Steward – July 2016

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Michigan Native Plants, NOW!

Hand Care for the Gardener

Smart Watering

How to identify a Native Plant

Michigan Native Plants, NOW!

Native plant root chart. Notice the lack of roots on the turf grass, far left. Photo from

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener 

In my nine years of working with Michigan native plants and educating myself and others about the benefits of Michigan native plants the message has changed.  Early in my experience with the topic, the idea was primarily “right plant, right place”.  Then, it was to “please consider”  including a Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis, or a Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum, to feed birds in early spring and summer.  A little here and a little there would help.  Now, the need is more serious; our insects and pollinators are in steep decline. It is imperative that all landscapes include beneficial Michigan native plants. That epiphany changed everything. The more I have learned, the stronger my message.

It is not a mystery to figure out what is native and what is non-native.  In the 1850’s when Michigan was being surveyed for Statehood and our county lines were being drawn, men walked the State with survey stakes and chains and made notes on the soil type, moisture, plants, animals, and, well, heck everything they saw.  Those records are still available.  MSU and U of M maintain lists of plants that were here prior to European settlement.  Check out the information here

European immigrants who brought plants from ‘home’ should not be chastised.  They did it innocently.  They brought bits of what they knew with them.  They did not know that these plants would harm our ecosystem.  Some have become invasive and damaging, such as Garlic Mustard and Russian Olive.  Later, nurseries offered exotic imports from Europe and Asia for ‘fashion’ in our landscape.  In the 1980’s my nursery in Plymouth, Michigan promoted imported pest-free plants and I bought into the idea.  Our innocence and our mistakes need enlightening and correcting.

Our State, our plants.  A pretty simple concept. 

Soil, is complex.  The study and exploration of fungi and bacteria in our soils is fairly new and much has been learned.  Plant communities have evolved from, and are directly connected to, the soil and our use of the land.  Beech/Maple forests are dramatically different from Pine plantations.  Our prairies were once where our major cities developed.  We have had a dramatic damaging impact on the plants in our environment.  We can act to restore and improve the plant/soil relationship.

Before we leave this simple concept of our State, our plants, a mention of herbicides and pesticides, specifically, the use of GMO seeds to be ‘Round-up ready’ and Neonicotinoids must be included.  The use of these herbicides and pesticides in our wider landscape has changed everything.  Many, if not most, of our agricultural seed is a genetically modified organism (a GMO) to make it resistant to the herbicide glysophate (Round-Up).  Farmers are able to freely spray an entire field of growing crops and eliminate all plants EXCEPT the GMO Crop. The loss of habitat and harm to pollinators from this practice is well studied and documented.  Neonicontinolds, called neonics for short, were initially developed for flea and tick treatments for our pets.  They are an insect killer.  Today, neonics are widely available to treat insects on plants.  It is documented to kill butterflies and bees.  Heck, anything that feeds on the nectar or leaf on any plant treated with a neonics is dead.

What are we, as gardeners, as citizens, to do?  Plant Michigan native plants.  It does not matter the size of your property or it’s location.  EACH of us can have an impact.  Using Michigan native plants, we can match the plant to the soil, moisture and sunlight.  We can landscape using plant communities and include canopy, understory, shrubs, perennials/ferns/grasses, and ground covers.  Each one of these plants participate to create an ecosystem, a web of life, to support insects, reptiles/amphibians, small mammals, birds, and more.

For example, to a bird, a turf lawn and usual, non-native, foundation plantings around a home look like a desert; dry, brown and dead.  It is not an ecosystem designed for bird habitat including shelter, food and water for raising a family.  To help, homeowners add feeders and birdbaths.  However, most baby birds DO NOT eat seeds or suet.  The help and pleasure homeowners provide and receive is not sustainable.  Adults may survive, but their hatchlings will not.  Most baby birds are fed bugs.  Live bugs.  Think bugs in your yard are ‘yucky’?  Think again.

