Volume 3 Issue 1 | January 2022
Winter gardening: Planning, recording, observing, creating. Opportunities abound.
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Look Around
Winter interest. Whether viewed from the garden, the trail, or a cozy armchair, it brightens a cold, winter day. Trees with exfoliating bark – bark that peels off in thin flakes, scales, or layers – provide winter interest in spades. Birch, sycamore, redbud, shagbark hickory, lacebark elm, Scotch pine – these are some of the trees whose bark exfoliates, producing different colors and textures.

Tree bark has two layers. A living layer sits next to the cambium, the ring of cells that is tasked with cell reproduction for the inner and outer layers of the tree. That living bark layer, called the phloem, acts as the food supply line, carrying carbohydrates made in the leaves to other parts of the tree. The outer bark layer is composed of dead tissue, which prevents water loss and protects the tree from insects and disease. These outer cells are corky and hollow, which helps insulate the tree from hot and cold and cushions it from blows. As trees grow, they constantly shed their outer bark, much as our bodies slough off dead cells, and the gradual loss of this bark may escape our notice. Trees that shed excess outer bark by exfoliating large patches catch our eye. It’s hard to pass the trunk of a lacebark pine or a paperbark maple without focusing our attention on those colorful patterns and textures. What a gift at a time of year when landscapes can be stark!

Some bark exfoliates to reveal an exposed area of a different color, providing beautiful contrast. The London plane tree has brown bark that peels off to reveal a cream-colored inner bark. The salmony-brown bark of ‘Heritage’ river birch exfoliates to reveal a creamy white layer underneath. Talk about winter interest! Look around!
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Venus Fly Trap
Venus flytrap ( Dionaea muscipula) is one of the most interesting plants gracing our planet. After watching this VIDEO, poignantly narrated by David Attenborough, I almost felt sorry for the fly. I said almost.
The Venus flytrap leaf consists of 2 kidney-shaped sensitive lobes, just under 1” long with stiff marginal hairs about 1/3” long. Upon stimulation, these hairs trigger the lobes to snap shut, entrapping the victim. The monoecious flowers contain both male and female plant parts, having one stigma, which is the female organ, and between 10 to 20 stamens, which are the male organs. Flowers bloom from May to June and set seed around June or July.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the flytrap food sources includes about 30% spiders, 33% ants, 10% grasshoppers, and 10% beetles. Only a scant 5% of flying insects are entrapped. Flytraps do not trap the insects that pollinate them. These lucky guys (sweat bees, longhorned beetles, and checkered beetles) are not tempted to enter the traps because they are attracted to the flowers below.
More than 140 years ago Charles Darwin wondered how the plant attracted its prey. And while this has still not been fully explained, scientists now believe the plant uses food smell mimicry, releasing a scent that resembles a bouquet of fruits and plant flowers.
The Venus flytrap has trigger hairs on the inner side of each lobe which are sensitive to touch. When a prey makes contact with a trigger hair it bends, which signals the lobes to snap shut. This action of flipping rapidly from convex to concave and interring the prey takes less than a second. The lobes require two stimuli, less than 1/3 second apart, to snap shut. This mechanism prevents a snap response to raindrops and blown-in debris. Once the trap shuts, a digestive liquid is secreted, which turns the insect into a nourishing meal. Digestion takes three to five days. Each set of lobes can trap three times before needing to be replaced with a new set emerging from the ground. This is why you should never put your finger or other object in the plant, because it will cause the lobes to snap shut.
Should you choose to try your hand at cohabitating with a carnivorous plant, you must duplicate the natural wetland habitat of the Carolinas. This plant requires an extremely humid and bright, sunlit area. It is close to being placed on the Endangered Species Act because of habitat loss, poaching and fire suppression.
So, if the cries of a cricket or grasshopper won’t cause you to weep, by all means seek out a reputable nursery and have at it.

Shelia Baronwright
Creature Feature - Raccoons
Furry masked bandits with human-like hands. Adorably fluffy and scary-aggressive. Highly intelligent—some scientists believe they are smarter than cats or dogs. One of the few species who have benefited from human population growth because of their incredible ability to adapt. Closely related to…bears??? These mischievous critters are fascinating.

Raccoons are found in North, Central and South America. They originated in tropical climates but eventually moved north as far as Alaska. Procyon lotor, our common raccoon, was introduced to Europe (for its fur) and is now widely found there (and considered invasive). Raccoons prefer woody areas near water but can thrive in almost any environment—from urban alleys to suburban backyards. They build dens in trees or move into burrows abandoned by other animals, but garages, sewer systems, drainpipes, chimneys, crawl spaces and barns also suffice, as long as water is nearby.

