Monday, January 22, 2018

Growing succulents

Image result for succulents
Is it spring yet? I know we are in the dead of winter, but I am really longing for some color. I saw an article recently about blooming succulents, which got me to thinking. Yes, I have a plenitude of houseplants as my husband might note. However, I am only recipient to the occasional bloom from one of my peace lily or aloe vera plants. And, this will not sustain me until May.

According to University of Minnesota Extension, the term succulents refers to a very broad category of plants that have developed fleshy leaves or stems in order to survive arid conditions. In addition to plants in the cacti family, succulents also includes many common houseplants, such as the jade, snake, medicine and century plants. Even the flowering Kalanchoes, which are often sold as gifts, are included in this group.

Succulents require minimal watering, but they do need a bright, sunny window. They also prefer relatively low humidity, so if you have a humidifier in one of your rooms it might be a good idea to move the plant to another area of the house.

These plants also prefer well-draining sandy soil, so using a mixture of one part potting mix and one part coarse sand is a good idea. Also, make sure to use a container with drainage holes to avoid root rot. If you are working with a terrarium or enclosed container, then water minimally.

To bloom your succulents indoors, you need to recreate their native environment. University of Minnesota Extension says “this involves a combination of good light, dry soil, and cool nights”. They suggest a windowsill location because it will give the plant the necessary light along with cool temperatures at night. A list of cacti that are more likely to bloom indoors are listed here:

North Dakota State University has a wonderful photo gallery of a variety of succulents. They highlight hens and chicks, sedum, spiderwort, kalanchoe, burro’s tail and more. The Colorado Cactus and Succulent
Society also has some good resources related to growing these interesting plants.

Popular these days is the idea of grouping multiple species of succulents into a variety of containers. After searching on the internet, I found individuals growing these plants in old logs, bird baths, fountains, tea cups, water cans and even old shoes. Are some of these methods recommended? Probably not, but it does make for a unique creative expression. Without having drain holes, one runs the risk of root decay. Nevertheless, I like the ideas, because they look like fun! If the plant shows signs of decline, then transfer it to a more suitable container.

For some ideas and very basic instructions on making a succulent wreath, topiary, living picture, fairy garden, or a succulent globe, check out this master gardener article from the University of California.

Can you wait until spring for some color? If you want to try your hand with succulents, then keep an eye out for me when you visit your local nursery or home improvement center. I will be the one staring towards the ceiling with my finger tapping my chin as I ponder how many of these jewels I can realistically take home. With all these fun and creative ideas, why not get the whole family involved and a make an afternoon of it?

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Jan 21, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Herbal teas

Who doesn’t like a cup of warm tea, especially on a chilly afternoon? A dozen or so years ago, I started having an afternoon cup of tea as though I was British. I would mainly sip on herbal teas, such as tulsi and peppermint. I wasn’t think about any potential health benefits. I was just simply enjoying a cup of tea every afternoon.

Herbs have been used throughout modern history for soothing many of our common complaints. You can make tea from fresh or dried plant material. You can grow your own or purchase prepackaged bags from the store or online. Always purchase herbs from a reputable supplier being wary of clever marketing schemes.

The most common way to prepare a tea is through infusion, which basically means you soak the plant material in boiling water for a designated period of time. Leaves will infuse their compounds into the water faster than other plant parts, like flowers, that may require up to ten minutes of steeping. For stronger herbal infusions, plant parts may be steeped for four to eight hours or longer depending on the particular plant used.

According to the University of Wisconsin, the shelf life of tea is shorter if the plant parts have been crushed and bagged ahead of time. They recommend using these preparations in a few months. Whole herbs can be stored in an airtight container for about a year.

On the link above, the author shares ten different herbal teas noting their medicinal uses, level of research and scientific evidence for each particular use, safety, potential side effects and other possible interactions with medications. They studied some interesting herbs. Not all of which do I think would make for a pleasant tasting tea. They looked at chamomile, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, motherwort, nettle, peppermint, rosemary and valerian.

