Real Dirt

Steward – November 2019

Native Grasses and General Update: MGANM September Meeting Notes

By, Nancy Larson, Extension Master Gardener   

We had a friendly educational meeting September 3rd with five public guests and over thirty Master Gardeners present.  Michele Worden, MGANM President, welcomed everyone and answered the question, “What do master gardeners do?” for our public guests.  We educate; we beautify and improve our community; we work with youth in schools and fields; we assist MSU in their diagnostic clinic; we promote food security with assisting in food gardens, and we do volunteer management of various projects. Find out more about MG’s on-line at  

Michele introduced Lisa Hagerty our new newsletter editor.  Lisa encouraged the MG’s to write articles to share with others about their science-based growing experiences. Michele also appealed to the group for nominations for the upcoming board election. In addition, Michelle told us there is a survey coming out soon that will help the board determine events and guests to schedule in the upcoming year. The survey will be asking members what they would like to see/hear about so our monthly meetings can be interesting and engaging. Michele indicated our record breaking event attendance in 2019 is because we asked for members interests.

Nate Walton, MSU Entomologist, announced that there are still plenty of volunteer project hours available. He advised us to check the VMS page daily for updates

Cheryl Gross, Plant It Wild President, introduced our guest speaker, Vern Stephens, owner of Designs By Nature in Laingsburg, MI, to talk about native grasses. Vern said he has a 30 year working history with native plants and specializes in MI eco-types.  He has developed outreach programs to the north, south, east and west areas of the state; has created an on-line site for purchases of perennial garden starters; is looking forward to expanding his searching for native plants into the Detroit area; and has encouraged “NO USE” of neonic pesticides, as it stays in the plants for 2 years. Recommended Books: 1) “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy, 2) “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” by Lawrence Newcomb, 3) “The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook” by Stephen Packard & Cornelia Matee.

So, why use native grasses?  Because of their roots. They have a deep root system, don’t need irrigation, once established, or fertilizer, attract insects & birds, make good nesting areas, and are good for grazing fields.  Native grasses are wind pollinated so if you don’t want them to spread, remove their seed heads.  Normal grass lawns have to be watered and fertilized, have short root systems, and have to be cut. Vern discussed ten different types of native grasses and provided live examples of them: Dunes grass, Prairie Drop Seed, Little Blue Stem, Big Blue Stem, Indian Grass, Bottle Brush grass, Side Oats, Grama Grass, Purple Love Grass, and Canada Rye Grass.  He then talked about sedges.  What’s the difference between grasses and sedges?  Grass stems are round or flat while sedge stems are triangular.  Sedges are solid, while grasses are hollow. Sedges are usually 3-ranked where they lie in three vertical planes along the stem.  They both reproduce by seeds, can form clumps, and have a bloom season. Vern discussed and shared examples of five types of Sedges: Wood Sedge, Fox Sedge, Brown Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, and Plantain Leaved Sedge.

The program ended with Vern answering many questions.  He also brought a large variety of native plants for us to “happily” purchase because we all know how we love to get into the dirt. 

Nourish – November 2019

Landscaping for Our Friends the Bees, Butterflies and Beneficial Insects

By Nancy Popa, Extension Master Gardener

As lawns and hardscapes have increased, sources of nectar, pollen and shelter for bees, butterflies and beneficial insects (BBBI) have decreased, causing stress on these important insects (our friends).   Our own yards can be an important source of nectar, pollen and shelter for BBBI if their needs are taken into account.  

