by Cheryl Gross Advanced Extension Master Gardener
You have read the headlines about performance enhancing drugs in baseball and cycling. The improvements to performance are temporary and the dangers are significant. Well, homeowners have been engaged in “doping’” their lawns and gardens for years and don’t even realize it. Most lawn “care’” products- – fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides- -act a lot like performance enhancing drugs. They may make your lawn “look” better, but the results are temporary and the side effects are serious.
Any plant, whether a lawn or landscape bed, needs nutritious soil and the appropriate amount of sunlight and moisture to thrive. The soil is the “diet” of the plant. It needs good food. The nutritious soil comes from organic material. When we fertilize, we give it a vitamin at best and a steroid at worst. We do not really “feed” the plant for strength and vitality. A healthy lawn can compete fairly with the weeds and, for the most part, choke them out. A lawn on “steroids” can only compete as long as the grass plant has the chemical in its system.
Herbicides kill plants. Used selectively they can be very useful in eradicating nuisance or harmful plants, such as poison ivy, from our lawns or environment. Used broadly, they may miss the target and leave harmful chemicals in our yards to be spread to our kids, pets and tracked into our houses. We don’t fully know the affect these chemicals have on us, but there is plenty of research looking into it.
Pesticides kill insects and animals. Again, there may be a place for selective pesticide use. However, broad use of pesticides may result in harming or killing beneficial insects and animals. How soon after application is it “safe” for a child to play or an animal to lie on a treated lawn? No one really knows.
While it is your decision to use lawn care services or do it yourself and follow a manufacturer’s step plan, have you considered where these chemicals go once applied to your lawn? They can both float on the breeze and runoff into our watershed. You and your neighbors breathe the chemical residue. The creeks, rivers, and lakes receive the excess. The plants and animals in the water are affected by the runoff. Before you invest in any lawn or garden chemical, stop and think about it. Does your lawn really need to have artificial vitality? Do a few weeds really cause such offense? Is killing a few insects worth the risk?
Instead, look into ways to improve your lawn and garden diet. Add composted organic material to feed your plants. Strengthen the entire ecosystem to encourage the plants you desire and discourage weeds. Use only targeted herbicides and pesticides and be sure they are worth the effort and expense. Finally, seek out organically friendly products that address your needs without contributing to problems downstream.
Help is out there. Contact your local conservation district, Master Gardeners, organic gardening center, or garden club. Learn more about weaning your yard from chemical dependency and protecting our environment.
Biochar is a natural high-carbon soil builder. As the name implies, “bio” represents a biological coating on a “char” particle produced in a low oxygen burn (pyrolysis). Biochar (Fig. 1) is much like charcoal but rather than purposed for fuel, it is created for use as an agricultural soil amendment. Biochar’s unique electrochemical properties and high surface area (Fig. 2) adsorbs nutrients and greenhouse gases, increases nutrient and water holding capacities, and provides habitat for a diversity of beneficial soil microbes. Biochar can be processed from many types of organic wastes.
While the name “biochar” was only coined in 2005, this material was used by Amazonian Indians as far back as 2500 years ago.
Figure 2: A microscopic view of biochar (deeproot.com)
A Spanish expedition In 1542 a Spanish expedition seeking gold and cinnamon put into the headwaters of the Amazon with a young Conquistador named Francisco de Orellana. On the way to the Pacific ocean, Orellana’s scribe, Friar Gaspar de Carvajal, recorded that the party encountered extensive and grand villages with ornate plazas, lush green fields, roads, and warehouses of stored exotic foods, corrals of turtles and manatees, ferocious warrior women, and tall warrior men painted black.
So remote was the Amazon, that by the time researchers of the late 19th century returned to the area there were no such villages. Carvajal’s writings were considered to be myth. Modern studies indicate that European-introduced diseases decimated the ancient civilizations by about 95 percent.
Since then geologists and archaeologists passed through the area in the 19th and 20th Centuries, found buried beneath the Amazon rain forest a soil called “Terra Preta” — Portuguese for “dark earth”. In 1874 a geology report by a Dr. Charles Hartt of Cornell described the terra preta soils as a “kitchen middens, created by 1000 kitchens over 1000 years”, indicating a loop of carbon recycling that returned refuse – cooking char, pottery shards, and bones– back into the soil to grow crops. Everything but the kitchen sink…
It wasn’t until after the advent of “soil science” in the 20th Century that more specific chemical and physical properties of terra preta were analyzed. In 1996, William Sombroek, a soil scientist from the Netherlands completed the first PhD thesis on terra preta, offering to the world the classic side by side photo of soil profiles (Figure 3.) with the dark, Anthropogenic or human-made terra preta next to the native tropical soil. The key ingredient Sombroek identified was the char, along with a host of diverse microbes that comprised the fertile, well-structured soil.
