Real Dirt

Steward – May 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Rain Gardens: MGANM March Meeting Notes

What’s happening to my Blue Spruce?

The WHY of Native Plants

Photo by Superior Watershed in the U.P.

Rain Gardens: MGANM March Meeting Notes

By Cheryl Gross, AEMG

MGANM hosted another full house at their March monthly meeting.  Carolyn Thayer, with a BLA (Landscape Architecture) from MSU, owner of Designs in Bloom in Frankfort, a Certified Shoreline Professional, and founder of Plant It Wild was the presenter.  Carolyn Thayer discussed the key elements of rain gardens, shoreline buffer strips, and permeable surfaces. The key takeaway: Keep all stormwater from roofs and hard surfaces ON SITE.

Slow it down, Spread it out, Soak it in… is the slogan of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.  Slow it down by using rocks around downspouts and gullies, spread it out by creating depressions and spaces for the water to collect, and soak it in by using native plants with deep roots to move the water through the soil.

Carolyn Thayer showed how even small depressions lined with rocks and planted with moisture loving native plants can manage the run off from a foot washing station at a home near the beach.  She detailed a project at Gateway Village in Frankfort where all the stormwater from the roofs and parking lots are directed into rain gardens that offer beautiful year-round interest and keep all stormwater on site and out of Betsie Bay.  Her most recent project is at a Frankfort Beach parking area on Crystal Lake which involved significant excavation and land shaping to accommodate the runoff and the plants. Finally, Carolyn introduced permeable hard surface products that can capture some storm water on the surface for drive ways and walk ways and limiting the runoff from traditionally impenetrable hard surfaces.

It was a very educational presentation.  Carolyn offered handouts and resources as well.

Read:  Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy

Download a resource from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, “Plant a Rain Garden” a how-to guide for homeowners:


What’s happening to my Blue Spruce?

By Michael O’Brien, EMG

It was a really sad day when I realized my forty foot Blue Spruce trees, that are now thirty years old were under attack.  For the past two years I’ve been wondering why my trees were developing brown patches. This past summer I was involved in an advanced diagnostic workshop.  That’s when I became aware of Needle Cast disease.

The Colorado Blue Spruce is not native to Michigan.  There are many trees that aren’t native to this state, unfortunately they are succumbing to disease and insects.  This may be happening as our climate is changing.

Needle Cast disease is a fungus with spores.  It requires the right temperature and humidity to disperse spores.  These spores can travel about a mile with ease especially if the winds are correct.  The fungus that effects Colorado Blue Spruce is called Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii Bubak.  There is also another fungus called Stigmina needle cast. Many times Stigmina needle cast is misdiagnosed for Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii Bubak.

The spores attach to the needles, they drain the nutrients out of the needle, and eventually the needle dies.  In May just when the tree is about to open its new buds the fungus is also getting ready to disperse. Some of these new spores will attach to the new growth, while others travel in the wind.  This fungus can do serious harm to the tree and eventually the tree can die.

To diagnose this disease you need an eye loupe, a microscope or an arborist.  The disease shows up as little tiny black dots that can be too small to see by eye.

The good news is the trees can recover.  It may be necessary to apply around three treatments in early spring to keep the fungus from spreading into new areas of the tree.  It may take a couple of years for the tree to produce new growth to replace what has been lost. Most importantly do not cut out the diseased branches.  April and May is the best time to call a tree specialists to begin treatment.

Trillium grandiflorum and Dicentra canadensis. Photo by Whitney Miller

The WHY of Native Plants

By Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG, Plant it Wild President

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

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

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

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

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

Nourish – May 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Growing Food Together: MGANM April Meeting Notes

Project Spotlight – Leelanau Christian Neighbors Food Garden

Tender plant planting and degree days

Growing Food Together: MGANM April Meeting Notes

By Nancy Denison, AEMG

It was another packed house for this meeting about Growing Food Together. Sarah Rautio, MSUE Horticultural educator from the NE Lower Michigan District introduced us to the SNAP-ED program which began in Iowa and has been adopted by many states. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and works with the USDA and many Master Gardener volunteers. This program teaches people how to establish healthy eating habits and increase their physical activity while staying within a limited budget.

Nancy Popa from Leelanau Christian Neighbors also spoke about their community garden which serves the food pantry. They are looking for volunteers so Contact Nancy at 994-2271 or if you can help.

Kate Thornhill with Leo Creek Preserve was also in the house. Leo Creek, located on the Leelanau Trail, began its food gardens just a few years ago but has a mission of growing food for local pantries and hosting educational programs for children and adults. It is accessible from the trail about 200 yards south of the 4th street trailhead. Contact Kate at for volunteer opportunities.


Project Spotlight – Leelanau Christian Neighbors Food Garden

By Michele Worden, AEMG

In April I was so inspired by all the great work going on at Leelanau Christian Neighbors food garden.  Nancy Popa presented at the Master Gardener meeting and told us about the amazing work going on there.

