Volume 1 Issue 4 | December 2020
Welcome, winter! Colors, textures, wildlife to watch – December is upon us.

If you find that your Root newsletter has been clipped, please click on the view entire message link to read a final note from our staff.
Look Around
We’ve stripped the garden of its
baubles. The pots of fuchsias, begonias, and geraniums have been emptied and stored. The trees and shrubbery have discarded their leaves. The perennial beds wear their brown, grey, and buff winter coats. And in the midst of this toned-down palette Mother Nature dons her jewels. Amethyst, ruby, fire orange, sapphire, onyx – brilliant hues light up the landscape as the winter berries and fruits take center stage. What for these plants is a means to attract winter feeding birds and disperse their seed, is, for us, a delight to the eye and a reason to venture out.

We’re well acquainted with the hollies, with their deep green, spined foliage and red berries. These are the English and American hollies, and their branches adorn our wreaths and mantles. Also familiar are the winterberry hollies, which shed their leaves in fall and offer slender stems studded with clusters of berries in shades or red, orange, salmon, and even yellow. Chokeberries come into their own now, with their display of glossy black, purple, or red berries. Viburnums offer an array of black, red, blue, yellow or pink berries. Blackhaw, linden, tea, withered, American cranberry – the list of viburnums that strut their stuff in winter is long. If we are lucky, we'll happen upon a beautyberry with its sprays of vivid purple fruits. (See photo above) As you pass a berried juniper with its blue display run your hand along its aromatic branches. (These berry-like jewels are actually fleshy cones.) Hawthorne and crabapple trees invite us to raise our eyes to the skies with their blue-black berries and red fruits. And the roses – don’t forget the roses! Their hips in shades of red and orange are a sight to behold. They grace paths and wild areas as well as our gardens. The list goes on.

This winter display provides a calorie-rich buffet for our overwintering birds. Black-capped chickadees, cedar waxwings, cardinals, robins, mockingbirds and woodpeckers are about, and if we linger will entertain us as they forage. 

As with many such gifts, the beauty of this colorful display is fleeting. Weather, feeding birds and other animals will soon strip these branches of their jewels. Now is the time to enjoy them. Look around.

K Edgington
Leaf Brief - American Holly
When one thinks of Christmas plants, one of the first that comes to mind is the American Holly. The link between holly and the holidays goes all the way back to ancient Rome and holly is popular in many European and Celtic traditions. Pagans and druids favored it because it was thought to capture evil spirits with its pointed leaves. Native Americans used the berries as barter and holly wood was used for scrollwork and inlay in furniture in colonial times. In reality though, its popularity endures because it brings lustrous evergreen color and eye-catching reds to an otherwise drab winter landscape. 

The stately American Holly, Ilex opaca, is a large North American native growing 35-50 feet and 15-25 feet across with a ‘Christmas tree’ silhouette. This species is easily identified because it is the only US holly with spiny green leaves and bright red berries. It makes a striking specimen plant, tall screen or hedge and is tolerant of pollution and salt. Holly can be susceptible to desiccation so it should be planted in an area protected from wind. Acid soil and full sun will produce the healthiest specimen. Extremely slow growing, it’s not recommended for planting for those over the age of 60!

Holly has male and female forms. Each must be planted near the other to cross pollinate and only the females produce those coveted berries. It can suffer at the hand of leaf miners, spider mites, and scale. On the other hand, the deer steer clear of it. Use care since the berries are poisonous to people and pets.

Some varieties to consider are ‘Jersey Princess’ which grows to about 35 feet and is known for large, showy berries. ‘Miss Courtney’ is smaller, only 20-30 feet tall with prolific berries and distinct curled leaves. The ‘Pride’ varieties were developed in the 1930’s by horticulturist Orlando Pride and are still prized today for their vigor, striking berries and winter cold tolerance.

As you complete your holiday decorating with a few sprigs of holly, revel in the thought that you are carrying on a tradition thousands of years old. Just don’t eat the berries!

