Volume 2 Issue 9 | September 2021
If you noticed fireworks over Akron this morning, the 15th of September, it was the celebration of the one year anniversary of the Root. Of course, those were virtual fireworks. We began this newsletter as a service to those who were housebound and needed some green therapy during a difficult time. It has evolved into a monthly opportunity for us to share our love of horticulture and some of the information that can make us better stewards and gardeners. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
The Root of It newsletter ends with our monthly quotation. If you find your newsletter has been clipped by your email provider please click HERE for a webpage version of the newsletter.
Look Around
The dramatic sunflower – harbinger of late summer and fall, food for wildlife and the “not-so-wild”, gorgeous in a vase. Take a closer look. The sunflower head with its sunny face is actually a whole bouquet of flowers. There are hundreds of small flowers closely packed in the center of the head. The dark, center disk flowers, small and tube-shaped, contrast with the outer bright, flat and blade-like ray flowers, which we call petals. The sunflower’s ray flowers are sterile and serve only to advertise the sunflower’s wares to passing pollinators. The less showy, center disk flowers are the work horses in this seed production system. They are “perfect” flowers, having both female and male flower parts.

Sunflowers are in the Asteraceae family, sometimes known as the composite or sunflower family, where all members have these compound flowers with florets grouped in the center. Lettuce, thistle, cosmos, dahlias, zinnias, coneflowers, chrysanthemums and artichokes are members of this family. The common dandelion can contain hundreds of florets on a single flower head, each of which produces one seed with its feathery filament.
 
It's worth the effort to grab a magnifying glass or hand lens and get a close-up look at these marvels – the epitome of Flower-Power. Take a moment to study the beautiful spiral pattern of the sunflower’s florets and seeds. Step back and watch the bustle of the pollinating bees as they work this mother lode of nectar and pollen. Look around.
K Edgington
Leaf Brief - Leucojum
Snowflakes in September? In May? Normally, that would be a bad thing. For gardeners, though, the summer or autumn snowflake is a good thing.

Leucojum is a perennial bulb and a member of the amaryllis family. Dainty blooms are sweetly fragrant and appear in mid to late spring, just after the daffodils. The white bell-shaped flowers are touched with lime green accents and dangle in clusters from arching stems. If you use your imagination, the blossoms blowing in the wind resemble snowflakes. These summer snowflakes are a misnomer since they actually bloom in the spring. Less commonly known is the Leucojum autumnale or autumn blooming species. While lacking the green accents on the spring flower, it does have a light smudge of maroon at the base of the flower and a maroon tint to the stems, a nod to the fall color palette.

Native to Eurasia, these bulbs thrive in dappled sunlight but tolerate a variety of light and soil conditions. Hardy to zone 4, they grow 6” to 18” tall depending on the variety and aren’t as fragile as they look! They will tolerate slopes and windy conditions, drought, sandy soil, clay soil and browsing deer, and are generally pest free. Leucojum are a lovely addition to rock gardens, water’s edge, under deciduous trees and fairy gardens.

September is an important month for leucojum. It’s the time to enjoy the fall blooming species, Leucojum autumnale, as they begin flowering. It’s also the time to plant the spring blooming species, Leucojum aestivum. Many catalogs and some garden centers will now have them in stock.

Sow bulbs at a depth that is three times their height, and at least 1-1/2 bulb-widths apart with a little bone meal fertilizer. The more pointed end is almost always the top but if you’re just not sure, plant sideways and let the bulb figure it out. Fill in with soil, making sure there are no rocks or clods. When planting en masse, dig out the area to the proper depth, place bulbs and replace soil. Don’t be too particular, as drifts will look more natural than formal rows. If you have trouble with gophers or squirrels, try covering the bulbs with chicken-wire or planting rodent-repelling bulbs like fritillaria nearby. Remember to water to help them get established.

Other leucojum of note include Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’, a bold, spring blooming variety that grows to 26” tall, and Leucojum vernum, a species known as the spring snowflake which blooms in the early spring. Just think, with a little luck and planning you could have snowflakes all year round. And that’s a very good thing!

J Gramlich
Creature Feature - Nuts!
I’m a playful, bushy-tailed little cutie, gathering nuts and leaping through trees. And I’m a nasty garden predator, gnawing your best tomato, ripping up plants for the fun of it and dumping your bird feeder upside down. So who am I? Our furry friend and foe—Mr. Squirrel!
 
Adaptable and resilient, squirrels are very much a part of our urban and suburban landscapes—and they generate strong emotions in their human cohabitants. Squirrels are an important part of the ecosystem, helping to maintain forests by burying excess food such as nuts, seeds and acorns (a process called “scatter hoarding”). However, squirrels might not be that good for your garden’s ecosystem! The huge population of gray squirrels in Ohio in the late 1700s caused extensive crop damage—so much so that in 1807 the Ohio General Assembly required landowners to pay a property tax of 10 to 100 squirrel scalps!
 
