Volume 2 Issue 3 | March 2021
March Madness: The strong urge to plant something. Anything!!!
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Look Around
After months of grays and greens and a cold that has too often kept us housebound, we look forward to the color and promise of spring flowers. March is a month of transition, and we watch spring settle in as the days go by. Those in the know have been enjoying the beautiful winter blooms of hellebores. A walk in the neighborhood brings a smile as we see emerging daffodils, and what a delight to happen upon the blooms of crocus, snowdrops, or dwarf iris! 

We notice the swelling leaf and flower buds of trees and shrubs, and we follow the day-by-day progress as the buds break and leaves and flowers emerge. Forsythias are the heralds of spring’s arrival, with their bright yellow displays. Cornelian cherry trees delight us with small but abundant deep yellow blooms that light up the sky. We breathe in the fruity scent of the star magnolia’s white blooms when we pass it by.

Venturing out into woods and meadows rewards us with the sight of early wildflower blooms. Trout lilies, spring beauties, hepatica, skunk cabbage, anemones, violets….the list goes on, and when we frequent these areas we can watch the progression and growing display with each new day.  

But before we end this March stroll we look up. High in the branches of the red maples populating our neighborhoods is an often-overlooked beauty.  The delicate ruby-red flowers of the red maple take our breath away. We search for a low limb or open our cell phone cameras for a closer examination of the delicate anthers and styles.  The absence of leaves allows these flowers to take center stage, and they are fine actors indeed. Look up. Look around.
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Hellebores
What a delight to see the nodding blooms of the hellebore peeking out from the snow or leaf debris. Spring can’t be far off!

Hellebores, also known as Lenten rose or Christmas rose, are some of the earliest spring blooming plants gardeners can appreciate. Hardy to zone 4, these low-growing evergreen perennials look good all winter. They form clumps 2-3 feet wide and bloom in March and April in Ohio. The blooms can be a bit understated but hybridizers have been on a roll with this plant, producing an array of forms and colors ranging from pinks, greens, creams, purples, two-toned and even black. They will bloom for a month or longer. Even after blooming the foliage remains attractive but might benefit from some tidying up.

Hellebores are ideal for woodland gardens. These evergreen perennials prefer partial to full shade and moisture but once established can be very drought tolerant. Plantings under deciduous trees are optimal where they can receive spring sun before trees leaf out, and morning sun and afternoon shade in the summer. Perfect for that dry shady spot where nothing else will grow!

Pollen and nectar can be hard to come by in early spring when bees and other pollinators emerge. That's why they love hellebores. Once pollinated, hellebores form seed pods that pop open when the weather warms, and seeds then mature in the moist leaf litter. It will take 2-4 years for those seeds to produce flowering plants but they can spread quickly after that to form mass plantings. They are relatively free of pests although botrytis fungus can be a problem during rainy conditions, which is why you may want to divide and respace plants occasionally to avoid overcrowding.

A member of the buttercup family, hellebores are native to Greece, Turkey and Russia. They have become popular in the United States because of their versatility. Who doesn’t love a plant that is cold tolerant, drought tolerant, early blooming with a rainbow of colors, mostly disease free and looks good all year long? Deer resistance is an added bonus.