J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Foxes
Tricky. Sly. Cunning. These are the adjectives associated with the elusive fox, a creature more often found in fairy tales and fables than our backyards. A crafty fox serves as the villain in tales by authors as diverse as Beatrix Potter, Uncle Remus and Aesop, and films like Disney’s Pinocchio. Is the lore based in reality? Let’s look at some fox facts and find out…

Foxes are the smallest members of the family Canidae, weighing between 7 and 15 pounds when fully grown. There are 27 species of fox, two of which are found in Ohio—the red fox and the grey fox. Red foxes arrived here with European settlers. They are more common than grey foxes and tend to live closer to humans; grey foxes are native to Ohio and prefer forested areas. Foxes are fast and hard to spot—if you catch a glimpse, how can you tell which one it is? Surprisingly, not by their color— which is kind of tricky! The red fox is usually red, but can also be grey, black or white (albino). Look for the red fox’s black legs, black-tipped ears, white-tipped tail and dog-like face. The grey fox may be grey, but he may also be red or brown. Identify a grey fox by the black “racing” stripe down his back, black stripe across his face and black-tipped tail. His face is more cat-like than the red fox.

Despite being related to wolves, dogs and jackals, foxes have many stealthy, cat-like behaviors. They are nocturnal, with excellent night vision. They walk on their toes, use their whiskers to navigate, and stalk and pounce on their prey. Grey foxes can even climb trees and retract their claws.

Adult foxes are solitary for most of their 2 – 4 year life, but live as families in underground dens when the female, or vixen, has her litter. Mom stays with the family, called a skulk or leash, for about 7 months while dad, called a dog, gathers food. Foxes love to play—with each other and objects such as balls. They have been known to steal golf balls to play with!

Foxes are omnivores, eating small mammals, birds, insects and fruit. They adapt well, eating human food if available. They are cunning predators and quite sneaky when raiding a chickencoop! They are also skilled at avoiding traps, making them a formidable foe for the farmer. They bury excess food under leaves, snow or dirt, marking it with a very musky smell similar to a skunk.

Foxes have amazing hearing, and reportedly can hear a watch ticking 40 yards away. This helps them locate prey, but scientists have discovered they may also use earth’s magnetic field to find food—the only animal known thus far to use this “magnetic sense” when hunting. Check it out: 

Did you know foxes can make up to 40 varieties of sounds? They use noise to defend their turf, and communicate during mating season (January). Some think that a fox scream sounds human. Listen and decide for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6NuhlibHsM&amp%3Bfeature=youtu.Wintbe

If you are interested in learning more about the crafty fox, try a winter hike in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. An increasing coyote population has thinned the fox population, but you may spot their tracks in the snow. A warmer way would be to check out the following blog called Tales of a Fox Whisperer by Steve Downer, a wildlife filmmaker chronicling 35 years of interactions with red foxes: https://askulkoffoxes.weebly.com

(And for the record, I don’t fault the fox for polishing off The Runaway Gingerbread Man. I would have done the same!) 

C. Christian
Cool Tool - Grow Lights
Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite gardener? With another growing season approaching quickly, grow lights make a lot of sense. First, however, consider the recipient. If your gift-getter is relatively new to gardening, it doesn’t make sense to buy a sophisticated (and expensive) lighting system. Starting seeds and tending plants can be a time-consuming commitment. Many new garden gifts wind up gathering dust in a forgotten corner of the basement because a novice gardener didn’t realize the work involved.

Start simple: Invest in standard shop lights with fluorescent bulbs, which come in cool and daylight varieties. Alternate them and most plants will receive the light spectrum they need. Make sure the fixtures can be raised as the seedlings grow. Chains and S-hooks attached to the lights and to the plant stand make the fixture height adjustable.

Spend a little more for a horticultural – not a regular – heat mat. Warm soil gives the seeds a boost. Add a timer. All plants need periods of darkness. Timers take human error out of the growing equation.

If your gardener has been using a shop light system for a while and is ready for the next level, look for state-of-the-art systems that are essentially plug-and-go. They will be more costly, but they take the guesswork out of creating a good lighting environment.

