The Green Thumb
news & updates
for Polk County Master Gardeners
June 2021
Message Regarding Covid-19

ISU Extension and Outreach, Polk County is working to adhere to local, state and national recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Our priority is the health and safety of our staff, volunteers and program participants. 

Volunteer guidance in accordance with ISU:

  • ISU Extension and Outreach no longer has a face covering or social distancing mandate.
  • Whether someone is wearing a face covering – or is not wearing a face-covering – should not be used as an indication of their vaccination status. A person who is vaccinated may choose to continue wearing a face covering for other health or personal reasons. We ask all members of the ISU Extension community to be respectful and supportive of others’ right to wear a face covering, and to not ask others about their vaccination status. 
  • Prepared food restrictions have been lifted. Safe food handling is still a priority for ISU Extension and Outreach.
  • We have returned to our pre-COVID policies regarding food/hospitality.
  • Yes, this means that potlucks can return! 
  • Please refer to the Food Safety for County Offices document dated May 4, 2021, from Human Sciences, for food handling safety procedures and expectations for extension staff and volunteers.
  • The latest information can be found on the Open for Iowa website.
ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County is committed to sharing pertinent information from the Polk County Health Department regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Check out the Polk County Health Department website (available in Spanish here) or their Facebook page (@polkcohealth) for the latest information.
Additionally, for seniors 65 and over in Polk County without a computer or internet access OR for our non-English speakers, Polk County Health has opened a help-line, (515) 323-5221, to answer questions regarding how to schedule a vaccine appointment. 
Message from Steering Committee Chair

Just a quick highlight for this month to celebrate the return of a fairly "normal"-looking gardening season! Please take the time to check out the educational offerings in each of our three gardens (in the respective articles below), and the updates to the Covid guidance above. With the cancellation of many of these events in 2020, we hope you can get out and enjoy these events, and community with fellow Master Gardeners, this year.

See you in the garden—

Steering Committee Chair
Project Updates
Spring Plant Sales - Thank you!

Thank you to all the many volunteers who participated in the spring plant sale fundraisers for Polk County Master Gardeners! Whether it was digging, dividing, potting, pricing, advertising, managing Facebook, setting up, or working at the sale itself; and for making purchases, your volunteerism and support made a difference. The sales on April 17th and May 8th at the Enabling Garden and the sale on May 15th and 16th at the Demonstration Garden raised a combined total of over $27,000 for PCMG's general and project budgets!
While plant sales at outdoor venues without a greenhouse have their challenges, this indicates that with effort and cooperation we can raise funds to support our organization. Fundraising does not need to be limited to plant sales. If you have ideas for fundraising events, spring or fall, please provide them to

Community Volunteer Opportunity -
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

These volunteer opportunities at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden offer Master Gardeners the opportunity to both share and expand their knowledge:

Garden Coach
This new program works with non-profit organizations that currently do or would like to incorporate plant based programming to those they serve but may not have the know how to do so. The program pairs knowledgeable volunteer “coaches” with staff and/or those who will be gardening to provide information and training on best practices, planning, problem solving and more. This could be in vegetable, annual or perennial gardening. Volunteers have access to a resource library and may also consult with the program coordinator, other Garden Coaches, and the staff at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

Garden Host
This role supports guests looking for information while visiting the Botanical Garden. Garden Hosts are trained to know a little bit about many aspects of the Garden and provided resources to learn more about many specific plants and gardens. This position is gratifying for those who enjoy visiting with and assisting others. It is a great way to learn about many of the plants and activities available at the Garden and help others truly enjoy their visit.

Tour Guides
In the near future the Botanical Garden will resume both pre-scheduled and weekend walk-in tours. Volunteers are trained to share stories of how the Garden developed and future plans for growth. They also learn to share information about many familiar and unusual plants. Although a basic tour format and script are provided, volunteers are encouraged to weave in their favorite stories and plant information as well.