Some of the medicinal uses listed in the above study included relieving gastrointestinal complaints, lowering glucose and cholesterol, helping with respiratory issues, alleviating certain types of pain, and aiding with insomnia.

If you are considering trying a true herbal infusion or drinking tea for medicinal purposes, then please talk to your healthcare practitioner ahead of time.

Last year I had some DNA testing done and found out that my ancestry is, indeed, British. Maybe this explains that afternoon cup of tea I was learning to enjoy. Over the years, I have expanded that one cup of afternoon tea to having multiple cups of tulsi every day, a bit of sage tea at lunch followed by an afternoon pick-me-up using green or white tea. I also sip on chamomile in the evenings and even began experimenting with herbal infusions of oatstraw and nettle.

We will talk more about how to grow some of these plants for ourselves in the coming spring.

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

 Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Jan 14, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

All natural air purifiers

Do you have a plant in your home or office? If so, then you may have an air cleaner too. In NASA’s search for ways to clean the atmosphere in future space stations, they found there are many common houseplants that may reduce indoor air pollution.

Most of us remember how basic photosynthesis works. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Did you know that plants also absorb other pollutants, like ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides? Plants also collect dust, pollen and other matter on their leaves reducing the number of these particles floating around in the air. Michigan State University Extension shares “one study found that urban trees in the United States can remove 711,000 metric tons of air pollution annually”.

Since growing a small forest in the living room is not a possibility, I turned to NASA’s research to learn more about what they studied and which plants might be the most beneficial in a home or office environment. They studied the effects of a number of plants on the levels of benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde.

Benzene is a common solvent present in many basic items, such as paints, oils, plastics and rubber. It has been known to irritate the skin and eyes, cause respiratory issues, liver and kidney damage and even psychological disturbances.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is most commonly used industrially, but is also found in printing inks, paints, varnishes and adhesives. The National Cancer Institute considers TCE a potential carcinogen.

Formaldehyde is found in almost all indoor environments. Consumer paper products, such as grocery bags, wax paper, facial tissues and paper towels, as well as many cleaning products, contain this compound. It is also in floor covering and carpet backing. Formaldehyde can cause allergic contact dermatitis, irritation to the respiratory tract, and headaches.

NASA determined that certain houseplants have the potential to improve indoor air quality. And, interestingly enough, “the plant root-soil zone appears to be the most effective area for removing volatile organic chemicals”. The NASA study is posted online at:

For a complete list of the plants tested, please see the NASA link above. Here is a partial list: English ivy, spider plant, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, and several dracaena and philodendron species.

With winter in full swing, we are trying to reduce drafts in our home and conserve energy. However, as we increase insulation to retain heat, we are also trapping many of these air pollutants indoors.

This winter keep “sick building syndrome” away from your home or office by stopping by your local nursery and picking up some of these natural air cleaners. Also, healthy plants will be more efficient at cleaning the air. University of Missouri Extension has a helpful houseplant care guide here:

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Jan 7, 2018

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New year resolutions

Image result for happy new year
Does anyone bother to make New Year’s resolutions anymore? Have you ever actually kept one of those resolutions? I know I have tried on many occasions to firmly say to myself that I will or will not do this or that, but I cannot recall a single time I was successful. Do resolutions ever work? Apparently not very much. Research shows resolving to change our behavior works only about eight percent of the time. These are not very good odds.

According to University of Texas psychology professor, Art Markman, we set ourselves up for failure. He says in order to succeed with altering our behavior, we need to get a head start and then have staying power. Dr. Markman suggests focusing on positive not negative goals and creating new patterns of behavior, since one cannot unlearn a habit. He summarizes his online article by stating “real behavior change is hard” and reminds us to be kind to ourselves when we fail.

Now what does this have to do with plants? Eating a plant-based diet has been shown to be beneficial for our health. What about utilizing Dr. Markman’s suggestions for how to have a successful resolution and use that information to improve our health in the coming year?

