Volume 2 Issue 2 | February 2021
Many of us who love conifers call ourselves and our conifer-loving friends "Coneheads". February is prime conifer viewing time – Coneheads rejoice!
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Look Around
While spring makes us smile with the erupting beauty of bulbs and leaves, summer energizes us with its full color palette of flowers and shrubs, and fall enchants us with swaying grasses and drifting leaves, winter offers a more serene and tranquil beauty. In winter, conifers take center stage. These trees and shrubs, which often play a supporting role during the growing season, come into focus, and bring shades of green, blue, and gold, as well as interesting textures and quiet beauty to the landscape. Conifers, which we differentiate from other evergreen plants by the presence of needles and cones, come in many forms. The long needles of pines offer texture and movement. Spruce branches, with their stiff, sharp needles and whorled form, are plants of presence and substance. Junipers run the gamut from groundcovers to shrubs to stately trees. We tend to think of junipers as common plants, not worthy of undue attention, but when planted in a spot with proper drainage and light, they contribute to the elegance and beauty of garden beds and borders.

Years of overuse and poor variety or cultivar selection have led us to dismiss the yew and shear it into balls or hedges. When left to its own devices this deep green beauty earns its spot in a winter display. Arborvitae, which are so helpful in creating backyard privacy, have tiny, scale-like needles that are compressed into fan-like branchlets. They’re workhorses in our shrub borders, but a beauty to behold in the winter landscape. 

Run your hand along the branches of a fir, with its soft needles, and enjoy the citrus-like aroma. Firs are distinguished by their upward facing cones, and choosing one suited to our Midwest soils and climate will reward us with a conifer second to none. Hemlocks, with their short, soft needles and small, papery cones, add grace to the conifer mix with their delicate branches and drooping tips.

Each of these conifer families is beautiful on its own, but when they play together, the mix is captivating. Beautiful bark, a variety of textures and foliage colors, and an array of shapes and sizes keep us ever interested as we take a winter walk to check out the conifers. Look around.
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Concolor Fir
Evergreens are an important part of the garden landscape, providing winter color, shade, and screening. While driving around town, it is not hard to find trees with branch dieback, needle drop or discoloration. When selecting evergreens, it is important to research their cultural needs and potential pest and disease issues. One species gaining in popularity is Abies concolor, or concolor fir, which is appreciated for its lovely Christmas tree shape and its suitability to Ohio landscapes.

Also known as the white fir, the concolor is native to the western United States where it can reach heights of 130-150 feet and live to 350 years of age. The average nursery grown tree will reach 30-50 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It grows in an almost perfect pyramidal shape that rarely requires pruning, making it an increasingly popular choice in the Christmas tree market. Early settlers used the wood to contain their churned butter because it imparts neither taste nor odor to foods. Today the wood is finding new use in the construction industry. 

The beauty of the concolor fir lies in its adaptability. It tolerates cold temperatures, warm temperatures, acidic or basic soils and some shade, all of which are found here in Ohio. About the only things it does not like are heavy pollution, standing water and heavy clay soils. The 2-3 inch long needles that bend upward and have silvery blue-gray tones give it a softer look than many other evergreens and have a lovely citrus fragrance when brushed. (An added bonus for a Christmas tree!) In landscapes, it is a good substitute for the blue spruce, which can be plagued by galls, mites, canker and fungal issues. Like any plant, pests may occur, but infestations do not tend to be a major problem. Deer resistance is moderate.

Like many evergreens, the concolor fir is both a shelter and a food source for squirrels, porcupine, game birds and many bird species including chickadees and crossbills, whose main diet is fir cones. 

Over forty cultivars have been developed including ‘Pendula’ a weeping version that will grow just 6-9 feet in ten years. ‘Blue Cloak’ features downward hanging branches and eye-catching powder puff blue foliage – a dense, narrow and unique specimen! Many distinctive miniature and dwarf varieties are available, providing something for your yard no matter the size!
J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Owls
Owls are very cool. Supreme birds of prey, they have huge heads, flattened faces, hooked bills and claws and backward-facing toes that can flip forward to grip. They are astonishing predators. I already knew this (OK, not the toe part), but in researching this article I learned one thing I didn’t know. Owls are not wise. Owls are C+ students if they work really hard. Reality can be disappointing.

