Steward – January 2018

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My Friend, The Walking Stick

Seed Stratification

October MG Meeting — “Plants Deer Don’t Eat”

Walking stick, photo by MG Amy Tongue

My Friend, The Walking Stick

by Amy Tongue, Master Gardener

This friendly fellow was my pet for a few days thanks to the help of a fellow Master Gardener.  She knew I was taking an entomology class and I had to turn in a collection for points.  I was desperately asking friends for help, since frost was lurking just around the corner.

Did you know that walking sticks are herbivores?  Since I had it in captivity, I needed to know what to feed it.  They love oak leaves, and it vigorously ate a large chunk out of the leaf I gave it.  They can be destructive defoliators in parks and recreation sites when there are severe outbreaks.

They are also really good at playing hide and go seek because they resemble a stick and can remain very still. Some species cover themselves with material that resembles moss or lichens, and others change color to match their surroundings.  Since they are nocturnal, and feed and move at night, they also escape predators.

I was amazed at its acrobatics in my container.  It could hang upside down because it has sticky “toe pads” and non-stick “heel pads” which allowed it to grip when needed, yet be mobile without having to peel away at each step.

This insect, however, will not win the “Mother of the Year” award.  Some fling their eggs from the tree tops to the ground hoping for the best.  Some females are parthenogenic so do not need males to produce fertilized eggs.  These eggs resemble seeds which allows for a really interesting relationship with ants.  The ants collect the eggs and remove a cap to feed their larvae.  This doesn’t harm the walking stick egg, so they rest comfortably in the ant nest until they hatch and walk away as a nymph.  This nymph will enlarge in stages until it becomes an adult.  How cool is that!

I am learning that we are surrounded by insects more than I ever realized.  Some beneficial and some harmful.  It has been eye opening to study some in more depth, such as my friend the walking stick.

Handmade seed containers, done in Advanced Master Gardener Lillian Mahaney’s JRMG class (photo by Adv MG L. Mahaney)

Seed Stratification

by Michael O’Brien, Master Gardener

Winter is here, and that means it’s time to begin thinking about what to grow this coming summer!  

The first step is to find the seeds that were put aside from the past growing season.  Well,  maybe not all of them.  I’m referring to the ones that need to go through a process called, “Seed Stratification.”  This is a process that nature has created to insure plants don’t germinate at the wrong time of the year.  Many seed species have an embryonic dormancy phase and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken.  That means they will not germinate unless they go through a period of cold temperatures.  This includes many perennials and native plants, as well as certain evergreens and maples.

Personally, I am looking to attract more bees and monarch butterflies so I’m going to plant milkweed, Asclepias.   The process I am going to use will be cold and moist.  To begin, I will start by separating the silky hairs from the seed.  Once I have collected all of my seeds, I will then place them on a damp paper towel.  Another damp paper towel gets placed on top seeds.  The paper towels are put in a sealed plastic bag to keep the moisture from evaporating.  Label the bag and place it in a container.  The container can be stored in the refrigerator or a shed where it will be safe and undisturbed.  Four to six weeks before the last frost, the seeds come out of the bag and they get planted in potting soil.  These seeds will begin to sprout in about two weeks.  Sprouting time will vary depending on the plant.

There is also another way to stratify you’re seeds.  It’s a cold, dry method.  Rather than placing the seeds on a damp paper towel, they are instead planted directly in potting soil.  The seeds and soil are left dry and again in a cold area.  Come spring, germinate as you normally would.  

Good articles on seed stratification can be found on the internet at the Gardening Know How site ( and the Permaculture Research Institute (

Brian Zimmerman of Four Season Nursery (photo by MG W. Miller)

October MG Meeting — “Plants Deer Don’t Eat”

by Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

The October 3rd MGANM meeting featured Brian Zimmerman and Tom Ford from Four Season Nursery in Traverse City on favorite annual topic: deer resistant plants.  They shared  several deer feeding tidbits, some of which were a surprise to me.  

For example, deer like plants with protein — high in nitrogen, especially bucks.  They also like fresh growth leaves with high water content.  You could see this in the Glen Arbor area this past spring and summer, where deer were feeding on the expansive understory growth which was created by the huge storm in August 2015.

