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Our Real Dirt team strives for excellence in every edition. It seems this time we missed an article by Kathryn Frerichs under Steward. We apologize for the hiccup and hope you enjoy our corrected newsletter below. 

President's Letter

Spring Renewal
by Michele Worden, AEMG

As I write this we are preparing for a blizzard.  But as the days get longer and sunshine warms our faces, we can feel that spring is coming.

Spring is a time of renewal.  As the earth renews itself, we should think about our personal renewal.  We should consider also the renewal of our association, the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan.  All organizations, like people, need renewal so that they are not stagnant. One aspect of MGANM in particular needs renewal and that is our newsletter, The Real Dirt.

The Real Dirt was last “renewed” and refreshed in January of 2013.  Cheryl Gross led the effort, ably assisted by Sonia Clem, Nancy Dennison and Whitney Miller in layout and technical support.  They created a publication that inspired, informed and educated with wholly locally created content. Each year, over a hundred volunteer hours have gone into creating this newsletter across a dozen people.  Currently it has a subscription base of 312 people, with an amazing email open rate of 54%. It is broken down into thematic areas that correspond with the focus areas for Master Gardeners: Serve, Nourish, Beautify, and Steward.

Cheryl has decided it is time for her to pass the baton.  Please let us know if this is an area where you would like to contribute and earn volunteer hours, an area of personal MG renewal.  Please also click on this LINK and take our survey about The Real Dirt. Help us renew this resource at this inflection point, to make sure it best serves you.

This year we have also had several programs on renewing our natural environment.  The coming March meeting is a good example – we will welcome Carolyn Thayer to speak on “Creating a Rain Garden with Native Plants.”

In April, we look forward to a program on the new MSU initiative Growing Together, with a focus on several local MG food donation gardens.

As winter snows change to spring rains, wishing you a green and peaceful season of renewal.

Thank you for all you do.

Hull park, photo by Barbara Backus


Public Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

by Barbara Backus, EMG

How do Master Gardener Projects get started?  It is a very good question. Master Gardeners see a need.  They notice when public gardens are not receiving the attention they deserve.  Barbara Backus began a small project that way, and then trainees joined in. It was such fun, they took on a bigger project!  Read HERE to be inspired.

A winter crane fly (Diptera: Trichoceridae) active at 38°F on a day in December (2014).


Coordinator’s Corner:  Did It Get Cold Enough to Kill All the Bugs?
Nate Walton, MSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinator

It was SO exciting to hear that the emerald ash borer MIGHT be knocked back due to the polar vortex in January.  Therefore, the question remains…Did it get cold enough to kill all the nasty bugs? If so, would that be a good thing?  Check it out HERE.

Gardening Tip:  Last Year’s Seeds
by Cheryl A. Gross, AEMG

On our house, we never use all of the seeds in a packet in one season.  Will they germinate in year two? A way to test the “old” seeds is to use 2 sheets of paper towels, a plate, and 10-15 seeds.  Moisten the paper towels and sprinkle the seeds between the sheets. Keep moist, but not wet, for up to two weeks. Check the seeds for signs of germination.  Depending on the number of live seeds you can make your decision for planting. Should you see 50% germination, you can use the seed and seed heavier. Less than 50% you just might want to purchase fresh seed.

Real Dirt:  New Volunteer Opportunities!

by Cheryl A. Gross,  AEMG

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

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

We are looking for VOLUNTEERS to carry-on the Real Dirt OR IT WILL CEASE PRODUCTION WITH THIS ISSUE. 

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

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

News & Events


Make a Rain Garden with Native Plants
Tuesday, March 5, 2019, 6:30pm (Potluck at 6:00pm). Presented by Carolyn Thayer, Landscape designer and owner of Designs In Bloom

Growing Together Initiative
Tuesday, April 2, 2019, 6:30pm (Potluck at 6:00pm). Learn about local Extension Master Gardener projects, with a focus on food gardens

Meetings are held at The Boardman River Nature Center, 1450 Cass Road, Traverse City, MI 49685. Educational meetings are open to the public, and a $5 donation from non-members is appreciated.

Board Meeting
Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 6:00pm. All Extension Master Gardeners are invited to attend. Board meetings are held in the lower level of Horizon Books in Traverse City.