Of the approximately 280 species of Sciuridae, the squirrel family, 4 are found in Ohio—the Eastern Gray, Red, Eastern Fox and Southern Flying Squirrel. There are three types of squirrels: tree squirrel, ground squirrel, and flying squirrel. Flying squirrels, the most common species in Ohio (and generally located in southeastern Ohio), are rarely seen, as they are nocturnal. (Flying squirrels have a flap of loose skin from their wrist to their ankle that allows them to glide, not fly.) Ground squirrels (i.e., groundhogs, chipmunks, prairie dogs) are built to burrow. Tree squirrels are excellent climbers with bushy tails and sharp claws. Squirrels range from the size of a mouse (pygmy squirrels), to marmots that weigh more than 11 pounds.

Most squirrels have hind limbs longer than their front ones, with four or five toes on each paw and sharp claws. Tree squirrels climb down trees head-first because they can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, enabling their hind paws to point backward. A squirrel’s amazing tail helps it balance as it climbs through the trees, and is also used to signal danger and convey greetings. Additionally, the tail serves as a blanket, an umbrella, and a handy parachute when a squirrel takes a rare misstep. Squirrels can fall from great heights without a problem, due to a combination of light body mass and low terminal velocity. Watch THIS.
 
Squirrels have excellent vision and sense of smell—they can locate food under a foot of snow, including food buried by their buddies! Researchers estimate that squirrels will lose up to 25% of their cached food to their sticky-fingered squirrel mates. Ohio squirrels eat mainly nuts and seeds, but also fungi, eggs, insects and baby birds.
 
Do squirrels hibernate? Nope! They grow thicker fur, collect extra food to store, and slow down during the cold months. They might sleep for days during winter, staying warm in their nests or dens.
 
And what about the spooky black squirrel? The unofficial mascot of Kent State University, there are many myths about how the black squirrel came to Kent. Here’s the real deal. In 1961 Larry Wooddell, Kent State grounds superintendent, spotted black squirrels in Chardon, Ohio. Upon learning the squirrels were dying off due to predators, he and a retired Davey tree employee decided to bring them to Kent. Ten black squirrels were imported from Ontario, and the squirrels thrived, becoming a part of the city and school culture. And what is a black squirrel? The result of interspecies breeding between the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel, the black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene from the fox squirrel that turns fur dark! Black squirrels may have an evolutionary edge as their dark color may provide better camouflage from predators, and absorbs and retains heat better in the winter.
 
So regardless of whether you view squirrels as friend or foe, you have to admit they have a LOT of personality! Among many hilarious squirrel videos, THIS ONE stands out—a youtuber created a squirrel “ninja warrior” course.
 
For a lengthy but informative video about our nutty friends watch THIS.

And believe it or not, those were REAL squirrels used in Tim Burton’s 2005 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Watch how they were trained HERE. HERE is the result.
C Christian
Let's Cover Cover Crops
When putting your garden to bed this winter, consider tucking it in with a nice, cozy blanket – a cover crop!
 
Everyone knows good gardens start with good soil, but do you know that cover crops are a time-tested, inexpensive and effective way to improve your soil? This practice goes waaaaay back. During the Roman Empire, Greek and Roman farmers nourished their vineyards with legume cover crops, and George Washington experimented with them. Manure and cover crops were the primary fertilizers for American farmers until the mid-20th century.
 
What happened? World War II, and a huge increase in the production of nitrogen for use in explosives. After the war, food supplies needed to increase, and the cost of nitrogen dropped due to abundant supply — hello synthetic fertilizers! Society’s current focus on sustainability and the environment has led to a renewed interest in the use of cover crops. So pull out your toga, and let’s see if a cover crop is in your future!
 
Cover crops are generally grown to protect and improve the soil rather than for harvest. Cover crops improve soil “tilth” or structure (the way soil holds together), by increasing organic matter in the soil and adding biomass (like adding compost). This expands the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients, and improves infiltration, drainage and aeration. Cover crops can shade or crowd out weeds, and some secrete chemicals from their roots that deter weeds. Cover crops will scavenge nutrients in soil that might otherwise leach away and be lost, returning those nutrients to the soil when they die. Legume cover crops add nitrogen to the soil through bacteria colonizing in nodules on their roots (a process called “fixing nitrogen”). As the nodules break down nitrogen is released into the soil. Finally, cover crops provide food and shelter for animals and insects. Pretty awesome, huh?
 
