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Archives for June 14, 2017

Expert Gardeners Share Tips on Growing a Successful Vegetable Garden

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County are on a mission to help gardens flourish all over Union County, and this summer they are offering a free Vegetable Garden Series of classes and garden tours available to all gardeners from beginner to expert. The series is held in the Union County Demonstration Garden.

The Demonstration Garden, located in Union County’s Watchung Reservation by the Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside, is the centerpiece of the Master Gardeners’ many community service programs.

“The Master Gardeners are one of the most active volunteer organizations in Union County, and they have touched the lives of many Union County residents with their willingness to share their expertise and time,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “The Freeholder Board is very proud to support their efforts.”

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The first class and tour of the Vegetable Gardening Series will be on Thursday, June 22 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.  The program includes a class titled “Starting a Vegetable Garden” along with a tour of the Sharing Garden beds at the Demonstration Garden.

The Sharing Garden features 24 raised beds of vegetables commonly grown in home yards and community gardens.  All produce from the garden is donated to local food pantries.   The class will cover site selection, planting tips, maintenance and budgeting aimed at smoothing the path to a successful vegetable garden. 

Other topics and dates in the series are:

Tuesday, July 25: Keeping Pests Out of the Garden — Insect and Disease Management

Wednesday, August 9: Harvesting and Food Safety in the Vegetable Garden

Thursday, September 7: Keys to Successful Composting

All programs include a tour of the Sharing Garden that relates to the topic of the evening’s class.

The program is free but pre-registration is required at

Free parking is available in the Trailside Nature and Science Center parking lot, located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. 

The Master Gardeners of Union County is a volunteer community service organization run by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County and supported in part by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

For more information about the Vegetable Garden Series, or to find out how to join the Master Gardeners, call the Extension at 908-654-9854, option 4. The Extension offices are located in the Colleen Fraser County Services building in Westfield, at 300 North Avenue East.

For more details about the Demonstration Garden and other Master Gardeners program visit

Links to Master Tree Stewards, 4-H youth clubs and all other Extension programs are available at

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension is an equal opportunity program provider and employer. Contact your local Extension Office for information regarding special needs or accommodations. Contact the State Extension Director’s Office if you have concerns related to discrimination, 848-932-3584.

For all Union County programs and services visit, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email or use the online Contact Form.

Connect with Union County on social media.

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MASTER GARDENER COLUMN:Tips for curbside gardening

I thought about what plants would work best and if the city had any special regulations such as plant height and how to best cope with the sand and salt. Learn where the various underground utilities such as water, gas and electricity run before digging, especially if shrubs are part of the plan.

The boulevard is a harsh home for plants. It’s hot and dry, plus de-icers and snow piles can stress plants. Regular soil tests will help identify any soil problems that need to be corrected. Pick your favorite method for preparing the area for planting. A no-dig plan using newspaper and wood chip mulch is one option. Amending the soil with compost and peat is another.

Keep in mind that plants closest to the curb will probably suffer the most from sand and salt or other de-icers. A 1 to 2-foot strip of mulch by itself or planted with annuals, or a mower’s width of grass to provide some distance from the street for the perennials. I think I’ll opt for the mulch.

The biggest challenge for me was finding herbaceous perennials with a fairly high tolerance for salt and hot, dry conditions. I was pleased to learn that good variety was possible. Dianthus, euphorbia, baptisia, Stella d’Oro daylily, lupine, sundrops or evening primrose, penstemon, creeping phlox, phlox, various sedums, lamb’s ear, gaillardia (blanket flower), candytuft, catmint, coral bells, native asters, black-eyed Susan, hostas, artemisia, yarrow and armeria (sea pink or thrift) allow for an interesting mix of plants. Unfortunately, there is not space to talk about the salt tolerant shrubs.

To the perennials, add some attractive ornamental grasses. Karl Foerster Reed grass (Calamagrostis xacutiflora), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum), and Elijah Blue Fescue are among ornamental grasses with salt tolerance.

Include some bulbs for early spring bloom. Annuals will extend the season for the boulevard garden, just as for any other border. Since most perennial borders take up to three years before looking the way we want them to, annuals such as wave petunias will fill the empty spots until the perennials grow to a mature size.