But let’s focus on what owls are—and that is unbelievable hunting machines. About 250 different species of owls belong to two groups: the Tytonidae and Strigidae. Most owls fall under the Strigidae group, while around 20 barn owls are classified under the Tytonidae family. Barn owls have heart-shaped faces, while other owls’ faces are round. Owls are found on every continent except Antarctica. The Great Grey Owl has a wingspan of 5 feet, while the tiny Elf Owl is under 6 inches tall and weighs less than 2 ounces. The bulky build of owls allows them to carry prey that weighs two to three times as much as they do!

Owls eat rodents, birds, reptiles, fish and large insects—and other owls (disturbing, but true—the Great Horned Owl is the main predator of the Barred Owl). Barn owls can eat 1,000 mice a year, swallowing them whole. Ugh. The parts of a meal an owl cannot digest are compacted into pellets, which the owl throws up. Double ugh. Dissecting an owl pellet is a gross or fascinating activity, depending on your attitude.

Owls have several qualities that make them awesome predators. Their fluffy feathers render their flight almost noiseless. Owls will hunt while flying; may perch and then pounce; or hover over prey like a helicopter before attacking. Silence aids any of these techniques. Watch THIS to see how deadly silence can be.

Owls have extraordinary hearing. They can hear prey under soil, leaves, even snow! An owl’s facial feathers form a conspicuous round disc, which acts to focus sound. This basically makes their face into one giant ear. Many species have asymmetrical ears, allowing them to locate sound from multiple directions, which assists their aim in striking at prey. (Owls’ ears are slits in their heads, not the tufts of feathers that look like ears.) Watch THIS to learn more about owls’ incredible hearing.

An owl’s vision is perfect for what an owl does best. His eyes are tube-shaped and immobile, providing binocular vision for focus and depth perception. The Northern Hawk Owl can detect (mostly by sight) a vole half a mile away! Because their eyes don’t move, owls turn their heads for peripheral vision—and can do so for a total of 270 degrees! Up close their vision is blurry, so they rely on hair-like feathers on their beaks and feet to feel their food. The color of an owl’s eyes indicates when it prefers to hunt. Orange eyes mean the owl is crepuscular (twilight hunter), and dark-eyed owls are nocturnal (night hunter). A few owls are daylight hunters—these have yellow eyes (the Northern Hawk Owl and the Northern Pygmy owl). Owls have one eyelid for blinking, another for sleeping and a third for keeping their eyes clean!

Owls are masters of camouflage. You may never notice them sleeping in their roosts in broad daylight. To see how well owls can camouflage check out these IMAGES. Owls generally do not build nests. They will occupy vacant nests built by other birds, tree cavities, or a nest box if you provide one!

You have probably heard the eerie hoot of an owl at night. Owls make other sounds, including hissing and wheezing. Owls vocalize to claim territory, fend off intruders, signal danger, and during mating. Listen to their OWL CALLS.

Despite all the amazing things an owl is, wise it is not! Scientists have discovered that about 75% of an owl’s brain is devoted to hearing and vision, so only 25% is left to process data and make decisions. Tests have shown that owls are not as good at problem-solving as other birds. (Why scientists are testing this is another mystery!) Great grey owls couldn’t learn to pull a string to get a treat—a trick other birds figured out. More social birds, such as corvids and starlings, have shown problem-solving ability and have large vocabularies, while owls are mainly solitary, and their vocalizing is more limited. Owls have developed the perfect traits for their lives as hunters. They don’t need to be wise!

