Karen Burke, the Michigan State University Extension’s master gardener coordinator for Macomb County, holds an MSU lawn and garden soil test mailer at the office Feb. 19.

Karen Burke, the Michigan State University Extension’s master gardener coordinator for Macomb County, holds an MSU lawn and garden soil test mailer at the office Feb. 19.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Let workshops lead the way for springtime gardening

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published February 28, 2019

 Burke holds a bag in which soil can be sent to MSU for testing.

Burke holds a bag in which soil can be sent to MSU for testing.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Tropical plants decorate Ivy Schwartz’s Shelby Township living room.

Tropical plants decorate Ivy Schwartz’s Shelby Township living room.

Photo provided by Ivy Schwartz

 Succulents and amaryllis bulbs grace a windowsill overlooking her backyard.

Succulents and amaryllis bulbs grace a windowsill overlooking her backyard.

Photo provided by Ivy Schwartz

METRO DETROIT — Shelby Township resident Ivy Schwartz’s calling is in her name.

The longtime resident and gardening aficionado has plants all over her home that she is preparing for the spring, and she said now is the time to cultivate good gardening habits.

Schwartz, the publicist for the Shelby Township Gardeners Club, said a turf war is brewing in her household because her husband doesn’t want any plants inside.

“But I don’t listen to him,” she said, adding that planting indoors in time for spring adds oxygen and humidity to indoor air.

Cannas and begonias decorate the “little corners” of her living room. Assorted houseplants and poinsettias — upcycled after Christmas and donated by a local church — liven her décor.

“There really is not much room, but it makes me happy,” she said. Prepping plants indoors for the spring is about organizing the plants in locations that will make them easiest to water, “because they need constant care.”

“Unless they are the succulents,” she said.

Schwartz said she loves plants for their visual and emotional benefits.

“I’m happiest when I am out in the garden,” she said, lauding gardening for fostering physical activity, patience and a greater understanding of science.

Schwartz said timing is important in preparing for spring — she will soon start work in her small outdoor greenhouse.

She brought many of her plants inside so they could “make it through the winter,” and she will try to plant sunflower seeds on her greenhouse deck soon.

“You have to carefully expose your plants to a little bit of sun daily to soften them so they can handle the sun” outside, she said.

The Shelby Township Gardeners Club will offer free, one-hour community lectures starting at 1 p.m. March 14 at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center, 4101 River Bends Drive in Shelby Township. The topic will be rock gardening, with Tony Reznicek.

People can learn about the current research on the best control practices of invasive species with Bill Parkus at 1 p.m. April 4 at the nature center.

At 1 p.m. May 2 at the nature center, people can learn about edible fairy gardens with Melodee Beals, from Dancing Meadow Farms.

Karen Burke, the Michigan State University Extension’s master gardener coordinator for Macomb County, echoed Schwartz’s thoughts and said that right now is the perfect time of year to start seedlings.

“Because a lot of seedlings are very tiny, some of them will take longer to germinate or … to sprout or come on top of the soil,” she said. A little math is involved, and people should look on the back of the seed package to see when the plant needs to be planted outdoors. “Because a lot of little seedlings, sometimes you need to transplant them to a bigger container before they are ready to go outside, or into another container pod so you can start that now, prepare that now for your garden.”

She said planting your own garden is a “big, big thing.”

The MSU Extension can be there to help gardens thrive, and soil is a key component. The MSU Extension offers soil testing for $25. Extension staff will send out the test kit, and residents find 10 different locations in their yard, taking samples from about 12 inches down.

“And you mix all the soil together in a bucket, and you take a cup of that and mail it in to Michigan State University, and they will tell you the nutritional value of your soil, and then also somewhat the contents of it,” Burke said.

She said that by the time people finish gardening in the fall and enjoy their holiday harvests, they are ready in January to “get going again.”

The gardener of about 60 years said that courses and classes can help people learn to garden.

A 14-week master gardener program at the MSU Extension, which begins Aug. 19 at the Clinton Township location, is a science-based informational course with a 1,000-page manual.

“It is very interesting — most of the people who get into this, they are very, very involved, and they are so glad they learned everything,” Burke said. It’s a “nothing to sneeze at” program.

She said gardening opportunities are endless.

“You can do a pizza garden, for example. You take a round area in your yard, prepare the bed. Remove the sod if you have that, and mend your soil and everything, and put a round barrier if you’d like to, and you can divide it up in pieces,” she said, planting tomato es in one section, garlic in another, and onions too.

“You can put whatever you’d like in there — you could also have a salad garden with the kids.”

The MSU Extension offers seedling diagnostics year-round.

“We can diagnose different types of insects people have,” Burke said.

The MSU Extension has a hotline that receives calls from out of state and even from outside the country.

Ellen Dougherty, the chair of the Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary at Cranbrook House and Gardens in Bloomfield Hills, said the nonprofit organization formed in the 1970s. It will be sprouting back for business May 14-15 for Cranbrook’s greenhouse sale.

Before that, it will have a study day with Advanced Master Gardener Janet Macunovich 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. March 30 at the Cranbrook House, 380 Lone Pine Road.

Macunovich will go over three topics during her presentation: fine-pruning the landscape, continuous color and planting well even when the roots aren’t right.

Dougherty, one of 300 volunteers, said gardening is partly about trial and error, and attending workshops and seminars is about perfecting the craft.

“You have to know your soil conditions and your light conditions and try different things,” she said. “Take advantage of all of the knowledge that is out there.”

To have gardening and insect questions answered, call the MSU Extension’s local hotline (586) 469-5063.

For more information about lawns and gardens, call (888) 678-3464.

Email master.gardener@macombgov.org for more information.