Volume 2 Issue 4 | April 2021
Dear Readers,
The gardening season is upon us (many of us would add “AT LAST!”), and you may notice a shift in our focus at the Root. In past months we’ve sought to educate, inspire, and even entertain while many were housebound and needed a green focus. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and up our gardening game. We’ll be discussing garden design, highlighting creatures that should be welcomed into your garden or require remediation, detailing ways to improve your gardening skills, and of course will continue to share plant descriptions. We’ll still invite you to “Look Around”---there’s even more to see and note as the world greens up. Thank you for taking this journey with us these past months. Keep your seat for the months to come!  
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Look Around
Spring has finally arrived and there are signs of her celebration. Plant shoots are erupting from the ground and reaching for the sky. Their tightly held leaves and stems expand---a long awaited harbinger of spring and of garden delights to come. 

This simple act is the product of complex, yet elegant, systems working within the plant. The story began last year, with photosynthetic organs on leaf surfaces sending energy (glucose) through the plant stem to the root system for use in making flowers and seeds, but also for storage. Winter takes her toll on leaves and stems, but roots remain viable and functioning beneath the soil’s surface.  The warming soils of spring trigger the emergence of shoots, shoots that are powered to the soil surface by the stored energy in the roots. The energy required is impressive, as shoots often push through hard clay or debris laden soils.

The spring shoots are quite remarkable. They serve as the production center of the plant, and organize tissue into stem, leaf, and flower parts. Energy for this hefty job is tapped at precisely the right time, and plant parts emerge with exquisite precision. 

Our returning plants are known as herbaceous, plants that have non-woody stems and die back to the ground in winter. Their tender spring tissue is a succulent treat for animals (including the two-legged variety---think asparagus or ramps) because new growth has not yet developed tougher, secondary cell walls, making it possible for them to bend and maneuver in the ascent, and making them soft and easily digested. As the stems mature, they acquire the tough cells that give structure and strength, and these stems support the vital function of transporting glucose down to roots and water to the canopy above.

The whys and hows of these emerging shoots are engaging, to be sure, but the beauty of these sprouting wonders captures our imagination and feeds our souls. We look for the unfurling spiral shoots of the fiddlehead or ostrich ferns – a work of art. The expanding, fan-like leaves of lady’s mantle, the succulent rosettes of sedum Autumn Joy, the tightly furled hosta tips, the yellow and green blades of variegated iris greet spring (and us) in their unique fashion. Welcome back! Spring shoots offer us yet another reason to Look Around!

Click HERE for a look at common perennial plant shoots.
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Red Columbines
We spend the winter imagining, dreaming, hoping as we plan our garden. We browse the latest catalog coveting the biggest, brightest, eye-catching plant that the hybridizers have created. Maybe in our rush to out-do our own garden year after year, we can stop and think about something more subtle, more delicate, more unusual, that has always been around. I’m thinking of aquilegia, not the hybridized version in a rainbow of colors but the native Aquilegia canadensis. Let me tell you more.

Aquilegia canadensis, also known as wild, red, or Canadian columbine, is a beautiful and unique native plant. It grows throughout the eastern United states and southeastern Canada. Its delicate downward facing flowers are composed of vibrant red sepals and yellow petals that sway gracefully on slender stems. The Latin word aquilegia refers to the shape of those spur-shaped sepals that vaguely resemble eagle talons. No wallflower when in bloom, it can grow up to three feet tall and one and a half feet wide, with a mass of flower heads that last a month or more in late spring. When finished blooming, the deeply lobed leaves add movement and texture.

In the wild, red columbine can be found on slopes, rocky woodlands and even gravelly shorelines. In the garden it makes a great accent in shady areas. It doesn’t like to be crowded so give it room to wander as it self-seeds and fills in skimpier patches in the landscape. Red columbine is a true perennial, living 3-5 years (some hybrids are more short-lived) and readily spreads by seed.  It will tolerate a wide variety of conditions including full shade, sandy soil and even full sun with adequate moisture, though it does need good drainage.

We humans aren’t the only ones enamored with red columbine. Hummingbirds are their primary pollinator, but bumble bees and other insects are also attracted. Finches and bunting eat and scatter the seeds. Columbine leaves are the host plant for the larvae of the columbine duskywing butterfly. It also harbors pesky leaf miners but less so than hybrid varieties.

