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What plants are safe for my indoor pets?

Indoor Gardens and Pets

Many common house plants and outdoor plants are highly toxic to cats and dogs. If you keep both gardens and pets, you need to be certain your plants will not harm your animals. As all pet owners know, both cats and dogs like to dig in the dirt and chew your prized plants.

Some common house plants which can be harmful to pets include aloe, dieffenbachia, various ivy and lily plants, carnations, philodendron, and holly. These plants account for only a small percent of household plants which can be toxic to animals. Before bringing a new plant into your pet's home, always be sure it is not harmful.

If you simply cannot live without your aloe plants, keep them in a place beyond your pet's reach. For cat owners, this is nearly impossible and it is best to grow only pet-friendly plants and not take the risk.

For a complete list of harmful plants, more information on pets and potential toxins, or if you think your pet might have ingested a toxin, call your local veterinarian or visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control website, a great resource for pet-related questions.

What is Meant by Crop Rotation?

Why Crop Rotation is so Important in Vegetable Gardens

Whether you're a beginning vegetable gardener or one with a lot of experience, the valuable lesson you can learn about replanting your vegetable garden year after year, is the importance of crop rotation. Many of the diseases that affect plants lie dormant in the soil. During the growing season, while vegetables are growing in the ground, or in raised beds, the plants leach nutrients from the soil. This occurs naturally, and leads to the need for fertilizers.

Soil Nutrient Depletion

When the soil loses nutrients, and those aren't replaced by things such as green manure or compost, the soil becomes more susceptible to diseases. It's kind of like the things that happen to people to compromise their immune systems. The healthier the quality of the soil, the more capable it is of fighting off disease spreading insects, or worse, diseases that lie dormant in the soil.

Why Rotate Crops

The purpose of crop rotation is two-fold. On one hand, it prevents the soil from getting more and more depleted of nutrients, something that leads to severe soil erosion. Soil erosion compromises the integrity of top soil, potentially contaminating nearby water sources, and turning into dust producing dust storms when winds are exceedingly strong. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's affected the entire state, but the most severe damage occurred in the panhandle area. Drought and overuse of the land were the chief causes of this because cattle grazed on the land where grass had kept top soil in place. The more people plant the same crop in the same place, the greater the likelihood that the same thing could happen again.

The Irish Potato Famine was initially caused by an airborne fungus that traveled to the United Kingdom from Mexico. The fact that the poor Irish peasant farmers continued to plant potatoes just caused the fungus to spread, ultimately resulting in a famine that killed many thousands of people from typhus and other diseases. By continuing to plant potatoes after the initial fungus outbreak, the farmers insured that the fungus would continue to spread.

What is Crop Rotation?

Crop rotation simply means planting different vegetables in different places year after year. It requires that gardeners remember where different vegetables were planted each year. Garden design software or a simple pencil and paper drawing can accomplish this. Ideally, you should avoid planting the same types of vegetables in the same place. In other words, if you plant butternut squash in a certain location, you wouldn't want to plant other types of squash there. Likewise, it would be wise not to plant vegetables that grow on vines that run along the ground there.

Plan your garden so that vegetables that are more sensitive to the hottest part of the sun can be protected by the foliage of other plants. When planting, allow enough space that plants won't touch or create concealed places where insects can nest or diseases can lie dormant. Remove diseased plant debris as soon as you discover it, and keep your garden weeded. All of these things will prevent the development and spread of diseases and prevent insects from laying eggs there and spreading disease as they travel between plants.

How are house plants propagated?

Propagating House Plants

Most house plants can be propagated easily with the right steps. Propagated plants can fill your house with more greenery or supply a reserve of quick gifts for friends. Follow these steps and tips to start growing.

African Violets (Saintpaulia Ionantha)
African Violets make wonderful gifts when in bloom. Though notoriously difficult to grow, they can be easily propagated and, with the correct care, kept healthy. When caring for an African Violet, always remember that moderation is key. Too much or too little water or sunlight will harm the plant. These plants often fall victim to root rot when over-watered. African Violets thrive when watered from the bottom (try a self-watering planter or a pot with holes in the bottom placed in a bowl of water).

To propagate an African Violet, clip a single leaf from the parent plant. The leaf can be clipped with or without a stem (though, it is usually best to leave about an inch of the stem attached). Fill a small plastic cup (clear works well because the sunlight will warm the plant and the soil) with special African Violet soil and either place the leaf without a stem on top of the dirt or poke the stem of the leaf into the dirt. Water the plant so the soil is thoroughly saturated, but not pooling. Cover the cup with a small, plastic bag and place in a sunny location. Be sure to keep the soil moist at all times.

Once you see that the stem or leaf has grown roots, the plastic bag can be removed. Before you know it, the plant will sprout new leaves and eventually bloom. Usually, the propagated plant will flower the same color as its parent plant. Sometimes in cases where the parent plant grew from a grafted seed, your new plant will surprise you with a different colored bloom.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
Like African Violets, Christmas Cacti are also easily propagated. This particular type of cactus can survive in regular potting soil, but will do best in a potting soil designed for cacti.

