Nourish – November 2016

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Garlic, the Spice of Life

Savoring Apples

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Garlic, the Spice of Life

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Garlic, like salt, is one of those basic elements that have been around for thousands of years.  Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, permeates almost every culture from Asia to Europe, Ancient Egypt to modern America and is used as both a culinary and a medicinal.  And while its garlicky cousin Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramps) can be found throughout our local forests in the springtime, growing your own garlic is not a difficult task. 

If you are like me, the hardest part will be deciding which types of garlic to grow.  But don’t take too long deliberating because, like most bulbs, now is the best time to plant garlic. 

Here are some tips, gleaned from the pages of Fine Gardening, Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life magazines, to help you get started.  The Michigan State University Extension website also has a terrific bulletin that you can download called “Producing Garlic in Michigan” that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about growing garlic in our region.  The link for it is: .

Types of garlic

There are literally hundreds of named varieties of garlic.  Essentially, though, these different varieties can be grouped into two main subspecies, hardneck and softneck.

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) – In general terms, hardneck garlics tend to be more flavorful and grow better in areas with colder winters.  They are characterized by hard woody central stalks and a long flower-like stalk called a scape.  Hardnecks usually have four to twelve cloves in each bulb.  Popular subtypes include porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole varieties. 

Softneck garlic (A. sativum var. sativum) – Softneck types grow best where winters are mild, though some tolerate cold up to our Zone 5.  As its name implies, this garlic has a softer stem which makes it great for braiding.  Because it lacks the flowering scape of hardneck garlic, it tends to produce many more cloves—sometimes as high as thirty or more per bulb.  It comprises most of the garlic you see in major supermarkets.  Subtypes include Creole, artichoke and many Asian varieties. 


When to plant – Garlic should be planted four to six weeks before the ground freezes.  In our area that usually means late September to early November.  Spring planting can also be done but it will result in reduced yields.

Where to plant – Garlic prefers to be in a sunny location in a well-drained soil such as sandy loam.  Clay soils are also acceptable if they can be loosened enough to allow for planting and bulb growth.  Soils high in sand will also work if adequate water for irrigation is available.  Garlic can also adapt to some shade, but it will affect the size of the bulbs.  To help avoid disease, do not plant garlic in the same location two years in a row.

How to plant – After loosening the soil and adding any needed amendments, create several shallow furrows about six inches apart.  Separated cloves should be planted pointed side up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart in these furrows.  After all the cloves are in the ground, smooth the soil surface to fill in the holes, and water well.

Caring for the plants – Garlic doesn’t need loads of water, but it doesn’t like to dry out either. One to two inches of water a week is adequate.  After the initial planting, water regularly until the ground freezes to help the roots develop.  If the soil feels dry an inch below the surface, it is time to water.  Follow the same pattern in the spring until about mid-summer.  Stop watering about two weeks prior to harvesting.

Scape removal — If you are growing hardneck garlic, you will have to tend to the scapes or garlic “flower” that emerges from the center of the plant in mid-June.  These “flowers” are actually bulbils, which are clones of the parent plant.  Because producing scapes and bulbils takes energy away from the growing garlic bulb and can reduce its size by up to 30 percent, it is important that they be removed in a timely manner.  Scapes start out straight, curl as they elongate and straighten out again as they mature.  They can be cut from the plant any time after they emerge but before they straighten out again.  If removed at this point, they are still succulent and can be used fresh or in cooking.


Bulb harvest usually takes place in July when 30 to 50 percent of the plant’s leaves have died back.  To harvest, carefully drive a garden fork or shovel under the bulbs to help loosen them from the ground.  Then, gently pull them out and shake off any excess soil. 

You can start using this garlic immediately.  However, if you plan on storing your garlic, it needs to be cured first.  To do that, lay the plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun.  After a few weeks of curing, brush off any remaining soil on the bulb.  Cut the plant stalks to 12 inches above the bulb if you plan on braiding the bulbs together or to about an inch or so if you plan on storing the heads loosely.  You can also trim the roots close to the bulb if needed.  Try not to remove more wrapper layers than you have to.  These layers protect the bulb and help keep it from sprouting. 