Red columbine can be difficult to transplant so fully grown plants or seeds may be your best bet. Sprinkle seeds on bare ground in the fall after seed collection or in the spring before it gets too hot. It could take a couple of years to get established but after that you are set! The columbine flowers are edible but the rest of the plant is toxic so I would take a pass on this one as a snack. The deer avoid it also because of the toxicity.

A few cultivars are available including ‘Corbett’, a compact form with sulfur yellow flowers and ‘Little Lanterns’, a dwarf variety growing less than 10” tall with blue-green foliage, and give added variety.

Like most native plants, red columbine is well-adapted to our local landscape and by establishing it in yours you do a favor to all the birds and insects that depend on it. The humans will appreciate it too!
J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Eastern Cottontail Rabbits
People have very divergent views about rabbits. The House Rabbit Society folks fervently believe that bunnies make wonderful house pets. Check out https://rabbit.org. Hunters target “wascawwy wabbits,” while foodies enjoy Flopsy and Mopsy at dinner! And gardeners certainly don’t want Peter Cottontail hoppin’ down their bunny trail! Are bunnies your friends or foes?
 
If you think you’re seeing lots of rabbits around, you’re not imagining it (unless they’re named Harvey). The Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most abundant rabbit in North America and one of the most common wildlife mammals in Ohio. Weighing between 2-4 pounds with long ears and large back feet, their small tails colored white on the underside give them their name. Their brownish fur turns greyish in winter.
 
The Eastern is one of 10 species of cottontails in the US— the others tend to have more specialized habitat requirements. Easterns actually benefit from human population growth, as cleared lands surrounded by brush or shrubbery provide ideal habitat (like your neighborhood!) Cottontails are shockingly prolific. One pair of rabbits is estimated to be capable of producing 350,000 offspring in five years if all survive. A doe digs a shallow nest in the ground, lining it with dry grass and fur from her body, and then visits twice daily to nurse the kits, who are born blind and deaf. Four to five weeks later the babies are on their own; many don’t survive their first year. A doe can have 5 litters in a season. Click HERE to learn what to do if you find a bunny nest in your yard, and HERE for more.
 
While European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) dig burrows and warrens that house up to 30 rabbits (think Richard Adams’ Watership Downs), Eastern cottontails are solitary and may aggressively defend their territory from their own species. Cottontails are polygamous breeders who engage in a courting behavior called “cavorting.” Rarely witnessed by humans, it involves running, leaping and roughhousing. The following PBS video Remarkable Rabbits is almost an hour long – a lot of bunny – and contains 3 ½ minutes of fun footage of bunnies cavorting in downtown Chicago. Watch it HERE.
 
Cottontails have many enemies other than Farmer McGregor—coyotes, owls, hawks, foxes, skunks, raccoons, snakes, weasels, opossums, cats, dogs, and the Elmer Fudds. Their first response to danger is to freeze, but they can dash off at up to 18 miles per hour for a half mile, using a zig-zag strategy to elude pursuers.
 
Eastern Cottontails are well-equipped to avoid predators. They have almost 360-degree vision—just a 10 degree blind spot directly in front. Their hearing is excellent, and their ears can move in different directions to catch sounds. A cottontail’s nose has 100 million scent receptors, compared to humans’ 5-6 million. Bunny nose-twitching isn’t just cute—it helps expose all those receptors.
 
Rabbits dine on a large variety of plants, but you already knew that! In the summer about half their food is grasses; the rest is wild strawberries, clover, garden vegetables and that expensive new plant you just put in. Rabbits have about 17,000 taste buds (compared to our 2,000-8,000), so you may feel better knowing they really appreciate your yummy vegetation!
 
Cottontails eat woody plant parts in winter, including twigs and bark (they do not hibernate). They feed at dawn and sunset, preferring to stay near “travel lanes”—areas of cover. Interestingly, they eat their poop—their initial pellets have nutrients remaining in them due to their inefficient digestive system so they re-digest. You may never see your rabbit guests, but you’ll see the evidence: plant damage close to the ground; a clean, 45 degree angled cut at the end of stems and leaves; woody plants debarked about 16 inches from the ground; and pellets! Rabbit teeth never stop growing, so chewing on tough foods helps wear them down.
 
