Volume 2 Issue 10 | October 2021
It's that time when days shorten, and we transition from summer busyness to winter reflection. Plants, too, transition to their winter resting state. What magic as they don bright colors in a grand finale that makes the landscape glow!
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Look Around
The magic of fall: burnished leaves drifting lazily from the sky, crackling sounds as we shuffle down leaf-strewn paths, color tours on crisp autumn days. We mark time by the color progression from green to red, orange, yellow, and purple. Brilliantly hued fall trees are the stars of the fall landscape. Or are they? Let’s lower our gaze and consider the understory plants that co-star in this fall extravaganza. 

Fothergilla, blueberry, chokeberry, Virginia sweetspire – the list of shrubs with gorgeous fall color is large. Oakleaf hydrangea can put on a show that rivals the best maple, pushing brilliant shades of crimson, purple, orange, and gold. Add exfoliating bark and long-lasting spring flowers that transition from white to deep pink and you have a shrub that both anchors and has star-power. Sumac’s yellow, orange and red serrated leaves are a delight to encounter in the garden or on the trail. Many shrubs have fall berries in shades of red, black, pink, yellow, purple, and blue. How’s that for a grand finale! (Click HERE for some photo examples.)

Annuals have faded but many perennials remain in the brightly hued chorus line. Late season bloomers like sedum, ironweed, and golden rod provide a burst of color. Perennial foliage can take on vivid hues. Some perennial geraniums turn scarlet, purple, orange, or yellow when temperatures drop. The brilliant gold, strap-like foliage of bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) captivates. Epimediums, plumbago, ferns, hostas, grasses – each adds to the excitement of the fall garden.

Vines are not slackers in the fall revue. Bittersweet, Virginia creeper, ivies and grapes chime in with shades of red and purple. Poison ivy entices with leaves of orange to red – learn to identify this bad boy.

By the way, brown is a color, too, and shades of brown, cream, and tan provide a velvety backdrop that enriches the fall palette and allows the stars to shine.

Often our fall color watching is done through the car window at 55 miles an hour. By getting close and personal we can appreciate the beautiful color display put on by the smaller, but no less dramatic players. Look Around!
K Edgington

(What is magic to our eyes is chemistry in action. The shorter days and cooler temperatures of fall end the food-making process in leaves and trigger the break-down of chlorophyll (the pigment that makes leaves green). Orange, red and other colors that were masked by the green chlorophyll become visible and are enhanced by anthocyanin pigments created by more fall chemical changes, resulting in this kaleidoscope of color.)
Leaf Brief - Black Tupelo
The name Tupelo may conjure up ideas of Mississippi, Elvis or Van Morrison but did you know the black tupelo tree grows right here in Ohio where it may catch your eye with its impressive red fall color?

The black tupelo, or Nyssa sylvatica, is known by many nicknames including sour gum, black gum, bowl gum and yellow gum. This tree has also been dubbed beetlebung, wild pear tree and the pepperidge tree. To avoid confusion about common plant names it is best to refer to the Latin botanical name, in this case Nyssa sylvatica. 

There are several trees in the genus Nyssa, and most familiar are trees that grow in swamp land in the southern U.S., including Nyssa biflora or swamp tupelo that produces the famous tupelo honey from the bees that feed on its nectar. On the other hand, Nyssa sylvatica, or black tupelo is found in forests throughout the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada. An attractive tree with dark green foliage and a distinctive gray bark that resembles alligator hide, it prefers acidic soil and tolerates dry to wet conditions, but will not survive standing water like its southern cousins. Slow growing, Nyssa sylvatica may reach 50 feet or more. Primarily dioecious (plants that have either male or female reproductive parts), it requires a male and female in close proximity to bloom. A long tap root makes B&B (balled and burlapped) plants difficult to transplant, so container grown plants are recommended.  It performs well as a shade tree, street tree or in a rain garden.

The black tupelo really shines in the autumn landscape. Those dark green, glossy leaves transform into the most brilliant shades of scarlet and orange which are enhanced by the pyramidal tree form and horizontal branching. In addition, it produces bluish black fruits in September and October which are loved by birds and other woodland critters but not so much by humans because of their extremely bitter taste. Interestingly, this long-lived tree may become hollow from a heart rot fungus, which doesn’t kill it, but makes it a great nesting or den site for all kinds of animals.

Nyssa sylvatica has come into its own over the last few decades. While traditionally loved by arborists it hadn’t found its way into common nursery stock until recently. That has changed with the development of new cultivars that are easier to grow from saplings and have more consistent colors. ‘Wildfire’ is the most common cultivar, with scarlet-tipped spring leaves that turn green, followed by brilliant fire engine red in the fall. ‘Zydeco Twist’ has strongly twisted and contorted stems that only reach 30-40 feet in height and Tupelo Tower™ is appreciated for its distinct columnar habit.

Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of this native tree as the public discovers its many charms.
J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Spunky Funky Skunks
Skunks are unfairly maligned. If you or a pet has been the target of their ire, you may disagree, but how would you feel if everyone only focused on your SMELL? “Skunk” refers to an obnoxious or disliked person, and to be “skunked” means to be defeated or cheated. Really?? THIS VIDEO gives you an idea of how terrified people are of skunks. I got mad watching a clip of Pepe Le Pew, Warner Brother's cartoon lecherous skunk. Why did they choose a skunk to be such a, well, rat! The spunky, funky skunk is actually a gardener’s best friend, NOT interested in attacking humans, and quite fascinating! Hold your nose and let’s dive in…
 
Mephitidae is a family of mammals consisting of skunks and stink badgers (only found in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines), which are noted for the development of their anal scent glands. (Even their name means “stink”, poor things!) Of the world’s 12 known species, Mephitis mephitis, the Striped Skunk, is the one found nosing around Ohio backyards. The size of a house cat, Stinky has a small head, short legs and long black hair, with two white lines forming a “V” from its shoulders to its tail. Its feet have five slightly webbed toes, and the claws on the front feet are longer and curved for digging. There are a LOT of skunks around (an estimated 5 -13 per square mile), although you wouldn’t know it unless you work the night shift. Skunks are highly adaptable. Found in urban as well as rural habitats, skunks like semi-open areas, weedy fields and brushland near water. Skunks prefer to take over dens dug by other animals (such as groundhogs or fox) but will dig their own when necessary. They may also den in hollow trees or under wood or rock piles.
 
Skunks are omnivores, eating insects, small mammals, eggs, reptiles and worms. They are a great help to gardeners by eating our garden pests! They may also nosh on fruit, tree buds and berries, so protect those from your skunky pals. That fluffy little skunk is tougher than it looks— it can gobble down a rattlesnake because it's immune to snake venom! Skunks also snack on wasps, and will attack beehives for the bees and honey. Skunks' main enemies are dogs and humans—they often end up as roadkill because people expect them to run out of the way, which is not their defense mechanism. Other predators include the great horned owl, fox, bobcat, and eagle.
 
In Ohio, skunks mate in late February and March, and litters range from 2 to 10 kits born blind. Babies can spray accurately by 4 months. Skunks have excellent hearing and smell, terrible eyesight, and can run about 10 mph. The skunk family stays together until the following spring. Skunks do not actually hibernate. They put on layers of fat in the fall, and enter a state of torpor, a deep sleep from which they will awaken from time to time. (I was surprised to discover that none other than Disney got that wrong in BAMBI.)
 
So let’s talk about that smell. Skunks spray to defend themselves, but only as a last resort, and they will clearly warn you ahead of time. A threatened skunk may hold its ground or run directly at you. It will stamp its feet and click its tongue, and then raise its tail with the tip downward. Watch out when that tip rises and spreads out! Two grape-sized glands flanking the anus hold the smelly musk, and each has a small “nipple” the skunk aims with perfect accuracy. Skunks can hit a target 10-15 feet away with up to 5-6 blasts, and re-load fully in several days. Skunks control the quantity of the emission, which may be a small whiff if the perceived threat is low. When the danger is great, a skunk twists into a U-shape, and with eyes and bottom facing the threat fires directly into the enemy’s eyes, causing gagging, pain, and even temporary blindness. Skunk spray can be smelled 1.5 miles away. If you want to learn more (and have a strong stomach) WATCH THIS.
 
Yes, that garlic, rotten-egg smell is really bad. But perhaps it’s our perspective that needs to change. Dr. Stanley Gehrt, OSU biologist, believes that skunk smell enriches our world by reconnecting us to the importance of smell in the lives of other animals, and signaling the presence of skunks even if we don’t see them. After all, he reminds us, we all share the same world.
 
Here are a few tips to keep relations with your skunk neighbors cordial. To avoid becoming an inadvertent landlord, close off openings in your foundation and under porches with screens, and keep garages and sheds shut at night. Avoid leaving pet food outdoors and make sure garbage is secured. Keep pets indoors at night when skunks are most active, and make sure their rabies vaccinations are current. Teach children to stay a safe distance from wildlife.
 
If, despite your best efforts, somebody gets sprayed, see THIS ARTICLE for how to remove the smell – no tomato juice involved! And try to have a little more RESPECT for the spunky, funky skunk! Finally, I had to include one ADORABLE BABY SKUNK VIDEO.
C Christian
Falling for Spring Blooms
Few plants are as welcome as spring flowers. Tulips and daffodils are among the most beautiful. Even better, they are irrefutable proof that spring has arrived. Still, to get that spring flourish you must apply some fall elbow grease.

