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Category Archive: Fairfield Features

  1. Tree Sale Highlight: Red Osier Dogwood

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Red Osier Dogwood

    This week’s 2021 Tree Sale highlight is the Red Osier Dogwood. Though it tends to be a bit of an underdog, this beautiful red-stemmed shrub has a boatload of functionality. As a Soil and Water Conservation District, we advocate for this species often, as it is at the top of its class at stabilizing soil and preventing erosion. This is especially true along streambanks.

    Red Osier Dogwood is one tough cookie. This species can take a beating and keep on going. Once established, it can be inundated along a stream edge and live to tell its story. It can be pruned hard for live fascines (more on that later!) and easily make a comeback the following spring.  Talk about resiliency!

    Additionally, due to the striking red color of its stems, red osier dogwood is often used as an ornamental to beautify landscapes.

    Let’s take a closer look at this shrubby native that has found the sweet spot between durability and charm.

    Planting Requirements

    The red osier dogwood doesn’t mind getting its feet wet…in fact it prefers it! They grow best in soils that are saturated for at least a portion of the growing season. Therefore, they are often seen growing on the edges of lakes, ponds, within wetlands, and on streambanks. Red osier dogwoods are perfect for sites that are nitrogen-rich and shallowly inundated in the spring, only to dry out by late summer.

    Mature Size

    On average, the red osier dogwood grows to a height and width of approximately 10’. It has a fast growth rate, gaining more than 2’ a year in height.

    Red osier dogwood benefits from a type of pruning called coppicing. This management method involves cutting all stems to approximately 2-3 inches from the base in late fall, after the shrub has shed its leaves. Following pruning, apply mulch and fertilizer around the base. Coppicing will stimulate the shrub to send up new stems, often with especially vivid burgundy color.

    Wildlife Benefits

    The fleshy white berries that ripen in late summer are favored by many bird species, including eastern bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, and grosbeaks. Gamebirds such as bobwhite quail, ring-necked pheasants, and wild turkeys also benefit from red osier dogwood fruit.

    The fruit and foliage are enjoyed by mammals too, including black bear, beaver, squirrels, and deer.

    Phenology

    Red osier dogwood typically begins leafing out in April. The bark, twigs, and leaves of the new growth are bright green in color.

    White to cream-colored flower clusters appear from June to August, eventually developing to smooth, white berries that ripen in late summer.

    Beginning in September, leaves turn from green to shades of red and purple and are eventually shed for the winter.

    Bare, deep burgundy branches provide an interesting contrast with white snow and the drab browns of the off-season.

    Flowering red osier dogwood
    Flowers develop into white berries
    Fruit persists into the fall
    Naked red osier dogwood stems
    Red osier dogwood buds

    Functionality

    Because of its dense growth nature, red osier dogwood can be used as a secondary plant in windbreaks. It is also an ideal species to use for streambank stabilization as live fascines.

    Live fascines are long bundles of live woody vegetation (6-8 inches in diameter) buried in a streambank in shallow trenches placed parallel to the flow of the stream. These branches are harvested from adult red osier dogwoods – a great use of stems leftover from a fall coppicing session!

    The plant bundles sprout in the spring and develop a root mass that will hold the soil in place and protect the streambank from erosion. This method is often coupled with a row of stone placed at the toe (bottom of the slope that supports the weight of the bank) of an eroding bank.

    Below are photos from a streambank stabilization project that Fairfield SWCD designed for Lancaster City School District to address streambank erosion issues along Fetters Run.

    Dogwood branches were harvested from dormant mature shrubs
    Branches were tied into bundles
    Red osier dogwood bundles being staged for installation
    Red osier dogwood bundles were laid into shallow trenches and buried
    Live fascines are now fully-grown shrubs

    Visit Fairfield SWCD to order your Red Osier Dogwood tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last. It is also offered individually as a 3′-4′ sapling.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    Bare-root Tree Planting Guide

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  2. Tree Sale Highlight: Eastern Redbud

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Redbud

    This week we highlight a species that is common throughout Ohio, especially the southern two-thirds of the state. Nonetheless, it is such an eye-catcher that it deserves a bit of spotlight. There are few trees or shrubs that hold a candle to the beauty of the Eastern Redbud. With a profusion of showy, pink flowers in the spring, followed by an array of striking, heart-shaped leaves in the summer, there is no question that this ornamental shrubby tree is turning heads.

