Seen under a microscope the beginning stages of root development.
Photo by Michael O’Brien
How to grow a Canna Lily from seed
By Michael O’Brien, EMG
Interestingly enough, a Canna Lily actually has nothing to do withl. Its scientific name is Canna indica. The closest living relations to cannas are the other plant families of the order Zingiberales, that is the Zingiberaceae (gingers), Musaceae (bananas) and a few others.
Canna indica is native to South America. Their homes are in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina as well as in the West Indies and Central America. Canna lilies can be added to a garden for a dramatic appeal during our warmer months.
Canna lilies command your attention. They are an amazing plant as they stand upright about three feet tall with majestic blooms. As the summer days begin to fade the canna lily flowers will die off, at that time they will and begin to create a rather large seed pod. There can be as many as eight seeds inside these pods. Towards the end of September, when these pods stop growing they will turn brown and begin to split open, allowing the seeds to fall to the ground. The call to action begins when the seed pod is brown and just about to split open. It’s time to cut off the pods.
After collecting all of the pods, carefully open each one. The pod will have what looks like black beans inside them, that’s what’s going to be saved until early spring. Save the seeds in a cool dry area. Never let them sit in freezing temperatures. These seeds have a very hard outer shell. In nature where canna lilies grow in their native habitat these seeds can sit in the ground for up to ten years before germinating.
In early spring these seeds must be scarified to be germinated. Scarification is the process which nature uses to weaken the hard outer covering of the seed. At home use a pair of pliers or vise grips to hold the seed securely. Using sand paper or a dremel tool with a sanding bit, begin to sand the seed until the white membrane begins to show. It’s best to expose an area that is a half an inch to an inch long. The exposed area only has to be about a quarter inch wide, this will allow enough moisture to reach the embryo.
Once all of the seeds are done, put them in a glass of water for about three days. During that time a white nub will begin to grow out of the seed. Take these seeds out and plant them in potting soil. In about a weeks’ time there will be a green shoot growing.
Seeds are germinating in a tray with vermiculite/perlite mixture. Photo by Michael O’Brien
These new plants can be planted outside when there is no longer a danger of frost. These young plants will require a full summers worth of growth. The following year when they are planted outside they will flower. An important note, in the fall upon the first frost canna lilies must be taken out of the ground and stored inside in a cool dry area.
Many of you already know that Cheryl Gross has recently stepped down as editor of The Real Dirt and I have accepted the challenge. Cheryl elevated The Real Dirt to a whole new level when she took it from a mailer to a website with resources, for both Master Gardeners AND the community. You may be concerned that things will change, and some things probably will, which is part of the reason Cheryl is moving on. She felt like it was time for a new vision. I have big shoes to fill but I am a firm believer that most often if we want to grow, we need to change. Although there will be no big changes any time soon, I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share what I have to offer The Real Dirt.
Writing has always been like a love affair for me. Bringing words on a page to life is exciting and I have a passionate attachment to the art of writing. The more I write, the more I learn. It never seems to get dull. I have also been fortunate to even teach writing in my recent past, as I can’t seem to get enough. Even when I was teaching, I was learning and that brought me a great deal of joy. I consider myself a lifelong learner.
There is so much for me to learn in Michigan. After many years of visiting, my husband and I moved to Irons last fall. My husband is native to Michigan, but we met in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born and raised. We have three grown children, one beautiful granddaughter, and two lazy old dogs. I always thought one day I would eventually move south, where the sun is always warm and shining. Somehow that didn’t pan out and of all winters to move, I had to choose one of the worst in recent years! I think it was Mother Nature’s way of breaking me in, and that she did. I am here to stay and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the MSU Extension MG program, in which I am currently enrolled.
When Michele Worden spoke at one of my recent classes, she told us Cheryl was leaving and The Real Dirt was in need of a new editor. I could not get home fast enough to find out more about the position and I couldn’t believe this opportunity was presenting itself. I told Cheryl that she may find someone with more gardening experience and she might even find someone with more editorial experience, but I also told her it might be difficult to find someone with the level of passion and excitement I have for both gardening and writing. Maybe she believed me because now it’s official…I actually get to be the editor of The Real Dirt!!! Can someone pinch me please? Just kidding.