The garden has thirty-two 4×8 raised beds, producing over 500 pounds of food each year from seventeen different vegetables. The group planted, tended, and harvested- beans, broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, potatoes, radish, spinach, sweet peppers, squash, tomatillo, tomatoes and too many zucchini.  In short, this is a good project to volunteer for if you want to learn about vegetable gardening. Master Gardeners can learn about soil amendments, crop rotations, composting, and organic growing techniques.

There are also opportunities to develop teaching materials. A great benefit of this garden is that the food raised goes to the food pantry at Leelanau Christian Neighbors, and the pantry clients are students that are eager to learn to garden, which is a win-win.  Hunger in northern Michigan is wide spread but a hidden problem. Leelanau County in particular is considered a high need food area in Michigan by Feeding America. This great project allows so many ways to have fun gardening, learning and giving back to our community at the same time. Consider spending a few hours there this summer.  If you can help, contact Nancy Popa at or 231-944-9509.


Tender plant planting and degree days

By Lisa Hagerty, EMG in Training

The development of plants and pests can be tracked by researchers and growers with the help of heat units or growing degree-days. According to the Michigan State University Extension, accumulated heat units are determined by identifying threshold temperature and accumulation for different crops. “No significant crop development is expected at the threshold, or base temperature.” Growing Degree Day (GDD) information is useful for decision making regarding managing your crop, as it provides a better “understanding of {both} plant and pest development.” For more information, please refer to the MSUE articles:

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

The Real Dirt’s new Editor – May 2019

The Editor
By Lisa Hagerty

Many of you already know that Cheryl Gross has recently stepped down as editor of The Real Dirt and I have accepted the challenge. Cheryl elevated The Real Dirt to a whole new level when she took it from a mailer to a website with resources, for both Master Gardeners AND the community. You may be concerned that things will change, and some things probably will, which is part of the reason Cheryl is moving on. She felt like it was time for a new vision. I have big shoes to fill but I am a firm believer that most often if we want to grow, we need to change. Although there will be no big changes any time soon, I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share what I have to offer The Real Dirt.

Writing has always been like a love affair for me. Bringing words on a page to life is exciting and I have a passionate attachment to the art of writing. The more I write, the more I learn. It never seems to get dull. I have also been fortunate to even teach writing in my recent past, as I can’t seem to get enough. Even when I was teaching, I was learning and that brought me a great deal of joy. I consider myself a lifelong learner.  

There is so much for me to learn in Michigan. After many years of visiting, my husband and I moved to Irons last fall. My husband is native to Michigan, but we met in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born and raised. We have three grown children, one beautiful granddaughter, and two lazy old dogs. I always thought one day I would eventually move south, where the sun is always warm and shining. Somehow that didn’t pan out and of all winters to move, I had to choose one of the worst in recent years! I think it was Mother Nature’s way of breaking me in, and that she did. I am here to stay and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the MSU Extension MG program, in which I am currently enrolled.

When Michele Worden spoke at one of my recent classes, she told us Cheryl was leaving and The Real Dirt was in need of a new editor. I could not get home fast enough to find out more about the position and I couldn’t believe this opportunity was presenting itself. I told Cheryl that she may find someone with more gardening experience and she might even find someone with more editorial experience, but I also told her it might be difficult to find someone with the level of passion and excitement I have for both gardening and writing. Maybe she believed me because now it’s official…I actually get to be the editor of The Real Dirt!!! Can someone pinch me please? Just kidding.

As I understand it, Cheryl has done an outstanding job in her role as editor. She has so much knowledge and she is willing to share it, which is such an endearing quality. Although she will no longer ‘drive the bus,’ she will certainly still be along for the ride. From time to time, you will see an article by Cheryl and I must confess, without her, the May issue of The Real Dirt would not be as successful. As I jump into the ‘driver’s seat’, please join me in thanking Cheryl for her unwavering commitment and wishing her many future successes!  

Speaking of success, I look forward to working with many of you in our magical world of gardening and in finding new successes every day!

Serve – May 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Master Gardener Spotlight

What is an Approved Master Gardener Project?

Volunteering for The Real Dirt


All native green roof located at the Boardman River Nature Center, Traverse City, MI

Master Gardener Spotlight

Master Gardener Spotlight – How I Serve
By Whitney Miller, AEMG

I began my journey as a Master Gardener in 2011 in North Carolina. Then in 2012 my husband and I moved here to Traverse City. Some local projects and The Real Dirt grabbed me right away. However, due to the drastic differences in climate, Michigan State Extension required me to take the class again. Thanks to MGANM offering a scholarship, I was able to afford to take the class again and am incredibly glad I did. Our class is much more thorough than my initial class, and I was able to begin building my network of gardener friends.

I have three main projects that take my focus. First, I serve as the publisher for “The Real Dirt”. The editor compiles all of our articles and information and sends them to me. I then upload the full articles into our website, put the blurbs in the email format, insert pictures and links, and send it out. Each edition is unique and can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.

