Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry

The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation keeps records on the largest trees in the state. These trees have been cataloged as the largest representatives of their particular species discovered so far. From looking at past registries, it appears that most of these record trees are located in the northwestern part of the state.

However, many species of Montana trees have not yet been nominated and there is a special category for urban trees. There is no funding to support this program; its success is mostly dependent on the volunteer efforts.

Forms and technical directions on how to measure a tree for nomination can be found on-line

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Maybe like me, this will perk your interest in becoming a “Big Tree Hunter”. Is there a “specimen big tree” in your yard or neighborhood? Or, will one of us find a tree to nominate in one of our outdoor adventures across the state?

(By the way, if you really get into this, there is also a national big tree registry. http:// )

An excellent reference book on trees: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

Submitted by Elaine Allard


When I think of grapes and vineyards, I think of California, France or the Mediterranean. I don’t really imagine grapes growing in our climate. Yet over 30 years ago we planted two grape vines near the entrance to my garden and they are still going strong all these years later!

Every year the stick-like canes sprout beautiful green grape leaves, then little grape buds, and in early to mid-August beautiful dark blue-black grapes. I know the grapes are ready to harvest when the wasps and robins begin hanging around the ripening grapes. I do little to tend the vines except trim them back some after the leaves have fallen in the fall and give them some of my home-made fertilizer in the spring.

The variety we planted is called “Valiant.” It is a cross between native and concord grapes. It was originally bred in South Dakota but the same wild grapes in this cross also grow here in Montana. This variety may still be available from a landscape contractor. I’m not sure you would be able to find it in a retail store. I suspect having the wild genes in these plants helps them survive our harsh conditions, resist diseases, and produce fruit in our short growing season. Perhaps there are other such crosses out there now if you cannot find “Valiant.”Grapes 2017

My grapes are not eating grapes. They are not sweet enough. I make grape juice from them every year. I think they would make a fine wine but I have not tried that. When they are ready, I harvest enough to make a few quarts of juice, then leave plenty of fruit for the birds and wasps (though for a few days I have to use the back entrance to my garden to avoid the wasps!).

I hope others will try grape vines in their gardens and will get the same pleasure and good juice from them that I have enjoyed all these many years!


Submitted by Ann Guthals

Book Review: Park’s Success with Seeds

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My Planting ‘Bible’

It seems I’ve always known gardening – introduced by my mother, her mother, and my father’s mother as well. These ladies worked hard always as farm wives, and especially diligently when they were in the garden. So when our local ag advisor visited our place on a sunny summer day between my eighth grade and freshman years to help me choose an FFA ‘SOEP’ (Supervised Occupational Experience Project? Gosh, it’s been a long time…) we discussed all the common options (sheep, pigs, crops, cows, mechanics and equipment), but briefly. He suggested a greenhouse project that was such a natural fit it stuck with me, and my mom, as we supplied our small town with bedding plants for the next twenty years. Among the various reference materials we used to construct the greenhouse and develop our processes, I owe a lot of our immediate and long-lasting success to this book, Park’s Success with Seeds. It is the most comprehensive reference I’ve ever used for selecting and propagating seeds and plants.


From the introduction to the glossary this book is easy to read, with detailed, accurate descriptions of practically every process you might use for choosing, propagating, and planting seeds. Beginning with the variety of supplies you will need on hand, the author, Ann Reilly, steps through the why’s and how’s of containers, lights, soils and other planting media, watering, temperature control, humidity and fertilizer. Her suggestions for alternate materials can save you time and money, proving that much can be accomplished with items you already have on hand (or in the trash can!) to start your own garden or houseplants.


As a fourteen-year-old embarking on an endeavor even her gardening grandma’s had never really explored in depth, this was foundational information that made an impression. Our greenhouse was built, supplied, and used for years based on the basic information in Success with Seeds. It was as much a textbook as any I’ve ever used in a class.


Ann’s detailed plant identification material in Success with Seeds is exemplary. If you never intend to plant your own seeds, this book is still a fabulous help to choosing the plants you will use for your windows, gardens, and beds. Starting with a listing of plant families, the book includes pictures of not only mature plants by genus, but photos of sprouts and first true leaves with individual descriptions on about one thousand specific species. (This has helped me distinguish weeds from keepers for many years!) The descriptions include genus and species, common name, origins, hardiness, uses, habit, germination needs, and culture. This large section is the part that was recommended reference in the recent January newsletter to accompany seed catalogue shopping. It is as relevant now as it was in the seventies when this book was published. There are many current books and magazines available for newer varieties, but this book is still a reliable starting point and includes basic information that is helpful in understanding the origins and growing requirements of modern hybrids as well.


The appendix seems page-thin compared with the photo section, but the information there is incredibly helpful. There are excellent listings for “PLANTS FOR EASY CULTIVATION (Perfect for beginners or children)”, “SEEDS THAT REQUIRE SPECIAL TREATMENT” (darkness, soaking, light, stratification, scarification, etc.), and “PLANTS FOR SPECIAL PLACES”. It also includes a glossary, and a cross reference index to help you find the botanical name if you only know a common name for a plant. There are garden layout and plant recommendations for several types of gardens, and then a great pronunciation guide and hardiness map (1978) at the end.


