Volume 2 Issue 5 | May 2021
Marvelous May, with its much anticipated garden chores. Dare we say, "At Last!"?
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Look Around

If there were but one erect and solid tree in the woods, all creatures would go to rub against it and make sure of their footing.
Henry David Thoreau

When we feel a need to hit the pause button, many of us find pleasure in the contemplation of trees. They are solid, offer cool shade on a warm day, produce interesting leaves, blooms, and beautiful seeds, and we can watch them as they grow in stature and grace over a period of many years. Tree species grow at different rates, with quick growers such as willow and poplar soon outpacing those whose growth is slow, such as beech and white oak. Researchers have found that fast growing trees prioritize growth and are consequently vulnerable to the vagaries of weather, insects, and diseases, while slow growers, who invest their energy in strength and defense, are longer lived. We love these “Methuselah” trees, the elephantine beech and the imposing white oak with its stout trunk and wide, spreading branches. A white oak can live 300 years or more! Think about the stories and history surrounding a particularly old specimen. Michael Dirr, Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, has written a book about what he calls “Noble Trees” and says this: A Noble Tree is manifest and magnificent in stature, transcends and achieves significant architectural grace over centuries.

We can estimate the age of the trees we encounter with a tape measure and a bit of easy math. Measure the diameter of the trunk 4 ½ feet above the ground and plug that number into the formula given on Purdue University’s How Old is My Tree site or another tree age calculator site. HERE'S a site where the calculation has been done for some common trees. The growth of trees is dependent on growing conditions, with trees in managed landscapes tending to grow faster, so these calculations are estimates. Our appreciation of trees grows as we understand the years that have been invested.

Planting a tree is an act of faith and a nod to the future as we anticipate the shade and cool breezes provided, the remediation of atmospheric carbon, the home and food for countless creatures, and the inspiration and beauty given to us and those around us.

Check out the trees, young and old, as you take your spring-time stroll. Look Around!
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Cushion Spurge
Cushion spurge just might be that perennial you didn’t know you needed. Its versatility makes it the perfect plant for a lot of different situations. Are you looking for an early flowering perennial? Something that tolerates dry conditions? Coloring that supplements spring pinks and purples? Three season color? Something that stays in a neat mounding shape without pruning? If so, you need this plant!

Cushion spurge, Euphorbia epithymoides (formerly polychroma), is a native of Europe, growing in dry forests, mixed meadows and rocky hillsides. It is a happy and easy-going plant, thriving in sun to part shade, average soil conditions, moist to dry soils (but not soggy), and is drought tolerant. This grand plant is a garden-old timer, having been grown for centuries for its ornamental and, to a lesser degree, its medicinal value. 

Reaching a height of a manageable 18-24 inches, the cushion spurge fits into many garden scenarios. It would be at home in perennial beds and borders, containers, cottage gardens and Mediterranean rock gardens. This eye-catching perennial comes to life in May when other plants are mere sprigs in the ground with woody based stems that are lined with whorls of soft green foliage. It then turns a vivid sulphur yellow with flowerets that attract early pollinators, mostly small flies, ants and other crawling insects. This display lasts from May into June where it complements the flowering trees, peonies and candy tuft. It transitions to neutral green in summer but maintains its neat, clumping form before fading to yellow in autumn, with some varieties displaying red, purple and burgundy.

Cushion spurge has a dubious history as a medicinal plant. When cut, it exudes a milky white sap that causes a vigorous laxative effect. Too much and it is fatal. The name spurge is thought to be derived from the French word espurgier, meaning “to purge”. You figure it out from there. It was also used in dentistry to soothe hollow teeth, presumably by deadening the nerve endings. While relatively harmless in the garden, treat it with sensible respect. Gloves please!

