Real Dirt

Steward – July 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

The WHY of Native Plants

Native Grasses and Flowers…an ecosystem

Uvularia grandiflora, Large flowered bellwort. Photo by Whitney Miller

The WHY of Native Plants

By Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG and Plant It Wild President

There exists a connectivity between the soil, plants, and insects which are the first links in the web of life.  Insects are the creatures who turn the energy from the sun, processed by plants into biomass. This insect biomass is what begins to feed the world. 

Soil, plants and insects evolve together in ecosystems all over the world.  In plant communities, they create habitats. Insects feed on plants, predator insects feed on insects on plants as do birds, amphibians, and mammals.  Everything is fed and kept in check. Control of plants is provided by the soil, moisture and the critters that feed on them.  

Once you begin replacing native plants with alien plants moved within continents and from one continent to another, the ecosystem is disrupted.  The alien plants just don’t fit. Some require extensive and continuous soil amendments and water to succeed (think turf grass). Others, without their own ecosystem controls, escape and become invasive (Bradford Pear, Japanese barberry, and myrtle to name three). The insects who need to be supported cannot live on alien plants. Insects are picky eaters and almost all eat only those plants with whom they have co-evolved. Replace their natural plant communities with non-native plants and there is no insect food. Consider the well-known Monarch butterfly whose larval form lives only on plants in the milkweed family.  We hear about Monarchs everywhere. However, they are but one. All other butterflies and moths have the same habits. When we landscape with non-native plants a food desert is created. 

Food deserts are places that lack access to foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.  Our food desert can be best seen in the decline of our migratory bird population. Some of our birds are in danger of extinction because of the food deserts we have created.  To begin, 98% of all baby birds are fed insects by their parents. (The other 2% are fed fish.) The best food for these baby birds are soft, squishy caterpillars. Caterpillars contain valuable nutrients that baby birds need to grow and fledge.  Research estimates that chickadee parents need to feed 6,000 to 9,000 insects, mostly caterpillars, to their clutch each year. That is ONE family. When enough caterpillars/insects are not available, the nest will fail. 

It is because of this beautiful and complicated food web that we must focus on landscaping with native plants.  Recent research has determined that to create a healthy food-web ecosystem, the plants on any site must be at least 70% native.  This number includes ALL plants…including your turf lawn. To answer the question then, Why Native Plants? To support life. 

Trillium grandiflorum. Photo by Whitney Miller

Native Grasses and Flowers…an ecosystem

By Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG and Plant It Wild President

Prairie means grassland, and comes from the French word for “meadow.”  So even before we begin to think of the space that is comprised of clump forming grasses and flowers (forbs), with few trees and shrubs, we have identified it by three different names…grassland, prairie, and meadow.  We typically think of the prairies of the Midwest. The grasslands crossed by wagon trains and plowed for agriculture. In Michigan, there were once areas of grasslands, mostly in the lower half of the Lower Peninsula.  Those spaces are mostly urban, suburban, and agricultural areas today.

Like each separate plant community, a meadow creates specific habitat and plays an important role in the ecosystem over-all.  We have lost much of that ecosystem, thereby destroying the life supported in a grassland habitat. Restoration of prairie habitat has been on the rise in recent years. For example, Saving Birds Thru Habitat in Omena, Michigan converted a large tract of land into a grassland.  This property has the native grasses and flowers (forbs) which support the shelter and food needed by birds. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy rescued old fields in the dry upland area of their Arcadia Dunes property and rehabilitated a grassland ecosystem. Further, the Michigan DNR has grants for property owners to install meadows and are actively working in northern Lower Michigan to restore grassland habitat.  The meadow ecosystem is highly valued and productive as it contains the plants to provide shelter and food for insects, birds, small mammals, and more.

There are three types of grasslands based upon the size of the grasses and the amount of moisture they typically receive.  These are Tall Grass, Mixed Grass, and Short Grass. Large tracts of land are perfect for Tall Grass or Mixed Grass. These plants typically require less moisture.  In suburban areas, a mixed grass or short grass may be more appropriate for scale and esthetic. Shorter grasses thrive with a bit more rainfall than tall grasses. 

