The Stress Less Lawn

The less than perfect lawn

We used to call this the “Freedom Lawn”–as in “free” from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. But these days, that almost sounds like a political statement, so in the interest of maintaining political neutrality, I am renaming it the “stress-less lawn.”

What am I really talking about? A lawn that doesn’t look like a perfectly manicured golf course or estate lawn–because let’s face it, those lawns are ridiculously difficult to maintain. Most of us do not live in climates–or have the soil–to have acres of lush rolling green grass. That sort of monoculture is problematic at best.

Why? Well, first, it is a monoculture, and any sort of monoculture requires that everything look the same. Since soil (and subsoil) varies over your property, it’s difficult to maintain grass well.

Then there are those pesky trees! You know those lovely things that you planted for shade? Well, darn it, now they’re shading out your grass! And their roots are competing with the grass’ roots! The nerve!

And if you have island flower beds, it gets even worse–so you see my point. You really have to struggle to get all that grass to grow under conditions that are not the same, even on your own property.

Or, you could just let whatever grows there, flourish. It will be different in every season. Right now in my yard, I have some lovely white and purple (and a few solid purple) violets.


Then there are these sweet ferns that come up here and there. They’re not terribly bothered even when their tops get mowed down every couple of weeks. They just come back again. If I need a fern for the garden, I’ll transplant one.

Fern in the lawn

Around the edges–and even in some low spots in the middle–I have some moss. This stays low enough that it never gets mowed down–the mower just goes right over it.


And while it’s a little early for clover, I have that to look forward to–as well as a sweet, low-growing St. John’s wort that blooms with a pretty yellow flower.

Speaking of yellow flowers, I do have some dandelions, which are very welcome to the bees. I generally do not weed them out until after the first flowering. They are very cheery after a long winter.

And that is how you grow a “stress less” lawn. We don’t irrigate at all and of course, being completely organic, we don’t use any of the “cides:” pest, herb or fung at all, ever. A little hand weeding and some mowing is about the extent of the “hard” work.

Our pollinators are happy–and we have more free time as well!

Recycling and “Other” Life Changing Events

On Monday, I talked about the many ways my life had changed since that first Earth Day in the 70s or even since I first “married” my house and my husband 22 years ago. These things are all changes for the better and they are so automatic that for the most part I don’t even think about them–which makes them far easier to incorporate into daily or weekly routines.

What sorts of things am I talking about? How about lighting for a start. Does anyone use incandescent bulbs anymore? Or how about CFLs? For the most part, our home is all LEDs and I am so grateful we’ve made the switch both from an energy efficiency standpoint, but also as someone who gets dreadful migraine headaches. The LEDs are much easier on the eyes. The CFLs have an almost imperceptible flicker–but if you get migraines and are sensitive to light, you know what I am referring to.

Then there are the reusable totes. I hope most folks are using those by now. They save so much plastic. I did recycle my plastic bags prior to using these–but if I never have to take a plastic bag, it so much the better. I just place them back in the car when I am finished and they’re ready to go for the next time (the question of laundering–or wiping the insides of the plastic-y ones, is best saved for a different discussion).

And then there is recycling. Of course, the optimal goal is to have as little trash or recycling as possible. I am in awe of those families whose yearly trash fills a shoebox. I am not there–or anywhere close–yet. Still, our trash goes out just once a month (in winter months–in summer we roll the bin down more frequently just so it doesn’t become more fragrant).

We do have more recycling than trash. Our bin is full every two weeks without fail. I like to think that that is because we make a concerted effort to recycle every single thing we can–and that’s partly it. The other part is that we still get too many paper newspapers (I can’t convince The Spoiler to go digital) and too much junk mail, sadly.

One Monday, I will talk about the many ways the garden is improved from that original Earth Day in the 70s!


How Has Your Life Changed….

Happy Belated Earth Day!

This post changed a lot from when I originally thought about it. Originally, I was thinking about it the night of April 15, when sleet and snow were pinging at my window and I was thinking “where’s my global warming?!”

And as I thought about that, I thought, wait a second. It’s not even funny to joke about that. And I started to think about all the ways my life has changed since the original Earth Day back when I was in elementary school–or even back when I first “married” my house and husband 22 years ago.


So when I woke up to this nasty mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain on April 16, I wasn’t quite as depressed as I should have been. Because, of course, April has all these wonderful ecological holidays: Earth Day, which this year was yesterday, Sunday April 22, and Arbor  Day, which in my state, is celebrated on the last Friday in April, so April 27.

So it’s absolutely wrong to think about asking for “global warming,” particularly in a month that celebrates the earth in such wonderful ways!

Indeed, later that same day, we wound up with downpours of rain–something that is very indicative of climate change–so I guess you need to be careful what you even think about asking for!

