Archive for February, 2008

Green space saved???

Dave Smith, parks superintendent for the city of Cedar Rapids, shared some news with me that might spell the end to thoughts of selling land the city owns next to Squaw Creek Park.

Cedar Rapids has 301 acres near Highway 13 and 100, most of which is used for Gardner Golf Course. Just under 40 acres are in prairie land, along with space leased by the city to gardeners. The Cedar Rapids City Council was mulling the sale of those 40 acres to fund renovations to the Twin Pines Golf Course, but that might be out of the question.

Smith told me that the land was purchased with federal money under the Housing and Urban Development’s Open Space Act – at a cost of $194,417 back on Aug. 5, 1963. The property was purchased from a private landowner named Julius Bigger, according to the documents. Under that act, which the federal government continues to monitor, if the city chose to sell the land, it would have to replace the open space with equally sized and equally valued land. That would mean finding 40 acres or so elsewhere and purchasing it in today’s dollars, not the value of the land as it was in 1963. So really, the city would have nothing to gain, and probably much to lose, in selling the property.

Smith gave credit to the visionary city leaders at that time for having the foresight to obtain green space for its residents. “We want to stick with that original agreement,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how long ago it was.”


The City Council plans to discuss the Twin Pines Task Force’s report regarding funding options at the council meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (March 5) at City Hall. It might be worth it to attend and see if the option of selling green space – maybe elsewhere – arises.

Comments (2) »

Happy Leap Year

Yippee… An extra day of February. Another cold, snowy winter day…

Spring – where are you???

Leave a comment »

2008 Lawn and Garden Show

This event listing is from Master Gardener Becki Lynch. 

 I don’t know about you, but my “cabin fever” hit a peak this week!  As a gardener, these are the days that seem the longest – while I wait for a day close to 30  degrees so I can go out and bask in the heat! I’ve devoured all the catalogs; have all kinds of plans for spring; can’t wait to start cleaning up the beds – and I’m stuck indoors – AHHHH 

That’s why I look forward to the WMT Lawn and Garden Show every year. This year the show will be Friday, March 7,  3 – 8 p.m.;  Saturday, March 8,  9 a.m. – 5 p.m;  Sunday, March 9,  10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Hawkeye Downs on Sixth Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Entrance Fee:  $5 (Look for coupon in the Gazette.)

 I am always eager to go and see all the booths.  Vendors from all types of garden equipment, garden art, landscaping needs and lawn care fill Hawkeye Downs.  I like to pretend for at least a little while that I’ll go home and go right out into the garden as I pick up new garden items. I also like the on-going door prize drawing.  I never seem to win, but there’s always a chance!  And, of course, I particularly like the Master Gardener’s booth, where you can ask any question you have on plants, gardens and those pesky garden pests. But my favorite time at the show is when I sit down and enjoy learning about a new garden topic.  Presentations are scheduled throughout the day, and the schedule is available in the Gazette prior to the show.   There are always one or two topics that I want to learn more about, and since the classes are included in the admission, the price is right! 

This year the Iowa State University Extension Linn County Master Gardeners will be offering four presentations throughout the event.  The topics are:


Kitchen Gardens – Friday, March 7, 5:30 p.m.

Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses – Sat. March 8, 12:30 p.m.

Garden with Children – Saturday, March 8, 2:30 p.m.

Old Gardener’s Tales – Sunday, March 9, 11:30 a.m.

 Such a nice variety!  Stop back next week and I’ll give you an overview of what they are and the topics they will cover – Becki  


Leave a comment »

Timely tree trimming tips

        Here’s an outdoor project for you to do right now.  Master Gardener Gene Frye provides helpful hints about pruning your trees and shrubs. Late winter/early spring is the optimum time for cleaning up and shaping up. (Plus, think of the exercise you’ll get before it’s really hot and humidJ) 


Proper pruning is an important and often neglected step in caring for woody plants,  mainly trees and shrubs. 


The main objectives of pruning woody plants are to control their size and shape, to correct defects in the plant’s structure and to repair storm or animal damage. 


One of the highest priority items to prune is narrow-angled crotches, for they are mechanically weak and subject to rot, hence they are vulnerable to storm damage.  Another category is branches that are dead, broken or diseased, for they are traditional entry points for rot to get started.  Finally, misplaced branches should be pruned out. 


