Beautify – November 2019

Planting Flower Bulbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautify – September 2019

What’s Happening at the Botanic Garden?

It’s been a while since I brought everyone up to date on the exciting things happening at The Botanic Garden.  This past spring, a group of dedicated volunteer gardeners came together to plant a Pollinator Garden under the direction of Laurel Voran, our Horticulturist.  It brings us such joy to see that we are already experiencing butterflies and bees working those flowers.  Next year, this garden should be in full bloom for visitors to enjoy. Last fall, beds were laid out with pathways to follow but recently, a fence was installed by the “possum lodgers” (group of men that do most of the heavy work around the garden) to keep people from cutting through the garden beds. 

Pollinator garden at The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

In addition, this past June, Marty Kermeen began to install 26,000 hand cut pavers to make the Labyrinth.  When completed, this will ultimately be the cornerstone of the healing gardens at the Botanic Garden.  In the beginning, the process took several days to level the stone and lay out the circles. The actual pattern will be done last.  This Labyrinth will measure 4 football fields in length and it is the largest paver labyrinth Marty has ever created. It is fashioned after the famous Chartres labyrinth in France.  Expected completion is sometime this year, at the end of September or beginning of October. 

Marty Kermeen installing pavers at The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

Please plan to visit when you can.  The Botanic Garden is open Monday through Saturday from 9-5 and on Sunday from Noon to 5pm.  Free tours are available–just sign up on the website. Walking tour maps are also available for those who choose to do their own tour.  And . . . don’t forget to visit the fabulous gift shop at the Biederman Visitor Center.

Serve – July 2019

Munson Hospice House Rose and Perennial Gardens

By Gayla Elsner, MG

The second annual work bee for this Master Gardener project happened on May 18th, with six hearty volunteers participating on a cool, rainy day.  Three MG volunteers; Amy Leiva, and Duke and Gayla Elsner, led Hospice House volunteers Sandy, Taryn and Chris as we did spring clean-up, including weeding and fertilizing the Knockout roses, pruning shrubs and small trees, and weeding and raking the perennial beds.  We answered questions and demonstrated pruning and gardening techniques for the Hospice House volunteers, who can share this information with other volunteers.

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We also did a cleanup of a forested area directly behind the Hospice House where residents enjoy feeding and watching deer, birds, and other wildlife.  Many of the rooms at Hospice House have doors that open up onto a beautiful deck, where the bed can be rolled right out so the patient can enjoy being in the forest, with a canopy of trees overhead. This area had become overgrown with vines and shrubs so that deer were not coming up to the deck as they once did. We cleaned up the shrubs and vines, picked up trash, and hauled away logs.  Some pretty ground space cover plants are now visible, too.

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We didn’t get everything done. In particular it was too wet to cut back the nice ornamental grasses using our new battery-powered shears.  But that’s fine.  Now we move on to the maintenance phase in the garden. Last year was the first year for this project and we focused on raising awareness that the garden existed but had fallen into disarray. We brought together Master Gardeners, Cherry Capital Rose Society, and Hospice House volunteers: we came up with a plan to restore the garden and teach garden care to Hospice House volunteers. This year’s focus is scheduling regular maintenance at the garden. 

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

Now that we have several volunteers who know what needs to be done to maintain the garden and how to care for each type of plant, we can focus on the schedule.  We are trying a calendar app as a way for people to see when other folks are doing maintenance and schedule themselves either at times when no one is scheduled and the garden really needs it, or at times when they can learn, say, rose care or tree care, from other volunteers.  On our second year with this project, we have a good list of potential volunteers and are also working on a relationship with a group of high school students interested in helping us out for their volunteer hours.   If this project is something you’d like to spend some hours on, email Gayla Elsner

Hospice House work bee by Gayla Elsner

We are amazed at the dedication and caring of Hospice Volunteers.  Gardening is just a tiny part of what they do. It was a good feeling working alongside them. They encourage us and let us know that we are a part of helping hospice patients and their families have a nurturing environment during a very difficult time.  With positive experiences like looking at flowers, feeding the wildlife, or listening to the breeze in the trees their time in hospice can be good.