    Redbud is a member of the legume or bean family. You may be familiar with some of this family’s other members, such as honeylocust, Kentucky coffeetree, black locust, and wisteria. Important plants used for crop production and grazing also hold membership, including soybeans, peas, alfalfa, and clover.

    Let’s take a closer look at this native jewel and how it could add some extra allure to your landscaping.

    Planting Requirements

    Redbud prefers deep, moist, organic, well-drained soils, but are quite adaptable to a variety of pH and moisture levels. However, they cannot tolerate soils that stay wet.

    Adequate moisture and full sun will stimulate faster growth and increased flowering, but the plant can tolerate partial shade.

    In the wild, redbud is usually an edge species and commonly has a leaning growth habit, seeking to capture as much sunlight as possible.

    Mature Size

    Redbud is a fairly quick-growing species, especially when young, gaining up to 24” in height per year. It typically grows to a height of 20’-30’ with an equivalent spread.

    In the wild, redbuds tend to be multitrunked with a vase-like shape and rounded crown. However, many redbud cultivars exist that select for various features, including a lovely weeping variety.

    Wildlife Benefits

    The early blooming flowers of the redbud provide a nectar source to insects, including early-season butterflies. There are a few songbirds that are thought to eat their seeds, such as chickadees, along with larger birds including the northern bobwhite. Because of their shrubby habit, redbuds can provide nesting habitat for both small mammals and birds.

    Due to their thin, papery nature, redbud leaves are a favorite among native leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.). Female bees will use their mandibles to snip small discs from leaf edges. They collect these leaf fragments, rolling them up to construct individual cells within their nest. Each leafy cell is equipped with a ball of pollen and nectar and contains a single larval offspring. The damage that occurs from this gathering doesn’t typically harm the tree and is just a minor curiosity. Nature never fails to amaze!

    Phenology

    Heralding the commencement of spring, redbud delivers a spectacular show of lavender-pink flowers beginning as early as March. Stemming from old wood, profuse flower clusters can swathe the entire tree, blooming on twigs, branches, and even the trunk of the tree.

    Green foliage typically appears in May and is often tinged red upon emergence. Redbud leaves are easy to identify by their familiar heart shape.

    Flowers develop into green, flat, pea-like pods that eventually ripen to brown in mid- to late summer as they mature. Redbuds can hold their ripened fruit late into the winter and even into the early spring.

    Challenges

    The redbud is a relatively short-lived tree with decline and death typically occurring around twenty years after planting. This is especially the case in urban areas with predominately poorly drained, clay soils. A number of tree diseases can be responsible for this lifespan limit, including trunk canker, verticillium wilt, and root rot.

    Signs of trunk canker include sunken depressions in the bark of large branches or trunks. These wounds may appear to be healing before the tree eventually dies. Though there is no chemical treatment for this pathogenic fungus, if caught early the meticulous pruning of affected areas may provide rescue.

    Perpetually wet soil is the culprit for verticillium wilt and root rot. These serious pathogens both affect the roots and vascular system but become evident when entire branches begin to die. However, these conditions can be prevented by planting redbud in well-drained areas.

    Image by tlcaggie, Redbud flowering on old wood, CC by-NC 4.0
    Redbud flowers
    Redbuds flowering in the woods
    Redbud heart-shaped leaves
    Image by Rick Travis, Redbud leaves with evidence of leafcutting bee, CC by-NC 4.0
    Unripened redbud pods
    Ripened redbud pods
    Image by Annika Lindqvist, Redbud pod and seeds, CC by 4.0
    Image by Jeff Skrentny, Redbud twig shows zigzag growing habit, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by BONAP, Redbud distribution

    Visit Fairfield SWCD to order your Redbud tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last. It is also offered individually as a 3′-4′ sapling.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    ODNR’s Redbud Summary

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  3. Tree Sale Highlight: All Hail The King of Trees! OAKS!

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Oaks

    Acorns on red oak tree

    This week we introduce a group of trees that you are no doubt familiar with. However, you may not fully recognize the multitude of benefits they provide to you, me, and the greater ecosystem. Today we salute the king of all trees, OAKS!


    From plank flooring and kitchen cabinetry, to whisky barrels and railroad ties, the long lasting and durable properties of oak make it one of the most useful and coveted building materials of all time. It turns out oaks offer just as much in terms of ecosystem services within their dwelling habitats, potentially making them a great choice for your home landscape.


