Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Green New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s almost 2014?  Incredible!  As you look over 2013, were changes that made your life more sustainable and happy?  Is there a change you want to make in 2014?  If you aren’t sure, here are some New Year Resolutions that might help you decide...

Green New Year Resolutions

  1. Save money without spending a dime
    It's easier than it sounds to save money while being green: unplug electronic equipment you aren't using; turn off the lights; lower your heat and wear an extra sweater. Switching from chemical cleaners to homemade baking soda/vinegar combos can save you $600 a year, and taking public transportation saves countless money on gas.
  2. Save money by investing in efficiency
    Sometimes you have to spend to save-but you still don't have to spend much. Energy monitors—like Black & Decker's version for less than $100-show you where your home is wasting energy, while a programmable thermostat could have you saving as much as 15% on your energy bill. In other cases, you might have to invest just a bit more time-making your lunch ahead of time instead of ordering take-out, baking your own bread, or learn some simple home repair and skip that next call to the Maytag man.
  3. Cut clutter
    We all have too much stuff—especially if your home just received an influx of gifts over the holidays. Unclutter and update your closet by hosting a clothing swap, and keep your foyer table clear by cutting junk mail. Getting rid of excess in your home by reusing it means less waste, fewer landfills, and—eventually—less energy spent on the production of a whole lot of unnecessary junk.
  4. Lose weight
    Many classic weight loss tips—eat fresh vegetables, skip the processed food aisle, cut out red meat—line up perfectly with a green lifestyle. The bad-for-you foods that are so high in calories also pack a production wallop that uses lots of energy; the packaging just creates more waste. And trading even one meat-based meal each week for a vegetarian option can help curb the effects of global warming. If you're going less than one mile, trade driving for walking; for longer distances, brush off your old 10-speed and hit the bike lane-then watch the pounds fall off.
  5. Quit smoking
    Cigarettes are a huge source of litter—plus there's nothing eco-friendly about the pesticides, deforestation, paper use, and waste output of cigarette production. If you're ready to quit, replace the habit with exercise, or snacks of fresh organic veggies.
  6. Get involved
    There's a lot to be said for getting out of your house and focusing your energy on others-or on the environment. Join a community supported agriculture program and, in exchange for a few hours work, or a few bucks per week, you'll have fresh vegetables all summer; volunteer at an animal shelter or for an environmental charity and you can feel good about making a difference. The key is matching your interests and talents with the right organization, and sometimes that could be as simple as starting at home and greening your community.
  7. Organize your office
    Whether in your work or home office, this is the perfect chance to go paperless. Filing documents electronically and using a scanner and paper shredder in tandem means a huge drop in wasted paper—plus it's easier to store and review important bills when you need them. Even better, convince your boss to let you work from home and save money, time, and carbon emissions by not having to commute, buy lunch, wrestle with your company's recycling policies, etc.
  8. Learn to recycle something new
    Sure, you're a pro at putting glass, paper, and aluminum in the proper containers, and you never leave your newspaper on the subway—but what about all the other stuff you can recycle? Computers, DVD players, televisions, compact fluorescent light bulbs and cell phones all can and should be recycled, so the metals can be disposed of correctly or, even better, reused. If you're already doing this, consider starting a compost bin for your organic food scraps, capturing rainwater for watering plants and flushing the toilet, or buying clothes made from recyclable fibers.
  9. Join a TreeHugger
    Last year, an informal poll of a few TreeHugger writers resulted in green resolutions that ranged from the easy, like remembering to take a reusable bag to the grocery store, to the difficult, like not buying anything new for the whole year. Other suggestions: using the car one less day each week; spreading the environmental gospel by going up against climate change critics, or giving out copies of An Inconvenient Truth; swearing off factory-farmed meat and eating local, organic meat; and eating one fully locally-sourced meal each week. The point is, no matter what your lifestyle is like, there are enough green resolutions out there for you to choose the one that works for you.
  10. Stick to it
    The most popular advice for keeping resolutions is to keep them simple: look at small changes you can make to reach your long term goals, like adding 30 minutes of bike riding to your daily routine or going to the farmer's market twice a month. And don't make too many—choose one, maybe two, goals and focus on those.
From a TreeHugger article in 2009.   

Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Green New Year's Eve Party Tips

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season so far.  Here are some "green" tips for New Year’s Eve.

