The Dirt for September 7, 2017: VOTE for Plant of the Year

Vote for MG Plant of the Year 2018!

As part of our land stewardship focus area, we will be launching a “Master Gardener Plant of the Year”in 2018.  This plant will be grown in our URIMG greenhouses, sourced locally from Rhody Native™ when possible and highlighted in the spring plant sale.  We have carefully selected three (red hot) Rhode Island native plant candidates.  Native species protect Rhode Island’s biodiversity by supporting wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies while adding beauty to the garden.  Each plant has its ecological purpose as well as its own advantages in the garden.  It’s up to you to decide! Read more about each plant by clicking on its name below.

  1. Red Columbine  2. Little Bluestem 3. Cardinal Flower

Please cast your vote for MG Plant of the Year by Friday, September 15. 

Click here to vote

URIMGP Project Featured by RI Green Infrastructure Coalition

RIGICReprinted from RI Green Infrastructure Coalition Announcement

This past June, Friends of the Newport Waterfront (FOW), Friends of King Park, and the City of Newport joined forces to install a URI Master Gardener demonstration rain garden in Newport’s King Park.

A rain garden is a shallow, landscaped depression planted with native plants that collects and filters storm water runoff. When it rains, water picks up pollutants from everyday activities. Rain gardens are designed to hold this runoff, allowing it to infiltrate into the ground. This removes pollutants and reduces flooding. Building rain gardens is a simple but important step in protecting our local waterways – in this case, Narragansett Bay.

“Our new rain garden can absorb 25,000 gallons of water a year,” said Johanna Vietry, URI Master Gardener Project Leader.  If forty King Park neighbors planted a rain garden similar to the one in the park, together they could treat one million gallons of rainwater each year.

The Newport community has shown great enthusiasm for this innovative garden. For homeowners concerned about water quality, a rain garden is an inexpensive way to make their property more earth friendly. The Friends of King Park hold regular meetings with neighborhood residents to discuss how they can install rain gardens in their own backyard.

Help Wanted: Edible Forest Garden At Roger Williams Park

Saturday, September 23,  9am to 12pm

FORESTgardenThe Edible Forest Garden is the URI Master Gardener Program’s only permaculture demonstration garden.  We need a crew to help with the following tasks:

  • Pruning hardy kiwi, elderberry, hazelnuts and service berries
  • Clearing the primary paths
  • Cutback all Comfrey for composting
  • Clearing patches of invasives
  • Completing the coppice fencing

Those of you who would like to help and learn about permaculture at the same time please email Jaime Nash at

The Edible Forest Garden is below the Roger Williams Botanical Center right next to the Community/Produce Donation Garden. Read more on our website:

What is the Next Continuing Education Class? It's up to you!

nextclassJoin the continuing education team and help us plan exciting field trips and workshops for 2018! What topics would make me a better Master Gardener? What is a hot topic for gardeners this season? Which speaker would I love to learn from? If you can answers these questions, join our team of staff and MG’s and help us shape future learning opportunities that are fun and relevant. 

The team meets 1-2 times a month on Monday mornings. Volunteer hours are given for time spent planning and attending meetings and proctoring classes.  Our next continuing education planning meeting is on Monday, September 18 at 10 am at the Mallon Outreach Center on the URI Kingston Campus.   Please sign up in Volgistics under my schedule to learn more. 

Questions about this opportunity?  Please contact Alayne Senior at

The 2017 class has already volunteered over 2,000 hours! Congratulations to all of you who have already completed the 50 hour internship requirement and will be receiving your pins in September. Learn more about the interns who have already become URI Master Gardeners over the next few weeks through our “profiles in service” articles!

Class of 2017 Profiles in Service

davidvissoeName: David Vissoe
Hometown: South Kingstown
Favorite Project/Service: East Farm Demo Garden and Charlestown Schoolhouse Garden

Quote: “Life is a Journey and part of my journey is now that of a Master Gardener. It started with classes to gain scientific knowledge and perspective on a wide range of topics but it was also a time to find new friends with common interests.  The Volunteer Fair let me initiate interest in what I might explore further – soil testing with Roger and Mary – The Newport Waterfront Dingy and Rain Garden Project with Johanna – Charlestown School House Garden with Sharon – East Farm Demo Garden with Nan – and the Joy of Weeding with Lee — and I jumped in and sampled them all.  In all of these projects I was able to apply the knowledge that I learned in class but more important were these projects became an on-going classroom for this new intern.  The knowledge came not only from the project leaders but also from seasoned Master Gardeners who were part of a project team who shared their experiences and knowledge freely.  It has given me a great deal of joy to talk to all folks, young or old, and share our scientific-based information to help them have a healthier garden.   I’m finding much Joy in the Journey with my soil-loving friends.  So many new roads to travel at the Kettle Pond RI Native Pollinator Garden with old and new friends as well as new roads to the Compass School in Kingston.”