There are other titles in this Park’s Success series – Success with Herbs and Success with Bulbs – which I have never read or used but which may be equally valuable reference books. It seems there was only ever one edition published, which makes finding any copies a challenge and new copies are sort of like hen’s teeth. My daughter has my first copy now, so I searched the world and bought a used copy recently for myself on Amazon. Now I can refresh my memory as I sort through these seed packets and catalogues…



Submitted By Corinna Sinclair


So you have all the Christmas decorations stored, the income tax information compiled in a folder and now without any other interruptions, let’s get the seed catalogs all spread out and start making plans. You probably have a list of your standard vegetables and varieties. Have you ever thought about trying something entirely different just to see if it would grow well? Try two variety types to see which one produced more? How much space do you have for how many vegetables? When I look through catalogs, it’s like a kid in a candy store – I’d like one of each item.

What do we believe and expect from catalog products? Keep in mind as you swoon over all the pretty pictures that their purpose is to entice you to buy first-most, and to educate you last-most. Those pretty silver Artemesia that are “hardy and easy to grow” could barge into your property like a band of evil pixies, then float over the fence on the wind and take over your neighbor’s lawn, the back alley, and the cracks in the sidewalk out front! What the catalog might not tell you is that your Montana climate will turn those hardy annual plants into perennials that come from seed and from all the root bits, and if you aren’t ready for that it could be a three-year weed-pulling seed experiment gone bad.

When buying seeds it’s important to do your homework. Some seeds need special care to sprout. If you are preparing to pay $5 for a packet of 5 geranium seeds, for example, you should be aware that they are that expensive for a reason. That doesn’t mean to avoid them, it means you will want to know all you can about geranium seeds before they arrive in your mailbox. You won’t want to waste them because you didn’t know they want warm feet until they come up, and then watered from the bottom to avoid any extra moisture at the base of the seedling to avoid damping off. Pansies, on the other hand, better not be on that heat mat – they like it cool. And some seeds will want to be dark when others need to be exposed to the light! They won’t tell you those things in the catalog. Avoid preventable failures by having at hand (hard copy or online) a good seed identification guide that includes germination information (light requirements, moisture preferences, temperature, scarification, etc.), pictures of seedlings and first true leaves, time to germination, susceptibility to fungus or rots, and other helpful facts. [Park’s Success With Seeds is Corinna’s favorite reference.] You will want specific germination information on every seed you plan to buy for the best success.

If you find something you want to try that needs to be seeded indoors, assemble any
lights, heat mats or cables, and watering supplies before they arrive so you know what kind of space you’ll need. It can be a very enjoyable thing to have seedlings in the house on those dreary February days! The same diligence can be done for buying plant material. Know as much as you can about the plant, its best condition before planting, best time to plant, and best initial care requirements before you buy. Know what it is susceptible to, and what it wants for light, water, and soil. If you always have a reliable secondary source of information, you increase your rate of success and can spot ‘creative marketing’
before you fall for it.

It should be pointed out that if you are looking for specialty potatoes Montana has a Premier Seed Potato production that supplies seed potatoes to Idaho, Washington and other states that are famous for their potatoes. ( Nina Zidack of the MT Potato Lab “wants to encourage home gardeners to plant Montana-certified seed potatoes.” One reason is that certified seed potatoes grow better potatoes than potatoes bought in a grocery store or potatoes left over from previous seasons. Potatoes sold in grocery stores are often treated to restrict the sprouting of tubers, Zidack said, “and more importantly they may come from other states and carry virus diseases and tuber and soil-borne pests, or come from areas that have frequent outbreaks of Late Blight.” The Irish potato famine was caused by Late Blight, the most destructive disease of potatoes, which can also infect tomato, eggplant, pepper and petunia. Spores from the fungus may be wind borne and carried 50 miles or more. “Increased planting of Montana-certified seed in gardens will reduce the risk of introducing pathogens or other pests which would cause serious disease outbreaks resulting in monetary losses to [home and professional] growers,” Zidack said. If you have questions about sources for certified seed potatoes, contact your local extension agent or Nina Zidack at (406) 994-3150,

Don’t forget that your Master Gardener Association and Extension is a great source of information when you are trying new things. Use the online resources and your personal relationships through Master Gardeners to help you be a successful seed planter!

Submitted By: Sheri Kisch and Corinna Sinclair

Silverleaf Buffaloberry vs. Russian Olive

(Elaeagnus angustifolia vs. Shepherdia argentea)

Silverleaf Buffaloberry, which is native to North America, and Russian Olive, which is non-native and considered invasive, are closely related and at first glance are hard to distinguish from one another. They have the same color leaves and grow in similar
areas, have thorns and can take on a shrub-like appearance. However, when you examine

them close up, you will find that Silverleaf Buffaloberry leaves are arranged in
opposite pairs and its thorns are oppositely arranged. Russian Olive has leaves arranged in alternate pairs and its thorns are alternately arranged. Russian Olives have silver berries that become tan as they mature while Silverleaf Buffaloberry have yellow or light orange berries that turn red late in the season. An excellent chart with great pictures explaining the difference between these two plants can be found at:

Submitted By: Elaine Allard