Joy of greenery: Houseplants can boost wintertime mood

Christmas cactuses have beautiful blooms that add cheer to any home.

Good to Know

Joy of greenery: Houseplants can boost wintertime mood

Aesthetically pleasing, houseplants can add a little nature to indoor living spaces and help make the cold, dreary months more bearable.

“They brighten the mood,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturist. “They make people feel better.”

The benefits of sharing your home with plants are subjective, but still important. Plants can have a calming, relaxing effect and provide a hobby, explained Dr. Josh Kardos, a horticulture instructor at Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

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“Plants can help with mental health by giving people something to care for and providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”

In his introductory class on indoor plants, Kardos said he witnesses that enthusiasm when students email him photos of their plant collections.

“My students are so proud of the fact that they’re not only keeping their plants alive, but the plants are growing and even thriving.”

Watch this video: Horticulturalist Mark Viette offers suggustions for growing fragrant plants indoors this winter in this clip from Real Virginia.

Several indoor plant varieties are low-maintenance and forgiving when it comes to their growing requirements, Mullins said. Even those without a green thumb can have success cultivating these plants.

Christmas cactuses have beautiful blooms that add pops of color to an environment, Mullins noted. Like their name suggests, they bloom during winter months and “are one of those kinds of plants that probably will do best if you just leave them alone.”

“If you don’t believe me, just try it. Buy one or more of the easy-to-grow indoor plants and see if you don’t feel more relaxed and find more enjoyment with them in your environment.” (Click to Tweet)

Peace lilies are another flowering option that grow well in low to bright light with some humidity. Pothos, a trailing vine with heart-shaped, variegated leaves, can add dimension and drama. The zz plant, with its wide, dark green leaves, is hardy and tolerates low light.

“If you don’t believe me, just try it,” Kardos encouraged. “Buy one or more of the easy-to-grow indoor plants and see if you don’t feel more relaxed and find more enjoyment with them in your environment.”

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Maple syrup production is flowing in Virginia

Maple syrup production is becoming a sweet business for some enterprising farmers in Southwest Virginia.

Although Highland County is known as the state’s hotbed of maple syrup production—its 60-year-old Highland Maple Festival was designated the state’s official maple festival by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2014—people have been making it in other areas.

“We have an abundance of red and sugar maple trees on our ridges, along with more than adequate slope to run sap lines,” noted Phil Meeks, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Wise County.

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Maple syrup production is an underappreciated and under-documented segment of Virginia’s agriculture industry, according to Tom Hammett, a professor in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“There are lots of people flying under the radar producing syrup for friends and family, but there is a groundswell of opportunity for commercial production,” he noted.

Data about Virginia syrup production is not officially captured, but Hammett estimated that in any one year there are up to 200 people producing syrup from tree sap; most are not commercial producers.

Roasted Lemon Maple Chicken

If all this maple syrup talk has your mouth watering, here’s a tasty winter entrée, courtesy of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association. It should work just fine with Virginia-made syrup too.

See Recipe

The larger commercial producers are in Highland County, which he called the “nexus of maple syrup production.” Others are in Wise County and the Mount Rogers area, and he said there are smaller “but vibrant” operations in other areas such as Giles County.

For information about maple syrup production and future syrup production workshops, call Hammett at 540-231-2716.

Maple syrup production is an underappreciated and under-documented segment of Virginia’s agriculture industry. (Click to Tweet)

Keep squirrels from hogging the birdseed

From elaborate obstacle courses to spinning bungee-jumping apparatuses, people have invented hilariously ingenious ways to keep squirrels out of bird feeders.

Backyard birders get frustrated when their feathered friends are pushed away by squirrels. Additionally, purchasing pricey, specialty birdseed only to have squirrels dominate the feeder is money down the drain.

Some bird feeders are made specifically to keep squirrels out. There are feeders with a weight-sensitive closing mechanism—birds are light enough to perch, but a squirrel’s heavier weight triggers the seed ports to close.

Horticulturalist Mark Viette went a different route and customized his bird feeder using plastic-coated chicken wire he purchased from a hardware store.

“You can make a box and put it over the feeder,” he explained. The holes are just large enough for birds to get into, but too small for squirrels.

Viette also added a separate feeder just for squirrels that he placed 100 to 200 feet away from the others.

“Squirrel feed tends to be inexpensive and is based more with a mixture of sunflower, corn and other foods,” he said. “Some people like the squirrels, but you can feed them away from your other feeders.”

Additional tips:

Squirrels can jump far!
Keep bird feeders up high, in an open area and away from branches or anything these uninvited guests could use as a jumping point to get access to the feeder. Also, consider your seed choice; birds love Nyjer and safflower seeds, but squirrels will avoid them.