Landscape and Housing Value

Landscape and Housing Value

Does it Increase Value?
Reaping What You Sow: What Works and What Doesn’t

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Warren Buffett

When it comes to landscaping, one of the most frequently asked questions is about the value it will add to your home. While you may be landscaping for yourself now, how much of your investment will you get back down the road if you sell? The answer may surprise you.

Does it Increase Value?

Salisbury Landscaping Sherwood Park

Researchers have been looking for patterns linking landscape and housing value for years. The general consensus is that a well-landscaped exterior can increase a home’s value anywhere from 5 to 15%. Not all landscaping features pack the same amount of punch for their dollar, though.

According to studies, the top-yielding landscaping projects are those that add lifestyle value beyond aesthetic. For buyers browsing the market for a new home, they want a home and yard that does more for them. As far as landscaping is concerned, they will look at features that not only add beauty to the home, but those that add comfort, are convenient, use the space well, lower the cost of heating and cooling, create a quieter space, and don’t require too much upkeep.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more great insights on home gardening!

Reaping What You Sow: What Works and What Doesn’t

This year, the National Association of Realtors released the 2018 Remodelling Impact Report: Outdoor Features from their research department. This report details the impact that landscaping has brought to housing values seen by realtors in recent years. They highlight specific landscaping features and how much of your investment you may see again in resale.

Lawn Upkeep – If you want a simple way to get your money back and more, regularly maintaining your lawn, garden, and trees is the way to go. With regular mowing, pruning, weeding, planting, and fertilization, you create a polished look that buyers want. It’s also very cost-effective, and for what you spend, you could see a return of 100 – 250%!

Sprinkler Systems – When buyers are looking at homes, they want one they don’t need to work too hard to maintain. Sprinkler systems allow them to maintain a lawn and garden with the simple flip of a switch. They can bring back 85% or more of your investment.

Walkways – Clean stone or brick walkways lined with bushes, shrubs, trees, or plants add an aesthetic and comfort value. For what is spent, a return of over 80% may be seen.

Patios and Decks – Patios are something that we as homeowners may love, but when it comes time to sell, they typically yield less than 70% of their value back. Wooden decks, however, with proper railing, stairs, and sealing may see a return of 80%.

Outdoor Kitchens – These features are excellent additions if you plan on using them lots before you sell. However, they typically require a bit more maintenance, and some buyers don’t value the use of outdoor space. You may only see about 70% of your money back.

Fire Features – Adding a backyard campfire feel is a great way to build a sense of community. When it comes to the resale value, though, they don’t make much of a splash, meaning you may only get around 65% of your money back.

Pools – Pools are something that everyone believes will bring them a lot of money when it comes time to sell. After all, who doesn’t want a nice, cold dip on a summer day? Unfortunately, pools require a lot of upkeep to keep them clean and pristine, which buyers see as more work and inconvenient. When it comes to adding one of these just to drive up value, reconsider, as you’ll probably only get back half of what you spent or less.

While many people landscape for their enjoyment while they live in a house, it can also be a great way to add some value when the time comes to sell. If you’re landscaping just to sell, though, you’re better off keeping it to simple lawn and garden care. For what you spend versus what you’ll get back, the real value is how much use you’ll get out of it. Spend now to get the use out of it, regardless of the money, and enjoy a little extra return when the time comes to sell.

Images courtesy of Salisbury Landscaping. View the full Gallery here.

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Low-Maintenance Planting

Low-Maintenance Planting

Low-Maintenance Planting
By Rob Sproule

Let Go of the Lawn
Using Native Plants
Design Ideas

“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in that great land of ours. I want to look at Texas like Texas and Vermont like Vermont.“
– Lady Bird Johnson

If I could sum up 2018’s landscaping trends in one word, it would be “lifestyle”. People are wanting to extend their living space outdoors more and more. They want to spend more time outside, and most modern landscaping happens to support that goal.

But what about our plants? We still want them to be gorgeous, but we don’t want to spend our extra time outside watering, weeding, and fussing over prima-donna plantings. The Low- Maintenance Planting trend is all about freeing up more time to enjoy our backyard lifestyles.

