Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

Photos taken April of 2007 when I purchased a 4 shelf, chrome stand and 3 2-lite shop lamps – with chains for hanging -from Lowes.  The stands are sold unassembled and they are offered with either 3 or 4 adjustable shelves (but everything has to be removed from the stand to adjust the shelf height).  I found it much easier to evenly space the 4 shelves from top to bottom, hang the 3 shop lights and then stack books and/or boxes under the seedling trays so the plants are always very close to the lights but not in direct contact. Once the plant trays are in place it is too difficult to get to the chains to raise and lower the lights – much easier to raise and lower the seedling trays!  As much as possible keep plants similar in height together.  Google “growing plants under fluorescent lights” and you will find all the information you will need to be successful.


If you have a south facing window that also works quite well.  I have put seedling trays on TV trays in front of the window but they will grow toward the light and have to be turned several times each day.  If the sun doesn’t shine for several days you will quickly end up with very weak, leggy plants.


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I took these pictures last spring when I was starting my pepper seeds.  Today the snow is blowing outside and the new seed catalogs have been coming in the mail.  It is time to start thinking about what seeds we want to order this year.  I like to use the Jiffy peat pellets for starting pepper seeds.  I grow many different varieties that I don’t want to mix up and I only want a few plants of each variety.

Pellets in Container

Pellets in Container

Here are the peat pellets in containers.  The ones in the back two black trays have had warm water poured in  them and are beginning to swell up.  The white pieces of  plastic are going to be dividers to separate varieties.  I  don’t know if you can see it on here or not, but the black  trays are labeled “A”  “B”  “C”  “D” and I keep notes of what is planted in each tray.  The clear ones on the left are just deli containers.  They do need to have lids to  keep the growing medium moist until the plants come up.

The pellets are now fully swelled up and ready to plant.

The pellets are now fully swelled up and ready to plant.

Pull the netting back some with a toothpick.

Open a small hole in the peat with the toothpick

Open a small hole in the peat with the toothpick

Open a small hole in the peat with the toothpick.  Planting  depth about three times the size of the seed.  Drop a seed  in the hole and use the toothpick to cover the seed, pressing  lightly for good seed to soil contact.

Warm location

Warm location

Trays in a warm spot to germinate.  (My kitchen floor next  to the radiator)  This was March 12.  On March 18, the first of the seeds were up.

Temporary Greenhouse

Temporary Greenhouse

March 18, putting up our temporary greenhouse on the door opening of my husbands heated barn.  Starting March 22, the peppers spend days in the greenhouse in the sun and nights in on the barn floor with the door closed.

Pepper Plants

Pepper Plants

April 4, here the peppers are on the heated floor of the barn,  with the door open from the barn to the greenhouse.  The  largest ones have a second set of leaves and are ready to  be transplanted into single squares.  Although technically you can leave the netting around the pellet when you plant  it in a larger container, I gently pull it off, so you want to do  this before too many little roots have grown through it.

Pepper Plants April 30

Pepper Plants April 30

Pepper plants on April 30th.  Some have been in their single squares for over 3 weeks now.  They are gradually  getting used to outdoor conditions, either with the greenhouse doors open, or as here spending some time  outside on the cart in direct sun. This year, they were  planted in the garden the first week of May.

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Hyacinthus is a small genus of bulbous flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae. Plants are commonly called hyacinths. Wikipedia

Scientific name: HyacinthusRank: GenusHigher classification: LiliaceaeLower classifications: Hyacinthus orientalis

Forcing Hyacinth Bulbs

by Mary Ellen Babich

What can you do with several dozen hyacinth bulbs that are still sitting in a bucket in your unheated garage in late November?  That was my question last November.

Way back in October of 2011, I planted 5 dozen premium pink and purple hyacinth bulbs in soil in 4 large containers, watered them thoroughly, stored them (covered loosely with burlap) in my unheated garage until growth of about 3-4 inches appeared in early spring, then set them out in a shaded area on my patio to watch the pink and purple display and enjoy the heady fragrance.  I was thrilled with the results, so I decided to try to save the bulbs.  After the blooms faded, I placed the containers in a holding area, removed the spent flowers, kept the containers watered, and waited for the foliage to die back naturally.  In late summer I lifted the bulbs from the containers, gently removed the dead foliage and the soil clinging to the bulbs, and put them all in a large bucket in my garage to dry.  The plan was to plant the bulbs directly into my gardens in the fall of 2012.  That didn’t happen.

