A Midland Horticulturist’s Stellar Achievement: Grass on Main

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The stellar directing sounds boring, but it’s remarkable in the way it was performed and why it looked so good. And it’s:

Grass on the main street. Sod laid directly over the asphalt without soil, except for what came with the sod.


Two blocks of Main Street have been closed to traffic for most of the summer to create an open space and a safe area for walking and relaxing where vehicles usually move and park.

Given this opportunity, Richardson planned and planted two pedestrian plazas on Main, one in front of Diamond Jim’s and the other outside the Molasses Smokehouse + Bar. Two areas approximately 12 feet by 30 feet were transformed into green spaces, with flowerpots, small trees and grass. They “paved” the adjacent sidewalk with strips of grass.

The trees and the flowers were obvious. What Richardson and Lefevre bet – and won – is that with water and care, the turf would look, feel and smell like real grass, as if it was growing on ground. It was mowed as needed but not fertilized. Indeed, it was real grass.

Several weeks ago, by the time traffic returned to Main Street, the sod had been removed and reused on the Gordon Street outlaw next to the H hotel where he is doing very well.

The turf experience was one of Richardson’s ‘ah-ha’ moments as she remembered this, her 15e growing season with the town of Midland.

November and December are not the best times to work in the yard. But it’s a great time to plant and especially prepare the gardens for the 2022 season. City horticulturist Stephanie Richardson offers these “do now” tips for the next few weeks:

  1. Cut back the foliage of perennials for a neat winter look and something you won’t have to do in the spring. Divide the plant if it has grown too tall or has not grown vigorously in a few years. Most perennials divide easily and now is a great time to do so.
  2. Ornamental grasses can be left in place to provide color, texture and movement to the winter landscape. The only downside is that the snowfall weighs it down and has to take care of the foliage, usually a lot, next spring.
  3. This is the only season to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowers. Local outlets have a favorite supply, as do online merchants.
  4. Consider a “dormant seeding” of wildflowers or grasses. The seeds will overwinter and germinate at the right time in 2022.
  5. Put up protection to minimize damage from deer.
  6. Clean, sharpen and sterilize tools, especially pruning shears.


Ah-ha moment # 2 came in early summer. But first, a botanical discussion.

Catnip is a popular perennial that is about two feet tall and about as wide. Its foliage is gray-green and slightly aromatic. The flowers are lavender blue and are appreciated for their vigor and ease of maintenance. It is sturdy and reliable, which makes it ideal for hot and dry areas.

And that’s why Richardson chose to plant catnip a few years ago in the traffic island on S. Saginaw Road in downtown Midland. It is wide open to the sky and potentially dry from the radiant heat of the concrete surrounding it. Like most city gardens, it is irrigated, so water shouldn’t be a problem.

Botanically, catnip and catnip are quite different plants. Both are from the mint family but in a different genus. Catnip is a jagged-looking plant but with white flowers. A chemical, nepetalactone, covers its leaves and stems with tiny pods, which cats like to pop because of its aroma.

Richardson said she and her crews were constantly monitoring the various planted areas. In mid-June, she noticed that the catnip planted in the city center was not looking good; some plants were shriveled and the bed was not as sturdy as you might expect with this sturdy perennial. The flowering was not as complete as usual and in general the large flower bed with hundreds of catnip plants looked sad. So she investigated.

“The closer I looked, the worse the individual plants looked; many died. The ground was wet and there was no sign of bugs. It turned out that we watered the bed way too much. I did some research and confirmed what I knew: this plant prefers dry conditions. We didn’t water the bed the rest of the summer.

At this point in the summer, Midland was officially in a drought situation, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

At the heart of another ‘ah-ha’ moment is the challenges facing the nation as a whole: supply chain issues and labor shortages. This also applies to the horticulture industry, said Richardson.

The town of Midland buys many perennials and annuals each year, and Richardson said she has noticed that all too often plants come in with aphids and root fungi present on too many plants, some have weeds growing in the pot. Some were much smaller than expected. These she rejected, even if that could mean bypassing a bed somewhere.

“We don’t have time to breastfeed and give birth to a healthy plant, given our labor shortage, the short growing season and the many areas around town that we are planting,” she noted.

The lack of quality perennials also led Richardson and his team to grow theirs by dividing an existing plant into several smaller plants and growing them for a year or more until they were large enough to be. used in flower beds. This is the same technique available to homeowners.

In the past, Richardson had 18 municipal employees to do the work assigned to the horticultural department. This year, 10 were available and some contract workers were recruited at various times.

“It takes a lot of training for new crew members,” she said. “We assume they have a knowledge base from scratch and go from there – how to dig, how to dig safely, how to plant properly; then there is the equipment and truck training.

“I’m so proud of our team and our team leaders, like Carie. Are we ideal or perfect? No, but we try to make the job fun and interesting and to learn how to play with the strokes.

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