Let Go of the Lawn:

Where do you spend the most time when maintaining your yard? Chances are it’s mowing, watering, and fertilizing the lawn.

In some phases of our lives, like when the kids are small, we need lawn. After that, however, the best way to save time in your yard is to ditch the lawn and install beds of native, low- maintenance plants, instead.

Using Native Plants:

The best way to reduce watering is simple: avoid plants that need a lot of water, like tropicals and tender perennials. As a general rule of thumb, if it won’t survive the winter or must be babied to do so, you’ll need to water and fertilize them regularly.

Native plants are a lazy gardener’s dream. They’ve evolved and adapted to the rainfall your yard normally gets, so in a normal year, you likely won’t need to water at all. Of course, some supplemental watering and a touch of fertilizer will make them healthier and better able to resist pests and diseases.

As a happy side-effect, natives are the most environmentally-friendly plants you could choose. They’ve developed natural resistances against the pests that plague imported plants and local pollinators flock to them as the most known and trusted food source.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more landscaping and gardening tips!


Wood mulch is the unsung hero for low-maintenance gardening. It’s cheap, easy to install, and here’s what you get:

Watering Help: The mulch prevents soil evaporation and keeps moisture on the roots, where it needs to be. This decreases your need to water as frequently.
Weed Control: Smother those weeds! Cut holes for your existing plants to grow, and cover the rest. The only weeds that you’ll see will be from the odd seed that lands on accumulated soil on top of the mulch.

Biodiversity: This is usually overlooked, but the healthiest yards are those with resident predators to keep pest numbers under control. Whether it’s ladybugs, ground beetles, or spiders, mulch (particularly nuggets) provides ideal hiding and overwintering spots for your backyard mercenaries.

Design Ideas:

Low-maintenance is in vogue. Manicured, perfectly groomed gardens are less popular and have been exchanged for the “bed-head” look.

A bed-head garden is exactly how it sounds. It’s messy, wandering, and exactly how it’s meant to be. It uses native, low-maintenance plants and lets them grow as they will, without interfering or pruning. The idea is that a natural, micro-ecosystem will emerge that self-regulates pests, attracts pollinators, and bring its own style of rugged beauty to the yard.

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Container Gardening Trends

Container Gardening Trends
By Rob Sproule

Colour of the Year
Water Garden Containers
Succulents Galore

“The earth laughs in flowers.“
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gardening is, at once, unchanging, yet always in motion. The essentials of why we do it, like the urge to nurture and express our story through the earth, never change, but how we do it is as seasonal as fashion trends.

Container Gardening is the dominant art form in gardening trends. It is the art of creating living, dynamic sculptures. It’s also, especially with our short summers, very non-committal! Here are a few of the dominant trends to watch out for in container gardening this year:

Colour of the Year:

Every year, we’re told which pantone colour will be setting the trend for indoor and outdoor decor. After a couple years of “meh,” 2018 promises a colour that gardeners can sink their teeth into: Ultraviolet (18-3838 to be exact).

One of the most complex colours on the spectrum, ultraviolet is complex and very moody. In a container garden, it can look vibrant and boisterous during the day, then downright brooding under evening’s shadows.

It sits on the edge of our visible spectrum. The next time you look at a deep ultraviolet flower, consider the fact that you actually can’t see some of the colour; your eye is giving you the closest available likeness. A visiting bee, however, with a fuller spectrum of vision, is getting the full show.

Fun fact: ultraviolet is actually a real colour that you can measure, while “purple” is an imagined colour that only exists in your brain, but this is all above my paygrade.

How to use ultraviolet in containers:
• On the colour chart, violet sits opposite yellow. So add some simple, sunshiny yellow to spice up your complex ultraviolet array.
• Ultraviolet tends to get lost in shade or shadow, so pair it with a brighter companion (chartreuse foliage works well), to give it more life.
• Violet looks amazing in the fall, when the lower sun begins to play tricks with light, so it’s a great way to add vibrancy as the days get shorter.

Water Garden Containers:

This trend is for people who love the idea of pond gardening, but not the commitment that comes with it. It’s literally taking a pot without drainage, filling it with water, and putting pond plants inside. Simple as that.