    Let’s take a closer look at three oak species in particular: white oak, swamp white oak, and red oak. All three are available in our 2021 Tree Sale. And because they each have different planting requirements, it is possible that one could be a welcomed addition to your yard.

    Planting Requirements

    Red Oak – Also known as Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra prefers moist, deep, rich, well-drained soils of slightly acidic pH and full to partial sun. However, it will readily adapt to dry soils and a variety of pH levels.

    White OakQuercus alba prefers full sunlight (but will tolerate shade as a sapling) and deep, well drained, acidic to neutral soils. The species is adaptable in dry to average soils.

    Swamp White Oak – Unlike the two species above, Quercus bicolor is a bottomland species, preferring rich, moist to wet, poorly drained acidic soils and full to partial sun. It adapts well to dry and average soils that are neutral to slightly alkaline in pH.

    Mature Size

    No matter the species, oaks require space. All three types will grow 50-70 feet high and nearly as wide when grown in the open under typical urban landscape conditions.

    Red oaks have a faster growth rate than many oak species, gaining over 24” per year in height under ideal conditions. Swamp white oak and white oak grow at a slower rate, gaining 12” to 24” inches per year.

    All are long-lived and can reach heights and widths of 100’ when grown in the wild. Ensure you take their mature size into account when considering adding an oak to your home landscape.

    Wildlife Benefits

    There are few native trees that can even begin to match the wildlife benefits offered by oaks! Let’s take a closer look at a few characteristics that make these trees true providers:

    Oak seed, commonly referred to as acorns, are a popular food source for wildlife, and are gathered, eaten, and stored by rodents, birds, and deer. They are a great source of nutrients and are especially high in protein. The storage life of acorns is short, and they typically must be consumed in the winter following their collection. Those stashed in the right conditions by an absentminded blue jay or squirrel will sprout in the spring, starting a new generation of oak.

    As oaks mature, they will develop an abundance of nooks, crannies, and hollowed-out places that provide shelter, protection, and nesting real estate for many woodland critters.

    Oaks are host to over 500 different species of moth & butterfly caterpillars – more than any other native tree genus. Other than providing a huge boost to biodiversity, why is this important? More than 90% of our songbirds depend on these soft, wiggly packets of protein to rear their young. Did you know it takes 6,000-9,000 caterpillars each season to raise a brood of 5 chickadees? Oaks offer the ultimate buffet, playing a keystone role in the ecosystem.

    Phenology

    Though oaks are not typically regarded for their flowers, like other hardwoods they are flowering plants. Oak flowers are wind pollinated and emerge in mid-spring, with male catkins (pollen coated, dangling appendages) and female flowers (usually golden in color) occurring on the same tree.

    Trees follow this display with moderately shiny green leaves. The underside of white oak and swamp white oak leaves is white to whitish-green.

    Acorns typically ripen in early to mid-autumn, with red oak acorns ripening earlier than most native oak species, as early as mid-summer.

    Red oaks are named for their brick-red fall foliage. White oaks also produce notable autumn colors, with showy shades ranging from reddish-brown to reddish-purple.

    Celebrity Sighting

    If you have never made the trip, I highly advise you pay a visit to Logan’s Great White Oak. This magnificent giant is estimated to be over 500 years old.

    The Mayflower reaching American in 1620, the U.S. Constitution signing of 1787, the invention of the electric light in 1879…this tree has been around for it all!


    Located in a Logan, Ohio cemetery, it is hard to do this oak justice with photographs or videos and is well worth the excursion.

    Image by Mike Moore, Oak flowering in early spring, CC by-NC 4.0
    White oak with ripened acorn
    Image by Maggie, Swamp white oak leaf & acorns, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by David Stang, Red oak fall color, CC by-SA 4.0
    Image by Claire O’Neill, Clustered buds of an oak, CC by-NC 4.0
    Post author, Carrie Brown, under Logan’s Great White Oak

    Visit Fairfield SWCD to order your White, Red, or Swamp White Oak tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    Sigrid Neilsen’s Oaks of the Greater Midwest

    ODNR’s Trees of Ohio Field Guide

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  4. Tree Sale Highlight: North America’s LARGEST Native Fruit!

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Last week we introduced you to a tree that you were probably already familiar with, the Ohio Buckeye.

