Beautify – March 2020

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What is a plant runner, stolon and a rhizome?

Create New Plants from runners, stolons, and rhizomes

What is a plant runner, stolon and a rhizome?

By Michael O’Brien, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

A plant runner is usually a horizontal long thin stem that grows outward from the mother plant.  The long stem creates widely spaced new shoots, which can then become new plants.  If the runner grows underground it is called a rhizome. Although it is underground, like most plant roots, a rhizome is not a type of root, as roots do not grow shoots.  Many different types of grasses grow rhizomes.  If the runner grows leaves and has photosynthesizing abilities it is called a stolon.  If the runner is not a stolon it must remain attached to the mother plant.  The runners develop roots to become a new daughter plant and, when it is old enough, it will develop runners of its own.  A plant that creates runners can quickly spread over a wide area and can choke out other plants.

So, what’s are the benefit to a plant that develops runners?  These plants don’t have to create large amounts of energy to develop seeds, though it doesn’t mean they won’t create seeds too.  A well-known example of a plant that develops runners is a strawberry plant, Fragaria × ananassa. A mother plant will develop runners and those runners will continue to grow.  As that runner is growing, new daughter plants are developing. The daughter plants will be an exact replica of the mother plant. The mother plant will also produce fruit and the seeds will then grow on the fruit.  Another example is the Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. The Spider plant creates daughter plants and flowers. These flowers, when pollinated, will develop a seed pod though no edible fruit.    

A good example of a plant that grows stolons is the Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata.  The Boston fern will develop a stolon and several new daughter plants. Again the daughter plants are identical to the mother plant.  However, if the stolon breaks off the mother plant the stolon can continue to grow which will continue to produce more daughter plants.  Ferns, in general, grow stolons.

If the rhizome is broken from the mother plant, it can continue to grow.  This type of plant can become a real problem when tending a garden. Each broken piece of the rhizome can continue to grow until the garden is filled with this plant, can be referred to as a weed.   

This picture shows a Longhorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, growing many daughter plants.  It’s easy to see how this can quickly become a problem in a garden.

Image from

Create New Plants from runners, stolons, and rhizomes

Michael O’Brien, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

In the previous article about runners, stolons and rhizomes, if these plant parts are left to their own they will quickly take over a large area.  In the same respect these three characteristics create an opportunity to make new plants that can grow in places where they are desirable.  

With runners, a few daughter plants are growing on a long stem of the mother plant. As these daughter plants are starting out, their roots are not developed enough to grow independently of the mother.  If runners are in the garden, place soil on the runners and around any daughter plants and lightly water regularly to encourage growth. When the daughter plant begins to grow vigorously, it will develop an independent root system from the mother plant. When the daughter plant grows a strong, healthy root system, the runner will die.  At this time the daughter plant can be gently dug up and replanted in a desirable spot in the garden.  

Otherwise, take a small planter and fill it with potting soil.  Dig a hole in the ground near the daughter plant. Insert the planter in the newly dug hole and lay the daughter plant on top of the potting soil in the planter.  Place soil on the runner and around the daughter plant to anchor it in place.  Water gently and frequently.  When the runner dies off, the planter can be dug up with the daughter plant. It is now growing independently of the mother plant and is well established.

Also in the previous article, I talked about the Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum.  The Spider plant is a fun plant to experiment with different types of rooting techniques. When selecting a daughter plant, choose one that has some root nubs on the bottom of the plant.  Cut the daughter with a section of the runner. The remaining nutrients in the runner will help to feed the daughter plant while it’s alive so make the cutting long enough to help the new plant.  Using a small planter filled with potting soil, place the daughter plant on top soil and lightly push it into the dry soft soil. Make sure the root nubs make good contact with the soil. Lightly water the soil: never drench the soil with water.  Keep in lightly lit area.

There is another technique that can be used with water.  Select the daughter plant with root nubs. This time the runner is cut as close to the daughter plant as possible without hurting the plant.  Using a small cup fill about 1/3 of the cup with water. Place the daughter plant in the cup, the water should be just touching the root nubs.  Check daily because the water will evaporate quickly, especially when the roots begin to develop. Using a nutrient solution instead of water can quicken root development.  The nutrient being mixed with water should have a ratio of 10-0-0. That is the N,P,K ratio that shows on the nutrient label. An educational experiment for kids to see root development.  A cotton ball can also be put in the bottom of the cup with the daughter plant sitting on top of it. The cotton ball wicks the water right to the root zone while creating enough air too.

