Household Toxins Might be Making you Sick

household toxins

Common household toxins may be making you sick.  In some cases you don’t even know you are sick. Toxins are present in your home in the form of cleaning products, paints, furniture, synthetic building materials such as particle board and insulation, carpets, and even your printer and photocopier! Learn about the common culprits and just what they can do to your health.

VOCs are Household Toxins

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases released by all of the common household items listed above.  These gases cause lethargy, skin rashes, headaches, drowsiness, itchy eyes, asthma-like symptoms, and even cancer.

Be aware of what you are bringing into your home!  I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was cleaning my house.  Out of my usual brand of toilet cleaner, I grabbed a bottle of Javex sitting around the house from my pre-toxin awareness days.   I used it (sparingly) to clean the toilets in my home…

Symptoms of Household Toxins

The next day I woke up with what I thought was the start of a cold.  My chest felt heavy and I could not seem to draw a full breath into my lungs.  I also had a vague headache, and a “tickle” in my throat, but no other cold like symptoms developed.  Later on that day, I developed a shallow, dry cough which felt like my lungs were trying to clear whatever was irritating them. 

These symptoms lasted for four days.  Coincidence?   I don’t think so; this is how my lungs felt most of the time before I switched to non-toxic products. The products I now use are all made with tea tree oil, an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, natural ingredient.  My respirologist agrees, as my asthma-like symptoms have disappeared since switching to these non-toxic products.

Houseplants Remove Household Toxins

You can also make your home healthier by adding house plants to your decor.  Not only do plants look nice, but they can also help keep your family healthy.  Carbon dioxide and the VOCs described above, as well as other harmful gases such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene are absorbed through the roots as well as through pores in the leaves of plants.   In exchange, beneficial and healthy products like oxygen and moisture are released into the air for us to breathe.

Choose plants such as spider plants, dracaena, English ivy, mother-in-law tongues, bamboo palms, and other tropical plants. These choices are all easy to grow and readily available.  Tropical plants are suitable for indoors in homes and offices because they are used to growing and processing gases in reduced light under the canopies of jungles and rain forests.  Water your plants thoroughly with warm water and let the soil dry out between watering; too much water is the easiest way to kill your house plants.

Fifteen medium to large plants (greater than six-inch pots) in an average-sized 2000 square foot home can greatly improve the air quality in your home. So, get growing!

In Conclusion

Get rid of the common household toxins making your family sick by removing offending chemical compounds and adding houseplants. Check out a recent post on what I’ve learned about houseplant care. My house is fast becoming a jungle, but I love it.

A green landscape outside can improve the air quality in your yard and even your neighbourhood as well. Planting lots of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals can turn your yards into a healthy environment for you as well as the birds and other wildlife.

Freeze and Thaw Cycles Harm Plants

Many people do not mind rain in winter, as they look forward to spring.  The problem is that the freeze and thaw cycles that go with the rain can be very destructive to plants in your gardens and containers as well as to the containers themselves. 

I leave many container plants out on my back deck for a few reasons.

  • I love the look of plants blowing in the wind, especially the ornamental grasses.
  • Most of the containers are too large (heavy) to move inside
  • I have lots of them so would need a good chunk of time to move them.
  • For some reason time always gets away from me in the fall, so the snow arrives before I get around to moving the planters.

Whatever the reason you have left your planters outside for the winter, you can ensure they survive.  When it rains a lot (as it has been here for the past few days) or a thaw melts snow on top of the pots, be sure to dump out the excess water before it freezes again. If you cannot dump out the excess water, bail it out.   If you do not remove it, the excess water will freeze and your pots will crack.  I guarantee this will happen if the containers do not have drainage holes in the bottom.  If they do have drainage holes the pots may still crack when excessive rain turns to ice.  This happens often here in Ottawa.  One day it is raining and almost balmy, the next freezing cold.

Another trick to protect your garden plants over the winter is to ensure the plants stay snow-covered.  Snow acts as an insulator, protecting plants from freeze and thaw cycles.  I always shovel snow onto my roses growing beside my garage at my front door.  This spot is sunny and warmer than the rest of my gardens because the brick wall retains the heat absorbed from the sun.  This extra heat means the snow melts faster there, so I have to keep shoveling more on.  If you do this, be sure to use snow that does not have salt (from your sidewalk or driveway) in it.

