Beautify – July 2017


On the Radar July & August  In July and August our flower gardens are coming into their own!  Blossoms should abound!  Be sure to keep pots watered during our typical hot, dry spells.  Pots can dry out so much faster than plants in the ground.  Deadhead as often as you are able.  It keeps the remaining blooms looking fresh, and in some cases, encourages additional blooming.  As some perennials begin to die back, cut them back to allow later bloomers more space (good garden design).  Watch for insect pests and treat as minimally as possible to save the plant while doing no harm to pollinators!  Sometimes a squirt of water or insecticidal soap is all you need.  Be sure to deadhead any seed heads that are likely to reseed outside of your desired range. Otherwise, think about leaving some for winter interest…

Succulent wreath created during an MGANM event at Breeze Hill Greenhouse, 2017. Photo and wreath by AMG Cheryl Gross

The Art of the Succulent

by Nancy Denison, Advanced  EMG

Tuesday night, June 6th, MGANM hosted a planting lesson given by Carol Morris, owner of Breeze Hill Nursery.  Pre-ordered topiary forms filled with wet moss were waiting for us while we learned the basics of succulent planting.  There were large and small turtle shapes, heart, round and square wreaths, and spheres with a hook for hanging. Trays of sedum, various echeveria, and hens and chicks awaited their new homes.  We learned how to use a screwdriver to make a hole in the form, widen it with our finger and transfer the plant deeply into the hole so the root system would be able to connect and be secured. The focus and concentration was intense as we designed and planted our way around our selected form. Pretty soon we were able to stand back, inspect and finish up our creation. I’m happy to report the plants in my sphere are growing rapidly and due to its weight, it is hanging on my bird feeder pole for all who visit my garden to enjoy. For those who weren’t able to attend but would like to try this at home, the topiary forms are available on-line and the succulents are everywhere. Thanks so much to the staff at Breeze Hill for guiding us through this fun project!

Beautify – May 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

On The Radar: May

Meeting Notes: March 7, Proven Winners

To Dahlia or Not to Dahlia

On The Radar: May

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

By the end of the month, flower gardens will be set for the season.  May is when annuals shine.  Rules of thumb for annuals in the garden and in containers begin with the color wheel!  Make things pop with opposites… blues and oranges, yellow and reds…or go for a classy monochromatic look by layering the same color in different flowers and leaf textures. 

Keep in mind the ‘filler, spiller, thriller’ rhyme in your pots and hanging baskets.

Use annuals to fill beds as you await the spread of perennials and shrubs.

Photo from Proven Winners

Meeting Notes: March 7, Proven Winners

Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

MGANM met on March 7 at the Botanical Garden Visitor Center for a joint presentation on new plants for 2017. Our guest speaker was Heidi Grasman from Garden Crossings in Zeeland, MI. Heidi, and husband Rod, grow and sell many plant varieties in their greenhouses, provide products to area landscapers, and run a retail garden center as well.

Heidi and Rod brought along some plants to give-away as well as photos of some of the newest “Proven Winners” offerings for this year.  Several that caught my eye were the Rose of Sharon which grows in a 3-4 ft. mound with deep green foliage; the “Summerific  Ballet Slipper” hardy hibiscus which grows to just  4ft; and a compact hydrangea, “Invincible Limetta or Wee White”, with smooth leaf foliage and large flowers.

Heidi also invited us all to the Grand Garden Show on Mackinac Island, August 27-29 for tours of private gardens on the island, seminars and more. Opening day for Garden Crossings is April 17.  Thanks so much to the Grasmans for a fun, informative night.

7 month old Dahlia tubers, Coastal NC

To Dahlia or Not to Dahlia

Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

A late September trip to Seattle included the famous Pike’s Peak Market and a jaw dropping ogle at the vendor table of dahlias. The colors, the petal designs, the sizes made me drool every time we cruised through the market. I’ve since tried to grow various types with little success. Here’s what I’ve discovered that may help those of us who need it.