Open a website or catalog selling grow lights and you’ll see that LEDs in the blue/red spectrum are all the rage. It might be time to try them out. Because LEDs are known for their low energy requirements and long life – up to 50,000 hours -- they are appealing. If you think you want to go for an LED system, get the gardener involved in the selection. If the intent is tending African violets, the light needs are far different than starting vegetable and flowers.

Many fixtures employ LED grow lights but cost hundreds of dollars, making them impractical except in commercial applications. If you want to try them, buy red/blue LED tube lights compatible with fluorescent shop lights. Make sure the LED says ballast-ready and the T-rating is the same as your fixture. Alternate LED with fluorescent bulbs. Because of their efficiency and long life, LEDs will become the standard, but it will take time for most of them to reach a reasonable price range.

Fortunately, by the time your tiny seedlings are turning into adolescent plants, spring will be here. Then plants can bask in the sun, the ultimate grow light.

Want to add a personal touch? Build a simple and inexpensive plant stand, like this one.

S Vradenburg
Bring in the Garden - Terrarium
Ready to plant an indoor garden? Terrariums combine the fun of designing a garden with working in miniature scale. Add a holiday bauble, and you have a lovely holiday planter that will require just enough maintenance to allow you to wear your “I am a gardener” badge during the winter months. You can buy a fancy, lidded glass container or just use the big jar the pickles came in. Terrariums flout one of the first rules of container planting---there must be a drainage hole! To compensate for that lack, we’ll build our terrarium in layers. At the bottom we’ll put a layer of small stones or pea gravel, which will act as a water reservoir and keep plant roots from sitting in the water. As we learned in gardening 101, it is essential for plant roots to get oxygen, and most plants can’t absorb oxygen in water. 
Next, we’ll add a layer of moss, which is our filter and keeps the soil towards the top and the water reservoir below. On top of that we’ll add horticultural charcoal to help eliminate pathogens and their smells and diseases. Now we’re ready for the soil and plants. Choose plants with interesting colors, shapes, and sizes, keeping in mind that they should be slow growing or small in size and have similar light and water requirements. Here are some good options: https://smartgardenguide.com/best-closed-terrarium-plants/  Most of our local garden centers sell plants scaled for terrarium making. Let’s follow the steps together.
Supplies and Tools:
  • A lidded or open glass container (Brandy snifters work well. Even a mason jar will do, though it doesn’t allow for many plants.)
  • An assortment of small plants with different colors, textures, and/or sizes
  • Pea gravel or small stones (rinsed or cleaned)
  • Sphagnum or sheet moss (soaked until wet and then wrung out
  • Horticultural charcoal
  • Good quality potting soil
  • Small plants with similar light requirements (available at many garden centers)
  • Moss (optional)
  • A pretty stone, a shell, a small figure, bark or other objects of interest (optional)
  • Small gravel to top dress the soil (optional)
  • A spoon (for planting)
  • A spray bottle (to clean the plant leaves and inside glass)
  • A small watering can
  • Distilled or spring water (“clean” water will keep your glass from getting stained)
Instructions:
  1. Place a small layer of pea gravel or stones at the bottom of the container – about ½” deep.
  2. Wring out the sphagnum moss and place a thin layer over the stones and charcoal, covering the entire surface so there are no gaps.
  3. Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of charcoal, depending on the size of the container.
  4. Put a small layer of potting soil on the moss. Be careful not to fill with too much potting soil – you want your container filled with plants, not soil.  You will add soil as needed when you insert your plants.  If desired, place a flat stone vertically and use it to create two levels of soil, which adds vertical interest to your plant arrangement. Alternately, mound your soil in the center or on one side. Try not to get soil on the glass sides of the terrarium. If your opening is small use a spoon or make a paper funnel to add your soil.
  5. Place your plants in your container or on a counter and decide on a design, leaving a spot for your focal point object. 
  6. Plant your plants per your plan, using a spoon to make your holes and firm the soil around the plant base. Most of the soil from the plant roots can be removed at this point. Add live moss to the soil surface if desired.
  7. Place a very thin layer of small stones, turkey grit, or other top dressing on the top of the soil, using a spoon to place them near the plant base.
  8. Add your focal point, water sparingly with your watering can, and spritz down the inside walls of the container with water to remove any debris.

