Volume 3 Issue 4 | April 2022
Armchair gardening season is over. Pruners, shovel, trowel, and trug move to a ready position. Daily walks to see the new growth are a must. April!
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Look Around
Spring flowers at last! Glorious bulb displays, unfurling peonies, and the gorgeous Secrest Arboretum crabapple extravaganza. We’re seduced by large blooms, bright colors and heady fragrance at this time of year, and apt to miss the less conspicuous, but oh-so-intricate beauty of tiny flowers. 

Plants that are wind pollinated have no need for showy, fragrant flowers that draw the bees, wasps and other pollinators needed for seed set. Maples are wind pollinated, and, although they bloom when leaves have not yet unfurled, their small, inconspicuous flowers are easy to miss. Lift your eyes to a red maple in early spring to see beautiful, small, red flowers, both male and female. The female flower’s long stigma is poised to catch windblown pollen grains released from the beautiful gold stamens of the male flower. Grab a pair of binoculars and check out these small beauties.
Acer rubrum
photo by E Barth-Elias
Walk through an oak grove in May and look to the uppermost branches. That’s where the action is. Very small female flowers on spiky stems await pollination by catkins (masses of male flowers attached to long, slender stems). When caught by the wind these dangling catkin flowers release their tiny yellow pollen particles. Because wind pollination depends on plant proximity and the presence of wind, it is less effective than animal pollination, and wind pollinated plants must produce large amounts of pollen (as is evidenced by the yellow film on tables and chairs near oaks or pines or other wind pollinated plants in spring). The graceful sway of the yellow-green catkins and these tiny oak flowers – oaks give a lot of bang for your buck on a May day. 

What we call a dandelion flower is really a collection of 150 to 200 individual ray flowers, each having both male and female parts. These sexual parts mature at different times to avoid self-pollination. Why are so many flowers needed for this plant’s reproduction? Dandelions are wind pollinated and produce an abundance to ensure survival. Grab a magnifier and look at the tiny ray flowers – beauty within beauty.

Grass flowers are wind pollinated, as are cereal crops, nut trees and about 12% of all flowering plants. Check out their small, beautiful blooms. Look Around.

K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Acer Triflorum
Acer triflorum
photo courtesy of Paul Snyder
A beautiful maple, resoundingly photogenically magnificent! High praise for the Three-Flowered Maple (Acer triflorum) from Dr. Michael Dirr, University of Georgia plant physiologist and OSU alum. What makes this maple tree so special? Read on…

Slow-growing, this maintenance-free maple won’t get out of hand in your yard. Growing about 15 feet in ten years, it will max out at about 25 feet tall and 25 feet wide. In full sun it grows upright, but in shade this maple spreads and works nicely as an understory tree. It prefers acid, well-drained soil but tolerates a wide range of conditions including clay soil.

What makes it so photogenic? Its spreading shape gives it a striking silhouette, and the moderately textured trifoliate-shaped leaves form a dense, rounded canopy. Known for dazzling shades of orange and red in autumn, it can produce apricot, gold, purple, and scarlet accents as well.
The colors easily persist for 3 to 4 weeks, even in the shade. If you’re not impressed yet, maybe the winter wardrobe will win you over. The ash brown-gray bark on both branches and trunk peels in strips, revealing dark wood beneath in wonderful contrast to the snow. When considering the year round, you’ve got yourself a Miss Photogenic Award winner!

Why are we talking about this tree in April? As the name suggests, the green-yellow flowers bloom in groups of three, in early spring. These flowers are then replaced by paired fruits called samaras, familiarly known as helicopters or whirligigs. Incidentally, the winged seeds are edible and are packed with protein and carbs.

How come you may not have heard of this maple before? As a native of China and Korea, it was first cultivated in the United States in 1923. Not easy to propagate, it requires a double dormancy (both stretches of cold and warm) before the seeds will sprout, and cuttings are tricky too. Not currently produced by nurseries on a large scale, the Three-Flowered Maple can be found through specialty growers. This beauty was a 2004 Great Plant Pick, a prestigious 2008 Cary Award winner for best plants of New England, and a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Gold Medalist.

