground the beans into a paste mixed with water, vanilla, honey, chili peppers and other spices to brew a frothy chocolate drink. And while it may not have been sweet, they loved it, and throughout history, chocolate lovers have all believed in its mood enhancing, and even aphrodisiac-like powers.

For chocoholics like myself, the ooey-gooey goodness of chocolate can’t be beat, and frankly, seems to make everything better still today. So what could be better than having your own chocolate smelling garden right in your backyard – a special place to enjoy some chocolaty bliss anytime you want, maybe even while you savor the flavor of your favorite chocolate treat. It’s easy to do simply by growing plants that look and smell just like chocolate. Even Mother Nature would agree that these plants deserve a special place in the garden. With that said, here the top 10 plants for creating a chocolate-inspired garden:

Chocolate sunflower (Helianthus annuus ‘Chocolate’) – Having various shades of deep red to maroon or chocolate colored petals, this sunflower is a surefire winner that will be right at home in your garden of sweet delights.

Summer Chocolate mimosa (Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’) – With its tropical, fern-like chocolaty colored foliage and puffs of fragrant pink summer blooms, it’s hard to resist adding this charming tree to the garden. And, unlike other mimosas, ‘Summer Chocolate’ isn’t invasive.

Chocolate Mint scented geranium (Pelargonium ‘Chocolate Mint’) – Scented geraniums are favorite additions to gardens for their aromatic foliage – hence the name. And the Chocolate Mint variety is no exception. While the plant smells more like mint than chocolate, it’s the chocolate-colored vein of the leaf that earns its moniker.

Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) – Dark reddish-brown to nearly black, the stunning Chocolate cosmos is more than just beautiful in the garden. The flowers look and smell just like chocolate. I grew these myself and can attest to this.

Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) – This yellow daisy will not only brighten up your garden space but will make your belly growl for more of its chocolate-scented blooms. Plant chocolate flowers up close to enjoy their fragrance as it wafts through garden.

Chocolate mint (Mentha piperata) – As with most mint plants, this herb is great for use in many dishes and drinks. And chocolate mint has the added bonus of smelling a little like those cool, refreshing Peppermint Pattie candies. Plant them in containers to avoid any invasive tendencies.

Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) – Commonly known as chocolate berry for the tiny purple edible berries said to taste like toffee or caramel, Himalayan honeysuckle plants offer something unique to the garden, white blooms that hang from brilliant scarlet bracts.

Chocolate Soldier columbine (Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’) – This unique columbine doesn’t get its name for the smell of its flowers but does produce stunning, chocolate-brown to purple blooms, which earns Chocolate Soldier a special place in a chocolate-inspired garden. The compact form makes it a great choice for the front edges of borders and beds too.

Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) – Preferring a partially shaded location in the garden, planting chocolate vine plants can provide gardeners with chocolaty-purple flowers having a sweet scent of chocolate with hints of vanilla and edible seedpods that are said to taste similar to tapioca pudding. That said, without continuous pruning, they can become invasive.

Chocolate boneset (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’) – Also called chocolate joe pye weed, this boneset plant produces clusters of tiny white flowers above reddish cocoa brown foliage.

In addition to these plants, there are many varieties of coleus and heuchera available with chocolaty names that offer attractive dark colored foliage. And there’s even a chocolate rose variety that may tickle that sweet itch. Best of all, you won’t be the only one that enjoys a garden filled with “chocolate,” as all the above plants are known for bringing in pollinators too.

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Top 7 Herbs to Grow Indoors Year Round

As winter falls upon us, the garden has been put to bed until spring, which means that the supply of fresh herbs you’ve come to rely on is past its prime. All is not lost, however, as there are a number of herbs that will do just fine when grown indoors in a bright window or under grow lights. Interested in growing your own herbs indoors? Here are the top 7 herbs for growing indoors year round.

1. Basil – Gotta have my basil, so it tops the list of must have herbs to grow indoors year round. Start basil from seed or root a cutting and place in a south-facing window.

2. Cilantro – Next up and in order of favorites, comes cilantro. South American cuisine has got to have citrus, spice and cilantro, in my opinion. Cilantro, like basil, is a tender annual herb that can be started from seed and then replanted throughout the year for a continuous supply.