More interesting bunny facts! The world’s largest rabbits are bred by a former Playboy model (not a bunny!). Check THIS out.
 
Rabbits swim? Yep! WATCH the Michael Phelps of the rabbit world!
 
And HERE'S a quick primer on how rabbits differ from hares.
 
Personally, I love rabbits—the milk chocolate kind! 
C Christian

Click HERE for information about rabbit control in your home garden.
Round Robin Gardening
It’s getting close to planting time for your home vegetable garden. You have the seeds and seedlings. You have the enthusiasm. What you need now is a plan.

Vegetable gardening is more than just putting plants in the soil and tending them. Is this your first foray into growing vegetables? Do you remember what you planted where last year? Have you tried crop rotation?

Plants are grouped into families because they share certain genetic and cultural similarities. They take the same nutrients from the soil and are prey to the same pests and diseases. It makes sense not to put them in the same place year after year. Regularly placing different crop families in different places in your garden helps to balance soil fertility and prevent insects and plant pathogens from establishing themselves where they can do the most damage. That requires you know about plant families and how they affect the soil they are planted in.

The best way to keep your crops rotated is to map your garden from year to year. If tomatoes went in one bed, you shouldn’t grow eggplant or peppers in that same bed because they are in the same family. Likewise with melons, cucumbers, gourds and squash. One successful technique is to plant your crops in a round-robin fashion, moving each crop into the next place each year, ensuring the same crop won’t be in the same spot for at least three years. HERE'S a webpage that will show you how to create this rotation.

Although there are 10 different families of vegetables you can grow, most gardeners focus mostly on five. Solanaceae, or nightshades, are tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers. Cucurbitaceae are gourds, melons, squash, watermelon, cucumbers. Brassicaceae are members of the mustard family: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, rutabagas. Fabaceae are legumes: bush beans, lima beans, pole beans, kidney beans, soybeans and peas. Chenopodiaceae, also known as the Goosefoot family, are beets, spinach and Swiss chard.

Of course, there are the lettuces, members of the aster family, and corn, in the grass family. The point is that you need to know who’s related to whom. No matter how many different kinds of vegetables you grow, you will need to keep track of each of them to ensure healthy plants and healthy soil.

Click HERE for a chart of each of the 10 plant families.

Mapping out your garden can be fun. Grab pen and paper and dream. 
S Vradenburg
Tasty & Aggravating: Meet Hairy Bittercress
By now, the snow has been gone long enough to see which of our perennials and shrubs have made it through the winter. Any sign of green peeking out is greeted with joy. 
 
Except for those pesky winter weeds. They are patient beings, germinating at the first sign of cold weather and waiting underneath the snow until spring signals them to get busy making seed. Summer is their winter, dormant until cold weather sets in and wakes them up. 
 
We all have a weed we love to hate. Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is second only to Canada thistle on my list. 
 
It’s almost cute, rosettes of green lying flat to the soil and, when it begins seed production in earnest, tiny white flowers appear that seem to have stepped from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Don’t let sweet looks fool you. If you’re not quick with the soil knife, those sweet little flowers will turn into tiny pods, just waiting for you or a stiff breeze to jostle them and Pop! They can expel their tiny seeds up to 16 feet into places you’d never think to look. You’ll find those spots next spring.  
 
Fortunately, they are shallow-rooted and can be pulled easily. This is one time the sooner the better clearly applies. It’s tedious work; look hard and show no mercy. 
 
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also tout this tiny weed’s good qualities, and they are many. As a member of the mustard branch of the brassica family, they add a peppery zing to salads. They are rich in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene and antioxidants. 
 
Once they’re out of the ground, there’s no law that says you have to toss them. Microgreens are all the rage right now. When you dig them up, be sure to have a container of water nearby to start the rinsing process. Those roots hold the soil tenaciously. Anything that will help you get a head start on rinsing is welcome. Once clean, toss them onto a salad or sandwich and enjoy.  
 
Some members of the hairy bittercress family are natives and are considered threatened or endangered, but not this Eurasian transplant. And certainly not at my house! 
 