As I understand it, Cheryl has done an outstanding job in her role as editor. She has so much knowledge and she is willing to share it, which is such an endearing quality. Although she will no longer ‘drive the bus,’ she will certainly still be along for the ride. From time to time, you will see an article by Cheryl and I must confess, without her, the May issue of The Real Dirt would not be as successful. As I jump into the ‘driver’s seat’, please join me in thanking Cheryl for her unwavering commitment and wishing her many future successes!
Speaking of success, I look forward to working with many of you in our magical world of gardening and in finding new successes every day!
All native green roof located at the Boardman River Nature Center, Traverse City, MI
Master Gardener Spotlight
Master Gardener Spotlight – How I Serve By Whitney Miller, AEMG
I began my journey as a Master Gardener in 2011 in North Carolina. Then in 2012 my husband and I moved here to Traverse City. Some local projects and The Real Dirt grabbed me right away. However, due to the drastic differences in climate, Michigan State Extension required me to take the class again. Thanks to MGANM offering a scholarship, I was able to afford to take the class again and am incredibly glad I did. Our class is much more thorough than my initial class, and I was able to begin building my network of gardener friends.
I have three main projects that take my focus. First, I serve as the publisher for “The Real Dirt”. The editor compiles all of our articles and information and sends them to me. I then upload the full articles into our website, put the blurbs in the email format, insert pictures and links, and send it out. Each edition is unique and can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.
My second project admittedly has been pushed aside lately. I maintain the content for our website using the WordPress platform. Our website is hosted by Pro Web Marketing, so they assist with the layout, and I fill in the blanks. I’m currently working on updating some of the Projects as well as offering new links for membership, etc.
If you haven’t seen me at any meetings, it’s not because I’ve given up! I’m still working on all of my projects. I work mostly in the evenings throughout the year at the Y, so I struggle to get to the meetings before things are wrapping up. I’m hoping to snag some friends and head to Master Gardener College this fall to get my continuing education hours. Let me know if you’re interested!
Photo courtesy of Grand Traverse Conservation District
Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner
What is an Approved Master Gardener Project? By Dr. Nate Walton, PhD (Entomology)
If you’ve been an MSU Extension Master Gardener for a few years, you will probably have noticed some changes to the program over the years. For example, we have gone from a requirement of 5 continuing education hours and 10 volunteer hours to 10 CE and 20 volunteer hours. We have also added a requirement that all reported Master Gardener Volunteer hours be classified under an MSU Extension Approved Master Gardener Project. Many of you are already working under approved projects and may not have even realized there was a change. However, a brief review of last year’s VMS report tells me that some of you may be unaware of this requirement. The good news is that 77% of the 5,271 volunteer hours that were reported by the Leelanau/Benzie/Grand Traverse Master Gardener roster last year were reported under approved projects. However, that leaves 23% or 1,192 hours that were not reported under approved local projects.
Now, believe it or not, we at MSU Extension want to make it easy for you to volunteer. We also want to make the program safe and sustainable for everyone involved. There are several reasons why it is important to report your hours under an approved project. For one, it provides detailed information to your local coordinator and other Master Gardeners about the great work that you are doing in the community. If you are currently reporting your hours under a statewide project, such as “Community: Beautification – Public Areas”, your local coordinator cannot provide you the support or recognition that you would be afforded under a locally approved project. Creating your own locally approved project is easy, and it allows your local coordinator to provide more detailed information to funding agencies and partner organizations about the great work that you are doing as a Master Gardener Volunteer. It also, makes it easier for you or your coordinator to recruit more volunteers for those major garden cleanup or planting days that you may want to carry out in support of your project.
