Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Gardening Resolutions for 2017

Grow a Bird Feeder

Annual Report from Mary Wilson

Native plant gardens at the Boardman River Nature Center. Photo courtesy of Grand Traverse Conservation District

Native plant gardens at the Boardman River Nature Center. Photo courtesy of Grand Traverse Conservation District

Gardening Resolutions for 2017

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Hello 2017!

The end of one year and the start of a new one.  A time for new beginnings and fresh resolutions.  And gardeners are no exception.  In fact, some might say that by the very nature of the passing seasons and plant cycles, gardeners as a group are even more attune to the hope of fresh starts and new resolutions.

The Real Dirt team is no different.  Here they share their New Year’s gardening resolutions and some links for additional info in case your goals for 2017 are similar. 

Cheryl Gross, Real Dirt editor, MGANM Vice President, Advanced Master Gardener:

“My gardening resolution is to document on paper and in pictures the seasonal changes on my Michigan native plant landscaped beds.  This will be their third year since that space grew only lawn and I hope to note bloom time, pollinators, bloom length, color palette, bird species, insects and such.   This documentation will allow for rearranging for color and space, and for educational purposes when I speak on gardening with Michigan natives!  It is an ambitious resolution for sure, but should allow, and encourage me, to stop and smell the roses!“ 

Looking for inspiration on how to document your own garden?  Check out the articles at and  You can also find plenty of free downloadable garden journal pages, charts and graphs to help you with your documentation by searching “garden journal templates” on your internet search engine.

Whitney Miller, Real Dirt art director and MGANM “Techie Chick”, Advanced Master Gardener:

“We built a new raised bed garden this fall, so I plan to research the best soil/compost mix to put in it.  I also plan to start my tomatoes indoors this year — never had great success with that.”

The Michigan State University Extension website ( has numerous articles on starting vegetable seeds indoors over the winter, including “Growing Tomatoes In Your Garden” ( and “Michigan Fresh: Growing Tomatoes” (  Other sites on starting tomato seeds at home can be found at and

Michele Worden, Real Dirt contributor, MGANM President, Advanced Master Gardener:

“To water my plants in the garage under the grow lights twice a week so I don’t lose any to over dryness.  Also, to start my seeds on time.”

Many websites have calendars on when it’s best to start vegetable seeds in your zone.  A great one can be found at can be found at the Burpee website (  Simply type in your zip code and up pops the indoor sow, direct sow and transplant dates for scores of fruits, vegetables, perennials, flowers and herbs.

Lillian Mahaney, Real Dirt contributor, Advanced Master Gardener:

“My resolutions for 2017 are working towards having more time to enjoy my gardens and adding more native plants.”

You can find out more about Michigan native plants at Michigan State University Extension website.  The section titled Native Plants and Ecosystem Services,, is a great place to start.

Michelle Ferrarese, Real Dirt contributor, MSUE Leelanau County Master Gardener Coordinator:

“My resolution is to leave as many volunteer milkweeds as possible to maximize habitat for monarchs.” 

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has launched what it calls Project Milkweed.  At the webpage for the project (, you can download regional guides developed in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service on the different native milkweeds of North America, as well as link to other milkweed growing resources.

Jamie Guenther, Real Dirt contributor, Master Gardener:

“My resolution is to choose at least two native plants to incorporate into my yard this year.”

Judy Reich, Real Dirt contributor, MGANM Secretary, Master Gardener:

“Plan and prepare before buying the plant, shrub, or tree and then plant it as soon as it comes home!”  

Nancy Denison, Real Dirt contributor, Advanced Master Gardener:

“I’d like to say my resolution is to just leave my gardens alone for a year and just maintain but chances are I will succumb and dig out something. After our big garden remodel, I’m ready to just enjoy.”


Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN)

Photo courtesy of Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN)

Grow a Bird Feeder

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

Kay Charter of Saving Birds Thru Habitat in Omena, MI and the National Wildlife Federation both publish and promote information on bird food and habitat to support our resident and migrating birds.  Growing a bird feeder should be a very popular practice given the popularity of backyard bird feeding and bird watching!  Growing plants to feed birds is not difficult… but first begin by understanding a bird’s diet.

Typical backyard birds need insects and seeds in their diets.  As most feeders are designed to hold mixed or specialized seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, thistle, and peanuts, humans may overlook the importance of insects in a bird diet.  Baby birds eat insects almost exclusively.  NO SEEDS.  For adult birds to successfully raise a family of hatchlings, they need access to an abundance of insects, especially meaty caterpillars. 

Gardeners, especially vegetable gardeners, are not all that fond of caterpillars as they feed on the leaves of valuable plants.  Many gardeners use pesticide chemicals to reduce the caterpillar populations.  These chemicals are harmful to birds.  Gardeners and non-gardeners alike need to rethink the ‘bugs-in-the-garden’ issue.  Our birds desperately need bugs for survival.  Managed thoughtfully, a gardener should be able to tolerate some insect damage while building an ecosystem balance where the birds manage the insect population.  A win-win for the gardener and the birds!

Insects are extremely picky eaters.  Therefore, a homeowner should include mostly those plants which host insects.  Those plants are native plants.  Michigan native plants host insects native to the region.  Plants from Europe, Asia, Australia, etc., host no insects.  This is why in our backyard landscaping, alien plants have no ecological value. 

While insects are invaluable for our birds, provide a variety of berry producing trees and shrubs and seed producing perennials and grasses for growing a bird feeder. 

-Oak trees are known to host the largest number of caterpillar species.  If there is room for a deciduous tree, plant an oak.  Other native trees are also beneficial so hang on to those maples, birches, and all other Michigan natives.

-A Serviceberry, Amelanchier, is an understory tree that provides spring fruit for nesting adults.  A Highbush Cranberry, viburnum trilobum, produces a fruit that is ready AFTER the winter freeze and thaw so is important to the early migratory birds before insects emerge.

-Lupine and Butterfly Weed are known to host larval insects, as do most native perennials.

-Purple Cone Flower produces fabulous seed heads that finches eat all through the fall.  Seeds should be left on stems to be available for the birds through the fall and winter.  Aggressive fall cleanup can actually be detrimental to bird food availability!

-Several Michigan clump forming grasses, such as Indian Grass, Side Oats Gramma, Prairie Dropseed, and Little Bluestem produce tasty seeds in the fall.

The keys to growing a bird feeder are:

1. Promote insects in your yard by planting native plants to host the caterpillars.  Do not use pesticides.

3. Plant a variety of species to host insects, produce berries and seeds.

4. Leave flower bed clean-up till spring to allow snacking on remaining seeds and insects in the garden.

Enjoy watching the birds at your home-grown feeders through the year!


Annual Report from Mary Wilson

How many Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are in Michigan? What is the economic value of their volunteer hours? Read the statewide report here: 2015-statewide-summary-report-oct-16