Store the bulbs in a well-ventilated, dark spot.  And if you want, set aside the biggest bulbs for planting your next crop of garlic in the fall.

apples (large)

Savoring Apples

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Around here, apples are as much a part of autumn as the changing colors of tree leaves and the first frost on the pumpkins.  This year the autumn apple crop seems to be one the best in recent memory, both in quantity and quality.

Of course, the best way to enjoy this bounty is to head to your own apple tree or one of our area you-pick orchards and biting into an apple straight from the tree.  Nothing is better.  But after gorging oneself on numerous fresh apples and then making all apple pies and crisps your family can handle, what does one do with all the leftover fruit?

Instead of another dessert, why not try something on the savory side.  Apples can actually be a delicious part of many main dishes.  Here are three recipes, two with meat and one vegetarian, which prove the point.  Enjoy!

Roasted Cabbage and Apples with Italian Sausage

Recipe from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

Makes 4 servings


1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 medium apple, sliced

2 sprigs thyme

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1 lb fresh spicy turkey sausage

Crusty bread (for serving)


Preheat oven to 400°. Toss cabbage, onion, apple, thyme sprigs, vinegar, 1 Tbsp. oil, and 1/4 cup water in a 13×9″ baking dish; season with salt and pepper and roast, covered, until cabbage is wilted and softened, 35–45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook sausages until browned and cooked through, 10–12 minutes. Add to cabbage during last 10 minutes of cooking, tossing to coat. Serve with bread.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (2001) and the Food Network

This recipe is for serving a large group and makes 3 ½ quarts.  Cut the ingredients in half to make 4 large bowls.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons good olive oil

4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large)

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

5 pounds butternut squash (2 large)

1 1/2 pounds sweet apples, such as McIntosh (4 apples)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

2 cups good apple cider or juice


Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot uncovered over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Process the soup through a food mill fitted with a large blade, or puree it coarsely in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Pour the soup back into the pot. Add the apple cider or juice and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick. Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

Recipe from Everyday Food (Nov. 2005) and Martha Stewart Living Television

Makes 8 side servings


3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 pints Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices, each slice halved crosswise

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned, 10 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, and toss in apple. Return to oven; roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Toss vegetables with vinegar, and serve immediately.

Beautify – November 2016

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Gardens of Imperfection

Houseplants: Must have!

Garden Remodel Update

Gardens of Imperfection

by Whitney Miller, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM “Techie Chick”

Many gardeners have a misconception of perfection for their gardens. They think that perfection has to mean clean, debris free, and full of perfect specimen plants. This brings to mind images of gardens like Versailles and Butchart. While these gardens inspire awe and serenity, they are by no means the only way to keep a garden. In fact, gardens like these require a multitude of staff and a lot of chemicals to keep them looking this way.

Any homeowner can have a beautiful and perfect looking garden if they follow simple rules of imperfection.

  • Leave your leaves. Leaf debris allows natural decay to occur and can replenish micronutrients in your soil. The debris also provides cover and concealment for a multitude of living creatures.
  • Leave fallen branches and trees. According to the Xerces Society, “Most bees nest in small warrens of tunnels and cells they construct underground. Others nest in narrow tunnels often left behind by beetle larvae in dead trees, and a few use the soft pith in some plants.” (
  • Leave seed heads and stalks on plants. This can provide a nesting place and food source for small birds or mammals through the winter. The more food sources that mice have available out in the garden, the less likely they are to try to find their way into your home!
  • Let there be imperfections in your plants. Just as with humans, no plant is perfect. A stunted branch or leaf full of aphids is okay! Those aphids create honeydew, which feeds sugar ants, which feed birds. If we control the aphids we stunt the food web by stopping it in its tracks. Allowing nature to take its course can be a beautiful thing to observe and share.