Master Gardeners Learning in the Field

MGlearningOn Thursday, 8/31/2017 participants learned late season strategies for removing invasive species at Canonchet Farm from Tom Fortier.  Here Tom discusses the removal of smaller trees using a weed wrench.  This two-part field education series taught hands-on strategies for habitat restoration and invasive plant management.

CELS Researcher Testing Vegetable Growing Methods Popular Among Ethnic Communities

CELSresearcherJohn Taylor is intrigued by the methods that ethnic communities use to grow their native vegetables in urban settings in the United States. So the University of Rhode Island scientist is testing some of those strategies to see if the methods could increase crop yields of more conventional vegetables.

“The U.S. has an increasingly diverse population, and for many immigrants, continuing their food ways is an important way to reproduce their culture,” said Taylor, URI assistant professor of plant sciences, who earned his doctorate studying ethnic home gardens in Chicago. “The way some ethnic groups grow their crops is often quite different from how other people grow those same crops.”

Taylor is focusing his initial studies on growing several varieties of amaranth, a leafy vegetable popular among African, Asian and Caribbean cultures, and bitter melon, a warty cucumber-shaped fruit with medicinal values favored in India and Southeast Asia. He is growing the two, along with a sweet potato variety grown for its leaves, all together in the same space, a practice called polyculture.

Read more.

A Visitor to Mabel’s Garden

mabel'sgardenPlant natives (Ironweed) and enjoy the results. This monarch butterfly visited Mabel’s Garden at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, Rhode Island.  Read more about this project here:

MG Wins Ribbons at the Washington County Fair

Aaron Spiika, a URI Master Gardener for 24 years entered several plants in the Washington County Fair and was again rewarded with several ribbons.This year he won first place for yellow and red marigolds and white and purple alyssum. He received two 2nd place ribbons for Hydrangea and yellow French marigold and 3 third place honors for hydrangea,  dwarf dahlias and 1 yellow tuberous begonias.

His seniors from the Cranston Adult Enrichment Center won several ribbons for entries showing beach scenes made of cereal, marshmallows, cocktail umbrellas and toothpicks.

You might want to consider entering some plants and/or vegetables in the fair next year.

September Continuing Education Classes and Meetings

AgronomyFarm2High Tunnels
Thursday, September 21th, URI Agronomy Farm 4:30-6:00pm

Learn from URI Agriculture Extension Agent Andy Radin about best practices for growing in high tunnels (unheated hoop houses).  We’ll learn about growing through the seasons with different crops, soil management and pest management.  This class will be geared toward people growing in school and nonprofit settings.  Bring you questions along about your high tunnel!  Please register in Volgistics.

Project Leader Meeting
Saturday, September 30
URI Pharmacy 170, 9am-12:00 pm

We ask that all projects are represented by the project leader or designee for our fall gathering.  This is an opportunity to communicate successes of this year and plan for next year.  Important topics such as budgeting, Project Open House, etc. will be discussed. Please register in Volgistics.

Middletown Library Community Garden

Innovative Demonstration Gardens
Saturday, September 30th, URI Pharmacy 170 12:30-2:00pm

The URI Master Gardener Program has over 40 project demonstration gardens that teach about natives, herb gardening, vegetable production, edible forests and more!  This class will explore ways to increase the educational experience for visitors including signage and live teaching experiences.  Using tools developed at the University of Georgia, we’ll help projects design tours and workshops. We will also hear from some of our project leaders about successful tools they’ve used to engage learners in the garden!  This is a great class for anyone involved in a community project, historic or demonstration garden throughout the state.  All project teams are encouraged to attend!   Please register in Volgistics.

Save the Dates for October

pumpkinsSchool Garden Mentor Meeting
Thursday, October 5
Location TBD, 5:30-7:30 pm

This will be a gathering to tour a school garden and share the year’s successes and challenges.  We’ll share exciting plans for next year and discuss reporting and budgeting.  We ask that all School Garden Mentors make an effort to  attend.

School Garden Conference
Saturday, October 21
URI Kingston Campus

This conference is a great opportunity for School Garden Mentors to learn about curriculum tools available to their schools. SGM’s will be sent a coupon code to register free of charge.   Scholarships available to students and on a needs basis.

Tree Steward Class

Tree stewardship combines learning about trees, caring for trees, and understanding how people and trees can best grow together. Increase your knowledge and appreciation for: tree biology, tree identification, tree planting & pruning, trees health, urban forestry, soils, and tree benefits.

And here are another 22 reason why you should become a Tree Steward!