3. Rosemary – Next up is rosemary. A perennial, rosemary not only tastes good but acts like a natural room deodorizer. Start with a cutting of the herb in a soil-less mix and keep it moist until it roots in a south-facing window.

4. ThymeThyme and rosemary marry beautifully as a rub for meats or tossed onto roasted potatoes. Another perennial, thyme can be started from a soft tip of an existing outdoor plant. It likes full sun but is a bit more tolerant of shaded conditions and will grow well in an east- or west-facing window.

5. OreganoOregano is #5 on the list of favorite indoor herbs. A versatile herb, oregano features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine and is found in both Italian and Mexican foods. It is also a perennial that loves sun and should be placed in a south-facing widow.

6. Mint – Mojio anyone? Mint can be used in so many ways in sweet to savory dishes, in adult beverages or just as a cup of soothing hot tea. It can be a rapacious grower in the garden, thus lends itself well to container growing. Plus, there are so many types of mint to choose, from chocolate to pineapple mint.

7. Chives – The last, but not least, pick for herbs to grow inside year round is chives. Again, extremely versatile and easy to grow. Morning eggs will never be the same again after you toss in some finely chopped chives. And, they’re right there in the house, practically under your nose, ready to use.

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The Best 7 Natural Air Cleaners For The Home

Houseplants are a fantastic addition to any home. Having plants around the house has been proven to help boost your mood, and they just make a room look a lot happier and more inviting. But did you know that plants can also help remove impurities from the air and make your home a nicer place to breathe, too? It’s true!

Here are our top 7 purifying houseplants, the best air cleaners for the home.

Snake Plant
– Also known as mother in law’s
tongue, the snake
grows well in low light and humid air, making it perfect for
bathrooms, where it can filter out particles given off by cleaning and paper

– The philodendron
genus is made up of a wide variety of plants that are some of the most popular
houseplants out there. They are toxic, so they should be grown with caution in
homes with children and pets, but they are very good at removing bad particles,
especially formaldehyde.

Spider Plant
– This plant is great for filtering
benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, and it is also extremely low
maintenance and beautiful. Tuck your spider
away in a corner and it’ll clean your air while creating interest
with delicate white flowers and small hanging plantlets called “spiders.”

English Ivy
– This plant thrives in low light
and drapes nicely, making it an ideal houseplant. Ivy plants
that are grown indoors
have also been shown to filter fecal matter and
formaldehyde from the air.

Peace Lily
– This very easy to care for flower
is number one on NASA’s list of air cleaning plants. In fact, the peace
is excellent at removing very common air particulates such as
formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene.

Aloe Vera
vera plants
are excellent choices for houseplants – native to Africa, they
can thrive in poor soil with very little water. They are also great filters for
formaldehyde and benzene, which can enter the air through common household
cleaners and paints.

Golden Pothos
– This vining plant, also known as
devil’s ivy, will creep quickly and prolifically from its container. Pothos
will thrive even in low light and is excellent at absorbing formaldehyde,
making it a good choice for filtering car exhaust in a garage.

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5 Ways To Cure Gardening Winter Blues

Winter is a difficult time for dedicated gardeners. Plants are dormant, the ground is muddy (or snowy), things are looking bleak, and it seems like springtime will never come. Getting through winter requires gardeners to have a little patience, and it’s important to remember that nearly all plants need a period of dormancy. So curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the off-season. In the meantime, there are things you can do to make winter just a little easier. Here are 5 ways to cure those winter gardening blues.

1. Join a garden club or plant society. You may have garden clubs close to home, or you can go online and join a society for nearly every plant under the sun, including hosta, orchids, cacti, roses, African violets or carnivorous plants. There are also societies for rare and endangered plants or for plants native to your area.

2. Create an indoor garden, or even two. For instance, a terrarium is a great place to begin. Use an open container such as a fish bowl or a closed container for succulents or other hardy little plants, or a lidded candy bowl or canning jar for moisture-loving tropical plants.

3. Force flowering branches. This may sound like a springtime activity, but you can force flowering branches in late winter, as soon as you notice the beginning of buds. Great plants for forcing include cherries, flowering quince, flowering crabapple, magnolia, honeysuckle, dogwood, pussy willow and forsythia. Some branches bloom in a couple of weeks while others may require nearly a month.