Adult raccoons generally weigh between 10 to 30 pounds, and are easy to identify with their black-ringed tail, black mask around the eyes and greyish brown fur. The nocturnal raccoon is well-suited to operate in the dark. Their trademark mask is thought to reduce glare and enhance night vision. (They are mostly color blind except for green light.) Raccoons hear well (they can hear earthworms underground!) and are strong swimmers and climbers, but their most valuable ability is their sense of touch.

A raccoon’s forepaws have five long, thin and extremely sensitive finger-like toes. While they don’t have opposable thumbs, they compensate by using their forepaws together to pick up objects, open containers and turn doorknobs. WATCH THIS People may think raccoons “wash” their food in water (lotor means “washer” in Latin), but that’s not the case. What looks like “washing” is most likely locating, trapping and identifying food underwater. Raccoons gather information through touch. By wetting their paws, some scientists believe that raccoons are stimulating the nerve endings in those paws to gain more sensory information, a process called “dousing”. Raccoons are omnivores like humans, eating both plant and animal matter. If you’ve ever seen raccoons feasting at a garbage can you know they eat anything that doesn’t kill them. Living in urban environments may enhance raccoon brain development because they investigate everything as a potential food source. (Kind of like me cruising Giant Eagle’s snack aisle…) Watch this fascinating VIDEO to learn more about how raccoons are evolving to adapt to urban environments.

Raccoons mate in Ohio in February and March, and generally have one litter per year after a two-month pregnancy. Litters range from 3 to 7 baby “kits”, who won’t open their eyes for about 3 weeks. Dad (males are “boars”) is uninvolved and probably romancing another cute raccoon down the street, while Mom (females are “sows”) takes sole care of the kits for up to a year. The Aztec culture revered female raccoons as examples of great moms. Raccoon offspring often den near Mom even after they have reached maturity. 

While raccoons can live 12 years or more, a 2 to 3-year life span is common in the wild. Predators such as great horned owls, hawks and cougars take their share, while humans hunt raccoons for their fur and meat. Encounters with autos are frequent and deadly, especially due to raccoons’ nocturnal behavior. Disease and parasites are also problems. Rabies, raccoon roundworm, leptospirosis and distemper are rare but real dangers carried to humans and other animals by our masked friends. Play it safe by keeping your distance, washing hands after being outside, teaching children not to put dirt in their mouths and vaccinating your pets. Make your home less appealing to masked interlopers by eliminating outdoor food sources including pet food and open garbage, clearing brush piles and installing mesh fencing around any open crawl spaces.

No article on raccoons would be complete without a mention of the “Raccoon Whisperer.” James Blackwood, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Nova Scotia, has been feeding raccoons, a LOT of raccoons, and posting the videos to YouTube since 2011. It all started when his wife rescued a raccoon after a car accident, and upon her death in 2003 he promised he would take care of her furry friends. During the pandemic his videos went viral and this 20-minute clip has OVER 23 MILLION views. Decide for yourself if those folks spent that time wisely. WATCH THE RACOON WHISPERER  
C Christian
Keeping Track Keeps You On Track
We all have the best of intentions. We optimistically think our gardens will be better than last year, that we won’t make the same mistakes again. We’ll make those needed changes in plant placement, add that new cultivar we’ve been craving, or fill in that low spot that collects water. Then, over the winter, something happens--we forget. Perhaps if we had some notes from our garden experience...or a better memory...things would be different.

Keeping a record of what happens in your garden from year to year can help fix problem areas, plan additional plantings or hardscaping, or simply document changes for posterity. First, it is important to record existing plants so that you know just what you have in your garden. It can be difficult to envision where the daffodils were when planting in the fall or what color the fall mums were in the spring. Remember to document specifically which varieties you have in case you need to replace one plant out of a grouping. An incorrect variety can really stand out, and not in a good way. Always save your plant tags; it’s an easy way to refer back to what you previously planted. Tags can be kept simply in a plastic bag in your garage or shed, organized in a binder, or hole punched and strung on metal rings. For more extensive gardens, an excel spread sheet, with separate sections for each area, helps with organization and is easy to update when plants are added or changed.

You may also want to track dates. First and last frosts that occur in your own yard may differ from zone maps. Keep track of bloom times and seed plantings and adjust if needed. Also, document mishaps. Which plants were consumed by aphids, which ones baked to a crisp in the sun or grew too leggy in the shade? Don’t make the same mistakes twice! Last, your gardening records can be a to-do list of what needs to be done now or in the future, like fertilizing, pruning, and treatments for pests.