But why do we think they are? Owls have been associated with wisdom for thousands of years. Some speculate this derived from pre-historic humans who hunted for survival, and therefore revered the owl as a great hunter! The Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, was often depicted with an owl. However, other cultures have viewed owls differently, including as symbols of bad luck, defeat in battle, or death. (Remember the owl heralding Julius Caesar’s death?)

Whatever you think about an owl’s IQ, you may wish to learn more about these fascinating creatures! The INTERNATIONAL OWL CENTER, based in Charlo, MT, has a wonderful newsletter and links to owl live cams— and you can also adopt an owl!
C Christian
Cool Tool - Pruners
As we near the end of winter, the list of garden chores grows. Having prepared for and/or started seeds, we now focus outdoors. Shrubs and small trees likely need to be pruned to capitalize on the flush of spring growth. Whether removing dead and damaged branches, shaping, and preparing fruit trees for spring budding, dormant pruning is best accomplished in late winter (now) to early spring (mid-March).

There is no more important tool for this chore than pruners. A dizzying array of these essential workhorses await you in garden centers and online. These points may guide your decision.

  • Buy a pruner that accommodates handedness. Not all pruners can be used by right- and left-handers.
  • Buy a tool that fits your hand. Is it small or large? When you try out prospective pruners, pay attention to how the tool fits into your hand when it is open. Does it fit easily, or do you have to stretch your grasp in order to keep a grip on it? You will be opening and closing your pruners thousands of times during a regular gardening season. You need to be sure the fit is comfortable. Ergonomic pruners are designed to reduce stress from repetitive motions. Often these have rolling handles that enable an easier cut.
  • Fit the type of pruner to the job. Pruners come in two styles: bypass and anvil. Bypass pruners work like scissors. The blades pass each other as they close, slicing cleanly through the branch. Anvil pruners have a flat bottom blade that the upper blade presses onto, crushing plant tissue as the blade cuts. Ratcheting pruners, which allow the handles to open repeatedly without the blades also opening, are usually anvil pruners. Because they are so hard on plant tissue, anvils should be reserved for when you are cutting debris to disposable sizes.
  • Buy a pruner that allows you to complete most common garden chores. When pruning small branches, are your pruners able to cut through thicknesses of up to ¾”? If you are pruning larger branches, you should probably be using loppers or saws.
  • Don’t buy a pruner based solely on price. Some are expensive, making bargain pruners look good. Those might last a season, but once you have to replace that pair, you have already paid for a high-quality pruner. Some mid-priced pruners ($20 to $30) are perfectly acceptable and can do the job if used properly and kept in good repair.

Blades are most often hardened steel, stainless or carbon. Some have non-stick surfaces to avoid gumming up with sap or other sticky material. Most handles are metal covered with a plastic coating. Look for the features that most appeal to you.

The final investment in pruners is a sheath – ideally one that will clip to a belt or waistband – to protect them when not in use. Often, sheaths come in a double variety, one sleeve for pruners and one for a soil knife.

Pruning season is coming soon. Make sure you have the tools to make the most of it.
S Vradenburg
Bring in the Garden - Tropicals
Houseplants – the name does nothing to inspire. Call them tropicals (most houseplants are from tropical regions) and you’ve piqued my interest.  Tropical plants can enliven and beautify your home with their interesting shapes and colors, and leaves that can be heart, palm, or paddle shaped, spiked, serrated, or cascading.  Today’s selections offer a variety of appealing leaf colors. In addition to classic green, there are chartreuse, maroon, red, yellow and leaves variegated with a combination of these.  Blooms in colors of yellow, purple, red, blue or pink are the frosting on the cake.

One interesting and beautiful tropical plant is a nice specimen. Three or five arranged on your grandmother’s silver tray is a work of art that will bring a smile each time you pass it by. Plastic pots are so passé. Drill a drainage hole in an old pitcher or the vintage tin you scored at a garage sale and offer your tropical a new home. The possibilities are endless.

Local garden centers and online nurseries offer tropical plants for a winter display. Keep in mind the available light you can provide and the moisture requirements of your selections. 