Is it raining where you live?  If it is, make sure the rainwater does not collect on your planters if freezing temperatures are coming next.  Freeze and thaw cycles are brutal on your plants in containers and gardens.

Please visit my garden website for more garden and plant tips

Beware of wild parnsip, but leave the goldenrod

Wild parsnip has made its appearance in Eastern Ontario, introduced from Asia and Europe for its edible root.  A tall wildflower or weed with yellow flowers, it can cause severe blistering and burning when the sap within its stalks comes into contact with skin that is exposed to sunlight.  As goldenrod is also a tall wildflower with yellow flowers, and very common along roadways in Eastern Ontario, I thought I would compare the two…

Wild parsnip has lobed, sharply toothed leaves, a grooved stalk and yellow flowers that form a flat topped, umbrella-like,seed head…

Goldenrod has elongated, swordlike leaves, a smooth stalk and plumes or spikes of yellow flowers.  Once you compare the two, the only thing they have in common is the color of their flowers. Goldenrod is harmless, and growing in a field or along a roadside can be quite beautiful.  Some claim it is the cause of their seasonal allergies in late summer, but others claim its leaves and flowers have medicinal properties, even helping to alleviate seasonal allergies.

Armed with the details of what these two plants look like, I searched through our cottage lot for signs of wild parsnip.   I did not find any wild parsnip, but did find several clumps of goldenrod…

I have seen clumps of wild parsnip in the vicinity of several gardens I work in though, the largest area is within the Beaverbrook area of Kanata, behind Borduas Court and Carr Crescent, between this residential neighbourhood and the Kanata Lakes Golf Course.  This clump of wild parsnip has gone to seed, meaning the flowers have faded to a beige brown color and the seeds are blowing in the wind, spreading through the neighbourhood.

There is a path between the two streets with wild parsnip close to the edge of the path.  The plant growth along the path appears to have been mowed recently, but mowing often causes the dangerous sap to leak out of the stalks, especially if a weed wacker or whippersnipper is used.   I would hesitate letting my dog or children walk along there!.

If you spot any wild parsnip in your neighbourhood, notify your local authorities, and do not attempt to eradicate large patches of it yourself.  To remove one or two plants, you can try to dig up the long taproot, but be sure to wear long pants, sleeves and waterproof gloves.  Try not to break the stalk, place it in a black plastic bag, and leave the bag in the hot sun for a week to kill the plant.  Remove the gloves last and wash them several times with soapy water.  Clothing can be washed in the laundry.

Beware of wild parsnip, but leave the beautiful and harmless goldenrod.

Plants of the week from Gardens4u, take three…

Here are my favourite plants this week…
Traditional Perennials: Asiatic Lilies

Asiatic lilies (also known as tiger lilies) come in many colours and heights. Unfortunately I had to give up on them years ago as japanese beetles demolished them every season. I now plant the lily trees featured below, same beautiful bloom, just sturdier and taller stems.


Modern Perennials: Lily Trees

Similar to the more traditional asiatic lilies in appearance and bloom time, lily trees have much stronger stems which makes them more resistant to the japanese beetles that devour the former plant. Lily trees grow to six feet in height by their third season and boast impressive blooms. Every years more and more color variations are available.
Shrubs: Hydrangea

Hydrangea bushes have beautiful bloom in white, pink, blue and even mauve. There are several varieties to choose from. The most common is the “snowball” or Annabell type with round blooms that start off pale green in color and change to white.

The pale pink, blue and mauve flower heads belong to the mophead variety, with the color depending on the acidity of the soil it is planted in. For blue blooms slightly acidic soil is required to allow aluminum in the soil to make the blooms blue. Aluminum sulphate can be added to the soil for this purpose. Fertilizer low in phosphorus (middle number on fertilizer packages) and high in potassium (last number on packages) will ensure blooms are blue. For pink blooms slightly alkaline soil is required to prevent any aluminum from making the blooms blue. Adding lime to the soil will increase the pH (make it alkaline) to prevent the soil from absorbing aluminum. Adding fertilizer high in phosphorus (the middle number) also prevents aluminum absorption. If you have trouble making your soil the right pH for the color of blooms you desire, consider planting the hydrangea in a pot where the soil pH is easier to control.