Ways to document your garden are as varied as plant types. The simplest and fastest way is picture taking. Photograph your garden throughout the year and you’ll have a great idea of when things bloom, need tending, or need to go. You can go all digital or have fun with a constantly evolving garden scrapbook. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a professionally drawn garden design, but if not, at least a rudimentary hand sketched garden layout can be very beneficial.

Another alternative is the handwritten ledger or garden journal. Keep your notebook handy to make notations regularly, tracking what's planted, what works or doesn't work, or dreaming about what could be. Notes can be more on the scientific side, by plotting data for temperature, rainfall, crop yields, soil test results, or monitoring your own test plot of experiments. Maybe you’re more interested in design and planning. It’s your own record, so go where your garden inspiration takes you. 

Online apps have a lot to offer. They can help diagram your garden – including colorful layouts and hardscaping. Many are free or inexpensive and the abundant choices give everyone an option that fits their needs. Some apps include perks like accessible plant databases, community discussion groups, email reminders (it’s time to fertilize), and garden tasks. Several apps also allow you to upload your photos. The downside is that the apps might not be as readily accessible to you while in your garden.

Whatever route you take, keeping track of what goes on in the garden and making changes with a plan in mind can lead to a more fruitful garden and a less frustrated gardener.
J Gramlich
Branching Out - Rockefeller Greenhouse
The Rockefeller Greenhouse is a lovely bit of Cleveland history that warrants a visit. It sits on a hill above the traffic and might be missed except for the understated sign at East 88th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Easily reached from the Lakeshore Memorial Freeway (I-90) at MLK, the city greenhouse was created to grow plants for Cleveland’s various parks. It didn’t take long for display gardens showcasing their wares to be added to the property.

Created in 1905 from a donation of 270 acres to the City of Cleveland by John D. Rockefeller, the greenhouse and botanical garden sit at the northern end of Rockefeller Park. The entire park meanders along Doan Brook, which flows down from the Shaker Lakes through University Circle and ends at Lake Erie. This winding roadway with its distinctive stone bridges became home to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, 33 individual landscapes depicting the variety of ethnicities that made Cleveland a melting pot and industrial powerhouse. It’s a fitting site for a place that grows plants.

The complex consists of several greenhouses surrounded by garden plots. A gazebo near the parking lot opens the path to the Willott Iris Garden, dedicated to hybridizers Dorothy and Tony Willott. Imagination must create the riot of color and scents that in spring will rise from the now-barren plots with hundreds of identification markers standing sentry until then. A few steps away, the All-America Selection vegetable display garden also awaits the warm weather, as does the floral AAS garden nearer the greenhouse.

A shade garden created by the Division of Urban Forestry and CLEANLAND-OHIO acknowledges Neighbor Woods, a city-wide tree planting campaign. Moving toward the building, a brick wall shows off several of the gargoyles and other embellishments rescued from the old Pennsylvania Railroad Euclid Avenue station.

Step inside the expanded lobby and the greenhouse beckons. This December visit found several rooms awash in poinsettias, the display a longtime Cleveland favorite. Starting at the tropical greenhouse, guarded by a massive bird of paradise, the seasonal display lines the various glass houses, filling pots, erupting from walls, tinting all with glowing pinks, reds and white. They pose throughout the main, fern, and theme greenhouses, and the indoor water garden. A train set depicts a homey scene in the theme show house. The orchid and the cacti and succulent glass houses were left unadorned, the sweet and the spikey needing no additional embellishment.

Outside again, I am reminded of the summer I guided blind teens through the unique garden established for the visually impaired, offering up textures and scents these children had never experienced. A nearby fountain added an auditory experience. Much has improved since those younger days. That garden is now the Betty Ott Talking Garden. An unseen narrator speaks from the ivy groundcover describing the layout of the garden. Telling visitors to use the ropes strung between posts, the voice orients to what is on the right and left. Keeping the rope to the right and traveling into the garden, the narrator describes the Helen Keller statue, her extended three fingers depicting the moment she learned the word water. The trail continues, braille signs and narration guiding visitors along, describing plants, encouraging touch, smell, listening.

Opposite the entrance to the Ott garden is the Japanese garden, its pathway winding through windswept trees and statuary, inviting a stop on a stone bench or a wide millstone. Then a pathway leads to a grassy mall bordered by weathered statuary, and travels back to the entrance to the display greenhouse.

The Rockefeller Greenhouse is open to the public every day between 10 am and 4 pm.
S Vradenburg
Indoor Gardening – An Asparagus Fern Bonsai
Who knew that a common fern could so beautifully mimic the dramatic and artistic form of a bonsai! Welcome to the world of the “poor man’s bonsai,” as this technique using pruned asparagus ferns is sometimes called. Let’s jump in and let the fun begin.