By contrast, the native tropical soils are highly weathered red clays, acidic, and lacking in organic matter and nutrients. The dark earth profile at over 15% organic matter enabled the cultivation of food crops that would not have been possible in the native soils. So while these civilizations that supported millions of Amazonian people disappeared, they may have left behind a soil solution to the carbon balance we now need for a sustainable future.
Northwest Michigan’s upland topsoils cleared for agriculture are typically 1-2 percent organic matter. They could easily become 3 to 5 percent with changes in management, including the addition of biochar.
Today, a high tech 21st Century worldwide biochar effort to improve the pyrolysis procedures, environmental monitoring, process engineering, marketing, and economics is underway. Education and public awareness remain a big factor for successful implementation of a future with appropriate biochar applications. Nearly 125 institutions worldwide are studying biochar, including 15 colleges and universities in the United States.
Figure 3: Native tropical soil on the left; terra preta on the right. (Dr. Wm Sombroek)
The International Biochar Initiative has successfully advocated for the inclusion of biochar into the proposed United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and at least 20 countries have supported the inclusion of biochar as a high-potential climate change mitigation and adaptation tool.
In 2018, Cool Terra, a U.S. company financed by Google, Exxon Mobil, JR Simplot, USDA, and others, are rolling out a high carbon, microbially inoculated, enhanced biochar. This product is the result of several years of filing 35 patents, field trials though Colorado State University and a California research firm. The granular product will provide farms, orchards, turf growers, and greenhouses with an incremental, high return soil amendment, that will help shift farms from the chemical treadmill to a more ecologically sustainable, set of soil building practices. This is just the beginning of biochar moving into the mainstream.
Other uses of biochar such as wastewater treatment, electrical cells, and hazardous material cleanup are being researched.
With our NW Michigan excess woody debris, a small fire, and a water source to douse the flames before the fire burns to ash, we can make biochar and make a difference in the carbon cycle and our local food. Figures 4 and 5 show results in my Northport garden in 2017 with biochar additions to 30 inches of depth.
There will be a two hour Biochar Workshop at Grow Benzie November 3, 2018 to introduce the process for NW Michigan gardeners and growers.
Biochar: be the change!
Figure 4: early leaf out on tomato transplants in biochar treated soil in Northport. (Started indoors and given to me by a Master Gardener here!)
As the shadows lengthen and days get shorter, we start to see some six-legged friends sneaking around our windows, eaves, and soffits. This seems like a good time for a reminder about just who some of these insects are, and how you can tell them apart.
The fall invaders are all just following their natural inclination to seek an out of the way resting place to spend the winter. Unfortunately for all parties involved, what happens next is anything but natural.
The exterior side walls of our structures provide a very attractive array of nooks and crannies for these critters. The problem is that these nooks and crannies often lead into the interiors of our human dwellings. Three of the most common insects that we find doing this in Michigan are Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Box Elder Bug, and Western Conifer Seed Bug, and are all closely related insects in the insect order Hemiptera (true bugs).
Of these three, the newest to our area and most problematic by far is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). A great deal of information on identification and management of BMSB can be found on the website www.stopbmsb.org.
Keeping all three of these insects out of our structures can be a real challenge, but essentially consists of maintaining good seals around the exterior. Once they are in your house there is not much that you can do, other than remove them. Like many of the other insects in the order Hemiptera (True Bugs) these bugs have a piercing sucking mouthpart and they are capable of using it in self-defense. In other words, handle them with caution. They can be knocked into a bucket of soapy water, vacuumed up, or just left alone. Of these three insects, BMSB is the only one that is a garden or agricultural pest.
In case you are unsure whether the insects in your home are BMSB, I have prepared the following table and photo guide to help you tell them apart. The shape of their hind legs, overall body shape, and color can be used to differentiate these three fall invaders.
by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
The stress of a hot, dry summer is showing on our garden and landscape plants and, while needed and welcome, recent heavy rains will not help the vegetables and perennials much. Further, we will be watching the slide into cooler and colder weather when the annual plants are exhausted and perennials are ready for a well deserved rest.
Now is time for a best-practices refresher on garden clean up.