PeeGees or paniculatas have cone shaped, pale pink flower heads and come in tree form as well as bush form. Oakleafs have leaves shaped like those on an oak tree and have cone shaped white blooms that turn to pale pink.


Vines: Ivy

back deck

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There are many types of ivy to grow; my favourite is the Boston ivy that covers my back deck, creating my “green room.” In the fall the leaves turn bright red before they fall off just before the snow flies.
Annuals: Million Bells

My favourite cascading annual for containers is called Million Bells. They come in many colors, be sure to choose contrasting colours for your containers like the orange and purple above.

Stay tuned for next week’s picks…

Plants of the week from Gardens4u

One of the best things about working in other people’s gardens is that I get to admire many different plants.  Many times I take time to snap a few pictures of my favourites, so I thought I would share them with you…

traditional perennials:  peonies

peonies come in white and many shades of pink, with single or double blossoms.  They are beautiful in bloom, but get pummelled by rain,  turning them into a soggy mess, so often we only get to enjoy their beauty for a short period.

modern perennials:  salvia

Salvias come in pink and all shades of purple.  My favourite is called purple rain (third picture)  Planted in a large group it makes an impressive statement in your garden.  Both pink and purple varieties contrast well with bright green or chartreuse foliage like the golden elderberry in the second picture.

shrubs:  ninebarks

Ninebarks make striking shrubs at the back of a border, in a row for a unique hedge, or planted in a container.  They too come in many varieties, with foliage ranging from golden green to a deep wine color. Some have small pom-pom like, pale pink or white flowers.  If you plant one in a container, be sure to choose one two zones lower than what is hardy in your garden.

vines:  golden hops

allum & golden hops vine

Vines make great privacy screens.  Many are fast growing, able to cover a bare spot on your fence in just one season.  The golden hops vine dies back to the ground each winter, but quickly greens up in the spring to a bright chartreuse green color, a perfect background for other plantings.  It is self adhesive, not requiring any staking or tying, but it can be invasive.  Simply pull out new shoots from areas you do not want them to spread to.

Those are my favourites this week, stay tuned for next week’s selections and more…

Home Depot coupon for miracle gro quick start fertilizer for new plants

If you are planning on adding new plants to your landscape this season, pick up some Miracle Gro Quick Start fertilizer at Home Depot first to ensure your new plants are well fed. Click on the link below and print off this coupon for $5 off…

home depot miracle gro april 2015

Check out this week’s Home Depot flyer for more great savings…

How Disposable Diapers can Help Your Plants

This video describes an amazing way to keep your existing plants hydrated and to germinate any new plants. Follow the simple video instructions to cut back watering of houseplants, container plantings or even plants in your garden…

Play Video

watch the video here and be amazed at how the gel in disposable diapers can help hydrate your plants.

Your houseplants benefit from repotting every few years as the nutrients in the soil get depleted.  I plan to repot my houseplants as soon as the weather here permits me to take the plants into my garage or out on the back deck to do so. If your houseplants do not need repotting, try adding some of the gel from the disposable diapers to the existing soil as demonstrated in the video.

The soil in your gardens should also be amended (nutrients added to it) every year or at least every second year.  Good soil is the number one requirement of a great and successful garden.  This spring I plan to add some of the gel found in disposable diapers as suggested in the video, especially in the hot and dry areas of my gardens.

In the meantime, I will buy some diapers!

Multi-tasking: Cleaning out my Lingerie Drawer and Making Garden Ties

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Did you know you can do both of these chores at the same time?  Old nylon stockings make great garden ties; they work great for tying up floppy plants or staking small trees.  The nylon is stretchy, yet strong, and still soft enough so it will not harm the growing plants.  Simply cut the stockings or legs of panty hose into strips, wide ones and skinny ones.

I’ve used the beige ones before, not sure how the black lace will look in my garden!