Stolons are a little different in regards to creating new plants.  Stolons can break off the mother plant and remain alive. Usually daughter plants have no roots but stolons do.  As mentioned previously with runners, stolons can be buried with soil surrounding the daughter plant. Water gently and frequently.  When the daughter plant is growing vigorously it is now safe to transplant. Keep in mind the stolon is still alive. It is important to cut the daughter plant off the stolon before moving this plant.

The Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata, was also mentioned in the previous article.  The Boston fern has long stolons hanging down the plant. The daughter plant doesn’t have any roots at this time.  Gently cut a piece of the stolon along with a daughter plant. Lay the bottom of the daughter plant on top of some lightly moistened, never wet, potting soil. Moistened soil has a nice balance of water and air which entices the plant to grow roots.  Place some moss, it can be sphagnum moss, around the plant to hold it in place. Give the new plant a very small amounts of water weekly and keep it in cool lightly lit area. When the new plant begins growing new shoots, roots will be growing too.  In roughly a month’s time this plant can be transplanted to its new location. 

Working with rhizomes is a little bit different.  While looking at the garden it is easy to see a string of young daughters growing out of the ground.  Using the picture from the previous article, the plant growing in the picture is a Longhorn Sumac, Rhus typhina with daughter plants.  Begin by gentle loosening the soil to avoid damaging too many roots. Once the rhizome is exposed and loosened from the soil, cut the rhizome before and after the daughter plant.  Make sure the daughter plant has roots. Replant the daughter plant in its new location in the garden or in a planter with potting soil. If the daughter plant is put in a planter, be sure to water it well enough to get the air out of the soil.  If there is too much air in the soil the roots will dry out and the plant will die. The planter should have drain holes to allow excess water to drain out. If the daughter plant is planted in the garden, then water well after it has been planted.  The new plant should be lightly shaded to avoid stress.

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!    

Beautify – May 2019

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.

Young canna lily plants. Photo by Michael O’Brien

Beautify – March 2019


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African Violets:  Little gems that will make you smile and bring beautiful color to your home

The Orchid Thief,   A Book review

African Violets:  Little gems that will make you smile and bring beautiful color to your home

by Lillian Mahaney, AEMG

African violets seem to be the flowering houseplant that scares many people.  In reality, they are probably one of the easiest of the flowering houseplants to grow.  They have pretty simple needs and once you understand the basics, they will give you beautiful color for a great many years.  When I lived in Florida I had over 20 African violets, and even with that many plants they were easy to care for and were gorgeous.  When we moved to Michigan it was very difficult to give them away, but they went to a dear friend that “knew” violets and I know they had a great home.

African violets (Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family.  They were discovered in 1892 by Baron von St. Paul (hence the botanical name) and many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya.

The basics of African violet care:

  1. Environment:  The ideal temperature range for violets is between 65 and 75 degrees, however, they will tolerate temperatures outside this range.  They are not usually happy outdoors and will be healthier and more colorful indoors.
  2. Light:  African violets need indirect light and can burn in direct sunlight.  They do very well on a windowsill as long as there is plenty of indirect sunlight.  Windowsills that face east or west are the best locations. Violets do best with 10-14 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness for the maximum amount of blooms.
  3. Water:  Always use room temperature water and never cold water.  African violets do not like water on their leaves, so watering from the bottom is the best.  You can let the plant soak up water from a dish or saucer. Violets like to have their soil moist, but never soaked or sodden.  Some people wait to water until the soil is “dry to the touch”.
  4. Feeding:  I always fed my violets with an organic “balanced” formula (relatively equal amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and there are a number of formulas specifically for violets.  African violets don’t really require much fertilizer and they can suffer from over-fertilization. Please follow the directions on the fertilizer carefully.
  5. Soil:  Good drainage is essential in keeping your violet healthy.  Use a commercial mix with at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite.  Avoid soils that contain top soil or look excessively dark, thick and rich. Additives like compost or manure are not necessary and are too rich.
  6. African violets usually prefer “tight shoes” and actually prefer to be a little root bound.  I very seldom found it necessary to repot my violets. Most standard African violets only need a 4”-5” pot at maturity.  Minis and semi-minis need a pot no larger than 2 ½” at maturity.
  7. Humidity:  African violets like a bit of humidity.  The easiest way to keep them happy is to keep the plants on dishes or trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
  8. Container:  It is essential that the pot have drainage holes.  If you prefer a decorative hole-less ceramic pot just put the plant in a plastic container with drainage holes and place that container inside the ceramic pot.  Remove the plastic pot from the ceramic one to water and do not replace it until the excess water has drained off.

I found a couple of interesting videos on YouTube:  6 Tips for Caring for African Violets and Repotting African Violets.   

