June 01, 2013

Garden lessons learned: spring 2013

What have I learned this season? I honestly don't know where to start. I've learned and relearned so many facts during the past few weeks, that one post can't cover it. My training sessions through the Wis. Master Naturalist volunteer program at the Wehr Nature Center will wrap up in mid-June. Here's the ring binder:


You can't really see it, but it's quite thick. Did I read every word? Pretty close. Will I remember everything? Extremely doubtful.

Not all the material applies directly to this blog or to gardening. But a lot does.

The focus is on reducing the footprint. As John Muir said, and the nature center proclaims on its signage, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."


That philosophy isn't really new to me, but the training has given me a deeper appreciation for, and knowledge of, my state's natural resources. Here are just a few things I've learned through the experience:

  • If you have an opportunity to take a class that interests you, go for it! The master naturalist training has been an incredibly rewarding experience. If your state offers master gardener and/or master naturalist training--and you have the inclination and can make the time for it--don't hesitate.
  • You're never too old to "go to school." One of the best parts of the training is all the new friends I've made--from young folks in their 20s to retirees; men and women; and people with all kinds of backgrounds and areas of expertise.
  • The transition from early spring to late spring is even more dramatic when you only visit a place once a week. Each drive over to my class near Milwaukee was different--and Southern Wisconsin sprang to life before my eyes from April to June.


On a more practical level, here are a few plant-specific lessons I've learned--some from class, and others in my own garden:

  • Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is an exotic invasive shrub in the Midwest. Not only does it crowd out light to native understory plants in a forest, it also threatens wildlife. Recent research reveals that Buckthorn releases a chemical compound into amphibian breeding grounds that disrupts their embryo development and hatching. Click here for more information regarding the research.
  • Fens and Sedge meadows are among the rarest plant communities in North America. Only a select group of plants can tolerate their unique wetland conditions. They have a disproportionate number of rare, threatened, and endangered plant species, compared with other plant communities in the Great Lakes Region.
  • Various species of insect-eating warblers occupy different parts of the same tree. They minimize competition by using different parts of trees to find food. Bay-breasted warblers tend to hang out in the tree canopy, for example, while myrtle warblers occupy the lower branches. Other warblers prefer other sections of the same tree.
  • If you're planting Clematis in a garden with large deciduous trees, do it as early as possible during the growing season. This will give its growth a head start before the trees leaf out. Also, if rabbits are a problem in your garden, surround the Clematis with as many barriers as possible. Place aluminum foil at the base to help repel the rabbits. It might not look nice, but it will give the plants a chance to grow. Once established, you can remove the foil.
  • Hold off planting Hyacinth Bean seeds if you're having a cold, wet spring. I planted some a couple of weeks ago, and while they've sprouted, they haven't shown much growth. Recently, I've read on a few blogs that they don't like cold, wet soil. They actually rot if the soil isn't warm and dry enough.

I could go on, but now it's your turn. What gardening and nature lessons have you learned this season? If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, how is your harvest?

Please join in the Lessons Learned meme by sharing a new or a previous post you've written about what you've learned this season. Instead of using a Linky this time, feel free to add the link to your comment on this post.

Please also join Donna at Gardens Eye View for the Seasonal Celebrations meme. Posts that cover both memes offer a chance to reflect on the past season and look ahead to the next at the same time. Both memes will be active until the solstice, when we'll post the wrap-ups. Happy Summer!

55 comments:

  1. Your class based on the leaving of footprints reminds me of an old farm I pass on my way to town, Beth. The buildings are long gone, but each season I marvel at the plantings around the foundation of the house and wonder of the woman who planted them long ago. She did an excellent job of providing natures beauty all year round . . . feast for both humans and critters.

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    1. I've been thinking about the footprint thing all morning. I think there's a good balance between human intervention and leaving nature to take its course. In fact, that discussion has come up in class a couple of times. We have to feed people, and healthy flower gardens give us great joy. I suppose the main thing is to think about each action we take, and to avoid harming the natural world as much as possible. That old farm is a good example.

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  2. I guess it is what I have noticed more than learned, (not been anything formal about it.).

    -The Humminbirds are happier within the flowers, rather than feeding from the feeders this spring.
    -No doubt because the bloom of Rhododendron, Azalea, Iris, Bleeding Heart has been full and vibrant.
    -Oak trees in our surrounding, Western Shoreline Michigan, have some trees leafed out, others . . . large branches appear immature, almost frost bit.
    -Ajuga ground covers are more beautiful than usual.
    -Pollen has been heavy for three weeks or more.
    -Mosquitos have been heaviest ever.
    -I am saying this next "noticed" very quietly because we are not extending a welcome sign. One chippie so far, last year more than we could count. We live trapped them and transported them to a wooded area far from us. Our place of bliss has a large natural wooded area which provides shelters for little critters and more. We decided some of the chippies could multiply elsewhere.
    -Trillium hasn't bloomed this year. Unusual . . .