There are endless cultivars of hellebores, 20 species and multiple subspecies, some of which are still argued over by taxonomists.  Most hellebores grown in the home garden are assorted H. orientalis hybrids that are collectively referred to as Helleborus x hybridus. When selecting for your garden, consider the color of the flower and its center, single or double bloom and the size of the flower. For example, ‘Spanish Flare’ has 3” light yellow blooms with maroon centers while ‘Dark and Handsome’ has black purple double blooms with lime green centers. The sky’s the limit with choices! The blooms also make a great display in a shallow bowl where they will last for weeks. A nice touch on a rainy spring day.
J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Salamanders
I’m just a teensy bit uncomfortable around slimy creatures with long tails and tongues. But our wonderful Root editor assured me I would learn to love salamanders, and as usual, she was right. Ok, maybe love is an overstatement, but they are fascinating. Read on and see if you agree!
Salamanders are incredibly DIVERSE. 600 different species are classified into 10 family groups. The U.S. is home to more species than anywhere in the world; 24 are found in Ohio. Some salamanders live in water full-time, some part-time, others are terrestrial as adults (most go through an aquatic tadpole stage). Coloration varies widely. Cave-dwelling salamanders may be translucent, while other species are bright orange, red or yellow and covered with blue, black or white spots or stripes. In Ohio, the hellbender, an aquatic species, grows up to two feet long; our four-toed salamander measures 3 inches. The largest salamander in the world measures five feet long, while the smallest, tinier than a matchstick, may be the smallest four-legged, tailed organism on the planet!
They are STEALTHY. You probably have salamander neighbors if you live near water or moist ground. Salamanders are among the most abundant vertebrates found in forests, grasslands and other habitats near rivers, streams and ponds. Vernal pools—temporary ponds created by melting snow and spring rains that disappear mid-summer—are particular favorites. But salamanders are silent, and most active at night or on cloudy, rainy days, so you may never see them.
Their tongues are SUPER FAST to catch prey. Some species shoot their tongues out so fast scientists don’t believe muscle power alone could do it. They think these salamanders use a ballistic projection mechanism that launches the tongue from the mouth, like a tiny crossbow. TAKE A LOOK
“Salamander” means FIRE LIZARD in Greek. Myths and legends surround salamanders, some say they are born in fire. This may have originated when logs were thrown on fires and salamanders hiding in the bark ran from the heat! Leonardo da Vinci wrote that salamanders “have no digestive organs, and get no food but from the fire,” which shows even geniuses should stay in their lane!
Their skin is SLIMY. Salamanders must stay hydrated. Their skin is covered in mucus, highly sensitive and absorbent. Two-thirds of all species are lungless and breathe through their skin. Because their skin and their shell-less eggs are so permeable, pollution and environmental changes greatly impact salamanders; scientists consider them an “indicator species” for the health and functioning of an ecosystem.
Some are CANNIBALS. Central in food webs, salamanders are a nutritious food source for birds, fish, reptiles and mammals, and they eat insects and worms, including pesky mosquitoes, ticks, flies and slugs. Larger salamanders eat small mammals, frogs and yes, their little brother.
They can REGENERATE their own limbs in a few weeks, growing a new tail or leg if they lose one. Interestingly, researchers at OSU have learned that females are better at this than males. A 2016 study showed that an all-female population of mole salamanders regenerated their tails 36% faster than a heterosexual population! Scientists are studying regeneration in salamanders for use in human medicine. ABOUT REGENERATION
An ALL-FEMALE population? Yep, unisexual Ambystoma salamander reproduces mostly by cloning, with the occasional use of male sperm from another species left on twigs or leaves (not that romantic!) Scientists thought the gals used the sperm frequently to foster genetic variation, without which a species won’t last more than 100,000 years or so. Instead, a team at OSU discovered the ladies survived millions of years without any male DNA. This may or may not surprise you depending on the men in your life! LEARN MORE
They are in TROUBLE. Worldwide, nearly 50% of salamander species are threatened. Endangered species in Ohio include the green salamander, cave salamander, eastern hellbender and blue-spotted salamander. Loss of habitat, changes in our natural waters, pollutants, climate change, road mortality and introduction of invasive predators all play a part. Disease is also a factor. Salamander chytrid disease is caused by Bsal, a fungus originating in Asia that emerged in salamanders in Europe, probably via the pet trade. Two European populations where Bsal took hold suffered a huge death rate in a shockingly short time. Scientists don’t think Bsal has yet reached our shores, but they are concerned, especially as the U.S. is an epicenter of salamander diversity. READ ABOUT IT
WHY DO SALAMANDERS CROSS SAND RUN PARKWAY? In early spring, salamanders journey through Sand Run Metro Park to mate and lay eggs in vernal pools. In the past the park has held programs to observe this migration, not this year. If you want to go, ideal conditions are darkness, a light rain and temperatures above 45 degrees. Road mishaps are a real threat for salamanders and humans, so please exercise caution!
FIND THEM! Look for salamanders under rocks, muck or logs, but make sure you move everything back to where you found it, and do not pick them up! Chemicals on your skin may harm salamanders; chemicals on their skin (i.e., the red-spotted newt) may harm you! Additionally, Ohio law prohibits handling endangered species. Watch folks hunt for salamanders HERE
LEARN MORE! Summit Metro Parks experts are hosting a Virtual: Amphibian Migration Discovery program Wednesday, March 17, 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM.
Read about Ohio salamanders:
 C Christian
The Kindest Cuts
While many spring garden chores can wait, one garden chore has a hard deadline: spring pruning. As the weather warms, trees and shrubs start to wake up. When they break dormancy, the window for shaping and removing problems begins to close. Once the blossoms and leaves pop out in earnest, you’ve lost the best opportunity to help plants greet the growing season in the best condition to be successful. Now – mid-to-late winter through early spring – is ideal for pruning.
Illustration used with permission. VanDerZanden, Ann Marie and Diane Nelson. 2004. Pruning Ornamental Shrubs, PM 1958, Iowa State University Extension
Be sure you have the right tools: hand pruners for small twigs and branches no larger than ¾” inch; bypass pruners for almost any pruning chore; and long-handled loppers for thicker branches – 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. The long handles give you leverage for clean cuts. Pruning saws work best for branches up to 2”. Anything larger than that might best be handled professionally. There are long-handled pruning saws to trim high branches, but it is hard to get that essential clean cut.
Hedge trimmers shape shrubs. Avoid the temptation to shear new exterior growth; it does not help the plant, creates an artificial shape and eventually weakens the shrub.
There are many reasons that spring pruning is essential. Removing diseased, damaged and dead branches is a must to get rid of any freeloaders that would sap energy needed for leaf, blossom and fruit production. If you wonder whether a twig or branch is dead, scrape a bit of bark near the tip. If the tissue underneath is green, it’s growing. Damaged branches stand out because they are broken. Diseased tissue is often different in appearance from healthy tissue and is visible when the tree is bare. For spring blooming plants, prune immediately after flowering. Determine whether summer blooming plants bloom on old or new wood. Prune those that bloom on old wood after bloom. Most of those that bloom on new wood can be cut back fairly hard in early spring.