All three roles offer flexibility in scheduling although many Garden Hosts or Tour Guides schedule themselves for regular shifts. The positions provide those who have completed their Master Gardener training to share what they have learned and encourage others to develop an interest in the plant world. To read the position description of each role go to:

To indicate your interest in a position, fill out the volunteer application below the position descriptions. Volunteers are interviewed and information about training requirements for the roles will be discussed. For more information or if you have questions, email or call 515.323.6293.
Demonstration Garden

Thank you to all our volunteers that participated in May activities. Beds have been planted and in many cases rain has provided us early watering.
Monday evening work nights have started and they certainly are necessary. The spring rains have brought on the weeds with a vengeance. It is quite a challenge keeping up with them. Start time 5pm, arrive when you can, leave when you must. Monday evenings do not work for you? Please reach out to a co-chair. There is always an ongoing list of volunteer opportunities that can be completed daytime hours that better suit your schedule. We are still looking for a number of volunteers to band together and take on some of the beds. 
June brings us an outdoor wedding the first weekend and then starting the following week on Thursdays our summer education program begins. Bring your own lawn chair or use one of the nearby benches. Start time 7pm.

  • June 10th: Barry Law - Care and Maintenance of Dwarf Conifers
  • June 17th: Derek McKay - Zone Pushing
  • June 24th: Marcia Leeper – Blooming Foliage
  • July 1st: Betty Mathers - Nature Prints with Wild Flowers
  • July 8th: Allie Delany (Renovation Jungle) - Houseplants

We look forward to seeing you in the garden.
Discovery Garden

Greetings all. The garden has been 75% planted with about three left to plant. Garden Mulch is scheduled to be delivered on Monday 6/7. There will be no Wednesday worknight that week due to the Pork Expo since we will be locked out of the fairgrounds from 6/9 through 6/11.  People can go out on alternate dates if they want to get a head start on mulching their beds.
Two education classes will be held at the garden in the month of June which are free and open to the public. Both classes will be held in the Farm Bureau shelter just east and south of the garden starting at 6:00 p.m., right after our regular worknight.
  • 6/16: Stormwater Control and Rebate Program with Derek Namanny, Environmental Engineer for the City of Des Moines  
  • 6/23: Iowa Native Plants with Eileen Robb

Be aware that the Jr High Rodeo starts at the fairgrounds on 6/17 and continues through the following week with lots of extra traffic on the fairgrounds.

Coming up, the Good Guys Car show from 7/2-7/4 with limited ability to enter the fairgrounds.

Any new interns interested in hours or volunteering at the Discovery Garden can just show up on any given Wednesday starting at 3:00.
Enabling Garden

MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE RAIN: How does one do that? Get outside and make it about someone else. It was the Enabling Garden’s second plant sale in three weeks; this one to fund county-wide master gardener projects. Several things were in our favor. There were no downpours, deluges, or strong winds. It was dry during set up and clean up. Only for a brief time did we huddle under tents prior to the start of the sale. Lastly, we’ve obviously developed a good track record with customers; there was a constant stream of interest, and sales went well in spite of the weather.  Thank you fellow gardeners. “Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.”  Quote by Sam Sunquist. 

ORNITH-O-GALUM (Starflower); more commonly known as The Star of Good Hope. This unusual beauty was introduced to the Enabling Garden a couple years ago by Steve and Sharon Nelson-Vaux. Not only does the name attract interest, but it’s display at the plant sales wasn’t your usual potted plant. These tennis ball size bulbs and bulblets sat in individual sacks teasing all customers with a “Try me”. The bulbs MUST stick out of the ground at least 50% to prevent rot developing. It likes full sun and grows to 36” tall. Another plus? It is a long-lasting cut flower. They must be dug in the fall and stored in a frost-free location. Dig at first sign of potential light frost and cut back foliage to 6-8 inches. See attached photo.

