Steward – May 2020

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

By Lillian Mahaney, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I have always tried to help people understand that there are many ways to keep the various forms of wildlife from destroying their gardens.  I’m sure that almost every Master Gardener has also received the question “how do I protect my gardens without harming the wildlife?”.  I have included a number of suggestions below that have had successful results over the years:

Rodents love to burrow under the nice mulch surrounding plants in the winter since this gives them a nice home and a food supply.  Tucking an unused fabric softener sheet (the stronger the fragrance the better) under the mulch usually sends them to less “smelly” homes.  This also works well if you are storing a boat, car, closing up a cottage or have a rodent problem in a garage or shed.  Just be sure to not place the dryer sheets on surfaces where the oils can do damage.  Placing a few sheets under a deck also helps to keep animals from using that area for a winter den.

Please do not use any type of rodent poison (such as DCon or TomKat) to control rodents.  These rodenticides have a large amount of an anticoagulant and if another animal eats the rodent it will suffer the same fate.  Owls, hawks, opossums, skunks, raccoons and even dogs and cats are dying at an alarming rate.  The entire wildlife rehabilitation community has been trying to have these products banned.  Using the old fashioned snap mouse traps is a much more humane way to control rodents without harming the other species.

A good method for keeping deer and bunnies from browsing vegetation is to buy some of the little inexpensive muslin drawstring bags from your local feed store.  Put a small piece of Irish Spring Original Scent soap in the bag.  The bags can be tied to tree branches, fencing or even to small bamboo skewers placed at intervals around the area you want to protect.  The lower bags work well for the smaller animals like bunnies.

As it rains or snows the scent permeates the bag and usually makes the odor more intense.  The soap doesn’t seem to drip from the bag and just soaks into the muslin.  Just remember to keep the bag at “nose level” for the particular animal species.  The soap seems to work for a much longer time than other things like hair, blood meal, etc.

There are many other products on the market such as Liquid Fence, garlic products and predator urine.  These products have good results also, but they can be costly, may not last for as long a time and sometimes the odors are offensive to OUR noses.  Using the castor oil products (Mole Med, etc.) are good ways to deter moles without harming the animals.

If you have a good sense of humor and want to be the talk of your neighborhood I suggest buying some of the little foil pinwheels to keep bunnies and deer from your gardens.  They twirl with even the slightest breeze and seem to work better than the foil strips in most cases.  They also have the added benefit of making you a fun topic of conversation with your neighbors!

You may need to try a few different methods before you find one that works well for your circumstances.  I have a cherry farmer friend that uses the muslin drawstring bags in his orchard and has had great success and another that thinks the fabric softener sheets work better in his orchard.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to give me a call….231-256-8844.

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As gardeners we tend to like plants.  In fact I love many, many plants including trees, shrubs, perennials, clump forming grasses, sedges, and ferns; EXCEPT turf grass AKA lawn.  I do not like lawn.  I do not like how people care for it either.  Lawn belongs somewhere else, where it has rich soil and ample moisture without hot, dry summers.  The root of turf grass is about 3 inches deep.  This means it has difficulty accessing nutrients and moisture, as it is mostly out of its reach.  Homeowners spend countless hours and expense on maintaining this out-of-place plant.  However, it can be walked on which is its ONE big advantage over all of my favorite plants.

Ecological gardening practices encourages homeowners to increase the number and diversity of native plants in the landscape.  An ideal way to do that is to replace existing lawn with native plants.  There are about four methods to get rid of lawn:  -dig it, -apply herbicide, – solarize it, or -smother it.

-Digging lawn is hard work.  To remove the lawn you take up about 3 inches of reasonably fertile soil and disturb any beneficial activity in the root layer.  Then you need to decide whether to replace the space with additional soil and decide what to do with the sod.

-Herbicides are effective in killing lawn and I advise it on a steep slope where smothering is not effective because of gravity.  The advantage is that you may be ready to plant in a few weeks.  The disadvantage is the chemical.

-Solarizing is an effective method when done in summer.  Apply a thick sheet of black plastic held down by landscape staples or another method and wait until the lawn is completely burned.  A black plastic lawn patch is not very attractive, although effective.

-Smothering is my favorite.  Outline the bed shape, trench the edge, cover with layered newspapers and mulch and wait a season… smother in fall to plant in spring or smother in spring to plant in fall.

In early April while self-isolating, I began a new landscape bed in my daughter’s yard.  My gardening clothes emerged from winter hibernation… jeans with patched knees, Birkenstock gardening shoes, and heavy duty gardening gloves.