Compared to the hassle of digging and building a pond, filling a large bowl with water and adding some plants seems incredibly more desirable. To get started, you’ll want to have heavy clay soil (water-loving plants don’t fare well with regular soil) and you’ll want to buy specific water garden plants from the Garden Centre.

You can add sounds effects by adding a small pump. By putting it on your patio, you’ll be able to enjoy the gentle white noise it creates for relaxation. It will also increase ambient humidity around it, so surround with lush tropical containers to suck up the moisture.

Water plants bloom best with over 6 hours of light a day, so put it in the sun. Be creative with your container – remember that anything without drainage will work!

Some things to watch out for:
• You may need to empty and scrub the algae out once or twice a year. If you don’t have fish, you’ll have a lot less algae.
• Add a small pump for a the bubbly sound and to deter mosquitoes from using the still water to lay eggs, or add a dash of organic larvicide to keep them away.
• You’ll want to add water as it evaporates. Let it sit for a couple days before adding, thought, to let some of the tap water chlorine evaporate.
• Avoid half-whiskey barrels, as old toxins could leech in to harm plants and fish.

Learn more about gardening trends with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Succulents Galore:

Succulents have been the “it” plant for years and there’s no sign of that slowing. They combine ease-of-care with a contemporary design style.

Find a shallow container (terra-cotta works well) and a Garden Centre with a big selection, and get choosing. Opt for a blend of different shapes and colours (try not to have all rosettes, even though they may be your favourite). With any luck, there will be some String of Pearls or Burro’s Tail to add trailing appeal.

If you have a planter that’s felt too ornate, old world, or vintage to use for annuals, this is how to use it. Or, to be really on trend, head to an antique mall to dig out an old birdcage to plant them in.

Succulents can be expensive, so here are a few ways to trim costs and have a better looking planter as well:
• Choose a few succulents to bring indoors in the fall. Keep them in their pots when you plant them and give them lots of winter light. They’ll become specimen pieces as the seasons go by.
• Blend succulents with less expensive bedding plants to save money. Avoid the costly “designer” annuals, which will devour your succulents, and go for sun-loving marigolds, zinnias, portulaca, and other classics.
• You could bring your whole container indoors if you have room, but be sure to spray for bugs a couple times before bringing in.

You’ll want a better draining soil than your average container mix. As a rule of thumb, blend a peat-based potting mix (Pro-Mix, etc), with cactus soil as 1:1 ratio. Consider adding a layer of pebble on the bottom for even better drainage.

Make sure your pot has sufficient drainage holes. If they’re too small you’ll risk them getting plugged and/or leaving your succulents sitting in wet feet.

Keep yourself on-trend this year with these simple tips for the 2018 gardening season and you’ll have a stunning garden all year long.

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Houseplants & Anxiety

Houseplants & Anxiety
By Rob Sproule

Aloe Vera
Gerbera Daisy
English Ivy

“Time spent in nature heals your mind, body, and spirit.”
– Katrina Mayer

As anyone nurturing their own indoor jungle will tell you, houseplants reduce anxiety. They’re easy to care for, look amazing, and have many other benefits, like:

• Lowering your blood pressure
• Improving your mental productivity
• Helping to fight mild depression
• Improving sleep quality
• Increasing your creativity

With amazing effects like these, houseplants are an obvious addition for any home. Here are a few favourites:


The first plant on the list is also the most effective. Lavender is the common essential oil found in sprays, lotions, and most any product promising to reduce anxiety. Lavender scent has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, bringing anxiety levels down with it. Put a potted lavender in a sunny spot, careful not to let it dry out, and enjoy its naturally relaxing effects throughout your home.


We know rosemary rocks with lamb, but this popular woody herb has more to offer than just taste. Rosemary also improves air quality and helps reduce anxiety. It’s best known for its ability to improve memory, and some even keep a pot of it near their bed for just that reason. That’s a great idea, so long as it gets the sun it needs to thrive.

Aloe Vera:

Succulents are found in every magazine lately, and aloe vera is their wellness champion. They’re very hard to kill, thriving on neglect and needing only some sunlight to survive. It also purifies the air beautifully, and reduces stress by bringing a breath of fresh air indoors.