Some interesting varieties include ‘Bonfire’ whose top growth turns to shades of red, orange and purple over the summer and ‘First Blush’, which is named for the pink tinged new growth that appears in summer. This multipurpose plant will be happy in your garden and so will you.
J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Great Blue Heron

That’s me, soaring across the sky with a hint of danger, a whisper of the prehistoric. I am Ardea herodias, a Great Blue Heron. I am a cool customer, the James Bond of birds.
The largest heron in North America, I stand four-feet tall, with an impressive, almost seven-foot wingspan. My s-curved neck gives me incredible striking power with my long, lethal, yellow bill. I have a beautiful blue-grey body with chestnut and black accents; plumes grow from my back and lower neck during breeding season. I am intense and focused. If I were human, I would be an engineer, or a tech billionaire. I’d definitely drive a Tesla.
I coil my neck and arch my wings when I fly, legs trailing behind, making me easy to spot. Watch HERE. HERE'S a nest-eye’s view.
I am found in North and Central America, the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. I’m sure you’re familiar with our population in the Cuyahoga Valley as we’re pretty big news (and rightly so). We like marshy wetlands, and the beavers’ return to the Valley has created more of that habitat. Human efforts to restore the Cuyahoga River has also helped; we prefer our water toxin-free. The first nesting pair of Great Blues in the Valley was recorded in 1985 in the Piney Narrows. To protect our nests from predators, we generally build them in large trees in colonies called “heronries”. Our heronry off of Bath Road, which last year had about 60 nests, is unusual as we typically prefer more privacy.
Most of us head to warmer climates in winter, but if waters remain open a few may stay behind (a gamble either way). Around Valentines Day, males arrive to choose nest sites. Courtship ensues with pretty elaborate rituals. CHECK OUT these dance moves. . Once we choose a mate, we continue ritualistic behavior to strengthen our bonds, which may include nest building. We stay with the same mate for a season, but will change things up the next. Watch HERE.
Nest building can take from 3 days to 2 weeks. A newly-built nest may be 20 inches across; supersized nests used over multiple years can grow to 4 feet wide and 3.5 feet deep. Females lay between 2-6 bluish eggs that hatch in about 30 days. Both parents assist with caring for the chicks, who are out of the nest by early July.
I am a killing machine. Fish fear me, as well as almost anything else within striking distance —amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, other birds.
Great Blues hunt alone day, or night – thanks to our excellent night vision. My specially shaped neck vertebrae allow me to throw my head and neck forward to impale prey with my spear-like jaws—a cool move called a “bill stab” or even “deathblow”. See it HERE. Sadly, sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs (actually throats), and we have choked trying to eat something that was too big to swallow. I spared you those videos, but if you are so inclined google away!
With my long legs I can wade into deeper water than most birds, and my large feet and long toes allow me to walk across soft mud or sand without sinking. Due to my hollow bones (like all birds), I weigh only 5-6 pounds, despite my size.
With all that fishing, how do I stay so pretty? My beauty secret— special feathers on my chest that, as I comb them with the fringed claw on my middle toe, fray into a powder. This powder scrubs away fish slime and oil from my feathers as I preen.
We tend to be dramatic, and may defend our feeding territories in show-stopping performances involving heads thrown back, wings outstretched, and bills pointing skyward. But there’s also a lot of standing around. Watch THIS and THIS.
And if you think you hear a pterodactyl overhead—they’re extinct, it’s probably me. Click HERE to see what I mean, and make sure to listen all the way to the end.

C Christian
If Not Grass, What?
Have you ever awakened on a Saturday morning to the drone of lawnmowers? Have you looked at your front lawn and thought, “I really don’t want to mow today”? We have a love/hate relationship with that patch of green that stretches to the street. Have you ever wished all this could just go away? You’re not alone. 
Lawns are an exercise in irony. We feed them to make them grow only to mow them to make them look like green carpets. We add herbicides to keep invaders such as dandelions and clover at bay, but, as research shows, we create monocultures that aren’t resistant to the pests and diseases we treat for. 
Lawns are rooted in the American psyche. Before the 20th century, grass was used to graze livestock on village greens or family farms. A shift began in the past century, turning grass from a service to a symbol of success. People resist the idea of having anything but a pristine, green lawn. Many homeowners’ associations have strict rules against anything other than grass in the neighborhood. 
Lawns are big business. The National Association of Landscape Professionals pegs the 2021 home turf market at $105 billion. That represents about 1 million jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Ohio is 5th in the nation in the number of lawn and landscape employees. There is a lot of economic benefit in our front lawns. 
But there’s a cost. The Natural Resources Defense Council says the 3 trillion (yes, T) gallons used to water lawns represent ¾ of all household water consumption. Caring for lawns uses 200 million gallons of gas. Seventy-million pounds of pesticides keep lawns disease and pest free. 
Perhaps it’s time to welcome clover and many other plants back to our landscapes. Over the years we have found that green, well-watered lawns aren’t always the best way to encourage the return of wildlife that is disappearing from the environment. It’s time to rethink our relationship to the lawn.   
Finding alternatives to grass is a growing industry in the United States, and landscape professionals are increasingly designing areas that use native plants and contribute to biodiversity. Whether you strive for sustainable landscaping, “freedom lawns” (personally, I love the term “tapestry lawns”), or simply want to create an area with nature in mind, finding plants, grasses and groundcovers to replace turf is becoming easier. 
Front yards need not be completely replaced. Rather, reducing their size gives us the advantage of lawns – areas for play, foot traffic or a rest from the busy-ness of the plants that are replacing turf – without being the only thing in our landscape. The idea is to turn those landscapes into welcoming oases for ourselves and the creatures we have been displacing. 
Some homeowners choose a prairie motif, using native plants and grasses that once covered vast plains that swept the middle of this country. Others choose ground covers that provide food and shelter for wildlife and that ensure the soil won’t end up as runoff. For people with shady property, moss is becoming popular. Think of ground covers such as honeysuckle, heuchera, stonecrop, lithodora, creeping thyme or creeping phlox instead of grass. These and similarly attractive species grow with little to no mowing and prevent soil from eroding. Many grass seed varieties are now mixed with microclover, smaller than the familiar white clover but as effective at fixing nitrogen to the soil and providing forage for bees and other pollinators.  
Dr. Douglas Tallamy is one of the expert voices advocating for re-creating the traditional landscape. His two most recent books, Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope, make compelling arguments that not only do we need to rethink the way we approach landscaping, but we are the best chance wildlife has of regaining a foothold in cities and suburbs. Nature’s Best Hope enlists gardeners of all stripes to create what he calls the Homegrown National Park. It’s not a place, although he has created a web site where gardeners can add their bits of land to a list of those striving to recapture the role of nature in our daily lives. It’s an idea that we are stewards, as important to America’s natural environment as our parks and national monuments. 
Reconfiguring your landscape takes time and planning. Change will come in steps. The best first step is to acknowledge that we, too, can turn our yards from lawns to welcome mats. We’ll all be better for the switch. 
For more information: 
 S Vradenburg
One of the Good Guys ~ Lacewings
Green Lacewing Eggs
Ric Bessin, Extension Specialist
University of Kentucky College
of Agriculture
Green Lacewing Larvae
Green Lacewing Adult
I don’t know about you, but aphids drive me nuts. Not only do they damage some of my favorite vegetables – I lost all my cabbages last year to the dumpy little grey darlings – but they are so numerous they overwhelm any attempts I make to get rid of them.

This year I might buy some green lacewing eggs or larvae and let them do the job.

Green lacewings (Chrysoperla carnea and C. rufilabris) are among more than 1,400 species of this predatory insect native to North America, indeed to most temperate regions of the globe. As larvae, they eat a variety of soft-bodied insects including aphids, spider mites, caterpillars, insect eggs (many kinds), leafhoppers, mealybugs, mites, psyllids, thrips and whiteflies. No wonder lacewing larvae are nicknamed aphid lions. Like Lady beetles, the larvae aren’t particularly good-looking. Don’t panic if you see something that looks like a little alligator on your plants. Give it some time and the beautiful adult shouldn’t be far behind.

Lacewings are aptly named because of the adults’ lacy wings. Adults feed only on nectar and pollen, although brown lacewings, Hemerobiidae, are predators both in the larval and adult stages. This latter group of lacewings has 58 recognized species.

Lacewing larvae are so voracious (up to 600 pests per larvae) that evolution has created a fail-safe for unhatched eggs. The female lays each of her eggs atop a silken stalk about ½” -1” long. This ensures that when they hatch the larvae won’t be able to get to their egg mates and eat them. You can watch lacewing larvae hatch HERE. If you look closely, you can see the silken stalk that has been holding the eggs in the air.

Lacewings are such successful predators, there is a small industry that sells eggs, larvae and adults. Some serve commercial greenhouses, where an aphid outbreak spells disaster. Some merchants cater to homeowners taking care of their indoor plants, although during my research I found several questions to Ask an Expert websites about getting rid of lacewings indoors. That might not be the best way to take care of indoor pests.