And finally, MSU Extension liability coverage is extended to certified Master Gardeners and trainees only while they are engaged in MSU Extension approved projects. In other words, you are protected from liability by MSU Extension only during work performed under approved projects. What does this mean in practical terms? Well, if you are helping your neighbor prune her Maple tree and you drop a limb on her Tesla, you would not be protected from liability by MSU Extension’s coverage, even if you were wearing your EMG badge. Now, if you are working at the Traverse Area District Library in the Children’s Garden and you step on Jeremy Treadwell’s toe and break it, you would be covered because the TADL Children’s Garden is an MSU Extension approved project. You would still probably want to buy Jeremy flowers and visit him in the hospital. I hope that makes sense. I am an entomologist, not a lawyer, so please if you have any questions about general liability coverage for EMGs please refer to your MG Manual or contact Mary Wilson, the State MG Coordinator.
Fortunately, it is very easy to create your own locally approved project. Just go to the VMS webpage (http://michigan.volunteersystem.org/) and login with your MG credentials. Then, look for the link on the right hand side of the page under “Links”. There is a link for “Volunteer Project Application for Volunteers”, click on that and it should download or open in your browser. You may need a pdf reader such as Adobe Acrobat® to open the file. You can also contact your MG coordinator directly and they can email it to you. It is easiest to fill out the form in its electronic version because it has built in menus that allow you to select responses that fit into some of the fields in the form, but you can also print it and mail it in to your coordinator. In most cases the project will be approved by your local coordinator and you will be able to get to work right away! Good luck and thank you for volunteering!
Volunteering for The Real Dirt
By Lisa Hagerty, Editor and EMG Trainee
We are looking for more volunteers! Specifically, we need folks who attend the MGANM monthly meetings. We are hoping a few people might consider taking notes in the meetings and submit a short article for The Real Dirt that summarizes each meeting topic. Not everyone can attend every meeting, so finding a few people to alternate would work well. You don’t have to worry that your writing is not good enough because we will help with that. What we need is heart, with real content to share the topic(s) with all the Master Gardeners and the community members that don’t make it to the meetings. Not only do you earn volunteer hours for going to the meetings, but the time you spend on writing a summary of the meeting you attended is also considered volunteer time. Please consider joining The Real Dirt team with this volunteer opportunity and let us know if you can help! I can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MGANM February Meeting Notes: Chestnut Hypovirulence
by Nancy Denison, AEMG
It was another packed house at the BRNC February 5 for Dr. Carmen Medina Mora speaking on the American Chestnut and Hypo virulence. Dr. Mora is an MSU grad and continues to work in the MSU labs researching and studying Chestnut disease pathology.
The American Chestnut, Castana dentate, a tall, large canopied tree with edible nuts was once widespread in the eastern US until wooden pallets from China introduced Chestnut blight which spread and began to devastate trees in the early 1900s. Research of European, Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees has offered hope and success in saving/creating a new strain which is much less susceptible to the virus.
MSU is now cloning rather than grafting these crossed trees and allowing the Forest Keeling Nursery in Missouri to grow the rootstock for planting in Michigan exclusively. Nearby Kewadin already has Japanese-European trees in production as does the NW Michigan Horticultural Station. It was interesting to hear that many cherry and apple growers have or are replacing their fruit trees with Chestnuts. Hypo virulence refers to the biological management of disease which researchers have found to be effective in controlling the virus from killing the chestnut tree and actually allowing the tree to heal itself.
Dr. Mora’s presentation was enlightening and helped this very unaware backyard gardener (me) understand a promising trend for farmers, consumers and tree lovers. Thank you, Dr. Mora!
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria Petiolata
credit: S.Callahan/Photri Images
Photo by Dreamstime, permissions granted for the sole use of MGANM
The Battle Against Invasive Plants… and the Rewards
by Ruth Steele Walker, AEMG
It’s a never-ending story — the battle against invasive species! Each year Scott and I do battle against several plant invasive species on our property. In spring there is garlic mustard to pull, at any time of the year there is Oriental bittersweet to keep track of (while planning its demise come warmer weather) and in summer there’s the frustration of fighting the Oriental Bittersweet, tree of heaven and autumn olive. We’re also removing some things that were planted before we got here like periwinkle and lily of the valley, some things our neighbors planted that have spread on to our property and some things that we planted before we knew better.
