Steward – November 2016

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Winter is Coming. Is Your Soil Prepared?

MGANM Meeting update: September

MGANM Meeting update: October

Plants Toxic to Pets

Winter is Coming. Is Your Soil Prepared?

by Jamie Guenther, Master Gardener

Just as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming winter by searching for mittens, hats, boots and heavier jackets, it is also a good idea to prepare our garden soil for the upcoming change in weather. Doing so will make the soil healthier which will help ensure that future gardens will be given the support and nourishment that they will need. There are 16 nutrient elements that plants need for growth and reproduction. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are the three most abundant nutrients, and they are obtained through water and the air. The remaining 13 are divided into three categories:

  1. Primary
    1. Nitrogen (N)
    2. Phosphorus (P)
    3. Potassium (K)
  2. Secondary
    1. Calcium (Ca)
    2. Magnesium (Mg)
    3. Sulfur (S)
  3. Micronutrients
    1. Zinc (Zn)
    2. Manganese (Mn)
    3. Iron (Fe)
    4. Boron (B)
    5. Copper (Cu)
    6. Molybdenum (Mo)
    7. Chlorine (Cl)

The first step is to take a soil test to determine what sorts of amendments are necessary. This may seem like a bother but it is important to be sure that the correct amendments are added and unnecessary ones are not. This will help save both the environment and your pocketbook by only adding what is necessary. The soil test through Michigan State Extension will tell you your soil pH, type of soil, organic matter content, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and lime recommendations as needed. Once you’ve done that, keep in mind that there are a few items to consider when choosing amendments.

There are two forms of fertilizer to consider:  organic and inorganic (chemical). Organic fertilizers are derived from a living plant or animal source while inorganic fertilizers are manufactured. Inorganic fertilizers typically consist of mainly nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus which are clearly displayed on the label. Organic fertilizers are more likely to contain micronutrients as well but a little more research is necessary to be sure of the nutrient content. Some good sources of organic fertilizers are:

  • Cottonseed meal. A byproduct of cotton manufacturing used frequently on acid-loving plants like rhododendrons. Generally, the nutrient content is 7% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus and 2% potash.
  • Blood meal. A dried, powdered blood collected from slaughterhouses. A rich source of nitrogen with the addition of some micronutrients including iron.
  • Fish emulsion. Partially decomposed blend of pulverized fish. This is a well-rounded fertilizer.
  • Bone meal. Ground animal bones collected from slaughterhouses. Good source of nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Wood ash. Byproduct of burning wood in wood stove or fireplace. Source of lime, potassium and other trace elements and is very alkaline.
  • Dried, crushed eggshells. Good source of calcium.
  • Alfalfa meal. Made from fermented alfalfa plants. Good source of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
  • Epsom salts. Good source of magnesium.
  • Calcitic or dolomitic lime. Good source of lime and calcium in both but if magnesium is also needed, use dolomitic lime.

Some of the above recommendations will attract wildlife into the garden, so be sure to lightly work them into the soil as a way to cover the odors.

It is also a good idea to add organic matter to the soil as a way to improve soil structure, add pore space for increased ability to hold water and nutrients, and provide a food source for beneficial microorganisms. Some good sources of organic matter are animal manure, compost, cover crops and perennial grasses and legumes.

Even though getting the soil ready for the upcoming winter includes a number of considerations it is definitely worth the effort to ensure a healthier soil and greater productivity in the upcoming spring.


Clemson Cooperative Extension. “Home & Garden Information Center.”

Cornell University Cooperative Extension. Nutrient Management Spear Program

Jeavona, John. “How to Grow More Vegetables.” 2012. Ecology Action of the Midpeninsula.

Oregon State University Extension Service. “Wood ash can be useful in yard if used with caution.”

Michigan State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program Training Manual.

MGANM Meeting update: September

by Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

September’s meeting was hosted by Kay Charter, founder of Saving Birds Thru Habitat and The Charter Sanctuary, on beautiful wooded property in Leelanau County.  Kay shared her expertise with us concerning beneficial habitats for native nesting birds, of which there are 22 species on her property.  Areas that provide arboreal and deciduous forests, grasslands and wetlands abundant with native plants will encourage our Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlark, Rose Breasted Grosbeak among many other species.

Our birds cannot live without the insects, so the use of insecticides and neonicotinoids are extremely harmful. Cats kill about one billion birds a year and window crashes also cause many deaths and injuries.  Using window screens/blinds can help birds’ confusion.

A brief walk along Kay’s path in her sanctuary finished off the night. We appreciate Kay’s vast knowledge of our native birds and hard work to educate us about the interconnectedness of our natural areas. For more information: or Facebook.

MGANM Meeting update: October

by Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

“Permaculture” was the topic of the October meeting and Penny Krebiehl our guide.  Penny is an artist, Permaculture Designer and founder of Little Artshram in TC, among many other talents.  Permaculture evolved from the term “Permanent Agriculture” meaning to mimic nature’s designs with vision, common sense and strategic thinking.

There are three ethics of permaculture:  care for the Earth, care for people and return the surplus. Also helpful are the principles for functional design, principles for living and energy systems and attitudes. Learning to observe your planting area, creating and optimizing zones for growing while respecting the natural design of the space, can provide optimum success in your gardens. And of course, there is constant evaluation of your success or failures!

Thank you so much, Penny, for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us.

The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane

Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Association President, Michele Worden, reminded all to make sure they have voted, through the email sent previously, to join the Michigan Master Gardener Association.  The Volunteer Recognition Luncheon is planned for Sunday, Nov. 6. Invitations will be going out soon and volunteers are needed for set up, clean up and the silent auction. Please contact Michelle Ferrarese- or Michele Be sure to get your volunteer hours registered before the end of October to help in preparation for the luncheon.

Plants Toxic to Pets

by Whitney Miller, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM “Techie Chick”

As the holiday season approaches, many people wonder about poisonous plants and their pets. We asked local veterinarian Whitney Jencka from Bay Area Pet Hospital a few questions regarding the subject, and here are her answers.

1. In your experience, what are the top three poisonous plants pets get into during the holiday season?

2. Is it the entire plant that is poisonous or just certain parts?

3. How much of these plants do they actually have to ingest before it can harm them?

4. What are the signs and symptoms of poisoning from these plants?

5. How long does it take for symptoms to show?

6. Do you have any recommendations to keep pets away from these plants?

Most of the calls we get are regarding chocolate, nuts, etc… However, Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) come up a lot! Historically, people have believed these to be very toxic to pets. In actuality, they are not life threatening. If a pet ingests a mild to moderate amount they may end up with GI upset, such as vomiting and/or diarrhea.

The second is Christmas tree water. It is also fairly benign if ingested unless there are fertilizers, nutrient additives. In that case it would depend on the product used. Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) are other common holiday time plants but luckily, they too are pretty harmless. If enough is ingested they can cause GI upset. The only exception would be very large ingestion of the American variety. It contains lectins which in high volume could cause cardiac effects.

I would expect the clinical signs of vomiting to begin pretty quickly. Most toxins that cause GI upset are irritating to the lining of the stomach. The diarrhea would probably occur within 12-48 hours.

Pets are pets and if they are interested in something they are going to get to it. So, if you are at all worried about the animals ingesting these plants I would recommend keeping them elevated at all times beyond their reach or not having them in the house.

You can always call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Hotline for help if there is concern that a pet ingested a toxin.

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