Native grasses have deep roots.  Really deep roots. These roots perform a valuable function… they stabilize soil, are able to access more nutrients than short rooted plants, filter water, and provide their own organic matter by dying off a bit each year.  They need no soil amendments and typically need no additional irrigation once established. These are tough plants.  

Some species to consider in a short grass meadow:  Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, June Grass, Koeleria macrantha;  Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis; Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula; Northern Sea Oats,  Chasmanthium latifolium; and Bottle Brush Grass, Hystrix patula. A taller grass, Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans has gorgeous yellow blossoms, while side oats blossoms are fire engine red.  These grasses provide shelter for birds and small wildlife, habitat for insects and their seeds provide late season food.

Grasslands are far from mono-cultures.  There are many, many forbs that grow in grasslands.  These plants cover the spectrum from early bloomers who find the sun before the grasses shade them, to tall flowering plants which grow supported by the grasses and bloom above it all.

Catherine Zimmerman, author of Urban and Suburban Meadows will be speaking at Trinity Lutheran Church in Frankfort at 7 pm July 17.  She will explain how to make a meadow where you live. On July 18th at 10 am there will be a grassland field trip beginning at the Arcadia Dunes Grassland on Keillor Road.  Come to see the beauty of the prairie. Finally, Zimmerman’s documentary, Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home will be screened at the Garden Theater in Frankfort at 3 pm on July 18th with filmmaker Q & A.  

Catherine Zimmerman is being hosted by Plant it Wild with support from Four Season Nursery, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, and Watervale Inn.  All of Plant it Wild programs and field trips are free and open to the public. Memberships and donations fund our work. For more information contact Plant it Wild on Facebook at PIW-Plant It Wild or on the web at plantitwild.net.

 

Resources:  

Michigan DNR, Large Grasslands

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/14_large_grasslands_500075_7.pdf

 

Grassland Biome

http://www.mbgnet.net/pfg/diverse/biomes/grasslnd/types.htm

 

Urban and Suburban Meadows, Catherine Zimmerman


Nourish – July 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Supporting our Pollinators: MGANM June Meeting Notes

Supporting Our Neighbors

Supporting our Pollinators: MGANM June Meeting Notes

By Nancy Larson, MG

We had a successful educational meeting and a big turnout with 50 people present. About 1/4 of the people were from the general public and the remainder from the Master Gardener Association.  Michelle Worden, our outgoing president, welcomed everyone and gave an overview of what a Master Gardener is and what it is that we do.  She added the summer’s up-coming schedule of events for anyone who can attend and then welcomed to the podium Nate Walton, MSUE Entomologist.  

Nate talked about all the common pollinators in our gardens and then gave a very informative lecture on our bees; the different types; their life system; their identity as social or solitary nesters’; and their need to continue their life cycle. Nate taught us about their needs for food, water and shelter and how we can assist them in that, and then he introduced Barbara Backus, Master Gardener.

Barbara shared how her team of five started and finished three projects within the city’s gardens.  Barbara and her team re-cultivated a garden at Hull Park and two gardens at Clinch Park with pollinating flowers. They used Lynn Steiner’s “Landscaping with Native Plants”, and bulletin”Attracting Beneficial Insect with Native Flowering Plants” (MSU #2975 and #3314) for their design layout. Barbara recommends using these resources for native flowers.  

Barbara also said that starting a project is very easy and she shared the steps to start your own:

  1. Apply to the Master Gardener program to start a project, with Nate’s help. You must have an educational aspect to your project, i.e. the signs.
  2. Go to the city to request garden space.
  3. Ask the city for funding to buy flowers and signs.

Barbara said the city is thankful we are there to help with the gardens and they are supportive of the work that we do.  She also indicated the city has more land that they are willing to let Master Gardeners re-cultivate with flowers. 