According to cardiologist Dr. Francine Welty, research shows there are numerous benefits to a plant-based diet. Dr. Welty says most people are beginning to realize that consuming a lot of red meat has its downside. It has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and cancer.

How much red or processed meat can you eat? Dr. Welty suggests limiting your intake to a few servings per month. Were you thinking maybe a few servings a week? If we were back home in Oklahoma having this conversation, folks might say they could try to limit their intake to a few servings a day!

So does a plant-based diet mean I have to stop eating animal products entirely? No. It means to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes into your daily diet. There is a handy chart showing Harvard University’s idea of a healthy dinner plate here:
Image result for olive oil

Harvard Medical School’s recommendations for healthy eating are very similar to the Mediterranean diet which has been proven to lower the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Of course, if we follow the Italians and Greeks, then we get to include “olive oil, nuts, and moderate amounts of seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy” as well. You can take a quiz to find out how your current diet lines up with the Mediterranean plan at the Harvard link listed above.

Are you wondering if all the cookies and fudge you just ate over the holidays are a welcome part of a plant-based diet? Dr. Welty reminds us that even though the two main ingredients in a cupcake, flour and sugar, are from plants, they are not necessarily healthy. This is unwelcome news for me, because I definitely consumed more than my fair share of sweet treats recently.

How about making a resolution to eat some black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? Legend says they’re lucky, so don’t forget to pick some up at the grocery store this week!

Image result for black eyed peas vegetableKelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

 Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - Dec 31, 2017

Frankincense and myrrh

Image result for frankincense and myrrh
Around Christmas, the Biblical story of the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus is told throughout many families and churches. The gifts were reported to be frankincense, gold and myrrh. As a child, I knew gold was expensive and special, but what in the world was frankincense and myrrh. And why would you give it as a gift?

Richard Armstrong writing for the University of Houston said he thought someone had pulled a fast one when he learned that two thirds of the gifts given to the baby Jesus were incense. He likened frankincense and myrrh to the smelly cones the hippies used to burn back in the 1970s. Why would some aromatic dried up tree sap from a couple of trees be considered a precious gift?

Frankincense (Boswellia) and myrrh (Commiphora) were traditionally used in many religious rituals in ancient societies. The reason for these particular commodities being on par with gold during Biblical times was basically due to high demand and expensive transport costs. In order to transport these resins, sellers would have to travel by caravan across numerous political boundaries. Armstrong states that due to the many tolls and expenses encountered on their routes “the resins increased so much in value that they had to be guarded carefully by the time they reached their destination”.

The value of these two products currently is due in part to supply and demand, but also because of the labor-intensive way the resins are harvested. The University of Illinois states that in order to collect the tree’s sap, the bark is cut which causes the sap to ooze from the cut. This slow flowing sap is allowed to dry and harden on the tree for several months before being collected. Frankincense resin hardens to a translucent golden hue and myrrh resin has a white powdery exterior with a dark red interior.

The University of Illinois shares the most common uses for frankincense and myrrh are and have always been for the aroma. But, they have also been historically used for digestive and respiratory issues and topically in cosmetics and beauty aids.

More recently, researchers at the University of South Carolina Medical Center are testing the effects of boswellic acid, an extract from Indian frankincense, on breast and colon cancer tumors. While Rutgers University shares in an online article that extracts from myrrh may possibly be developed into a potent anticancer agent.

How can you incorporate a little frankincense and myrrh into your holiday season? You could certainly burn some incense, but I would recommend placing one or two drops of essential oil in a diffuser. These oils are quite expensive when undiluted and purchased from a reputable supplier, but one bottle will last a very long time. Frankincense is described as having a unique, woody aroma with top notes of citrus and spice, while myrrh is said to be smoky and earthy. 

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

 Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Dec 24, 2017

Herbs for the common cold

Achoo! Has anybody else been sniffling lately? All the sneezing, nose blowing and congestion this past week has led me to feel like a snuffleupagus. My nose is so inflamed it feels like an elephant’s trunk. Have you ever tried to search for a word you cannot spell? It took me 24 hours to figure out how to even come close to spelling snuffleupagus. I didn’t know if it was a real word or one I had made up in my cold-affected head. Snuffleupagus was a character on Sesame Street. Now I remember.

