Melissa Ozawa, features and garden editor at Martha Stewart Living, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What are your favorite house plants that are low maintenance, attractive and good for the home environment?
A: I love sansevieria, or snake plants. I have several at home. They are not at all fussy: They don’t require a lot of water, can handle different light conditions (though are best in partial light), and can handle some neglect. Chinese money plants (Pilea peperomioides) are also easy to grow and have been popping up at all the cool plant stores.
Q: My room doesn’t get much direct sunlight, but I’d like to get some plants to liven it up. I don’t have enough light for flowers. I know plants are huge now, but it seems like every Instagram, blog or magazine feature I look at includes things like snake plants, fiddle-leaf figs, etc. How do I find things that aren’t also in everyone else’s house?
A: The good news about the popularity of houseplants is that there are many more available. What about plants with colored foliage? If your room gets some light (four to five hours), try a begonia or peperomia. They have incredible foliage that looks great all the time.
Q: While visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, I fell in love with florist’s cyclamen. On a whim, I bought a pink one at the grocery store. The tag says to give it plenty of sun and to water it regularly. Other than that, do you have any more helpful advice about caring for my four-inch potted plant?
A: I love cyclamens; they offer a burst of color in the winter. But they can be a little demanding. A little like Goldilocks, they don’t like it too hot or too cold, preferring 60-degree temperatures, which I know is not ideal at home. Water it about once a week; test the soil, and if it’s wet, hold off a little longer. When you do water, bring the plant to the sink and give it a long drink until the water flows out the drainage hole.
Q: I live in Delaware. Are there certain species of trees that are better for the environment, besides native trees?
A: A native tree is often the best choice. They have adapted with your environment, so they don’t need a lot of extra fuss to thrive, they support pollinators and they’re beautiful. You can find a tree that works well in your area by plugging in your ZIP code at the Arbor Day Foundation’s website (arborday.org).
Q: Is there an eco-friendly cleaner for wood floors that can stand up to teenagers and a dog?
A: I’m a big fan of vinegar and water. I think it’s the best for cleaning floors.
Q: We just cleaned out a house that was occupied by the same family for 67 years. In the process, we found tons of photos of the children, the aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, both maternal and paternal, and snapshots that fill boxes and boxes. What do we do with them? Should we digitize them and put them on CDs? If so, how do I digitize them? We can’t have 30 boxes of photos sitting around.
A: What a treasure trove of family history. Do you have access to a scanner? You could scan the photos and share them with your family.
Q: I’ve been stalling on buying reusable bags for the kids’ lunches, as they sometimes forget and throw them away. Do you have any recommendations for ones that are reasonably priced? We all take our lunches every day.
A: What about using reusable containers instead of bags for your kids? They might be less likely to throw them away. They have all different sizes for snacks — even ones that fit sandwiches.
Q: I use linen napkins for my household and for when guests come. We use napkin rings the old-fashioned way — so we can tell our napkins apart when we use them for more than one meal. They get washed every few days or after one use if they are particularly messy. But not everywhere has abundant water. How do you tell when it’s better to wash or use disposable? One of our nearby government complexes is heated in large part by trapped methane from a landfill, so it doesn’t seem as simple an equation as “reusable is always better.”
A: I like your idea about using napkin rings to differentiate napkins. There are some things you can do to cut back on resources for your reusables, such as collecting rainwater, making sure your dishwasher and washer are full before running them, and really watching how much water you use.
Q: Why are so many manufacturers of, for example, soy milk, now packaging in the rounded-at-the-bottom plastic containers instead of the old paper cartons? Even at Whole Foods I see nothing but plastic.
A: Why don’t you write the manufacturers to find out? Or start a social media campaign to encourage them to switch from plastic. They will listen to consumers; they depend on us.
Q: I make my own cleaner with white vinegar and next will tackle making laundry detergent. What other things can we do to cut down on toxins and plastic use?
A: There are BioBags that are compostable in an industrial composter. You could give them a try.