Pruning is important to shape a new tree or shrub into its mature form. This early pruning is a must to avoid problems that make care harder later on. Go after branches that grow down or toward the trunk. If branches cross each other, remove the limbs that do not grow in the preferred direction. Twigs that grow straight up from the branch are water sprouts. Suckers grow from the base of the trunk. Neither do the tree any good. Get rid of them.

These are general pruning guidelines. Many shrubs and trees, particularly fruit trees and evergreens, need specific cuts. Click HERE for a good resource on pruning fruit trees.
No matter the size of the branch to be cut, make the cut at a slight angle and as close to the branch collar as possible. The collar, a slight bulge at the junction of the main stem and the branch to be pruned, spurs the callus to grow over the wound. Be sure the cutting blade lays as close to the remaining branch as possible. Stubs cannot form the callus, and leave the plant vulnerable to disease and opportunistic pests. Check out how to make proper pruning cuts HERE.
If you have any questions about pruning, contact your local extension office or go to the web site Ask2.extension.org for help from a statewide network of Master Gardener Volunteers and other experts affiliated with The Ohio State University.
This university resource may help you as you prune your way through spring. 
S Vradenburg
Cool Tool - Shovels
Spring brings with it a new season of gardening. Whether you plan to restyle an existing landscape, create a new garden or tinker around the edges, there’s very little you can accomplish without digging. So, let's dig in!

What you are doing will determine what kind of tool – a shovel or a spade – you will need. What’s the difference?

Shovels are what we think of when we see ourselves digging: concave, rounded blades that come to a point at the bottom. They are used for digging, breaking up clods of earth, and moving soil from place to place in the garden. Spades, also usually concave, most often have flat blades that can be used for edging, splitting plants and transplanting.

There are also scoops. Not used for digging, they have large flat blades with high sides that are best for moving large amounts of soil, mulch or other amendments. In the winter, they double as snow shovels.

If you are in the market for any of these, there are considerations that should guide your purchase: blade size and shape, handle type and material, weight and angle.

  • Blades are most often between 8-10 inches wide and 10-12 inches long. Whether flat or rounded, they are made of steel. Most blades are stamped from a piece of sheet steel. Forged blades are made from hot metal hammered into shape. Forged blades are more expensive but last for decades. Given the right care, any tool can last a long time.
  • Handles are made of either wood, steel or fiberglass. Steel, the most durable, is also the heaviest. Hickory or ash are the most common woods used for handles. Hardwoods are durable and last many years. Still, years of digging, prying rocks and general hard use can cause handles to split and splinter. Fiberglass handles are durable and light. After spending hours digging, a light handle makes the job much easier, regardless of cost.
  • Most handles are long and straight, often with a molded rubber grip at the end to cushion the hand and create a better grip. Shorter-handled shovels or spades have D- or T-shaped handles for control when doing chores, especially when digging in confined areas.
  • Some handles rise nearly straight from the blade, others come up at an angle. Because most digging happens at an angle with the ground, you want a handle as straight as possible.

In the end your, choice depends on what you feel suits the job at hand. It’s still hard work, but the right digging tool will get the job done.
S Vradenburg
Bring in the Garden - Forcing Flowering Branches
Want to work a little springtime magic? No wand needed – fresh prunings from spring-flowering shrubs and trees provide the material for an enchanting arrangement.

Spring blooming trees and shrubs form their flower buds the previous season. They require at least eight weeks of cold weather before they can be triggered to bloom by the spring warm-up. After January 1st, and into the late winter and early spring months, those branches can be cut and brought indoors to simulate the warmer days that trigger flowering. This process is called “forcing”, and it is a great way to bring some springtime into your home.

Here’s the how-to: Bring a bucket of water to your pruning area so branches can be immediately placed in water. Select branches that have a large number of flower buds, which are usually larger and rounder than leaf buds. Cut your branches one to two feet long, using good pruning practices. (Make your clean cut just beyond a branch leaf bud---no stubs allowed.) Branches force more readily when cut on a sunny day or a day when temperatures are above freezing. 