The Vegetable Garden:
-Remove any diseased or damaged plant material to the trash for disposal. Especially plants with powdery mildew. This plant material should NOT go into a compost pile.
-Remove all other vegetable plant material to the compost pile.
-Cover the bare soil with fall leaves, if you can.
The Perennial Garden:
-Deadhead any plants with seeds that you do not want to spread. For example, Milkweeds and Asters disperse a lot of seed that may end up in unwanted places. These seeds can be composted, put into trash, or shared with friends if they are not invasive species.
-Leave plant stems in place. There are two benefits: winter interest and housing for overwintering insects.
Trees and Shrubs:
-Now is the time to prune and reshape MOST trees and shrubs. Prune everything that blooms after the Fourth of July in fall. Remember, most spring blooming plants have already set buds for next year and pruning now can severely affect blossom abundance. They should be pruned in mid-summer.
-Pruning generally stimulates plant growth so by pruning before the plant heads into dormancy actually encourages growth.
-Prune away any dead stems, followed by shaping. Should a plant need a complete refreshing, remember that significant pruning should be accomplished over three years, removing a third of the over-growth each time. Opening up centers of shrubs can encourage fuller leafing and blooming by letting light in.
-Finally, prune Oak Trees ONLY after and hard frost and before a thaw to reduce the chance of oak wilt.
When it is time to rake leaves consider the following:
-Leave them in landscaped beds for a winter cover.
-Mulch leaves in the lawn to add organic matter.
-Collect the leaves to feed a compost pile.
The most important task is to properly dispose of diseased plant material to reduce the spread the following season. Keep fall clean-up to a minimum for habitat preservation.
Peponapis pruinosa, Squash bee, by Kathy Keatley Garvey
June 5th MGANM Meeting Notes
by Nancy Dennison, AEMG
Dr. Nate Walton, our MSU-E Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor, shared his knowledge of Smart Pest Management. He explained how chemical pesticides were developed after WWII which worked for a while, then became ineffective and new pesticides were created. Thus new chemicals are constantly being developed. These days we are on the lookout for organic and non-toxic (to humans, bees, animals) methods to help us control garden and yard pests. Nate talked about the Japanese Beetle, Squash Bug, Rose Chafer, and the Colorado Potato Beetle. He also discussed non- chemical ways of trying to control pest damage such as crop rotation, watering wisely, netting and modifying the plant environment. Nate’s informative discussion was helpful and hopefully will lead us to better pest management in our gardens, small and large. Thanks so much Nate!
Black Swallow-wort and Monarch Butterflies
Identifying an Early Detection Invasive Species in Northwest Michigan
by Emily Cook, Outreach Specialist, Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network
There is certainly no shortage of invasive plants in northwest Michigan and most people are aware of the common species. Garlic mustard, invasive phragmites, Japanese knotweed, and autumn olive are just a few names that typically make one groan in frustration. These plants love to grow in disturbed areas, create dense stands, and out-compete many native plants which is detrimental to pollinators. However, at the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN), there is another category of plants known as “Early Detection” species. These are plants that have not yet been identified in the region but if they do appear, they immediately become a priority. The goal is to treat them as soon as possible, before they are given the chance to spread and become difficult to manage.
Early detection species in our region include amur cork-tree, black jetbead, butterbur, flowering rush, giant hogweed, and several others that are listed at www.habitatmatters.org. Another plant on that list is black swallow-wort and unfortunately, it was recently identified throughout the village of Kingsley after it was brought to ISN’s attention by a concerned citizen. Thorough surveying in the days following have revealed that the plants are growing beyond a single population and it will require community partnership to successfully tackle management.
Black swallow-wort grows extensively in southern Michigan and is found in Emmett County and into the Upper Peninsula. This population in Kingsley is the first one that has been identified in our region. While it shares the same characteristics as the aforementioned species that classify it as an invasive species, it has an additional trait that makes it especially concerning. Swallow-wort is a member of the milkweed family and acts like a “sink” for monarch butterflies. Even when native milkweed species are present, female monarchs will often lay their eggs on the invasive variety. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are unable to feed on the plant and die.
Swallow-wort can quickly spread over an area if not managed and ISN needs your help to get started! Most of the populations in Grand Traverse County have been identified on private property and we are seeking individuals who are willing to advocate for the plant’s removal and to share ISN’s messaging in relation to swallow-wort and its potential impact on monarch butterflies. If you are interested in helping, please contact ISN Communications Specialist Rebecca Koteskey, email@example.com.