    The class sounds rewarding . . .Being Wisconsin born I am always happy to hear from you . . .

    Happy Days of flowers, springtime and summer . . .



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    1. Happy to hear from you, too, Lynne! Interesting observations you've included here! I've noticed some issues with my Oak trees, too, and I'm wondering if it's because of last year's drought. Pollen has been thick over here, too. Actually, I've noticed the same things you have except the Trilliums. Mine were pretty plentiful, but I don't have deer in my garden, do you? Also, I have some similar issues with the chippies, but the rabbits do more damage in my garden.

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  3. Lessons I've learned this last season is don't waste time and effort on plants that just don't want to grow in my garden. No matter how much you want them to grow, if they aren't suitable they will never thrive!
    Your course sounds extremely worthwhile and rewarding. I'd love to do some additional learning but my working hours are not condusive to taking courses. One day though!!

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    1. I know what you mean. For some plants, I don't give up--I just try them a different way or in a different place. But others--especially non-native plants--that just don't work are best replaced with a more suitable plant. I'm still struggling with that, I must admit. The classes are definitely demanding, but well worth the time when you are able to do it. :)

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  4. I think it is great that you did the naturalist program! I have that on my wish list but I have to complete my Native Plant certification first. I learned several new things from you plant lessons...thanks for sharing what you learned!

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    1. Hi Karin: Native plant certification sounds like great training, too! I hope to learn more about it on your blog!

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    2. It has been really educational! It is offered through our State Botanical Garden. It is pretty intensive but well worth it for anyone really serious about natives. By the way, I got my post up...http://gardeningsoul.blogspot.com/2013/06/lessons-learned-spring-2013.html

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    3. I'll have to check into something like that here in my area. Thanks for linking in, Karin!

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  5. I took the Master Naturalist classes last summer/fall but chose not to take the test and become certified as a naturalist. Becoming certified would put me in a position to have to accept or decline offers to volunteer, which isn't something I have a lot of time for. But the info was valuable and I learned a lot. The effect of buckthorn on frogs is pretty weird. Is there an eradication plan for it?

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    1. Yes, that is true--I will have to complete 40 hours of training in the coming year to remain certified. I don't think it will be a problem, though. The classes equaled about 40 hours, and that was within 2 1/2 months. Regarding the Buckthorn, I don't know of national or regional eradication efforts, but some local groups are removing it. I suppose some of our master naturalist volunteers will be helping with that. It's relatively recent research, so I'm sure we'll be hearing more about it.

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  6. That sounds like a great class to take, there are various MG classes here, but I have not heard of the Naturalist classes. Something to look into.

    Very interesting lessons to learn here.

    Jen

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    1. Thanks, Jen. I might take the MG classes some day, too. That was what I had planned to do, but then this opportunity came up and it seemed like the right one for me. If you do take either route, I'm sure you'll find it very rewarding!

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  7. I so wish we had these classes as it is right up my alley with the native garden I am establishing. I love those shots of the natives...I agree Beth spring is dramatic...weather-wise here especially this year. We seem to be on a track for severe storms that come out fo the heartland...more happening now. And we seem to get a half inch to an inch of rain per storm...I'll be linking in on the 10th. Still pondering my lessons.

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    1. Yes, Donna, I'm sure you would enjoy it. I hope the storms weren't too bad, but you received adequate rain. I've been noticing weather around the country ... well, for years now with this blog, but especially lately with all the terrible storms!

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    2. Forgot to leave my link:

      http://gardenseyeview.com/2013/06/10/those-wonderful-june-blooms/

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  8. This sounds like a wonderful program and I'd like to take it here if it's offered. This season I've learned (again) that not all the baby birds born in my garden will survive. It's very sad for me to see them grow and then something happens to them...but I can't change it. I've also learned not to be so quick to pull out something that I think is a weed because I don't recognize it. There were four things in my garden that I didn't recognize, but I let them grow. They turned out to be...Milkweed, Euphorbia, Verbascum and one is still a mystery but was very pretty. I am very happy I left them in the garden!

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    1. Yes, it has been so rewarding, Christy! I know it's offered in many states, so I hope you're able to do it. I know...so sad about the little birds and baby critters that don't survive. :( That's tough for me, too. But how wonderful that you have surprise excellent plants!

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  9. Thank you for sharing what you learned. There's ALWAYS something to learn in the garden. That's what makes it fun :)

    I learned that plants I *thought* were dead are sometimes Not Quite Dead Yet (as Monty Python might say).

    The Lazarus plants this year included Hexastylis arifolia (Heartleaf, native ornamental ginger), Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s Root) and Pineapple Sage (supposedly only hardy to zone 8, but it came back from the roots and I think has self-seeded too!)

