Steward – July 2020

Citizen Science Project

MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, MGANM, and the Downtown Development
Authority are collaborating on a citizen science project based around the flower planters
running down E Front St. between Park, Cass, and Union Streets. To participate all you have to
do is count pollinators for 3 minute intervals. You can enter the counts via an online survey that
you can reach by scanning a QR code that will be located on a sign in each planter. An example
of the sign is below

Citizen Science Project Real Dirt 7_2020 (1)






Thank you for participating in our citizen science project! Your responses will help us learn about how these planters are helping pollinators and how we can be better at helping them in the future. 

What is the number on the sign in this planter?




Please use a timer set to 3 minutes, stand in one place near the center of the planter and use the sliders below to record how many of the 2 main categories of pollinators you see in 3 minutes of observation time. Use the “Other” category for insects that don’t fit into either the “Bees/Wasps/Flies” category or the “Butterflies” Category.

Upload a photo of the planter today (optional)

Steward – May 2020

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

DEER, BUNNIES, MICE…OH MY! – Throwback 2016

By Lillian Mahaney, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I have always tried to help people understand that there are many ways to keep the various forms of wildlife from destroying their gardens.  I’m sure that almost every Master Gardener has also received the question “how do I protect my gardens without harming the wildlife?”.  I have included a number of suggestions below that have had successful results over the years:

Rodents love to burrow under the nice mulch surrounding plants in the winter since this gives them a nice home and a food supply.  Tucking an unused fabric softener sheet (the stronger the fragrance the better) under the mulch usually sends them to less “smelly” homes.  This also works well if you are storing a boat, car, closing up a cottage or have a rodent problem in a garage or shed.  Just be sure to not place the dryer sheets on surfaces where the oils can do damage.  Placing a few sheets under a deck also helps to keep animals from using that area for a winter den.

Please do not use any type of rodent poison (such as DCon or TomKat) to control rodents.  These rodenticides have a large amount of an anticoagulant and if another animal eats the rodent it will suffer the same fate.  Owls, hawks, opossums, skunks, raccoons and even dogs and cats are dying at an alarming rate.  The entire wildlife rehabilitation community has been trying to have these products banned.  Using the old fashioned snap mouse traps is a much more humane way to control rodents without harming the other species.

A good method for keeping deer and bunnies from browsing vegetation is to buy some of the little inexpensive muslin drawstring bags from your local feed store.  Put a small piece of Irish Spring Original Scent soap in the bag.  The bags can be tied to tree branches, fencing or even to small bamboo skewers placed at intervals around the area you want to protect.  The lower bags work well for the smaller animals like bunnies.

As it rains or snows the scent permeates the bag and usually makes the odor more intense.  The soap doesn’t seem to drip from the bag and just soaks into the muslin.  Just remember to keep the bag at “nose level” for the particular animal species.  The soap seems to work for a much longer time than other things like hair, blood meal, etc.

There are many other products on the market such as Liquid Fence, garlic products and predator urine.  These products have good results also, but they can be costly, may not last for as long a time and sometimes the odors are offensive to OUR noses.  Using the castor oil products (Mole Med, etc.) are good ways to deter moles without harming the animals.

If you have a good sense of humor and want to be the talk of your neighborhood I suggest buying some of the little foil pinwheels to keep bunnies and deer from your gardens.  They twirl with even the slightest breeze and seem to work better than the foil strips in most cases.  They also have the added benefit of making you a fun topic of conversation with your neighbors!

You may need to try a few different methods before you find one that works well for your circumstances.  I have a cherry farmer friend that uses the muslin drawstring bags in his orchard and has had great success and another that thinks the fabric softener sheets work better in his orchard.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to give me a call….231-256-8844.

Lawn Removal by Smothering OR Creating a Landscape in a Lawn

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

As gardeners we tend to like plants.  In fact I love many, many plants including trees, shrubs, perennials, clump forming grasses, sedges, and ferns; EXCEPT turf grass AKA lawn.  I do not like lawn.  I do not like how people care for it either.  Lawn belongs somewhere else, where it has rich soil and ample moisture without hot, dry summers.  The root of turf grass is about 3 inches deep.  This means it has difficulty accessing nutrients and moisture, as it is mostly out of its reach.  Homeowners spend countless hours and expense on maintaining this out-of-place plant.  However, it can be walked on which is its ONE big advantage over all of my favorite plants.