Other interesting deer facts – they do not like fuzzy leaves, gray leaves and scented foliage (lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage).  Deer also follow a route, prefer the edges of a forest and have two to three fawns a year.  

Suggested practices to limit deer browsing included: dogs, fencing, large crush stone mulch, motion detectors, sprinklers and fishing line double stretched between posts.  Cutting back on watering and fertilizing was also discussed.  In addition, you can use “Deer Stopper” and other such sprays every two weeks, but alternate between the brands so deer don’t get used to the same scent.

Several plant/shrub/tree lists were available for reference and reading pleasure, as the battle between deer and humans takes a bit of a rest over the winter months. Thanks so much to Brian and Tom for their expertise and time with us!

*To review the recommended plants lists from Brian and Tom, look at the Michigan Resources tab on our page HERE.

Steward – November 2017

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National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference

May Farm Pasture Walk

It's a flurry of activity here at the Boardman River Nature Center today. Multiple species of bees are loving on the Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)!

Posted by Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan on Sunday, September 10, 2017

National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

The second conference on protecting pollinators in urban areas was held in Traverse City October 9-11, 2017.  The conference is a joint project hosted by Michigan State University and North Carolina State University.  In our current social climate, which demeans science and education, the conference was a breath of fresh air with a wealth of presenters explaining the latest research being conducted on pollinators and environmental health in urban areas.

Conference presentations included:

  • The importance of diversity in the pollinator population.  Most of us can recognize the non-native honey bee which works hard commercially for large scale pollination.  Many of also recognize the bumble bee.  However, there are hundreds of bee species, almost 500 in Michigan alone.  Some are specialist bees that are needed to pollinate specific plants; others are generalists.  Keeping every species population at a robust level is crucial for pollinator survival.
  • How humans have changed the landscape with no consideration of the pollinator.  Socially, culturally, and politically we have neglected all of these insects.  Habitat loss is believed to be the number one negative effect on pollinators.  What we think of insects and ‘bugs’ affect how we treat them and has a direct impact on their wellbeing.  Butterflies and moths participate in pollination to a much lesser degree than bees, but remain important to discussions on habitat and ecosystem restoration in the urban landscape.  Bees have been found to create creative and unusual nesting sites when a preferred area is lost.
  • Pesticides and IPM (integrated pest management) and their role in urban landscapes and pollinators.  While this topic seemed strange and out of place in a pollinator conference, researchers and chemical company representatives explained how they see the role of pesticides in the urban landscape.  Some attendees may have disagreed or been uncomfortable with the topic being presented and even the presenters may have recognized that they were speaking to a possibly hostile crowd.  However, the presentations reflected that our culture demands that certain plants look a certain way, bugs be damned.  If the line being walked is fine, the lesson is to read all labels very carefully and follow mixing and application instructions seriously.  In turn, a minimal amount of product can be applied for the desired result.  
  • Using vacant urban land to support pollinator diversity.  As our urban areas grow, decline, and are reborn, there is always vacant land.  Researchers are studying planting methods to support pollinators in all locations.  Given the short distances that most pollinators are able to travel, creating corridors wherever possible may be a solution for robust population support.  Habitat matters and having as much of it that can be imagined in urban areas can help.  Also considered, was the warming of urban areas.  Giving the change in the climate, urban areas warm faster than the countryside.  Studying the effects of this urban warming trend may be able to help us define better methods of pollinator care.
  • The role of citizen scientists in pollinator protection.  It was noted that there may be many things in our lives today: hurricanes, wildfires, political upheaval, and the like, over which we have no control.  Supporting pollinators is not one of those things.  Individually, we can have significant impact on protecting pollinators.  If habitat loss is the number one threat, each and every one of us can improve insect habitat where we live.  First, do no harm.  Second, plant pollen and nectar plants in containers on a balcony or throughout a yard.  Choose plants known to be beneficial, mostly those native to your area.  Include plants that bloom across the season from very early in spring to late in the fall.  Throughout the United States and Europe (a speaker from Paris), researchers are engaging young and old, school children and communities to observe the bees and wasps in their yards and on their plants.  Count them.  Learn to identify general species distinctions.