We are in the ideal planting season for bulbs, after the first frost until the ground freezes. There is plenty of time. Spring bloomers come in many shapes and sizes -- bulbs, corms, tubers, rhizomes. These structures, which are underground stems rather than roots, serve as storage containers for the plant. Bulbs and corms contain the embryo for the new plant. (Slice a bulb in half and see the developing flower surrounded by layers of scales, much like the inside of an onion. The scales nourish the plant as it forms and grows.)

The basics for planting bulbs are much the same as all plants: light, soil preparation, fertilization and watering. Most bulbs need part to full sun. Naturalizing in a woodland setting makes for a beautiful scene, but make sure the bulbs will finish blooming before the trees leaf out.

Soil preparation is crucial. Bulbs need well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7. Those of us with clay soils often need to mix our soil with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage. Using your soil test results, make sure it has the nutrients and pH for optimal growth. Pay attention to phosphorus levels since phosphorus is key to root development.

As you plant, water thoroughly after filling the hole to ensure the soil settles and the bulbs get a good soak. Water when soils become dry for extended periods. As always, water deeply to ensure the bulbs get sufficient moisture.

Planting depth is also important. The rule of thumb is 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. Bulbs planted too shallowly may be forced up and out during winter's freeze-thaw cycle. Be sure your hole is the proper depth, regardless of the width of your swath of bulbs, as when planting a grouping of daffodils. Plant the bulbs with the basal or flat side down.

Daffodils or alliums don’t need critter proofing because they are either distasteful or toxic to deer, squirrels, chipmunks and other garden raiders. However, most gardeners pull their hair out when finding their just-planted tulips dug up, scattered and chewed. One solution is to set wire mesh, such as chicken wire or hardware cloth, over your bulbs once they are covered to the tops of the bulbs. Fill in the remainder of the soil and water well. Once the critters hit the barriers, they'll search for easier pickings. Most of the time.

It’s worth the time and energy now to bring that beauty to life in spring – just when you need a bit of flower power.

S Vradenburg
An Ounce of Prevention
When autumn leaves have fallen and frost has killed the tomato vines, most gardeners are ready to put away their garden gloves and settle in with a garden mag. Not so fast! A little work in late fall can prevent a lot of trouble next summer and set the stage for a fruitful and beautiful season ahead.

  • Rake up and destroy leaves with signs of disease such as maple (tar spot), crabapple (apple scab), and rose (blackspot). This reduces the available pathogen inoculum that initiates infestation next season.

  • Allowing weeds to go to seed and those seed heads to remain on the soil can mean a LOT of weeding in the future. (One common purslane plant can produce 52,000 seeds!) Remove and compost perennial weeds and seed heads of annual weeds to prevent weed infestations next year. If your compost pile does not get hot enough to kill weed seeds (150° F), seed heads should be destroyed. HERE’S some info on annual vs. perennial weeds.

  • We know that the most effective time to fertilize lawns is in the fall. In fact, if you fertilize only once per year you should do so in the late fall. Apply fertilizer now to stimulate fall, winter and spring root growth and enhance the storage of energy reserves within the plant. Growing vigorous plants is key to pest and disease prevention.

  • Save tree and shrub pruning for the late winter/early spring months. Healthy wound closure happens sooner when plants are pruned just prior to the time new growth emerges. 

  • Nothing is more important to your gardening success than good soil. Bare soil fosters weed germination and can lead to erosion. Add a topdressing of organic mulch or compost to provide the organic matter that creates pore spaces for water and air and feeds soil microorganisms. This is how good soil structure is built, and is true for both ornamental and vegetable beds. Fall garden tilling is no longer recommended.  (A good plan for next September is to plant cover crops on those bare spaces – an excellent way to enrich the soil.)

  • If you haven’t already done so, build a compost pile. This can be nothing more than a 3’ square patch of ground where you layer your brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) plant materials. If you want smaller particles and quicker composting you can turn it every few weeks to admit the necessary oxygen to the inside of the pile. If you don’t have the time or inclination, you will still get compost---the slooow version (and pathogens and seeds may not be destroyed). Compost piles aren’t just for vegetable growers. Every gardener should have this area where garden refuse turns to black gold. HOW TO BUILD A COMPOST PILE

  • Leave an area in your landscape with leaf litter and spent plants for beneficial insects to overwinter. We know that shredding leaves facilitates their breakdown and allows for water penetration, and that those shredded leaves make a great top-dress and are a great source of humus for our soils. However, the air pockets among whole leaves and wet masses of leaves create a DREAM WORLD for small insects. Leaves and needles allowed to accumulate over years provide a sanctuary for solitary bees and other beneficial insects.

