Volume 3 Issue 3 | March 2022
In March a gardener's vision is fixed forward as cool season gardening begins. At long last!
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Look Around
March days are all about anticipation, as wintry weather moderates and spring peeks around the corner. How gratifying to see those first signs of spring, leaf and flower buds swelling and forsythias singing their yellow song. At long last, spring flower bulbs begin their time-honored parade heralding the season—brave crocus lead the way, followed by exuberant daffodils and then, finally, triumphant tulips shouting "Spring is here!" Oh, those beautiful bulbs!

True bulbs are amazing structures, neat little packages containing all the parts and sustenance needed for an emerging plant. They have a basal plate from which roots grow, a shoot which includes the developing flower and leaf buds, fleshy scales which store nutrients, and lateral buds which develop into offsets or bulblets for reproductive purposes. Some bulbs, such as tulips, allium, or narcissus, are tunicate, having a paper-like outer covering, called a tunic, that prevents dehydration and offers protection. Non-tunicate, or bare bulbs, have succulent outer scales that separate, such as lilies or fritillaria.

Not all plants that we commonly call bulbs are true bulbs. Corms (such as gladiolus or crocus), rhizomes (iris or canna), tubers (begonias) and tuberous roots (dahlias or sweet potatoes) perform similar functions but do not have all the plant parts found in true bulbs.

Some bulbs, such as tulips, deplete their food reserves during the flowering season and replace the bulb structure each year after flowering. That works well if growing conditions are good and the plant has persistent foliage that can replenish food stores for the following season. But when conditions are not just right, as in most of our gardens, the food stores (and the bulb) are small, and that next year, or the next, there's not enough energy for leaf or flower production.

Most other bulbs, such as daffodils or hyacinths, keep their bulb year to year and build on the stored reserves. During good years they have enough stores to both flower and reproduce. If conditions are challenging, the bulb and consequent flower may be smaller, but there will be sufficient energy to continue growth. These bulbs are more reliably perennial.

When you see your first snow drop or daffodil in the coming weeks, think about the complete, little package underground from which that beauty emerged. Look around.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BULBS HERE

K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Leaf Lettuce
The ground is starting to thaw, the days are getting longer and we have the occasional day above freezing. Yes, spring is just around the corner and, as gardeners, our thoughts turn to gardening! Leaf lettuce is a great place to start.

Leaf lettuce is a gardener’s best friend and probably one of the easiest things for a beginning gardener to grow. As a cool-season crop, take advantage of its reliability and long growing season to skip the pricey grocery store lettuce, at least for a few months. 
Not to be confused with head, bibb, romaine, or any other varieties of lettuce that form more of a head, leaf lettuce forms individual leaves around a stalk and comes in a variety of colors from red to green.

Leaf lettuce can be sown directly in the ground once it has thawed and can be raked (not too wet or mucky and not too dried out). It germinates between 40° and 80°, optimally around 70°. Lettuce that has been hardened off can survive temperatures as low as 20°, so it can handle the predictable ups and downs of an Ohio spring. Seeds can also be started indoors about 3-4 weeks earlier and must be hardened off before planting in the ground. Because lettuce has a relatively shallow root system, frequent light waterings are ideal for seedlings. Leaf lettuces thrive best when daily temperatures are between 60° and 70°. In hot summer temperatures, lettuce will bolt, forming a seed head and developing a bitter flavor. If you’ve waited to harvest you could be too late.

Lettuce is great for succession planting, sowing seeds every few weeks to stagger the harvest. Stop planting about a month before the heat of summer and resume in late August. If it’s too hot, plant seeds in the shade of taller plants to bring the temperature down. Lettuce is also a good option for indoor hydroponic gardening for a year-round harvest. 

To harvest, pinch off the largest leaves and allow the smaller leaves to continue to grow. Mulching helps to suppress weeds, but watch out for slugs in overly wet conditions.

Now the fun part: choosing the variety. Both red and green varieties are readily available with many beautiful colors in between. As with other things, looks may not be the most important factor. Consider cold tolerance, heat tolerance, and disease resistance along with days-to-maturity, information that can be found on the seed packet, seed catalog, or reputable internet site. Black Seeded Simpson is a common leaf lettuce with an early maturation and good disease tolerance, though Simpson Elite is less likely to bolt and so grows longer into the summer. Oak Leaf is medium green with oak-shaped leaves and good heat tolerance. Other Oak varieties include the Blush Butter Oaks with pink-tinged leaves and Mighty Red Oaks with bronze highlights. Green Dear Tongue is an heirloom variety with pointed leaves that is slow to bolt and doesn’t get bitter. Emphatically named, Really Red Deer Tongue is similar to Red Deer Tongue but with a rich, dark wine color, white-green contrasting veins, and better disease resistance. Other varieties are ranked here: CORNELL UNIVERSITY'S VEGETABLE VARIETIES FOR GARDENERS If you can’t decide, there are plenty of lettuce seed blends out there.

