MGANM Opportunities- July 2020

Editor, Real Dirt

If you like to write and have moderate to good writing skills, editing the MGANM Real Dirt is a TERRIFIC volunteering opportunity.  I did it for over 5 years and enjoyed it very much.  You get to work with a team of gardeners and writers who provide support and feedback.

Read about the job here: MGANM Real Dirt Editor/Chair

Job Summary:

The Real Dirt (RD) is the bi-monthly electronic newsletter of MGANM.  The Editor/Team Chair sets the tone for the RD Committee and contributors.  All articles are to be researched, scientifically-based and represent the most recent best-practices in horticulture.   The Editor/Chair begins the issue development process, brainstorms possible topics, receives suggestions from contributors, and sets deadlines.

Job Duties:

  • By the first of the month, prior to the bi-monthly issue, the Editor sends out emails to the team of contributors.  The email contains ideas for brainstorming relevant topics based upon the season and current events.           
  • Selects topics to research and write for each issue; encourages others to write.  The Real Dirt is divided into six categories:  News and Events, Administration, Serve, Beautify, Nourish, and Steward.  The four latter categories roughly include the chapters in the MG Volunteer Training Manual.  These topic areas are important to keep readers up-to-date on changes in the content.
  • Receives, reads and comments upon articles submitted by others.  Shares all writing with the established team members for inputs and edits.  Relies on those most skilled at editing.  Uses the 15th of the month as an editorial deadline.  Gathers photos to accompany articles when possible.
  • Roughly, by the 20th of the month, begins entering the submitted articles into a content format.  The format follows how articles will appear in the electronic version.  Writes a brief introduction or ‘teaser’ for each article.  The intro should be one to three sentences long and direct the reader as to what will be found in the article content.  Submits the Real Dirt content to the Technology Chair for uploading into the on-line format by the 25th of the month.
  • Receives a draft of the electronic format for final editing.  Re-reads all content and introductions.  Checks each link to ensure that it takes the reader to the proper article.  Sends any changes/concerns to the Technology Chair for final blast on or about 1:00 am on the first of the month.
  • Represents the Real Dirt Team to the Board, MSUE, and MG Training classes.  Recruits contributors. 

MGANM Technology Chair

Job Summary:

The MGANM Technology Chair manages technology-related areas: Website, membership management software, social media, and Mail Chimp for the Real Dirt on-line newsletter and email.  The use of Facebook and social media is an extension of the website as well as a way to network with people and organizations.  Mail Chimp is a program that is used to publish the Real Dirt and to email MGANM information to members or the public.

Job Duties:

  • Maintains log-ins and passwords for all online accounts including MGANM website, Wild apricot, social media, and MailChimp.
  • Works with an outside consultant, currently ProWeb Marketing, who hosts and maintains the functionality of the website to manage aspects of the website such as title fonts, and colors. ProWeb can assist with all major changes or updates.
  • Ensures that the website is kept up-to-date.
  • Creates social media posts and re-shares posts (from external sources), photos, and events that adhere to the Master Gardener Code of Conduct as laid out in the Master Gardener Manual.
  • Creates and maintains a template inside MailChimp to use for all Real Dirt publications. If any changes to this template are to be made, ensure that the Real Dirt team supports the changes. While the publisher has vast control of creativity with the online format, it is important to value the input of all team members and ensure that they are proud of the final product.
  • Attends Board Meetings and Membership meetings.

Serve – July 2020

Get Ready for the 2021 Northwest Michigan Fair

by Gayla Elsner

I was saving some terrific salsa from last year to enter in the Northwestern Michigan Fair, but with the fair cancelled this year I popped it open to enjoy.  I’ll make an even better version this year, for 2021.  While your garden is peaking a why don’t you make some plans to be an exhibitor at next year’s Northwestern Michigan Fair?  Now is the time to decide what vegetables, fruits, flowers, and field crops to plant, to enter in the Fair.  I’m sure you are keeping track of what is working well and what you’ll do differently next year, even while you are picking, freezing and canning your harvest.