In the vegetable garden:

  • Remove and destroy squash, cucumber, and melon vines and tomato and potato plants. This goes for any diseased plant in the landscape or vegetable garden. Removing the inoculum breaks the disease cycle.

  • Cut off legumes (peas and beans) at ground level and leave the roots in place so the nitrogen cache in the nodules on their roots can feed next season’s crops.

  • Clean and disinfect stakes and other garden supports. While the majority of plant pathogens survive on plant debris or soil particles, some, such as viruses, can survive on hard surfaces. Cover your bases.

Now is the time to lay the groundwork for a healthier, more productive, and beautiful landscape next year. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
K Edgington
Putting Tools to Bed
Hard to believe it’s nearly time to put the garden to bed. You might still be pampering your cool weather crops, but for the most part the heavy lifting is done. There is one last job to bring the gardening season to a successful close: Putting your tools to bed.

You’ve spent a fair amount of money for pruners, loppers, trowels, shovels and spades, hoses, wheelbarrows. It makes sense to protect your investments, so they continue to provide growing dividends. Of course, your rake is just beginning its season but eventually it will need to be brought in for rest.

There are three basic steps to end-of-season tool care: cleaning, sharpening and lubricating (if your tool has working parts).

Cleaning is essential. Even if you’ve been careful during the season, it’s never a bad idea to give all tools a good scrape and wash. Wire brushes, putty knives, steel wool get rid of the caked-on soil, leftover plant matter and spots of rust. Use soap and water or soak heavily rusted tools in white vinegar, then use steel wool to remove the rust. Make sure you completely dry the tools and oil pivot points. Spray with WD-40 to coat the blades and displace any remaining moisture.

Sharpening is especially important for pruners and loppers to keep the blades sharp, which makes cutting neat and safe. For these hand tools it is important to focus on the bevel edge. Files or whetstones work the best. Point the tool away from you and use a firm stroke (also away) set at a 45-degree angle to match the angle of the bevel. You will know you have a good surface when the tool’s edge is brighter than the rest of the pruner’s surface. Clean off burrs with steel wool. Store the tools in a clean area. Hang them up if you can.

If your lopper has a wooden handle, sand it to eliminate splinters and then coat it with either linseed oil or polyurethane to protect it.

If you know how, it’s time to sharpen mower blades. If you don’t, leave sharpening chainsaws, mowers and other power cutters to the professionals.

Drain all hoses. Any remaining water could freeze, expanding and splitting the hose. Hang on a hose reel or neatly coiled in a clean, dry location.

Wheelbarrows are workhorses and deserve attention at the end of the season. If yours is metal, clean it thoroughly. Note places where the paint has chipped and touch them up with rust-preventing spray paint. Wash and store fiberglass wheelbarrows. Be sure to check the handles and axles for signs of wear and rust. Touch up painted surfaces and oil all moveable parts.

Chemical sprayers need to be emptied at the end of the season, taking care to properly dispose of the remaining herbicides or fertilizers. Fill the tank with water and pump it through the hose and sprayer for several times to ensure it is clean.

Soon the garden will be quiet, awaiting warm, sunny days to return. When it does, you will be ready with clean and sharpened tools.

S Vradenburg
Down and Dirty
October Checklist:
  • Replace spent annuals with pansies, grasses, ornamental kale, pumpkins or scarecrows. Use your imagination!
  • Divide overcrowded perennials and plant larger trees and shrubs.
  • Store or winterize water features like ponds, bird baths, fountains, etc.
  • Plant spring bulbs. Consider something you’ve never tried before.
  • Direct-sow seeds of hardy, spring-flowering annuals like larkspur and nigella. 
  • Harvest and preserve herbs left in the garden. HOW TO DRY HERBS
  • Dig up tender bulbs and tubers like dahlias, canna lilies, gladiolus and caladiums. Store in a cool, dry location
  • Bring in houseplants before the nights get too cool.
J Gramlich
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

  • Small Garden - Big Impact: Creating a Miniature Garden with Summit County Master Gardener Karen Edgington on Wednesday, November 3rd at 6:30 pm. (Zoom)

  • A Totally Topiary Tutorial with Summit County Master Gardeners Martina Bruno and Heidi Schwarzinger on Wednesday, December 1st at 6:30 pm. (Zoom)

Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
Ah, Lovely October, as you usher in the season that awakens my soul,
your awesome beauty compels my spirit to soar like a leaf caught in an autumn breeze and my heart to sing like a heavenly choir.  – Peggy Toney Horton
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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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