Rather than buy the eggs, plant flowers that attract lacewings and grow your own army of eaters. HERE'S a website from the University of California with a list of several plants that lacewings love.

As you monitor your plants, don’t fret about those little alligators. You know you’ve got a friend in lacewings.
S Vradenburg
Food Among the Flowers
I remember when Rosalind Creasy’s first book about edible landscaping came out in 1982. I pored over the pages and wondered that planting edible landscapes wasn’t common practice. Fast forward to spring of 2021, and we are still talking about planting vegetables in our flower beds as if it is a new idea. Let’s get on with it! Many vegetable plants rival our bedding plants for interest and beauty: eggplants, carrots, lettuce, peppers, vining beans, beets, chard, peas, the list goes on.

Why incorporate vegetable plants into ornamental beds?
  • A vegetable planted among the flowers and shrubs means less space required for the veggie garden. For many, veggie garden space is valuable real estate or may not exist at all.
  • Vegetable plants can be beautiful and provide visual interest.
  • When separating vegetables and spacing them from each other there is often less pest and disease pressure. This is not a guarantee. The year I planted my eggplant among the flowers because I’d run out of space those plants escaped the annual flea beetle eggplant feast and I had the biggest, most beautiful eggplant plants and fruit ever.

Follow gardening best practices, of course:

  • Attend to sun and space needs and allow for good air circulation to discourage disease.
  • Remember your design principles---contrast shapes and sizes, and use pleasing color combinations. What has more vertical interest than a grouping of onions or garlic?
  • Fertilize as you would in your traditional vegetable garden.
  • Mulch to suppress weeds.
  • Water deeply when the soil is dry and then allow to dry between waterings. Keep foliage as dry as is possible.
  • Watch the use of pesticides---what you find acceptable in the ornamental garden may not be when growing food. Read the label.

What do you do with the space left when those carrots or beets or lettuce are harvested? Plants that are harvested early in the growing season can be followed with another crop, or ornamental plants may be left to fill in the space.

Brie Arthur, author, has taken edible landscaping to the next level with growing grains in the landscape (as well as the usual vegetables). Click HERE to learn about her experience and suggestions.

You may find yourself smiling this year, when you pass your flower bed edged in crimson, frilly lettuce and know that your dinner table will be enhanced as well.
K Edgington
Down and Dirty
May Checklist:

  • Plant summer flowers and vegetables after the last frost. On average, the last spring frost occurs on May 15th in the Akron area but it can be unpredictable.
  • Watch the long-term weather forecast when planting summer flowers/crops and be prepared to protect plants during the inevitable cold snap.
  • Hang hummingbird feeders in time for the May migration. 
  • Transition houseplants to an outside patio once danger of frost has passed. BRINGING HOUSEPLANTS OUTDOORS
  • Keep an eye out for spider mites on evergreens if they are yellowing and scale if they exhibit white patches. Treat accordingly. SPRUCE SPIDER MITES or PINE NEEDLE SCALE
  • Mulch flower beds (and vegetables) once the soil has warmed.
  • Spray periodically for rabbits, deer, and other foraging guests.
  • Don't forget to water new plantings during dry spells to help them get established.
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs:

  • How to Grow Terrific Tomatoes with Summit County Master Gardener Lee Paulson on Wednesday, June 2nd at 6:30 pm

  • Meet the Good Guys: Beneficial Insects with Summit County Master Gardener Jeanne Poremski on Wednesday, July 7th at 6:30 pm

Meet Me in the Garden Series:

  • Earth-Kind Rose Growing with American Rose Society consulting rosarian Cal Schroeck on Wednesday, May 26th at 6:30 pm

  • Useful Beauty: Garden Lessons from the Service Gardens at Stan Hywet with Senior Hortulturalist at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens Brian Gregory on Wednesday, June 23rd at 6:30 pm

  • Backyard Ponds & Aquatic Plants with Summit County Master Gardener Rick Reeves on Wednesday, July 23rd at 6:30 pm

Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
When purple finches sing and soar . . .
With vernal gladness running o'er—
When joys like these salute the sense . . .
Then waiting long hath recompense,
And all the world is glad with May.
John Burroughs
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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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