Master Gardener Volunteer and teacher Duke Elsner has gotten involved with the Fair, and yours truly is his assistant.  Duke has revised the Horticulture, Agriculture, and Floriculture categories in the premium book to update them for the varieties we grow in our home gardens now.  Another change he’s working on is allowing an additional day/time to drop off exhibits, as requested by some of the farmers, who are out in the field working on those grain entries on Saturday and would like to bring them to the Fair on Sunday. While Duke and I are not Fair Board members, we are Supervisors of the Tanner Building, so we attend meetings.  I am flabbergasted by the amount of work and planning it takes to run this excellent Fair, and how early they have to start!

Take a peek at the 2020 Fair Premium Book for some ideas.  You can find it online at   It is a PDF file. Before the pandemic, the premium book could also be picked up at various locations around town, like the County Extension Offices.  That’s not happening this year, as the premium book didn’t go to press.  The book is organized by building; look for the Tanner Building, which houses Agriculture, Horticulture, and Floriculture.  Also check out the Evelyn Heim Building. This is where the jams, jellies, and preserves are entered.  I bet you can be competitive in Culinary Arts like Food Preservation and Baked Goods.  Duke comes home from teaching Master Gardener with many tales of goodies you have made to share with your classes so I know you are wonderful bakers!  There are also categories for yard art and photography that you might be interested in entering.  Note that there are Youth and Differently Abled categories in both buildings that might be of interest to your family and friends.  Over and above those categories, there is a whole world of 4H for kids.


Dates to know:

Now! The 2020 Fair Premium Book is on-line.  The 2021 premium book will be published in April next year.

Registration Deadline: This year’s would have been July 20. You have to have your registration form completed and at the Fair office by this day.  The form is on page 73 -75 of the Fair Premium Book. You also have to have your entries paid for by this date.  Yes, you do have to pay to enter things in the fair, but don’t worry it’s cheap.  The fee is $5 for every ten items you enter. However, you win a $3 premium for every class in which you take first place, so you could easily win your money back!  Do everyone a favor and get your registration form in early.  The real reward is satisfaction and maybe a little bit of bragging rights.  You mail the form in to the Fair office or you drive it over there.   The address is right on the form.  The Fair Board is working on an online system, but for now it’s still mail-in or drop-off.

Dates of the Fair:  August 8-14, 2021. There will be certain days and times to bring in exhibits and certain days and times to remove them.  Read the rules on page 45 (Tanner Building) of this year’s premium book to get an idea, and page 33 (Heim Building). Don’t worry if the exhibits looked a little wilted by the time you saw them last summer, they are judged at their peak.


How to win:

Entries are divided into animal exhibits and non-animal exhibits, then further divided into departments and classes. Read the rules for the department in which you are entering, on pages 33 and 45 of the Premium Book, as above.  Then read the description of the class(es) you are entering. 

There are rules for how to display your entries.  For example, vegetables are to be on a plain paper plate and preserved foods are to be in a clear glass jar.  Make sure you enter your item in the right class.  A common mistake in the horticulture section is to misidentify an herb! 

I don’t think growing a wonderful specimen is going to be a problem for you Master Gardeners.  Note that many entries ask for a certain number of veggies like three carrots or five radishes.  Judges are looking for produce that is representative of the variety, not necessarily the biggest or anything unusual.  Health of the product is very important.  Judges may use the descriptions in nursery catalogs to figure out what the representative characteristics are of the variety.  Remember if it’s a bad year for tomatoes, it’s a bad year for everybody.  Enter anyway; your small specimens may still be the best.  Or maybe you have figured out a better way to grow that fruit and would like to show it off.


Volunteer Opportunities:

This may be the best part of the fair.  You get to participate.  Take a shift in the Tanner Building keeping the displays tidy and answering questions about the Master Gardener program.  There will be program literature for you to distribute.  The Tanner building is cool and shady, people will stop and chat, you get to meet other Master Gardener Volunteers and network with them about your projects.  The building is also conveniently located near the restrooms and the food court.  Last year my favorite, Norma’s Tamales, was just outside the door.  Contact Nate Walton or Duke Elsner to sign up next year.

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!


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