Also, there is an interesting online site to purchase unusual varieties:   Local nurseries and other outlets usually have beautiful violets and they are generally a very economical plant to purchase.  There are so many colors and even trailing violets. Please give these sweet little gems a try and you will be surprised at how easy they are to grow and provide such beauty for many years.

Photo by Nancy Denison

The Orchid Thief, A Book review

by Nancy Denison, AEMG

At the library recently, I looked for The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Random House,1998) in the fiction area but to my surprise, found it in Non-fiction. Still intrigued by the title and reviews, I dove in.

Orlean, a writer for magazines such as The New Yorker, Outside, and Vogue, tells the true tale of a unique character, John Laroche, charged with theft of rare, endangered orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand State Park in Florida. The book grew from Orlean’s story in the New Yorker which sprouted from a local Florida newspaper article. She weaves in orchid history and mystery, the family background of Laroche, the Seminole Tribe connection, and her own desire to see a Ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii).

Photo by Nancy Denison

I’ve always marveled at the beauty, shapes, and colors of the few orchids I have seen; but they never lived very long in my care and seemed to be a bit of a challenge to provide the right environment.  The infatuation, expense, and time involved of the orchid lovers in this book blew me away. I enjoyed the book as it drew me in, taught me a few things and had the right amount of personal touch from Orlean.  I’d love to visit the Fakahatchee sometime – like when there are no bugs; the sun is shining; I have a guide, waders, and a knife to take out any gators. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the photos of orchids I can find on the web and wait for Susan Orlean’s next book, The Library.

Beautify – January 2019

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My Christmas Blessing

Engage with Trees


My Christmas Blessing

by Barbara Fasulo-Emmott, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

My 35-foot spruce tree was diagnosed at the Michigan State Cooperative Extension office on Front Street with both needle cast disease and canker disease in late summer.  She was a magnificent specimen that provided some 34 years of calming, serene beauty at a home I call “my sanctuary.” I transplanted her from our downstate residence as a sapling over 30 years ago, and she flourished in our wooded setting next to a state forest.  I questioned our MGANM Director/Coordinator, Nate Walton about the feasibility of bringing her indoors for the Christmas season. I was assured that her diseases would not negatively impact my houseplants or anybody living in our home.

My 7-year-old grandson and I started pruning off the lower 10 feet of branches and burning them in our fire pit.  Thanksgiving weekend I decided to cut her down. I notched it and cut it with my chain saw about ¾ through when I realized if it didn’t fall where I expected, it could possibly take out the back deck on my house.  Consequently, I went to Ace Hardware to purchase a weighted rope tool like I’ve seen the professionals use. Ace only had rope, and when I explained to the sales clerk what I needed, he insisted he’d come out the next morning to help and make sure I would be safe.  He insisted there would be no charge and totally free. I kept saying “no, that’s not necessary…I can do it.” By the time I left the store, I had given him my phone number and he promised to call for directions after work and would be at my home at 8 a.m. the next morning before he returned to work.

To my surprise, he really did call for directions and sounded serious about coming out to help, so I baked date nut bread and chocolate cookies for him.  At 7:45 a.m. I was outside, attaching my new rope to a round, orange extension cord holder and proceeded to repeatedly toss it in the air till I was able to get it over a branch midway up the tree. Then, attached it to a large neighboring tree at the edge of the woods. He arrived shortly after and adjusted the rope tighter for me. He said, “I think I’ll stand behind this other tree while you cut that one down”.  I got my chain saw and finished cutting her down. She fell exactly where I planned. (Hurrah!) He then attached the rope from the tree to the undercarriage of his vehicle and pulled the tree up the hill to my driveway, where I dragged it to the bottom step of my porch. I was so grateful for his kindness and unsolicited help and I gave him the baked goods and a very sincere thank-you in return.

My three sons arrived for another grandson’s first birthday party the following week and all contributed to the tree being brought into the house. Michael brought the tree stand up out of storage, moved the sofa, love seat and two tables. Matt and David pulled it through the front door and put it in the stand. Matt cut a couple feet off the top where it was bending over at the vaulted ceiling. It was a family effort with help from a concerned stranger. Such a perfect ending for our dying tree to become a beautiful Christmas gift for the whole family.


Engage with Trees

by Nancy Denison Advanced Extension Master Gardener

I love the shapes of trees- -the gnarly trunks, branches stretched, standing straight or old and bent over. They are works of art.  In the woods behind my house where I grew up were trees with metal labels with the name of the tree. I thought that was the coolest thing. Fortunately, in the past few years, the labels have been replaced, so those now walking through can begin to identify those towering beauties.  Even with a basic knowledge of types of bark, leaves, seeds, and tree shape one can identify those unique or unfamiliar trees.