You can grow lettuce even if you’re not a vegetable gardener. Consider planting lettuce in flower pots, window boxes, or anywhere that needs a little foliage pick-me-up.
J Gramlich
Is Phenology in Your Tool Belt?
The feeling of spring is undeniable. We’re likely to experience a few more episodes of frost and snow, but the days are growing longer and the temps gradually climbing.

This is the perfect time to head to your garden and check its clock. The rhythms of nature provide a roadmap for natural phenomena that is far more accurate than any meteorological predictions. These relationships have stayed constant for millions of years.

The study of this phenomenon is called phenology, which looks at the timing of various biological events in the environment and how they are triggered by the accumulation of heat over time. One important contribution phenology makes is understanding the effect climate is having on recurring natural phenomena. It demonstrates the difference between weather and climate. As OSU Entomologist and phenology expert, Denise Ellsworth, once explained, “climate is the wardrobe and weather is individual outfits.”

Phenology is nothing new. According to Karen Delahaut of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, phenological records have been kept since the Japanese began to track the first bloom on cherry trees. (Read about it HERE.)

How does this help? Wouldn’t you love to know when to start looking for Popillia japonica (Japanese beetle) scouts searching for their next buffet? Rather than go out every day to search for scouts, watch for first bloom on Little Leaf Linden (Tilia cordata), which coincides with adult emergence. Then head outdoors with your bowl of soapy water, search for the first beetles, and drown or squish them before they can signal for the far larger onslaught.

One way to measure how temperature impacts biological activity is to use what are known as growing degree days. Growing degree days (GDDs) are determined by the accumulated increase in daily temperatures above 50° F. Degree days increase as daytime temperatures rise above that baseline. For example, if the daytime temperature on March 5 is 55°, the growing degree day number climbs to 55, or 50 + 5. If the next day the temperature reaches 60°, the GDD is 55 + 10 or 65. If the temperature dips below 50°, GDD remains at 65. It never goes backward.

It is not as reliable to say that vultures return to Hinckley every March 15th as it is to predict that they will return when the accumulated temperature has reached 92 GDDs. However, not all plant and animal phenomena are temperature related. Honeybees are not good predictors of phenological phenomena because they are able to warm their hives and so are not as affected by outside temperatures as other insects.

We can use GDDs to assist us in pest and disease control. For instance, we know that pine needle scale has its first egg hatch at 305 GDDs and also that the first blooms on red horsechestnut occur at 304 GDDs. We can watch for the first blooms of the red horsechestnut to apply our pine needle scale control. Farmers have been attending to these natural relationships for centuries, and, thanks to the work of scientists, such as entomologist Dr. Daniel Herms, we have resources that predict plant and animal activity. Dr. Herms used years of data on plants and insects collected from weather stations placed throughout Ohio to develop a chart linking GDDs, flower emergence and insect and plant activity. You can find it at https://weather.cfaes.osu.edu/gdd

Input your ZIP code. A chart comes up, showing your local GDD and associated plant and insect activity. If you look at the entire chart you can see that you might start looking for Eastern Tent caterpillar (Malocosoma americanum) when border forsythia is in first bloom (GDD 86). Or see that bagworm egg hatch occurs just after Bumalda Spirea (Spirea x bumalda) first bloom (GDD 630). GDDs advance, accumulating until the end of the year. Last year GDDs reached 3588, although there is not much happening in the pest and plant arena after 2591 GDDs, with adult emergence of the banded ash clearwing borer.

This information enables gardeners and farmers to learn about insects, their life cycles and ways to manage pests and diseases with minimal and more targeted use of pesticides. Picking bagworm casings before they hatch is as effective and far less damaging to the environment than using a pesticide that will also harm beneficial insects.

But it is helpful in ways other than Integrated Pest Management. As temperatures warm, phenology helps us to see how they affect other relationships. Mason bees are important pollinators of orchards; what happens when fruit trees leaf out and bloom before mason bees emerge?

Use phenology to learn more about your garden and watch the dance of nature as the changing music of climate change alters her steps.