4. Visit a bookstore. Wander through the store and buy a couple of books that really grab your attention. You may find some real gems in thrift shops and used bookstores. A bookstore is also a good place to load up on a few colorful and inspiring gardening magazines. The images of spring and summer gardens will really boost your mood when the days are long and dark. Flipping through those mail-order catalogs that fill up your mailbox this time of year will help too.

5. Treat yourself to some pretty flowers. Nothing brightens up a kitchen or living room like fresh flower bouquets. It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money, as simple but colorful flowers aren’t that expensive at most local supermarkets. The mood booster is well worth the small investment.

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7 Plants That Can Be Tricked Into Flowering Early

For many gardeners, waiting through the winter to grow plants and start next season’s garden can be frustrating. While houseplants can offer some relief to itchy green thumbs, many plants do not bloom under the low light conditions of winter. Luckily, there’s another option when it comes to growing indoors. Many spring-blooming flower bulbs can be “forced” to bloom indoors during this time.

Forcing refers to tricking the bulbs into growing before their counterparts outdoors have even broken the soil surface. Not only does this offer a beautiful pop of color on cold days, but can also help growers tame their need to get their hands dirty. Here are 7 plants that can be tricked into early flowering:

1. Tulips – Among one of the most popular spring bulbs, tulips can be forced with the help of cold treatment. To force these bulbs, simply plant in a pot and store in a cold location for at least 12 weeks. This period of time may vary depending upon the variety, so make certain to always check supplier packaging. After chilling, remove the pot and place indoors in a warm sunny window. For a more elegant display, tulips may also be forced in a soilless vase.

2. Hyacinths – Insanely fragrant, hyacinths are also a very popular option for forcing indoors. Options for forcing hyacinth include the use of bulb vases, as well as container plantings. Store bulb vase or container in a cold (frost free) location for several weeks, most commonly at least twelve. After completion of chill period, move indoors to a sunny window.

3. Amaryllis – Known for their large red flowers, amaryllis bulbs are a popular option for forcing bloom during the holiday season. To force, bulbs are planted into a pot and placed in a sunny location indoors. Since these plants are native to tropical regions, they do not require any cold treatment.

4. Crocus – Like many other small flower bulbs, crocus flowers are ideal for forcing indoors. To plant, prepare a container and provide at least 8-12 weeks of chill hours. After the chill period is complete, move the container to warm, sunny window.

5. Dutch Iris – Though many may be familiar with their tall counterparts, dwarf Dutch iris are an exceptional choice for planting indoors. Their diminutive size is well suited in a mixed planting of forced bulbs. Simply plant into a container and chill for at least 12-15 weeks (depending upon the variety). After the chill period, move the container to a warm space to resume growth.

6. Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) – While not as large or fancy as other bulbs, many growers choose to force grape hyacinths in containers. Mass container plantings of these bulbs can serve as a bright indoor accent when forced. Muscari bulbs require at least 8-12 weeks of chill before being moved to warm location.

7. Paperwhites – Much like amaryllis, paperwhites are another very popular choice. Unlike daffodils (which can also be forced), paperwhites do not require a chill period in order to be forced to bloom. To plant, simply place in a container filled with potting soil and place in a warm location indoors.

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Top 5 Must Have Orchids

Orchids are a diverse family consisting of more than 27,000 species of elegant blooming plants found in nearly every country and climate around the world. Many are relatively easy to get along with, rewarding the grower with colorful, exotic blooms. Here are 5 of our favorite, must-have orchids.

1. Lady’s Slippers orchidsLady’s slippers orchids produce colorful, waxy flowers in winter and spring. Some varieties have several flowers per stem; others may have interesting, variegated or speckled leaves. Native to North America, parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, lady’s slippers prefer less light and a little more water than most orchids.

2. Odontoglossum orchids – “Odonts” are valued for the large, long-lasting flowers in spectacular shades of white, yellow, orange, red or pink, sometimes splotched with other, contrasting colors. Odontoglossums like cooler temperatures than most orchids, generally between 65 and 75 F. (18-24 C.) during the day, and 50 to 55 F. (10-13 C.) at night. There are about 100 species of Odontoglossums; read the label carefully because some cultivars are trickier than others.