Insects most often have a one-to-one relationship with a plant.  Some are generalists, but most are not.  Loose the plant, loose the bug.  Don’t like the thought of bugs?  What about butterflies?   They are insects.  WHO doesn’t like seeing butterflies in the gardens?  Wait… Butterflies are nectar feeding bugs.  They are adults.  Where are butterflies before they are, well, butterflies?  They begin as an egg laid on a leaf that hatch into a larval form.  Caterpillars grow and go through metamorphous.  Which means they change from a caterpillar to a chrysalis where the magic happens. 

What did they eat when they were caterpillars?  Plants.   And usually only ONE kind of plant. Such picky eaters. They ate holes in your leaves!  Think Monarch butterflies and milkweed plants.  The butterfly can nectar feed on a wide variety of flowers.  The egg is laid on only ONE kind of plant, a milkweed.  The caterpillar grows and develops and ages into a chrysalis on only ONE kind of plant.  No milkweed = no monarch butterflies.  Surprised?  They are not the only one.  Many, many, many insects, “bugs”, in our ecosystem have that same one-on-one relationship between plant and insect.

We like birds…most baby birds eat only bugs.  Bugs are picky eaters and often eat only one plant.  Those plants are Michigan natives.  No Michigan native plants, no bugs, no butterflies, no baby birds.  We may like Asian cuisine and European cuisine, but our habitats DO NOT.

As a gardner, a citizen, remove as many non-native plants from your property as reasonable.  Replace them with beautiful and beneficial Michigan native plants.  Plant the right plant in the right place.  You will be rewarded by creating a beautiful ecosystem to recreate our web of life to support the pollinators who provide 33% of the food we eat.

Go Wild,  Go Native!

Helpful links:

The Xerces Society

National Wildlife Federation

Monarch Watch

Plant It Wild

Hand Care for the Gardener

photo via

by Judy Reich, Master Gardener 

In one of my previous careers, I was a surgical nurse.  The last several years in that occupation I was the Educator in the Operating Room.  The first thing I did with new employees was to teach them how to wash their hands. Now I am retired from that line of work but have found it has application to my new life as a gardener.

You’ve spent a lovely day in the garden but now it is time to cook dinner or get ready to go out and your hands are beyond dirty! Here is my sure fire method to get your hands and nails clean after a day in the garden or after doing any really dirty job like scrubbing down the grill. (I think that’s the worst!)

What you need:

  • Good soap – your favorite (does not need to be antimicrobial)
  • Warm Water
  • Nail file or orange stick
  • Scrub brush with somewhat firm but soft bristles. Too stiff a bristle will abrade and damage the skin
  • Towel
  • Good hand cream
  1. Turn on the water and regulate to a pleasantly warm temperature.
  2. Wash your hands (and forearms if needed) with soap and water
  3. Clean under your nails with the nail file or orange stick under running water.
  4. Soap up your scrub brush and begin:
    1. Treat each finger and your hands and arms as if they had 4 sides
    2. Give each side of each finger and hand 20 GENTLE strokes of the brush
      1. If your skin is very fragile, do not use a brush at all but just scrub one hand with the other.
    3. If you are including your forearms, you may want to just use your hands or be VERY GENTLE if you use a brush: 10 strokes per side should be adequate.
  5. Dry thoroughly
  6. Apply hand cream

This may sound like a big process but it is not.  It only takes about 5 minutes. 

A little preventative measure from my Grampa:  Before you go out to garden, scratch some soap from a soft bar under your nails before you put on your garden gloves. It helps to keeps the subungual areas from collecting too much dirt. 

Smart Watering

Smart irrigation types are soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems, commonly combined with plastic mulch. Photo credit: Mary Wilson, MSU Extension

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training  

Most people need to water their gardens at least some of the time in the summer.  If you do it wisely, though, you’ll not only have healthy plants but also do your part in conserving water.  Michigan State University Extension has a helpful article on its website titled “Smart Watering in the Vegetable Garden” that addresses just this topic.  It suggests:

  • First get to know your soil.  A soil analysis will tell you if you have clay or sandy soil.  Clay soil tends to hold moisture longer while sandy soil dries out faster.  It will also help you determine if you need to add organic matter to your soil, which can also aid in moisture retention.
  • Water at the right time of day.  Most gardeners know it’s best to water in the morning hours.  This allows any moisture on the surface of the plant to dry quickly and completely, which helps prevent mildew and other diseases from forming or spreading.  Morning watering also reduces water loss due to evaporation since it is typically not as hot at this time of day.
  • Know how much to water.  Most experts agree that most gardens need about one inch of water each week.  But you should also take into account what your current weather is like.  Sunny and windy days will cause more of that moisture to evaporate away before it has a chance to refresh your plants.  The opposite is true for overcast or humid days.  A rain gauge or any type of container that can collect water over the course of a week will help you determine if you need to supplement Mother Nature.  Or you can use an even simpler tool – your finger – to see if the soil is still moist one to two inches below the surface.  If it is then you can put off watering for another day.
  • Sometimes what you have planted is the key.  While most summer vegetables need that minimum of one inch a week of irrigation to do well, many other drought tolerate herbs and flowers do not.  Also keep in mind that new seedlings and recent transplants need more frequent, lighter watering than older, established plants.
  • Apply techniques to help conserve water.  Evaporation and run off waste water before it has a chance to replenish garden plants.  To help prevent that from happening, only water as much as is needed and use techniques such as mulching to keep the soil from drying out too quickly.  Applying water just to the roots of plants through such systems as drip irrigation or soaker hoses also prevents unnecessary water loss.

To read the article in its entirety, go to

How to identify a Native Plant

by Whitney Miller, Advanced Master Gardener 

There is a new(ish) and growing trend in the gardening world regarding native plants. Growers, nurseries, Master Gardeners, and the like are recognizing the importance of using native plants in landscapes to rebuild the food web that so many plant communities have lost over the years. While I typically do not follow “trends”, this is one which needs to be more than that; it needs to be a new and permanent way of life. There are so many butterflies and birds that feed solely on the bugs that live on native plants, and by replacing them with cultivars and varieties we have reduced the beautiful wildlife that visit our landscapes. How do you know if a plant is a native plant? Isn’t coreopsis a native? Why isn’t my ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis considered native?

Good question. All plants got their start from something native somewhere. However, some of those plants were native to South America, Asia or elsewhere. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a few definitions (wikimedia):

A cultivar is a plant or grouping of plants selected for desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation. Most cultivars have arisen in cultivation but a few are special selections from the wild. Popular ornamental garden plants like roses, camellias, daffodils, rhododendrons, and azaleas are cultivars produced by careful breeding and selection for flower colour and form. Similarly, the world’s agricultural food crops are almost exclusively cultivars that have been selected for characteristics such as improved yield, flavour, and resistance to disease: very few wild plants are now used as food sources. Trees used in forestry are also special selections grown for their enhanced quality and yield of timber.

A variety: In botanical nomenclature, variety (abbreviated var.; in Latin: varietas) is a taxonomic rank below that of species and subspecies but above that of form.[1] As such, it gets a three-part infraspecific name.

Plants that have been cultivated will have their variety listed on a plant tag. A native plant WILL NOT have a third/varietal name on it’s plant tag. For instance:

Coreopsis verticillata Photo by: By I, Chrumps, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Coreopsis verticillata
Photo by: By I, Chrumps, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Notice how this second photo includes a third name in its nomenclature. All three names will be displayed on a plant tag, letting you know that it is NOT a native, but a variety. You can also see the difference in the flowers between the two photos. You can see that ‘Moonbeam’ has been cultivated to enhance certain characteristics.

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ Photo by Patrick Standish via Flickr

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’
Photo by Patrick Standish via Flickr

A final way to ensure that you are looking at a native plant is to ask! Many gardens have knowledgeable docents, and reputable nursery businesses MAY know the ins-and-outs of natives. In the Grand Traverse Region, we have resources at our disposal. The list below is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested in getting to know your natives, hold on to your hats! 


Go Beyond Beauty:

Four Seasons Nursery: *This business supports MGANM and its mission

Plant It Wild:

Michigan Native Plant Producers Associtaion:

Michigan Flora Database:

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