 Top Green New Year's Eve Party Tips

  1. Beat the crowds
    There's a certain excitement to being out in a group on New Year's Eve, but if you stay home and host your own ring-in-the-new shindig, you'll save transportation emissions—and, of course, money. You'll also be able to better control the environmental impact of your night, from sending out email invitations to preventing the food and paper waste that comes from bars and restaurants. (Oh, and you can let your friends crash so no one has to drive.) Even the Times Square ball is a little greener since switching to LED bulbs in 2006—isn't it time you were, too?
  2. Choose glass over paper
    Once you've decided to have everyone over for the big event, you'll have to find a way keep them all fed and hydrated—without ending up with a pile of wasted plastic cups. Look for brands made from recycled paper—like those from Treecycle who makes biodegradable dishes and cups from sugarcane fiber—and make sure you compost those after the party. Even better, if you don't own enough china and glassware for all your friends, rent some: they look nicer, they're reusable, and you still won't wake up to a sink full of dishes. Check Rental HG to find a rental location in your area.
  3. Satisfy the appetites
    Your guests will need some food to counteract the effects of all those drinks. Keep it simple with a spread of easy appetizers, homemade salsa or hummus, and fresh fruit and vegetable trays-with organic ingredients grown as close to you as possible (preferably from within 100 miles can help you track down a farmers market or community supported agriculture program in your hometown or, if you live in parts of the world where markets close for the winter, you can order online from Local Harvest's vendors—you can buy some carbon offsets to balance out the shipping expenditure. And you don't have to spend your entire year-end bonus, either—your party can be festive and fun without breaking the bank.
  4. Pour some green drinks
    Get your guests in the party spirit with a bar well-stocked with eco-friendly cocktails—whether it's organic vodka mixed with juice from your local orchard; beer from the brewery one town over; or biodynamic wine. Or make your own: Our How to Go Green: Cocktails guide offers recipes for easy DIY gin and ginger ale, plus specialty drinks like a Lemon Drop or a Rusty Nail, which tastes way better than it sounds, we promise.
  5. Decorate responsibly
    This is the year you can finally forego those plastic 2009 glasses, the cheesy top hats, the disposable noisemakers, the paper streamers. Try making your own decorations out of recyclable materials, from soda can lanterns to plastic bottle snowflakes; for a more elegant look, put together centerpieces and place settings that are stylish and eco-friendly. Skip the throw-away noisemakers and replace them with nutshells in a can or cardboard tube, or with dried beans rattling around inside two stapled-together paper plates.
  6. Toast with organic bubbly
    Champagne has long been the drink of special occasions, whether anniversaries, wedding receptions, or job promotions. Raise your glass to '08 with champagne and sparkling wine made from organic grapes and without synthetic additions-then make sure to recycle (or reuse!) your bottles and send your corks off for reuse in Design Within Reach's chair design contest or for recycling through Korks 4 Kids.
  7. Pucker up
    What's New Year's Eve without someone to kiss at midnight? Keep your lips soft with all-natural lip balm, like those from Revolution Organics or J.R. Watkins, and banish bad breath with organic breath mints from St. Claire's. Still single? No problem. Dating sites like Green Passions, Green Romance, and Planet Earth Singles will have you watching the ball drop with a fellow treehugger in no time.
  8. Cure the hangover
    No matter how much fun you had the night before, spending all of January 1 feeling like death on toast is no way to start the new year. Start the detox with a blend of organic herbs and seasonings, like those in Lotus Root Cooler or Ginseng Licorice Tea. Drink plenty of water—but not from disposable bottles—and fight headaches with thyme or peppermint tea. Tea alone won't help your body recover from last night; fill up on organic, free-range eggs, too, since they contain plenty of cysteine, which breaks down toxins in the liver. Other hangover helpers include bananas (for their potassium) and fruit juices (for their energy-boosting natural sugars and vitamins). Don't depend on coffee, burnt toast, or more alcohol—none of these will help your body replenish its stores. Fried food, while delicious, is better as a hangover preventative—it slows down the rate of alcohol absorption.
  9. Help keep food tradition alive (with a green twist)
    Different cultures and regions each have their own version of a lucky New Year's Day meal—black-eyed peas in the South, pork and sauerkraut for the Pennsylvania Dutch, 12 grapes eaten at the stroke of midnight in Spain. Other favorable foods include cooked greens, legumes, fish, and pastries or cakes. No matter which meal you choose, support local farmers and markets when you shop for ingredients, and choose free-range meat, organic fruit, and other natural supplies whenever you can.
  10. Make some resolutions
    Many of the same resolutions we make year after year—lose weight, eat healthy, stop smoking, get organized—aren't just good for you: they're also good for the environment. Read on for foolproof ways to do the Earth some good while (finally) sticking to your new plans.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Wow, Christmas is tomorrow with Boxing Day and the first day of Kwanzaa following on Thursday.  Thanksgiving and Hanukkah seem so long ago!  And can you believe that a week from now we’ll be welcoming in 2014! 
I hope everyone has had a happy, healthy and green holiday season so far and it will continue through the New Year! 
Remember the important part of the season is not presents but presence!  Make sure you get to spend quality time with family and friends and make memories that will last!
I hope that something you read here in the past year has enabled you to make a ‘green’ change in your life and you will make Gene’s Green Scene a part of your green routine in 2014. 

