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Real Solutions: Spring Cleaning

by in Mar 2008
Real Solutions: Spring Cleaning
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It’s time for spring cleaning, and I’ve learned that some of my favorite cleaning products can be toxic. What’s a good alternative?– M.R., Dover, VT

Common household cleaners that contain chlorine, ammonia, and petroleum-based chemicals may contribute to respiratory problems, release harmful fumes, irritate allergies and chemical sensitivities, and burn skin or eyes on contact. Also, many commercial products such as drain, oven, and toilet-bowl cleaners may be hazardous to the environment.

You can find nontoxic cleaners in health food stores, but they tend to be expensive. The safest and cheapest alternative is to make your own with household ingredients. Here are two recipes for good all-purpose cleaners:

Combine 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar with 1/4 cup of baking soda in 1/2 gallon of water. Mix well and pour into a spray bottle (works on windows too).

Combine 2 tablespoons of liquid vegetable-based soap (such as castile) with 1/4 cup of baking soda or 1 teaspoon of borax in 1 gallon of hot water. Use it on floors, walls, woodwork, and counters.

— Polly Bannister, Yankee Home Editor


This time of year my yard is colorless and dull-looking. Can you suggest a few ways to make it more interesting? — B.D., Providence, RI

New England’s winters seem to last a long time and certainly make us yearn for spring’s reawakening. Adding trees and shrubs with winter appeal — particularly those featuring spectacular dormant-season foliage or early blooms — can help.

Many conifers — including juniper, cypress, and spruce — bear colorful foliage all year long. The stems and branches of some deciduous trees — including paperbark and three-flower maple (Acer griseum and triflorum) and Japanese pseudocamellia (Stewartia) — are strikingly attractive.

Shrubs and small trees such as seven-son flower (Heptacodium) and several of the dogwoods (Cornus), including cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), are also great choices. Other plants with early flowers are andromeda (Pieris) and certain magnolias, including ‘Leonard Messel’ and ‘Centennial’.

Many of these season-expanding plants are recipients of the prestigious Cary Award. This is a plant recognition program established in the 1990s by the Worcester County (Massachusetts) Horticultural Society at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. The Cary Award has recognized more than 30 hardy woody plants that are attractive in several seasons, easy to use, and readily available at garden centers, but underused in New England gardens. For more information, ask at your local garden center, or visit:


Updated Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
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