What else is there to like about Acer triflorum? It is well adapted to tough conditions and is hardy to zone 4. With some pruning, it can be grown as a large shrub because of its low branching. While susceptible to verticillium wilt, this maple is typically disease and pest free. It makes a good street tree because the roots are not overly aggressive and can even be styled into a bonsai. So, there you have it, the latest It-Girl of the garden! No Diva, she is attractive, charming, and versatile.  

J Gramlich
The Story in Your Soil
If there is one phrase that’s been repeated in Root articles, it’s “Get a soil test.” It is the A in the A-B-Cs of gardening. Without knowing what is in your soil, you are gardening blind. Do your plants need acid soil (Hello, blueberry lovers)? What’s organic matter? What’s all the talk about phosphorus?

A soil test, like a blood test for physicians, gives an accurate reading of what is under foot. As a gardener, knowing your soil’s physical, chemical and organic components leads to a flourishing landscape.

Reading a soil test can be daunting but doesn’t require a degree in organic chemistry to understand. Taken at various spots in your garden, a soil test will give you its acid-alkali balance, or pH. It will list what nutrients are in the soil, its physical properties and the percentage of organic matter. Soils’ acid/alkali balance is important because plants can only take up nutrients from soil within a specific range of pH. Most plants, with some notable exceptions like hydrangeas, do best in soil with a slightly acidic pH of 6.2 to 6.7.

A soil test will list the percentages of macronutrients, micronutrients and organic matter in your soil. Macronutrients, so named because plants must have large amounts of them to grow, are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All soil tests will give numbers for phosphorus and potassium. Because the minerals that create soil break down over millions of years, these elements remain relatively consistent.

Numbers for nitrogen are omitted because nitrogen is water soluble, is taken up by plants and therefore does not remain in the soil, and must be constantly replenished. Tests may give recommendation by element – N, P or K – with the amount usually stated in pounds per square foot. You may see numbers for micronutrients such as boron, iron and zinc, but it is rare that these minerals aren’t present in your soil in adequate amounts.

Although you can amend soil deficient in one macronutrient or another, its overall chemical composition can’t change much. That’s why a soil test is also a good guide to plant selection. Why keep dumping lime in the soil when it would be easier to use an acid-loving plant such as a hydrangea?

Test results will also give you a number called Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which is your soil’s ability to hold nutrients for plants to take up when needed. The higher the CEC number, the better. Clay soil has the best holding capacity so learn to love, not curse, the abundance of clay in our native soil. One of the ways to raise CEC is to add organic matter, the biological component that feeds the organisms and gives the soil life.

A soil test is only as good as the sample. Don’t take from a narrow area but over the entire plot you’re testing.
Example of four testing areas with possible sample configurations
Image courtesy of Joe Boggs
Agricultural universities such as Michigan State or Pennsylvania State University are excellent sources for soil tests. The results will include fertilizer recommendations, and your county extension agent can help you interpret the results.

Your soil is a book; its composition the story. The more you read, the more you will learn and understand what a rich tale your soil has to tell.
Creature Feature - Spring Peepers
And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night? (Quote attributed to Chief Seattle, Susquamish tribe, 1854.)
Pseudacris crucifer
photos by Jerry Cannon
While historians now believe that Chief Seattle probably didn’t make the speech that turned him into an environmental icon, it’s still beautiful. (Read his speech HERE.) And the sound of frogs definitely enriches our world, especially when they are heralding spring. The tiny Pseudacris crucifer, or spring peeper, is one of the earliest to shout the good news — and shout they do! Spring peepers, found in central and eastern Canada and the U.S., are a member of the Hylida family (small tree frogs). They are easily identified by the X marking on their back, which contributes to part of their name (crucifer means cross), but they are not easy to spot. However, they are very easy to hear! 
 
Being within 20 inches of a peeper is like standing 25 feet from a motorcycle – the noise level is around 90 decibels. A peeper’s sound can also be amplified by its location in crevices, tall vegetation or near bodies of water, and those locations can create echoes. Peepers may also seem especially loud after a winter of silent, snowy landscapes. HERE is a full hour of peepers chirping, which you might find relaxing or annoying! 
 