We have all seen entire neighborhoods of perfectly manicured lawns.  Even if this landscape is aesthetic, it is unnatural and it does not support a healthy ecosystem.  Your neighbors may object, depending upon where you live, but consider adding plants to your lawn like clover, black medic and even dandelions to provide nectar and pollen for BBBI. An even better idea is to shrink the lawn and add flowering  annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which provide many benefits beyond what a lawn provides such as decreased use of fertilizer and herbicides, shade for home cooling, deep roots with filtration capabilities and of course, beauty. When you do this, make sure that you select plants that provide the nutrition and pollen needed by BBBI.  Native plants are a great way to assure that the plants you have planted will provide the nutrition need by our native BBBI. When selecting plants always go by the scientific name, as common names are often confusing. For instance red salvia, the popular annual bedding plant, is not highly attractive to bees but blue salvia (Salvia farinacea), and several types of perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa) have allure.  Useful information about native plants can be found at Michigan State University Native Plants and Beneficial Insects website:

It is important to provide nectar and pollen throughout the year.  Observe your yard and add plants that flower in the months when you have no flowers.  If you were to plant Golden Alexander (Aizia aurea), Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fructose), Cup Plant (Silphium perfolatium) and Riddel’s Goldenrod (Salidago ridellii), you would be providing rich sources of nectar and pollen for BBBI in the months of June, July, August and September, respectively.  When garden beds are designed, color, height and bloom time are usually considered. Think about adding a fourth dimension to your design criteria—importance to BBBI health.

Maintaining a healthy landscape will minimize the need for pesticides that have detrimental effects on BBBI.  Planting the “right plant in the right place” is the first step to keeping a plant strong and resistant to infestation.  The soil pH, soil type, sunlight and moisture are critical to strong plants. When selecting plants and trees, choose species that are not susceptible to disease and pests that will require control with insecticides and fungicides in order to remain healthy.  Ash, elm, spruce and euonymus and examples of problem species. 

It is never too late to get rid of bad performers and replace them with plants that the BBBIs will love.



Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region.  MSU Extension Bulletin E3314.

Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants.  MSU Extension, Fiedler, Tuell, Isaacs, Landis

Beautify – November 2019

Planting Flower Bulbs

By Lisa Hagerty, MG Trainee and “The Real Dirt” Editor 

When I think of spring, I think of new life and vibrant colors. Everything comes alive when temperatures rise and the snow finally melts. It is springtime when we begin to see our gardens and landscapes filled with beautiful flowers. Some people may not realize that some of those plants with earliest spring blossoms are planted the previous fall.

Now, here we are; temperatures have slowly creeped downward and fall is finally upon us. Although I am less eager to get my hands dirty in the fall, there is still work to do to prepare for the spring.

Of all the things we do in fall, planting bulbs is one of the most rewarding. Early spring blossoms bring a visual pleasure that warms the heart. For that matter, the bulbs we plant in the fall could give us that flowering warmth at springtime and into early summer. If you like to plant bulbs, you can even plant some types in the spring for a late summer bloom. Of course, this depends on the bulbs you choose to plant. 

There are a few important things to consider when selecting the right flower bulbs such as bloom time, location, and soil condition. For the earliest blooms, you might choose Crocus, Snowdrops or Winter Aconite. They seem anxious to bust through the soil because as soon as the ground thaws, they begin flowering.  If Iris is a flower you enjoy, be sure to select Iris Reticulata for an early spring bloom. Although you could also plant the Dutch Iris for blooms in the late spring if you love to have more Irises. Additional varieties of the Iris can even be planted for early and mid-summer blooms. 

Selecting different bulbs for their different bloom seasons allows you to have flowers in your landscape from early spring into late summer. For instance, Daffodils and Tulips both have bulbs that will bloom in early spring and different bulbs that will bloom mid-spring. There is even a Tulip bulb that blooms late spring. Like the Iris, if you love Tulips, you could virtually plant all varieties to achieve staggering blooms, at least through the end of spring.

By late spring, trees are filling in with new leaves that might begin to create shade in your yard and inhibit some flowers from growing, due to lack of sun. You want to keep this in mind, as the early and mid-spring blooms will get different sunlight from late spring and early summer blooms that are in the same location. When selecting the right spot, you should also consider the condition of the soil. Bulbs will rot if planted in soggy soil that does not drain well. They thrive in rich, organic soil. 