Switch to Plan B:  force the bulbs to bloom indoors.  Thanksgiving weekend I saw that the bulbs were still firm and surprisingly all had about an inch of very green growth at the tip.  The first weekend in December I placed the bulbs in clear glass containers on top of glass beads and slowly added water.  Single bulbs were put in stem-less wineglasses and groupings were put in large bubble bowls, placing the bulbs so they would not touch the sides of the container or each other.  To be sure they didn’t rot, I kept the water level was just below the base of each bulb.  Then the containers went back into the unheated garage in large cardboard boxes.  After 3 weeks, when the bulbs pushed out more green foliage about 2 inches tall and sent tiny white roots into the water below, I moved the containers inside to a cool window sill out of direct sunlight to monitor water levels and growth.  A week later, I had a dozen Christmas gifts ready to deliver to family and friends, and two large containers for myself.

Overhead View

Overhead View



Side View

Side View

My containers will remain on a cool window sill out of direct sunlight until they are ready to bloom in few weeks.  I won’t know if the conditions have been optimum for producing full or stunted blooms yet, so I’ll send another photo when/if they do bloom.

The process of forcing bulbs in water is fun and very educational.   I felt like an inquisitive science student in grade school again, hoping I could induce a plant to grow ahead of its normal growing cycle.  I’ll be trying this great project with my grandchildren next fall so they can observe the entire growth cycle of a bulb and enjoy the beauty and fragrance of a hyacinth bloom indoors in their homes in late winter.

Follow the link below to Old House Gardens, an Ann Arbor based company that specializes in heirloom bulbs, for a discussion of the history of bulb forcing and step-by-step instructions.


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I had to move some perennials out of our north garden this past spring. We had to put in a new seepage bed, so I lost the east half of the north garden. As long as I had to move them I decided I might as well divide them at the same time. Here are some pictures I took of dividing the day lilies.

Some of the day lilies in their original spot, before starting.

Some of the day lilies in their original spot, before starting.

Digging around a plant with the shovel.  Cut all the way  around the plant and underneath as deep as you can get.

Digging around a plant with the shovel. Cut all the way
around the plant and underneath as deep as you can get.

With the lily lifted out.  Slicing the lily in half with the sod lifter

With the lily lifted out. Slicing the lily in half with the sod lifter

With the half clump flat side down, dividing again

With the half clump flat side down, dividing again

Putting a division into a pot.

Putting a division into a pot.

Potted lilies waiting for a drink.

Potted lilies waiting for a drink.

Lilies with the tools used.

Lilies with the tools used.

Lilies with the tools used.  Some of my favorites, the wheelbarrow, sod lifter and watering can.  Also some pots I got from a neighbor which I have used many times for transplanting and for covering small plants when there is a danger of frost.

The lilies were dug up and divided on March 25th.  Some were divided in half, some into quarters.  These were plants from some of our master gardener plant exchanges and some I moved from my Mom’s garden. several years ago.  They spent a little over two weeks in the pots, sitting on carts.

April 10th.  The lilies re-planted in their new row

April 10th. The lilies re-planted in their new row

 Notice the 100ft measuring tape.  They are planted 2 foot on center.

Notice the 100ft measuring tape. They are planted 2 foot on center.

The lilies did not bloom much this summer, which I am blaming on the stress of moving and a very dry summer.  I am looking forward to them having a more colorful year.

Karen Hehl

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In the past two weeks I’ve had several people in Irish Hills, Clinton Township and Monroe come up to me and ask me what’s happening to their Japanese Maple.  Even my husband made a remark about it because he thought ours was dying.  Relax, it’s not a serious problem.  It’s frost damage. About two weeks ago we had that 20+ degree night and frost the next morning.  This is the result.  If your tree is looking like  the photo below it got hit with the frost.  To improve its appearance you can take your shears or pruner and cut back the damage leaves.  It may leave a tiny bare area but that will look better than those frost bitten foliage.  No need to prune it back to the hardwood, just trim off the stem and dead foliage.  It’s time-consuming, but it will look so much better.  I wanted to post this for other public readers who follow our Blog.

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As nobody wanted to “pin the tail on the peony” in last week’s Plant Quiz, I thought we would make it a little easier.  This time the quiz will be to identify all the plants in Linda’s vertical garden exhibit.  This should be a no-brainer, as we are all busy planting most of the stuff featured in the photo…right?