Click HERE to learn more about Hairy Bittercress.
S Vradenburg
Fabulous Fungi
Mushrooms really are quite marvelous. There are at least 2,000 wild mushrooms in Ohio, and mycologists suspect there could be lots more. Mushrooms are diverse and beautiful (in a mushroom-y way). And they have cool names like turkey tails, jelly ears, lion’s mane and glow-in-the dark bitter oyster.
 
But what exactly is a mushroom? Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom. While plants make their food by photosynthesis, and animals eat and digest their food internally, fungi obtain nutrients by digesting food externally. Interestingly, mushroom DNA is more like humans than plants. Mushrooms are akin to the “fruit” of a plant, producing millions of microscopic spores which, if they land in wood or soil will form a network of tiny rooting threads (called “mycelium”— individual threads are “hyphae”). The caps, gills and stems of the mushroom disappear quickly, but the mycelium, by far the largest part of the mushroom, can live for years, extracting nutrients and sending up an annual crop of mushrooms. Mycelium can extend for hundreds of acres! This VIDEO has some great footage of these fabulous fungi.
 
Mushrooms play many roles in both the natural and human worlds. Most mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they live on dead organic matter and recycle nutrients, an incredibly important part of our ecosystem. Conversely, parasitic fungi feed on living plants (and may eventually kill the host). Mushrooms are used for medicines, biofuel, building products, skincare—and even as a treatment for hair loss! Is there anything mushrooms can’t do? Watch HERE to see.
 
A third kind of fungi, called mycorrhizal, seem to almost have superpowers! Mycorrhizal means “fungus root”, and refers to how the fungi actually grow into other plants’ roots, creating a symbiotic relationship. Beginning in the 1990s, forest ecologists began to view forests as a superorganism with social relationships between trees. The trees are connected by a mycorrhizal network between tree roots and fungi sometimes called the “wood-wide-web”. This network allows nutrients to flow freely back and forth between fungi and plant, but scientists think it may also communicate signals for help between trees, or allow for “mother” trees to tend to their “babies”. WOW! Learn more HERE.
 
Mushrooms are a great food source, but foraging for wild mushrooms can be risky. HERE'S why. If, as the article says, there is no way to tell if a mushroom is poisonous or edible, I’m limiting my mushroom foraging to Giant Eagle. If you are a risk-taker, this may help keep you alive: Mushrooms of the Northeast: A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms, by Walt Sturgeon (Walt has a mushroom named after him!)
 
If you're really passionate about mushrooms (and are willing to put your money where your mouth is), check out “Fantastic Fungi,” a 2019 documentary about mushrooms and the cool things about them. You can watch a preview for free; the film can be rented or bought on various streaming services). Here's a LINK.
C Christian
I Can Hardly Contain Myself!
April and May bring the garden chore I love the most---gathering favorite pots, interesting containers and plants I’ve grown and purchased and setting to the task of creating pleasing plant combinations for porch and patio. I often gather a group of friends who bring their pots and we have a pot party---not the kind that will make you silly, but the kind that is hours of fun and results in the creation of beautiful containers for home displays.

I’ve been doing this long enough that I am drawn to the more unusual and interesting plant mixes, and one that I find particularly satisfying is the use of combinations of perennials with colorful foliage. Is it possible to create a non-blooming perennial container that rivals the beauty of colorful combinations of blossoms? Absolutely! 

There are many perennials with interesting leaf colors and textures and that thrive in pots. I like the contrast of green, red, and yellow or chartreuse foliage, but there are other colors to consider: black, white, and variations of the above. It may seem trite, but the rule of three (when combining smaller numbers of plants go for three, five, or other odd numbers for a more pleasing presentation) and the old filler-spiller-thriller technique will enhance the success of your combination. When I plant a 12 to 14 inch pot I use three perennial plants, and by midseason the planter is full and the plants are comingling happily. 

When choosing perennials for your pots the first order of business is to determine whether your container will be sitting in a sunny or shady site. Look for perennials with colorful leaves and interesting shapes and textures that combine to provide a contrast in color and form. Place them together and you will see if they play well with each other. 