Sept. 19, 26, Oct. 3, 10
Oct. 14, 10:00am – 1:00pm
Warren Town Hall/Senior Center 514 Main Street, Warren

RITree Member/Town Employee $50.00 Non-member $75.00

Registration can be made online at or by calling the RITree Council 401-764-5885

Hot Topics from the URI Consumer Horticulture Educator

rosanneThe following science-based articles may help you answer questions from the community.  Rosanne Sherry, URI Consumer Horticulture Educator, recommends you read them to help sharpen your own gardening and educator skills! Please send comments or suggestions for articles to

From Master Gardener Recommended Horticulture Best Management Practices.

Practices that should always be recommended:


  • Rotate crops to avoid the buildup of pathogens and pests in the garden
  • Test the soil to learn the pH and nutrients already present
  • Determine soil drainage capacity before planting
  • Utilize companion planting/intercropping to attract beneficial insects and to take advantage of symbiotic biochemical and cultural benefits
  • Use cover crops/green manures to improve soil nutrients and structure
  • Practice right plant, right place, in order to take advantage of garden microclimates- hot areas, light angles and moisture sinks, when planning your garden layout.
  • Identify insects (friend or foe), diseases or weeds and susceptible life cycles and evaluate the extent of the problem before taking remedial action (using the least toxic alternative).


  • Improve compacted soil by aerating, double digging
  • Select cultivars of plants and seeds that are bred for resistance and tolerate local conditions.
  • In times of low precipitation irrigate landscape plants deeply and infrequently, at a rate of 1″ per week
  • Irrigate early in the morning, rather than late at night, to minimize evaporation losses and allow the grass to dry off before evening.
  • Irrigate deeply and infrequently while avoiding runoff. Light, frequent watering encourages shallow roots.
  • Calibrate your irrigation system to deliver approximately 1 inch of water per week. Let cool season grasses go dormant in summer.

From UMASS Hort Notes Aug. 2017

Hosta Virus X (HVX) was first identified in 1996. Hosta enthusiasts have since been watchful for symptoms of the virus, which can include stunted, warped, or puckered leaves, color breaking or mottling (“inkbleed”), necrosis, and ring spots. These symptoms can be very subtle, and some plants will show no symptoms at all. Despite growers’ best efforts, plants infected with HVX are sometimes still propagated.

Most plant viruses have specialized relationships with the vectors that spread them. The most common type of vector is an insect pest such as aphids or thrips. HVX, however, has no known biological vector. The virus is spread mechanically, when sap from an infected plant is carried or splashed onto another plant. The virus needs a wound in order to infect, but this wound may be as tiny as a broken leaf hair. The virus is also spread by the propagation of infected daughter plants or infected seeds.

HVX does not kill plants; in fact, the color breaking symptom sometimes produced by the virus may even be considered desirable. A few hosta varieties were once propagated and admired for unique coloration that was eventually attributed to HVX.

There is no treatment for HVX once a plant is infected. Symptomatic plants should be dug up and destroyed. The virus can persist only in living tissue, so wait at least one season before replacing one hosta with another hosta to ensure any roots left in the soil have died. Be sure to clean gardening tools thoroughly between plants. If the problem is persistent, consider planting cultivars that are known to be resistant to HVX. ‘Bessingham Blue’, ‘Frosted Jade’, and Great Expectations’ are among several cultivars considered to be highly resistant to HVX.

Hostas can also get other viruses, such as impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV), which is transmitted by thrips.

From UMASS Landscape Message August 11, 2017

Pollinator Protection Resource Online: The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has developed a Massachusetts Pollinator Protection Plan. It is a set of voluntary guidelines that discuss best management practices for stakeholders seeking to promote the health of the European honeybee and other pollinators. This document includes information for beekeepers, pesticide applicators, land managers and farmers, nurseries and landscapers, and homeowners and gardeners. Please locate the MA Pollinator Protection Plan for more information here:

hylotelephiumPlant of the week: Hylotelephium spectabile (Sedum spectabile), stonecrop

Hylotelephium spectabile, formerly known as Sedum spectabile, is a succulent, upright, mounding herbaceous perennial growing 18-24” tall and wide. The flat, fleshy leaves are coarsely toothed, dull-green to blue-green and up to 3” long. The star shaped, small pink flowers emerge in late summer and last until frost. Flowers fade to a darker pink as they age. The species is not commonly found in commerce, but there are a large number of cultivars offering different sizes and flower colors.

Hybrids of Hylotelephium spectabile and Hylotelephiumtelephium are also common, and include H. ‘Autumn Joy’. Plants are best grown in dry to medium soil in full sun. A floppy growth habit develops when plants are grown in too much shade. Plants are drought tolerant and need good drainage for best performance. Hylotelephium spectabile has no serious insect or disease problems. Stonecrop can be planted as specimens or groups in perennial borders and rock gardens.