 For most woody plants, late winter to early spring is the best time to prune, for the pruning wounds are exposed to the weather for a minimum amount of time before healing starts to take place.  A major exception is that spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned just after the blooms fade In order to avoid destroying flower buds.  Do not prune late in the growing season, for then the new growth that results may not have sufficient time to harden off before it gets cold.  This results in stressing the plant to the point where it may not survive the winter. It is important to avoid pruning oaks between mid-March and late September to minimize the chance of Oak Wilt disease being introduced to the tree.


·        Use the correct tools – regular pruning saws but no carpenter or bow saws.

·        Do not make cuts flush with the trunk.  Instead make the cut just outside of the branch collar.  (See Extension Publication SUL 5 for more specific directions.)

·        Do not use wound dressings except when pruning oaks during the growing season.

·        Do not remove more than one third of the plant tissues in any one year.

·        The chances of rot getting started increase rapidly for wounds over three inches in diameter. 


·        Extension Publication SUL 5, “Pruning Trees and Shrubs”

·        ISU Extension Publication Pm 1958, “Pruning Ornamental Shrubs”

·        Extension Publication SUL 6, “Managing Storm Damaged Trees”

·        ISU Extension Publication RG 104, “Horticulture Publications” 

Comments (5) »

Think Spring! More gardening classes

Following are classes offered at Hy-Vee, 5050 Edgewood Road NE, in Cedar Rapids. To register by phone, contact Customer Service at 319-378-0762.

Tips from our Garden Center: Winter 2007-2008: Are Our Landscapes at Risk? with Mike Duggan (Free) Saturday, March 1, noon to 1 pm. Mike Duggan, Garden Center manager, will discuss what to expect in our landscapes and gardens as we move towards spring. We have just experienced one of the most grueling winters on record. Discussion will include effects on trees, shrubs, lawns and gardens. Free. Pre-registration required.

 Tips from our Garden Center: Plant Propagation with Seed and Vegetative Cuttings with Mike Duggan (FREE) Saturday, March 15, 2 to 3 pm.  March is a key period for starting spring plants from cuttings and seed. Mike Duggan, Garden Center Manager, will explain and demonstrate how to get those seeds and young plants off to a good, healthy start. Class is free. Must pre-register. Seating is limited.

Leave a comment »

Season’s first harvest is sweet

The Indian Creek Nature Center is celebrating its 25th annual Maple Syrup Festival on Saturday, March 1, and Sunday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event features a pancake breakfast, syrup-making demonstrations and live music.

As Nature Center director Rich Patterson wrote in his column last week (Feb. 20) in The Gazette:  “Maple sap is the season’s first food crop. Sugarmakers tap trees, collect sap and boil it to concentrate sugar. Any maple, including sugar, black, silver, Norway and red, produces sap that can be made into syrup.”

If you’re the do-it-yourself type, the center sells syrup-making equipment for people who want to make a batch at home. I think I’ll let the experts do this one and enjoy my pancakes, syrup and sausages next weekend at the festival.

Tickets are available in advance at the Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids, ($6.50 for adults, $3.50 for children 3-12 years) or at the door (50 cents more per ticket.) And lucky you if you’re 25. To commemorate their anniversary, anyone age 25 will be admitted free!

Comments (1) »

It’s SUMMER!!! (just click here)

Silly me. I invited the Cedar Rapids City Council and the Golf Course Task Force to take a look at the city gardens and prairie land near Squaw Creek Park in the middle of February.

Right now, the view would be similar to what we’re seeing everywhere: snow, snow and more snow. And even though all the school snow days are getting a bit old,  my 10-year-old son took advantage of one of them to come up with a slideshow, showing scenes from our leased city garden from summers past. 

To remember what summer is like, just click below.

see slideshow here

Comments (2) »

Wild about orchids

Some news from University of Iowa Press on two new pocket flower guides:  

“Lady’s-slippers in Your Pocket” and “Ladies’-tresses in Your Pocket,” two new pocket flower guides by botanist Paul Martin Brown, will become available from the University of Iowa Press on March 1.

Brown writes that although native orchids are increasingly threatened by pressure from population growth and development, observant hikers may find them in every state and province. The pocket guides are first in a series that will cover all the wild orchids of the United States and Canada.

Brown provides general distributional information, time of flowering and habitat requirements for each species as well as a complete list of hybrids and the many different growth and color forms that make identifying orchids so intriguing.