Learn more: WHY PHENOLOGY by the US National Phenology Network


S Vradenburg
How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck if a....
Sadly, woodchucks do not chuck wood. If they did, perhaps they’d have less time to devour our gardens! One of the largest species of marmots (large ground squirrels), groundhogs have grayish-brown fur, short legs that are excellent for digging, and, like all rodents, incisors that continually grow (up to one-sixteenth inch per week—the groundhog’s constant chewing keeps them from getting too long). Found all over Ohio, they live in pastures, grassy areas and woods, preferably with sandy or gravely soil, and dig elaborate burrows 2-6 feet deep and up to 66 feet long. The main entrance (there can be several) is marked by a large mound of dirt the animals use for observation or sun-bathing. The burrow will have various rooms for specific purposes such as sleeping, hibernation and going potty, and tunnels for emergency escapes. Groundhogs are very industrious—the dirt they move when building a large burrow could fill a dump truck!
 
Marmota monax are called lots of things. Printable names include woodchuck (likely derived from the Algonquian name “wuchak”), mouse bear (they resemble a small bear when sitting up), and whistle pig (the sound they make to warn of danger). Other unprintable ones are used by gardeners spotting a groundhog feasting on their choice crops.
 
And FEAST they do! Groundhogs can consume over a pound of grasses, plants, leaves, bark and your favorite veggies every day (the equivalent of a 150-pound man scarfing down 15 pounds of food). The primarily herbivorous groundhog is a casual omnivore, snacking on insects, bird eggs and slugs. As you would expect, all this eating produces a rather full-figured silhouette. But unlike you and me, groundhogs have an excellent excuse for packing on those pounds…
 
Hibernation. Unlike bears, groundhogs are “true hibernators”, snoozing soundly through winter, surviving on their fat reserves. (Mammals that are true hibernators include bats, hedgehogs and rodents.) This long winter’s nap can last for up to six months, depending on the climate. Body temperature drops from 97 to 40 degrees as does heart rate—from 100 beats a minute to 4.
 
They certainly like their rest, but one thing will motivate males to wake up early—you guessed it—girls! Scientists believe males may come out of hibernation around February, visit surrounding female burrows to check if the females are still there, and then go back to bed until mating season in March! The males will mate with several females from March-May, and babies the size of large mice are born in nurseries in the burrow between April and early June. Litters are usually 4-5 babies who remain in the den for 9 -11 weeks, after which mom makes them move to other burrows but continues to watch over them. Eventually the babies leave the approximately 3-acre territory to develop their own.
 
Groundhogs generally live about 6 years in the wild, but can live to age 14 or so in captivity. (No, Punxsutawney Phil is not 135 years old.) Predators include coyote, badgers, bobcat and foxes, larger dogs and humans. Development, with its open landscapes bordered by planted edges, can actually render environments more favorable for woodchucks. Groundhogs can climb trees, swim, and will fight to protect their territories. They are generally solitary but greet each other by touching their nose to the other’s mouth. Watch THIS cute move.

I have been victimized by these pudgy garden bandits, but I harbor a fondness for them nevertheless. Perhaps I can relate to their single-minded pursuit of food, or maybe it’s just their chubby cuteness. How can you resist THIS?

If you’re still not feeling the cuteness, HERE are some tips on discouraging those whistle pig visitors. Perhaps you should also read Robert Frost’s poem, A DRUMLIN WOODCHUCK. It might give you a bit more appreciation for the persistent, porky-ness of our groundhog neighbors.
C Christian
Some Like it Hot?
Whether you’re a beginning gardener or an old pro, knowing the difference between warm season and cool season plants is essential for gardening success. It allows you to extend the garden season and multiply your harvest yields. As the name implies, warm-season plants grow best in the summer and live their lives between the frost-free dates. Cool-season plants can handle the cold, and even the occasional snowfall but take a downturn in hot weather. Sowing the right plant at the right time allows gardening to continue from the earliest spring until autumn when days become too short and too cold for plants to actively grow.

It's crucial to know the first and last frost dates in your area, which can be found in almanacs or on the internet. Schedule your garden plantings around these dates. Remember these are average dates so be prepared for the inevitable variations and plan accordingly.

Warm-season crops are the common summer vegetablestomatoes, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppersthat need to be protected from frost and cold temperatures to flourish. Many gardeners start these vegetables indoors to get a jump on the growing season and extend the harvest. They tend to fizzle out after produce is harvested and go to seed or get killed by frost.