Tropical plants are generally divided into those that require low, medium, or high light. 
  • Low light plants require no direct sunlight and can live in north facing windows or the more interior portions of the home. Because they receive less light, they usually require less water. Examples: snake plant (Sansevieria spp.) or English ivy (Hedera helix) 
  • Medium light plants will thrive in east-facing windows or near a west facing window but out of direct light. Examples: ferns or golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum))
  • South or southwest-facing windows provide a good environment for high light plants. These plants require more frequent watering and turning to prevent legginess. Examples: croton (Codiaeum variegatum) or areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)
Click HERE for a list of tropical plants suited to these three light conditions.

Why not get creative by grouping your plants into arrangements? A basket, interesting tray or bowl, or a large planter can tie them together and add the finishing touch. (When grouping your tropicals, keep in mind the light and water needs of the co-mingling plants.) Plants can be changed in and out to suit your whim or their performance. Remember the old “thriller, chiller, and spiller” technique for container planting? Try it when combining your tropicals for a full and appealing presentation. 

Let’s not forget to talk about color. There are new and old tropical cultivars that provide foliage color to rival the prettiest of flowers. Think purple leaved begonia (Begonia rex-cultorumias), chartreuse heart-leaved philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum 'Lemon-Lime’), variegated tricolor prayer plant (Stromanthes sanguinea ‘Tricolor’). If you haven’t been tropical plant shopping recently, you will be excited about the selection!

If flowers send your spirits soaring, there are many great options: African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) come in shade of pink, purple and white. Orchids (Phalaenopsis species are relatively easy.) sport their beautiful blooms for three to five months. Indulge yourself in a group of five or more! Cyclamens (Cyclamen persicum), another long bloomer, reward us with beautiful leaves and waxy, upswept flowers. The list goes on.

It goes without saying that keeping your tropicals watered, but not constantly wet, is important. Again, do the finger test to see if the soil an inch below the surface is damp, or lift your planter---you will quickly learn how heavy a dry planter is. Make sure you turn your plants regularly so that all sides receive light. Pinch or trim to promote full growth. But most important of all---ENJOY!  

For further reading check out the HEALTH BENEFITS (both mental and physical) of adding tropicals into your home environment.
K Edgington
For the Sprouts - Pinecone Bird Feeders
Winter is a great time to provide your backyard birds some extra food. Can you think why? The seeds birds eat are harder to find in the snow, and there are no fruits or insects around to snack on! Plus, just like you, birds use extra energy to stay warm—so they need more food when the weather is frosty!
You can help your feathered friends by making a pinecone bird feeder. It’s easy and fun! For this project you will need cones, string, peanut butter and bird seed.
Head outside, and look at the trees around you. The branches of many are bare because their leaves dropped in the fall. These types of trees are called deciduous. You want to find trees that are still green. These trees are called evergreens because they keep their leaves all year long.
Many evergreen trees in Ohio are conifers— they have cones which hold the tree’s seeds. Examples of conifers are pines, firs, spruces or junipers. Conifers have leaves that are needle-like.
Look around the bottom of evergreen trees for cones. You may have to search under the snow! Bring your cones inside and let them dry. Tie a string around one end to hang the cone on a tree. Sit the cone on a plate, and spread peanut butter all over it. Then roll the sticky cone in bird seed, or press the seed into the cone. Warning—this can be messy!
Hang your new feeder in a tree, and watch your feathered friends enjoy a tasty treat!
C Christian
Branching Out - Fellows-Riverside and Mill Creek Metro Park
If you believe the green shoots in the narcissus beds, spring at Fellow-Riverside Gardens isn’t far away. But this is February, you say. No matter. Even without those emerging leaves, winter can’t hide the beauty of this treasure of Youngstown’s Mill Creek Metro Parks.