An old fashioned house plant that’s making a comeback, dracaena are a low-light favourite that remove toxins from the air. They pull formaldehyde and xylene out of the air, which reduces stress and improves concentration.
Besides air-cleaning, they are easy to care for, grow almost anywhere, and thrive on neglect. They come in a variety of colours of styles and are usually narrow, perfect for shadowy corners.

Learn more about houseplants with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog


Also called sansevieria, snakeplants are so good at cleaning air, even NASA has taken note! Give them almost any light level, forget to water them, and watch them thrive. They bring a host of anti-anxiety benefits into the home, including improving concentration and promoting sleep. They’re also especially talented at reducing anxiety-induced headaches, making them one of the best plants to have for all-around stress relief.

Gerbera Daisy:

One of the most colourful plants is also the best for your desk or office. The gerbera daisy is vibrant and emanates spring. They’re also one of the best air cleaners around, especially with toxins related to inks, so they’re ideal for your workspace, at home or in the office. They do like their soil evenly moist, however, so keep a spray bottle handy on your desk, as well.

English Ivy:

Easy to grow and downright ubiquitous as a houseplant, english ivy (Hedera helix) reduces anxiety by attacking mold. Depending on how many spores are in the room, it can munch down on them by 94% in just 12 hours.

Give it almost any light level, water when it is dry, and make more by chucking a piece of it into a glass of water. Put some in your bedroom to pull mold spores and formaldehyde out of the air while you sleep, so you wake up more refreshed and with less anxiety.

As stressful and crazy as life can get, don’t let it get in the way of doing what you love. By bringing a little colour and life into your home with these luscious beauties, you’ll not only get a breath of fresh air, but a breath of relaxation, too!

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Easter Decorating Tips

Easter Decorating Tips
By Rob Sproule

Eggshell Succulents
Indoor Fresh Air

Easter is a season of rebirth and the threshold to spring. It’s also a classic time to freshen up the house for visiting friends and family, and to flush away the long, dark winter with a blast of indoor life. Here are my top 3 ideas for easy, kid-friendly ways to put out the welcome mat for spring in your designing:


It doesn’t get easier than this! If you have kids, they’ll love helping with wheatgrass. It’s such a vibrant green plant, so full of life that it’s become a beacon of health, vitality, and rebirth.

You’ll need:
• a container
• regular potting soil
• wheatgrass seed (if you can’t find any, and don’t plan to make smoothies, catgrass seed may be easier to source and will grow the same way)

First, soak a generous number of seeds in water for 12-24 hours. This will soften them up and speed up the growth. Next, add soil to your container. You’ll only need a couple inches worth (the rest can be rocks, or almost anything).

Then, moisten the soil and layer the wheatgrass seed. It should be so full that you don’t see any soil; no one wants a sparse and patchy herald of spring. Lastly, place the container in a window and, in a few days, you’ll have green growth so vibrant you’ll want to take a deep breath of fresh, spring air.

Eggshell Succulents:

Eggs and Easter go together like peanut butter and jelly. This Easter, use succulents, being both the trendiest and the easiest houseplants, to take your eggs to the next level.

You’ll need:
• some eggs (6 or a dozen are best, so you can use the carton)
• succulents (you might need to call around; ask for 2” succulents)

First, using a dull knife, notch and then cut the top off the egg’s pointy end, just enough to pour out the egg (preferably into a hot pan with some bacon and chives).
Then, wash out the shells and let dry for a day or so.

Now the fun part… Take the succulents carefully from their pots. Remove as much soil as you need (gently), and pot into the shell (also gently), using the chopsticks to make sure the soil pushes into air pockets. Use a cactus or succulent blend, or cut peat-based potting soil 1:1 with sand.

Water sparingly (only until the top is moistened) and there you have it: your own Easter succulent-egg carton. You’ll have happy, calcium-munching succulents that require as little care as an occasional, tiny stream of water.

For more Easter decorating tips, subscribe to Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Indoor Fresh Air:

We crave spring because we want to break out of the house, into the fresh air. This Easter, you can bring fresh air indoors with plants that clean the stale winter right out of your lungs.