There are many perennial plant options, and the newer cultivars often offer colors that will take your breath away. Here are a few of my shade favorites: 
  • Heucheras can be short lived in the landscape. In pots they find their happy place. They come in beautiful shades of chartreuse, red, purple and black with a bonus of delicate sprays of flowers. 
  • Hostas now offer yellow, chartreuse and beautifully variegated foliage, and broad leaves that contrast nicely with grass blades or the cut leaves of ferns and astilbes.  
  • Did someone say astilbes? Who could garden without the airy leaves and gorgeous plumes of these beauties? The Color Flash cultivar offers red tinged leaves, and Amber Moon shines a bright gold. These are great container plants. 
  • Ferns provide softness and a lovely contrast in containers. Japanese painted ferns bring color to the mix.
  • For a beautiful draping effect, incorporate some hakanechloa grass (Japaneses forest grass). Aureola and All Gold provide a beautiful yellow to chartreuse color.

For sunny locations consider:
  • Red Baron Japanese Blood Grass has 1-2 foot brilliant crimson leaves. What an exclamation point! Speaking of grasses---there are multitudes of wonderful cultivars to choose from: Little Miss Maiden (miscanthus) and Smoke Signal Bluestem are two.
  • Most heucheras (see above) will grow in full sun, but need need regular and adequate water.
  • Autumn Delight Sedum (upright) and Angelina Sedum (groundcover) both provide a pop of chartreuse. Watch the watering---they like it dry.
  • Ascot Rainbow Euphorbia, another dry-lover, adds great leaf and color contrast to containers.
  • Aurea Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny) can be a thug in the landscape, but is a charming draper in a pot or window box.
  • Black Scallop ajuga will make you take a second look, with its almost-black, ground-hugging form.

Follow container planting best practices:
  • Make sure your container has a drainage hole---waterlogged soils are a sure route to plant decline and death.
  • Use a good potting mix for its water and air retention abilities (no garden soil).
  • Combine plants with like light and water requirements.
  • Add slow-release fertilizer when planting and supplement with water soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks.
  • Water when dry and then thoroughly.
  • Trim unsightly foliage and to keep plants in bounds---there will be some naturally dominant plants.

At the end of the season consider the enjoyment you’ve received from your perennial pot. Remove the perennials to plant them into your garden beds or pop them into a plastic nursery pot and place in a sheltered spot in your garden buried up to their soil line to reuse next spring.

Surely there’s a spot for a perennial planter among your annual pots. Maybe a project for your spring pot party?

K Edgington
Down and Dirty
April Checklist

  • Plant cold season vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and broccoli
  • Spray deer repellent on emerging shoots of tulips and perennials
  • Plant and/or fertilize roses, trees and shrubs
  • Trim summer flowering shrubs like spirea and rose of Sharon
  • Divide perennials
  • Edge flower beds in preparation for mulching in May
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

  • Inside the Hive: A Closeup Look at the Honeybee's Home with Summit County Apiary Inspector Randy Katz on Wednesday, April 21st at 6:30 pm.

  • Not Your Grandmother's Container with landscape and container designer Diane Fort on Wednesday, May 5th at 6:30 pm.

  • How to Grow Terrific Tomatoes with Summit County Master Gardener Lee Paulson on Wednesday, June 2nd at 6:30 pm.

Meet Me In the Garden Series

  • Earth-Kind Rose Growing with American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian Cal Schroeck on Wednesday, May 26th at 6: 30 pm.

  • Useful Beauty: Garden Lessons from the Service Gardens at Stan Hywet Hall with Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens Senior Horticulturalist Brian Gregory on Wednesday, June 23rd at 6:30 pm.

Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
She comes like a bride in front of a tide of emerald mist
No keen weather stays her, no bird disobeys her, no bud can resist!
Geoffrey Dearmer, "Now April Has Come"
We invite you to share The Root of It with your gardening friends and family. If you would like to subscribe to our mailing list please visit our website, scroll to the bottom, and follow the link under Join our email list.
The Root of It staff: Karen Edgington (Editor), Emma Barth-Elias (Photo Editor), Carolyn Christian, Jennifer Gramlich, Sarah Vradenburg, and Geoff Kennedy (Technical Advisor)
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