Terrariums can be open on top or have a lid. When open there is less likelihood of plant rot and disease because of the constant air flow. The plants require more care since water will evaporate. Lidded terrariums recycle air and water in a closed system. It takes some trial and error to have just the right amount of moisture inside---not so much that there is condensation on the glass and plants rot, but enough to keep the plants watered and thriving. Leaving the lid open or cracked and adding water as needed is the physical way that this moisture level is regulated. This process is not really difficult---it just requires some attention for a time, and it’s fun to watch this small ecosystem thrive.

Most terrariums do well in bright light out of direct sunlight. Closed containers can NOT be placed in sunlight – a sure way to fry the plants. Water sparingly as needed, never letting the water line rise above the reservoir on the bottom. Use a small scissors to cut back plants as they grow out of proportion. They do not mind this, and it allows you to keep wearing that gardener badge. 

What a great way to do some winter gardening! What a great gift for a housebound friend! Be careful, though, this gardening craft is addictive.

K Edgington
For the Sprouts - Evergreen Trees
Hoot Hoo Hello! I’m Owen, a Great Horned Owl. I live in a big tree in Cuyahoga Falls, and as you would expect, I am very wise. I know lots of fun things to do outdoors and in the garden, and my Master Gardener friends have asked me to share them with you!
Trees that lose their leaves in the fall are called deciduous. Examples of these trees are maple, oak and elm. Non-deciduous trees are called evergreens, because they keep their leaves all year round. Look at the trees outside right now. Evergreen trees like fir, pine, and spruce all have their leaves (which are called needles). Here is a fun way to create your own evergreen tree! 
You will need:
  • Cardboard
  • Rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Branches from evergreen trees or bushes
  • Other items from nature such as berries
Go outside and collect branches, berries and anything else you want to add to your tree. Don’t forget to notice the wonderful smell of the evergreens!

Draw a simple triangle shape on a piece of cardboard, whatever size you’d like. Cut the shape out. Next, make small cuts on the two long sides of the triangle. Depending upon how big your triangle is, you will want between 4 and 6 cuts on each side. Slide the rubber bands into the cuts, stretching each band across the tree and crisscrossing them to fit into a cut on the opposite side. It works best if you do not put the bands into the cuts directly across from each other.
 
Weave the branches, berries, and whatever else you collected in and out under the rubber bands. Make your tree as full as you like. Punch a hole in the top of your tree and thread a ribbon through to hang it as an ornament. You can also use it to decorate a package or a holiday table, or give it as a gift.

C Christian
Branching Out - Cleveland Botanical Garden
When we think of visiting natural areas, our thoughts most often go to the outdoors. There is one place, however, where the ability to rub elbows with Mother Nature, especially during the winter months, takes us indoors.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden, located in Cleveland’s University Circle, dates from 1916 when Eleanor Squire donated her 250-volume collection of horticultural and gardening books to the Garden Club of Greater Cleveland. In 1930, six prominent women gave the collection a home in a vacant boathouse along the Wade Lagoon and created the first civic garden club in the nation. After a flash flood in 1959, the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland moved to the site of the former Cleveland Zoo on East Boulevard and opened in 1964. The name changed to the Cleveland Botanical Garden in 1994 and a 2014 merger with the Holden Arboretum incorporated them under the umbrella of the Holden Forest and Gardens.

Stepping into the glass house is, first, a step into the desert atmosphere of Madagascar, where annual rainfall is 12 inches or less. The collection of baobab trees (one of the largest indoor collections in the country), bottle trees and numerous spiny succulents show how adaptable plants are to arid climates and rocky limestone cliffs. More, the free-roaming chameleon and radiated tortoise, along with birds and snakes, demonstrate how animals also have found a niche in the desert environment. Many of the featured plants are found only on that island and are protected by international conservation agreements.