The conference was heavy on speakers and fast paced.  As an attendee, I came away refreshed and hopeful that so many young scientists were all working to solve a critical problem of our time.  Fully one-to-two thirds of the food we eat requires insect pollination and those pollinators are in serious decline.  Yet, help is easily provided in the way in which each and every one of us gardens.  Sure, the devil is in the details but in the end all we need are flowers.

May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same

May Farm Pasture Walk

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

October 14 dawned gray and breezy with rain threatening.  Yet, by 10am about 60 people had arrived at the May Farm Pasture at the corner of Lobb and Graves Roads in Frankfort to walk the pasture and hear from a half a dozen speakers.  It was the May Farm Pasture Walk required by a USDA/NRCS grant.  

Farmer Paul May practices rotational grazing with cattle, sheep and chickens on rented acreage.  After eight years on the land, the changes in the soil quality, plant quality, insect presence, drought resistance, animal health and growth patterns, and ecosystem support is measurable.  During the Walk, several speakers addressed the farming ecosystem.

Scott Hughey is the NRCS grant administrator.  It is his job to work with farmers to improve farming practices.  He spoke about the crisis in farming and the loss of small farms and farmers.  The May Farm is an example of a ‘start-up’ farm.  Further he talked about the soil and the value being built beneath our feet by May’s rotational grazing practices.  Plants, manure, insects, rain fall, time…. repeat is a formula for building healthy soil.

Plant It Wild presented the design and seeding plan for a 13,000 square foot pollinator and wildlife habitat garden to be installed in 2018, another grant requirement.

MSUE’s Nate Walton talked about the insects, especially dung beetles and their role in cow pie decomposition and soil building.

Saving Bird’s Thru Habitat’s Kay Charter shared the value of rotational grazing and no-mowing practices to bird habitat.  Each of us, especially farmers, can create swaths of habitat for migratory birds.  A plaque of recognition was presented to Farmer May.

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s Kelly Lively spoke about the importance of supporting the work of farmers and others who are working to sequester carbon and reduce the harm of ‘traditional’ farming practices.  She encouraged all of us to participate in supporting bi-lateral climate talks in our communities, our State and nationally.

Finally, Doug Carmichael, Farm Manager of the Savory Institute, MSU/Lake City Research Center, talked about farming practices that forgo the use of fertilizers to work with the plants and soil for best environmental practices to support clean water and environmental health.

The May Farm operates as a CSA.  As they say, ‘you buy the animal; we do the chores’.  Both Paul and Sharron May believe in living in ‘community’.  Paul’s pasture walk was a clear demonstration of that.  In addition to the diversity of speakers, chili lunch was served.  That chili was made with locally sourced ingredients by a volunteer chef in the Trinity Lutheran Church kitchen and served by church friends and the Benzie Conservation District.

The rain held off so these interesting group of speakers who share a similar message could have their say.  How we behave matters.  The decisions we make every day can have a positive or negative effect.  Our environment and the food we eat can work in concert for a healthier world.  

Other farms are also required to host such events as a condition of grant funding so if you hear of one, head on over.

Steward – Sep 2017

Worm Bin (also called vermicompost), photo by MG Trina Ball


by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee

OK, I confess.  I am a worm cheerleader.  When I see them whilst working in the garden, I encourage them, thank them, and bury them back in the dark.  Worms are free labor in the garden working with microorganism to make nutrient rich humus.

Many gardeners are backyard composters in the summer months, turning years of kitchen waste into a valuable, organic, soil amendment.  However, in our northern climate, microbe activity comes to a screeching halt when the thermometer drops.  And so too does composting.  On the other hand, we still generate kitchen waste and many simply toss it into the trash during the winter months.  What if, we in the North could compost kitchen waste all year long?

Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, can be accomplished inside in any season.  The basic ingredients are simple: a container, bedding, water, worms, and kitchen scraps.