A few more garden tips

  • Diversify your plantings. While a vast swath of coneflower looks beautiful, it provides food for a limited number of insects and birds. When you add just two additional plant species you open your garden up to three to four times the number of birds and insects. Our native bee populations need all the help they can get, and diversifying your garden can make a major impact.
  • Go native. Native plants have had hundreds of years to adapt to their specific climate while continuing to thrive. They require less ‘fuss’ over the age of your garden versus non-natives, and have a symbiotic relationship with native birds, bees, and insects. Of all the choices you can make in your garden, this could possibly be the decision with the biggest impact.
  • When in doubt, ask your local Master Gardeners for help. In Michigan, we have our local Extension offices, Smart Gardening websites, and Ask an Expert (1-888-678-3464). If you are outside the state of Michigan, a simple Google search for your local Extension will begin your journey toward a perfectly imperfect and healthy garden.

Houseplants by Sonia Clem

Houseplants: Must have!

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

Even before the research was completed on gardening benefits to our body, mind and spirit, gardeners already knew that spending time in and around plants made us feel better, happier.  Now we know that plants emit gasses and scents and soil contains bacteria and fungi which contribute to our overall wellbeing.  In northern Michigan, gardeners are a happy bunch between May and October.  However, our long, chilly winter can dampen our spirits.  We are in withdrawal…unless we include indoor gardening with houseplants!

The benefits of houseplants on indoor environmental quality and human health have now been well researched.  NASA has spent considerable research time on the benefits of houseplants in an enclosed environment.  Some chemical companies have researched the effect on plants in the home and workplace to reduce human exposure to chemicals in building materials, carpeting and paints.  Plants clean the air, emit oxygen, lift moods, inspire better memory and creativity, and more.  There is a recommendation to have one indoor plant for every 100 square feet of living space.  That would be 14 plants for a 1,400 square foot house for adequate benefit.

One plant for every 100 square feet is a lot of plants!  Fortunately, there are a wide variety of plants from which to choose.  There are plants suited to dry air, moist air, bright light, limited light, flowering and limited flowering, high maintenance and low maintenance.  Following are some of the top plants in some of these categories.  It is a very limited list.  Check out the referenced websites to discover more.  As we move into the colder months, and spend more time indoors, add houseplants to ramp-up your wellbeing.

Best for Air Quality:

Peace lily, Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’

Florist’s chrysanthemum,  Chrysanthemum morifolium

English ivy,  Hedera helix

Variegated snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue,  Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’

Red-edged dracaena, Dracaena marginata

Unfortunately, each of these is toxic to animals.  If you have an animal who eats plants, you can find non-toxic plants that improve air quality, but are not as effective as the above.

Best for Low Light:

Cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior (non-toxic)

Dracaena corn plant, Dracaena fragrans massangeana (toxic)

Mother in law’s tongue or snake plant, Sansevieria trifasciata  (toxic)

Dragon tree, Dracaena marginata (toxic)

ZZ plant,  Zamioculcas zamiifolia  (toxic)

Parlor palm, Chamaedorea elegans (non-toxic)

Best for Sunny Windows:

Jasmine star, Jasminum polyanthum

Cactus, a wide variety

Croton, Codiaeum variegatum, a variety of colors

Bird of paradise, Stelitzia reginae

Umbrella plant, Schefflera or Heptapleurum

Most flowering indoor plants need full daylight in a south or west window.

Many websites suggest that African violets and orchids are easier to grow than some believe.  Shop for indoor plants from credible sources.  Check with local flower shops and independent nurseries for quality plants.

Add indoor plants this fall to enjoy till May!  Let them improve your air quality and lift your spirits.


NASA Clean Air Study

img_20160416_132015101 img_20160505_135341714 img_20160616_184507562 img_20160702_140712526

Garden Remodel Update

by Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

In the May issue of The Real Dirt I wrote about remodeling my backyard garden area with some large garden beds. And as I explained, (or complained?), the project grew to include a retaining wall, covered cement patio, flagstone path and interior garage drywall and insulation.