The plan was a second landscape bed to mirror an existing one and smothering the lawn for fall installation.  Measuring tape in hand, we marked the distance from the front walk and distance from the road. We measured an approximate shape/size and used marking spray paint to outline the bed.  Note:  Marking spray is much easier to use than regular spray paint because it is designed to spray down.

Next, we made a small trench along the line to cut grass roots. This is where an edging will go. When landscaping in a lawn, especially with native plants, I believe it is important to edge the bed.  It gives a clear indication that the plants are purposely designed to be there. The soil/sod clumps were shaken and divided to settle into the new bed.

Finally, we layered 4-5 sheets of newspaper, tucking new layers under the previous with a big overlap. Do this only when wind is NOT an issue. It was still when we began, but we wrestled with layering the last sheets when the breeze began.  As we layered the newspaper, we piled on 3 inches of mulch. Usually I prefer shredded pine bark mulch from Four Season Nursery, but with them closed we settled for cheap bagged shredded wood from Menards.









We are done now. The bed will sit and decompose till September or October when we return to install plants. There will be no need to remove the newspaper or the mulch.  The benefits of this method include leaving the soil undisturbed AND adding the dead plant material, newsprint and wood chips to the ecosystem.  

Seeing the bed site over the season will help us to evaluate the available light under the two oak trees facing east for morning sun. It will be easier to decide design and plant layout with the bed in place.  Plus, understory plant choices will be fun.  









Please note:  this simple method is most effective on turf grass with typical lawn weeds.  Invasive species such as spotted knapweed, bladder campion, English ivy, periwinkle/ vinca, and smooth brome grass are more difficult to eradicate.  

Nourish – May 2020

Winter Sowing Progress Report

By Tamara Premo, Extension Master Gardener

Now that the weather is getting warmer (well somewhat warmer), I thought I’d give you an update on my winter sown seeds.  I only planted half as many milk jugs this year, because I’m focusing on developing my flower beds and cutting back on some veggies.  I’ll have to get those at the Farmers Market.  Below is a picture of what I’ve done this winter, mostly planted in early March.

In the next photo you can see that I’ve used several sizes of milk jugs and some clear plastic orange juice containers.  Personally, I think the clear plastic containers work better since they get more sunlight.  Also those pill containers tied to each jug contain the seed packet. They are waterproof and I don’t have to worry about my permanent ink pen washing off during the winter…like it did last year.  (I had to wait for some jugs to start blooming because I had no idea what was planted!)

As May starts to get closer I start checking my jugs every other day, mostly to make sure they don’t dry out, and to see if anything is sprouting.  This is my favorite part of winter sowing.  Yesterday I had 11 jugs with sprouts.  The photo below is one of my Bachelor Buttons, always the first to sprout.  Some other varieties that are showing are Dwarf Morning Glories, Zinnias, China Asters, Penstemon and some Speedwell seeds I harvested from my plants last year.

I noticed that my soil was dry on top but the soil in the bottom of the jugs was still damp.  We’ve had several windy days and no snow or rain to keep things wet.  I just took my gallon sprayer jug and gently sprayed the top of the soil in each jug.  You might think that the seedlings would die with our nights below freezing, but the jugs act as mini greenhouses and everything was fine when I checked them today.To illustrate how effective this system is, the next photo is my Agastache -Autumn Sunset.  I grew it as an annual last year because I live in Zone 4b.  It didn’t start sprouting until late July so it never flowered.  And I never got it into the ground!  So this plant lived in this jug all winter and to my great surprise it’s coming back and I’m thinking it will be a perennial for my garden.  My point in telling you this, is sometimes you will think nothing is going to happen with your seeds, but trust me they will germinate when it’s right for them.  Two years ago I planted pink lavender and never saw a seedling all season.  I kept them watered and kept them with my seedlings for next season and sure enough, they germinated and are growing well in my flower beds.

Tomorrow I will start my vegetables (shallots, bunching onions, cabbage, zucchini, and squashes).  Unlike some perennials that need a period of freezing and thawing (stratification), I start these veggies now to get a jump start on my growing season.  By the time the last week in May gets here (my time to plant) the plants will be about 5” or 6” tall.  If you have an empty milk jug and some seeds, try this method, it’s not too late.