Hospice House Work bee by Gayla Elsner

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

Serve – March 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Real Dirt:  New Volunteer Opportunities!

Public Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review

Real Dirt:  New Volunteer Opportunities!

by Cheryl A. Gross AEMG

The Real Dirt has been a publication of the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan for many years.  It began as as paper document copied and mailed to all members. In January of 2013 it evolved into an on-line, web-based format and expanded content.  It has been locally produced by an entire team of volunteers, many contributing writers, including Nancy Denison who has been writing since the beginning.  At the core, I have been the editor coordinating with all contributors and assembling the content. Whitney Miller has been the ‘Techie Chick’ logging countless hours on the design, format, redesign, and uploading of each issue.  For the past several years, Bethany Thies has been our go-to for final grammatical editing.

As these jobs go, the volunteers give it their best shot and then are ready to move on.  Changing hands is the best way to infuse new life into a project. Bethany and I are ready to move on.  I began thinking about letting it go it last year, but as I have enjoyed it very much, have let time pass.

We are looking for VOLUNTEERS to carry-on the Real Dirt or will cease production with the March 2019 issue.

As Editor, it is not a difficult job.  I would be more than happy to help someone transition to the role.  You would be able to design the job to suit you; I will explain all of the steps I have taken for each issue.  As for the grammatical part, we really do need to find a new Bethany. Her eagle eye and corrections kept us looking professional and I relied on her.  Master Gardeners can earn volunteer hours for all of the time spent researching, writing, and editing the Real Dirt. For those who find working on your knees too much, these are ‘easy’ hours.  You need to be able to work with computers, be a reasonably good writer, and want to share interesting gardening concepts with others.

Click HERE to read more details on the Editor/Chair duties.  Contact me at to find out more and to refresh the Real Dirt!

Public Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

by Barbara Backus, EMG

In 2016, both the City of Traverse City and the MGANM gave me permission to start a garden project at Hull Park, a small sliver of a park on the shores of Boardman Lake to the southwest of the Main Branch of the Traverse City District Library on Woodmere, so I could acquire hours for certification.   Weeds were over waist high in the garden beds, but the beds had the bones of a good garden design with Serviceberry, fragrant sumac, purple echinacea, and the ubiquitous daylily. That year I worked on those beds by myself and got to know city personnel who hauled away the weed debris I’d stack to the side of the beds.

In June of 2017, at a MGANM meeting, I met two new MG’s, Sandy Coobac and Victor Dinsmoore, who were looking for a place to garden for their certification hours.  When they joined me it was a boon for Hull Park to have them help create a more beautiful Pollinator-Friendly Garden.

In the Summer of 2017, Sandy Coobac, Victor Dinsmoore and I worked on the Hull Park Gardens, to which we have added Walker’s Low nepeta, salvia, liatris, butterfly weed, rudbekia, plus other pollinator favorites.  While we worked in the beds, the passing runners, bikers, moms pushing strollers, and folks out for a stroll, thanked us for the beautiful beds.

Hull Park bed with heuchera, nepeta, liatris, echinacea, Golden Alexandra, nicotiana and hosta. Photo by Barbara Backus

At some point mid-summer 2017, someone explained to me that there was a new application that was needed to be completed by EMG volunteers for project approval, and that all MG projects needed to be educational.  Our submitted proposal for a “Smart Gardening for Pollinators in Public Parks – Traverse City” was approved, making us official.

Later in 2017, Sandy, Victor and I started thinking that we could begin another garden and provide another place for new MG’s to earn needed hours.  Since we were receiving such positive feedback from passerby’s of the Hull Park site, we asked the City of Traverse City if we could have some garden space at Clinch Park, where even more people pass by. We worked with City Staff, Cindy Anderson, to identify garden beds in Clinch Park that we could use, and we chose the beds on either side of the Cass Street tunnel that leads into Clinch Park for our new demonstration gardens.   Derek Melville, Director of Parks and Recreation, was most supportive of our offer to revive those beds and make them into pollinator-friendly demonstration gardens, offering to help fund the new native and pollinator attractive plants and educational signage.