On Friday –Arbor Day– will get back to that theme of “life changing.” I will bet you haven’t thought about how many ways your life has changed for the better–and to help the Earth!

Home Grown Spaghnum Moss?


If I told you that this was a piece of spaghnum moss harvested from my backyard,  would you think I was crazy?

We have a mat outside our back door–on the north side of the house. It grows  moss like most gardens grow weeds.

One day a week or two ago,  I went out and noticed that the moss had been all disrupted–torn away and was lying in sheets and pieces around the mat. So I picked some up and that’s when I noticed how much like spaghnum this moss was.

It’s so much like spaghnum in fact  that I brought some of the more disrupted pieces in and put them in my orchids. No point in wasting them.

I suspect that squirrels or more likely chipmunks had been digging around in the moss to get to seeds or acorns or both that had fallen on the moss and the mat. I don’t think squirrels or chipmunks care about moss.


I adore it–but on the other hand, I tried to tamp the larger sheets of it back into place. (Notice all the mast around the moss on this mat, by the way). If I actually thought I was growing my own spaghnum,  I would have entirely different ideas about using it!

House Plants That Clean the Air of Ammonia

Now this seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Many of you are saying, “But I don’t clean with ammonia, or use ammonia, so why do I need this?”

And I pray you need never know. But ammonia is not just a cleaning product, of course. It is also a by product of pet waste and human waste. And as someone who knows that pets are forever, I have had my share of sweet elderly dogs and can tell you first hand about how ammonia is a by-product of that.

So how to freshen the air after you have cleaned up the accidents that the poor pets (or elderly humans) can’t help? With plants, of course. (Just make sure to check out this chart, here, if you have pets that are likely to chew on plants so that you use the non-toxic ones!)

There are not a lot of plants that clean the air of ammonia–surprisingly, lilyturf grass (liriope spicata) is one that would be a non-toxic choice for pet owners (or those with young children). It is also a choice for low light situations.

Another good choice for low light situations is the Lady Palm (rhapsis excelsa). This one is going to be a little more finicky about humidity, however.

If toxicity is not a problem, our old friend the Peace Lily is a great choice and is tough as nails for low to intermediate light situations.

And if you have a sunny window, anthurium, often known as flame flower, is a great choice–but it too is toxic so be cautioned about that. They are often sold at the holidays and Valentine’s day because of their heart shaped red, pink or white flowers.

This concludes my series on house plants that clean the air. Next, let’s look at some garden trends for 2017!

House Plants that Clean the Air of Xylene and Toluene

On Friday, we finished the survey that NASA did of house plants that clean the air. But that’s not the end of the story. Other scientists have since expanded on that study and added other chemicals that they wanted to study, bringing to the final number 6 chemicals that house plants remove from the air.

This later group was studied BC and JD Wolverton. BC Wolverton was one of the principal investigators in the 1989 NASA study. You can find a great chart showing a list of all the plants studied, the chemicals they remediate, and whether they are toxic to pets, summarized here.

Why would you have xylene or toluene in your home or work space? These chemicals are primarily found in copiers, printers and beauty products–so most of us come in common with them in daily life.

And while I do not have a microgram comparison for these plants, some of the best plants for removing these chemicals (which appear to have been studied together) are as follows:

Spider plant, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, dracena marginata, snake plant, florist mum–in other words, most of our old friends from our other studies. Interestingly enough, dendrobium and moth (phalaenopsis) orchids also seem to work well for this purpose.

So once again, there is a plant for just about everyone in this list if you are concerned about removing these very common chemicals from your home, work space–or home office!

House Plants That Clean the Air of Formaldehyde

So far we’ve looked at plants that clean the air of TCE and benzene. Today we’ll look at formaldehyde. Unlike the other two chemicals, formaldehyde is still readily present in most of our homes and work spaces despite our best efforts. It can be found in all sorts of things from insulation and particle board furniture to grocery bags, waxed paper, tissues and paper towels. It’s used as fire retardants in our clothing and our furniture and as wrinkle resistant treatments as well. It’s even used in the glues backing our rugs! It too is found in natural gas if you heat or cook with it. It’s used in make-up products and nail polish–it’s pretty much everywhere around us!

Luckily, lots of plants remediate formaldehyde (which I wish I had known back when I had to take labs in high school and college since it gives me a splitting headache!) But now that I do know, I know how to cope if the carpet is being changed out, for example–and it really works!

NASA found these plants to be the top 5 best for removing formaldehyde from the air:

Bamboo Palm was the winner this time–it removed a whopping 76,000 plus micrograms (mcg) from the air over a 24 hour period. No other plant even came close to that number.

Janet Craig dracena was the next best plant–it removed over 48,000 mcg from the air.