When planning a boulevard garden, do consider the problem of soil erosion caused by poorly designed or high-crowned gardens. Avoid mounding soil unless it is contained. To prevent soil from washing into the street and affecting water quality, keep the final mulched surface of the garden an inch or so below the curb or sidewalk. An option is to add a front edging of block. Shredded hardwood mulch or the mulch of your choice will help control weeds, retain soil moisture and prevent erosion.

More horticultural information can be found on the University of Minnesota Extension website: Master Gardeners are also responding to your horticulture questions at (218) 444-7916; leave your name, number and question and you will receive a return call.

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Gardening tips from the pros: How to grow goodies for the area – Petoskey News

GAYLORD — Spring is in full swing, and for all those green thumbs and newbie gardeners itching to get into the gardening routine, here are seven pieces of advice from professionals who know plants.

Jennifer Muladore, ecologist with Huron Pines, and James DeDecker, Michigan State University Extension educator, both shared tips, tricks and resources for a garden — even with Otsego County’s often sandy soil.

Test the soil

• Both Muladore and DeDecker agreed on how important this step is.

“If you’re not doing soil testing, you’re basically flying blind,” DeDecker said. “You can do things to enhance your soil, generally — the problem is you just don’t know what the status of your soil is.”

Muladore also said the first thing gardeners should do is to have the soil tested to find out the unique needs and characteristics of the soil in a particular area.

“For instance, a lot of the soils in this area are very sandy, which is naturally acidic, and then the pine trees that grow on them contribute more acid when their needles fall,” she said.

To test soil, one option is to bring soil samples in a kit to the MSU Extension office, 800 Livingston Blvd. DeDecker said the different kits range from $12 to $25 depending on what the gardener is looking to test.

Hardiness zones

• When planting, DeDecker said it is best to look at what fits in a certain hardiness zone.

“(In) Northern Michigan, we tend to be anywhere between zones 4 and 6, and that gives you a sense of the length of the growing season and the number of frost-free days in your area,” he said.

DeDecker said this is handy for finding the right crops and the best varieties of certain crops based on the number of growing days.

“If I want to grow sweet corn in my garden, I can get a variety of corn that matures in 70 days, or I could get corn that matures in 100 days,” he said. “Well, being in Northern Michigan I’d probably want to select varieties that are faster maturing.”

Change or adapt

• In the case of acidic soil, Muladore said gardeners can “sweeten” the acidity by adding lime.

DeDecker said sometimes a gardener can choose not to alter the soil and plant crops that do well with that soil type.

He said in sandy soils, strawberries, asparagus and root crops like potatoes tend to thrive in the well-drained loose soil. For acidic soil, blueberries tend to do well.

Strategically fertilize

• Muladore said gardeners can not beat a “well-rotted compost.”

“But if you need to add more, use a phosphorus-free fertilizer unless your soil calls for added phosphorus,” she said. “Too much of a good thing like fertilizer can get into our waterways and cause algae growth and other pollution problems.”

Native plants

• Muladore recommends native plants for landscaping since they are hardier, more resistant to disease and tend to be more deer-resistant than some plants from a the garden store.

She said some common landscape plants are known to be invasive and “they can cause harm to our natural areas, to our economy, and to human health.”

Plants like Japanese barberry, nonnative honeysuckles, autumn olive, periwinkle and baby’s breath have a tendency to spread into forests and fields and cause problems for wildlife.

Be careful with neonicotinoids

Muladore said to look for tags describing what pesticides may have been used on the plants.

She said it is also a good idea to ask nursery staff for more information.

“When you buy a plant, it or its soil may have been treated with pesticides that cause major damage to pollinator populations,” Muladore said. “Neonicotinoid pesticide can remain in the soil and be taken up by new plants, poisoning beneficial insects when they drink the nectar or eat the sap.”

Use other resources

DeDecker said the MSU Smart Gardener program is another great tool for maintaining a sustainable or “smart” garden and information is available online at the MSU Extension website.

Another resource for gardeners is the Enviroweather section of MSU’s website at

Muladore recommends using the The Otsego Conservation District’s greenhouse and demonstration gardens for ideas. Information on native and invasive species is available at

She said anyone with questions about native or invasive plants can contact her at or (989) 448-2293 ext. 31.

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