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.


by Elizabeth Waddington

Do you love sunflowers? Then you should embrace the pesky dandelions in your lawn since they are in the same family. Both are cheery yellow, can be used as accents in floral arrangements, especially if you have grandchildren picking the dandelions, and are

JAS 13

artwork by Elizabeth Waddington

attractive to pollinators for your garden and fruit trees. The family is Asteraceae (Asters/Sunflowers) and the Species is Taraxacum officinale (Common dandelion). The name (recorded from late Middle English) comes from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens lionis ‘lion’s tooth’, because of the jagged shape of the leaves.

What is your tolerance level for these non-native plants, aka “weeds” in your yard? If you don’t mind them, leave your dandelions to attract the pollinators who help with our neighborhood fruit and vegetable crops. You may have a good reason to not have them blooming for special events; I will be nipping off the yellow blooms when my toddler grandchildren come to visit, but otherwise leaving them until they go to seed (no, I don’t want THAT many, thank you!)JAS 14

But what can you do if your tolerance level is zero dandelions in your prized putting green turf? You can use a commercial weed and feed granular mixture in a drop or broadcast spreader when they are actively growing which will cover your entire lawn. You can spot treat with a weed killer that only targets broadleaf plants and will not harm the lawn (usually in a spray container with a nozzle). Or you can manually extract them with devices designed to pry them up by the root. Note that you need the whole root in order to eradicate the plant and that is easiest after a heavy rain. The small blue and white JAS 15digger is simple to use but takes skill to get deep enough to remove all of the root. The large red and silver “jumper” is like using a pogo stick on the dandelion. Or, as my husband asked, “What ARE you doing?” It does take a hunk of sod out with the weed so consider it to also be an aerating tool. You can always hire a commercial yard care company to maintain your lawn, but does that give you satisfaction?

A Blast from the Past

The late Dr. Bob is the father of Montana’s Master Gardener program. When he taught the classes nobody ever fell asleep. He was a writer of a great many articles on gardening. The following is just one of several hundred in my files.

A question to Dr. Bob: “How can I increase germination of my garden seeds?” (March 2002) Gardeners all over the country are right now wondering how to get better germination in the vegetable and flower seeds. Of course, start with good seeds and in most cases you’ll have good germination, but some seeds are notoriously tough with hard seed coats. Now, researchers in Georgia have found a common household substance that increases germination in watermelon seeds.

The seedless watermelon cultivars on the marker are for the most part, triploids. That means that they form fruit that has no developed seeds. While they are no good for seed-spitting contests, the melons do make great eating. The triploid cultivars are expensive to produce and, unfortunately, the seeds have thick coats that interfere with germination. Researchers have found that soaking the seeds in 1 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide at room temperature and in the dark greatly improves their germination. After just a day or two in the solution, the seeds germinated readily in petri dishes and would no doubt do so in the garden soil.

The 1 percent solution does not damage the emerging radicle, but solutions two percent or higher do severe damage to the young seedling. The hydrogen peroxide is generally available in the drug store and is a three percent solution, so you must dilute it with water. You can do that by adding two parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide. So far, researchers have only tested the solution on watermelon seeds, but they suggest that it might also improve germination in a wide range of “hard-coated” seeds, such as those of cabbage and broccoli.

Soil Testing

Soon, hopefully, it will be time to think about planting lawns, vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Are you planning on a good harvest and growth? What are you doing to insure those results? Are you planting in good soil or just dirt? Does it have the capacity to hold water and nutrients or is it holding too much water and not enough nutrients? Do you know the PH of your soil/dirt? Checking in our area are two labs that can do soil tests for you. There is paper work to fill out, besides your name and location, like what do you want tested (N, P, K), pH etc.? What are you planning on growing, lawn or garden?

To gather your soil take a hand trowel and dig down to about 6” in about six different places in the lawn or garden and put it all in a pail mixing it together (discard the grass, thatch, rocks, worms and roots). From that amount, fill a 1 gallon zip lock bag with your name on it to half/two thirds full.

While working at the ACE greenhouse I met the true over achiever. He came in every couple days telling me how he had hauled buckets of sand, then manure, then compost. He had a very small vehicle which held two buckets in the rear, two buckets in the back seat and one bucket in the passenger seat. This was not a one trip for each of the above, but many trips. He was so proud of himself I could barely ask if he had ever had the soil tested for his garden. He hadn’t.