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 23, 2013

What to do with your greeting cards

Recycled Card Program

We Accept New and Used, All-Occasion Greeting Cards Year-Round!!
St. Jude's Ranch for Children recycles your used greeting cards and creates new holiday and all-occasion greeting cards. Recycled cards are sold to support our programs and services for abused, neglected and homeless children, young adults and families.
The program is beneficial to everyone – customers receive fun, "green" holiday or other occasion cards they can feel good sending to their friends and loved ones, and the children at St. Jude's Ranch receive payment for their work and learn basic job skills and the importance of recycling.

Recycled Card Program History
More than thirty years ago, wishing to show our donors appreciation for making St. Jude's Ranch for Children possible, the idea was conceived to turn the previous year's Christmas cards into "new" cards for the coming season. The recipients were so delighted when they received the unique "thank you," that they requested to purchase the special cards. The program soon expanded to include all-occasion greeting cards.

How It Works
Operated by Kids' Corp., a program designed to teach entrepreneurship skills, the children at the Ranch participate in making the new "green" cards by removing the front and attaching a new back. The result is a beautiful new card made by children and volunteers.

NOTE: We currently have an increased need for both Birthday and Thank You card submissions. You may purchase cards in our online store or call (877) 977-SJRC (7572)

Cards are sold in packets of 10 for $17.00 including shipping and are available in the following categories:
  • General Christmas Cards
  • Religious Christmas Cards
  • Easter Cards
  • Birthday Cards
  • Thank You Cards
  • Sympathy
  • Thanksgiving
  • All-Occasion Blank Greeting Cards

To Donate Cards:
Year-round, we happily accept used all-occasion greeting cards. Please review the following tips before sending in your donation.
  • Only the card front can be used (please check to be sure the backside of the front of the card is clear of any writing, etc.)
  • We cannot accept Hallmark, Disney or American Greeting cards
  • 5 x 7 size or smaller is preferred
  • To mail large quantities in the least expensive way, use a USPS (United States Post Office) Flat Rate Box (available at your local Post Office), which holds up to 70 pounds

  • Mail donations to:
    St. Jude's Ranch for Children
    Recycled Card Program
    100 St. Jude's Street
    Boulder City, NV 89005

Friday, December 20, 2013

How to grow and re-bloom poinsettias

JPinching them back, giving them good sunlight and a night rest in the fall are the keys to re-blooming the signature plant of Christmas.

Dec 29 2011

Year in and year out, Americans buy more poinsettias than any other type of flowering indoor potted plant. Last year, for example, 36.1 million pots of poinsettias with a wholesale value of $146.1 million were sold in the United States, according to the USDA Floriculture Crops 2010 Summary. 

Sales of spring flowering bulbs were a distant second at 22.5 million pots with a wholesale value of $59.8 million, according to the same report. Orchids were third in pots sold at 21.1 million, but, interestingly, had the highest wholesale value, $170.1 million. No other indoor flowering plant — Easter Lillies, African violets, florist chrysanthemums, azaleas or roses — came close to poinsettias in either number of pots sold or value.

After the holidays, what are homeowners to do with all of those poinsettias?

Many will throw them away. However, with proper care, poinsettias can be grown as perennials in outdoor gardens in frost-free areas or as house plants elsewhere.

Here is a guide to keeping your poinsettia fresh during the holidays and to re-blooming it next Christmas.

Holidays, winter
Place the plant in a sunny room but avoid areas with cold drafts or excessive heat. When the soil is dry to the touch, take the plant to the kitchen sink, remove any decorative wraps and water it until the water drains through the bottom of the pot. Do not let the plant sit in water and do not fertilize it while it is in flower.

In March or April, cut the plant back to about eight inches high. Water regularly, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Fertilize once a month with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. By the end of May, the plant should be growing vigorously. Be aware that in its native habitat of Mexico and Central America the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) can grow as large as a small tree, up to 16 feet tall.

In early June, re-pot your plant in a larger pot, but make sure the new pot is no more than four inches wider than the original pot. Use a potting mix high in organic matter, such as peat moss. In frost-free zones, it can be transplanted into the garden. Best results will be obtained in a bed rich in organic matter that has good drainage and receives strong sunlight.

For potted plants, place outdoors in a bright location after all danger of frost has passed and nighttime lows are 55F or higher. Continue watering regularly, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Increase the frequency of fertilizing to every two-three weeks.

Frequent pruning will be required to keep the plant bushy and compact. Each time a new shoot gets four-five inches long, just pinch off the growing tip. Pinching forces the plant to branch, creating the bushy look it had when you bought it. Do not pinch off any growths after September 1.