The program ended with many questions and happy faces wanting to get into the dirt again.

Tomato Seedlings, by Michele Worden

Supporting Our Neighbors

By Michelle Worden, AEMG

In April, we welcomed Sarah Rautio from MSUE to our monthly meeting to learn about the Growing Together Program, and some amazing local food donation gardens.  Wonderful work is happening at Leelanau Christian Neighbors food garden and Leo Creek Preserve. As spring finally turns to summer, I know they would love any volunteers to help teach the public how to grow their own food.

Food pantries often hand out seedlings, like these tomato seedlings pictured, that pantry clients can plant in the ground at home or put in pots.  Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene and vitamin C.  This can be an important source of nutrition for people experiencing food insecurity, since they lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tomato Seedlings, by Michele Worden

If you are a home food gardener, consider sharing your bounty with your local food pantry or meal site.  A list by county can be found at http://northwestfoodcoalition.org/.

If you are a volunteer at one of our MG volunteer project food gardens – thank you!  And don’t forget to weigh the produce and report it to the Growing Together Initiative to fight food insecurity.

If you are not able to do either of these things, consider donating money to the Farm2Neighbor program of the Northwest Food Coalition, which supports the local farm economy and feeds our neighbors by buying local fruits and vegetables and giving to area pantries and meal sites.  More information is from an article from the Record Eagle below:

Forum: Support local farmers, neighbors in need

By Kris Thomas

Jun 6, 2019

(Reprinted with Permission)

We know that the freshest, most nutritious food available is the food that’s grown by our local farmers. Providing residents in Northwest Michigan with a vast array of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season is a commitment our farmers have made to support the health and well-being of our community.

We also know that many of our neighbors that utilize our area food pantries and community meal sites struggle to put food on the table to feed their families. And being able to purchase locally grown fresh food, which is often more costly than processed food, simply is not an option for them.

Lack of access to healthy food has a profound negative impact on the lives of our food insecure neighbors, because it makes them more susceptible to many health-related issues, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And it is much more difficult for those in our community living with these health-related issues to be successful in many aspects of life.

In an effort to improve the health and well-being of our community by providing greater access to locally grown food, four rotary clubs in Northwest Michigan joined forces and in January 2018, donated more than $20,000 to the Northwest Food Coalition to create the Coalition’s Farm To Neighbor Fund. All donations to the fund are used to purchase produce from area farmers for distribution at food pantries and meal sites in the five-county Grand Traverse area. Since January 2018, thousands of pounds of carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, pears, acorn and butternut squash and apples have been purchased directly from local farmers and enjoyed by our neighbors in need.

With the growing season upon us, contributions from our community for this very important program would be greatly appreciated. To support the Farm To Neighbor Fund, please go to https://www.nmcaa.net/farm2neighbor.asp. If you’d like to learn more about the Northwest Food Coalition, please go to www.northwestfoodcoalition.org.

Thank you for your support. Your generosity will be felt by many.

 

About the author: Kris Thomas is a member of the Benzie Sunrise Rotary Club. Since leading a food security study for her club in 2014, she has volunteered in different capacities to alleviate hunger in northern Michigan, including working with Food Rescue and the Northwest Food Coalition.


Beautify – July 2019

Tomato plants growing in garbage cans June 2013, Summit NJ by Tom W Sulcer

Planting in Pots

By Val Stone, MG and Coordinator for Northwest Food Coalition

If you are a Master Gardener or possess a green thumb and had to downsize to an apartment or condo without gardens, you know the frustration of giving up your beloved full length beds of flowers and veggies that grew bigger every year.  But never fear, you can be a successful gardener by growing in pots or containers right outside your door on a patio, deck or balcony.  

For variety, mix the sizes and shapes of your pots.  We started with 3 large pots (about 48”) and then added 4 or 5 smaller ones to make 3 pot groupings.  With the larger pots, fill the bottom with crushed gallon milk jugs so you aren’t filling them with soil and making it harder to move them.  I recommend a mixture of peat, compost and topsoil. Your soil mixture is the key to steady growth through the growing season with occasional fertilizer feedings. 