Now that your bulb selection is made and the location is decided, weeds should be removed and the soil should be loosened. According to Farmers Almanac, “when you are ready to plant, the general rule of thumb is to plant a bulb three times as deep as the bulb is tall, making sure the pointy part is facing upwards”. 

Although the MSU article I found by Charles Schwartzkopf titled, The Power of Flowers—Maybe They’ve Got Something There is old, the helpful tips Schwarzkopf provides in his article still stand true. For instance, taking care to ensure the soil is not soggy, it “should be moist when the bulbs are planted or the roots may not initiate growth”. For fall planting, the best time is when the night temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees. No need to fertilize at the time of planting because the bulbs will go dormant in the winter. However, Schwartzkopf suggests you “fertilize in the spring when the leaves are growing”. The first sign of shoots appearing, indicates the roots are also growing and they need nutrients to thrive. Be sure to stop applying fertilizer once blooming begins because bulb growth will be inhibited otherwise. Once blooming begins, all that’s left to do is enjoy!

Integrated Pest Management

Spider Mite Controls

By Lisa Hagerty, The Real Dirt Editor and MG trainee

The end of summer is nearing, which is apparent with the cooler temperatures we have been feeling the last couple of days. I have at least three trees in my yard that had green leaves only weeks ago, but today the leaves are red. On one hand, it makes me a little sad to see summer fade but on the other, the cooler weather may bring my garden the relief it needs from mites. 

An article written by Howard Russell for MSU Extension, “Spider mite populations thrive in hot dry summers,” tells it exactly the way it is. With the high temperatures of July and August, many of us felt the impact that mites have on a garden. The constant struggle to combat them seems never ending at times. They remind me of tiny vampires as they “suck on the sap that bleeds from the wound” created when they scrape “the leaf surface with their pointed mouthparts” (Russell). A clear sign that spider mites are present is the when the leaves are yellowing, browning, speckling and in worst cases, webbing is visible. Although Russell offers some suggestions on chemical control, he reminds us that the ultimate goal is to preserve and restore natural enemy populations to control the spider mites.

Tomato_mites by lisa hagerty

Tomato_mites by lisa hagerty

Christina DiFonzo of MSU Extension discusses spider mites in southern Michigan in her article, “Potential for spider mites, especially in southern Michigan.” She warns against the potential consequences of treatment, which is a concern for anyone with mites. DiFonzo’s example describes the effects of spider mites on soybean fields, but they can destroy many different vegetables.  According to DiFonzo, the beneficial insect population is killed with the application of insecticides, yet not all mites die. With the absence of the beneficials, the population of the spider mites can flare out of control. Because the spider mite eggs are unharmed and will continue to hatch, we must treat more than once. However, it seems the mites build a resistance to insecticides and the resistance increases with the number of treatments—and round and round we go! At times it all feels like an exercise in futility.

I did find some additional information published by David J. Shetlar at Ohio State University Extension. His article titled, “Spider Mites and Their Control” provides a great deal of good information about spider mites. Although of course, Shetlar references Ohio landscapes, we can be certain that the behavior of Michigan spider mites is much the same. In his article, Shetlar offers five different control methods: Syringing, Quarantine and Inspection, Predators, Soft Pesticides, and finally Miticides. They are noteworthy suggestions. 

Commonly, Shetlar, DiFonzo and Russell agree that early detection is the best control method. Know your plants and recognize the first signs of predatory attack so you can manage and possibly eradicate the mite population before they take over your garden. I do know my plants and I recognized the first signs of spider mites, when my tomato leaves were yellowing. I sprayed them vigorously every other day, yet even with my continuous efforts, a few of my plants continued to decline. 

Tomato mites by Lisa Hagerty

At some point, I realized my Impatiens, Daisies, and miniature Roses that were sitting all around my garden were also suffering from mites, so I integrated them into my routine. It has been a long battle, but with the recent rain, and lower temperatures, I think it is finally under control. Thankfully, I should be able to harvest my tomatoes within the next few weeks.