Please enter your answers as a comment.  Try to give the botanical as well as the common name.  To achieve advanced Master Gardener status, you may dazzle us all with the variety and how you use these plants in your garden. Linda and Jennie will be the deciding authorities in case of a dispute.

I snapped this photo at the Master Gardener booth at last Sunday’s annual plant sale at the Expo Center.  Linda was showcasing the association by offering her popular vertical gardening series, ably assisted by Diane.

Vertical Garden on Cedar Backdrop

How many of you have tried planting a vertical garden?  I think Linda would like some feedback.  Maybe you have some photos of your creation you would like to share?

The winner can claim the usual bragging rights!


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This is the second part of what turned out to being a magazine length article on the recent 2 1/2 hour pruning session MSUE Fruit  Tree Specialist, Bob Tritten gave at the Stanger farm.

Getting a bird’s eye view

Pruning often strikes terror in the heart of the average backyard orchardist. The most common fear is damaging or worse still, killing the tree by cutting off too much! Pruning is an art, but it can be learned by watching a pro in action to see how far you can go and why certain things are done.  Then it is a matter of practice and common sense. The results are well worth the effort in more manageable and productive fruit trees.

Decision time – what to keep.

The most often asked question at the Conservation District plant and tree sale, is “how do I prune up my new fruit tree!”  I hope the following points will help, as they are a brief summary of what Bob was asked during his presentation.

If you still want more information, there is an excellent chapter in the Master Gardener handbook on fruit tree pruning – or go online and do a search of MSUE or any extension site for further research.

Why  prune:    Fruit trees unlike ornamentals, are pruned to make them more manageable, promote healthy growing conditions for tree and fruit, and more productive.  While some pears and apples can be seen in an espaliered form as a landscape accent, this is not the desired method of pruning for a backyard orchard.  Fruit trees need air and light for optimum fruit development and a reduction of fungal diseases associated with poor air movement.

When to Prune:   This was the most asked question. Each tree should be pruned annually.   Bob recommends March and beginning April as being the optimum timeframe for pome fruit, (apples and pears) – while late April to early May as being acceptable for stone fruits (peaches and apricots).  The late winter or early spring cold weather offers ideal conditions for this kind of work. Most commercial orchards start this process in late December or early January, due to the large volume of trees needing attention.  It is best not to prune during active budding.

Heart shaped young peach

What to Prune:   Bob stressed the need for developing a strong structural skeleton (scaffold) for the tree to be the most productive.  He recommends a modified central leader form for all pome fruits and an open center,  heart shaped structure for stone fruits.  After making the choice of the branches to keep to establish the scaffold, the annual pruning shifts to being a maintenance chore.  Dead wood, watersprouts, suckers, inward growing and crossing branches all should be removed.

Watersprouts can be removed up to mid summer.  This should be done religiously, as they take up sugars that the tree could otherwise put into fruit production.

Pruning Watersprouts


Bob demonstrated an alternate method of watersprout removal, by leaving some as stubs to provide some shading leafing.  These would then be removed the following year.

He cautioned against clipping the ends of the branches when shaping the tree, as this just leads to excessive sprouting.

Keeping stubs for shade

What about Frost Damage:   With recent low temperature hovering around 33 deg, this is not a problem for the buds.  But when this session was conducted a little over a month ago, it was.  Two successive nights of 26 to 29 deg frost had caused considerable damage to the buds.  The lowest temperature buds can tolerate for a short period is 28 deg without irreversible damage.  When the bud dies, there is no fruit!  Using a small pocket knife, he carefully pared the surface of a couple of random buds to reveal a thin brown layer – the sign of frost damage and a dead bud.

What about Fruiting:   Surprisingly dwarf stock trees begin to fruit within three (3) years.  Bob advised removing this fruit to allow the tree time to establish its structure.  Peaches are relatively short lived trees – about ten (10) years is the average productive life, as they are susceptible to a variety of killing cankers.

Peach fruiting branches

Care should therefore be given to preserving the following year’s fruiting branches when pruning.  The same applies to pome fruit – so just do not hack away as if you were pruning an ornamental!  Most fruit trees will self-thin if conditions are not ideal for fruit development.  Fruit clusters should be examined and thinned according to branch strength.  It is important there be leaf clusters nearby for maximum sugar uptake.