This is the most critical period. Decreasing hours of daylight and increasing nighttime hours cause poinsettias to set buds that produce flowers. (Note: What look like brightly colored flowers are really leaves. The flowers are the yellow buds within the colored leaves.) Starting October 1, plants must have complete darkness for 14 hours every night. It is this long period of darkness that causes the leaves to change colors. Homeowners have tried a variety of ingenious ways to accomplish this – from putting them in a closet to covering them with a box. Use whatever “trick” works for you.  But, be aware that any stray light from a street or household lamp or other source could delay or stop the color-changing process.

From October to December, give the plants strong light (this is what gives the leaves their bright color) but do not keep them outdoors if the temperature falls below 60F. Continue watering and fertilizing them as you did in the summer. If all goes well, the plants should flower in 8-10 weeks, just in time for the holidays.

A Sustainable Christmas

Sustainable ChristmasH860 by Artist David Price
A Forest of Sustainably Grown Trees: When buying paper, look for paper products with 100% Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) or paper from sustainably-managed forests. Use soy or vegetable inks – they require less processing and often last longer. At work, try printing your documents double-sided or set your print margins at ¾” or less. If everyone did, it would save about 6 billion trees a year.
2 Reusable Bags: The average person uses 150 plastic shopping bags a year, but only recycles 5! If everyone went reusable for a year, that would save the same amount of petroleum as taking 100,000 cars off the road!
3 Dialed Down Temps: Washing everything in cold water saves the average house 1200+ lbs of carbon dioxide a year. Each degree turned down on a thermostat saves about 2% in energy cost and consumption annually, and turning your water heater down to 130 degrees saves the average household 5%!
4 Crammed Carpoolers: Try packing your car full of passengers and lower everyone’s carbon footprint in one fell swoop! Cutting miles that you travel alone is far more effective at reducing energy-use than getting better gas-mileage.
5 Green Rings: Recycle, recycle, recycle! All major cities have recycling service now, yet only 24% of recyclable material gets recycled! Just recycling your daily newspaper saves about a tree a year.
6 Short Showers: Showers account for 2/3 of all water used at home, averaging 2.5 gallons per minute. Cut just 2 or 3 minutes out of your shower time and consume 10-15% less water every month! Even better, low-flow shower heads can double your savings.
7 Gardens Growing: Grow your own and they will be tastier and better for the environment! Strawberries, for example, are easy to grow at home, but when grown commercially require exorbitant amounts of pesticides and fertilizer for a relatively low yield. Try growing them yourself in a pot!
8 Taps a-Filling: The average American uses over 160 water bottles (a petroleum product) per year, and only about a quarter of these are recycled. Cut down on waste by refilling water bottles and reusing them. Tap water in most urban areas is cleaner than bottled anyway! (Seriously! Look it up!)
9 Unplugged Electronics: About 5% of total energy consumed in the average household each day is from “standby” electronics. Save money and the environment - put electronics on a power strip and turn it off when not in use!
10 Local Veggies: Buy local whenever possible, particularly for meat and veggies. Food travels an average of 1500 miles from where it’s grown to where you buy it, even organics, and often requires additional energy for refrigeration along the way. In addition, transported foods require more processing and packaging – which takes energy and creates waste. Support a local farmer and do something good for the environment; visit a farmers market near you!
11 Riders Riding: Passenger cars create about 25% of all greenhouse gases, 80% of which comes from commuting to and from work. Using public transit, carpooling, riding a bike, or telecommuting can cut your energy consumption in half or more!
12 Items Swapping: Consuming fewer new goods and reusing more is one of the most effective ways to be sustainable! Try sites like swapstyle.com, paperbackswap.com, swapacd.com, swapadvd.com, or goozex.com. Or, start a swap in your own neighborhood!
Sources: Natural Resource defense council, slate.com, lazyenvironmentalist.com, msnbc.com

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tree Thursday - Ipe

Pink Ipe or Purple Trumpet Tree
Tabebuia impetiginosa

<![if !vml]><![endif]>I saw this tree blooming just the other day (December 17, 2013) along NE 3rd Street just east of NE 3rd Avenue.  We don’t have many of these trees around Fort Lauderdale and like most Tabebuia trees, they pretty much go unnoticed when not in bloom.  Usually this tree is in full bloom in early spring but I guess conditions got right for it to explode into color a few months early.  Yes, this is what December looks like in Fort Lauderdale!

This Tabebuia can handle a little cold weather and you may see specimens up in the Orlando area.  In South Florida it will get to be around 25 feet tall and has smooth gray bark.  We probably should scatter a few more around the City.  We have planted some in the Riverland area but haven’t had a great deal of success in getting them to grow.