Ecological gardening practices encourages homeowners to increase the number and diversity of native plants in the landscape.  An ideal way to do that is to replace existing lawn with native plants.  There are about four methods to get rid of lawn:  -dig it, -apply herbicide, – solarize it, or -smother it.

-Digging lawn is hard work.  To remove the lawn you take up about 3 inches of reasonably fertile soil and disturb any beneficial activity in the root layer.  Then you need to decide whether to replace the space with additional soil and decide what to do with the sod.

-Herbicides are effective in killing lawn and I advise it on a steep slope where smothering is not effective because of gravity.  The advantage is that you may be ready to plant in a few weeks.  The disadvantage is the chemical.

-Solarizing is an effective method when done in summer.  Apply a thick sheet of black plastic held down by landscape staples or another method and wait until the lawn is completely burned.  A black plastic lawn patch is not very attractive, although effective.

-Smothering is my favorite.  Outline the bed shape, trench the edge, cover with layered newspapers and mulch and wait a season… smother in fall to plant in spring or smother in spring to plant in fall.

In early April while self-isolating, I began a new landscape bed in my daughter’s yard.  My gardening clothes emerged from winter hibernation… jeans with patched knees, Birkenstock gardening shoes, and heavy duty gardening gloves.

The plan was a second landscape bed to mirror an existing one and smothering the lawn for fall installation.  Measuring tape in hand, we marked the distance from the front walk and distance from the road. We measured an approximate shape/size and used marking spray paint to outline the bed.  Note:  Marking spray is much easier to use than regular spray paint because it is designed to spray down.

Next, we made a small trench along the line to cut grass roots. This is where an edging will go. When landscaping in a lawn, especially with native plants, I believe it is important to edge the bed.  It gives a clear indication that the plants are purposely designed to be there. The soil/sod clumps were shaken and divided to settle into the new bed.

Finally, we layered 4-5 sheets of newspaper, tucking new layers under the previous with a big overlap. Do this only when wind is NOT an issue. It was still when we began, but we wrestled with layering the last sheets when the breeze began.  As we layered the newspaper, we piled on 3 inches of mulch. Usually I prefer shredded pine bark mulch from Four Season Nursery, but with them closed we settled for cheap bagged shredded wood from Menards.









We are done now. The bed will sit and decompose till September or October when we return to install plants. There will be no need to remove the newspaper or the mulch.  The benefits of this method include leaving the soil undisturbed AND adding the dead plant material, newsprint and wood chips to the ecosystem.  

Seeing the bed site over the season will help us to evaluate the available light under the two oak trees facing east for morning sun. It will be easier to decide design and plant layout with the bed in place.  Plus, understory plant choices will be fun.  









Please note:  this simple method is most effective on turf grass with typical lawn weeds.  Invasive species such as spotted knapweed, bladder campion, English ivy, periwinkle/ vinca, and smooth brome grass are more difficult to eradicate.  

Steward – March 2020

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Nicotine doesn’t affect my seeds, does it?

Take a load off

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner

Nicotine doesn’t affect my seeds, does it?

By Michael O’Brien, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

Now that March is here the ideas are flowing, spring is coming.  Thoughts of what to grow this year are beginning to pop-up in our mind.  Starting plants from seed is fun and economical too. It’s also a fantastic way to teach children.

So the question is, does nicotine really have an effect on seeds?  Yes! If a person was to smoke a cigarette there would be trace amounts of nicotine on their fingers.  And it’s the same for chewing tobacco too. Surprisingly enough, if that same person was to touch seeds, there is a high probability that nicotine would get on the seed.  

In a study done by researchers, they studied the effects of nicotine on the germination of radish, kale, lettuce, wheat, rice, barley and rye seeds.  The results showed the seeds had a very noticeable delay in the rate of germination in all cases. Scientists found that it caused a reduction in the levels of certain enzymes known to be significant in the germination of these seeds.