What about Renovation:   A frequent topic of concern to the backyard orchardist who has inherited an overgrown, neglected fruit tree and wants to return it to productivity.  Bob’s approach is to take a long view of the tree, particularly one not grown on dwarf or semi-dwarf stock – and see if the scaffold branches can be identified.  An old tree grown on regular stock will require ladder work to harvest and prune.  So a decision has to be made if the tree is to be saved outside of aesthetic or sentimental landscape appeal.

Identifying scaffold branches

If it is to be renovated, start by removing the usual dead wood, watersprouts, ingrowing and crossing branches – but nothing major.  This work is just to expose the bones of the tree, and should not be more than 20% by volume. The remaining renovation pruning should be over a three (3) year period and with no more than 30% removed annually.  The object of all this work is to improve the scaffold branches of the tree.  Care should be taken to ensure that the tree has adequate leafing branches to provide the sugars for regrowth purposes.  You should not expect or encourage any fruit production during the initial renovation process.   After the tree has been stabilized, fruiting should resume.

Watersprouts can be trained to fill in bare spouts by bending them into place with ropes secured by stakes.  To reduce the height of a mature neglected tree, Bob recommended making sure that there are sufficient well placed lower branches to form a scaffold.  Often viewing the tree from a ladder will add a better dimensional picture of what is to remain and what has to go.  This is the reason why well placed watersprouts may be essential to restoring the shape of the tree.

What about Branch Kerfing:   Stressing the need to have a scaffold branch at the correct angle to the trunk, Bob demonstrated this unusual technique on a 2″ dia limb that bending with a rope and stakes would be impossible.  He made five (5) closely spaced saw kerfs half way through the underneath side of the branch.  With some of the tension removed within the wood, he was able to bend and pull down the branch without breaking.  The bent branch was then secured with a rope and stake.  The wounds heal in about a season and do not require any form of dressing.

Kerf cuts on branch

Rule to remember:   Bob’s mantra is you want to be able to throw a football through a well pruned fruit tree!  Or have a good sized bird fly through the center.  Open and airy are the two words he stressed throughout his presentation!

Jennie will do a follow up article with more  specifics on the pruning and care of the common fruit trees we find in our backyard orchards.

Once again we should thank the Conservation District for sponsoring events like this for the education of the general public.  This community involvement is all the more important, as we no longer have an extension walk in diagnostic clinic. Our thanks also go to Jennie Stanger for teaching these annual classes and for hosting this special guest.


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Would I miss a pruning session with Bob Tritten?  Not likely!  I was all prepared to pay $25 to attend  his last appearance at the Tollgate Farm orchard – so it was a treat not to have to make the drive and only pay $5 thanks to the generosity of our local Conservation District in bringing him to Jennie’s farm.

Getting set up

Braving the early morning chill and temperatures in the mid-thirties, I joined an eager crowd of about thirty five, including nine Master Gardeners, watching this master arborist  working magic with his clippers.  The only casualty was the MG camera whose batteries didn’t like the frosty weather – but this time I brought spares.  Sue’s camcorder also suffered the same fate.

Every time I visit Jennie, I always make a mental note of how good her fruit trees look!

The perfect peach


We were all a little dismayed when after a few minutes of Bob’s careful pruning, about 30% of what appeared to the backyard novice as a perfect peach tree – was lying on the ground!  And Bob made such drastic surgery all appear necessary and quite appropriate with his easy to follow commentary.

The perfect peach”after”

I last saw Bob in action about 13 years ago, climbing trees with a chainsaw and his other tools hanging from a belt – renovating an ancient orchard in Monroe. For those who don’t know, Bob is the Genesee County Extension Fruit Tree Specialist among other things.  This means that he trains commercial orchard owners and workers how to prune fruit trees for maximum health and productivity.  You can see his handiwork at Applewood Orchard just over the county line.

The lesson began with a brief explanation of the tools of the trade – from an array of familiar Felco and Corona hand clippers, diamond sharpening stones, venerable wooden handled hand loppers, from the high end to the cheapies you lend your neighbor, pole pruners, wicked looking hand saws, a trusty gas chainsaw – to artful branch spreaders, ropes and a few good books on backyard fruit growing.

The tools of the trade

He is still recommending one of my favorites, Stella Otto’s” The Backyard Orchardist”.  The ergonomic Felco #8 clippers and the 18″ Turbo pruning saw are on my short list as must haves.  A. M Leonard has them in their catalog along with everything you could ever need for any gardening or growing project.  www.aml.com

He asked if we knew the differences between pome fruit – apples, pears, etc all having small seeds – and stone fruit such as peaches, plums, apricots, etc.  For those of you who have forgotten, please dig out your green book and look under Fruit Trees!  Jennie will cover these in a later follow-up article.  He stressed  the need to be familiar with these two types of fruit trees as each requires special pruning, which he would address when we went through the orchard.