If possible, submerge the branches in water (such as a bathtub) overnight, which allows the buds and stems to quickly absorb water and begin to break dormancy. Yes, we gardeners have bathtubs full of branches on occasion. 

Make a slit or two from the bottom end into the wood and place the branch in a bucket of cool water. Keep the bucket out of direct sunlight and change the water every two to three days to keep it clean. You will soon (and soon is a relative term---in this case it means weeks) see the buds swell and begin to color. Shorten as needed and arrange your stems in a water-filled vase or interesting container. Then welcome spring to your home.

Bring in bunches of cut branches in succession into the early spring for continuous spring color. Good forcing candidates and weeks required to force:

JANUARY – Cornelian Cherry (yellow flowers, two weeks), Forsythia (yellow flowers, 1-2 weeks), Poplar (long catkins*, 3 weeks), Witch Hazel (yellow flowers, 1 week), Willow (catkins, 2 weeks)

FEBRUARY – Red Maple (red flowers, 2 week), Alder (catkins, 1-3 weeks), Serviceberry (white flowers, 1-3 weeks), Apples and Crabapples (white, pink and red flowers, 2-4 weeks), Birch (catkins, 2-4 weeks), Quince (red to orange flowers, 4 weeks), Cherries (white and pink flowers, 2-4 weeks), Rhododendrons and Azaleas (many colors, 4-6 weeks), Pussy Willows (furry flowers, 1-2 weeks)

MARCH – Hawthorn (white, pink or red flowers, 4-5 weeks), Deutzia (white flowers, 3-4 weeks), Honeysuckle shrub (white to pink flowers, 2-3 weeks), Mock Orange (white flowers, 4-5 weeks), Oaks (catkins, 2-3 weeks), Lilacs (purple, pink, red or white, 4-5 weeks), Spirea (white flowers, 4 weeks)

*a catkin is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, often drooping, with inconspicuous or no petals
K Edgington
For the Sprouts - Nature Scavenger Hunt
Have you ever been on a scavenger hunt? A scavenger hunt is like a treasure hunt for specific things. A nature scavenger hunt is when those things are outside in nature!
You will need something to carry your finds in—a small box, bag or basket will work. You might like to take a small notebook and pencil to make notes. And don’t forget to bring the list of what you are searching for, which is below. Dress for the weather—in March it could be hot, cold or in-between – and head outside! Then take a few minutes and use your senses to observe nature.
Sniff the air. Does it smell like spring yet? Feel the breeze on your face. Is it warm and gentle? Look up at the trees. Are there buds on the trees? Can you spot a bird’s nest in the still-bare branches? Listen. Do you hear birds calling, or woodpeckers tapping? If you’d like, make notes of what you observe with your senses, and then do this again in a few weeks, and discover what has changed.
Now for the hunt! Carefully look about you for the following items. Take your time! When you find one place it in your bag:
  • A twig
  • A leaf
  • A blade of grass
  • Seeds or pods
  • A stone
  • A dandelion
  • A pinecone
  • A weed
  • Pine needles
  • A piece of bark
  • A feather
  • A flower
  • An insect
Once you have finished your hunt, bring your treasures inside and share them with a family member or friend. Take a picture of your collection, then do a second scavenger hunt in a few weeks and compare your finds! 
C Christian
Down and Dirty
March Checklist
  • Start seeds indoors for summer vegetables and annuals according to packet directions
  • Continue dormant pruning to tame and shape shrubs and trees
  • Trim and shape roses and cut out deadwood
  • Finish leaf clean up and remove any winter protection.
  • Consider a soil test for lawn or garden areas. Soil test kits for the Penn State University lab are available from the Summit County Extension office. Contact Jacqueline Kowalski (kowalski.124@osu.edu) for an appointment to pick one up during current limited office hours. ABOUT SOIL TESTS
  • Trim Type C clematis. A GUIDE TO PRUNING CLEMATIS
  • Start dahlias, begonia tubers and cannas indoors
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

  • New and Noteworthy (and LOW MAINTENANCE) Annuals with OSU Extension Educator Pam Bennett on April 7th at 6:30 pm

  • Inside the Hive: A Closeuup look at the Honeybee's Home with Summit County Apiary Inspector Randy Katz on April 21st at 6:30 pm

Meet Me in the Garden Series:

  • 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:
All my hurts my garden spade can heal.         Ralph Waldo Emerson
Looking Ahead: April is Ohio Native Plant Month. Click HERE to learn more.
We invite you to share The Root of It with your gardening friends and family. If you would like to subscribe to our mailing list please visit our website, scroll to the bottom, and follow the link under Join our email list.
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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