Origin – West Indies
Growth Rate – Slow
Salt Tolerance – Medium
Drought Tolerance – High
Flowering Season – normally Spring and Summer

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to use native plants in your holiday decorations

Making a unique holiday plant arrangement is as easy as going into your backyard.
By Tom Oder  Dec 18 2012

There’s a reason that decorating with fresh greenery and seasonal fruits, nuts and berries for the holidays has as much appeal today as it did in winter festivals of centuries past. Boughs from trees such as magnolia, garland of pine branches strung together and sprigs from rosemary and other fragrant herbs represent everlasting life and hope for the return of spring.

In the Southern United States, greenery has been used for decorations since colonial times. The practice didn't come into use in the North until the 1800s. Perhaps one of the best glimpses into traditional ways of using greenery to create effective holiday decorations can be seen by taking a Christmas-time stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in restored Williamsburg, Va.

During the holidays, windows are decorated with greenery and wreaths on the doors are laden with apples, pineapples and other fruit. The natural decorations are a tradition historians believe the first settlers brought with them from England. While today’s decorations in Virginia’s colonial capital are more elaborate than those that would have been used 400 years ago, they are an inspiring guide to how we can make traditional wreaths, garlands and other decorations from the bounty of our gardens.

Where to find greenery
Start in your own garden. You won't find fresher greenery at a better price than the trees, bushes and vines outside your front or back door. And, if you are an avid gardener, the selection of unusual plants will likely be far better than you can find from a commercial vendor. Another bonus by making cuttings from your own garden is that the colors, forms and textures of today’s modern hybrids will reflect your tastes and personality.

There are several things to remember when cutting your own garland and trimmings:
  • Not all holiday greenery is true "green." The spikey foliage of Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), for example, may have a grey or blue cast with a slight bronzing of the tips in winter
  • When removing limbs and stems, you are pruning the plants. Give careful consideration to what you cut and what you leave. The goal is to trim the plant in a manner that helps it keep its natural form.
  • You may spot the bright red berries of nandina in a neighbor's yard. Or they may have a magnolia tree whose glossy green leaves would be perfect for decorating your mantle. Always ask permission before trimming someone else's plants!
  • Don't cut greenery from parks or other public land, no matter how tempting.
  • If you see specimens growing in other gardens you would like to use for holiday decorations, consider purchasing similar varieties for your garden next spring.

Types of greenery
Many different kinds of greenery can be used for holiday decorations. Pines, firs and cedars work well indoors because they dry out slowly and hold their needles best at warm interior temperatures. They may last for several weeks if properly treated and cared for. Spraying holiday greenery with an anti-transpirant, for example, will help preserve it. Anti-transpirants reduce the amount of transpiration, or water loss from plant leaves, and are available from garden centers, hardware stores and can sometimes be found at Christmas tree lots. Hemlock, spruces and most broadleaf evergreens will last longer if used outdoors.

Here are some suggested varieties to use in holiday decorating:

Boxwood: This small-leafed shrub is a longtime favorite for fine-textured wreaths and garland. It has an aroma that is either loved or hated, so be sure of your reaction before bringing it indoors!
Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana): This native juniper (at right) may have a grey or blue cast with a slight bronzing of the tips in the winter. Avoid spraying with anti-transpirant — which help keep foliage from drying out too quickly —because it tends to darken the foliage. The branches have a wonderful cedar scent and produce an abundance of light blue berries.
Firs: All firs have wonderful scent and good tolerance of hot, dry indoor conditions. The needles are short and flat with excellent color and needle retention. Fraser fir wreaths and swags are commonly available from commercial sources.
Florida-anise tree (Illicium floridanum): This often under-appreciated shrub is great when used as a holiday decoration because of its aromatic foliage. The plant’s unusual greenery may need a little more care to remain fresh, so it is helpful to provide moisture to the stems after cutting to keep them looking their best.
Holly: This most traditional holiday greenery comes in several forms, both green and variegated. Female plants display bright red berries. Make sure that holly does not freeze after cutting, or the leaves and berries may blacken.
Ivy: This vigorous vine is readily available in many yards. It makes an excellent green for holiday arrangements and is especially effective in raised containers from which the vines can tumble over the edges. The cut ends must be kept in water, though, or the leaves will quickly wilt.
Junipers: The fragrant, short, green or silver-blue foliage frequently has the added attraction of small blue berries. The needles are often sticky.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia): The state flower of Pennsylvania, mountain laurel is a traditional favorite for wreaths and garlands in the areas where it grows naturally. As with other broad-leaved evergreens, however, laurel holds up best when used outdoors.
White pine: (Pinus storbus): The soft, bluish-green, long needles are beautiful in their own right, but the cones the plant produces add an extra element of interest. The foliage is often wired into roping to hang indoors and outdoors. Use restraint, however, when applying anti-transpirant to pines because it can cause the delicate needles to stick together.
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora): The large leaves are a glossy, dark green that contrast well with the velvety, brown undersides. Magnolia leaves make stunning wreaths and bases for large decorations. The leaves hold up very well even without water. Avoid spraying anti-transpirant on the undersides of the leaves because it will ruin the beautiful fuzzy texture.
Spruce: Wreaths are the main use for spruce greens. The branches are stiff with short, sharp needles. Blue spruce is especially attractive because of its color, and it holds its needles better than other spruces. Needle retention is poorer on spruce than on other conifers. It also produces cones that can be used to embellish decorations. The foliage can be wired into roping to hang indoors and outdoors. Use restraint when applying anti-transpirant because it can cause the delicate needles to stick together.
True cedars: Deodar cedar, blue Atlas cedar, and cedar-of-Lebanon all have a wonderful fragrance. If small male cones are present, spray them with lacquer or acrylic to prevent the messy release of pollen that will occur at room temperature.
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana): This native pine has shorter, coarser needles than white pine, and is long-lasting with excellent needle retention.

