All posts by Kelcie Sweeney

Right Tree, Right Place

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

With spring right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start thinking about the right place to plant trees. If you want to plant a tree to serve a specific purpose it is important that you choose the right tree for the job, like making sure your wildlife tree will attract wildlife. While almost any tree is a good tree, it is important to keep in mind that different trees have different requirements for them to flourish. Trees, like animals, will not be successful if you put them in unsuitable habitat. Local conservation districts and MSU Extension are great for information to help you put the right tree in the right place.  Conservation districts also often provide low-cost trees and shrubs at annual sales.

There are many resources out there about how to pick the right tree. There are three important things to focus on when researching the right tree and right place:  which hardiness zone you’re in, the amount of sunlight the location will receive, and soil type and moisture.

Hardiness Zone

These zones are based on the average extreme minimum temperature of an area. Most nurseries can provide which zones the plants thrive in and some will even post it on the packaging or web advertisement if you’re ordering online. If you’re unsure which zone your land falls in, a quick google search will be able to provide with a map of your area and the corresponding zones. Michigan ranges from zone 3-7 depending on which part of the state you are in.

Sunlight

This is usually expressed as full sun, partial sun, partial shade, or full shade. Full sun refers to an area that gets at least 6 hours of unobstructed sunlight on a normal day. Partial sun usually refers to a place that receives 3-6 hours of sunlight on a typical day. Similarly, partial shade refers to place that receives between 2-4 hours of sunlight on a typical day. Full shade refers to an area that receives less than 2 hours of direct sunlight. Most nurseries provide the sunlight requirements for plants that they sell.

Soil Properties

Soil itself is comprised of tiny pieces of rock, minerals, and biological matter. The soil requirements you consider can be simple or complex, possible depending on how much you’re willing to spend. For someone looking to establish a nursery, it may be worth doing some testing to look at soil chemistry. For someone looking to establish a few trees in their yard, they would most likely find themselves successful just considering the basic soil type (loam, sand, or clay) and how well the soil is drained. A good place to find soil information is on the web soil survey website (https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/). This will be able to tell you basic soil type and provide some guidance on the overall moisture level. Although, your observations are going to be the most helpful when it comes to how wet is your planting site.

Genotype

When you have a specific purpose in mind, it’s important to make sure that your location matches up with your desired species and that you pick the right tree for the job. When you choose a tree, it is helpful to try to be specific, right down to the genotype of the species. For example, a white pine provides a multitude of habitat benefits and grows quickly making it a nice wildlife tree. However, if you were operating on the assumption that all coniferous species make great wind buffer trees and tried to capitalize on the white pine’s growth rate, you may find yourself disappointed when the bottom branches eventually start dying back and no longer blocking the wind. Another example could be if someone wanted to plant a tree near their house to attract deer to watch. A white cedar may help deer stick around a little longer to browse on the branches, while they would more than likely just ignore a red cedar.

Trees ready to be packed by conservation district staff.

Whether you’re planting your tree for a specific purpose or just looking to add some diversity to your property, it is important to ensure that you’ve picked the right spot for the tree or the right tree for the spot. There are many resources out there and starting locally helps ensure that you get the most accurate information for your area. Conservation districts are a great source of information, and they may offer a tree variety that you’re interested in at an upcoming tree sale. They say that the best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago and second-best time is today, in our opinion, there is no bad time to plant a tree.

Collembola

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

During these shorter days of cold and sometimes nasty weather, we tend to get a little restless. We are in the middle of winter and hardly a creature is stirring, not even an insect. So, when the sun does come out and shine, it is nice to take advantage and take a walk in the woods. A little more is moving in the forest than we sometimes notice. If you can find a nice place to get some woodsy fresh air, make sure you take the time to look around and see what else is moving. If you are lucky enough, you may be able to witness a little-known winter insect emergence.

Collembola (or snow fleas) on the snow.

Every so often, Collembola can be seen on the snow. Collembola are commonly known as springtails in the summer and snow fleas in the winter. Collembola are a very small insect usually only 1-2mm in length and look like pepper on top of the snow. They are called snow fleas because they resemble a true flea and jump, however they do not bite. On warm sunny winter days, they emerge looking for food sources. They live in the soil and leaf litter and eat fungi, plant material, algae, and bacteria. So, if you should happen to see these tiny bugs this winter, it is a good indication that the ecosystem you are walking through is healthy and fertile.