The first phase involved removing all the plant material and deciding what I would keep and what would be donated elsewhere. For weeks I had dozens of potted plants on the back and front deck. Friends came over and left with as many plants as they could carry.   I transported a Suburban full of pots down to the Detroit area to my sister and daughter. And then donated what I could to the Children’s Garden Plant sale in May. The rest waited patiently for their new home in my yard.

Next came the retaining wall to level out the area for the raised beds.  John Thomas of Northwoods Landscaping had it (mostly) done in a matter of days, which then allowed friend and contractor Mark Hartman to do his magic on the bed building. We had toyed with using galvanized sheets but in the end decided to go with cedar planks to create three 10’x4’x3’ beds. I don’t believe it was any less expensive to use wood, but it was certainly easier to obtain the materials.  And I’m really glad we did since once they were stained, they also matched the house.  The beds were built in the garage and after stapling in landscaping fabric (in an attempt to lengthen the life of the wood), Mark moved them with his front end loader, directed by his son, down the driveway and around to the back.  That was a sight to see as there was maybe a foot of clearance between the garage and studio walls. Once in place, small grid wire fencing was stapled to the bottom to thwart small critters from making their home underneath. We then threw scrap wood, granite pieces, and whatever else we thought appropriate into the bottom, followed by two buckets full of top soil in each bed.  I then added compost and peat. I knew the soil would sink as the summer progressed and have since added many more bags of soil to bring the level up.

Planting would come a few weeks later after adding pathways and returning many plants to the perennial planting beds which surrounds the raised beds.

Following the main garden work, the flagstone path which connected the studio, garage door, new cement patio and back deck was done. Of course the weather was very hot and sunny during installation of the stone.  But no one had a heart attack and it looks just perfect.

I was able to use all my transplants as well as the many 6×6 timbers which were removed from the original garden. We also designed new raspberry supports which ended up rather large, not to mention expensive, but add a wonderful artistic detail to the garden.

All that was planted into the raised beds, those from seed or small plants, grew very well. Beans, tomatoes, beets, lettuce, kale, zucchini and more eggplant than I could ever really want. I now have a better idea where to place certain things next year, for spacing and sunlight. But overall, I am extremely pleased with how much we could eat out of the garden. The pleasure of watching my granddaughter learn about how plants grow and eating cherry tomatoes and green beans right off the plant is priceless. The three months of hard labor resulted in a beautiful flow of outdoor living space that not only adds to the value of our home but to the pleasure of our lifestyle. And time will only tell if the pinkie swear vow of NO MORE PROJECTS my husband and I made will hold firm.

Serve – November 2016

Gardening Activity for Kids

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

While I have three grown children, activities for children do not come easily to me.  Also, I am not the ‘crafty’ type.  Yet in late summer, there I was having a blast with a seed germination activity at our neighborhood block party.

Wanting to pitch-in and help the host, I contacted Lillian Mahaney, a Master Gardener colleague and Jr Master Gardener teacher, for help.  In no time at all Lil connected me to a ‘living necklace’ activity.  Beginning two weeks ahead of the event, I began a seed each day (one week is ample).  It was great fun to check on my seed each day.  By the day of the event, there were three plants in small pots, three plants in small Dixie cups, and four or five still in small plastic bags where the children and adults could see the germination process.

About a third of the children in attendance participated along with two moms.  One mom asked several questions and took the idea to use in her classroom!  It was well worth my effort to pull it all together.  I appreciate that is was a quieter, almost one-on-one activity amid all of the running, throwing and water balloons.  It was craft-like with an educational component AND it was suitable for all ages.  The success of the activity was entirely based on the benefits of connecting with other Master Gardeners in our community!

Living Necklace


Any seed for garden planting (Some use large bean seeds.  I used sugar snap peas because the shoots have a nice edible taste.)

Cotton pads, such as those used for makeup removal

Plastic zip seal bags, roughly 2” x 3”

Narrow ribbon


Hole punch


Wet two cotton pads with water and wring out.

Place a pea or other seed in the center on one pad and cover with the other.