Some other excellent evergreens that can be used for holiday greenery include:
  • Arborvitae
  • Ligustrum 
  • Pittosporum
  • Podocarpus
  • Viburnum
  • Cypress
  • Nandina
  • Japanese cedar
  • Hemlock

In addition to commonly used evergreens and unusual plants from your own garden, sprays of berries, dried flowers, cones and seed pods add color and contrasting texture to holiday decorations. How you use these is limited only by your imagination and creativity. The possibilities include:
  • Acorns 
  • Bittersweet
  • Holly berries
  • Hydrangea blossoms
  • Lotus seed pods
  • Magnolia pods
  • Mistletoe
  • Nandina berries
  • Pecans
  • Pine cones (at right)
  • Pyracantha
  • Reindeer moss
  • Rose hips
  • Sweet gum balls
  • Wax myrtle berries

Think outside the evergreen box
Some plants that aren’t evergreens make excellent accents to holiday arrangements. Several of these to consider include:

  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’): As their names imply, the stems are brilliant red and bright yellow. They are extremely effective as strong vertical elements.
  • Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata): When this is deciduous shrub loses its leaves in the fall, it exposes stems that are covered in bright red berries that put on a seasonal display that can't be beaten.
  • Winter Gold winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’): The gold-apricot berries of the ‘Winter Gold’ variety of of winterberry offer a contrasting alternative to this typically red-berried plant.

Keeping greenery safe and fresh
Here are some tips to keeping greenery from becoming s fire hazard and looking as fresh as possible as long as possible.

  • Make sure you have several sizes of cutters. Small clippers won't cut though magnolia boughs.
  • Clean and sharpen the blades.
  • Fill a bucket with water before starting. Put cut the freshly cut ends into the water and store them out of direct sunlight in a cool dry place such as an unheated garage until you are ready to use them.
  • Crush the ends of woody stems. This will allow the cut end to take in more water.
  • Soak the greenery in water overnight by immersing it in water. This allows the cuttings to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
  • Allow the foliage to dry and then spray it with an anti-transpirant. Do not use anti-transpirants on juniper berries, cedar or blue spruce, because they can damage the wax coating that gives these plants their distinctive color.
  • Store finished wreaths, garlands and arrangements in a cool location until you are ready to place them in your home.
  • Do not place fresh greenery and fruits near doors or windows that get direct sunlight or close to candles or near heat vents.
  • Have a backup plan to replace greenery and fruits during the holidays if they become less than fresh. A simple way to check for freshness every few days is to bend needles and leaves. They should be flexible and and not break or crack. When removing greenery, put it in compost piles or place it by the curb for recycling.
Safety for children and pets
When using natural decorations, bear in mind that some popular berry-producing plants can present poisoning hazards for small children and pets. Hollies, yews, mistletoe, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet and crown of thorns all produce poisonous berries. The pearly white berries of mistletoe are particularly toxic. Keep all these plants out of the reach of inquisitive children and curious pets and be sure to pick up and discard any berries that may fall off during the decorating process.

Planning ahead
In the spring when your garden comes back to life and you visit nurseries shopping for plants, think about those that have colors, textures and berries that would add charm and appeal to your Christmas decorations. What could be better than a garden with year-round appeal?

Related posts on MNN: 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Use Your Christmas Tree in the Garden

Something to think about after you are finish with your Christmas tree…

Use Your Christmas Tree in the Garden

Don't just give it away. Your old tree can work wonders in your garden.