Houseplants’ ability to clean the air have given them a recent renaissance of popularity. Making a garden out of the best air cleaners (even if they’re little guys), will bring a bit of spring indoors, freshen things up for Easter, and even help your health, to boot. The rules are simple: get any container, some soil, and dive in. Here are the best air cleaning plants that will fit nicely into a small space:

• Spider plant
• Peace Lily
• Gerbera Daisy (for splash of colour)
• Ferns (Bostons are best, but any will do)
• Palms (ask for a tiny “Parlour palm”)
• English Ivy
• Mum (pot mum is best and readily available)

Plant them all together, add some fresh spring ornaments, and you’ve got a little spring that will last all year.

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Succulent Birdcage

Succulent Birdcage
By Rob Sproule

What You’ll Need
The Succulents
Building It
Beyond Succulents

Sometimes the best way to display your decorative plants is to use contrast. And new trends will have you using the graceful elegance of an antique birdcage to show off all the robust greenery of your favourite succulents!

“You know you’re a gardener when everything you see becomes a planter.”
– Unknown

Gardening trends take unexpected directions sometimes. I don’t know where we got the idea to repurpose old bird cages into succulents planters (although I do suspect Pinterest), but I love it! As it turns out, succulents and vintage bird cages are like peanut butter and jam. They compliment each other perfectly; nostalgic decor meets dynamic form. If you want to jump in and turn some heads, you’ll probably need to DIY. Pre-planted cages are just starting to find their way to store shelves.

What You’ll Need:

Assemble your materials first so you can have the most fun when you dive in. Here’s your list:
Birdcage with at least 1” lip on the bottom. If you don’t have one, road trip to the antique mall!
-Your succulents (see below)
-Plastic liner
-Sheet moss or coco liner
-Cactus Soil
-Activated Carbon (don’t skip this – it removes toxins that could kill your cage)

Stay on top of the latest plant decor trends, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

The Succulents:

Measure (or guesstimate) the inside diameter of your birdcage. Aim for about 1 succulent plant per 2” of diameter. So if it’s 6” wide, plant three; 12” wide plant six, etc. For larger cages (12” and over), start following the “Thriller/ Filler/ Spiller” rule of thumb for containers. Find a larger centerpiece, surround with lower fillers, and have your trailers spill out the bottom.

My recommendations (if they aren’t labelled by name, ask):
Thriller: Opt for an Aloe Vera, Jade, or a tall Aeonium (I like the black ones, like Zwartkop). Many skip this step altogether, so it’s up to you.

Filler: Echeverias (rosette succulents) are the stars of birdcage gardens. Plant a range of colours, from green to pink to dark, and they’ll grow into a gorgeously eclectic clusters. Sedums, crassulas, and other little guys work well, too.

Spiller: You’re limited in your options here. The popular choice is string of pearls because it takes up very little room in the birdcage but hangs a long way down. You could use Burrow’s Tail but it’s very slow growing. Eventually your fillers will send runners and start to dangle. You could also use annual vines with a succulent vibe, like Live Wire vine (Muehlenbeckia) or Spider plant. Just make sure they don’t need much water.

Building It:

If your birdcage has a solid bottom, you can either drill holes or commit to being very vigilant about watering levels. If it has a mesh bottom or open bottom (recommended), skip the plastic and lay down coco liner or sheet moss to allow for drainage (and more flexibility in what you can plant).
You’re essentially building a terrarium, with the same layering technique.

Here’s the steps:
-Lay your plastic liner on the bottom for a 2-4” lip on the sides
-Lay sheet moss or coco liner between the plastic and the cage
-Thin layer of pebbles on the bottom for drainage
-Thin layer of activated carbon on the rocks
-Cactus soil to desired height
-Plant your succulents, starting from the center and working out
-Add moss, lichens, air plants and other touches to give it an eclectic finished look

Beyond Succulents:

You don’t need to limit yourself to succulents. An old birdcage makes a gorgeous alternative to a hanging basket for annuals. Just replace cactus soil with peat-based potting mix (the same as you’d use in your planters) and start planting! The sight of long white streams of Bacopa and lavish bunches of Supertunias bursting from a birdcage is patio poetry. Make sure to fertilize as much as you would a hanging basket.