Given that fighting invasive plants has become an annual ritual, I was excited to attend this month’s Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan meeting where Emily Cook of the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN) spoke.
The ISN covers our county, Leelanau, as well as Benzie, Grand Traverse and Manistee counties in Northwest Michigan. They provide a host of services and work bees to help eradicate invasive plants from our area. Their website really says it all: HabitatMatters.org.
Why bother with getting rid of invasive plants, especially pretty ones or ones that quickly grow and fill in a bare area? It’s pretty simple. Native plants feed wildlife, butterflies and the insects that are necessary for pollinating plants – including those plants that produce our food – and feeding the birds and butterflies. Plants that grow quickly are likely to be aggressive enough to push out the native plants that are so important for keeping our world healthy and thriving.
Emily divided invasive species into four categories: plants that were mistakes, like purple loosestrife and phragmites, plants that were prized for beauty before their invasive qualities were discovered such as buckthorn, Japanese barberry and baby’s breath; plants that were a well-meaning oops, including autumn olive which was heavily promoted as a plant of choice in the 1970s and plants that provide food (and were brought by our ancestors when they immigrated to this area) such as garlic mustard.
One of the great things I learned at Emily’s talk was that ISN keeps a Top 20 list of plants that qualify as invasive species. This is important for me to know as a Master Gardener because if I’m giving out advice about planting, I need to know which species are problematic and have been identified as specific problems in our area of the country.
What was disheartening to hear is that half of the plants on the ISN Top 20 list are still being sold for landscaping. What was heartening to know is that ISN has a group of landscapers who have agreed not to include invasive species in their projects. The group is called Go Beyond Beauty and identifies landscapers and nurseries that have committed not to use or sell high-threat invasive plants. So far ISN has signed up eight nurseries on this list and there are 13 landscapers (two of which have nurseries on the list as well) that are committed to avoiding invasive plants.
Currently ISN’s focus is on four invasive species: (pictured below)
Japanese knotweed, also referred to as Michigan bamboo. If you find this on your property, Emily says, call ISN. Do not move it or mow it!!
japanese knotweed close-up growing in the UK background and texture. Photo by Dreamstime, permissions granted for the sole use of MGANM
Garlic mustard, the focus of annual pulls each spring. The nice thing here is it makes a great pesto sauce and you can bag and dumpster any part you don’t eat.
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria Petiolata
credit: S.Callahan/Photri Images
Photo by Dreamstime, permissions granted for the sole use of MGANM
Phragmites, which is prevalent along our shorelines in Michigan.
Phragmites australis flower close to the lake in autumn. Photo by Dreamstime, permissions granted for the sole use of MGANM
Oriental bittersweet, known for its “kudzu effect” in covering trees and anything else in its path.
Oriental Bittersweet. Photo by Dreamstime, permissions granted for the sole use of MGANM
If you’re on the fence about removing some of the invasive plants on your property check out some native gardens near you and see how beautiful native plants can be while providing a habitat for birds, butterflies and bees.
Dicentra canadensis, Squirrel corn. Photo by Whitney Miller
What’s in a Name?
by Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG
It is time to begin making plant wish lists for spring! Scour catalogues and books, think about adding new landscaped beds, refreshing existing landscaped beds, reducing lawn, benefiting pollinators and birds, oh my. What plants will you choose? Knowing plant origins and names is very important if you want to be an ecological gardener superstar.
The very best plants for ecological support are native plants. They developed here and have the intricate relationships between soil, climate, and insects that create the web of life. Why do native plants matter? Insects create the biomass of food for baby birds. Adult birds prefer insects as well, but as adults can also feed on seeds and berries. Insects are famously picky eaters. Some insects eat ONLY one plant, while a very few are generalists. Pollinators are required to help plants make seeds and fruit and our food. The highest quality of nectar and pollen available to our pollinators are provided by native plants. For example, dandelions have only 40% of the nutrition of a native spring bloomer.When visiting a nursery, buy “straight” native varieties. (To learn about which plants are native visit: michiganflora.org.)