With the larger pots, I used a broccoli plant in the middle for height and planted 3 colors of sweet potato vine, verbena and miniature petunias around it.  Vary the vegetables you put in the pots and include plenty of trailing vines and flowers for color. Look for plants that require the same light and watering and all will be happy.   We have planted ours with peppers, tomatoes, chard, chives, and even Brussel sprouts as the center plant and enjoyed the flowers while the veggies developed during the season. We tried yellow pear tomatoes with flowers and could pick a snack every time we were on the deck.   Once the veggies were harvested, we still had the beautiful flowers to enjoy until frost. The smaller pots could hold herbs and flowers to place near your larger containers. Our decks were filled with color for the season and looked like an ad from a magazine when we grouped the pots together. Add an outdoor fountain to your area and enjoy the quiet of your flower veggie garden room.

Happy Gardening!    


Serve – July 2019

Munson Hospice House Rose and Perennial Gardens

By Gayla Elsner, MG

The second annual work bee for this Master Gardener project happened on May 18th, with six hearty volunteers participating on a cool, rainy day.  Three MG volunteers; Amy Leiva, and Duke and Gayla Elsner, led Hospice House volunteers Sandy, Taryn and Chris as we did spring clean-up, including weeding and fertilizing the Knockout roses, pruning shrubs and small trees, and weeding and raking the perennial beds.  We answered questions and demonstrated pruning and gardening techniques for the Hospice House volunteers, who can share this information with other volunteers.

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We also did a cleanup of a forested area directly behind the Hospice House where residents enjoy feeding and watching deer, birds, and other wildlife.  Many of the rooms at Hospice House have doors that open up onto a beautiful deck, where the bed can be rolled right out so the patient can enjoy being in the forest, with a canopy of trees overhead. This area had become overgrown with vines and shrubs so that deer were not coming up to the deck as they once did. We cleaned up the shrubs and vines, picked up trash, and hauled away logs.  Some pretty ground space cover plants are now visible, too.

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We didn’t get everything done. In particular it was too wet to cut back the nice ornamental grasses using our new battery-powered shears.  But that’s fine.  Now we move on to the maintenance phase in the garden. Last year was the first year for this project and we focused on raising awareness that the garden existed but had fallen into disarray. We brought together Master Gardeners, Cherry Capital Rose Society, and Hospice House volunteers: we came up with a plan to restore the garden and teach garden care to Hospice House volunteers. This year’s focus is scheduling regular maintenance at the garden. 

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

Now that we have several volunteers who know what needs to be done to maintain the garden and how to care for each type of plant, we can focus on the schedule.  We are trying a calendar app as a way for people to see when other folks are doing maintenance and schedule themselves either at times when no one is scheduled and the garden really needs it, or at times when they can learn, say, rose care or tree care, from other volunteers.  On our second year with this project, we have a good list of potential volunteers and are also working on a relationship with a group of high school students interested in helping us out for their volunteer hours.   If this project is something you’d like to spend some hours on, email Gayla Elsner gelsner9@gmail.com.

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We are amazed at the dedication and caring of Hospice Volunteers.  Gardening is just a tiny part of what they do. It was a good feeling working alongside them. They encourage us and let us know that we are a part of helping hospice patients and their families have a nurturing environment during a very difficult time.  With positive experiences like looking at flowers, feeding the wildlife, or listening to the breeze in the trees their time in hospice can be good.

Hospice House Work bee by Gayla Elsner


News & Events – May 2019

There are multiple opportunities for Continuing Education credits (and general fun) throughout our community. We strive to provide as many of those that are upcoming below. Please make sure to check directly with the organization’s website for any changes as well as for other events that they offer.