Beautify – May 2020

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Speaker event ‘Hot Plants for 2020’

Doing the Chelsea Chop


Speaker event ‘Hot Plants for 2020’

By Michele Worden, Advanced Extension Master Gardener, MGANM President

We were nervous about how our first online presentation would work, so Robin Smillie and I entered the Zoom room 15 minutes early.  Much to our surprise – so did many other people!  Thus, for 15 minutes Master Gardeners had our usual social time before the speaker presentation.  We chatted and caught up.  How was handling the pandemic going at your house?  Many of us marveled at seeing so many faces at the same time.  It was a bit like coming out into the sun from a dark place.  We could not remember the last time it had happened.  We blinked.  We were giddy.

At 6:01, Robin Smillie of Garden Goods began her presentation. She regaled us with an overview of the green industry and how many plants Garden Goods sells in a season.  It was very interesting.  So far, they had only received balled and burlapped fruit trees.  They were Tibetan cherry trees (Prunus serulla) with decorative copper bark that provided an attractive winter interest and beautiful spring bloom.  She showed us a picture of the tree in a landscape and we oohed and ahhed.  

Robin proceeded with a beautiful Powerpoint presentation of plants Garden Goods was excited to be getting for 2020.  All plants had already been trialed in northern gardens by Garden Goods.  They test plant introductions for at least one season by planting at the owner’s home, or key places, to evaluate before they offer larger numbers to the public through their store.  I texted her to claim a few that I wanted for my garden during the presentation.  They will have very limited supply.   Best to get ahead of the curve.


The list Robin talked about are below:

Shrubs and roses

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Firelight’

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Summer Crush”

Petite ‘Knock-Out’ rose (a series)

Prunus Serulla



Aralia cordata ‘Sun King”

Allium ‘Millineum’ (weird spelling)

Brunner macrophylla ‘Jack of Diamonds’

Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’


Doing the Chelsea Chop

By Nancy Popa, Extension Master Gardener

Did you ever hear of the Chelsea Chop?  It is not a dance or a recipe but rather a pruning technique to make your garden spectacular. The Chelsea Chop is named for the pruning technique that is carried out right before the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show in Chelsea England.  The technique limits the size of the plants and controls the flowering season of many herbaceous plants.  It also prevents tall leggy plants from toppling over by making them bushier.

Many summer and autumn flowering plants are suitable for the Chelsea Chop.  Sedum (upright), Solidago, Aster, Phlox, Achellia, Penstemon, Helenium, Leucanthemum and Echinacea are perfect candidates.   It is not suitable for plants that only bloom once during the season such as Peonies, Iris and Aquilea.  It is not used in woody plants nor plants that are young or undeveloped.

Plants can be cut back by one-third to one-half when they are nice and green (anytime beginning in late May/early June) using pruners or scissors.  You can actually prune them several times throughout June, just make sure that your pruning is done by the summer equinox at the end of June, as the shortening days signal the plant to produce seeds and not flowers.  

Prune back close to a bud, where the growth-hormones will aid in the production of new branching and buds. Remember, the terminal bud (the bud at the end of a branch or twig) produces a hormone called auxin that directs the growth of lateral buds (buds along the side of the branch or twig). As long as the terminal bud is intact, auxin suppresses the growth of lateral buds and shoots below the terminal. When you remove the terminal bud by pruning, lateral buds and shoots below the pruning cut grow vigorously.

Make sure you keep the plant watered and fertilized following the pruning as it can shock the plant.  

You can cut back the entire plant if you want to delay the blooms to coincide with another flowering plant or you can cut back every other stem so that you extend the blooming time.  A word of caution; make sure you deadhead the first flush before it sets seeds, otherwise you will be disappointed by the intensity of the second flush.  In the end, the plant may be slightly shorter although sturdier and with numerous blooms, which may be smaller.  Expect blooms to be delayed by about 2 weeks.

It sounds like a great science project, especially if you are trying to time the blooms to coincide with another species.  Get out your journal and document your work!

Serve – May 2020

Victory Garden Emergence

By Tamara Premo, Extension Master Gardener

Victory gardens are back in vogue as more people are looking to grow their own food in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Victory Garden movement began during WWI in an effort to get more Americans to grow their own food to allow more food to be exported to support our European allies, where the food would go to both civilians and troops. The European farmers were recruited into the military and many of their farms became battlefields. According to, over 8 million gardens were created in America by 1918!  

There was a resurgence of Victory Gardens during WWII when, once again, much of the commercial crops were being exported to support the war effort. Maintaining a Victory Garden was seen as a citizen’s patriotic duty and it helped families stretch their rationing stamps.  Even Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. 