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    1. Yes--I totally agree, Aaron! Gardens are full of lifelong lessons! Ha, you had me chuckling with the MP reference--I'm a huge fan, and remember that scene very clearly. I also remember the creative use of Coconuts. Hehe. Glad you have some survivors that you didn't expect. That is so rewarding!

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  10. Impressive folder! That sounds like a great course.

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    1. It has been an excellent course--just two more classes and a field trip, and I'm already sad it's about to end. It really doesn't seem like class to me--more like people with similar interests learning and relearning information that they find fascinating. :)

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  11. I definitely agree about going back to school. My classes at the botanic garden have sometimes made my schedule crazier, but they have really made me a better gardener and have enriched my overall experience. Also, good to know that wild ginger deters garlic mustard!

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    1. I know--I've enjoyed classes at the botanical center, too. They really do an excellent job! It doesn't seem like a hardship to me, because they're classes on topics I'm passionate about. Yes, the Wild Ginger news is good.

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  12. I was just thinking about this meme the other day, as I reflected on something new I had learned in my garden...if only I could remember what it was:) When I remember what it was, I'll join in with a blog post.

    I'm sure you have learned so much in your Master Naturalist course, and I agree about the new friends. Taking the Master Gardener program a few years ago was the best thing I've done since retiring. You're never too old to learn something new! For one thing, I didn't know that hyacinth beans don't like it cold and wet--drat! I hope I saved a few seeds this spring, because the ones I already planted probably aren't going to make it with all the rain we've had.

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    1. I know what you mean--I think I need to start keeping notes about all the lessons so I can remember them. ;-) I'm going to have to get some more Hyacinth Bean seeds (if I can find them). They were such a wonderful addition to the garden last year! Yes, the MN course is great, and I'm sure the MG course is wonderful, too!

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  13. I hope I'm still learning until the day I die. It seems like the more you learn, the more there is to know. I'm glad you had such a positive experience. It sounds like a great class & the philosophy of everything being tied together makes sense to me too.

    Regarding your comment on foxgloves ~ they are something I've struggled with too until I learned to mulch them properly in the fall. Now I am successful getting them to return. I think the wind dried them out too much before??? Anyway, I usually cut the first few bloom stalks when they are completely bloomed out but leave all the smaller ones that follow. That way they seed around the garden & I'm sure to have more. Does that make sense?

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    1. The more you learn, the more there is to know--absolutely! Thanks for the advice with the Foxgloves. I had read similar things elsewhere, so that's what I'll do! They are such romantic blooms, and I'm so happy the plant is finally thriving in my garden. I know it's a biennial, so I might have to plant another one next year. After that, hopefully I'll have plants reseeding every year.

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  14. I agree, never to old to learn. I hope to be learning until the day I die. Too much knowledge and too little time. We have buckthorn here as a real problem. The park keeps pulling it out to no avail. It seeds like crazy.

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    1. Me, too, Donna! Buckthorn is a huge issue in our little Oak forest, too. It's going to be a major effort to eradicate it. I might have to hire someone for this task. :(

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  15. hi beth, love that quote by JM. Thanks for sharing some of your learnings with us. It's time I went back to school I think. Learning by looking and via the internet is good, but nothing beats a bit of structure, shared with like minded people.

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    1. It has been a great experience. I think we bloggers learn a lot from each other, too. And an online course now and then would be great. I guess the main thing is to keep the mind active and challenged. :)

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  16. One thing that I have known but am seeing confirmed over and over again in my garden is that native species just do better. I don't have to coddle them. Non natives demand more attention, so in a large space like mine where low maintenance is important, I am trying to concentrate more on natives. An example is Virginia Sweetspire, a native shrub I planted and have fairly neglected since. It bloomed the first year and is thriving.

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    1. That's mostly been the case for me, too. Last summer was somewhat different, in that we had a severe drought so every "normal" thing was thrown out the window. Some natives expired, some non-natives (drought-tolerant) thrived, many non-natives expired, and most plants simply struggled. It's fascinating to see so many plants come back to a lush state of health this spring with plentiful rain. It's very encouraging! With all that said, I am trying to go with more native plants because they aren't as harmful to threatened and endangered plants and animals.

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  17. Sounds as if you have had a great time with your course, and met some great people too. Interesting that wetlands are some of the most endangered habitats in the US too. I am learning about the scorching effects of salt-laden winds on new plants, and that the same ground so favoured by forget-me-nots is also easily colonised by lots of invasive weeds including bindweed!

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    1. Yes, it's a great program. One of these days, maybe I'll do the master gardener courses, too. Wetlands are the most endangered in the British Isles, too? I guess that makes sense. It would be sad to lose the beauty of Forget-Me-Nots!