In the 1950’s researchers started testing the relationship between nicotine, seeds and plants.  They found nicotine can be very affective in killing insects. It was a great discovery, it protected the plant and with the plants being protected it would increase yield production as well.   The goal was to assist farmers so their seeds purchased would have a higher success rate in seed germination. The challenge they were working with was, how to limit or stop insects and funguses from destroying the seed.  The answer was to coat corn seeds as well as other seeds used for mass production with a powder that had nicotine in it. Though the years of using this type product it has now created farmland that is saturated with nicotine.

There was another product created that is still in use today as an insecticidal spray.  This spray is made from derivatives of nicotine. This product is classified as a neonicotinoid.  This spray is designed to over stimulate the nervous system of insects, causing the insect to experience paralysis and death.  Today, there are currently around three hundred different products in this classification. The specific active ingredients include acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. 

Research has shown the problem with these insecticidal sprays is that they can’t discern between harmful insects and beneficial insects.  Many beneficial insects that are seriously being harmed are bees, ladybugs and Monarch butterflies to name a few. What is so concerning about neonicotinoids is the effects it is having on wildlife that pollinate our crops, its ability to infiltrate groundwater and its cumulative and largely irreversible effects on invertebrates. As practicing gardeners and stewards to the environment, whenever possible we should avoid all products that contain neonicotinoid, to be safe. Gardening pesticide-free is ideal.

Pawpaw leaf-rolling caterpillar (Lepidoptera), Ompalocera munroei, and webbing in a pawpaw leaf (Asimina triloba). Photo from Missouri Botanical Garden

Take a load off

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

It is March!  April is around the corner.  With each day of warming gardeners develop a real itch to get into the garden and begin spring clean-up and preparing the soil.  Not so fast, buster. Remember all of the articles and Facebook posts last fall about leaving the leaves to protect insects? Rushing clean-up defeats all of that good thoughtful fall effort.

Some of our wonderful, beautiful, valuable insects overwinter in leaf litter.  The smart gardener knows now to leave the leaf litter where it is to house and protect the eggs, larval forms, and even some adult critters.  Therefore if you have taken the “smart” fall practice, rushing your spring clean-up will ruin all of your good works.

What we know now is that many insects need about 50 degree daytime temperatures to get moving.  This means that you should allow your gardens a minimum of 5 days of nice warm 50 degree weather before you begin to disturb the leaf litter.  

Some may argue, but what about the spring bulbs and early bloomers?  Don’t they need to be uncovered to grow? Not likely. Look at the woodland floor for evidence.  Trillium, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Trout Lily, Celandine Poppy, and more all manage to push though leaf litter with no help from a gardener.  If they can do it, crocus, daffodils, and tulips can do it too. Additionally, leaf litter helps warm the soil slowly without the sun directly beaming on the soil surface.

As for prepping beds for planting, the soil needs to reach at least 55 degrees for successful germination and working wet soil has very bad outcomes ,  including disruption of soil biology and compacting the dirt.

Best gardening practices in northwest lower Michigan in April?  Take a hike, visit a botanic garden, start seeds indoors, and read a good gardening book.  Resist the urge to garden too soon. The short gardening season will still arrive and you will be plenty busy on your knees then.   Until the bugs are out and about from the leaf litter, go ahead and take a load off.


Coordinator’s Corner: Spring Cleanup That Protects Pollinators

By Nate Walton, MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Instructor and MG Coordinator

This article is a follow-up to my article about fall cleanup to protect pollinators which you can read in the September 2019 edition of The Real Dirt. 

A pollinator is any animal that moves pollen from one flower of a plant to another flower of the same plant species. In Michigan, our most important pollinators of most native plant species are wild bees. For our insect-pollinated agricultural crops, wild bees contribute to pollination, but most require that large numbers of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) be placed nearby in portable hives.

Honey bee hives placed in a blueberry field for pollination of the crop (N.Walton, MSU Extension). Honey bees are an irreplaceable component of modern agriculture, but you don’t have to worry about them during your spring garden cleanup

Wild bees do not spend the winter in hives, they overwinter in protected locations in a state of hibernation. There are at least 465 species of wild bees living in Michigan and scientists are only beginning

3 native wild bees enjoying the resources provided by this early spring flower (N. Walton, MSU Extension).

to understand where most of them are located in the winter and how we can use that information to protect them. Most wild bees (about 80%) construct their nests in the soil at depths from just a few inches, to as deep as 1 m. The remainder are

called cavity-nesters and they use pithy stems (e.g. elderberry, sumac), hollow stems (wild grasses), or beetle borings in dead trees. For these soil and cavity nesting bees, conservation is a little bit easier because their nest location is also their overwintering location. With some careful observation of the bees in your yard, you should be able to see where they are nesting, make note of it, and protect that area from disturbance. 