So what cover crops are best for you? That depends on what you are growing before and after the cover crop, and what you want to accomplish. Do you want to add nitrogen? Increase biomass? Loosen up your soil? Different cover crops have different functions. Click HERE for a comprehensive discussion.
 
Most cover crops are sown in late summer or early fall, after summer vegetables are harvested. Some are killed in winter, some over-winter. Annual rye can be sown from mid-August to early September, and will die at the first hard frost. In spring, you can plant cool season vegetables into dead rye mulch as soon as the soil is workable. However, because these crops are in the ground for a shorter time, they don’t provide the amount of benefits an over-wintering crop would. If you harvest into the fall, you might sow over-wintering winter rye in September to October. Over-wintering cover crops resume growth in spring, and should not be killed until flowering to receive full benefits. But be warned, cover crops allowed to go to seed may turn into unwanted intruders! Once crops are mown or cut down, they are incorporated into the soil or left on top as mulch. Over-wintering crops produce large amounts of biomass and nitrogen, and provide good weed suppression, but will delay your spring planting until late May/early June. (Summer cover crops may be planted in June/July in between seasons for weed suppression and to increase soil organic matter.)
 
In choosing a cover crop, think about what you are planning to grow after the cover crop. If it is something like tomatoes or peppers that use a lot of nutrients, you may want a legume cover crop to add nitrogen. Be warned however, some cover crops have negative effects on certain food crops (winter rye residue is toxic to seeds of certain brassica species). Yikes!
 
That’s why it’s helpful to chat with an expert! Ann Brandt, former Summit County Master Gardener and cover crop expert from Walnut Creek Seeds, suggests a good way to begin is by planting a mix of peas and oats in September for a simple, winter-kill crop that will protect the soil. For more information, Ann recommends the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program’s book, “Managing Cover Crops Profitably,” which may be downloaded HERE.

HERE'S is an excellent video about cover cropping, which includes helpful tools for determining the best cover crop for your garden.
 
Some sources for cover crop seeds are listed below. The smallest size is usually a 5-pound bag—I’m told birds enjoy the leftovers! Happy planting!
 
Walnut Creek Seeds, L.L.C.
6100 Basil Western Road
Carroll, Ohio 43112
https://www.WalnutCreekSeeds.com
Phone: 330-475-6352
 
Medina County Soil & Water Conservation District (They sell cover crop seeds on-line beginning in January, with pick up in June)
 
Johnny’s Selected Seeds: https://www.johnnyseeds.com
 
Berlin Seed
5335 Co Hwy 77, Millersburg, OH 44654
Phone: 330-893-2091
 
Copley Feed
1468 S Cleveland Massillon Rd., Copley, OH 44321
Phone: 330-666-4741
C Christian
Small But Mighty - Garlic
What’s aromatic, easy to grow and packs a nutritional punch? Garlic.

OK, one person’s aroma is another person’s stink. Garlic is an acquired taste for many palates. To others, no dish is complete without it. Regardless of where your tastebuds dwell, garlic is a super food that offers huge benefits for not much time or effort. It’s worth taking a second bite.

Need persuasion? Research has shown garlic is anti-bacterial, acts as an anti-inflammatory, boosts immunity, promotes cardiovascular health, improves your hair and skin, protects food and, because of its anti-fungal properties, fights athlete’s foot. The organic sulfur compound allicin is what makes this herb/vegetable so small but mighty. It benefits most when eaten raw because allicin is destroyed if heated above 140 degrees F. Add it to your cooking when you are near the end of meal preparation to preserve as much as possible.

We’re approaching ideal garlic planting season, about two weeks after the first killing frost but before the ground freezes. (I know; where has the year gone?)

Decide whether you want to grow hardneck (Allium sativa var. ophioscorodon) or softneck (Allium sativa var. sativa) garlic , if not both. Hardnecks tend to be hardier than softnecks. They form a flower stalk in spring that bends into edible scapes. Hardnecks often are more pungent and produce fewer but larger cloves per bulb than softnecks. Softnecks do not produce a stem but continue to grow leaves. When harvested the leaves can be braided to aid in the curing process. They are generally milder and produce more cloves per bulb.

Purchase bulbs from reputable seed producers. Those sold in grocery stores may not be suitable for your growing zone because most commercial garlic farms are in northern California. Also, the bulbs may be treated to extend shelf life and therefore difficult to grow.

When ready to plant, break the bulb apart about a day ahead of time. Don’t let it dry out because the roots need to be able to start growing almost immediately after planting. Plant cloves pointed end up, about 6-8 inches apart and 2-3 inches deep. Rows should be at least 12 inches apart.