Dahlias are a “genus of bushy tuberous, herbaceous, perennial plants native to Mexico.” Spaniards reported finding the plants growing in 1525. (Wikipedia) The tubers were grown as a food crop by the Aztecs but this ended after the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500s. There are 42 species, 1000 cultivars, and 14 flower group types. These range from group 1, single flowered, to group 4, water lily, to group 8, cactus, to group 14, peony flowered. The dahlia was named after the botanist Anders Dahl born on March 17, 1751.

Dahlias grow best in zones 7-11. They need full sun, except in the Deep South where some shade is preferred. Of course for us in zones 4 and 5, dahlia growth requires a few modifications in planting.  Jerry Baker (“America’s Master Gardener”) recommends planting the bulbs after the last threat of frost has passed.  Or at least when the soil temperature is about 60F. The soil should be well draining, whether in a planter or the ground. One reference suggests digging a hole 12” in diameter and 12” deep, filling half the hole with compost mixed with bone meal. Another suggests digging a hole 4-5’ deep. Make sure tubers are not wrinkled or rotten, and a bit of green growth is a good sign. Do not break tubers, but plant the whole section with the “eye” or sprout pointing up and cover with composted soil.  Do not fertilize or water right away to decrease possibility of tubers rotting. If planting in a bed, space tubers between 12”and 36” apart depending on flower size.  Smaller flowering can be 24” apart while the larger flowering should be 36”. Do not cover with mulch or bark to avoid pests.

Dahlias begin blooming about eight weeks after planting, usually in mid-July, however some gardeners may want to start the tubers indoors to get a jump on the season.

Pinching the first buds will encourage strength and fullness. Fertilize with a low nitrogen product within a month of planting and then regularly during the season but don’t over fertilize, especially with nitrogen, as you may end up with no blooms and weak tubers. 

Dead head spent blooms for new growth.  Dahlias are attractive to snails, slugs, earwigs, spider mites, aphids and rabbits. For taller varieties, stake at the time of planting to avoid piercing the tubers.

Tubers must be dug up and safely stored for use the following year.  When foliage has been blackened by frost, cut tops down to within a few inches of the ground. Carefully lift out the tubers, separate, shake off soil, cut rotten sections off and leave upside down to dry naturally. Pack each tuber in loose fluffy material such as dry sand, peat, vermiculite, or packing peanuts. Store in a well-ventilated, frost-free spot where temps are at best 40-45F or at least between 35 and 50F. In the spring, if all has gone well, you can begin anew.  If not, just go buy some new ones and try again!


Jerry Baker, Great Garden Tips and Tonics. American Master Products Inc. 2003.

Farmer’s Almanac:

Fine Gardening Magazine, Taunton Press; p22-29 by Alastair Gunn.


Beautify – January 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Gardening for Winter Interest

Hosta Book Review


Gardening for Winter Interest

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

Winter is a very good time to view a perennial garden for structure.  There are many flower gardens which lose all interest after the fall and display a flat barren plain until awakening in late spring.  Plan ahead now to add winter interest to a flower garden.

Landscape design uses plant layers that include canopy, understory, shrub, perennials, grasses, and ground covers.  However when flower gardening, a canopy layer reduces the sunlight available which alters the perennial choices.  Small trees and shrubs are available and recommended to help add a design element and interest to a perennial garden.  In winter, early spring and late fall the garden will have something to see when the garden is asleep.

Small trees suitable for inclusion in a flower garden include Allegheny Serviceberry, Speckled Alder, and Redbud.  These can be categorized as small trees or large shrubs depending upon pruning.   

-A Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis, is a high-value small tree.  It can be single or multiple stemmed.  It blooms early in the spring with an abundance of white flowers, which ripen into berries in early summer and are a favorite food of birds.  Stems are slightly arched and can be pruned.  It tolerates sun to partial shade in dry to semi-moist conditions. 

-Speckled Alder, Alnus rugosa, a fast-growing small tree with multiple thin trunks.  Leaves turn yellow in the fall.  Tiny cone-like seeds develop on mature trees.

-Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is a small tree that can be covered with small deep pink flowers in early spring.  The blooms last for two to three weeks and are followed by large, heart shaped leaves.  It has arching branches and a rounded crown.

These trees provide an important vertical structure in a perennial garden.  They can be used as a single specimen, or used as multiples to create a flow.  Both the Serviceberry and Redbud bloom quite early, giving the garden a needed splash of color, while some perennials are just beginning to sprout.

Shrubs play an important role in perennial flower gardening.  Their shapes, whether arched or rounded, stay upright through the year providing shape in the garden under the snow.  In fall and early spring their structure provides assurance that there really is a garden!

There are many shrubs from which to choose depending upon the gardener’s tolerance for suckering.  All can be pruned to maintain the shape and scale desired.  Consider Winterberry, Spicebush, Shrubby St. John’s Wort, Shrubby Cinquefoil, or Highbush Cranberry.

-Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a deciduous holly.  It blooms all along the stems in small, white flowers in summer and sets bright red berries.  It is a stunning plant in the snow. Note:  plants are sexed.  Only females produce berries and a male must be present.  These are well-behaved plants.

-Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, produces color and interest throughout the season.  In spring, yellow flowers grace the stems before the leaves appear and the leaves are golden in fall.  Female plants will produce red berries.

-Shrubby St. John’s Wort, Hypericum prolificum, Kalm’s, is a fabulous shrub for pollinators.  Its mid-to-late summer bloom lasts for weeks and attracts bees of all sizes and types.  The bluish-green leaves add summer interest and a natural globe shape.  The blossoms leave a multitude of seed heads which create interest.  Should the plant need taming, cutting the seed heads can keep a compact size.

-Shrubby Cinquefoil, Potentilla fouticosa, is a tough, hardy plant that has a long golden yellow flower bloom time.  It’s branches arch and can be pruned in spring to keep it looking good. 

-Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum, is a larger shrub that has clusters of white flowers in May and June.  Red fruits follow.  The berries are edible to wildlife after freezing and thawing which provides important early nutrition to migrating birds.  It can be pruned after flowering to maintain size and shape.  Or, give it space and use as a specimen in the garden.

Adding shrubs to a perennial garden creates structure and adds habitat and food for birds and wildlife.  Sitting inside enjoying the warmth and rest from the busy growing season, evaluate the winter interest in the perennial garden.  Adding small trees and shrubs for vertical interest and dynamic design can keep a flower garden interesting all year long.


Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, Lynn M. Steiner

Photo by jks Lola,

Photo by jks Lola,

Hosta Book Review

by Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

The Color Encyclopedia of Hostas by Diana Grenfell and Michael Shadrack, Timber Press, 2004

The encyclopedia is a four hundred page compilation of hosta history, photos and classification has been residing in my bookcase for many years. I have referred to it a few times and always promised myself I would spend a little more time with it, so if you enjoy the diversity and beauty of the simple hosta, read on!

I knew little of the background of the wild and cultivated hosta family, so reading the first two chapters was enlightening.  Hostas are native of the far east and are thought to have evolved from lily-like ancestors who drifted from east central China by two different routes, meeting later to produce the hostas known today.

Most wild hostas had been interbred for centuries although those more geographically isolated have now been brought together by human interaction.  Wild hosta species, those clump forming perennials grown in clearings and woodlands, have given us most of our garden varieties.

The first known Westerner to see, draw and describe a hosta was Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1751), a medical doctor with The Dutch East India Company stationed on an artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor. Between 1784 and 1789 the first hosta (H. Plantaginea) was planted, from which grew others in France and then spread through Europe. Forty years later, hostas from Japan began reaching the west. The first major shipment came to America directly from Japan by the son of London nurseryman, Thomas Hogg.

Hostas begin growing as spring warms the ground and end their seasonal growth to wither away as fall and then winter arrive.  The shape of hosta is mostly determined by the root type; compact roots produce mounded foliage and running rootstock produce spreading groups of foliage.  The frost hardy leaves are stalked, vary in size and rise directly from the roots.  The flowers are tubular, spider, flared or funnel shaped and vary in color from white to deep purple.  The leaves are classified by size, shape, leaf blade, venation, substance, finish and color. Amazingly, leaves are categorized from #1 Giant (144sq in) to #6 Dwarf (2sq in). Leaf shape, blade veins and color are also exacting methods of identifying species.