Heat-loving herbs like rosemary and basil thrive too. Use the same soil as you would for annuals. If you do herbs, or any edibles, make sure you’re not getting a birdcage with lead-based paint, since it could leach into the root systems (i.e. a cage that isn’t too old)

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Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera
By Rob Sproule

Aloe Vera Care
Watering Basics
Health Benefits
Dividing Them

“I believe the 21st Century will confirm Aloe Vera to be the greatest medicine mankind has ever known.”
– Lee Ritter

Aloe Veras are a popular houseplant with a secret, super-healing identity. These North African natives are most famous for topical sunburn relief but they have a host of other benefits that science is starting to uncover.

Aloe Vera Care:

You may have bought your aloe as a houseplant, superfood, or healing plant, but above all it’s a succulent. And like all succulents, too much love is the fastest way to kill them.

Aloes want bright light, so give them access to a south and/or west window. Keep at least a foot from the glass, however, as the UV rays (amplified by the glass) can burn the fleshy leaves. It doesn’t need fertilizer. In fact, fertilizing often does more harm than good because people use too much of it. If you do fertilize, do it once a year in early spring with an all purpose at half strength.

Learn more about the benefits of Aloe Vera, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Watering Basics:

The soil should feel dry down to the first knuckle before watering. When you do water (will be every week or two), water a lot (lukewarm is best), until it flows freely out the bottom. That flushes the salts out. Make sure it doesn’t sit in a saucer of water; they hate wet feet. If the leaves thin and curl, it’s not getting enough water. Usually it’s the opposite problem, with leaves eventually going limp and rotting.

Check your drainage. Turn your pot upside down and, if you only see one of two little holes, punch some new ones. You want the water to flow through like a sieve. What kind of soil is it in? If it’s dark and loamy, it’s probably not draining well enough. Keep an eye on it and when it’s time to repot, add cactus soil with rocks at the bottom.

Health Benefits:

Aloe is a topical healer, so you’ll typically rub the sap on your skin or buy it processed into an oil, lotion, etc. Before you go snapping leaves off and rubbing sticky goo on your sunburn, here are some harvesting rules of thumb:

  • Only remove 1 leaf at a time, starting with the larger leaves at the edge
  • Cut near the base with a clean sharp knife
  • Let the yellow sap (aloin) run out
  • Wash the leaf and cut off the serrated edges
  • Remove the skin completely to expose the white translucent flesh. That’s the good stuff!
  • Rinse and use

Besides sunburns, aloe is excellent (and proven) as:

  • A moisturizer on skin/ face
  • Antibacterial aid for cuts and small wounds
  • Protects the skin from UV damage from the sun

Dividing Them:

Once your aloe is mature, you’ll see “pups” growing from the base of the mother plant. Wait until they’re a manageable size and then remove them with a sharp knife (don’t yank them off). Get as many of the pup’s roots as possible. Transplant its own small pot with cactus soil and you have a new aloe! Removing the pups frees up room for the mother plant, so I’d do it even if you’re not planning to keep it.

Plant the pup in a small pot (so the soil doesn’t stay waterlogged). You’ll want to, but resist watering until the roots are established; about 2 weeks. You’ll want to pick the pup in late winter or early spring. The mother plant will be slow growing and will be far less impacted than when it’s growing at full speed.

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Pet Friendly Houseplants

Pet Friendly Houseplants
By Rob Sproule

African Violet
Spider Plant
Phalaenopsis Orchid
Succulents (Usually)
Lipstick Plant
Prayer Plant
A Caveat to All This

A lot of people want more houseplants. They clean the air, make you happy, look good in the home, and all that good stuff. But… you’ve got cats and/or dogs that eat everything and you don’t know what is and isn’t safe. I hear it everyday, so here’s the list of plants that are both dog- and cat-friendly:

African Violet:

Here’s a pet-friendly plant that blooms off and on all year. Keep it moist, give average light and try to water under the fuzzy leaves. It’s a no-fuss winner.