For the lady’s-slippers he includes information on a dozen species, two additional varieties and six hybrids; and the ladies’-tresses guide includes information on six species, three additional varieties and seven hybrids.

Wild lady’s-slippers grow from Alaska to Texas and ladies’-tresses occur from British Columbia to Florida. Most of these species are easy to identify based upon their general appearance, range and time of flowering.

Brown serves as a research associate at the University of Florida Herbarium, the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

“Lady’s-slippers in Your Pocket” and “Ladies’-tresses in Your Pocket” are available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at

Comments (1) »

Something we haven’t seen for awhile – soil!

This post is by Master Gardener Dan Rockwell

We often hear that Iowa has some of the best soils in the world. Well what makes a good soil?

Iowa soils are great because of the tall grass prairie that covered much of the state 150 years ago. When we look at a tree, half is above the ground and half is below the ground, but when you look at prairie grass, 10% is above the ground and 90% represents the roots below the ground. That root system extends deep into a strata where the roots can extract valuable nutrients such as potassium and phosphorous and at the same time provide channels for rain water to enter deeply into the soil. As the roots die, they add organic matter to the soil, organic matter that provides nutrients that support a thriving biological community and gives the soil what farmers call tilth

 Tilth is a measure of soil structure.  A soil with good tilth has a structure that resists compaction and works well.  Good tilth is like good art, hard to define, but you know it when you see it.  This organic material in the soil represented a major storage of carbon.  In the last 100 years, we have plowed our soil eliminating the tall prairie grasses and significantly reducing the organic matter in the soil.  Plowing destroyed the organic matter by increasing the aeration of the soil, thereby increasing the rate of organic matter oxidation.  Some scientists believe that the destruction of soil organic matter has been a major contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So how can we make a good garden soil? One way is to incorporate organic matter into our garden and a good source of organic matter is compost. Compost is created by biologically converting our organic wastes (for example food scraps, grass clippings, and tree leaves) into a soil-like material. Compost mirrors the soil building properties of the tall grass prairie, and compost acts as a reservoir for nutrients, improves soil tilth, stores water and acts as a storage sink for carbon dioxide.  What a good way to improve your garden and decrease your carbon footprint! 

Comments (1) »

How I solve the city’s budget crunch

Now that the Cedar Rapids City Council has come up with $2.2 million in new and increased fees, I’m off the hook for solving all of the city’s budget problems (whew!) And I agree that fees are the way to go – for the most part – in making up for shortfalls by having primary users pay for those services.

That still doesn’t solve the Twin Pines golf course renovation dilemma, for which I’ve been challenged to come up with a solution.

The Council heard a loud public outcry against a proposal last year to sell part of  Twin Pines’ 150 acres to pay for up to $2 million in golf course renovations. I’ve heard little about a proposal for the same purpose to sell land next to Squaw Creek Park that the city owns, most of which is planted in prairie grass, along with 100 plots that city residents lease for gardens. I don’t imagine that Linn County will be jumping in with a pile of money to buy and preserve that land – but what about it, current and future Linn supervisors?

Perhaps Cedar Rapids could sell clubhouse naming rights to help fund the golf course renovation. Or  look to the example set by the city of Marion in funding its library, through a public-private partnership, starting with the help of a generous donor. Let’s see… are there any big-time golfers from Cedar Rapids who might be approached about such a proposal? Or they could look to the major effort led by our own Chuck Peters in finding $500,000 in community support for the four Marvin Cone and Grant Wood paintings that the Chamber planned to auction. Even the brick-by-brick naming approach could be a start. If the cause is a worthy one, people will support it. 

 I wouldn’t mind having a closer place to lease a garden in the city.  Cedar Rapids might offer empty city lots for community gardens, as Boston and other cities have done. But that doesn’t turn back the clock should the 90 or so acres near Squaw Creek Park be sold to developers. Once green space is gone, it’s gone forever.

 I realize my friends at the gardens – the potato guy; Hippie gardener, chemical granny and others – may not have the same voice that golfers and other Twin Pines supporters do. (Some of us would oppose selling public green space at either site.) And I’m pretty sure we won’t hear from the ground squirrels, monarch butterflies, goldfinch and other wildlife we regularly see in and near our gardens. So, I’d like to ask the golf course task force and City Council to take a look for themselves before they make a shortsighted decision to sell the land.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” (Ecologist Baba Dioum)      

Comments (2) »