Identifying additional populations is also key and often, just as with this case, ISN needs input from community members! If you think you are aware of a black swallow-wort population, please contact us at (231)941-0960. Often called black dog strangling vine, it tends to climb around adjacent plants. One is more likely to notice it’s oblong, narrow, dark leaves which are somewhat waxy, over its flowers which are purple and tiny. Additional photos can be found at www.misin.msu.edu.
It is also important to note that there is a pale swallow-wort which looks and acts the same but has pale pink flowers – keep an eye out for this species as well!
by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
Begin May with a soil test! Test your lawn soil OR your vegetable soil OR your flower garden soil. Knowwhatyour soil needs and treat to address those needs. Locally, McGough’s accepts soil samples and has results available in 7-10 days for $20. MSU also conducts soil tests. Go online and check it out:http://www.msusoiltest.com
Vow to avoid synthetic fertilizers in your yard this year! Go organic. Feed the soil to support the plants. Stay away from “chemicals and drugs” that degrade the soil and boost plant growth.
Begin a compost pile. In an out-of-the-way corner, hopefully in the sun, begin layering leaves and carbon-based materials with green, nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps and yard waste. Water occasionally and stir. Depending upon your activity, usable compost can be available in 4-12 months (or more). Save organic matter from the landfill and yield nutritious compost for your yard! Seehttp://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-compost.
Landscaping with Native Plants, March Meeting Note
by Nancy Denison, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
Our meeting on March 6th featured Cheryl Gross (of MGANM/Real Dirt and Plant It Wild fame) sharing her knowledge of landscaping with native plants. Having experienced the reshaping of her sandy soiled home on Lake Michigan and most recently ridding much of her new home’s property of extensive sod, Cheryl spoke of choosing the right kinds of plants for the ecosystem; to help stabilize the soil, reduce water runoff and strengthen connections between plants, insects, birds and habitat.
Design is the key to provide structure and beauty with native plants. Define your edges, decide what you want to look at–what’s your focal point, and think about blooming plants, shrubs, low/border plantings and seasonal views.
Cheryl provided lots of before and after photos, plant suggestions and resources/readings for more information on creating native plant environments and sources for purchasing items. Thanks so much, Cheryl, for your entertaining and informative walk through your gardens!
What’s in Your Gardening Library?
by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
The first two books we put in our gardening library were Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan by Lynn M. Steiner and All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholmew. Since then, we have collected various books based upon the topic at hand. One year it was wildflower identification as we were learning new things in the woods and meadows. Another year we built our insect book collection. If you are interested in ecological gardening, some of the following books may be of interest to you.
Why gardening with native species matters:
Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy, c. 2007 Tallamy’s ground-breaking book on the relationships between plants, insects and birds. Accessible for the reader. Provides the science of the ecological web. A must read.
A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, Benjamin Vogt, c. 2017 Vogt expands the idea of gardening for the web of life to the importance of native landscapes to humans as well. Humans desperately need a balance with nature which is only available through wildflower gardens. We urgently need wildness in our daily lives.
Flower identification and culture:
A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities, Kim Borland, Suzan Campbell, Rebecca Schillo, Phylis Higman, MSU Extension, c. 2009 Just because the land ‘looks’ wild, does NOT mean it is natural. Our woods, fields, and even landscapes are filled with non-native, invasive plants. To support natural habitats and natural ecosystems, we must first know all of these nasties by name and remove them.
Wildflowers of Michigan, Stan Tekiela, c. 2000. The best way to learn to love Michigan native plants is to see them in a natural setting. Tekiela’s Field Guide is a handy reference. Organized by blossom color, he includes information on plant native/non native status.
Wild Flowers of the Dunes, Diane K. Chaddock, c. 1998. Visiting the exceptional Dunes communities along the Lake Michigan exposes us to rare plant communities. These dunes plants, some are threatened and protected, all survive and thrive in harsh sand and winds.
Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie c. 2006. A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States. A good comprehensive guide with related plants grouped together and location maps. Good photos and descriptions for identifying a plant. No information on native/invasive status.
Michigan Wildflowers in Color, Harry C. Lund, c. 1985. A field guide with beautiful photos. Good section on nomenclature. Indicates plant status as to protected or endangered. Grouped by blossom color. No mention of native/non-native status
What’s Doin’ the Bloomin’?, Clayton R. Osland, 2011 A Guild to Wildflowers of the Upper Great Lakes Regions, Eastern Canada and Northeastern USA. Organized by habitat and season makes this easy to use when in the field. Origin is specified when not native.
Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb, c. 1977. A true field guide using a key to identify the plants. By answering 5 questions about the plant before you, and using a numbering system based upon the Flower, Plant, and Leaf, the reader is guided through an ever narrowing group of plants to the identification of the one.
Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes, Norman F. Smith, c. 1995. Two full pages of information on each tree species with photographs of leaves, bark, seeds, etc. Focus is on the tree, habitat, and behavior.
Attracting Native Pollinators, The Xerces Society, c. 2011 A comprehensive guide to pollinators and their habitat needs. Included are gardening and seeding guides, insect identification, habitat construction, and the like. Helpful step-by-step instructions.
Pollinators of Native Plants, Heather Holm c. 2014 Heather Holm introduces us to the native pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, and flies) in our region and the plants they require for food and larval hosting. Clearly identifies the insects and they way they interact with plants.
Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Crenshaw c. 2004 Entomologist recommended for identifying and understanding the insects in the garden. Which are good and which are bad? Photography is especially helpful.
Michigan Butterflies and Skippers, Mogens C. Neilson, MSU Extension c. 1999 Helpful in identifying the butterfly stage but nothing on the larval host stage. Good photos of the butterflies and information on location, habitat and larval host plants.
Caterpillars of Eastern North America, David Wagner, c. 2005. FINALLY, a caterpillar book. A go-to on our shelves. Helpful pictures of caterpillars AND pictures of their butterflies. Full of useful information.
Spiders of the North Woods, Larry Webber c. 2003. Who doesn’t need a spider ID book? They are everywhere in our garden and landscape, if you haven’t poisoned them. They are beneficial in every way as they are carnivores and feast on annoying insects. Celebrate these unsung heroes.
Butterflies of Michigan, Jaret C. Daniels c. 2005. There are over 150 butterflies in Michigan and this field guide will help you identify who you see in your yard and as you trek in natural areas throughout the state.
Bees of the Great Lakes Region and Wildflowers to Support Them, Jason Gibbs, Ashley Bennett, Rufus Isaacs, Joy Landis, MSU Extension c. 2015 As we pay more attention to the bees in our flower gardens, our curiosity expands past the Bumble Bee or the Honey Bee. Some bees are specialists, some generalists, all need nectar and pollen support across the season. Learn to recognize and understand these hard workers. Garden to enhance and protect their habitat.
Growing a bird feeder:
How To Attract Birds, Ortho Books, c. 1983. This one is an ‘oldie-but-a-goodie. It was written well before the recognition of the importance of native plants in the landscape, so plant choices should be double checked. However, it provides very good information on hosting birds.
Birdscaping in the Midwest, Mariette Nowak, c 2007. Subtitled: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds, Nowak’s book does just that. This guide is packed full of information on habitats for birds created by gardens including plant selection and design.
Landscaping with native plants:
Landscaping with Native Plant of Michigans, Lynn M. Steiner, c. 2006. A very handy reference book on plants. Steiner includes information on plant habitat, behavior, size, features, and companion plants. The Book includes flowers and ground covers, grasses and sedges, ferns, conifers, shrubs, trees and vines. She does include cultivars which are not native plants.
The Living Landscape, Rick Darke & Doug Tallamy, C. 2104. Designing for biodiversity in the home garden. Darke and Tallamy take observations of plant layers and communities in the wild and apply those principles to landscaping at home. Using native plants, their specialized relationships, biodiversity, ecological benefits, and more they offer a guide to beautiful and beneficial landscape design.
Planting in a Post-Wild World, Thomas Ranier & Claudia West, c. 2015 Humans need nature and wild things. Our current landscaping principles remove us from nature. Rainer and West studied the behavior of plants in nature and using masses of fewer plant species in layers and communities found in nature are designing landscapes that recreate the wild in beautiful, beneficial, and acceptable ways.
Rain Gardens, Lynn M. Steiner & Robert W. Domm, c. 2012. Sustainable landscaping for a beautiful yard and healthy world. Rain gardens are important if we are to process and clean rainfall and run off on-site. When we do this, we protect surface water. Steiner and Domm offer a clear guide to rain garden placement, excavation, planting, and more. While utilitarian, rain gardens can be beautiful and beneficial habitat for insects and critters as well.
Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan members make our world more beautiful by participating in gardening projects, educational programs, activities and CONNECTING A COMMUNITY OF GARDENERS THROUGH LEARNING!
8527 East Government Center Drive (Suite 107) – Suttons Bay, MI 49682 Phone: 231-256-9888 :: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org