So how does a creature less than 1.5 inches long and weighing 1 ounce make such a BIG noise? Males close their mouths and nostrils and squeeze air from their lungs into a vocal sac in their throat. The sound occurs as the air leaves the lungs, passes over the vocal cords and enters the vocal sac, which then inflates like a bubble. Watch HERE.
 
And why do they sing? The usual story…looking for love! Males chirp at a rate of 20 times a minute, creating a sound akin to sleigh bells. Often they sing in trios, with the deepest voice starting first. Scientists believe that males who talk faster and louder are more attractive to the ladies (does that sound familiar?) The ladies look at it this way — more energy is needed to produce more sound, so a talkative frog is in better shape and will make a better mate (the analogy to humans is fading…) The chorus begins in early spring, usually at night, and continues through the end of the breeding season in June.
 
Females lay between 800 to 1,200 eggs attached to submerged vegetation in vernal pools or ponds. Eggs hatch within two weeks, and the tadpoles become frogs 6 to 12 weeks later. Scientists think a peeper’s life span is at most three years. After breeding, peepers disburse and lead solitary lives in woodlands or swamps. In winter peepers hibernate under soil, leaves or logs.
 
So how do such tiny creatures stay warm? Peepers produce a natural “antifreeze” substance (glycerol, once used in automobile antifreeze) in their tissues that prevents ice from forming inside their cells. Ice may form outside the cells, so the frog may partially freeze, and their heart can stop beating. This protection works at temperatures around 21 degrees F. Below that, peepers must rely on the insulating effect of snow and leaves—or become peeper popsicles.
 
Peepers are excellent climbers, with a flat, sticky pad on each toe that allows them to grip but are most often found on the ground. Just because you hear a peeper does not mean you will see one! As you approach, they go silent, and their tan, grey, brown and olive skin tones allow them to “disappear” into tree bark or leaf litter. Watch THIS to see how hard they are to spot. 
 
Peepers are night hunters, eating beetles, ants, flies, and spiders, and are, in turn, hunted by snakes, salamanders and birds. They are an important part of the food web, and while their population is not currently threatened, loss of their wetland habitats is a concern. Frog lovers are getting ready for “Save the Frogs Day”, an annual event taking place on April 30, 2022 and billed as “the world’s largest day of amphibian education and conservation action”. To learn more, click HERE
 
And if you are a literary frog lover, here are two poems for your pleasure. THE FIRST, by Martin J Elster, is an ode to our charming, loquacious amphibian.
 
THIS Robert Frost poem is mostly about a brook but includes a shout-out to the peepers!

C Christian
More Than a Familiar Tune
Drifts of wooly thyme mingle between steppingstones on this garden path.
photo by E Barth-Elias
Simon & Garfunkel’s famous canticle Scarborough Fair may whisper of unrequited love but most of us simply know it as “ … parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme …” In medieval times each of these herbs represented a virtue: parsley was comfort, sage strength, rosemary love, and thyme courage. It is no wonder this ballad is interwoven with soothing aromatic herbs. 

Throughout human history herbs have been valued for their medicinal properties, as food seasonings, and for their
beautiful fragrance. Most of us have used culinary herbs in our kitchens for years, and add them to our gardens because they are easy to grow, their colors, textures and aromas add beauty to our garden beds, they support pollinators, and the superior flavors of fresh herbs enhance our cooking.
 
The four Scarborough Fair herbs are native to the Mediterranean and share two critical care requirements:
    full sun - minimum of 6 hrs.
    excellent drainage - wet feet is a death sentence.
 
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)  zones 4-9
While flat-leaf parsley is typically preferred for cooking due to its exceptional flavor, its popular curly cousin is known for lush, vibrant green leaves and often used as a garnish. Parsley is a low maintenance biennial which, if left undisturbed, will reemerge for a second season. However, leaves are noticeably tougher and bitter, and the plant is prone to bolting quickly in the second season. Starting with fresh new plants each spring ensures a harvest of tender, tasty foliage. Growing tips: Although germination can be slow (2-4 weeks), once established, it requires little care. In addition to the critical requirements (above) parsley will thrive in a medium-rich soil with consistent moisture. Harvest outer stems when 3 segments have grown, allowing 2 to 3 weeks for regrowth between major harvests. Use parsley while fresh, refrigerate with stems in water, or dry it for the off-season. Fun fact: parsley is a primary food source for caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly– so plant enough to share!
 