Victory Gardens were so popular that they continued well beyond the last world war. In 1975, a new gardening television program debuted on PBS called, “The Victory Garden”.  Initially more of a demonstrational presentation, the show eventually expanded to include guests and special features on travel. The show was so well received that it was the oldest gardening program in television history, airing until 2010. Within the same spirit, the series “Edible Feast” continues to air on PBS as a revamp of the original program.

I heard about Victory Gardens 2 on Facebook and I was curious to know if this was a reaction to the COVID pandemic. I joined a FB group called Victory Garden Revival. There is also a group called Victory Gardens for Northern Michigan. The day I joined VGR, there were ~7500 members and 4 days later there were ~11,000 members.  Obviously, there is a movement to get back to growing our own food.  I asked what motivated members to start a Victory Garden and it was heartening to hear that in addition to feeding their families, most were planting more to help feed their neighbors and to help local food banks and soup kitchens.  There were a lot of new gardeners looking for advice, some people were turning part of their lawns into gardens and some were forming cooperatives in their cities.

Since I’ve had more time with the stay at home order, I’ve been able to create more garden beds and plan to grow more vegetables for preserving.  I noticed that my neighbor created a new garden on the side of their yard to grow and preserve as much food as they can so they aren’t caught short again.  Several weeks ago, I also started growing lettuce and spinach indoors because finding fresh produce at my local grocery store was hit or miss, with mostly empty shelves.  I’ve become more frugal by re-growing some of the vegetables I buy, like green onions, celery and carrots. Like my neighbors, my gardening efforts help safeguard me against a future food shortage of my own. I hope to use this experience to educate others as our country slowly phases into some sort of normalcy.

Master Gardener groups across the country are giving Victory Garden workshops and online seminars.  Perhaps this is something we can all get involved with by delivering to 4-H groups and outreach events like Smart Gardening and the MG Booth.

In wartime efforts, those who maintained a Victory Garden served the cause. Victory Gardens served a real purpose then, and although the circumstances are different today, we have been fighting an invisible war. While it’s true there is no burden on commercial farmers to feed people overseas and it might not be your patriotic duty today, as it was in war time, but there is a certain sense of security that comes with growing your own food. There is a sense of community when you grow food for others.  Especially those who cannot produce food for themselves. Gardeners help others by growing and giving.

Coordinator’s Corner, May 2020

Coordinator’s Corner: How to Volunteer While Staying Home and Staying Safe

By Nate Walton, MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Instructor and MG Coordinator

Many of you will already be aware that MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers and Trainees are not being required to complete their volunteer hour requirements for certification in 2020. However, there has not been a decrease in the need for the services that our program provides. Fortunately, we can continue to serve our communities, we just need to adapt how we do that in order to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. Here is a simple message that I would encourage you to share with individuals or organizations that we partner with: 

Due to current travel restrictions and safety guidelines, MSU Extension has modified how we work with our clientele. We are still here to provide the information and resources you need, just in different ways than we have in the past.

In the spirit of that message, I am working hard to create volunteer opportunities that MSU Extension Master Gardeners in the Grand Traverse area can engage in while staying home and staying safe. All of these opportunities involve interacting with others only via remote methods such as telephone, online video conferencing, and/or the postal service. 

Lawn and Garden Q&A with MSU Extension Master Gardeners

Every Wednesday from 11am to 1pm, MSU Extension Master Gardeners join me for a live plant diagnostic clinic for local residents via Zoom. You can join just to listen in and learn, or you can help by providing one-on-one diagnostic support to our clients. I would also encourage you to bring your own plant or insect questions to the session. It is easy to join. You can join via internet on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can also join by telephone. The link to join by Zoom is:

If you’d like to join by phone, contact me (, 231-256-9888 ext 323) and I will provide you with the phone number and instructions. 

Become a Garden Mentor

I have had requests from a number of local non-profits, schools, and individuals who have an interest in creating vegetable gardens, some of them for the first time, to provide food for those in need in our communities in the Grand Traverse area. To help these enthusiastic new gardeners succeed, I’d like to connect each of them with an MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer mentor. The Garden Mentor’s role will be to help them via remote methods (phone, internet, etc) by providing gardening expertise, aid in planning their garden, problem solving, and so on. I have created an online survey tool that will allow me to link MSU Extension Master Gardner Volunteers with these organizations and individuals. The tool will allow you to choose whether you’d prefer to work with schools, individuals, organizations, or all of the above! I will then be able to pair you with an appropriate mentee on an as-needed basis. The link to the survey is here:

Thank you for reading! I will keep you all updated as new opportunities emerge. Also, please continue to share with me any and all volunteer opportunities or ideas that you might have. I wish you all a safe and happy spring gardening season!


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