The Boardman River Nature Center

Hands-on Pruning Demonstration

Saturday, March 23 @ 10:00am - 12:00pm. $5. With Fritz Girrbach of Brothers Tree Service. Before the trees leave dormancy, learn how to do corrective pruning on all types of trees and shrubs. Fee $5. Contact the Leelanau Conservation District with questions at 231-256-9783.

Go Beyond Beauty Spring Meeting
Wednesday, April 3, 6:00pm – 7:30pm with the Invasive Species Network

Benzie Conservation District

Forest Mushrooms
Wednesday, April 3,  6:30pm - 8:30pm, presented by Linda Schribner, a certified forager who can commercially harvest and sell wild mushrooms in Michigan. Fee: $10.  Contact the Benzie Conservation District at 231-882-4391 for any questions. Location: Mills Community House, 891 Michigan Ave., Benzonia

The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

Sunday, March 10th, 3:00pm – 4:30pm, with Angie Lucas of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.  An overview of native fern species found in our region, identification tips to use while exploring the woods or wetland trails, and other fun fern facts.

Landscaping for the Birds, Bees & Butterflies
Wednesday, March 13th, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, local experts Brian Zimmerman and Tom Ford will discuss how to create a garden landscape to attract bees, butterflies, and birds, beginning with native plants. Guidance on plant selection, nesting boxes, mason bee houses, and providing water for wildlife will be shared.

Square Foot Gardening
Thursday, March 21st, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, with  MSU Advanced Master Gardener, who will discuss the history of square foot gardening and share her wisdom on building, utilizing and reaping the benefits of a square foot garden.The fee for this class is $30 and participants will take home Sandi’s presentation and a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” (third edition) book.

Right Plant, Right Place
Sunday, April 7, 3:00pm – 4:30pm, with Dr. Robert Schutzki of MSU’s Department of Horticulture, who will discuss key concepts for smart gardening and how plant choice and maintenance are critical to preserving the natural ecosystem dynamics of Michigan.

Any required fee is listed in the event.  Otherwise, donations are requested to support The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park. Classes are open to the public and advance registration is requested.  Check out their website or follow them on Facebook for more details and to register.
Garlic Mustard. Photo provided by Dreamstime, all rights reserved.


MGANM February Meeting Notes:  Chestnut Hypo virulence
by Nancy Denison, AEMG

Many of our beloved trees are under attack… and losing.  Alien insects and diseases have hit our elms, chestnuts, ashes, and more.  Behind the scenes, researchers are working hard to save our trees. Read HERE about the latest work being done to bring back the American chestnut.

The Battle Against Invasive Plants… and the Rewards
by Ruth Steele Walker, AEMG

We in northwest lower Michigan are fortunate to have the Invasive Species Network (ISN) working on our behalf.  They are the boots-on-the-ground organization identifying, categorizing, battling, and educating the public about invasive terrestrial plants.  Get to know them HERE and join the effort to preserve and protect our native habitats.

What's In a Name?
by Cheryl Gross, AEMG

Selecting a plant in a nursery is not as easy as one might think. Say you want a Ninebark. Easy-peasey. Not so fast. Ninebark is a common name. You need to know the Latin name as well. But wait, the plant has an additional name… “Golden Dart.” Is that the Ninebark you want? Read HERE to decipher plant names.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review
by Kathryn Frerichs, AEMG

There is much about nature that we do not understand.  Recently scientists have made fascinating discoveries about soil organisms as well as how plants communicate.  The Hidden Life of Trees will open your eyes to the wonders in a forest.  Go ahead, hug a tree!

Photo by Nancy Denison


AFRICAN VIOLETS:  Little gems that will make you smile and bring beautiful color to your home.
by Lillian Mahaney, AEMG

Cut flowers only last so long in a vase.  Why not grow your flowers indoors in winter?  African Violets are easy to grow and reward us with lovely blooms throughout the year.  In winter, the blossoms are especially welcome. Read HERE for handy tips and how to’s.

The Orchid Thief,   A Book review
by Nancy Denison, AEMG

March is STILL winter in northwest northern Michigan.  Nancy Denison has offered a book for us to enjoy before our gardens call to us.  Enjoy the pull of the exotic Orchid


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