By mid-summer he came in quite deflated. His dream garden hadn’t produced anything. He did however have the soil tested and it was high to very high in N, P, and K. I felt so sorry for him all I could think to say was that maybe by next year it would be a better garden space.

In order to build anything you must have a good soil foundation. Thinking only about the end product is just dreaming. Local companies who provide soil testing for home gardeners:
B & C Ag Consulting – taking Soil Tests between 10 am and 2 pm on Mon., Wed.and Fri. 315 So. 26th St, Billings – 259-5779 MG price $30.
Energy Laboratories 1120 So. 27th St, Billings – 252-6325 Lawn and garden analysis with recommendations $85.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

For The Planet

Plastic recycling has always been a challenge in Montana. China’s rules for accepting mixed bales of plastics from the U.S. changed on January 1st ,2019 so we now need to think more of reusing or reducing than recycling. Purchase plants in peat or compostable pots when possible.

Your plastic plant containers and flats are gladly accepted back by many local nurseries. Ask when you purchase plants if you can return the containers. Clean all soil from the 007inside and exterior surfaces so that they are debris free when you drop them off. If your plant purchasing location does not want the containers returned, they can be dropped off at Canyon Creek Nursery at 1730 S 48th St W.

If you’d like to take matters into your own hand and make your own seedling pots out of newspaper, you can find instructions online: celebrate/handmade/create-newspaper-pots-for-seed-starting-pictures

An Editorial: Cut Flowers, Potted Plants, or …?

We gardeners love plants of all kinds, including flowers. They bring beauty to recipient(s), often representing love or sympathy. Many folks send potted plants, especially blooming ones, during holidays or times of stress. To do so is simple, either on the internet or from a local florist, especially if you happen to have an account.

Then why choose an alternative to cut flowers or a blooming plant? Hospital rooms seldom have extra space, or plants may not even be allowed, as some patients or staff004 may be allergic. When a patient is moved, flowers can get lost, frozen, or wilt in the process. Delivery people are hardly integral to real estate in a hospital setting. Even in a home, flowers absorb counter or table space which might be needed for medical devices, prescription medications, or new baby stuff. Relatives might be there to help for days or weeks, bringing their bundles along.

Cut flowers need to be trimmed and their water needs changing daily to maintain their beauty. They should not be near a draft, plus flowers die quicker if in sunlight. Put these burdens on top of caring for a family member or new baby and recovering new mother. I speak from recent experience when all I could manage for my daughter’s family were household duties too numerous to mention. Plus my daughter does not have a knack for perpetuating flowers or plants, so she was consumed with guilt over sustaining them. She was worried too that her cats would eat the new plants and get sick. Of course she was too polite to tell givers her concerns.

I cannot resist mentioning environmental aspects of this topic. If flowers or a plant come from your garden, indoor or out, I’m impressed! Snip, maybe tie a ribbon around it, and cruise across town to your destination. However many flowers, especially in winter, arrive in trucks, maybe even planes from abroad. Transportation pollutes and uses fuel that could be utilized for vital supplies. I don’t know of any greenhouses in this area that produce flowers in the winter. Cut flowers often swell with forced, timed fertilizers so they bloat into beautiful yet brief renditions of their species. The plastic packets, usually included, contain stimulants. I would think twice before tossing remains into compost. Fortunately many local flower shops re-use vases; so, if you don’t recycle the glass or plastic, call around to ask who accepts the vases.

Ironically, I have received several potted plants as gifts that thrive many years later, such as an African violet now divided into five, a Christmas cactus, and a bonsai, but I love gardening. Not everyone does. Giving plants won’t guarantee that switch flips. So what alternatives might work as a supportive gesture? Each situation/ recipient is unique. 005Cards are reasonably priced, and they don’t interrupt people when they are resting or running to appointments. And no thank you note looms as a future task. My favorite is food, because I love to eat; however, first check on dietary preferences or allergies. And don’t call a day after surgery to ask, unless you are part of the inner circle. A gift certificate to a nearby restaurant that does take-out works well, or offer pet care, or companionship with transportation to appointments. Perhaps choose a night when you can bring supper and let the family know. Consider an offer to buy groceries, as in, “I’m on my way to Albertson’s… what do you need? I’ll swing it by.” They may prefer rotisserie chicken, fresh bread, and ice cream to a dozen dahlias.

Editorial submitted by Bess Lovec