Slide into the plastic bag.

Punch a hole in the top of the bag, beneath the zipper.  Cut a length of ribbon to tie the bag around the neck of the child.

Discuss the germination process… embryo, root, stem and such.

Note: Use caution with the ribbon around the neck (choking hazard).  I had parents available to inform.  If children did not want the necklace, they did not get a ribbon.  The benefit of the necklace is faster germination due to contact with body heat.  The peas in my test did just fine germinating on a ledge in my house.

Administration – November 2016

A Season of Thanks: President’s Letter

by Michele Worden, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM President

As I write this, it is mid-October, but the trees have barely begun to change.  We are enjoying the last warm days of the fall, and we are grateful for the upcoming season of rest.  The earth prepares for its long winter nap.  We are ready.  It has been a busy year.

In September, the Association conducted a referendum vote using an electronic service website called  We held a referendum to determine if we should affiliate with the Michigan Master Gardener Association (MMGA), as many other of the Master Gardeners across the state have done.  Affiliation was recommended by MSU Extension as well as the MGANM board.  We discussed this in two general member meetings as well as wrote about it in several The Real Dirt issues.  The reason that we used an election website was because we need to document a positive vote to affiliate as part of the application process for MMGA. 

The election ran from September 30 until October 11.  We had 36 out of 54 respondents vote “yes”  for 67% approval.  We only needed a simple majority.  There were no “no” or “abstain” votes.  There was only one comment “This seems like a prudent and logical move for the MGANM.”   

We discovered an issue through the election process.  We had some incorrect email addresses in our files.  If you do not get emails from MGANM, and did not receive a ballot,  please email me at so that we can correct our records.  Please also like us on Facebook to stay up to date on events locally.  We push out a lot of information through Facebook.

I hope to see everyone at the Master Gardener Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on November 6th.  This is a wonderful event in which to connect, break bread together, and celebrate our work.  The theme is monarchs!  Duke Elsner from MSUE will be the guest speaker.  He will give us the latest update on what is happening with monarch butterflies, and how Master Gardeners can help.  We will have a short business meeting with our officer election and recognize Master Gardeners of the Year and other awards.  The current board has agreed to stay on for another election cycle, but we welcome nominations if you are interested in serving.  If you are interested in serving on the board, we encourage you to join a committee and/or attend a board meeting.  It is a great way to get your feet wet and earn certification hours.

At the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, we traditionally have a fun Silent Auction.  The Silent Auction raises money for need-based scholarships for the Master Gardener training class, as well as sending a representative to Master Gardener College next summer to build leadership.  We need your help!  We are seeking garden-related Silent Auction items.  If you have an item, please use the attached form here and email  We would love the fruits of Master Gardener’s labor such as jams, jellies, canned goods.  We also love beautiful garden books or other garden accessories.  Gift certificates from businesses you frequent are also popular items.  We would like to have the items in advance by November 4th and we can arrange pickup.   

Thanks for all you do, and hope to see you soon!

Steward – Sep ’16

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Mutualistic Mushrooms and the Magical Webs That They Weave

Clean Up for Gardening Tools


Mycelium of the fungus Polyporous radula; date: 1886; Source: Popular Science Monthly Volume 29

Mycelium of the fungus Polyporous radula; date: 1886; Source: Popular Science Monthly Volume 29

Mutualistic Mushrooms and the Magical Webs That They Weave

Jamie Guenther, Master Gardener

The magnificent and wondrous world of mushrooms seems to be gaining a bit of popularity in the United States recently. And while mycology has been around for quite some time (its Greek origin being myco = fungus and ology = study of), defining a mycophile is not so straightforward. 

According to Merriam-Webster, a mycophile is “a devotee of mushrooms; especially: one whose hobby is hunting wild edible mushrooms.”  The draw here seems to be mainly which mushrooms are edible and which ones are toxic.  But even the information that is known in that arena is extremely limited. There are a projected 1.5 million species of fungus out there in the world but only about 5 percent have been identified!  We still have so much to learn.

