Steward – May 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Rain Gardens: MGANM March Meeting Notes

What’s happening to my Blue Spruce?

The WHY of Native Plants

Photo by Superior Watershed in the U.P.

Rain Gardens: MGANM March Meeting Notes

By Cheryl Gross, AEMG

MGANM hosted another full house at their March monthly meeting.  Carolyn Thayer, with a BLA (Landscape Architecture) from MSU, owner of Designs in Bloom in Frankfort, a Certified Shoreline Professional, and founder of Plant It Wild was the presenter.  Carolyn Thayer discussed the key elements of rain gardens, shoreline buffer strips, and permeable surfaces. The key takeaway: Keep all stormwater from roofs and hard surfaces ON SITE.

Slow it down, Spread it out, Soak it in… is the slogan of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.  Slow it down by using rocks around downspouts and gullies, spread it out by creating depressions and spaces for the water to collect, and soak it in by using native plants with deep roots to move the water through the soil.

Carolyn Thayer showed how even small depressions lined with rocks and planted with moisture loving native plants can manage the run off from a foot washing station at a home near the beach.  She detailed a project at Gateway Village in Frankfort where all the stormwater from the roofs and parking lots are directed into rain gardens that offer beautiful year-round interest and keep all stormwater on site and out of Betsie Bay.  Her most recent project is at a Frankfort Beach parking area on Crystal Lake which involved significant excavation and land shaping to accommodate the runoff and the plants. Finally, Carolyn introduced permeable hard surface products that can capture some storm water on the surface for drive ways and walk ways and limiting the runoff from traditionally impenetrable hard surfaces.

It was a very educational presentation.  Carolyn offered handouts and resources as well.

Read:  Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy

Download a resource from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, “Plant a Rain Garden” a how-to guide for homeowners:


What’s happening to my Blue Spruce?

By Michael O’Brien, EMG

It was a really sad day when I realized my forty foot Blue Spruce trees, that are now thirty years old were under attack.  For the past two years I’ve been wondering why my trees were developing brown patches. This past summer I was involved in an advanced diagnostic workshop.  That’s when I became aware of Needle Cast disease.

The Colorado Blue Spruce is not native to Michigan.  There are many trees that aren’t native to this state, unfortunately they are succumbing to disease and insects.  This may be happening as our climate is changing.

Needle Cast disease is a fungus with spores.  It requires the right temperature and humidity to disperse spores.  These spores can travel about a mile with ease especially if the winds are correct.  The fungus that effects Colorado Blue Spruce is called Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii Bubak.  There is also another fungus called Stigmina needle cast. Many times Stigmina needle cast is misdiagnosed for Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii Bubak.

The spores attach to the needles, they drain the nutrients out of the needle, and eventually the needle dies.  In May just when the tree is about to open its new buds the fungus is also getting ready to disperse. Some of these new spores will attach to the new growth, while others travel in the wind.  This fungus can do serious harm to the tree and eventually the tree can die.

To diagnose this disease you need an eye loupe, a microscope or an arborist.  The disease shows up as little tiny black dots that can be too small to see by eye.

The good news is the trees can recover.  It may be necessary to apply around three treatments in early spring to keep the fungus from spreading into new areas of the tree.  It may take a couple of years for the tree to produce new growth to replace what has been lost. Most importantly do not cut out the diseased branches.  April and May is the best time to call a tree specialists to begin treatment.

Trillium grandiflorum and Dicentra canadensis. Photo by Whitney Miller

The WHY of Native Plants

By Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG, Plant it Wild President

There exists a connectivity between the soil, plants, and insects which are the first links in the web of life.  Insects are the creatures who turn the energy from the sun, processed by plants into biomass. This insect biomass is what begins to feed the world.

Soil, plants and insects evolve together in ecosystems all over the world.  In plant communities, they create habitats. Insects feed on plants, predator insects feed on insects on plants as do birds, amphibians, and mammals.  Everything is fed and kept in check. Control of plants is provided by the soil, moisture and the critters that feed on them.

Once you begin replacing native plants with alien plants moved within continents and from one continent to another, the ecosystem is disrupted.  The alien plants just don’t fit. Some require extensive and continuous soil amendments and water to succeed (think turf grass). Others, without their own ecosystem controls, escape and become invasive (Bradford Pear, Japanese barberry, and myrtle to name three). The insects who need to be supported cannot live on alien plants. Insects are picky eaters and almost all eat only those plants with whom they have co-evolved. Replace their natural plant communities with non-native plants and there is no insect food. Consider the well-known Monarch butterfly whose larval form lives only on plants in the milkweed family.  We hear about Monarchs everywhere. However, they are but one. All other butterflies and moths have the same habits. When we landscape with non-native plants a food desert is created.

Food deserts are places that lack access to foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.  Our food desert can be best seen in the decline of our migratory bird population. Some of our birds are in danger of extinction because of the food deserts we have created.  To begin, 98% of all baby birds are fed insects by their parents. (The other 2% are fed fish.) The best food for these baby birds are soft, squishy caterpillars. Caterpillars contain valuable nutrients that baby birds need to grow and fledge.  Research estimates that chickadee parents need to feed 6,000 to 9,000 insects, mostly caterpillars, to their clutch each year. That is ONE family. When enough caterpillars/insects are not available, the nest will fail.

It is because of this beautiful and complicated food web that we must focus on landscaping with native plants.  Recent research has determined that to create a healthy food-web ecosystem, the plants on any site must be at least 70% native.  This number includes ALL plants…including your turf lawn. To answer the question then, Why Native Plants? To support life.

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