The weather remains wintry though blizzards are probably past, snowdrop flowers peek forth and buzzards have returned to Hinckley Township. So, at Ohio State University’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, we ask: if March has arrived shall the blooms of corneliancherry dogwood be far behind? Let’s take a look at what is here now and soon to come.
First, those corneliancherry dogwoods. This small, often multi-stemmed shrub or small tree dogwood (Cornus mas) is a cheery early-season harbinger of spring. It typically displays its chartreuse-yellow blooms in Northeast Ohio in early March, but the date varies depending upon how warm the spring is each year.
Last week, these dogwoods were blooming at the Cincinnati Zoo, I predicted to my Sustainable Landscape Maintenance class at OSU in Columbus that it would bloom there this week, and I suspect it will blossom next week in the Wooster and Akron areas.
Walking around Secrest Arboretum in recent weeks, our regular group has noticed rows of small holes in trees such as tuliptree. Not from borer insects. Not anything causing significant harm to the trees. Not rogue maple tappers with poor plant identification skills. Instead these horizontal rows of shallow holes are actually known as sapwells, created by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, woodpeckers that feed on the sugary sap in food-conducting phloem tissue in the plant.
The sapsuckers feed on the sap and any insects within, and as entomologist and naturalist Roger Downer notes, when they return this year they will also drum up needed early season food for migrating hummingbirds who use the sugar to survive during lean times until nectar is available from spring and summer flowers.
There is a lot more going on out there now, such as buds on trees like the identifying clustered end buds characteristic of oaks. There are trees with great bark features in winter, such as birches and sycamores. Plants are still mostly dormant, and so are some plant parasitic fungi.
Remember that you heard it here first — rust actually does sleep. The cedar apple rust fungus which winters on junipers, right now is in the form of a grayish blob, and will not become active for about six weeks yet, when orange spore tendrils will emerge from the galls with the right combination of rising temperatures and moisture. These spores will then answer the call of the wind and spread to apples and hawthorns, causing disease.
Also now at Secrest Arboretum is the beginning of our tree inventory, being conducted by Davey Tree Expert Company. The mapping of the trees of the arboretum, OSU’s Agricultural Research and Development Center and OSU’s Agricultural Technical institute will be linked to a long list of parameters such as when the tree was planted, which nursery donated or sold the tree, and much more. This will be of great use to researchers, donors, the green industry and OSU Wooster Campus visitors.
Davey’s Trevor Vidic and Mark McBride braved snow and rain starting in late February as we proceed to map these trees and then assess their ecological impacts to the environment of Wooster.
Finally, speaking of environmental considerations, one of the essay questions for my students in Columbus was: “What is your definition of sustainable landscaping?” I got much more than I bargained for as all of the answers were quite outstanding. So I will close, with just a few, with more to come later.
“It is not necessary for us to select plants that need to be placed on life support and monitored to make an area attractive,” wrote Andrew Barger.
“Sustainable landscaping adds or enhances the ecosystem services of a design space, and perhaps remediates a damaged environment,” according to Lee Smith Bravender’s answer.
“The true beauty of a sustainable landscape isn’t seen — the beauty lies in the services provided to maintain an ecological balance, providing an environment that promotes the integrity of the local flora and fauna,” wrote Pat Widmayer.
“A sustainable landscape should satisfy the triple bottom line; be economically, socially, and environmentally friendly,” according to Mira Bacon.
And one more: “To me the definition of sustainable landscaping is something that persists over time with minimal economic, environmental and labor expense. And also provides environmental, health and aesthetic benefits to its surroundings. Practices in sustainable landscaping come with the least detrimental effect on the environment and aid in the persistence of that landscape and the plant life which makes it up. It is the optimal use of natural resources in the environment in the most efficient way,” wrote Mike Benedict.
They are a wonderful group of students. So, to counter making them sit in a room to take their midterm last week, we read the more experiential tone of Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass:
“When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.