So, how can the information that we do know about mushrooms turn our attention from simply eating them to understanding how this mysterious growth can be beneficial for gardeners? It turns out that mycologists have organized fungi into three categories based upon the relationships that fungi have with the environment in which they are found, which is also their food source. Those categories are mutualists (mycorrhizal fungi), saprophytes (endophytic fungi) and parasites (saprophytic fungi).

Each category of mushroom plays a crucial role in the environment and the USDA has started to recommend that no-till agriculture be adopted as a way to preserve mycorrhizal fungi.  Conventional plowing and tilling breaks apart and damages the soil fungi whereas no-till agricultural practices keeps the fungi intact and has been determined to be beneficial to crop management.

Mycorrhizal fungi forms a sort of web called mycelium that branches to the different neighboring plant roots and breaks down nutrients into a readily assimilative form so that the plant can easily absorb those nutrients. In return, the plant provides sugar to the fungi which it needs for energy.  A win-win for both plant and fungi.

The largest mycelium system was discovered in 1998 in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. This system spans 2,200 acres and is at least 2,400 years old. Scientists know that this system is an individual unit because of chromosome testing.  As an example of how this works, imagine a fairy ring of fungus. Each mushroom above ground is coming from a branch of mycelium running underground with the center of the circle being the food point of origin. The branches extend out forming a circle pattern which allows the mycelium a better chance at finding food. As it does, it will continue to extend farther in search of more food sources.

Fungi can grow in a wide range of conditions. They are found in locations where temperatures ranges are from below freezing to over 150 degrees Fahrenheit; they can grow in dark and light, in water, in the desert and even on human beings (dandruff).  The possibility of finding fungi is endless and fascinating.  But this article is focusing on fungi that are beneficial to gardening, so I digress.

Back to soil health and mycorrhizal fungi applications in food production.  Along with the USDA recommendation for no-till agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service promotes mycorrhizal inoculants on tree plantings. The process is simple and uses a commercially produced mycorrhizal fungi mix added to water in which the tree seedlings are dipped into prior to planting. Plants that have this treatment need less fertilizer, withstand pollutants better, have more resistance to disease and can withstand saltier, drier and more acidic or alkaline soils. The process works so well that the state of New York has begun to adopt the practice.  Anyone can start promoting this mutualistic relationship in their gardens now that the fungi mix can easily be ordered on-line.

Yes, mushrooms are wonderful to cook and eat.  But, given the benefits that the mutualistic relationships between fungi and plant have been shown to promote in the agricultural realm, now might be the time for “mycology” to mean more than just mushroom hunting.  We in the gardening world might want to turn our focus underground to help support the environment so that it, in turn, can help support us.


Bone, Eugenia. “Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms.”

2011. New York, NY.

Photo from Pixabay

Photo from Pixabay

Clean Up for Gardening Tools

Shared by Judy Reich, Master Gardener; From Real Simple

Spades, trowels, and hoes end up marred by dirt, rust, or sap.

Season kickoff: Spray each tool with lubricating oil (such as WD-40). Dip each tool in and out of a bucket full of sand until the grime is gone. Brush off the sand and let air-dry.

After every use: Rinse off the tools with a hose. Dry fully with a cloth and store them in a bucket of sand, handles facing up. The sand will absorb moisture and work away the remaining gunk as the tools are pushed through.

Season wrap-up: Rinse the tools and store in the sand bucket.


American Lawn

American Lawn


Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener

Early fall is the best time to restore your turf grass.  And, yes, timing is everything in in lawn care.  As you may be aware, lawns are not native in Michigan, or the USA for that matter.  It is a European import and prefers cool, wet weather.  In northern Michigan our hot and dry summer weather stresses the cool-season grass plant due to its shallow root system.

Douglas Tallamy, PhD and author of Bringing Nature Home, reports that the United States has 45 million acres of lawn.  To support and maintain that lawn in a perpetual green state we use 2 billion gallons of gasoline for lawn equipment, emit 41 billion pounds of CO2 and 13 billion pounds of air pollutants from mowers and leaf blowers, apply 100 million pounds of lawn chemicals and sprinkle with 9 billion gallons of clean water.