Potted asparagus ferns, with their airy branches and long, slender stems, are perfect for this project. Each plant consists of many separable rooted stems, and the 4 inch pot used for this project contained enough ferns to create three of these bonsai mimics. Choose a fern that has some taller stems, keeping in mind that the height should complement the size of your container.

Bonsai pots work well for this project, of course, but other simple, shallow containers are also attractive. Free-form cement or hypertufa containers are excellent options, as are the hollows in rocks and driftwood pieces.

So where does one find moss at this time of year? Well, those of us who harvest it during the growing season and keep a supply in our freezers (right next to the meats) can thaw some for use. For those who keep more traditional freezer fare, moss can be gathered when the weather allows from wood surfaces or soils. (Gather from spots where it will readily reestablish itself, and leave some behind to grow and fill in.) There are online sources for beautiful live mosses. Sheet moss, which can be purchased at a craft store, can be used and will top dress your container nicely. It is not live moss, but a preserved and colored product. A topdressing of haydite, pea gravel, or other small-scale stone is another alternative to live moss.

There may be a temptation to fill in the planter with other plants or objects, but the beauty of these arrangements lies in their simplicity, and the focal point should be the dwarfed “tree” that we can imagine on some harsh mountain slope.

Supplies and Tools
  • An asparagus fern (Asparagus plumosus)
  • Shallow container with drainage hole
  • Coffee filter or hardware screen
  • Potting soil (no fertilizer or water crystal additives)
  • A rock that contrasts with your container color
  • Moss or a small-scale gravel such as haydite or pea gravel
  • Scissors
  • Small-spouted watering can and water spray bottle

  1. Remove the asparagus fern from its pot and separate out a section that has five to seven longer stems. If there are low fronds or too many stems in the section of fern you will be planting, use scissors to cut them at the base. For this project you want tall, statuesque stems with buds or foliage on top.
  2. Place the coffee filter or hardware screen over the hole(s) in the bottom of the container and place some potting soil in the bottom.
  3. Plant the fern slightly to the side of your pot. (We’re following the rule of thirds – for artistic value and a well-composed planter, place your plant about 1/3 of the distance away from one short edge.) Fill in with potting soil, making sure that the emerging roots are directly below the soil line. If you’d like, mound the soil slightly as you plant the fern to give your planter some vertical dimension.
  4. Place your rock on the other side of the pot.
  5. Cover the remaining soil surface with moss or an alternate top dressing.
  6. Spray the fern and moss, and water gently but thoroughly until water comes out of the drainage hole.
  7. Place in a bright room, spray daily until plants have acclimated, and water when dry.

 “Poor man’s bonsai” indeed! We are rich when surrounded by such greenery.

K Edgington
Down and Dirty
January Checklist
  • Look out your window and make notes on what worked and didn’t in your yard last year and plan changes.
  • Begin designing your summer garden layout considering crop rotation, succession planting, and companion plants.
  • Select and order from various seed catalogs. Experiment with something unusual.
  • Clean and disinfect supplies used for seed starting.
  • Read and learn—check out local and internet sources for garden related classes and conferences. Your local Master Gardener website is a good place to start. http://summitmastergardeners.org
  • Go virtual bird-watching on webcams around the world. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

Meet Me in the Garden Series:

  • Managing Our Urban Forests with Akron City Arborist and Horticulturalist Jon Malish on Wednesday, January 26th at 7:00 pm. (Zoom)

  • Dazzling Dahlias with OSU Extension Educator Jacqueline Kowalski on Wednesday, February 23rd at 7:00 pm. (Zoom)


The Summit County Master Gardener Saturday Gardening Series

Saturday, March 5th, from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 pm
At the Summit County OSU Extension (in the Akron Urban League Building)
440 Vernon Odom Blvd, Akron 44307

Allen Chartier, founder of the Great Lakes HummerNet, and his program entitled The Great Lakes HummerNet, which details attracting, feeding, and gardening for hummingbirds.

Lee Paulson, Summit County Master Gardener, talking about Bulbs Through the Seasons with info about their impact on history, economics, art, literature, poetry, and even romance.

Cynthia Druckenbrod, past Vice President of Horticulture at the Cleveland Botanic Garden, presenting Autumn Brilliance in Your Garden, and how to get the WOW factor in your autumn garden.

Phyllis Mihalik, owner of PM Consulting and a Geaga County Master Gardener, and her program Why We Grow What We Grow, a look at the foods we grow and the history of the food aisle.

Registration Opening in Early February on our Website


Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
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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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