Upside: he won’t have to mow for a while…

This is old news by now  – I’m surprised Jeff hasn’t pounced!!

Minnesota man accidentally kills entire lawn with herbicide

Sadly, the dead lawn ruined the plans for a charitable fund-raiser, also.

Lots of eye-rolling and sassy comments out there (from "duh" to "d’oh!") berating the guy
for not reading the label. Actually, my first reaction, too (RTFM, as
my Lt. Col. father would say.)

But it’s not so easy sometimes. I was trying to make out the fine print on the
silly peel-off, accordion-fold label on some Spinosad the other day and
it was impossible.  Finally gave up and looked up the application info on the interwebs. Not sure if that was the issue, but tiny, tiny print is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I’m comfy laying a bit of blame there.  

There is, however, readable print on the front label – the words "non-selective" and "glyphosate" and "grasses"  are large enough for even a blind squirrel like me to read. And I don’t know what on earth to think about the garden center employees who "helped" the poor guy.

(Another option: don’t get so worked up over weeds, says she with the
turf-like substance consisting entirely of anything but grass. But hey,
it’s green.)

For “entertainment value” only

So reads the sticky note from my retired entomologist colleague.  It’s affixed to the latest flyer promising the "greenest garden in town" using the "best all-time tips, tricks and tonics."

The entire brochure is ludicrous, and picking it apart is like shooting fish in a barrel. But sometimes it’s fun going for the low-hanging fruit. Here are some of the more memorable claims:

Epsom salts – grow sweeter melons, energize your roses, supercharge your grass seed, grow giant geraniums, bust tomato blight, boost your bulbs, force stubborn shrubs to flower, etc. etc. How does plain old magnesium sulfate do all of these miraculous things? The short answer – it doesn’t. There’s not one speck of science behind any of this nonsense. (On a more amusing note, the garden guru’s chemistry is a little shaky.  He claims Epsom salts will "give bulbs a dose of much-needed nitrogen." Either that or he’s figured out alchemistic transmutation.)

Barbeque forks – "perfect for spot aeration, harvesting root crops, and mole control." Eeew.

Latex paint – "seal up fresh cuts on trees, shrubs and roses." A colorful way to inhibit a plant’s natural ability to seal wounds.

"Stress reliever tonic" for lawns that contains shampoo, tea, mouthwash, and "chewing tobacco juice." Not only is this a toxic mess, but how is one expected to produce the "chewing tobacco juice?"

Salt – it’s not just for slugs anymore!  You can use it on weeds, "bad" worms, poison ivy, and ants.  Somehow the "good" plants and insects are immune to the effects? 

According to the back of the brochure, our guru has "taught" over 32.7 million people how to misuse common household products in their garden.  Incredible.

Blood in the water…

In prepping grad students for their first big talk at a scientific meeting I always tell them everything will be fine – until the first data slide hits the screen.  The audience will nod knowingly during the introductory comments and even during the materials and methods, but data charts and tables are to scientists what chum is to hungry sharks.  So clearly I should have known better than to post figures without error bars in last week’s post.  In my defense, SigmaPlot, my program of choice for scientific graphing, currently resides on my old laptop which is running slower than molasses, so I did the ‘quick and dirty’ and used PowerPoint on my desktop.  Yes, my mother did raise me better than the present a measure of central tendency without an indication of dispersion.

So, duly chastised and humbled, I present the latest (July 12) volumetric soil moisture values from the SoMeDedTREEs.  N=8 for all means *=means are different at p=0.05.  The table below is more complete than last week’s post, which only presented the means from measurements just outside the container root ball.

Mean (std err) volumetric soil moisture of planetrees at MSU Hort farm, with and without 3” of ground red pine mulch

Inside container ball


std. err.

15 cm







45 cm







Outside ball

15 cm







45 cm







Demonstrating Diversity

As I noted a few posts back, this summer marks the 10th anniversary of the discovery of emerald ash borer (EAB) in southeast Michigan.  While a lot of progress has been made on many fronts in the battle against EAB, the outlook for ash trees in North America still looks bleak for the foreseeable future.  Ash trees, both green and white ash, were popular choices as street and landscape trees throughout the Midwest and elsewhere.  In Michigan ashes comprised up to 30% of the overall tree cover in some communities.  Like chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease, EAB provides a cautionary tale of the destructive potential of invasive pests.  As global trade continues to increase (and the potential for exotic pest movement along with it), the most practical defense in the near term is to spread the risk and increase species diversity.  In spring 2003 Bob Schutzki and I installed an ash alternative species demonstration at the MSU Tollgate Extension Center in Novi, MI, near the epicenter of the EAB infestation.  As we near the completion of the 10th growing season of the planting we can take stock of some of the better selections.

Dana (R) and Aniko assess the lindens

Hophornbeam Ostrya virginiana

Hardy rubber tree Eucomia ulmoides

Northern pine oak Quercus ellipsoidalis (R) can maintain good leaf color even when soil pH turns Q. palustris (L) chlorotic.

American Sentry linden Tilia americana ‘McKSentry’

Baumannii horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum ‘Baumannii’

State street maple Acer miyabei ‘Morton’

Thanks to our partners!

I’m Burnin, I’m Burnin, I’m Burnin For You! — A Short Story Told With Pictures

To those of you who don’t like Blue Oyster Cult, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t stop myself.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I spend some time flame weeding.  It’s a technique for getting rid of weeds by frying them using a 500,000 BTU (I’m not kidding – that’s how powerful this thing is rated) torch hooked up to a propane tank.  It’s not something I do a lot, just something that I get the urge to do periodically — when I need to feel macho.

Here’s the blow by blow – it’s kind of a good news, bad news story.


a Good news – Igniting the propane torch was quick and straightforward process.  The torch lit on the first try!


Bad news – Here’s my hairless finger after igniting the torch.  Even though the process of igniting the torch was quick and easy, I still burned all of the hair off of the fingers on my right hand. The black dots are all that’s left of my fantastic finger fuzz.


Good news – Damn but I feel powerful using this thing!  It’s like holding a jet engine in your hands!  Yes, it does make me feel macho.


More good news – only a couple of days later the plot looks almost spotless!


Bad news – Two weeks later the perennial weeds are already on their way back.  The ground insulates the roots too well.

Suddenly Symphyotrichum

Also the Anemone x hybrida, Solidago, etc.  Everything’s blooming early here in the Mid-Atlantic.

"Fall-Blooming Anemone." Not.

I teach an herbaceous plant i.d. and use course each fall and spring. By looking back at my plant lists, I can tell what was blooming when.  I usually teach the asters at the end of September.

That’s going to be tough this year, since they are all BLOOMING RIGHT NOW dammit.   This will be a great experiment in "does deadheading = rebloom" for many of the asters.  Things like garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) are dependable post-deadheading rebloomers, but I can’t say I’ve ever  needed to deadhead Asters to get another flush of blooms, since they bloom right before frost for us, then pffftttt anyway.

Great Fanny’s Aster, this is too early! (Sympyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Fanny’)

My source for perennial maintenance advice is Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s marvelous "The Well-Tended Perennial Garden."  I’ve utilized her strategies for cutting back to both delay blooms and create a more compact plant.  If I’d been thinking ahead (ha, ha!), a good whacking on some of these things might have fended off blooms for another month or so; or at least had something to look at when class starts at the end of August. But alas. At this point the best I can hope for is a sporadic bloom or two.  At least I have lots of photos for lecture…