Unfortunately, most of these lawn care efforts are wasted due to poor timing. 

Lindsey Lampton of Mc Gough’s in Traverse City shared her expert advice on doing things the right way and at the right time to get the most out of your lawn maintenance for this article.

To grow any plant successfully, a gardener first needs to know what soil conditions are available to that plant and the specific soil needs of the plant and whether the two items will allow successful propagation.  That means getting a soil sample and having it tested.  MSU Extension offers soil testing. Click here to order your soil sample kit for $25. Mc Gough’s in Traverse City offers soil testing for $20. Click here for instructions. 

To take a soil sample you will need soil from approximately 10 sites in your yard growing the same plant, such as lawn. (Note: if you which to test for growing vegetables, test that area of your garden separately.) Following a zig-zag pattern, dig about a 4-5 inch deep hole in your turf.  With a trowel, slice about 1 inch wide x 3-4 inches deep sample. Do not include roots in your sample.   Place it in a clean bucket.  Repeat taking slices from all around your lawn where you mow and where you plan to treat with fertilizer.  With all of the samples in the bucket, stir to blend all soil together.  Scoop out 1 – 2 cups of soil to be tested.

It is September 1.  Send your soil for testing today!

Then, if your lawn needs re-seeding or over seeding, do it NOW.  Mow low and scratch the surface of thin areas to allow seed to contact the soil.  Spread grass seed and KEEP MOIST.  Germination will ONLY take place if the seed is continually moist.

By mid-September you should have your soil test results in hand.  Apply ONLY the nutrients deficit in your soil needed for grass.  Generally speaking, germinating grass may need phosphorus, while many of our soils have an adequate supply.  Therefore, most of the fertilizers sold in Michigan do not include phosphorus.  (Over-feeding phosphorus allows run-off to contaminate our surface and ground water.)  Fall feeding is the best growing time for the grass plant.  Cool season grasses return to vigorous growing after the heat of summer and will absorb the nutrients.  When the grass plant is not actively growing, the fertilizer is wasted as the plant is not ready for absorption.  In September, it can be a good time to fight broad leaf weeds as well.  Consider hand spraying rather than broad spectrum application to save on the use of herbicides.

Lindsay says that a common misconception is that “lawns in northern Michigan need lime.”  They most likely do not.  Therefore, do not treat your lawn with lime, unless a soil test has indicated an insufficiency.

Further, additional lawn treatments monthly, or even four times per season, are likely not needed.  Fall is the ideal time to support the turf lawn for weed suppression and vigorous growth.  Over seed in late August/early September and keep evenly moist followed by fertilizer and weed suppression chemicals by late September/early October.

In the spring, apply crabgrass preventer, if needed.  It will block seed germination of crabgrass and other grass seeds.  Note: Do not try to over seed or reseed a lawn after applying a crabgrass preventer.  A crabgrass preventer works by blocking seed germination.

Other tips for maintaining a healthy turf lawn include: 

  • Mow less often.  A longer blade of grass shades the roots and maintains soil moisture.   
  • Keep your grass long.  Cut your grass between 3-4 inches tall. 
  • Water to support rainfall up to an inch a week.  Longer, deeper waterings are preferred over 15 minute ‘sprinkles’, unless germinating new seed. 
  • Grass growing in sandy, less organic soils will require more water than grass growing in clay. 
  • Hotter temperatures require more frequent watering than cooler temperatures.  Therefore, should you have a programmable irrigation system, be sure to adjust length of watering time and frequency of days watered as weather conditions dictate. 
  • Timing in watering is important too.  Water very early in the morning for most effective use of you water.

Maintaining a healthy, green lawn is all about the timing… of water, of nutrients and of weed suppression.  Ignore the element of timing and you will waste money on ineffective chemical applications and risk polluting our surface and ground water.


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