3. Moth orchids – One of the most popular and accommodating of all orchids, moth orchids, named for the butterfly-like shape of the flowers, are great for beginning orchid aficionados. The exotic blooms are available in shades of pink, green, white, red, purple, orange and yellow, frequently lasting for months during winter and late spring. Some cultivars have interesting patterns and splotches on the leaves.

4. Dendrobium orchidsDendrobiums are a great choice, but read up before you jump in because this is a huge genus of plants boasting at least 1,200 species with a wide a range of growing requirements. However, most are readily available and relatively easy to get along with. The sweetly scented flowers of purple, white, pink or green can appear throughout fall, winter and spring.

5. Encyclia orchids – Familiarly known as cockleshell or clamshell orchids, encyclia orchids are a relatively common species with blooms that resemble clamshells, although many people think the flowers are more akin to tiny octopuses. Either way, the distinctive purple, burgundy or brownish blooms, each with showy lime-green sepals, have a unique, tropical appearance.

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10 Foolproof Foliage Plants Anyone Can Grow Inside

When it comes to making selections
for indoor plants, I like to stick with plants that have the least likelihood
of causing me a guilt trip due to an untimely demise. In other words, show me
the plants that are relatively easy to care for which can handle just a wee bit
(or a lot) of neglect. I am also more drawn to plants which feature showy
displays of blooms because I have a tendency to forget that there are foliage
plants that are just as striking, if not more so, than their flowering

I’m sure I’m not alone in these
sentiments, so let’s take a moment to review the 10 often overlooked, but
foolproof, foliage plants that won’t put your green thumb reputation in too
much jeopardy.

– This plant literally has my name
on it as it possesses a high threshold of tolerance for fluctuating light,
humidity and watering conditions. Chinese
is practically dubbed “the” houseplant for busy people who are
almost too busy for plants. This plant features dark green leaves patterned
with silver and, if you provide it with enough light, you’ll get a bonus:
calla-lily-like blooms!

– No need to worry about a bite
from this snake. It can handle a bit of neglect, but it thrives the best when
kept in a medium bright spot with regular watering. The leaves of snake
are stiff, upright and edged in silver, gray or gold.

passion plant
– If you have a passion for the
color purple, you’ll love this velvet plant. The foliage looks and even feels
like velvet with its dark green leaves covered in soft purple hairs. Purple
passion plant
is ideally situated in a hanging basket or a pot with a
trellis due its vining nature. A bright spot and regular watering is all that
is needed to keep the passion alive.

iron plant
– This plant lives up to its name,
as it is one tough plant that has the mettle to withstand low light and
humidity and a wide range of temperatures. The cast
iron plant
may not be the showiest plant on this list, but this lush, leafy
evergreen will still have a commanding presence with its long, oval-shaped
pointed dark green leaves.

– You can let this trailing plant,
with large arching grass-like leaves, accumulate a few cob-webs, as they can
tolerate a bit of neglect. Pot spider
in well-draining soil and provide it with bright, indirect light,
keep the soil lightly moist, and this plant will flourish, perhaps even
bestowing you with a few babies, or “plantlets,” along the way. Available in
green or variegated varieties.

– This sweetheart plant will sweep
you off your feet. This trailing philodendron
emanates romance with its dark green heart-shaped leaves.  Indirect light, lightly moist soil and
standard room temperature is all the love this plant requires.

is about as foolproof as they come – low light tolerance and only requires
periodic watering. This vining plant features glossy, heart-shaped,
white/yellow variegated leaves with trailing stems. It is often seen in office
environments cascading down file cabinets.

Dieffenbachia – Even though this plant has a hard name to pronounce, it
is actually quite easy to care for. With beautiful large green/white or
green/cream colored variegated leaves, this plant will lend a lush tropical
look and feel to any room. Dieffenbachia
prefers filtered light with soil that is kept consistently moist, but not

Dracaena – This tree-like plant displays a lot of spunk with its long spiky, tropical-looking variegated foliage. Brightly filtered light, consistently moist soil, coupled with a boost of fertilizer every now and then, is all the dracaena plant requires to thrive.

– Even though this plant has the
ZZ’s, it won’t put you to sleep with its gorgeous waxy, shiny oval-shaped
leaves. This is the quintessential plant for those with a brown thumb, as ZZ
remains stunning even after months of neglect, and does well with low
light and infrequent watering.

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