May 2011: Green Scene


LEAP talks the talk…

The scope of the Local Energy Alliance Program just keeps growing. This year, the energy-efficiency partnership brings you a wealth of green-home information via a series of free events—think water savings, insulation, real estate and more.

Each month, LEAP offers a free talk on a different topic. May’s is “Conserving and Preserving: Energy Efficiency Options for Historic Houses,” and June’s will cover cooling strategies for the sizzling months of summer. Check out or call 227-4666 for dates, times and other details.

All talks are held at the ecoREMOD house at 608 Ridge Street, which is another great reason to attend. This house is a historic building on the corner of Ridge and Cherry, where UVA and the City of Charlottesville have come together to demonstrate that even an old, drafty house can be remodeled with an eye toward greater energy and water efficiency. In other words, you’ll get a shot of inspiration with your education.—Erika Howsare

…and walks the walk

What else is LEAP up to? Handing out rebates to homeowners who upgrade their house’s energy efficiency, that’s what. The program, called Better Basics, offers you 50 percent back on the job cost, up to $400, when you improve the efficiency of your heating/cooling or insulation systems.

Three catches, though. One, you need to use a LEAP Certified Contractor. Two, you need to have that contractor show through an energy model that the project will improve your efficiency by at least 15 percent. And three, you’ve got to get the work done by the end of this month—May 31.

The good news? You can get special financing through the UVA Community Credit Union’s Green $ense program.

Everything else you need to know is at Check it out and get hustling!—E.H.

Paint a no-mold room

Mildew and mold are no good for your house’s indoor air quality, and we’re heading into the humid season when they’re prone to growing in moist areas of your house. If you’re thinking of repainting a bathroom, you might consider using a mold-inhibiting paint like Moldex.

The paint contains an engineered silver that works as an antimicrobial, stopping mold, mildew and odor-causing bacteria from growing. You can use it on previously painted surfaces, from drywall to concrete. The company offers a 10-year warranty on the stuff with as little as one coat. A gallon costs about $28-30 and you can find it on or

If you’re dealing with an already-moldy area, by the way, do read up on precautions you should take when tackling clean-up. Mold is an allergen and some varieties can be toxic, so know what you’re getting into before you start.—E.H.


This bud’s for you

The lilacs were heavy-budded this spring. Most flowering woody shrubs bloom best every other year and we might just be enjoying the effects of an alternate season, but here in the hollow I like to think faithful applications of wood ash and diligent dead-heading are paying off. Ashes sweeten the soil and removing old blooms redirects energy from seed production to forming flowers. An apocryphal great garden in France stopped all other work when it was time to cut the lilacs, so crucial is it to insuring a good bud set for next year.

As they’re reliably deer-resistant, we’ve been able to accumulate a small lilac collection. Several large clumps of sturdy Syringa vulgaris came in as shoots spaded out years ago from beds at the University. Two old named varieties flank the center of the garden—willowy ‘Ellen Willmott’ with double white blossoms towers over my head, while blue-tinged, gangly ‘Mr. Lincoln’ looks across the way.

Do not top or otherwise “trim” lilacs. Cut thick old trunks to the ground with a saw and thin out suckers with hand pruners or a lopper. They want to spread and make little colonies, so give them a good root run. Do not fear the canard that it’s too hot here to grow good lilacs. Spare them poor soil on a windy knob and they should prosper.

Though the deer have never nibbled the lilacs, roses were an impossibility until the 8’ post and wire fence. Originally erected for vegetables, in this family of flower arrangers its confines rapidly became a haven for roses and tulips. Heavy feeders, roses enjoy the same care as vegetables—full sun and lots of rotted organic matter, i.e., compost and well-aged manure.

If you can provide this and keep the deer off, you can grow roses without too much more fuss. We’ll follow their care through the coming seasons. For now, if you haven’t already, cut shrubs back about a third, remove all dead wood, and nip back lateral branches on old climber canes to a few good buds.

As land shrinks, it’s incumbent on us gardeners to think about how to weave together and nurture what’s left. If you’ve been following my discussion of aggressive invasives and still don’t want to use herbicides, consider extreme mulching: Scalp what’s there to the ground with a mower or string trimmer, remove, and pile on 8-10 or more inches of wood chips or other heavy organic material. Over a year or two this should smother existing vegetation enough to give you a shot at breaking up the ground to plant something else.

Use small trees, shrubs and perennials to replace arid monocultures of aggressive weeds—or lawns. Dogwood, redbud, fringe tree, viburnums, coneflower, Monarda and black-eyed Susan would make a good start almost anywhere. You don’t have to restrict yourself to natives. Lilacs and roses jostle with alders and asters on Doug Tallamy’s list of the most valuable plants for biodiversity in the mid-Atlantic region (—Cathy Clary

Tips from better world betty

Houseplant helpers
What do draperies, traditionally dry-cleaned clothing, men’s aftershave, and flooring materials potentially have in common? They could be off-gassing formaldehyde, terpene, and other chemicals into your home. One solution? Let beautiful houseplants do the purifying work for you through their natural process of breathing oxygen into the air. 

Kelly Agee of local nursery Eltzroth and Thompson says, “The broader the leaf, the more purifying it is.” You’ll be needing over a dozen to really cleanse the air. Here are the top recommendations from National Geographic’s Illustrated Green Guide:

Boston fern 
golden pothos 
spider plants 

(known to reduce levels of formaldehyde)

areca palm 
moth orchids 
dwarf date palm 

(reduce xylene and toluene)

gerbera daisy 
spider plants 
peace lilies 

(reduce benzene)

Other healthy plants include bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, indoor Dracaena species and the snake plant. Now you can breathe a little deeper knowing your houseplants are helping!

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource guide at and blog at