Sage (Salvia officinalis)  zones 4-8
This aromatic evergreen perennial is considered a compact semi-shrub with a woody stem and attractive fuzzy gray-green oval leaves. In late spring bees and butterflies are drawn to its whorled lavender flowers. Growing tips: Sage will do well in average soil including beds which are shallow or rocky. It prefers maximum sun but will tolerate some light shade. Sage is known to be particularly susceptible to root rot. It will benefit from hard pruning to about six inches in early spring as well as pinching during the growing season to promote lateral growth. Consider this beauty for a border or even a rock garden. Fun fact: there are more than 800 varieties of sage. Fun fact: thyme's active compound, thymol, is a potent antiseptic, which may explain its use in ancient Egypt for embalming and in the Roman era to treat poisonings.
 
Rosemary  (Salvia rosmarinus)  zones 8-10
Rosemary’s structured habit and silvery, evergreen leaves make it desirable in a variety of gardens. Although not zoned for our area, there are newer cultivars which look promising for zones 5 and 6. Check them out HERE. Growing tips: Rosemary’s fine roots and shallow root system must never completely dry out. On the flipside, they must never sit in water. Can you guess the answer to this quandary? If you said ‘exceptional drainage’ you would be right! Harvest with snips to remove 4-6” tips. Use fresh leaves and sprigs for cooking or hang a few stalks to dry, then strip leaves from the stem prior to storage. Since dried leaves can become sharp and spiky, some prefer to grind them to release the aromatic oils. Fun fact: the literal translation of rosmarinus is dew of the sea.
 
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)  zones 5-9
The many varieties of this timeless culinary staple point to the joys of multipurpose plants, as its ornamental value extends well beyond herb or vegetable beds. The texture of thyme’s tiny revolute foliage (leaf margins rolled under) coupled with its array of gray, blue, green and yellow hues, make it an enchanting addition to rock gardens, miniature or fairy gardens or grown between steppingstones. Growing tips: The ideal location for Thyme is a south-facing sunny slope, especially if sandy or rocky; however, thyme will flourish in many other full sun locations. Excellent drainage is essential.
 
Tips for harvest and drying these herbs:
  • Regular harvest of up to a third of the plant at a time encourages robust regrowth.
  • Harvested herbs can be dried for future use. Cut full stalks and hang upside down away from direct sunlight in an area with good air circulation. When completely dried, crumble and store in a labeled airtight container. MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DRYING HERBS

On one of these glorious sunny days, take a few moments to deeply inhale the fragrance of the rich earth and those sun-soaked herbs, and you may just find yourself joining the refrain, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme …” 
E Barth-Elias
Divide and Conquer
Hosta is called the Friendship Plant because it increases with abandon, and the divisions often end up on doorsteps of friends and neighbors. Digging and dividing that hosta plant is a simple process, and one that enhances its health and beauty. Most perennials benefit from occasional division.
 
Early spring is a great time to divide perennials. As they emerge from the soil their footprint becomes clear, with new growth that is small and makes separating and planting easier. These young transplants have less leaf surface which would
Dividing a Hosta "Spartacus" in early spring.
photo by E Barth-Elias
require water from roots that have been disturbed and can’t function at full capacity. The rule of thumb is to divide perennials every three years, but plant species differ in their growth habits: some plants never need dividing or resent the disruption, so it’s best to let plant growth determine when it’s time to divide. Reduced flowering, a doughnut shape with spent plant material in the center, loss of vigor or floppiness, or a plant that has outgrown its space may signal that it’s time to get out the shovel.
 
For the best success, plants should not be divided during their flowering season, since plant energy will be focused on flowering and seed production as opposed to new growth. Rules can be broken if extra care is taken (regular water, protection from harsh sunlight, elimination of competing weeds, etc.). If you must divide a plant with buds or in flower, those buds and flowers should be removed.  Divide plants on a cloudy day and shade the newly planted divisions during the first week after transplanting.
 