Next door is a steamy trip to the tropical rain forest of Costa Rica. The overriding impression is of green humidity. A waterfall-fed stream runs throughout the enclosure, with tropical birds chattering and exotic butterflies – Blue Morpho, Giant Owl and three varieties of colorful longwings – flitting by on their way to the next ripe banana or orange. The rainforest can be viewed either from the forest floor or from an elevated walkway that takes visitors into the forest canopy. There is an elevator.

While exhibits are what bring many people to the garden, another primary purpose is education. The Hershey Children’s Garden aims to teach and entertain with such activities as watching a beehive at work, identification scavenger hunts, vegetable and herb gardens and climbing in a treehouse. The Botanical Garden regularly offers educational programs, and its two art galleries blend art and flora in ever-changing exhibits.

Even in the winter months, the botanical garden’s 10 outdoor acres are full of scenic overlooks, crannies abounding with conifers and evergreens and nooks that, during the summer, become showcases for outdoor rooms.

As the holidays approach, the botanical garden starts to GLOW!, an annual winter extravaganza. Starting from Nov. 21, GLOW! treats visitors to a panoply of seasonal delights. The Gingerbread House competition is a perennial holiday favorite. This year’s theme features plants that are embedded in our holiday traditions, from conifers and poinsettias to the herbs we use in cooking and the vegetables that grace holiday tables.

The magic of GLOW! comes alive outside. The terrace, the Children’s Garden and four outdoor rooms become a wonderland bathed in light and donned with holiday décor.

Timed tickets are required for GLOW!, which continues through Jan. 3, 2021. No tickets will be sold on site. The Botanical Garden, both indoor and outdoor gardens, is open Wednesdays to Sundays, closed Monday and Tuesday except for extended hours during GLOW! Because COVID requirements may change, contact cbgarden.org for up-to-date information. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children between 3-10. Members are admitted free but must schedule their visit.

Cleveland Botanical Garden
11030 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106
216-721-1600

S Vradenburg
Down and Dirty
December Checklist

  • Take advantage of a sunny day to complete fall cleanup and rake leaves
  • Repeat deer repellent spraying
  • Stock up on bird seed to keep the birds coming back
  • Get creative with greens, ornaments, pine cones, etc. to create an inviting patio pot
  • Keep watering your Christmas cactus and amaryllis as they come into bloom
  • Hang the mistletoe but be selective who you are kissing this year
  • Sit by the fire, relax and count your blessings
New Growth!
To learn more please check out :

  • The last of our Summit County Master Gardener Holiday Programs: History and Horticulture of the Holidays Dec 16, 2020 06:30 PM

  • Touring with the Master Gardeners - Virtual tours of three outstanding local gardens on consecutive months

  • SCMG January through March virtual programs on Kokedama, Seed Starting, Native Plants, Winter Tree ID, and Bonsai

Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
Summit County Master Gardeners on Facebook
Summit County Master Gardener Community Gardening Newsletter
Follow Summit County Master Gardeners on Instagram: Find us by our user name osusummitmgv and follow us for educational information, gardening tips, and news and events related to the Summit County Master Gardener Program.
Submit questions online to be answered by Master Gardener Volunteers at Ask a Master Gardener
OhioLine Yard and Garden provides fact sheets and information on a variety of gardening topics.
Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine provides timely information about Ohio growing conditions, pest, disease, and cultural problems. BYGL is updated weekly between April and October.
The Root of It staff would like to share our holiday wish list with you.
We are wishing:
    For the snowflakes to fall ever more slowly as we watch their soft descent
    And that they cover our sleeping garden beds with their insulating blanket,
    For the sun to linger longer as it sparkles on the snow and warms our hearts,
    For the deer to pass our gardens by,
For the seed catalogs to find our mailboxes, and bring dreams of next year’s beauty
         and bounty,
    For you, our readers, to have a happy and a safe holiday season.
We Would Like your Feedback
To contact us with ideas or suggestions email us at: newsletterscmg@gmail.com

To subscribe to The Root of It please visit our website, scroll to the bottom, and follow the link under Join our email list.

To discontinue receiving this newsletter please click on the UPDATE YOUR PROFILE link below. You may then choose what types of information you would like to receive from us.