In order to propagate a Christmas Cactus, break a couple of leaf sections from the parent plant between digits. If one leaf breaks from the plant, it can be rooted, but a chain of leaves works best. Poke the bottom leaf about an inch deep into soil in a small cup and place in full sun. Leave the plant uncovered, but keep it well-watered until it has rooted. You will be amazed by how quickly these starts will take off in the summer.

Many succulents can be propagated and sometimes propagate themselves when their leaves (or branches) fall from parent plants. Propagation works better with some succulents than others. To propagate a succulent plant, break a leaf from the parent plant and poke it into soil. This leaf can be grown in its own planter or in the same pot as its parent. There is no need to cover a succulent with a plastic bag or to keep the soil overly moist. Water the new plant just as you would its parent. Be especially careful not to over-water succulent plants. You will need to be more patient with your succulent plant starts because they grow more slowly than other plants mentioned in this article. As long as the leaf does not appear shriveled or molded, the plant is alive and will eventually sprout new leaves.

Pothos and Ivy Plants
Pothos and Ivy plants can be propagated as well. These plants, however, need to be rooted in water rather than soil. Cut a section from the plant and place it in a vase of water. Be sure to change the water every couple of days to keep the plant from rotting. After a while, you will see that roots have sprouted from the section of plant. At this time, the plant is ready to be potted in soil. Keep the soil moist at all times for the first couple of weeks that the plant is potted.

Plants can be propagated in fall and winter, but you will find the plants growing more quickly and that you have more success with spring and summer propagations. The warmer weather and longer hours of sunlight will help your plants grow. If propagating during the darker months, try using a grow lamp and terrarium.

How do I set up a worm bin?

Build a Simple Outdoor Worm Bin

If you have a few square feet of garden that you can spare, a worm bin can be easily set up on it. Just nail together a few boards into a square configuration, or cut the bottom off some sort of square container. Basically, you're just looking for four walls, at least 10 inches deep, which will hold their shape if they get wet. Now find something that will serve as a roof or lid, to keep the rain off. Bingo, you're done!

Scrape the soil flat in the garden where you're going to put your worm bin, and set your bottomless box on the soil. The worms won't try to get away. Now add some moist bedding material, which can be the black and white pages from newspaper, or portions of plain brown cardboard boxes. Wring out this material in water to give the worms the moisture they need.

Red wiggler (composting) worms can be ordered year-round through sellers on eBay. Once your worms arrive, put them all together into the bedding, and add some kitchen scraps. You can monitor the rate at which they consumer their food, and add more when they're getting low. It takes a few months for them to transform your leftover food waste, but their rate of consumption will increase as their population grows.

When the worms have produced a bin full of rich black compost for your garden, you can move it all to one side of the bin and add fresh bedding and food to the empty side. Then, after waiting for several days, the worms will have moved into the new area of their box and you will be able to harvest the compost.

What are nettles good for?


Stinging nettles are a valuable source of vitamin C, vitamin K, minerals and iron. When they emerge in the spring, the fresh shoots make a delicious bright green blood-purifying tea. Nettles have traditionally been used to encourage the production of breast milk, and to aid the kidneys and immune system. They stimulate the lymphatic system in a slow, gentle way and they are used as nutritional support for long-term and chronic disorders. They can be cooked fresh in the same manner that you would cook spinach - or, they can be dried and added to soups and casseroles.

If you wear gloves while you pick and prepare nettles, you won't get stung. Once they've been cooked, their stinging properties disappear. Clip their stems with scissors, rather than pulling them up by the roots, and the plants will continue to sprout in that location every year.

How can I make my garden eco-friendly?

Wildflowers for the Garden

In an era of growing sensitivity to environmental challenges, wildflowers can play an important role in the garden.

Wildflowers have a bad reputation because they compete with the gardener’s chosen flowers. Often, wildflowers compete so well because they are better suited to the environment than the flowers purchased from a nursery. Does it really make sense to raise cardinal flowers in an arid climate? Does it make sense to plant azaleas in clay soil? Sure, it can be done, by wasting water and wasting money on soil amendments. But doesn’t it make more sense to work with Mother Nature?

There is no shortage of lovely indigenous wildflowers that can be assets in the garden. One man’s weed is another man’s cultivar. In the United States, for example, goldenrod is often dismissed as a junk plant, growing amidst the untended brush. But that North American native is highly regarded in Europe, where it often sells for stiff prices in nurseries.

When planning your next flower garden, consider including -- intentionally -- a few wildflowers. Consider coneflowers for sunny spots, wood asters and native ferns for heavy shade, California poppies for drought-prone, low-nutrient soil. To get ideas about what wildflowers will work in your area, simply be observant. If yarrow is thriving along roadsides in your neighborhood, the odds are that it will do well in your garden, too.

Think outside the box. And you may just spend more time appreciating your garden and less time struggling to keep it alive.

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Sheri Ann Richerson
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