Plants that form offsets may be divided by merely separating the offset from the mother and moving it to a new location. Most plants, however, need to be dug up with a sharp shovel or spade. (A narrow spade, such as a rabbiting spade, works well.) Dig around and under the plant and lift the clump, placing it on a tarp or open ground.  Remove excess soil for easier examination of the roots (a stream of water or a sharp drop work well), and then separate the plant into sections, looking for areas in the roots that will disrupt the plant system the least, and keeping only the healthiest divisions. A sharp knife, such as a bread knife for large roots or a paring knife for small roots, works well. Woody roots and grasses will require sturdier cutting tools. Discard the woody, spent center if there is one. If the division will not be planted immediately, keep roots shaded, cool, and moist to protect delicate root hairs.
 
Place each division into a hole that is the depth of the plant roots and at least as wide as its spread. Take care to place roots pointing outward in their natural growing position, usually horizontally. The latest research on backfilling the planting hole (replacing the soil that was removed) indicates that filling with native soil (non-amended) is the best practice. That goes against decades of advice about amending with compost and other organic materials, but those materials stay in the root zone for a limited time, and the interface formed between the native soil and the amended soil in the planting hole can prevent roots from growing beyond the planting hole. Read about it HERE.
 
This advice pertains to the long-term health of plants, and may not apply if your perennial is a short-lived species. Since this goes against our inclination to put all kinds of goodies in our planting holes it may be instructive to plant several of your divisions using each method (amended and not) and see what your long-term results are.
 
Water in your newly planted perennial and thereafter when soils dry, and do not fertilize the first season. (Nitrogen will push new top growth at the expense of needed root growth.)
 
Some plants that are difficult to divide:
  • Plants with tap roots, such as balloon flowers, butterfly weed, and baptisia.
  • Perennials with woody stems, such as lavender, clematis, and Russian sage.
  • Plants such as lupine, euphorbias, and baby’s breath.
 
Some fleshy rooted plants, such as iris and peonies, should be divided in the fall.
 
Early spring, when garden chores are minimal, is a great time to divide perennials, and do watch your doorstep for that thoughtfully left Friendship Plant.

 
For a list of perennials and the best time to transplant them from the University of Minnesota Extension please click HERE.

For more information about the practice of amended planting soils for trees, shrubs and perennials please check out THIS PIECE by the Garden Professors group. 

For more information about dividing perennials please check out THIS PIECE by the University of Minnesota Extension. 
K Edgington
Down and Dirty
April Checklist
  • Use spring clean-up to start a new compost pile or turn and freshen the one you have. MAKING AND USING COMPOST from the University of Missouri
  • Add organic matter to your vegetable beds such as compost or manure.
  • Plant cool season vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and broccoli.
  • Spray deer repellent on emerging shoots of tulips and perennials.
  • Fertilize roses, trees and shrubs.
  • Divide perennials.
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

Meet Me in the Garden Series. Offered in-person at Summit Metro Parks Nature Realm auditorium. Registration required.


  • Hydrangea Care and Misconceptions with OSU Extension Educator Eric Barrett on Wednesday, April 27th at 7:00 pm.

  • Practical Gardening Tips for Native Plants with Sonia Bingham from Native Roots, Inc. and Cuyahoga Valley National Park on Wednesday, May 25th at 7:00 pm.


Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).

_______________________________

IT'S BACK!

The Summit County Master Gardener Tour of Gardens

including our "must-visit" Posie Shoppe

Mark Your Calendar For

Saturday, June 25th, from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 pm

Tickets go on sale May 1st, and must be purchased in advance. Ticket purchase sites: Dayton Nurseries, Suncrest Gardens, Graf's Garden Shop, The Bird Store and More in Fairlawn, and on the Summit County Master Gardener website.


Visit our website for further details and updates.

More learning opportunities:
The environs dance and ring with notes from frogs who, though they're
unrehearsed, belt out a song precisely tuned to spring.
Martin J Elster, Spring Peepers
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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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