Spider Plant:

It’s all-around safe, and cleans the air like crazy. Also pretty much impossible to kill, and if you have little ones around they’ll love to float the runners in water and watch the roots grow.


True ferns like Bostons and Maidenhairs are good to go. Keep them moist and mist them if you can and they’ll pull copious amounts of toxins out of the air. Beware of non-ferns that are labelled as such, like the toxic Asparagus fern, which isn’t a fern at all.

Phalaenopsis Orchid:

This is the common “Moth” orchid, with the broad round petals and very, very long blooming times (usually months). They’re ubiquitous and have become very affordable. While they aren’t toxic, they can be messy if your furbaby gets into the bark media and starts spreading it around.

Learn more about keeping pets and plants safe, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Succulents (Usually):

This is the houseplant on everyone’s mind lately. Most of the popular varieties are non-toxic, including Echeveria (the rosette type), hen and chicks, Burro’s Tail, and Haworthia (the little tiger-jaws). It’s worth a Google-search if you’re not sure though, since some types–like Jade plants–are actually toxic.


Nothing says stately like a healthy, rich green palm in a room. They clean the air, add ambience, and they’re all safe for the furry critters. That being said, your cat will probably still nibble on the low-hanging fronds.


You’ve seen them around, even if you don’t recognize the name. They’re vibrant with glossy leaves and a tall, vibrant flower spike up from the centre. Pets might nibble, but the the plant is safe (and easy to care for).

Lipstick Plant:

This is a quirky little vine with red, tubular flowers that look like bright red lipstick. They like bright light, and people who see them love them! Safe for all.

Prayer Plant:

Also called Calathea, it’s an old fashioned plant that’s roaring back into trend. It boasts richly-coloured leaves and is one of the easiest houseplants to grow on a shelf or desk.


This an adorable little plant that comes in a variety of colours and textures. Going by names like Aluminum plant, Friendship plant, and Waffle plant, they’re all small, perfect for terrariums, and safe for all.

A Caveat to All This:

Just because it’s not toxic, doesn’t mean your pet (usually cat) won’t eat it and throw up. Especially with plants like Spider Plants and Ferns, kitties love to nibble–just like grass–and make a mess on your rug. That doesn’t mean the plant is toxic; it’s just a weird digestive thing they do.

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5 Best Plants for the Office

5 Best Plants for the Office
By Rob Sproule

1. Spider Plant
2. Succulents
3. Lemon Balm
4. Peace Lily
5. African Violet

Office plants used to be considered a waste of productive space. Now we’re seeing how productive they really are. From air cleaners to mood lifters to straight out beauties, here are the best plants for your desk.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”
– Erma Bombeck

By now word has gotten out that plants in the office aren’t just for looks, and are far from a frivolous expense. A potted plant or two near your desk has tangible air cleaning, stress relieving, morale lifting benefits. But which plants are the right combination of space-savings, air cleaning, and beautiful? Here’s what I have in mind:

1. Spider Plant:

If I ran an office-based business I’d distribute spider plants like staplers. They’re impossible to kill, fit into the smallest spaces, and are air cleaning champions. We’re surrounded by airborne pollutants all day, from our printer’s offgassing to our Co-Worker’s smoky jacket.

Not only are spider plants one of the world’s best at pulling toxins from the air, they also decrease floating particulates like dust, helping to reduce allergy symptoms as they do. They’ll thrive with any kind of light, even a windowless room. You can neglect them, forget about them, and stuff them on your shelf to hold up your books, and they’ll still decrease overall stress and clean the air.

2. Succulents:

Succulents go into this list with two strikes against them: they aren’t significant air cleaners and they aren’t the easiest to take care of. But what they lack in these areas they make up for in sleek aesthetic satisfaction.

If you’re out of the office a lot or just plain neglect your desk plants, you’ve got a winner. Overwatering is the kiss of death; dribble only when the soil is dry to the touch. Fluorescent light alone won’t cut it in the long term. You’ll want a nearby window for ambient light; the more the better.