By Colleen Vanderlinden  Harper Woods, MI, USA | Dec 2009
Christmas trees can be a real conundrum. Real or fake? Living or, um, not-living? Which has the least environmental impact, and how can we lessen any impact our tree has on the planet?
In all honesty, the option with the least impact is the one Mickey Z. suggests: don't get a tree.
For some of us, though, the holidays just aren't the holidays without something upon which to drape garlands and those antique glass ornaments from our grandma. We can choose a living tree, and plant it out in the yard when the holidays are over. Or we can buy a cut tree from an organic tree farm, and then recycle it. Better yet, put that tree to use in your garden.

Five Ways to Use a Holiday Tree in Your Garden

1. Cut the branches off and lay them over perennials in your garden. This will provide protection from temperature fluctuations and prevent the plants from heaving out of the soil.
2. Once you've used all the branches, you'll be left with a trunk. Don't get rid of it! I've used the trunks from a few of our holiday trees to make teepees to grow beans on, rustic fences, and as supports for shade covers and floating row covers.
3. You can cut the branches up into smaller pieces and use them to mulch your beds or garden paths. Don't think you need a big, gas-guzzling chipper for this! I use a pair of trusty bypass pruners, and snip a few branches into pieces each time I go out into the garden. It takes a little more time, but it's free, easy, and doesn't have any impact on the environment.
4. Provide a home for the birds. Once you're done with it indoors, remove the decorations and place your tree, stand and all, out in the yard. Birds will find it and use it as shelter during the winter months. In spring, once the birds don't need it anymore, either chip it up or lay it on its side in a part of your yard where it can serve as a brush pile for other backyard wildlife.
5. Cut the branches off and use them at the base of a fresh compost pile. It's a good idea to have coarser materials, like tree branches, at the bottom of the pile because it helps increase air flow to the pile.
Being green doesn't mean getting rid of the beloved traditions in our lives. It means making new traditions, and really thinking about how we can green those traditions. Reusing a holiday tree is one easy way to do that.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The seven stones of simpler living

Here are a few ideas that can help you live a lighter, healthier, more sustainable life.
By Chris Baskind      May 2010

When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes take us to a campground called Paradise Park. It was a little camp in the California foothills: a woodsy reserve dotted with old oak trees sloping down to a well-shaded river.

Most of the time, it wasn't much more than a stream. But its bed was thick with well-worn river stones, testimony to uncountable seasons of floods and the persuasive nature of water. Over the centuries, the river had slowly carried away mountainsides, tumbling and cracking rock, reducing boulders into a rainbow of smooth, flat stones the size of a child's hand. We'd spend hours picking through the best of them, finding the perfect rock to skip across the river. Invariably, we'd build little stacks of stones along the bank.

There's something deeply satisfying about stacking stones. It's a common motif in Zen gardens, which seek to create order out of nature's seeming chaos. In doing so, they highlight the harmony and balance of our place in the world.

It's not difficult to find a lesson in the stones for those of us trying to simplify our sprawling lives. We've chosen seven from the riverbed for you today — ideas that can help you live a lighter, healthier, more sustainable life. Stack them as you will.

Reduce your consumption
Anyone who thinks they can shop their way to greener living has been watching too much television. Sure, responsible consumerism matters. Every purchase is a choice. But the key to simpler, greener living is pretty straightforward: consume less. A simple way to cut back on unnecessary purchases is the one week rule. Unless you have a real show-stopper, write down the things you need and sit on them for seven days. Stores are designed to encourage impulse spending, so staying away as much as possible is good news for your bank account. After a week, round up the items you still need and group them together with an eye toward combining as many trips as possible. Then stick to your list. While this all sounds very simple, you'll quickly realize how chaotic our spending habits can be — and how much money you can save through better planning.

Reduce your waste stream
We call it garbage; other nations might call it wealth. There's no end to things we send to the landfill. Recycling helps, but the sheer volume of waste generated by the average household is overwhelming. From obsolete electronics to that mason jar you casually tossed in the trash last night, we're flooding our landfills while robbing ourselves of things which might be put to another use. Start by thinking twice when you purchase something: is whatever you're buying too heavily packaged? Do you need it all? Think again before putting anything in a trash or recycling bin. Nobody expects you to become a packrat, but that jar could easily be repurposed as a water bottle or something to pack a snack. Food scraps belong in the compost heap. Maybe that cardboard, too. For some idea starters on keeping things out of the bin, check out this helpful list from No Impact Man.

Trim your energy use
Energy prices have relaxed over the past few months as a direct result of the worldwide economic slowdown. But electricity, gasoline, natural gas and heating oil still represent a hefty portion of the average family budget. Unless you're fortunate enough to live in an area already invested in renewable energy, every unattended TV or flick of the light switch means you're burning fossil fuels. That means you're directly responsible for the air pollution and all the related consumables it took to bring that power to your wall socket. Learn to weatherize; replace or retire inefficient appliances; consider more energy-efficient lighting; and rearrange your living spaces so they take better advantage of natural heat, lighting and cooling. Switch things off and pocket the change. You'll probably enjoy the peace and quiet.