Fellows-Riverside was the heart’s desire of Elizabeth Fellows, an avid gardener whose husband, Sam, had a love of philanthropy. In 1958, she willed her estate to the Mill Creek Metro Park and it opened in 1963 as a free public park. In the interim, Ohio State graduate and landscape architect John Paolino shaped it into the year-round park of today, dotted with plant collections, specimen trees and vistas that open the garden's 12 acres to the beauty of Lake Glacier in Mill Creek Metro Park below. Even though it is bordered by a busy highway, the use of woodlands as screens makes it feel as if the park has been set aside from civilization. Yet the north vista, complete with a 25-cent viewing machine, overlooks downtown Youngstown.

Brick pathways both outline the entire garden and meander through individual collections for more intimate viewing. The park participates in the All-America Selections plant trials. In the spring, 40,000 bulbs erupt in splashes of color throughout the gardens. The Blue Garden offers restful shade and displays plants that thrive with less sun. The Outdoor Gallery blends the human and horticultural in artful displays. The Quarry Garden is formed from the remnants of stone harvesting, with some of the stone used in the Gathering, a place for conversation and education.

It’s only appropriate that a garden given to the people of Youngstown would also reflect the generosity of the recipients. Many of the gardens bear the names of families and individuals that express their love of gardens and of this particular park. Starting with the visually arresting D.D. and Velma Davis Education Center to the Joanne F. Beeghly Rose Garden to the Watson White Garden to Christina’s Garden Labyrinth, Fellows Riverside sports 28 different collections, terraces or overlooks. A brick walkway into the gardens is replete with names of people who contribute to the well-being for Fellow-Riverside.

There is enough at the garden to keep nature lovers busy all day. However, the south vista reveals a whole other, slightly wilder world just below Fellows-Riverside in Mill Creek Park. Formed in 1887, it is the oldest Metro Park in Ohio. Summit County visitors would feel right at home at the sight of sandstone outcroppings, hemlock forests and lakes a short drive away. The Metro Park offers more than 9 miles of hiking trails, some easy, some more challenging. There are three lakes, all formed by damming parts of Mill Creek. During the summer there are a variety of activities from picnicking, paddle boats, kayaking, fishing to golf.

It’s an easy drive on I-76 to I-680 to Fellow-Riverside just outside downtown Youngstown. The garden is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk but closed on Monday.

For the latest on Covid-19 restrictions or for more information, visit their website. The visitor center and restaurant, as well as all programming, are closed until at least April 12.

Still, visitors needn’t wait for the end of the pandemic. The garden is getting ready for its leap into spring. Go and enjoy.

Fellows Riverside Gardens
123 McKinley Ave.
Youngstown, OH 44509
S Vradenburg
Down and Dirty
February Checklist
  • Begin dormant pruning to shape and control overgrown trees and shrubs. PRUNING TREES AND SHRUBS
  • Order your annual and vegetable seeds now for summer.
  • Take stock of your equipment for seed starting such as lights, heat mat and sterile medium.
  • Wash and sterilize containers for seed starting.
  • Start indoor seeds for cool season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and onion.
  • Start long- germinating seeds like rosemary, snapdragon and begonia.
  • Fertilize houseplants and repot if needed as daylight increases.
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

  • Utilizing Native Plants in the Home Landscape with Landscape Architect Kevin O'Brien on Wednesday, February 17th at 6:30 pm

  • Kokedama: Demonstrating a Japanese Art Form with Summit County Master Gardener Heidi Schwarzinger on Wednesday, March 3rd at 6:30 pm

  • Demonstrating Bonsai Techniques in a Home Setting with Summmit County Master Gardener Greg Cloyd on Wednesday, March 17th at 6:30 pm

Meet Me in the Garden Series:

  • Wellness in the Garden with Summit County Master Gardener Andrea Bonesteel on Wednesday, February 24th at 6:30 pm

  • Phenology: Using Nature's Calendar to Predict Plant Bloom & Insect Activity with OSU Pollinator Education Director Denise Ellsworth on March 24th at 6:30 pm

Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
It’s quiet but the roots are down there riotous. – Rumi
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