There is probably not much that you need to do differently from your normal spring cleanup routine, to protect the soil nesting bees. On the other hand, if you left ornamental grasses or herbaceous perennial stems unpruned last fall, they may now be harboring cavity nesting bees. When you cut them back this spring, try to allow the stems to remain intact by using sharp tools. Then, you can place them in an out of the way location where the bees will be able to emerge from the nests naturally.

The compost pile is probably not the best place to place plant material that may contain overwintering bees, because there is too much moisture there and the bees may die from pathogen infections. I would recommend having a designated brush pile for all of the material that may be harboring overwintering pollinators. Keep the pile light and airy to prevent moisture accumulation. The timing of your stem cleanup can be somewhat flexible but there are a few important facts to keep in mind. First, the cavity nesting bees will be happiest and healthiest if they are allowed to emerge from the stems while they are still in their natural position (i.e. attached to the crown that they grew from originally). Second, the exact timing of natural emergence depends on the species and climate in your area. And (third) if you wait too long, they will start creating new nests in the stems. Disturbing freshly created nests is much more harmful to the bees than disturbing the bees while they are still in hibernation. Fourth, sometimes the best time to prune is when you have the shears in your hand. 

Another important group of bees that I have not mentioned yet, are one of springtime’s most conspicuous pollinators: Bumble Bees. Bumble bees are social bees, which means that they have a life cycle that includes several generations of workers living together in a communal nest. However, their colonies are started from scratch each spring by solitary queen bees called foundresses. The foundress mated the previous fall and spent the winter in a sheltered location, waiting for her chance to search out a location for her new nest this spring. Scientists actually know very little about where bumble bee queens spend the winter and they would like to know more. If you are interested in helping them out, you can join the Queen Quest citizen science project (

A bumble bee on weeping cherry in April 2017 (N. Walton, MSU Extension)

Anecdotal reports gathered over the years, give us some idea of where you are most likely to encounter bumble bee queens before they break hibernation. They seem to seek out loose litter, such as that you might find under a pine tree or other conifer. Some of them seem to even like burrowing down a few  inches below the soil under the turf in our lawns. They also seem to have a preference for slopes and for locations with an adjacent vertical barrier such a tree, shrub, or building. In other words, they may be in a lot of the areas where you are targeting your spring cleanup activities. It can be quite harmful to disturb hibernating queen bees before it is warm enough for them to fly and/or seek out a new shelter.

This is one of the reasons many advocates of pollinator protection during spring cleanup recommend waiting until the temperature has been consistently over 50 degrees for five days before cleaning up your leaf litter of disturbing a lot of soil in your garden (see “Take a Load Off” by Cheryl Gross in this month’s The Real Dirt). If you do come across an overwintering bumble bee queen during your spring cleanup activities, the best thing to do is to gently return her to where you found her and replace the layer of leaves or duff that had been protecting her. 

Steward – January 2020

What do i do with that tree?

Below are three options for Christmas tree disposal in the Grand Traverse County area. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the programs mentioned are supported by MGANM. 

  1. Traverse City Parks and Recreation Department:

    “The Parks and Recreation Division offers a Christmas Tree drop off site for City residents. The trees are chipped and used for trail surfacing for City parks and Brown Bridge Quiet Area, mulching material and erosion control.

    Trees can be brought to the boat launch parking lot at Hull Park at the west end of Hannah Street, just west of Woodmere Avenue beginning December 26, 2019 and will run through Sunday, January 19, 2020.

    There is no charge for this service. Please do not leave trees in the alleys, streets or City parks. The City will not be collecting them there.”

  2. Norte:
    Live in Traverse City but can’t get your tree to Hull Park? Norte is here to help. For a $25 donation, they will pick up your tree at your doorstep, load it on their bicycle  trailer, and take it to Hull Park for you.