Cold-season crops are a diverse group with different cold tolerances. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are cold tolerant and prefer temperatures below 70°. They need to be started 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. This allows them to be productive before the heat of summer arrives. Others like peas, radishes, and spinach can be sown directly into the soil. Semi-hardy vegetables such as cauliflower, lettuce, and beets can handle some cold and even a light frost so plant them a few weeks before the last frost. Kale is considered the toughest when it comes to the cold and can survive being covered in snow and temperatures below 28°. Frost might even enhance the flavor of some vegetables as the cold converts some of the starches to sugars.

Cooler temperatures can be turned into an advantage in the fall, as cool-season vegetables can be replanted in late summer. Because northeast Ohio doesn’t typically have frost until October, we have several months of growing to do as the warm season vegetables wrap up.

Cool season-warm season guidelines don’t just pertain to veggies. Annuals such as pansy, dianthus, and dusty miller all thrive in cooler temperatures and are a great way to extend the blooming season. Annual herbs such as arugula, chervil, chives, cilantro, and parsley (biennial), all prefer a chill in the air.
 
Take heart gardeners, the gardening season isn’t that far off if you just cool it. 
   
J Gramlich
Wilt Woes
Building good soils, following sound watering practices, proper planting and spacing, matching plant needs with site conditions – these are all ways to ensure a healthy and beautiful landscape. There are some challenges, though, that defy our best efforts. Verticillium wilt is one such challenge. The majority of plant diseases are plant specific – they limit their damage to one species or group of plants. Verticillium wilt, however, has a wide host range, infecting over 300 tree, shrub, annual, perennial, vine, and vegetable species. OSU Plant Pathologist, Dr. Jim Chatfield, describes it as “cosmopolitan: very widespread with a huge host range”. He notes that it does not affect conifers or monocots (grass-like plants) and that within some plant species, such as maples, the susceptibility varies. 

Verticillium wilt is caused by a fungus, and lives in the soil, where it enters roots through wounds or abrasions, then migrates to the plant’s water conducting system, called xylem, clogging those tiny tubes and causing wilt. The disease can be acute, killing most plants within months or even weeks, or it can be chronic and persist over time. Some plants, such as tomatoes, decline very swiftly. (When buying tomato plants or seeds look for the V under the list of diseases the plants are resistant to.)

Infected plants first display leaf wilt and branch dieback, sometimes on just one side of the plant. The sapwood area just under the bark on those infected plants may show green or brown streaking. Other symptoms that may occur include scorching on the leaf margins, small leaves, and unusually large seed crop production. Because there are other factors that can cause these symptoms, it is advisable to send a plant sample to a lab to determine if verticillium wilt is present. (See the link to OSU’s diagnostic clinic below.)

Verticillium Wilt is tough to remediate because it travels through the plant’s essential vascular (water and nutrient transporting) system, and there are no fungicides available for treatment. It can survive in a dormant state in soils for ten or more years and tends to become active during cool weather and in poorly drained soils. Manage the disease by pruning out infected wood at least 12 inches below any wood discoloration, disinfecting pruners between cuts and after use. Do not compost or bury infected branches. Excessive fertilizer promotes this disease, so fertilize lightly or not at all. Make sure plants get adequate moisture because of compromised xylem cells.

Good plant selection and care are the best prevention strategies. Choose plants that are not susceptible, especially when replacing diseased plants. HERE is a list of woody ornamentals, perennials, and vegetables and their susceptibility to verticillium wilt. Research has shown that stressed plants are more susceptible, so adequate water and proper fertilization are also key. As always, build good, well-drained soil to promote healthy roots and help keep this fungus at bay.

For more information about verticillium wilt, please visit Verticillium Wilt of Woody Plants from the University of Kentucky Extension.


K Edgington
Down and Dirty
March Checklist
  • Start seeds indoors for summer vegetables and annuals according to packet directions.
  • Prune trees and shrubs to remove diseased and dead branches, to manage size, and to shape.
  • Trim and shape roses and cut out dead wood.
  • Finish leaf cleanup and remove any winter protection.
  • Consider a soil test for lawn or garden areas. https://extension.psu.edu/soil-testing
  • Cut back & divide ornamental grasses.
  • Start dahlias, begonia tubers and cannas indoors.
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

Meet Me in the Garden Series:


  • Seed Starting: Tried-and-True as Well as New Approaches with Summit County Master Gardener Vince Matlock on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 pm (Zoom)


Learn more about and register for this program 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.


Visit our website for updates and ticket purchase information.

More learning opportunities:
Spring drew on… and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.
Charlotte Brontë
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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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