Prepare and grow your own food
If there's one lost art in the past decade or two, it's cooking real food. By "cooking," we don't mean warming up packaged food from the grocery store. We're talking about preparing meals from fresh ingredients. That's how our parents and grandparents did it. Admittedly, society has changed: with dual-income households and ever-expanding work schedules, it's easy to fall back on processed meals and fast foods. And that's a shame. Making a meal — whether it's just for yourself or a whole family — is the one of the little rituals which forces us to slow down and be mindful of what we eat. It's also healthier, and an enormous money saver. Not too handy in the kitchen? Take a class, or spend time cooking with someone you love. Real food needn't be complicated. And consider growing some of what you consume. Even if you're not blessed with the space to plant a garden, you can grow a satisfying crop of herbs and vegetables in modest containers.

Reduce your reliance on automobiles
We love our cars. And why not? Virtually everything about modern living — particularly in the United States — assumes automobile transportation. Think how much blacktop and concrete there is within a hundred yards of you right now. Our cities sprawl across what used to be countryside. Stores and businesses which make provision for bicycles and mass transit are the exception, and we feel inconvenienced if there's not plenty of parking within a few paces of wherever we travel. Dust off that bicycle or grab a backpack and get walking. Perhaps you could start by taking our 10-mile pledge. The more you leave your car parked, the more money you'll save and the healthier you'll feel. Start small, establish new habits, and you'll be surprised how much you can get done without burning a drop of gasoline.

Reduce your personal stress
It's not an accident that virtually every one of our "simplicity stones" has a meditative component. You have to make time to prepare food, choose walking over a car trip, or even make a proper shopping list. This is a good thing, because it forces you to unburden yourself of something else. We are hopelessly overstimulated. Living a greener life is less about learning new things than letting go of the old. Think about all the tasks you do in a week that take longer than 30 minutes. Look most carefully at social obligations, hobbies — even the time you spend online. Have any of these become a chore? What could be jettisoned? It could be something as simple as dropping a social network, or a repetitive task which could be delegated to others. You could probably find a few extra hours a week in this manner. Don't be in a hurry to fill them. Pick up a book, talk a walk, or putter in the garden. Light physical activity is a great way to trade stress for a little extra serotonin. If you're doing a good job saving money, you might be able to afford that once-a-week massage. Now, at least, you'll have time to fit it in.

Learn to give back
You've reduced your consumption. There are a few extra dollars in the bank. Your environmental footstep gets a little smaller from month to month, and you've managed reclaim some time from the chaos of your week. Now you're ready to give back. How you join in is a personal decision. Teach your newfound skills to others, help people find jobs, or assist a faith or social group. As you learn to slow down and simplify, chances are that opportunities to serve will find you.

Seven stones — but, of course, there are more.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

6 Green Ways to Wrap Gifts

By Diane MacEachern

Updated: 12/10/2008  
I love surprises, so using some kind of wrapping adds to the fun of giving the present. Otherwise, why not just throw the gift at the giftee and say, "Hope you like it!"
What I hate is seeing so much beautiful paper just being ripped up and tossed aside. Honestly, these days, it's a little embarrassing to put bags full of ripped-up paper out on the curb for trash pickup. And I just can't get beyond the fact that making paper is one of the most polluting industries on earth. The less I use, the better.
Hence, my list of green wrapping paper alternatives:
1.       Reusable cloth bags - $7.95 - $8.50 or  Reusable shopping bag - $.99
Available at almost any grocery store. 
2.       Holiday gift bags - free
I reuse the bags from gifts people have given me.   Reused gift wrap - free
I "capture" it as it’s coming off the present, fold it up, and put it in a box so I can easily find and reuse it next year.
3.       New recycled gift wrap
Pristine Planet offers recycled, recyclable paper online. If you're buying when you're at the mall, ask the salesclerk for the most eco-friendly option they sell.
4.       Kitchen towels
Ideally, these towels would be made from organic cotton, but anything reusable is a good choice.
5.       Scarves
Rather than wrap an entire box, tie a decorative scarf around the box and attach a tag made from a recycled gift card.
6.       Sunday comics - free
As for gift tags, reuse last year's holiday cards. Cut off the card that has the signature, thread a ribbon through a corner of the remaining card, and voilĂ !
One caveat about any kind of printed wrapping paper: The inks and foils used in wrapping paper may contain chemicals that become toxic when burned. If you can't reuse the paper, don't burn it: Recycle it.