Beautify – January 2018

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Winter Interest in the Garden

Amaryllis – The Gift that Keeps Giving

Book Review — The Reason for Flowers

Winter interest, photo by AMG Cheryl Gross

Winter Interest in the Garden

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener

As a whole, gardeners LOVE their flowers.  From late spring to early fall in northern Michigan we eagerly anticipate, enjoy and finally ‘tidy-up’ after our perennial gardens.  Generously, that provides 4 months of interest.  There are 12 months in a year and for eight long months a flower garden is generally blah.  Blah, blah, blah.  

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Now is the time to gaze at your garden under the snow and plan for a livelier, interesting winter garden showplace.

An effective garden design begins with structure. One focal point shrub or small tree may be all that is needed in a small garden to give it eye-popping interest.  In a larger space, consider a small tree and shrubs.  Draw the garden space on graph paper and place a woody plant where it provides interest from all viewing sites.  Often, it is near the center of the bed or off to a background edge.  Keeping things in odd numbers is an easy rule of thumb; one specimen tree with three shrubs.  Consider scale, such as expected height and width of the woody plant and response to pruning.  Then consider shape.  Will a single trunk small tree suit the garden style or a multi trunk?  Single trunk appears more formal, while multi trunk appears less formal…even with the same species.  Would vase-shape or globe shape fit your idea of beauty.  Finally, consider the branch.  A red twig dogwood is just that… RED!  Having red stems contrast with white snow for four months of the year is as good as a blossom.  The peeling bark of the vase-shaped nine bark gives a different, interesting ‘look’.  While at study for woody shrubs and small trees, make note of bloom time and color.  Many of these plants also add a nectar source for pollinators and butterflies, a larval host for caterpillars and a berry for birds.

Another structural feature to have in a garden is hardscape.  A low stone wall, cluster of large boulders, an arbor or plant support of some kind left out all season adds interest to a flat landscape.  Some of these items may actually be lost in a summer garden, such as a large chunk of driftwood, only to reappear after plant dieback.

Once the garden structure is in place, move on to perennials.  Which perennials in the garden have stiff stems to withstand winter weather?  Purple coneflower, Iron Weed, Butterfly Weed and Penstemon come to mind.  While still ‘dead’, the stems provide a place for your eye to scan or land when gazing at the garden.  The sturdy stems provide a reminder that under the frost and deep snow a beautiful flowering plant sleeps. Additionally, some of these spent flower heads offer nutritious seeds for birds, especially the purple coneflower or sunflower family.

Finally, many of the clump forming grasses produce gorgeous seed heads.  The tall Indian Grass blooms yellow in August and stands tall through the winter, waving with the strong winds.  Shorter grasses such as Little Blue Stem and Prairie Dropseed keep their seed heads through the early winter season and end as mounds under the snow.  On a slope, these mounds evoke a miniature mogul ski run.

A final word on winter interest in the garden addresses fall clean-up.  In other words, don’t bother.  Leaving stems and fallen plants in the garden provides insect and critter habitat crucial to their survival.  These mounds and stems also provide us a vision of a garden hibernating awaiting the first thin rays of spring sun to melt the snow and send up bright spring shoots ahead of the summer flowers.


List of Plants for Winter Interest:

Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis.  Offers an arching, vase shape.

Red osier dogwood, Cornus stolonifera Red-barked stems/branches.

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata. Red-orange berries.

Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius. Arching branch form with shaggy bark on older stems.

Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum.  Tall, rounded shape with big, red berries that persist through winter to be an early spring food for birds.

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Stiff stems with seed pods.

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.  Stiff stems and bird-preferred seed heads.

Foxglove beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis. Stiff stems.

Iron weed, Vernonia fasciculata.  Tall, stiff stem with a flat, umbrel seed head.

Culver’s Root, Veronicastrum virginicum.  Stiff stems, seed heads resemble trident-like forks.

Little Blue Stem, Schizachyrium scoparium.  Feathery seed heads in early winter, mound in deep winter.

Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans.  Tall, fluffy seed heads.

Amaryllis, photo by AMG Michele Worden

Amaryllis – The Gift that Keeps Giving

by Michele Worden, Advanced Master Gardener

As I enter the growing area in my garage, I see that one of my eleven potted amaryllis bulbs is about to flower.  I like to maintain these plants under the grow lights in my garage to keep them short until close to blooming.  Now is time, though, to take this one precocious bulb inside so it can shine!

A good time to buy amaryllis bulbs is after Christmas.  You will see them on sale everywhere.  I usually can’t resist.  Amaryllis is a tender perennial bulb.  You can keep it forever and with benign neglect (or minimal care) it will rebloom for years.

When you first get a bulb or a bulb in a kit, you want to plant the bulb in pre-moistened soil in a pot that fits tightly – no more than a one-inch space between the bulb and the pot.  The roots like to be crowded.  The bulb should sit up in the pot, only half covered with soil.

Put your newly planted bulb in a warm dark place until the lone flower stalk starts to emerge.  I usually put it in a dark corner of my house on top of a floor heating vent.  Do not water again until the flower stalk starts to emerge.

When it blooms you many need to tie it to a stake if it gets too leggy.  I try to put it in a sunny area of my living room under the sky lights.  Sometimes the plant will send up another flower stalk and extend the indoor blooming.  Blooms last a couple weeks, though some types develop more than one flower on a stalk like a lily and can last a month or more.

After it blooms, it will produce several long thin green leaves.  Just keep it watered and lightly fertilized like any house plant.  In the summer I put them on my deck in bright but not really direct sunlight.  Towards fall I try to remember to stop watering it and let it dry out so that it can go dormant.  In a good year I remember to take It inside my garage early enough (August or September) to rebloom for Christmas time.  Otherwise, I just take it indoors with the other plants in mid-October and plan to enjoy it over the winter.

Amaryllis needs about three months of a dark, dry dormancy to rebloom.  I put the pots in my garage (kept at 50-60 degrees F) in a dark corner in a brown paper grocery bag.  I tuck the bags in out of the way corners, and try to remember to check on them occasionally.   I have heard people also put them inside in closets.

This year my resolution is to not forget about them.  Last May I noticed a long pale ghostly white flower stalk peeking out of the top of a bag in the corner of the garage.  It was a full-size amaryllis that had grown in darkness in the bag!  I quickly checked all my bulbs.  Some had bloomed in the bags…LOL.  Luckily, the green returned to the white stalks when I moved then into the light, and we enjoyed the leggy flowers in late May.  Still beautiful, if a tab unseasonal.  Happily, this year I actually have some ready to go for Christmas!  

But I will still probably buy more after Christmas.

“The Reason for Flowers”, photo by MG Nancy Denison

Book Review — The Reason for Flowers

by Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

Have you read the book, The Reason for Flowers by Stephen Buchmann?  I found it at a local bookstore, on sale, and thought it might be a good addition to my small collection of gardening /plant books. It was published by Scribner, in 2015, and authored by a pollination ecologist, entomologist and adjunct professor at the University of Arizona.  He previously published, The Forgotten Pollinator and Honey Bees: Letters From the Hive.

The Reason for Flowers  is organized into five sections, each with two or three chapters  combining historical facts and everyday examples in an easy to read and interesting style.

Part One, entitled “Sexuality and Origins,” explains how flowers evolved from small leaves bunched together at the stem tip to losing their green color and developing petal and bract structures over time. Buchmann likens flowers to “cafes and rest stops,” offering pollinators a wealth of four types of food:  nectar, pollen, floral oils and the edible body tissues of some.