Tomato_mites by lisa hagerty


Coordinator’s Corner

Fall Cleanup to Protect Pollinators

By Nate Walton, Michigan State University Extension Master Gardener Coordinator

Along with all of the nationwide enthusiasm for protecting our pollinators have come some really important questions about exactly how best to do it. In some cases the questions are easier to answer because we have an abundance of scientific research, for example, on the effects of insecticides on pollinators. Unfortunately, to answer other questions, we are left with a scarcity of research and we are forced to make generalizations or to leave questions unanswered because, frankly, we don’t know the answer. The question of how to protect overwintering pollinators in our managed landscapes and gardens is one of the latter. Hopefully, all of this debate will inspire more scientific research, but in the meantime we are forced to make generalizations based on what little we know about the overwintering ecology of some of our flower-visiting insects. 

It may seem early to be talking about fall cleanup, but the fact is that many of our pollinators in our area (the Northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula) have already found a place to spend the winter by now.  The remainder will be looking for their winter home in the coming months so now is as good a time as any to plan your yard and garden cleanup to protect pollinators. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for protecting our overwintering pollinators. “Pollinators” are an incredibly diverse group and each species has its own preferences for overwintering habitat and emergence timing in the spring. Also, the community of pollinators and how well they survive the winter depends a great deal on geography, climate, and even microclimates in your garden. Finally, the plants themselves in a lawn, perennial bed, and annual flower bed all have specific management needs to keep them at their healthiest going into next year’s season. All of these complications make it virtually impossible to craft recommendations that will satisfy all parties involved. It is up to you to make choices that optimize the protection of pollinators while also meeting your own objectives for your managed landscape or garden.

This tiny bee (<8mm) in the Genus Ceratina will spend the winter in a hollow grass stem or the pithy stem of plants such as sumac or elderberry. (Photo by N. Walton, MSU Extension)

To Clean or Not to Clean?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that by creating overwintering habitat for pollinators in your managed garden space you are committing yourself to caring for those pollinators until next spring or summer when they “wake up” and continue their development. In other words, by creating habitat for overwintering pollinators in the fall, you run the risk of harming them in the spring unless you are very careful during your spring gardening activities. Alternatively, you could create habitat for pollinators in a part of your yard that is less heavily managed, where you perform neither fall nor spring cleanup. 

When to clean?

In the garden space where you do like to tidy things up in the spring and fall, clean up early in fall rather than late so that you don’t risk attracting pollinators that are looking for a winter home. You can then choose to place the leaf litter and stem cuttings from your cleanup activities in another part of the yard to provide habitat for the pollinators there instead. Don’t forget to take extra care with plant material that may be harboring plant pathogens. If you had plants with signs of disease in your garden, you’ll want to separate their leaves and cuttings and destroy them to prevent re-infection of your plants next season. 

What and how to clean?

Many of our pollinators in the Northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan overwinter under the soil, attached to woody stems, or on tree trunks. These pollinators are not likely to be affected much by typical fall cleanup activities. Some bees and butterflies will spend the winter inside of or attached to the stems of some of our herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses. If you are cutting these back in the fall, you can carefully bundle or pile the cuttings and place them in an undisturbed area so that those insects can complete their development normally in the spring. 

A few species of moths and butterflies will choose the leaf litter as an overwintering site. If you don’t get around to performing fall cleanup until later in the season (see above), then you can remove the leaves carefully to an undisturbed area. Hand removal of leaves is not likely to cause much harm to the overwintering stages of pollinators. Gentle raking is probably okay as well. Avoid leaf blowers and leaf vacuums, as these are more likely to harm the overwintering stages of pollinators that are sheltered in the leaf litter and around the lower portions of landscape plants. 

What about spring cleaning?

Check back with me in the spring for a follow up to this article. In the meantime, there is a wealth of information about how you can support pollinators by withholding pesticide sprays, providing flowering plants, nesting resources, and overwintering habitat, all available at and


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