SAVING BIRDS THRU HABITAT

Website: http://www.savingbirds.org/

Programs take place at their SBTH Discovery Center, 5020 N. Putnam Road (2 miles due west of Omena) unless otherwise noted.  Please call 231-271-3738 for more details.

Conservation Workshop. JUNE 1ST, SATURDAY 10:30 am – 2:00 pm

This collaborative program with the Leelanau Conservancy features Eric Ellis.  There is a PowerPoint program about improving the habitat on your property with native plants.  Included is a light lunch and guided field trips to Leelanau Conservation easement properties, including Charter Sanctuary.  Please register by calling the Conservancy at 231-256-9665 or email Yarrow at ybrown@leelanaconservancy.org

NORTHWEST MI INVASIVE SPECIES NETWORK

Website: https://natureiscalling.org/invasive/

Garlic Mustard Paper Making. MAY 15th, WEDNESDAY 5:30-7:00 pm  

Boardman River Nature Center, 1450 Cass Road, Traverse City. There is no cost, but $5 donation suggestion per family. Registration required. Please contact ISN Outreach Specialist, Emily Cook, for more information – ecook@gtcd.org or (231)941-0960 x20 Make paper with garlic mustard! This family-friendly activity with the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN) begins with a short presentation on invasive species and a paper-making demonstration. Then, make your own green paper – everyone gets to bring some home! All materials are provided. 

Japanese Barberry Trade Up Day, Benzie in conjunction with Grow Benzie. JUNE 22nd, SATURDAY 2:00-8:00 pm

Trade in your landscaped Japanese barberry for a coupon to a local landscaper or nursery! Receive a $5.00 coupon for every plant you bring us (up to $50.00). We’ll properly dispose of your invasive species and you can go shopping for a non-invasive alternative. Registration is required: Contact ISN Outreach Specialist, Emily Cook at ecook@gtcd.org or (231)941-0960 x20.

MISSION POINT LIGHTHOUSE HISTORIC GARDEN

Lighthouse website: http://www.missionpointlighthouse.com/

Digging out perennials, MAY 4TH, SATURDAY 10:00 am

The location is Old Mission Flowers, Ladd and Center Road, Traverse City. Please bring digging tools, gloves, water bottle (no drinking water there), containers, etc.  These perennials will be used for replanting at the Mission Point Lighthouse Historic Garden. Help is also needed transporting the plants to the lighthouse. For further information please contact Ginger Schultz, Old Mission Lighthouse Manager at missionpointlight@gmail.com or 231-645-0759

Planting day for Mission Point Lighthouse Historic Garden.   JUNE 7TH, FRIDAY 9:00 am

The location is the Old Mission Lighthouse, 20500 Center Road, Traverse City.  Please bring planting tools, watering cans, wheelbarrow, etc. if you can. Refreshments and lunch will be provided.

Alternate Date. JUNE 8TH, SATURDAY

Please contact Ginger Schultz, Old Mission Lighthouse Manager, at missionpointlight@gmail.com  or 231-645-0759

NORTHWEST MICHIGAN HORTICULTURE RESEARCH CENTER

Website: https://www.canr.msu.edu/nwmihort/

Pruning Workshop with Rebecca Finneran. MAY 3RD, FRIDAY 9:00 am – 12:30 pm

MSU Extension Sr. Educator, Rebecca Finneran will lead the workshop at the NW Michigan Horticultural Research Center (just north of Traverse City, near Bingham in Leelanau County). This workshop is geared towards homeowners and gardeners, and will help you master the science (and a bit of art) of pruning. Participants will spend time in the classroom learning best pruning practices and the best equipment for each job, and then move outdoors to apply the learning with hands-on pruning. Participants should bring their own hand-held pruning shears if available, and wear weather-appropriate clothing to be both indoors and outdoors; rain or shine. The cost is $35 per person, and includes education, instruction and light refreshments. Spaces are limited and preregistration is required.   The event is open to the public so please feel free to share this with your friends and family.

Register online at: https://events.anr.msu.edu/Pruning2019   


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