My second project admittedly has been pushed aside lately. I maintain the content for our website using the WordPress platform. Our website is hosted by Pro Web Marketing, so they assist with the layout, and I fill in the blanks. I’m currently working on updating some of the Projects as well as offering new links for membership, etc.

My final project is my “baby”-the Green Roof at the Boardman River Nature Center on Cass Street. It serves as a research and demonstration garden and tool shed for all of the tools used to maintain the gardens around the building. This year I’m planning to purchase Ruellia humilis ‘Wild Petunia’ as well as more Geum triflorum ‘Prairie Smoke’ to fill in some bare spots. The garden has been a fascinating way to test native plants for that type of environment-hot, dry, and shallow rooting area. So far I would recommend the Geum triflorum and Penstemon hirsutus ‘Hairy Beardtongue’ if you ever wanted to do a roof like this at your home.

If you haven’t seen me at any meetings, it’s not because I’ve given up! I’m still working on all of my projects. I work mostly in the evenings throughout the year at the Y, so I struggle to get to the meetings before things are wrapping up. I’m hoping to snag some friends and head to Master Gardener College this fall to get my continuing education hours. Let me know if you’re interested!

Photo courtesy of Grand Traverse Conservation District

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner

What is an Approved Master Gardener Project?
By Dr. Nate Walton, PhD (Entomology)

If you’ve been an MSU Extension Master Gardener for a few years, you will probably have noticed some changes to the program over the years. For example, we have gone from a requirement of 5 continuing education hours and 10 volunteer hours to 10 CE and 20 volunteer hours. We have also added a requirement that all reported Master Gardener Volunteer hours be classified under an MSU Extension Approved Master Gardener Project. Many of you are already working under approved projects and may not have even realized there was a change. However, a brief review of last year’s VMS report tells me that some of you may be unaware of this requirement. The good news is that 77% of the 5,271 volunteer hours that were reported by the Leelanau/Benzie/Grand Traverse Master Gardener roster last year were reported under approved projects. However, that leaves 23% or 1,192 hours that were not reported under approved local projects.

Now, believe it or not, we at MSU Extension want to make it easy for you to volunteer. We also want to make the program safe and sustainable for everyone involved. There are several reasons why it is important to report your hours under an approved project. For one, it provides detailed information to your local coordinator and other Master Gardeners about the great work that you are doing in the community. If you are currently reporting your hours under a statewide project, such as “Community: Beautification – Public Areas”, your local coordinator cannot provide you the support or recognition that you would be afforded under a locally approved project. Creating your own locally approved project is easy, and it allows your local coordinator to provide more detailed information to funding agencies and partner organizations about the great work that you are doing as a Master Gardener Volunteer. It also, makes it easier for you or your coordinator to recruit more volunteers for those major garden cleanup or planting days that you may want to carry out in support of your project.

And finally, MSU Extension liability coverage is extended to certified Master Gardeners and trainees only while they are engaged in MSU Extension approved projects. In other words, you are protected from liability by MSU Extension only during work performed under approved projects.  What does this mean in practical terms? Well, if you are helping your neighbor prune her Maple tree and you drop a limb on her Tesla, you would not be protected from liability by MSU Extension’s coverage, even if you were wearing your EMG badge. Now, if you are working at the Traverse Area District Library in the Children’s Garden and you step on Jeremy Treadwell’s toe and break it, you would be covered because the TADL Children’s Garden is an MSU Extension approved project. You would still probably want to buy Jeremy flowers and visit him in the hospital. I hope that makes sense. I am an entomologist, not a lawyer, so please if you have any questions about general liability coverage for EMGs please refer to your MG Manual or contact Mary Wilson, the State MG Coordinator.

Fortunately, it is very easy to create your own locally approved project. Just go to the VMS webpage ( and login with your MG credentials. Then, look for the link on the right hand side of the page under “Links”. There is a link for “Volunteer Project Application for Volunteers”, click on that and it should download or open in your browser. You may need a pdf reader such as Adobe Acrobat® to open the file. You can also contact your MG coordinator directly and they can email it to you. It is easiest to fill out the form in its electronic version because it has built in menus that allow you to select responses that fit into some of the fields in the form, but you can also print it and mail it in to your coordinator. In most cases the project will be approved by your local coordinator and you will be able to get to work right away!  Good luck and thank you for volunteering!

Volunteering for The Real Dirt

By Lisa Hagerty, Editor and EMG Trainee

We are looking for more volunteers! Specifically, we need folks who attend the MGANM monthly meetings. We are hoping a few people might consider taking notes in the meetings and submit a short article for The Real Dirt that summarizes each meeting topic. Not everyone can attend every meeting, so finding a few people to alternate would work well. You don’t have to worry that your writing is not good enough because we will help with that. What we need is heart, with real content to share the topic(s) with all the Master Gardeners and the community members that don’t make it to the meetings. Not only do you earn volunteer hours for going to the meetings, but the time you spend on writing a summary of the meeting you attended is also considered volunteer time. Please consider joining The Real Dirt team with this volunteer opportunity and let us know if you can help! I can be contacted directly at


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