Clinch Park Bed covered with Dairy Doo. Photo by Barbara Backus

In the spring of 2018, Sandy and I dug samples for soil analysis from the Clinch beds, discovering that they were one step above beach sand.  Then we dug out the cotoneaster that populated those beds and added required fertilizer and Dairy Doo to the soil. In May, Derek Melville assisted Sandy Coobac with buying many native plants at the Boardman Nature Center Native Plant Sale for the Clinch pollinator gardens, and loaded $500 of plants on a city truck to take to my garage.  In a number of weeks we had all the natives planted in the Clinch gardens.

When out and about this summer, please stop by the Hull Park Garden and the Clinch Parks beds to watch pollinator habitat in action.

Tree huggers (birch and maple), by Kathryn Frerichs

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review

by Kathryn Frerichs, AEMG

Once in a great while I am astounded by some new, amazing findings in medicine, genetics, botany, etc.  The revelations in Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees create one of those times. The works of natural scientists in recent years have revealed the role of mycelium and bacteria in the soil now called the Wood Wide Web.

Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels was reviewed in the Real Dirt previously. In it, mycelium is described to extend plant roots and exchange minerals and water for sugars from those roots.  Miles of threads of mycelium exist in a teaspoon of soil. The mycelium belong to the fungi family and the largest living organism on earth is a fungus that covers 2,384 acres and is dated at 2,400 to possibly 8,650 years old.  Plenty to be gobsmacked about with these discoveries. Then comes Wohlleben’s book to take us to that place of wonder and amazement regarding trees.

Wohlleben reveals how to observe that trees can, in fact, detect smell. The thorned acacia trees in Africa have been observed to ward off giraffes by secreting a bad tasting substance in their leaves tanking them from tasty to nasty.  The long-necked herbivores then trot off to a neighboring acacia and depending upon the wind direction, the trees will have already begun secreting that nasty-tasting chemical into their leaves too. The giraffes have figured out that the downwind trees can smell chemicals from neighboring trees and just move upwind to chomp on other unsuspecting trees.  Trees do, by deduction from this example and others examples, have to be able to “smell” or detect the odor the other trees emit. Some critics claim that Wohlleben’s writing becomes anthropomorphic. Whatever you may want to call it, smell or detect, trees are communicating via odor/smell. Man can be very egocentric in thinking that only the human species can ‘smell’.  I think more of us will pay attention to his work with his imaginative approach.

Peter Wohlleben explains how trees communicate through the air and through the Wood Wide Web (WWW).  Saplings that are living on the shaded forest floor are fed by the mother trees through their roots. The saplings can wait in the dark, so to speak, because the mother trees feed them for decades before an opening in the forest canopy provides the light to fuel their growth. Trees feed one another in times of illness too.  They use the WWW, also known as mycelium, to accomplish this feat. After a number of these examples, you begin to realize that a forest is not made up of individual trees but is a type of super organism. The parts are all interconnected and protecting one another. Trees, also, have the ability to detect artificial light at night  Eventually the light stunts their growth. They need to stop photosynthesis at night in order to rest.

A forest of trees operates in concert with one another by regulating their climate.  The leaves, or their solar panels, provide a cooling effect and feed and water the roots every autumn when they are broken down and become soil.   The depth of the soil increases over time. They can withstand wind storms by buffering each other to prevent being toppled over. By fall the trees have made and stored as much sugar as they can so they shed the solar panels to rot and become new soil for the next season.  Also, Mr. Wohlleben tells us that when man comes along to harvest lumber from these magnificent giant-coordinated organisms called forests, they cut down the oldest, largest most mature trees. Our old growth trees are the biggest carbon sequesterers we have. The first trees to be cut down in a forest are the largest ones ‘who’ are the most capable of helping us fend off climate change.  

I highly recommend The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben to Master Gardeners.   Besides being a delightful read, it is informative, teaches us to respect those giants of the forest living in the slow lane, and recognizes that trees are interconnected in ways we have not anticipated.  Communication, sleep, nurturance, and functioning as one organism make for better survival just as Darwin hypothesized.

Enjoy this wonderful book!


Michigan Garden Hotline

9am to Noon, M-F Year round
Also 1pm-4pm in Spring/Summer


Log Your Hours