ALWAYS LOOKING FOR MORE GARDENERS: Since the season started, I personally have met nine new volunteers. Some were involved in plant sale preparations; others have been showing up on our Tuesday evening work nights; several have elected to take on the responsibility of a new bed.  You all bring personality and heart to the garden and we are so grateful to have you join us. “The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they’ve ever done before.” Quote by Vita Sackville-West

A SMORGASBORD OF ANNUALS: Liken it to an all-you-can-eat buffet; every table and bench was covered with these colorful beauties, and we all dived in to help ourselves. We were so pleased to see so many come out for this event. Even though a week later than planned, I hope everyone noted that very timely and gentle rains arrived ahead of us and softened the soil in preparation for planting. Count every blessing!

“THOSE SAVVY SUCCULENTS!” This is an educational opportunity you won’t want to miss.    Save the date. Tuesday, June 15th 6:00 PM. Master Gardener Mamta Israni will be bringing succulents with her, and will explain how they are different than other plants. We’ll also learn how to grow and propagate them. Come and be amazed at the marvelous properties and potential of these easy-to-grow plants. If you arrive earlier to work an hour or two, be prepared to lay down the tools and join us. Your own lawn chair is optional.

CHILDREN’S ART IN THE GARDEN: WE NEED EVERYONE! Tuesday, 6:00 PM, July 20th is the day and we are still in need of five more volunteers.  If interested, please contact Marlene Olson at 515-681-6344 or email at  This has always been a very popular event. Because of covid restrictions we were unable to hold this program in 2020. Population in the area has increased, therefore, we are expecting a large turnout of children.

TOGETHER ON TUESDAYS:  This is a weekly reunion and we love it! Keep it noted on your calendar or planner. Plan your arrival around 4:00 PM every Tuesday or whenever most convenient.

VIEWS FROM VISITORS: You’ll often find them in the garden early AM or around sunset, carrying a zoom-lens camera strapped around their neck. I make it a point to introduce myself and inquire if they are members of the Enabling Garden Facebook group. If not, would they consider joining and sharing their photos with us? Sure enough, before the day is over, striking photos appear.

Recently one photographer shared another experience.  He asked me; “Did you know there are mink in the garden?”  He had just observed a mink chasing a very young rabbit.  Yes, mink have been sighted, and most generally in the mornings. I witnessed one jumping out of a four foot high raised bed and then attempting without success to scale up a birdhouse pole.  We owe our thanks for these wildlife interest stories to the city’s nearby retention pond.

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”  Quote by Zen Shin
Submitted by Ruth O’Connor


Beaverdale Farmers' Market

The Polk County Master Gardeners will have an information booth at the Beaverdale Farmers Market! We will be present at the market on the first Tuesday of the month:

  • July 6th
  • August 3rd
  • September 7th

The booth is staffed from 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. Set up starts at 3:45 p.m. We generally work in 1.5 hour shifts.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Mary Gannon at or 515.201.3756!

Thank you!
Downtown Farmers' Market

We’ve recently received word that, due to COVID precautions, the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market will initially include only fresh produce and artisan-packaged food booths when the Market opens in May 2021. We’ll schedule Farmers’ Market appearances by the Polk County Master Gardeners when, and if, that rule is relaxed as the season proceeds. We’ll let you know with a Green Thumb announcement when and if that happens, so you can volunteer for open spots. In the meantime, thanks for your patience. 

Matt, Sherri and Randy.
Continuing Education Opportunities
Rain Gardens 101
Learn about Rain Gardens with the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens and the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District!

Check out this recording from a past event, featuring Julie Perrault, watershed coordinator for the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District.

Special thanks to Julie and the Botanical Gardens for letting us share this resource with our Master Gardeners!

Iowa Master Gardener YouTube Channel
Check out these new additions!

  • Increasing Wetland Vegetation throughout Iowa - 1 hour
  • Becoming an Urban Water Steward - 1 hour
  • Forest Impacts to Water Quality - 1 hour

Review concepts from the MG Training with these webinars:
  • Plant Pathology - 1 hour
  • The Nature of Native Plants - 1 hour
  • Botany - 1 hour
  • Insect Pest Management - 1 hour
Safe Mushroom Foraging
Learn about mushrooms, how to identify them, best hunting practices, and common fungi found in the spring across Iowa! Videos feature Dr. Lina Rodriguez-Salamanca from the ISU Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic.