Billings Arbor Day Activity

by Elaine Allard

Again this year, Master Gardeners took an active part in the City of Billings Arbor Day activities. This year’s event was held on May 2nd at Central Park.

Sharon Wetsch, Fay Danielson, Sue Weinreis, and Linda Brewer helped the City Arbor Day Committee with registration and a variety of other tasks. Charlie and Ron Hendricks helped all of us who arrived early and were scurrying to get canopies, tables, posters, and props for our educational booth set up before the fourth graders’ 9 a.m. arrival.

JAS 17Sheri Kisch and Sherry Doty presentations on pollinators and their importance to the environment captivated the students. With some help from the students, Merita Murdock and Elaine Allard mixed clay soil, potting mix, water, and native flowering plant seeds to form a ‘cookie dough’ consistency mixture. Mary Davis, Vonnie Bell, Rosemary Power, Debbi Werholz, and Bess Lovec helped the 175 students that rotated through our booth use the mixture to make their own ‘seed bombs’ and pack them into egg cartoons. At noon, after having a very fast moving and enjoyable morning, it was time to pack up, have lunch and start thinking about next year’s Arbor Day.

Seed Bombs to Create Habitat for Pollinators

Presented by Yellowstone County Master Gardeners

The seed bombs contain a mix of clay soil, potting mix, water, and flower seeds which bloom at different times. The flowers will attract pollinators (bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, etc.) by providing them food (nectar) and a place to live. This will help to make a better environment for humans and many animals that depend on pollination for much of their food.


  1. Leave the seed bombs in the egg carton in a cool dry place for a couple of days.
  2. Throw or place the seed bombs in an area where the ground has been disturbed or in a flowerbed. The seed bombs do not need to be buried.
  3. Hope for good rains or help them along with a little water.

2019 Class Updates

This year’s classes seem to have gone by so fast. With a wonderful crowd of 50 for Level 1 and around 10 for Level 2, it’s been a very good year. Of course it helped to have Toby Day come from Bozeman to kick off our class sessions too. Was so great to have him here to energize both a Level 1 and a Level 2 class session. (Love Toby’s heart for being there for us and our program.) I want to especially thank our most dedicated Master Gardeners who have coordinated our Level 1 and Level 2 classes: Bob Wicks, Brian Godfrey, Corry Mordeaux, Sharon Wetsch, Sherry Doty, Tracey King and Tom Kress. You all ROCK!

So now comes spring and the 2019 growing season. I want to encourage all the Master Gardeners who haven’t yet set up their accounts to do so as soon as possible…and many of you haven’t! ☹ This site would have really helped you out during class sessions, but you also need it to enter your volunteer hours. This is an important step, as this site is where all of the state’s Master Gardener volunteer hours are compiled and accessed by Toby Day and Dara Palmer. This not only proves the value of Master Gardener volunteer impact in our state, but is also where you qualify to receive your Level 1 and Level 2 certificates and shirts. Once your required hours are entered (20 for Level 1, 30 for Level 2, 40 for Level 3), Dara will be notified and will process and send me the needed certificate/shirt.

When you select your project of interest to volunteer in, do remember to choose a favorite, and then maybe just one more that interests you. It’s better to have one or two projects to focus on, rather than half a dozen that you can only lightly dabble in. Then once you see how these projects fit your schedule, you can branch out. Just don’t want your spring enthusiasm to lead to a quick burnout.

I am looking forward to see what our impact will be in 2019….

Amy Grandpre

Book Review: TEAMING WITH MICROBES—The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web

Book Review: TEAMING WITH MICROBES—The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web
By Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

If you look closely at the title of this book, you will think there is a misspelling. But it is not by mistake that the authors use the word “teaming” rather
than “teeming.” The purpose of the book is to help gardeners understand the inhabitants and activities of the teeming microbes in the soil food web and to learn to team with these organisms to create the healthiest possible soil and plants in their gardens.

The soil is indeed teeming with microbes. The sheer number of each type is mind-blowing. “A mere teaspoon of good garden soil, as measured by microbial geneticists, contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.” (p. 19) Bacteria are so small that a few hundred thousand can fit in a space the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The importance of these tiny soil microbes in supporting the health of plants cannot be underestimated. Yet many people (even some gardeners) have little understanding of the role and importance of these organisms and how to support their functioning.

The authors divide the book into two parts. The first part has a summary of soil science and a chapter devoted to each of the major participants in the soil food web: bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and slime molds, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms, gastropods, and larger animals. The role and functions of each group of organisms are described as well as their connection to gardening.

The second half of the book is devoted to explaining how to assess the health of the soil food web in your own soils and how to employ three major tools to build the health of that web: mulching, composting and making compost teas. The application of these tools for annuals and perennials is explained.

At the end of the book there is a gardening calendar and a summary of the authors’ 19 soil food web gardening rules. The information in this book is dense and concise and, as such, it is not an “easy” read. It resembles a textbook more than a gardening handbook. But it is worth wading all the way through to gain a better understanding of what should live in our soils, how these tiny organisms partner with and support our plants, and how not to interfere with their work and maybe even learn to support it.

Over time we are learning not to disrupt the soils in our gardens, yards and fields and instead help the food web to live and thrive in incredible balance, resulting in healthier plants and better crop yields. Teaming with Microbes is an important addition to the literature of no-till, restoration gardening and agriculture.

Submitted by Ann Guthals

Winter and Beyond: Scale, Spider Mites, Whitefly, and Aphids

Although I feel no affection for this topic, many gardeners (myself included) struggle with scale, spider mites, whitefly, and aphids outdoors in the summer season and indoors in the winter. I thought some basic information, emphasis on basic, on these insect pests would be welcome.

The many species of scale which feed on all types of plants is categorized into two janfebmar 11.1janfebmar 10.3groups: armored (hard) and soft. Females lay eggs beneath their bodies which usually hatch within a one- to three-week period. The newly hatched pin tip sized crawlers are mobile and move to other fresh areas on the plant for feeding.

When the hard-bodied type females select a spot and insert their mouth parts into the plant to suck on the sap, they are no longer mobile and gradually build up a hard outer shell which is often undetected and difficult to treat. Adult males have wings and they look like small gnats. On indoor plants, there may be several generations per year. Their presence is often first detected by the shiny dots of honeydew they excrete, followed by damage to the host plant which manifests in yellowing leaves. Look for them on the undersides of leaves or along the branches. If left untreated, they can severely weaken the plant, sometimes to the point of death. As there are many types of scale, keep an eye outside too because they can be a serious problem in the garden on trees and shrubs.

janfebmar-11.5-e1559335804474.pngMealybugs are a soft-bodied member of the scale family. They produce multiple overlapping generations of fluffy white insects which often prefer softer tender growth and can be controlled with the same methods used for the other pests in this article.

Spider mites are not true insects but are classed as arachnids, which are eight-legged animals such as ticks, scorpions, and spiders. Spider mites are tiny and are usually detected by their tiny webbing and the yellowing leaves of their host janfebmar 11.6plants. They are extremely prolific indoors and out and should not be ignored if they are spotted. Since they prefer hot dry conditions and the accompanying dust, the humidity of a water hose or a mister is highly recommended.

Whitefly, another sucking insect, have developed some resistance to many synthetic pesticides. Whitefly adults look like tiny white moths and can rise in clouds when disturbed. They also have a crawler janfebmar 11.2nymph stage, during which they are almost invisible. The full whitefly life cycle is only 25 days and as their population grows, they cause yellowing, desiccation, and leaf curl on the host plant. They can also spread several plant viruses and generally weaken the health of their hosts. As with many other sucking insects, they deposit sugary honeydew which attract ants and can host black sooty mold. Yellow sticky traps made for whitefly are helpful for monitoring and can mildly suppress the adults.

Aphids are small soft-bodied insects that may be green, red, grey or even black depending on their food source and species. They are usually but not always, wingless. janfebmar 11.3Instead of laying eggs, they have live birth and prolifically breed many generations per year. They deposit copious amounts of honeydew and are sometimes guarded by ants who harvest the sugary honeyjanfebmar 11.4dew. You may also notice leaf curl or yellowing leaves, stunting (think snowball bush or your favorite plum tree in the spring), and general lack of vigor in their host plants. Some types of aphids attack the roots of plants. Along with other types of insects, aphids can also cause plant gall and other deformities. Once you have the pest under control, the damage should not continue. However, the already-damaged leaves will not fully recover. Aphids are attracted to plants with high nitrogen levels and fresh tender leaves, so don’t over-fertilize and keep a sharp eye on new growth in the spring.

Fungus gnats are another pest that can thrive on winter houseplants. Unlike most pests, they damage plant roots and require a different treatment to get rid of them. Preferring to lay their eggs in soft moist soil, the best defense is to let the top two inches of soil get dry between watering. A layer of sand on top of the soil also makes for an inhospitable nursery. Yellow sticky traps can help put a dent in the adult populations.

The following practical controls for scale, spider mites, whitefly, and aphids can be used outdoors and indoors:

Nature has her own methods for staying in balance, so aim for good health and the least intervention necessary. Natural predators to these pests include parasitic wasps, lady bugs, lace wings, other insects, and even birds. Healthy plants are often able to repel or at least ride out insect pest infestations. For this reason, water your plants regularly and feed as they require it.