Part Two—”Growing, Breeding and Selling” tells of the history of ornamental gardens including flowers, topiaries, obelisks, figurines and more. Flowers were used for burials and funerals dating back to Neanderthals, as well as for research and breeding from Asia to Europe and the Americas.  Today we can get our cut flowers from a small florist to a big box warehouse. Not too long ago, California was the mainstay for the cut flower industry.  However, Columbia, Ecuador and Costa Rica with their rich soil, constant climate and 12 hours of daylight all year, are now the largest producers of flowers for our markets.

“Foods, Flavors and Scents” takes on how we eat the flowers of plants such as broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes and the importance of knowing what plants are non- edible. The information on saffron, cloves and honey adds to the awareness of how all things in nature are so interconnected.  The chapter describing the ancient use of flower or plant oil for fragrance begins with the Arabs prior to the 10th century when they learned how to distill fragrance from fresh flowers creating the first rose water. The use of flower oils and essences for our wellbeing is as strong as ever today.

Part Four’s chapters offers some history of the secret language of meaning in giving and receiving flowers and how all cultures have used flowers as the subject of poems, stories, myths and art, from the early Sumerians to the Grimm Brothers versions of the French and German fairy tales to the landscape paintings by early Asian cultures.

Lastly, “Flowers in the Service of Science and Medicine” explains how the scientific study of flowers has changed how we see our world. Linnaeus, Mendel and Darwin among many others, brought to light how plants regenerate, travel from one part of the world to another, can be modified, provide food, shelter and cures for simple and serious ailments. Simply put, we need nature and nature needs us!

The book closes with appendices on flower statistics, recipes, how to care for cut flowers and online resources for conservation organizations.

Sometimes a book just pops out at you and you discover it is just what you need!

Beautify – November 2017

Bulb Planting 

Bulb Planting

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

Before a gardener hangs up the trowel for the season, there is time to do one more task for spring blooming… plant bulbs!  Spring bulbs can offer a flower in melting snow or cheery color before perennials are up and budding.  November is the perfect time to add bulbs to the garden.

Design-wise, cluster bulbs for masses of color.  Remember that while we like rainbows in the sky, on the ground a mass of one color has greater impact and visual appeal.  Bulbs also come in a wide variety of blossom and bloom time.  Look for some early and late bloomers to keep flowers from early into late spring.  Because bulbs bloom earlier than perennials you may plant them very close to other plants or add annuals above them when they are spent.  The bulb blossoms will be finished just as other plants move to center stage.  Remember to retain the bulb greens as they nourish the bulb before doing dormant.  Cut back only as they begin to yellow.

As a general rule, large bulbs should be planted 8 inches deep; smaller bulbs 5 inches.  Bulbs require well-drained soil.  They tend to rot if planted in wet soil.  Squirrels also prefer some bulbs (such as tulips) over daffodils.  The same with deer.  Before you add bulbs to your garden give consideration to the moisture level and check out which rodent or mammal finds bulbs and blossoms tasty and which are dominate in your yard.

Give it a go.  Plant some bulbs.  Sit back and wait for a spring reward.  Like many plants in our gardens, they can be re-arranged and expanded NEXT fall after you evaluate the spring show!

Beautify – Sep 2017


The Beautiful Dahlia

by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee

Tenille Enger of Traverse City is an avid seed saver/collector, vegetable gardener and ornamental and cut flower grower. This year, her dahlias are absolutely stunning. The variation in shape, structure, and color are just fantastic. Her newest beds have been filled with well-composted horse manure, and she gives the tubers a handful of bone meal when planting. Her ‘girls’ are fertilized with fish emulsion a few times during the growing season.

Tenille has sourced her dahlias from a nearly a dozen places and has gleaned some growing/breed information from Steve McClaren, a secondgeneration dahlia grower/breeder whose father Bill McClaren wrote the book, “Encyclopedia of Dahlias’.

Tenille’s care for her plants is consistent and careful. You’ll find her out most evenings with her terrier, Clover, close by, looking for newly bloomed ‘friends’, checking for pests, and debudding the plants vigilantly to encourage long stems conducive to cut flowers. The joy found in the beauty of these flowers is evident and contagious!

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.



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