The snake plant (sansevieria) came in third in this group. It removed over 31,000 mcg from the air. This is a good choice because it can live in a variety of light settings.

Dracena marginata came in next, removing over 20,000 mcg from the air.

And the Peace Lily removed over 16,000 from the air.

All of these plants are readily available just about anywhere and will grow just about anywhere. Of them all, I think the palm is probably the most finicky, simply because it needs more humidity than the rest to look good. But otherwise these plants are intermediate to low light plants that would do well in most home or office settings–but not in full sun!

House Plants That Clean The Air of Benzene

On Friday, I talked about TCE, where it comes from, and what plants are best at getting it out of the air. Today I am going to discuss benzene, another chemical that’s commonly found in and around homes and work spaces.

Benzene is going to be very familiar to most of us from the smell of gasoline. It’s also found in our homes if we heat or cook with natural gas.  So most of us have some exposure to it just by driving a car or perhaps by the way we heat our homes.

Fortunately, once again, we can rely on plants (according to NASA) to remove benzene from our environment. Additionally, the NASA study hypothesizes, but was unable to definitively determine, that the beneficial bacteria in the potting mix, activated by the plants roots, also helped to remove some of the benzene. Really interesting stuff!

A list of the bacteria found in the potting mix reads like some of the probiotics compounds that some of us take for our “microbiome.”  Hmm. No wonder they say playing in the dirt is good for you!

But I digress. Here are the best plants for removing the benzene from the air:

Gerber Daisy (once again the winner) at over 107,000 micrograms (mcg) per plant in the 24 hour period! Astonishing!

Next was the Florist or pot mum at over 76,000 mcg.

Peace Lily came in third at over 41,000 mcg (let’s hear it for the flowering plants–and even one that likes low light!)

Dracena Warneckei was next at over 39,000.

And the Bamboo Palm rounds out the top 5 with just over 34,000 mcg.

What’s great about this list is that there’s a plant on here for every light situation from full sun to a dark corner and intermediate light as well. And again, these are easily obtainable–and easy to grow–plants.

House Plants that Clean the Air of TCE

First, we want to know what “TCE” is and why we want it out of our air. TCE is short hand for trichloroethylene and it is probably in most of our homes and perhaps our work spaces as well. While it is no longer commercially acceptable due to its possible carcinogenic qualities, it was once found in paints, adhesives, dry cleaning fluids, lacquer, varnish and printing ink. Depending on the age of your home or work space, it is entirely possible that TCE is persistent in some of the surfaces there or perhaps even in the soil surrounding the building.

And while we still don’t have inexpensive ways to determine whether the soil we are gardening in is contaminated, there are ways to use plants to pull contaminants out of the air. (A suggestion: If you have any suspicion that there may be toxins in your soil, build raised beds and garden in those–at least with respect to your edible crops!)

NASA found that the top plants for cleaning  the air of TCE (in a 24 hour period) were as follows:

Gerber Daisy (this one surprised me) but this plant cleaned the air better than all the other plants combined. It removed an astonishing 38,000 plus micrograms (mcg)in the 24 hour period!

Dracena marginata and Peace Lily (spathiphyllum) were next best, each removing over 27,000 mcg per plant!

Janet Craig dracena removed over 18,000 mcg per plant.

And finally, the bamboo palm removed over 16,000 mcg per plant.

All of these plants are readily available to this day in garden centers, box stores and even some supermarkets.

So if you’re concerned about an upcoming renovation where paint strippers–or even paint that’s not low VOC might be used–these are the plants to bring in and put around to take the TCE out of the air.


Blooming Plants To Clean the Air

On Monday, we talked about some easy to care for plants to clean the air. But what if boring green–or green and white–just isn’t your thing? What if you need some flowering plants in your life? Never fear! There are some flowering plants that will clean the air as well.

Admittedly the list is shorter than the list of green plants–and for good reason, of course. Presumably it is the leaves that do most of the work of cleaning the air.

But nevertheless, there still are some flowering plants that are great air cleaners. And the list includes some plants you might not expect.

Moth Orchid

Phalaenopsis (moth) orchid (as well as dendrobium orchid)–both excellent at removing xylene and toluene. The dendrobium will cause oral inflammation if chewed however in both animals and children so it might be wise to stick with moth orchids in homes with pets or children.

Florist chrysanthemum–while this plant is a master air scrubber, removing formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and other toxins from the air, it can be poisonous to dogs and cats so it wouldn’t be wise to bring it into a home with pets.


Anthurium–these plants are great at formaldehyde, xylene and toluene so they, like the mums, are master air scrubbers. They do need a high level of light to re-flower, however. And yes, these plants are usually red. As you can see, they do come in white as well, and there is a pink form too. So there are lots of choices for your décor.