I always begin my battles with water. Often a good spray with the hose (or the shower) is janfebmar 11.8very effective and a safe opening salvo. Remove badly infested areas of the plants and remove as many of the remaining insects as you can by squishing them and then washing them off again. A quality mister is a good friend for indoor plants, especially if spider mites are a problem.

Take a few minutes to water the roots of plants that may be new or young or in un-sheltered parts of the yard that receive a lot of sun and drying wind. If there is no snow cover, it could mean the difference between survival and death, especially if the plants have been weakened by harsh weather and untreated pests.

If an indoor plant is small enough for you to reach all of it, it is often effective to remove the visible pests by hand and wipe the leaves and stems firmly with a damp rag or a makeup sponge soaked with alcohol. Or simply squish the pests one by one while wearing an evil grin, then rinse if possible, and continue with stronger treatments only if necessary. It is best to prune out densely infested areas and immediately dispose of them.

To combat pests during the outdoor growing season, it is always best to start without chemicals to avoid damaging the many beneficial insects which will be attracted to your pests. Sometimes you can even purchase those beneficial insects.janfebmar 11.9

If you had trouble with scale, spider mites, or aphids this past summer outdoors in your garden, a good next step this winter would be to spray your plants with horticultural oil in late winter or early spring before bud break, being careful to cover all stalks and stems. Horticultural oil works by smothering the overwintering insects and eggs. It is safe to use on most outdoor and many indoor plants but you must cover the whole plant surface whether indoors or out.

The use of insecticide should be carefully considered, and the safest products tried first. There are some new organic insecticides on the market containing citrus oil which are very safe. The next line of defense which can be used indoors or out is an insecticidal soap such as Safer Soap. After removing what insects you can, a dose of insecticidal soap followed by a light treatment of horticultural oil is helpful. The soap is more effective on the crawler stages of scale while the oil which smothers the pests is effective on all stages.

The chemical azadirachtin which is derived from neem oil is potent on insects including scale, spider mites, white fly, and aphids, if absolutely necessary. A botanical pesticide, it is safe for organic production and can be applied up until the time of harvest if used on food products. It leaves no residue, can be used on indoor or outdoor plants, and is safe for bees.

If you feel the need to use chemicals to eradicate scales in your trees or shrubs outdoors, make sure you research the right time of the season in which to do it, and cover all the surfaces of the plant, keeping in mind that pesticides are most effective on the crawler stage of scale. The Morton Arboretum has a helpful schedule for treatment (http://www.

Always be observant, vigilant, and read and follow directions of any chemicals if you must use them. Even organic, botanical pesticides can be harmful if not used correctly. As Master Gardeners, we have been taught the principles of Integrated Pest Management, so it is a good idea to review them annually and follow them as closely as possible.

Feel free to contact me or any Master Gardener with questions we might be able to answer. Please continue to tap into the vast source of knowledge that we, Master Gardeners, have and love to share. Here’s to another happy, healthy, and productive year in your gardens!

USEFUL LINKS houseplant-pests html?id=17791

Written and Submitted by Ann McKean

Volunteer Program at the Zoo

For more than two decades on Monday mornings from early spring to late fall, Master Gardeners have been tending various gardens at ZooMontana as part of the Master Gardener Program, where participants volunteer time in horticultural related community activity to earn certifications or maintain good standing. For more information on volunteering at the Zoo, please call Amy Grandpre at 406.256.2828 or email her at


This garden was the vision of Jane Reger. She was inspired by her husband who was losing his eyesight. She started a by-invitation-only horticulture committee in 1991 to create an educational garden to appeal to all the senses (sight, taste, smell, and texture). Starting with a flat plot of land which was dug six feet deep to form berms and memorial plants donated by visitors and supporters, the garden was (and still is) tended by volunteers from various local garden clubs and Master Gardeners. The garden now is filled with colorful flowers, plants, trees, a waterfall, and a fountain, and is a popular spot for picnics and weddings.

Julie Halverson, a Master Gardener since 1994 and a member of Sow and Grow Garden Club, has been volunteering at the Sensory Garden since its inception. She worked with Jane and Dwayne Bondy, a botanist/horticulturist at the zoo who designed the master plan for the garden. Julie said Jane would be so proud of how the Sensory Garden vision has been realized and how it has blossomed.

janfebmar 8.1

Julie Halverson

Working together with other Master Gardener volunteers throughout the years, Julie observes, “Maintenance is always an issue. There is a constant need of regular volunteers to maintain the gardens throughout the season. Too many Master Gardener volunteers come to fulfill their required hours to get certified and stop after that.”