    • The container can be a plastic or wooden bin.  An old dresser drawer can be a great site or dimension.  Keep indoors or in a heated garage in winter months.
    • Bedding is a recyclable itself; shredded newspapers.  Beware of too much office or junk mail as some of the inks can be toxic to worms.
    • Moisture content is similar to your outdoor compost pile, like a well wrung-out washcloth.
    • Worms should be red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, and can be sourced on-line, at a bait shop, or from a vermicomposting friend.  Volume of worms will depend upon your kitchen waste. Figure approximately one pound of worms for each half pound of food scraps per day.

Worms do best on a diet of fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags.  Avoid onion, garlic, citrus, cruciferous, dairy, fats, oils, and meats.

Castings can be dried or steeped into tea and used on indoor and outdoor plants or mixed into potting soil.  While nutritious, castings are mild and will not burn or over- fertilize.

Be sure to keep the red wigglers contained as they can become aggressive in the soil.

For additional information, see Mary Appelhof’s book, “Worms Eat My Garbage, and the MSUE article:  http//

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner – Sep 2017

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Plant Identification

Powdery Mildews and Powdery Mil-Don’ts

Plant Identification

by Nate Walton, MSUE Master Gardener Coordinator, MSU Extension – Leelanau County

Epipactis helleborine. Photo from Minnesota Wildflowers

Have you seen this plant?  This is Epipactis helleborine, or helleborine, a terrestrial orchid that was introduced to Michigan from Europe sometime towards the end of the nineteenth century.  It has recently been reported as a problem weed in Michigan lawns and gardens.  It is quite a difficult weed to manage, so if it is in unwanted areas around your home you might want to take some measures to control it.

Removing the flower heads before they go to seed is a key control measure for this plant, so you’ll want to take care of it right away.  At my house in Traverse City, the helleborine started to bloom in July.  If you’d like to eradicate the plant altogether, digging it up roots and all is the recommended method.  However, the roots go deep and it will re-sprout from the rhizome if any pieces are left behind, so you will want to be thorough.

Photo by BerndH via Wikimedia Commons

For more information on identification and control of helleborine, read the MSUE article “Homeowners battling a weedy orchid invading lawns and flowerbeds,” which can be found at:


Powdery Mildews and Powdery Mil-Don’ts

Click on photo for enlarged image. Photo by Nate Walton

The high humidity this summer has made it a really good year for powdery mildew.  You have probably noticed a white coating with a powdery appearance on a variety of annuals and perennials this summer.  The powdery mildew pathogen is a fungus, so it’s related to mushroom producing fungi such as the Morchella spp. that produce morel mushrooms.  Unlike morels, however, the mycelia of powdery mildews do not grow in a network under the soil.  Instead, they grow over the upper surface of the plant leaves.

In the summer, this mycelium produces tiny spores (conidia) that give the leaf its white powdery appearance.  The spores can be spread from leaf to leaf or plant to plant by wind or splashing water.  Lucky for us, most powdery mildews are very host specific, so they will not spread from, for example, your rosebush to your lilac.

When powdery mildew is found on adjacent plants that are not closely related, it just means that both species are susceptible and that the conditions are right for mildew in that location.  Choosing resistant varieties or growing susceptible varieties in locations with good air circulation and plenty of sunlight are some ways to prevent powdery mildew from gaining a foothold in your garden.  Also, avoid overhead irrigation and growing susceptible varieties (e.g. Monarda spp.) in crowded and/or shady areas.

Beginning in late summer, the powdery mildew pathogen starts to get ready for winter.  To do this, it forms a tiny black structure called a chasmothecium.  Chasmothecia show up as tiny black spots on the leaves infected with powdery mildew (see photo).  It is these chasmothecia that will produce fresh spores next year to reinfect the green foliage in the spring.  Removing and destroying the leaf litter under infested plants will help reduce the amount of powdery mildew attacking your garden next year.

If you would like more information on how to manage powdery mildew, read the MSUE article “P is for powdery mildew on ornamentals”, contact your local extension office, or call the MSUE garden hotline Monday through Friday from 9am to noon, and 1pm to 4pm.  The phone number for the hotline is 1-888-MSUE-4-MI (1-888-678-3464).  Thanks, and happy gardening!

Steward – July 2017

On The Radar – July & August  How is your compost pile doing?  Have you turned or watered it lately?  Adding water and aerating the pile will speed decomposition.  Be sure it gets good and hot (add more carbon-based browns if the green nitrogen-based plants slow the process).  You do have leaves saved from last fall, don’t you? 