Collembola

Brightening Your Yard with Fruit Trees

Katie Hafner, NFWF Soil Conservationist

Every year at the Clinton Conservation District’s annual tree sale, there are a variety of options of fruit trees that can bring color, habitat, and aesthetics to your backyard. The fruit trees offered this year are all semi-dwarf meaning they will be 12-15 feet tall and wide at maturity. Like all fruit trees, they may require pruning.

Cedar waxwings enjoying Manchurian crabapples in the winter.

Habitat Trees: Habitat trees can be planted on large acreage or in a backyard set up. They provide 2 of the 4 basic needs for wildlife: shelter and food. Crabapple and persimmon fruits are prime food for white-tailed deer; and the fruit holds to the tree into the winter so food is available later into the season. Common apple (Malus domestica), is a domesticated wild apple tree. It adapts well to a variety of sites in the Michigan weather and landscape. If planted in a backyard and tended to, it will produce fruit closer to a cultivated apple. The fruit can be picked and enjoyed. If this tree is planted in a field, fencerow, or somewhere where it will be forgotten, it will grow like a crabapple tree. The fruit will be smaller, and the tree will bush out (making it better for wildlife but less aesthetically pleasing to someone who keeps a tidy yard.)

  • Common Apple
  • Common Persimmon
  • Manchurian Crabapple

Fruit Bearing Trees: Fruit bearing trees are essential to any homestead. There is also nothing better than fresh, in-season fruit picked in your own backyard. Fruit can be sold, given away, as well as frozen or canned. Make sure to be aware if your tree will need another tree to pollinate with. In general, apples need another apple to pollinate with (or crabapple). Generally, cherries pollinate themselves, and sweet and tart cherries will not pollinate each other. Peach and pear trees will self-pollinate but will bear more fruit with others nearby.

A fresh cherry pie.
  • Honeycrisp Apple
  • Fuji Aztec Apple
  • Dabinett Cider Apple
  • Montmorency Cherry
  • Bartlett Pear
  • Coralstar Peach
  • Early Redhaven Peach

Find more information at Clinton Conservation District’s website.  Tree sale orders will be accepted through March 23rd. Extra fruit and habitat trees will be available on pick-up days, April 24-25 at Smith Hall at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.

Tips for a well-rounded native pollinator planting

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist

Native pollinators are all the buzz with bees and butterflies, but they also benefit a large abundance of wildlife. Using a mixture of native grasses and wildflowers (forbs) can be a fun and enjoyable conservation effort. You can have a positive effect on pollinators by planting a small wildflower garden. If you’re more ambitious, go all out with a habitat restoration project on a landscape level.

When considering a pollinator planting diversity is king. Wildflowers are not the only component in a great seed mix. Native grasses are a very important ingredient when creating structural diversity. The mix should include a minimum of six wildflower species (10-12 is best) with two species per bloom period (spring, summer, and fall), two milkweed species, and four native grass species. This will insure adequate foraging for nectar loving insects during the growing season and structural integrity within the planting. Milkweed is the limiting factor when managing for monarch butterflies. The milkweed plant is the only host species a monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on. Although milkweed provides the monarch butterfly with a host plant it is not enough to fulfill the monarch’s need for nectar.

Monarch butterflies need an abundance of forage to produce enough energy to complete reproduction. The young monarch butterflies that hatch in summer are dependent on nectar to fuel their long migratory flight as they leave Michigan in route to Mexico. There are several milkweed species available. Milkweed provides a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors to pollinator plantings, but most importantly they provide the monarch butterfly with a host plant for reproduction. Native grasses should be used sparingly as to not overcrowd the wildflowers. When choosing grasses for a pollinator planting it is a good idea to include several species that grow from spring to fall. A mixture of Canada or Virginia wild rye, Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie June grass will provide a good starting point. Native grasses provide structural stability to the wildflowers and offer great escape cover for small animals and insects.