As a testament to how much Julie’s generous contribution to the garden is appreciated, a Quick Fire hydrangea was planted on the south berm by the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association in her honor when she was stricken with cancer a few years back. You can almost always find Julie at the Sensory Garden on Monday mornings.


Located between the children’s playground and the bald eagle aerie, this garden became the latest creation at the Zoo’s grounds in September. Claimed to be Montana’s first proper crevice garden, it is spearheaded by Sharon Wetsch and Teresa Bessette. The crevice garden idea came to Sharon at a garden conference she attended and she shared the vision with Teresa who procured the plants through ‘Plant Select’ in Fort Collins, CO at Colorado State University.

Crevice gardening is a technique of gardening where small hardy plants from the mountains or high elevations are tucked between closely-spaced rocks to create

janfebmar 8.3

Teresa Bessette and Sharon Wetsch

miniature landscapes. Flat stones are partially pushed down into the soil vertically to create narrow channels that provide excellent drainage and help move moisture more deeply into the soil while keeping the soil around the plant crown dry so that they become drought tolerant.

The design of the garden utilizes flat stones repurposed from other projects at the zoo and driftwood collected from the Pryor Mountains by volunteers. The garden focuses on native plants and their viability to be grown locally such as cosmos, daisies, ice plants, wildflowers, sedums, and succulents.


This garden has been tended single-handedly by Teresa Bessette for the past seven years. Each year Teresa plants flowers of interest specifically for children (unique color, shape, texture), adds whimsical garden ornaments, swaps decorations according to the season, and builds colorful bird houses which she hangs from the oak tree. Originally, the site had a pond (the elephant statue is a holdover from it) and a few trees.


Children’s Garden at Zoo Montana

Upon seeing the large tortoise, zebra, monkey, and giraffe statues also in the area, she decided to convert the area into a Children’s Garden. She has since created a charming fun garden consisting of a central berm with a featured design that changes every year and five planting beds with numerous colorful flowering perennials, annuals, grasses, shrubs, and trees, amidst benches and stone seating for children and adults to enjoy.

janfebmar 8.4

The Flag Garden


This garden is located on a slope at the main entrance of ZooMontana and was adopted by the Shining Mountain Chapter of Daughter of American Revolution (DAR) in 2015. Fay Danielsen, a member of the DAR, finds tending the Flag Garden personally meaningful. She became a Master Gardener in 2016. Appropriately, the garden focuses on a patriotic red, white, and blue color theme throughout the season with annuals and perennials like geraniums, salvia, daisies, and roses. A couple of issues that the garden is facing due to its location: making sure it gets enough water especially on hot days and gophers.


In 2018, a trio of volunteers, Beth Adams, Sherri Porter and Lisa Salisinski, adopted this garden as their own. Located by the Homestead House and Homestead Barn, the garden has been neglected and overrun by grass and weeds. The ladies weeded the area

janfebmar 10.1

Homestead Garden

underneath and around the catalpa tree and planted heirloom flowers and perennials that grow well in the shade. In addition to clearing the path along the garden shed and the sidewalk towards the rabbit hutch and chicken coop, they also weeded and edged the south and west parts of the koi pond and took on watering the potted plants by the Homestead School House entry.


Just outside the Visitor Center doors is a garden previously known as the Triangle Garden. It is now called Chris’s Garden, in honor of Chris Chauvin, who volunteered in the Sensory Garden for many years until she passed away in 2017. A bird’s nest spruce is planted and a plaque installed within the garden in memory of her. The area showcases

janfebmar 10.2

Chris’s Garden at ZooMontana

multitudinous daffodils and tulips in the Spring. Various Master Gardeners tend this garden and are revamping the area around the memorial Norway Maple to make it appealing all year round and yet accommodate the Zoo’s resident peacocks that rest there.

2018 Flower Show

The 2018 Flower Show, hosted by the Thumb-R-Green Garden Club, had the theme of “Under Montana Skies.” The flower show was held Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the D.A. Davidson Building, in conjunction with the downtown farmers market. Of course all the displays were super, but especially enticing were the underwater arrangements…what a fun twist on flower arranging.

Thanks to all the Master Gardeners who helped in making this yearly event easier for all involved: Ann McKean, Bess Lovec, Charlie Hendricks, David Fisher, Gail Tesinsky, JoAnne Bylsma, Joyce Hendricks, Linda Walters, Marion Grumett, Mary Davis, Merita Murdock, Ron Hendricks, Vonnie Bell.

Submitted By Amy Grandpre