Keep an eye on bugs in your garden.  Appreciate the work they do.  Do not run for a pesticide just because of a few bugs.  Take the patient route and work slowly to encourage the insect food web to develop.  Remember, birds need caterpillars.  Let a healthy crop of parasitic and predatory bugs develop in your yard.

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Nate Walton Introduction, Squash Bee Intro AND Volunteer Opportunity!

Why Plants and Pets Need Equal Care

Nate Walton Introduction, Squash Bee Intro AND Volunteer Opportunity!

by Nate Walton, Leelanau/Grand Traverse/Benzie EMG Coordinator

Greetings gardeners! As the new Master Gardener Coordinator for Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie County, I would like to take a few minutes to introduce myself to the MGANM. I am an entomologist (AKA bug nerd) by training, with an MS and PhD in Entomology from MSU. However, I have also had a great deal of interest in plants and gardening. Growing up in Suttons Bay, I often helped out in the garden at home and started learning the art of gardening at a very early age. More recently I have taught plant pathology at Northwestern Michigan College for the MSU institute of Agricultural Technology. I have also been very active in pollinator conservation, performing research and education activities centered around growing native plants to provide food and shelter for native bees and other beneficial insects.

Often, when people find out that I am an entomologist the first thing they say to me is, “Ok, so what’s your favorite bug?” Well, the answer to that question is not as simple as it may seem. There are millions of species of “bugs,” which makes it really hard to pick just one. I get around the question by telling people that I don’t have a favorite bug all the time, but I do have one this week. For example, this week my “favorite bug” is the squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa. Squash bees are solitary bees, which means they don’t make big communal nest in the ground or in trees like most of the bees and wasps that you are familiar with. Instead, squash bees nest in the soil near the vines of the cucurbits such as squash, cucumber, or pumpkin that you may have growing in your garden. These little black and yellow striped bees are essential for pollination of cucurbit flowers and without them we wouldn’t be able to eat zucchini, summer squash, watermelon, pickles, or pumpkin pie to name a few.

The reason that squash bees are my favorite bug this week is Michigan State University researchers are looking for Master Gardener volunteers to participate in a statewide squash bee survey. All you have to do to participate in the survey is learn a little bit about squash bees, count them on the cucurbits in your garden, and upload the data. There’s even an app for it! If you’d like more information or to participate in this exciting and educational citizen science project you can contact your local Master Gardener Coordinator or visit MSU’s Vegetable Entomology website (


Why Plants and Pets Need Equal Care

by Brian Zimmerman, Brian Zimmerman Associates

Buying a plant is much like buying a pet. For those who are pet lovers, not gardeners, this statement may seem a little over the top. But for those of us who love to garden, the parallel seems reasonable. Plants and pets are living, breathing entities and most likely when purchased they are infants, requiring considerable care and nurturing.

In our pet example, if you are shopping at a reputable source you assume the staff have treated the pet well to ensure its good health. Most likely the staff are pet lovers themselves. You in turn take time choosing your pet and great care getting the new pet home safely. If you are a new pet owner you are given sound advice in the care and feeding of your new pet. You would never consider putting your pet in the trunk of your car or the back of your truck, taking it home and leaving it there a few days until you are ready to play with it. This would constitute possible death or at least great harm to your pet.

Our plant example isn’t much different. If shopping at a reputable nursery the staff make every effort to ensure the nursery plants are well cared for. The nursery also has a responsibility to ensure the plant makes it to its new home in good condition and depending on the plant size and type this ‘packaging’ can take time. You are given sound advice on the care and feeding of your new plant. As with the pet example, the nursery staff are plant lovers themselves, taking their job seriously and are most concerned with the well-being of the plant.

Far too often new plants are not afforded the same treatment as pets. They are left in the trunk of the car or back of the truck. Often the plant has a guarantee and nurseries have an obligation to honor that guarantee even though they have no control over how that plant is treated once it leaves the nursery.

Plants require the same love and care as your pet. Treat your new plant purchase with love and it will reward you with its beauty for many years.


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