Plants have been used as medicine since before recorded history, so I thought I would turn to some common herbs and spices for my very common cold. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and other Echinacea species) may help boost the immune system. They reviewed some clinical studies and found that the occurrence and duration of the common cold was decreased by 58 percent in individuals taking Echinacea. UMM also recommends peppermint because of its menthol content, which they state makes for a good decongestant.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is one of several items recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil. This herb has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. It is an adaptogen which means it helps protect the body. Also, olive leaf extract (Olea europa) has been shown in lab studies to suppress certain viruses including the common cold. Dr. Weil states that “oleuropein, the extract, is a bitter substance removed from olives during processing”.

The University of Rochester suggests eating extra oranges, grapefruit, peaches or red peppers due to their high vitamin C content. They also mention thyme or jujube tea for a cough and garlic for a runny nose. If you have difficulty sleeping due to your cold, then they recommend eating some celery before bedtime due to its sedative powers.

Another online source from the University of Wisconsin suggests taking honey at night. They state honey has “been found to be as good as or better than dextromethorphan or antihistamines, which are ingredients in most over the counter remedies”. They recommend one-half to two teaspoons before going to bed. Never give honey to children under the age of one.

For the brave, check out this home remedy for a cough recipe posted by Bonnie McMillen with the University of Pittsburg. I’m thinking if it doesn’t cure a cough, it will definitely make you stop thinking about it for a good long while. I would have some milk or yogurt on hand to put out the fire in your mouth that may very well occur.

Dr. Josh Axe shares a homemade vapor rub recipe on his website. It contains olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax, peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils.

Prevention is best, of course. Some of the best ways to avoid catching the common cold are to wash your hands and stay away from folks who are sick. However, since avoiding people during the holiday season can be particularly tricky, the Mayo Clinic has additional suggestions for cold prevention here.

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Dec 17, 2017

Gift of gardening

This time last year, we talked about gift ideas for gardeners. I listed items like pruners, lopers, spades and scissors in varying sizes. Other possibilities included a tool caddy, knee pads, scissors and twine. Also noted were seed packets, garden art, house plants, bird feeders, garden journals and more.

Since Santa stopped visiting my doorstep many years ago and I don’t really need any more gardening items, my perspective has shifted somewhat. Instead of thinking about what someone could give me or a fellow gardener for the holidays, my focus has turned toward wondering how I might share my love of gardening with others.

I just completed a clinical skills in horticulture therapy class this semester through Kansas State University’s graduate school. I was continually reminded of the numerous documented positive outcomes that can occur with people plant interactions. Working with plants and plant material can have physical, psychological, social and cognitive benefits.

The focus of my final project this semester was a social wellness program working with youth. The goals were increased self-esteem, heightened sense of purpose and accomplishment, improved communication skills, and a sense of connectedness with nature and others. All of which was achieved while making a horticulture craft activity called bush critters.

So my bright idea this holiday season is to either create a garden related craft item to give as a gift -- or even better yet, share the making of said item with another person or group of people. The following ideas would be wonderful for people of any age and skill level, even those confined to a nursing home.

Bush critters. This was a super fun activity with children, because we went outdoors to search for and retrieve plant material that we then used in making our little critters.

Nature suncatcher wind chimes. We have not done this activity yet, but are scheduled to do it next week. We have decided to modify this one to turn the suncatchers into Christmas tree ornaments.

Seed mosaic art. We did this activity using white foam core board and crayons to draw the basic design. This one was a big hit with the kids.

Leaf rubbings are also a lot of fun and easy to do, but you will need fresh leaves and not dried ones.

For more ideas and inspiration, Denver Urban Gardens and First Palette have a lot of garden related craft activities on their websites.

Give yourself a gift this holiday season by spending time with others creating a fun gift as well as a cherished memory.

 Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in Broomfield Enterprise - Dec 10, 2017