Let’s begin with a little bit of history. The first known land plant, Cooksonia, evolved around 430 million years ago. It was erect, with a green stem and a simple underground root system. Sixty million years later Archaeopteryx arrived.  It was the first real tree with a root system, branches which produced buds and grew year after year- -possibly as long as 50 years. We now have over 80,000 different species of trees all over the world.

We know trees need water, minerals, nutrients, sunlight and warmth. Depending on the environment,
the tree will grow year round with periods of rest. Colder climes equal a longer rest or dormant period.
Location, shape, height, or leaves are just a few of the ways to determine the name or type of tree.
Trees can be spherical/round (White Oak), oval (Sugar Maple), conical (Spruce), columnar (Lombardy
Poplar), pyramidal (Pin Oak), V shaped (Hackberry), weeping (Willow), spreading deciduous or
coniferous (Japanese Maple, Yew).

source: “Trees-An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia”

Bud leaves or scales are small, toughened leaves that remain on the branches after others have fallen.
Trees can be identified by the size, shape, color and arrangement of twig buds. They can be

  • alternate as in the Beech and Willow
  • opposing (Sycamore, Ash) 
  • hairy (Magnolia)
  • clustered (Cherry, Oak) 
  • naked –mature hairy leaves surrounding growing tips
  • whiskered and clustered (some Oaks)

Source: “Trees-An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia”

Each leaf on a tree is like a mini power center which makes food (energy) the tree needs for living and growing. The smallest leaf is from an Arctic willow (Salix nivalis) which is about ¼”/5mm long. The largest is from the Raphis regalis, from the palm family Arecacae, which can be 82’/25.11m long by 10’/3m wide.  

Leaves are classified as either simple, meaning one continuous shape, or compound, which are made up of many leaflets connected to one stem. Simple leaves may come in many shapes; round, heart shaped, oval, serrated, lobed or palmate.   All leaves fall at about the same time from deciduous trees. Evergreen trees have leaves/needles all year long though they can fall throughout the year. The average evergreen keeps its leaves for three to five years. Needles are compact versions of simple leaves and also make food for the tree. They lose much less water than deciduous trees and can survive where water is limited, such as in the north where the ground is frozen for many months of the year.

Source: Familiar Trees of Michigan

Flowers are produced by most trees in the spring though some tropical trees can flower year round. It is easier to identify a tree with its flower. Species specific identification can be done by looking at color, number of petals (single or double), flower stalk length, flowers at the leaf axis or end of twig, and individual flowers or clusters.

Seeds/fruit help to identify trees best in the late summer or early fall. Some are well known from childhood such as the acorn or horse chestnut but the main types are the pod (honey locust), the nut/seed/burr (acorn, walnut) and the key/winged (maple, sycamore).   Individual conifer seeds are encased in a cone which can be held for many years waiting for the right time to allow their release.

Source: Familiar Trees of Michigan

Bark is the tree’s skin. Its corky outer layer can protect the tree from humans and animals, disease, and forest fires. Below the outer bark is the phloem, a spongey layer of living cells. The cambium, just one layer of cells below the phloem, has living cells which constantly divide. When the cells are deprived of water, they die and as they die, they become the outer bark. As each layer is produced it pushes the previous year’s bark outward.  The bark may start off smooth but will develop cracks, fissures and darken as it ages. Tree bark can be green, grey, brown, white, smooth, flakey, with deep or shallow ridges (vertical crests divided by intervening furrows), furrows (vertical grooves divided by narrow or wide ridges0, or fissures (regular or irregular, vertical or horizontal cracks or crevices).

Source: Language of Bark








I’m sure you’ll agree being able to recognize and identify trees as you travel, hike, or tour botanic gardens is a worthwhile goal. I was stunned by the camouflage colors of the rainbow eucalyptus trees I saw in Maui a few years back. So much so I have a large professionally photographed print of them hanging in my bedroom. What’s your favorite?

Burnie, David. Tree. London: Alfred Knopf Inc., 1988.
Neal, James. Familiar Trees of Michigan. MSU Cooperative Extension Service, 1982.
Russell, Tony and Cutler, Catherine. Trees, An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia. Leicestershire: Hermes House, 2012.
Smith, Norman F. Michigan Trees Worth Knowing. Hillsdale, Michigan: Hillsdale Educational Publishers,
Symonds, George WD. The Tree Identification Book. New York: Quill, 1958.
Jay C Hayek, (2015). Identifying Trees by Bark and Bud (online). Department of Natural Resources and
Environmental Science, University of Illinois-Urbana. HayektreeID.pdf.
Michael Wojtech, (1-23-2013). The Language of Bark (online).

Websites: to identify Native American trees


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