So when visiting a nursery, it is best to buy “straight” native varieties. The question becomes, though, how can you tell if a plant is “straight” and not a “cultivar” or a “nativar” Well, ALL plants have Latin names. That name is their scientific descriptor. Many also have common names… or “nick names” and can have many of those. Let’s take Dicentra canadensis. It is also commonly called Squirrel Corn, Wild Bleeding Heart, or Girls, (in relation to Dicentra cucullaria, also called Boys or Dutchman’s Breeches). Therefore, when shopping for plants, you really should know the Latin name.
Plant scientists LOVE messing with plants and creating “new” or altered plants. These are called “cultivars” because they have been “cultivated”. This includes, but is not limited to, different leaf color, different blossom color or size, or different berry size. When cultivating or “messing” with native plants, they sometimes call them “nativars”. The problem is this: insects have a specific relationship with the native plant and we have no idea how any change will affect that relationship. The argument is that there is no science to prove that it is a problem. So until there is, cultivars of native plants should be considered OK. I don’t buy it. Science HAS gotten as far as to determine that changing a leaf from green to red changes the enzymes and the chewing insect that relies on that leaf is unable to digest it and that bees and other pollinators cannot access the nectar and pollen in double blossoms.
Here is the final tip. Look at the plant tag to learn whether the plant has been cultivated. Those plants generally have a third name in quotes. For example, if you want a Serviceberry, or Amelanchier laevis, it has many varieties, several second Latin names, and many, many common names. If you see a THIRD name in quotes, “Autumn Brilliance” you know it is a cultivar. Don’t buy it.
Tree huggers, Birch and Maple. Photo by Kathryn Frerichs
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review
by Kathryn Frerichs, AEMG
Once in a great while I am astounded by some new, amazing findings in medicine, genetics, botany, etc. The revelations in Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees create one of those times. The works of natural scientists in recent years have revealed the role of mycelium and bacteria in the soil now called the Wood Wide Web.
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels was reviewed in the Real Dirt previously. In it, mycelium is described to extend plant roots and exchange minerals and water for sugars from those roots. Miles of threads of mycelium exist in a teaspoon of soil. The mycelium belong to the fungi family and the largest living organism on earth is a fungus that covers 2,384 acres and is dated at 2,400 to possibly 8,650 years old. Plenty to be gobsmacked about with these discoveries. Then comes Wohlleben’s book to take us to that place of wonder and amazement regarding trees.
Wohlleben reveals how to observe that trees can, in fact, detect smell. The thorned acacia trees in Africa have been observed to ward off giraffes by secreting a bad tasting substance in their leaves tanking them from tasty to nasty. The long-necked herbivores then trot off to a neighboring acacia and depending upon the wind direction, the trees will have already begun secreting that nasty-tasting chemical into their leaves too. The giraffes have figured out that the downwind trees can smell chemicals from neighboring trees and just move upwind to chomp on other unsuspecting trees. Trees do, by deduction from this example and others examples, have to be able to “smell” or detect the odor the other trees emit. Some critics claim that Wohlleben’s writing becomes anthropomorphic. Whatever you may want to call it, smell or detect, trees are communicating via odor/smell. Man can be very egocentric in thinking that only the human species can ‘smell’. I think more of us will pay attention to his work with his imaginative approach.
Peter Wohlleben explains how trees communicate through the air and through the Wood Wide Web (WWW). Saplings that are living on the shaded forest floor are fed by the mother trees through their roots. The saplings can wait in the dark, so to speak, because the mother trees feed them for decades before an opening in the forest canopy provides the light to fuel their growth. Trees feed one another in times of illness too. They use the WWW, also known as mycelium, to accomplish this feat. After a number of these examples, you begin to realize that a forest is not made up of individual trees but is a type of super organism. The parts are all interconnected and protecting one another. Trees, also, have the ability to detect artificial light at night Eventually the light stunts their growth. They need to stop photosynthesis at night in order to rest.