When purchasing your conservation seed mixture make sure to have a list of soils found on your property. To ensure that the seed mix is compatible with the climate and soils found in Michigan, shop local or ask seed vendors for Great Lakes genotypes. For more information stop into the conservation district or give us a call.

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist serving Saginaw, Gratiot & Clinton

What is a CSA?

Rebekah Faivor, CTAI Soil Conservationist

What is a CSA? By definition it is “community supported agriculture”, but those three words can mean so many different things to so many different people.

To a farmer, it is a great way to market produce on a weekly basis to a local customer. Farmers can connect directly with customers in person, via text, or email to talk about what is in season, trendy recipes, and farm updates. New vegetable varieties can be introduced in CSA vegetable boxes to receive direct feedback from the customer. Farmers looking to learn more about starting a CSA can visit the Michigan Farmers Market Website at http://mifma.org/farmbaseded/ and choose the “Birch Point Farm’s Labor Considerations for CSA Models Resource Guide”.

To an average person, it means a box of vegetables that arrives on a weekly or biweekly basis from one farmer or a group of local farmers. There are multiple ways for these boxes of vegetables to get to the customer: they can be delivered to their door, picked up at the farmers market or local meeting location, or picked up directly at their local farm. Vegetables in the box can be chosen by the farmer, ahead of time by the customer, or at the farmers market stand based on what is seasonally available. Prices can range from $10 per week to $50 per week depending on the amount of vegetables (full or half shares) and how they are grown (organic, natural, or conventional). Customers looking for a local Michigan reference to CSA can check out Taste the Local Difference’s website.

To a vegetable enthusiast, it is a way to get a weekly subscription of vegetables from a local farm to try new and trendy vegetables that may not be at the grocery store.  This weekly interaction is a great way to get to know their local farmer and growing practices. Some farms even let enthusiastic CSA subscribers help at the farm as part of their CSA responsibilities.

Upcoming CSA events:

National CSA Day is February 28th, 2020

2020 Greater Lansing CSA Fair: Sunday, March 22, 12:00 – 3:00 pm — People’s Church in East Lansing

Local CSA’s in Clinton County:

CBI‘s Giving Tree Farm  https://www.facebook.com/givingtreefarmlansing/

FireFly Ridge https://www.facebook.com/CSAFarmers/

Faivor Fresh Produce https://faivor-fresh-produce.square.site/

Ten Hens Farm https://www.tenhensfarm.com/

Goldenrod Gall Fly

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

Back in August we learned about ragweed and goldenrod producing pollen and what it does to our allergies.  Let’s take a closer look at the lesser problematic plant, goldenrod. 

Goldenrod with gall

How many times have we really looked at a goldenrod plant?  Have you ever noticed a round ball or growth in the top one-third of the plant stem?  This is called a gall.  This gall is produced by a goldenrod gall fly, which is related to the fruit fly, and is in the same family.  The fly’s eggs are inserted near the developing buds of the plant.  After hatching, the larvae migrate to an area below the plant’s developing buds.  Then they cause the plant’s tissues to form into the hardened, bulbous chamber around them, called a gall.  These galls serve as a food source for the larvae and shelter from rain, wind, ice and predators.  This time of year, the black-capped chickadee and downy woodpecker will target these galls and eat the nutritious larvae inside.  The larvae are also host to a few different parasitic insects.  If the larvae survive through the winter, they emerge to repeat the process all over again. 

So, the next time you see children picking these round galls to use in their sling-shots, remember how Mother Nature had a hand in making them. 

Inside of a gall

You’re Invited to our Annual Meeting on March 24th!

The Clinton Conservation District Staff & Board invite you to join us Tuesday, March 24th for our 66th Annual Meeting! Please RSVP by March 19th to seth.gibson@macd.org or by calling our office. 

This meeting is FREE and includes a hot buffet-style dinner courtesy of generous local businesses and organizations.  This meeting is family-friendly and open to the public.  We will be electing board members, so Clinton County residents 18 and better are asked to bring proof of residency to participate in the election. 