3. Lemon Balm:

So what is a strange little herb doing on a “best of” list? It’s not to eat it; Lemon Balm’s only culinary uses are for tea and desserts. It’s the smell. It’s strong lemony scent, made even stronger when you touch the leaves, will help improve your mood and lower your daily stress levels. It’s not quite aromatherapy, but it will help.

It’s tough as nails and easy to grow. It will tolerate bright light, low light, and that humming indoor light. It needs to be kept moist, but if you forget it will promptly wilt as it asks for a drink.

Learn more about the health benefits of plants, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

4. Peace Lily:

Another one of the world’s best air cleaners, Peace Lilies are slated to be taken on multi-year space explorations to help keep the air breathable. They remove more toxins than any other houseplant.       You’ll want to grab a compact variety in a 4” or 6” pot and keep it on your desk. It’ll thrive and even bloom without a window to be seen.

Make sure to keep it well watered. Peace Lilies hate to dry out. Consider setting it on a pebble tray (a tray full of pebbles and water) to provide extra humidity. Dryness leads to brown tips, stress, and a reduction of air cleaning awesomeness.

5. African Violet:

This one is for those that dote and love flowers. African Violets are the classic long living, free blooming, desk top plant. It will become a sweetheart at your side and you’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating its blooms.

They clean the air, but not like spider plants or peace lilies. You’ll also want to dote on them more than the others on this list. Keep them slightly moist, being careful to water under the fuzzy leaves and not on top of them. You’ll need some ambient light, but not a sunny window. Brighter light brings more flowers; fertilize occasionally to keep the blooms coming.

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Succulent Pumpkin Planters

Succulent Pumpkin Planters
By Rob Sproule

My Method
Prep the Pumpkin
Prep the Succulents

“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.“
– Linus

Let’s face it, as far as decorating goes pumpkins have been one-hit wonders. While their little gourdy cousins have found some fame in centrepieces and home decor, pumpkins’ lot in life is to be gutted, carved, and burnt on the porch step. But the wind is shifting for our plucky orange squash. A new trend is redefining it from Halloween kitsch to houseplant chic. It’s easy to make, uses our favourite plants, and I’m gonna tell you how.

My Method:

It’s sort of amazing that it took this long for someone to look at a pumpkin and think, “why don’t we just dig a hole in the top and plant something in it?” There are 2 basic ways to do this. The alternative to this article is to keep the pumpkin intact, glue moss to it, and glue bare-root succulente to the moss. I’m not a fan because, besides looking like a lot of work, it’s a one-way ticket for the succulents. You won’t get them back after Halloween, and they aren’t cheap.

Prep The Pumpkin:

I wouldn’t plant them straight into the pumpkin. The stringy fleshy bits are downright damp and will rot the delicate root systems. Plus, as with the gluing method, it makes it a one way trip. Why waste money when you don’t have to?  If you don’t have a pot, go grab a 6” round or so for a big pumpkin and a 3-4” round for a smaller one. One pumpkin will be a conversation starter, but several (of different sizes and colours), is just awesome.

With a sharp knife, dig into the top of the pumpkin to hollow a cavity the same size as the pot. The rim of the pot should fit snugly just under the top (ie. be invisible). Only pull as much goopy goodness as you need; you’re not hollowing it out. If the pot if heavy, consider laying down a wider platform to set it on so it doesn’t sink. Don’t stop at plain orange. Try white, mini and “knucklehead”pumpkins (with the giant wart-like bumps on them). Why not other squash or gourds? As long as you can cut into it and it will sit upright, it’s fair game.

Learn more about creating your own pumpkin centrepieces, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Prep the Succulents:

Pack your succulents densely in the pot. Don’t worry, they like being crowded. The illusion is that the pumpkin so full of succulents (horn-of-plenty style) that it’s overflowing with them. A loosely packed pot of soil showing will wreck the effect. Any succulent will do. I’d experiment with the rosette types (echeveria) on their own for smaller pumpkins (which are preferably white).

For the big ones, make sure to incorporate some trailers over the sides (vines work, too). You may want to stuff some moss in for effect. Aim for height in the centre so it’s not flat looking but has that “exploding from squash” feel. After Halloween, pitch the pumpkin and take out the container. Give it a wash and you have a succulent planter ready for a new life!

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