A forest of trees operates in concert with one another by regulating their climate. The leaves, or their solar panels, provide a cooling effect and feed and water the roots every autumn when they are broken down and become soil. The depth of the soil increases over time. They can withstand wind storms by buffering each other to prevent being toppled over. By fall the trees have made and stored as much sugar as they can so they shed the solar panels to rot and become new soil for the next season. Also, Mr. Wohlleben tells us that when man comes along to harvest lumber from these magnificent giant-coordinated organisms called forests, they cut down the oldest, largest most mature trees. Our old growth trees are the biggest carbon sequesterers we have. The first trees to be cut down in a forest are the largest ones ‘who’ are the most capable of helping us fend off climate change.
I highly recommend The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben to Master Gardeners. Besides being a delightful read, it is informative, teaches us to respect those giants of the forest living in the slow lane, and recognizes that trees are interconnected in ways we have not anticipated. Communication, sleep, nurturance, and functioning as one organism make for better survival just as Darwin hypothesized.
A winter crane fly (Diptera: Trichoceridae) active at 38°F on a day in December (2014).
It is common for people to wonder about the effects of very cold winter temperatures on all the little buggers that come out in summer to eat our precious plants or suck our precious blood. Unfortunately, despite the record cold temperatures that parts of the United States experienced a few weeks ago, most of our six and eight-legged friends were probably not adversely affected. Insects and other arthropods like spiders and ticks, have a variety of adaptations that allow them to survive winter. Some of these are behavioral, for example digging down into the subsoil to spend the winter where temperatures will stay above freezing all winter long. Others adaptations are chemical, they are able to produce compounds in their blood call Cryoprotectants or Ice Nucleating Proteins that prevent damage to their cells at sub-freezing temperatures.
Under certain conditions, these protections do fail, for example if the temperature drops very quickly in the fall or spring when they are not prepared. Another circumstance that can result in greater than normal insect mortality in the winter is if it gets very cold without an insulating layer of snow over the soil. This year we have been lucky (or unlucky) enough to have abundant snow cover in many places, so insects were protected from the extremely cold air temperatures that accompanied the polar vortex.
There are a couple of other ways that insects, ticks, and spiders can suffer mortality during the winter. For one, a very long winter can cause their fat reserves to become exhausted so that they starve to death before it warms enough in the spring for them to eat again. Finally, extremely cold and/or long winters drive warm blooded animals like mice and squirrels to eat more in order to stay warm. Insects are a great source of calories so their populations can suffer during cold winters, especially when rodent numbers are high.
If you didn’t already, I’m sure you’re now beginning to see why it can be very difficult to predict the effects of winter temperatures on pest insect populations. The bottom line is that fall and spring conditions are probably more important than winter cold temperatures in determining summer insect populations. Another thing that we can say for certain is that the effect of weather impacts the beneficial insects like our pollinators just as much as it does the pesky ones. The next time you are hoping that the polar vortex will kill all the mosquitoes, consider what it might be doing to the butterflies and bees as well!
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) at the Boardman River Nature Center February 5th 2019.
Gardening Tip: Last Year’s Seeds
by Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG
On our house, we never use all of the seeds in a packet in one season. Will they germinate in year two? A way to test the “old” seeds is to use 2 sheets of paper towels, a plate, and 10-15 seeds. Moisten the paper towels and sprinkle the seeds between the sheets. Keep moist, but not wet, for up to two weeks. Check the seeds for signs of germination. Depending on the number of live seeds you can make your decision for planting. Should you see 50% germination, you can use the seed and seed heavier. Less than 50% you just might want to purchase fresh seed.
Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan members make our world more beautiful by participating in gardening projects, educational programs, activities and CONNECTING A COMMUNITY OF GARDENERS THROUGH LEARNING!
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