Hostas need fertile, moist, well-drained soil with protection from heat of the sun and strong winds. However, individual hosta needs can vary greatly.  Most are frost tolerant to 28oF and require winter chilling of at least 40oF for several weeks. Hostas are drought tolerant but can need additional moisture in the growing season. They are able to grow in a wide range of soil conditions but grow best in rich loam. Prep soil, if necessary, with organic materials and continue to mulch in future years. Hostas are shade tolerant but more sun than expected is needed to produce quality flowers. Light dappled shade from a tall tree canopy is ideal.

Chapter 4 discusses gardening with hostas, contrasting colors, size, texture and leaf shape. If you have hostas, you already know snails, slugs and deer are damaging pests, attracted often by fragrant flowers.

The remaining chapters concentrate on describing hostas by leaf color, margin or medial variegation with information on origin, clump size, description, special comments, or distinguishing features. A clear photo accompanies each description.

This spring when my hostas begin popping up, I will attempt to label them again while I enjoy the show of leaves and flowers.  They add depth and dimension to my shade gardens, are easy to split and share… and hopefully won’t be consumed by visiting deer.

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.

Beautify – Sep ’16

The Art and Gardening of Bonsai

Lillian Mahaney, Advanced Master Gardener

My first introduction to the art of bonsai was in Hong Kong.  The hotel where I stayed had a small oak tree on its huge table in the lobby.  The staff explained that the tree was over 150 years old and had been passed down for generations.  Every time I would see the tree I would marvel at its beauty.

In Traverse City we are fortunate to have the Sakura Bonsai Society of Northern Michigan.  They are a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and enjoyment of bonsai.  The club was founded 25 years ago by Eunice Corp and Sakura means cherry blossom in Japanese.

Bonsai is a living art form.  The word bonsai (pronounced bone-sigh) literally means tree in a pot.  However, merely having a tree in a pot does not make it a bonsai.  A bonsai is an artistic presentation of a tree which reflects and amplifies natural forms.  Like any of the other visual arts such as painting or sculpture, it has all the essential aesthetic elements of composition, balance, depth, perspective, texture, color, contrast, etc.

Most bonsai are created from native species.  They must be grown outdoors as they require their natural environment, including a dormant period.  Some examples of local varieties are white cedar, pine, juniper, larch, maple, azalea, hawthorn and cotoneaster.  These trees can only be displayed indoors for a few days at a time.

Tropical and semi-tropical trees such as ficus, black olive, boxwood, schefflera and bougainvillea do well indoors as long as they have good light and humidity, although they prefer to be outdoors in the summer.

Bonsai grow continually, but each aspect of their growth is carefully planned.  They are kept small by pruning the roots and branches and planting in shallow pots.  Special techniques can be used to reduce leaf size.  They are fertilized on a regular basis, but at half-strength.  Most trees need daily watering and consistent care.

Formal upright, informal upright, cascade, windswept, forest and root-over-rock are just a few of the many styles possible.  Styling and shaping are accomplished by pruning, trimming, pinching and wiring.

It doesn’t take a lifetime to create a good bonsai tree.  Depending on many factors such as species, size, style and sometimes just plain luck, satisfying bonsai can be displayed after only two or three years.  You may find that working with the trees is more important than having a “finished tree.  Gradually the process becomes the goal.

The work of art becomes evidence of the process.  The tree is ever-changing and so is the artist.  They grow together.  The years are going to pass regardless of whether we have bonsai trees or not.  So, why not have some?

The above information was taken from a brochure of the Sakura Bonsai Society of Northwest Michigan. 

For further information contact Linda Schubert, President, at 231-946-8516 .  Also see the Facebook page 

Additional information is available on bonsai from American Bonsai Society   and National Bonsai Foundation


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