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  18. I really would have liked to go on a course and learned more about gardening, everything I know I have learned from trial and error and from reading on the Internet and magazines/books. I also miss being able to ask questions face to face to people, as I don’t have any neighbours that do gardening, but going out of the house to do things like that is no longer an option for me. I have however thought about doing some online course, I am sure there must be some, even though I haven’t got around to look into it yet :-)

    I wonder if the course you have done is the same Master Gardeners as here in UK? http://mastergardeners.org.uk/about/
    I had heard about it, there is a local group not far from here but they are mainly into vegetable growing I think.

    As for lessons learned, I learn something new in the garden just about every day! The last year we had the wettest year on record and I have therefore read a lot about fertilizers and for the first time given all my plants slow release fertilizers, different types, but all have got a dose, never done that before. It is being recommended here as all the rain has washed out a lot of the nutrients and even though many plants usually might not need any help, this year they do here in Britain because of the extreme weather we had. So I had to learn about different types of fertilizers in the hope that my garden will produce just as many flowers as usual – still really waiting for that, due to our (still) extreme weather, this time the cold spring! Fingers crossed for a completely normal summer :-)

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    1. Actually, I'm glad I've been able to do it, Helene, but I think online courses are excellent! You can still interact with people, but you don't have to travel and commit as much time. (I was an online course instructional designer in a previous job, and still do a few course scripts from time to time.) So, I say, go for it! I believe our master gardener courses are very similar to the UK ones. And the master naturalist courses are patterned after the MG program--with a broader emphasis on ecology, geography, wildlife, and other natural resources in addition to plants. Oh, and as I mentioned to Janet, the garden blogger community has been just as rewarding to me as the MN courses. It is such an incredible privilege to compare notes and interact with great people like you!

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  19. i believe in learning as a constant process, a life long process, so going back to school should be a routine avery now and then, and is a fantastic opportunity to re-discover learning habits. I am planning to do something like this next fall, and I am thrilled about it, so very good for you that you have been on training sessions, good luck with the end of them!

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    1. I highly recommend it, Lula. Now I'm ready for another class. But I guess I'd better let this one sink in first, and start planning my volunteer hours so I can stay certified. ;-)

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  20. I guess Wis is for Wisconsin how you spell it? I am all for these volunteer posts - I have just become a Master Composter of the volantary type.

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    1. Yes, that is correct. I should have spelled it out. ;-) Some of my fellow classmates are master composters and master gardeners, too. Congratulations on your certification!

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  21. The Master Naturalist course sounds fantastic---a lot better than the Master Gardener program which seems to focus an inordinate amount of time on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

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    1. I was wondering about that. I suppose it depends on the state and the person leading the classes to some extent. But I wouldn't appreciate an overemphasis on pesticides (since I don't use them) or fertilizers (I use compost, mulch, and sea kelp, and recently started using Epsom salts).

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  22. I think our Master Naturalist program is my favorite class series I've ever taken (although I'm in a permaculture class right now I may end up liking as much). I like the MN program much more than the Master Gardener one. It's interesting you have the fens & sedges habitat there -- we learned about it in our MN program, too!

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    1. Good to hear! I'm debating about taking the MG classes next, or maybe a native plants course. Yes, I learned a lot about fens and Sedge meadows and Oak openings, etc., during the class. The learning continues ...

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  23. I'm so glad you had such a positive experience in your class! I have debated for the past three years about taking the MG classes, and think I'm actually going to do it this year. The Naturalist program sounds so interesting. Loved the Muir quote.
    I'm linking in with my lesson learned:
    http://dreamingofroses.blogspot.com/2013/06/judge-and-jury.html

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    1. I enjoyed your post, Holley, and it really resonated with me. Thanks for joining in the meme! Keep me posted on your experience with the MG program. That will probably be my next adventure. ;-)

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  24. Hi Beth. Here is a tardy lesson learned.
    gardeninacity.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/should-have-known-better

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    1. It's not tardy! Great post! We wrap up on June 21, so this is in plenty of time. Thanks for joining in, Jason!

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  25. Your lessons learned are wonderful tips for many of us. I did not know that tidbit about warblers...so interesting. I often encounter Master Naturalists as a Master Gardener (some have mastered both), and it sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing some of what you are learning. Love this meme...and thank you for hosting. My submission:
    http://www.thesagebutterfly.blogspot.com/2013/06/spring-into-summer.html

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    1. Your post is incredible, Michelle! I obviously can learn a lot from your example. The master naturalist courses are completed, and now I'm contemplating my next goal. I'm thinking about master gardener, but probably next fall or spring. Thanks for joining in the meme!

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  26. Joining in at the last moment, as always, my post will be up very early tomorrow (Friday) morning! http://www.prairierosesgarden.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Rose! (A severe thunderstorm delayed my response!)

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