  3. Inhabitect, LLC

“Inhabitect, LLC is passionate about designing, building and growing resilient and ecologically mindful landscapes. One aspect of this mission is to utilize materials that are readily available, that are sourced as locally as possible, to meet the needs of our projects. This is why we have planned our 1st Annual Christmas Tree Drop-off at the Elmwood Township Park.

There is no charge to drop off your tree. Our first event is Sunday, January 5th, 2020, from 11am until 3pm, at the Elmwood Township Park in Greilickville, just outside of Traverse City. Additional drop off opportunities may be added, follow the Inhabitect FB page for updates. Be sure to remove all decorations, including lights, artificial snow, ornaments, and tinsel, from the Christmas trees, Inhabitect will not accept any trees that contain these items or are (sic) otherwise been treated with harmful chemicals.”

3. Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

“Want to dispose of your Christmas tree and help GTRLC’s invasive species fighting goat herd at the same time? Conifers are packed with vitamin C and other essential nutrients, making them a great addition to our herd’s winter diet. We’re asking folks to donate their trees (free from decorations or chemicals, please). Pick a time and location listed below. Look for signs and a trailer with trees.

We (and the goats) thank you!”


Steward – November 2019

Native Grasses and General Update: MGANM September Meeting Notes

By, Nancy Larson, Extension Master Gardener   

We had a friendly educational meeting September 3rd with five public guests and over thirty Master Gardeners present.  Michele Worden, MGANM President, welcomed everyone and answered the question, “What do master gardeners do?” for our public guests.  We educate; we beautify and improve our community; we work with youth in schools and fields; we assist MSU in their diagnostic clinic; we promote food security with assisting in food gardens, and we do volunteer management of various projects. Find out more about MG’s on-line at  

Michele introduced Lisa Hagerty our new newsletter editor.  Lisa encouraged the MG’s to write articles to share with others about their science-based growing experiences. Michele also appealed to the group for nominations for the upcoming board election. In addition, Michelle told us there is a survey coming out soon that will help the board determine events and guests to schedule in the upcoming year. The survey will be asking members what they would like to see/hear about so our monthly meetings can be interesting and engaging. Michele indicated our record breaking event attendance in 2019 is because we asked for members interests.

Nate Walton, MSU Entomologist, announced that there are still plenty of volunteer project hours available. He advised us to check the VMS page daily for updates

Cheryl Gross, Plant It Wild President, introduced our guest speaker, Vern Stephens, owner of Designs By Nature in Laingsburg, MI, to talk about native grasses. Vern said he has a 30 year working history with native plants and specializes in MI eco-types.  He has developed outreach programs to the north, south, east and west areas of the state; has created an on-line site for purchases of perennial garden starters; is looking forward to expanding his searching for native plants into the Detroit area; and has encouraged “NO USE” of neonic pesticides, as it stays in the plants for 2 years. Recommended Books: 1) “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy, 2) “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” by Lawrence Newcomb, 3) “The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook” by Stephen Packard & Cornelia Matee.

So, why use native grasses?  Because of their roots. They have a deep root system, don’t need irrigation, once established, or fertilizer, attract insects & birds, make good nesting areas, and are good for grazing fields.  Native grasses are wind pollinated so if you don’t want them to spread, remove their seed heads.  Normal grass lawns have to be watered and fertilized, have short root systems, and have to be cut. Vern discussed ten different types of native grasses and provided live examples of them: Dunes grass, Prairie Drop Seed, Little Blue Stem, Big Blue Stem, Indian Grass, Bottle Brush grass, Side Oats, Grama Grass, Purple Love Grass, and Canada Rye Grass.  He then talked about sedges.  What’s the difference between grasses and sedges?  Grass stems are round or flat while sedge stems are triangular.  Sedges are solid, while grasses are hollow. Sedges are usually 3-ranked where they lie in three vertical planes along the stem.  They both reproduce by seeds, can form clumps, and have a bloom season. Vern discussed and shared examples of five types of Sedges: Wood Sedge, Fox Sedge, Brown Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, and Plantain Leaved Sedge.

The program ended with Vern answering many questions.  He also brought a large variety of native plants for us to “happily” purchase because we all know how we love to get into the dirt. 


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