The key to growing garlic is well-drained soil between 6.0 and 7.0 pH. Garlic needs nitrogen to get started, so amending the soil with a high-urea, well-aged fertilizer mixed with compost give the cloves a good start. Mulch after planting with weed-free straw or leaf litter to insulate the new plants from cold winters and discourage weeds. New cloves don’t compete well for nutrients and water. If you used leaf mulch, be sure to check in the spring to see that the new shoots are pushing through. Straw is loose enough so that tender shoots should be able to grow through without much difficulty.

When spring growth starts in earnest, be sure to water at least one inch per week. Side dress with high nitrogen fertilizer when the leaves are growing and again six weeks after that. Stop watering about two weeks before harvesting to avoid promoting disease. Depending on the type of garlic, harvest bulbs between the end of June and the end of July, when the lower leaves turn brown but top leaves remain green. Dig carefully, lift the bulbs and shake off excess soil. Hang the harvest in a dry place to let the plants cure, waiting for the outside coverings to become thin and papery. Garlic can be stored in a cool, dark place for months.

Then begin using this tasty, healthful powerhouse. Your body, if not your nose, will thank you.
S Vradenburg
Pest Spotlight: Aphids
It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’re in the garden scouting for weeds. As you bend down to pluck an offender you glimpse one of your favorite flowers sporting what looks like splotches of black soot. You turn the leaf over and it’s teeming with tiny creepy crawlies. Aphids: The horror! The horror!

It’s the height of yuckiness to find an aphid infestation. Most often, these suckers’ impact on plants is negligible. These insects, sometimes called plant lice or ant cows, make healthy plants look bad but they usually don’t kill their hosts. They can damage, even kill, new, tender plants. Research has credited aphids with vectoring 50 percent of insect-vectored viruses. They’re not entirely harmless.

Aphids are soft-bodied insects with needle-like mouthparts that pierce tender plant tissue to suck out the sap. The infestation begins early in the season with the appearance of winged aphids. This vanguard, unlike scouting Japanese beetles, doesn’t send signals to a waiting horde. If she likes what she sees, she simply just starts giving birth, 40 to 60 nymphs per generation. Those then begin to produce more nymphs. One generation usually takes 10 to 14 days to complete, and most aphids go through 12-15 generations per year. Do the math.

Because they hang out on the undersides of leaves, one of the ways you can spot an aphid infestation is by a shiny, sticky surface on the tops of leaves. That’s honeydew (a sweet name for poop), which aphids produce as they suck on and excrete the sap. Black sooty mold can form but is not a serious issue other than appearance. Ants are another giveaway. Aphids earned the moniker ant cows because ants herd aphids to have a ready source of the sticky honeydew.
used in Sept 21 issue
Ants herding aphids
Photo by Dr. David Shetlar, OSU Dept. of Entomology and used with permission
No one really wants aphids running riot over plants, so control is important. As soon as you spot aphids in the spring, train a steady stream of water wherever you see the pests. They are not good crawlers and once knocked off the plant, are not able to return. You also can simply crush them with your gloved fingers.

Protect aphids’ natural predators, such as lady beetles, lacewings, syrphid flies and parasitic wasps. They often take care of the problem and should be your first line of defense. Aphids reproduce so quickly it’s important to stay ahead of them.

There are “soft insecticides,” such as horticultural oils and insecticidal soap that can help control aphids. However, they are effective only if they make direct contact with the insect and usually need to be applied every 5-7 days or after rain.

There are other chemical controls, some that kill on contact and some that are systemic. These chemicals are nonspecific, killing all insects including beneficials. Systemic insecticides will control aphids effectively, but they remain in the plant and pose a threat to beneficials and pollinators. As with all chemical insecticides, overuse can lead to resistance. Be sure to read insecticide labels carefully and follow the label instructions.

Aphids are unsightly and reproduce at alarming rates. They can make our plants look awful. At times they are destructive. And, they have the advantage of numbers. The best approach is vigilance and, perhaps, deciding your garden doesn’t need to be pristine. 

S Vradenburg
Down and Dirty
September Checklist
  • Continue vegetable harvest and cleanup. Plant a cover crop in open soil.
  • Tidy up perennials. Remove dead foliage but leave seedpods for birds and winter interest.
  • Continue to divide perennials to keep plants vigorous and multiply your stock.
  • Monitor turf for grub damage. Learn about turf grubs HERE.
  • Plan for and purchase spring bulbs. Don’t forget the bone meal.
  • Move outdoor houseplants to a less sunny location to acclimate to indoors.
New Growth!
To learn more please check out these programs :

  • Growing the Herbs of Shakespeare with Summit County Master Gardener Nancy Quinn Simon on Wednesday, October 6th at 6:30 pm. (zoom)

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


Learn more about and register for these programs on our website (link below).
More learning opportunities:
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine
by staying in the house.  – Nathanial Hawthorne
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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