Dr. Jen Owen, Associate Professor, Director of Michigan State Bird Observatory, Center Coordinator for Corey Marsh Bird Observatory

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Jen Owen, has become known locally for turning the former MSU Muck Farm into the Corey Marsh Bird Observatory. This 300+ acre property in Bath Township has a long way to go before it is prime real estate for some bird species but many (over 150!) have been observed here since 2018. Corey Marsh is open to the public, parking is available at the field office off Peacock Road.

Dr Owen leads an interdisciplinary research program that studies the interface between wild bird, human and environmental health. Corey Marsh will hopefully become a center of interdisciplinary undergraduate research in coming years. Dr. Owen will discuss with us the current research topic of her team: how habitat quality and food availability affects a bird’s ability to meet the demands of the migratory period. Dr. Owen also researches the role of birds in the spread and maintenance of zoonotic pathogens.

Let us know you’ll join us by March 19th by calling the office at 989-224-3720 x5 or emailing seth.gibson@macd.org

Owning property is such a blessing… Resources for being a great steward of your land

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

Owning property is such a blessing! But it comes with responsibilities.

Growing up in town, I spent most of my youth walking down to the creek and fishing under the bridge, asking for permission on nearby woodlots, or stomping around public land (an almost 30-minute drive!). I just bought a house on 70 wooded acres. I finally have hunting, fishing, and exploring land all to myself, and although I know a fair deal about wildlife biology and habitat management, I have been overwhelmed with all there is to do to “maintain” my land. I have drawn maps, read books, and sought advice anywhere I can find it. 

There are several things I have found to be helpful in my quest to be a better steward of my land:

Get a forest management plan.

Walking your forest is a great start.

A forest management plan, or FMP, is an inventory and management guide that can be written specifically for your property by a qualified forester. They can help you identify the key features of your forest/land, point out any invasive species or potential threats, develop a plan towards your specific goals, and point you to any potential grants or funding that may be available to get all this done. There is cost share to get one of these plans! The Natural Resource Conservation Service (located with FSA and the Conservation District) can help you apply for funds cover the cost of one of these plans. Contact your local USDA service center for more details. Clinton County– 989-224-3720 

Join a local group or co-op.

I am involved in the Maple River Wildlife Association. This group is a Michigan United Conservation Clubs member and we work on local habitat projects, help educate youth and veterans about natural resources, and swap hunting and habitat successes and failures once a month at our meetings. There I have gained knowledge and tips on how to better manage my own property. There are several other groups in the area that have the same goals!

Look around on the MSU Extension website.

Every week, MSU Extension experts publish a variety of articles online that pertain to forests. Some articles apply to my property more than others, but they are always worth the read. All the information can be found here.

Fruiting bodies of a fungus that feeds on decaying wood

Buy some field guides.

What better way to get to know your property than to try and figure it out yourself? It is worth the money to buy Michigan-specific guides. Sometimes generic publications don’t identify plants or animals to the species. For beginners, the “Peterson Field Guides” are a great start.

Talk to your neighbors.

There are wonderful people in my community that have lived in my township all their lives. It is amazing to find out what they know about your land, and what it looked like 50 years ago!

Actually get out and explore!

Take the time to turn off the TV and get to know your land. Go out with your guides and a camera. Try new hunting spots, dig some holes, go out before dawn, take notes. 

I guarantee the more you know about your land, the more you will fall in love with it.

We have a new Mission Statement!

The Clinton CD Board recently adopted a new Mission Statement to help quickly demonstrate our role in the community. The process of telling people what we do and demonstrating our role is ongoing and always evolving. From helping farmers through the USDA-NRCS application process, to holding tree sales and addressing water quality concerns, the Clinton CD strives to provide a multitude of services. 

Mission Statement:
Provide information and technical assistance for Clinton County citizens to better understand, plan, manage, protect, and use natural resources.

Because conservation districts are funny, unknown entities to most people, we often also share a “What We Do” statement. The purpose of this statement is to give a bit of background about how we view conservation in our community. Here is our revised What We Do: 

What We Do:
The Clinton Conservation District was established in 1954 to carry out programs for conservation and the wise use of natural resources for current and future generations at the local level by local people.

As always, please call or email us if you ever have any questions. We try our best to point you in the right direction, even if we cannot help! 

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!

— Clinton CD Staff

Spring Tree Sale 2019