For demonstration purposes, he showed how to break in a new tree with three rapid cuts on a poor unsuspecting apple whip.  His technique was simple and easy to follow.

Sizing the young tree

In the case of the apple, he first sized the tree to hip height before making the radical cuts, which he said was essential  for good future branching.  He showed the three (3)  alternating buds at differing heights he wanted to keep which would form the future scaffolding branches of the growing tree.  He also demonstrated how to maintain and encourage the Xmas tree shape that is desirable in pome trees.

Apple whip showing a three branch scaffold

Next were the peach and apricot which require a more open, heart shaped structure.

Desired open heart shape for a peach

He achieved this desirable shape by removing the heart  and just leaving three (3) opposing lateral branches at about a 70% angle to the trunk to form the scaffold.  Bob likes to be able to throw a football through the center of the tree!

Shaping a young peach tree

Before moving out into the field, he showed how to train or renovate a slightly older tree – by using short wood spacers, clothes pins, weights or even a rope tethered to a stake  –  as a means of improving the angle of the  fruit bearing branch to the trunk.  These aids remain in place or until the tree attains the desires shape.

Branch spacers and spreaders

As we followed him into the orchard, he gave a fast analysis of the tree ahead, and what he would do to improve things.  In spite of an artificial shoulder and being well into his sixties, Bob is still remarkably agile in the air on his sturdy three legged orchard ladder.

Shaping the tree from above

In no time he was lopping out watersprouts and ingrowing or crossing branches, as he brought the shape of the tree into a better form for maximum fruit production.

Blossoms do become fruit!

He stressed that you almost have to plan two (2) years in advance to get a structure that will yield blossoms that develop into fruit the following year.

I plan to have another article on some more of the specifics he covered in his lengthy presentation. Jennie will also post a more in depth one on the whys and wherefores of pruning.

Sue is currently editing down about 2 1/2 hours of video tape into shorter YouTube videos, that she will post as instructional aids that will be available for download by our blog readers.

Our thanks go to the Monroe County Conservation District and staffers, Catherine Acerboni and Bob Potter, for arranging the session – and to fellow Master Gardener and former Monroe County Horticulturalist, Jennie Stanger for graciously opening her farm for the event, and letting her orchard become the subject of the lesson.


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Just a brief reminder to everyone that the third season of this popular downtown Dundee attraction is about to begin.  For those who aren’t familiar with Dundee, the open air market is located at 223 Tecumseh St (M 50) in the parking lot next to Diane’s Freeze.

The market will open for the summer season on May 19 and every Saturday thereafter at 8.00am – 1.00pm, and Wednesdays from 4.00pm – 7.00pm through fall.  About 25 vendors are in attendance featuring locally grown vegetables, cut flowers, herbs, bedding plants, patio pots and planters, crafts, honey, homemade jams and jellies, baked goods, artisan breads, and even locally produced meats.  As an added draw, there is generally some form of live entertainment during the season to add to the festive fare.

Sean McClellan, the Market’s coordinator, has requested that our Master Gardener Association set up an information booth to answer general lawn and garden questions from the public.  Three of our members have already done this in prior years, and he was wondering if the association would be willing to have a season long presence at the market.   Jennie Stanger, master composter John Eichholtz and Georgeann Brown have all left  their mark with favorable results.  In fact Georgeann often teamed up with fellow MGs, the Chapmans—demonstrating different ways to present their lamb with herbs from her potager garden.

This would be an excellent opportunity for the association to establish a working relationship with a popular Farmers Market and make our presence known to the public by sharing our gardening expertise.  I am suggesting the booth be staffed by 2-3 members, with possibly a short demonstration of a simple garden topic.  Sean will provide the table and I believe the MGA has signage and other props at the extension office.

Hopefully this idea will be met with approval after discussion at the next meeting, and a committee set up to coordinate the activity.  Sean and his wife Tanya, publish the Independent newspaper—I am sure the MGA will get a lot of free publicity out of this collaboration.

Sean’s contact info is:  (734)  529-7275;  email:  sean@dundee.net  and the website for the Farmers Market, which has some excellent photos of the market activities is:  www.dundeefarmersmarket.com

For those who still want to record their hours, I am sure this will be counted as approved educational time.


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