    Today we will take a closer look at a tree that you may not know quite as well – the Pawpaw. Though growing in popularity, many people are shocked to discover that North America’s largest edible native fruit (and as of 2009, Ohio’s official native fruit) is a common understory tree that you’ve likely encountered in past outdoor adventures.

    Interested in adding the pawpaw to your landscape? Let’s take a look at its growing requirements…and a few other tidbits that make this a pretty unique plant.

    Pawpaw

    Planting Requirements

    Pawpaws are a bit particular in terms of their growing requirements. To set them up for success, consider a site that has moist, deep, well-drained soils with a high amount of organic matter. In nature, pawpaws occupy the understory, often found growing in ravines, creek banks, and even steep hillsides.

    As seedlings, pawpaws prefer areas that offer abundant shade, so it is advised that bare root seedlings are immediately transplanted to a shady site. As they mature, trees are more tolerant of sunlight. In fact, trees in full sun are more likely to flower and fruit than trees planted in shady locations.

    Mature Size

    When grown in the open and without canopy competition, pawpaws may reach 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide as an individual tree. When grown as an understory plant, pawpaws are shrubby and can often form large colonies, spreading primarily by root suckers. These root suckers are clones of the parent plant. As such, it is possible that an entire pawpaw colony is composed of only one plant!

    It should be noted, that in order for fruit to be produced, two individual trees grown from separate seed sources are required. Pawpaw colonies composed of just one individual lack the genetic diversity needed for successful pollination and the fruit set that follows. If fruit is desired, be sure to plant at least two trees.

    Wildlife Benefits

    Pawpaw fruit is coveted by many wildlife species!  From deer and raccoon, to squirrels and black bear, this fall sweet treat is in high demand. As a result, if YOU wish to harvest fruit, you’ll have to beat the wildlife — be sure to closely monitor ripening fruit.

    The tree itself isn’t often browsed, as the twigs, leaves, and bark contain natural insecticides, making it a relatively pest-free species. One notable exception is the zebra swallowtail butterfly whose caterpillars feed on pawpaw leaves and depend on it as a host plant.

    Phenology

    Pawpaws produce beautiful, maroon flowers in the early spring, typically March-May depending on weather and location. Flowers rely on blowflies and carrion beetles for pollination and produce an odor similar to rotting meat in order to draw them in.

    Because this odor is slight and the pollinators aren’t overly enthusiastic, many flowers go unpollinated and fruit set rates can be low. (Gardeners may consider hand pollinating flowers using a paint brush to expedite pollination and improve fruit yield.)

    Flowers are soon followed by foliage that develops into large, shiny leaves that are spirally arranged on the twig. The fruit of pawpaw is large and yellowish-brown, containing multiple dark brown seeds and edible custard-like pulp. Fruit is typically mature and ready for harvest by September or October.

    Family Tree

    Within its plant family, Pawpaw is a bit of an odd ball! This species, along with others within the same genus (Asimina), are most closely related to species with tropical and subtropical origins. Perhaps you have heard of the fruit, soursop, or the aromatherapy essential oil, ylang-ylang? Both products come from tropical trees that are cousins to the pawpaw!

    Pawpaw flowers in the early spring
    Pawpaw grove
    Image by bburleson3, Pawpaw fruit, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by Dave, Pawpaw leaves in the autumn, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by samiam29, Pawpaw bud, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by Matthew Beziat, Pawpaw seeds, CC by-NC 4.0
    Image by BONAP, Pawpaw range map

    Visit Fairfield SWCD to order your Pawpaw tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    Growing Pawpaws as a Specialty Crop

    23rd Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  5. Fairfield SWCD Tree Sale Begins February 1, 2021: Tree Highlights

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    By Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Our 2021 Seedling Tree Sale has finally arrived! Additional information on this year’s selection and details on ordering can be found on our website.

    Join us weekly as we highlight this year’s available tree species.

    Can you fill in the missing words below?

    Chocolate __________

    Brutus ____________

    Ohio State __________

    (Hint: It’s the SAME WORD each time!)

    The word in question is, of course, Buckeye! And that brings us to our first tree species highlight:

    The Ohio Buckeye

    Image by James St. John, Aesculus glabra, CC by-SA 2.0

    Just as handsome as Brutus, (though not nearly as delicious as chocolate – in fact, all parts of the plant are toxic!) the Ohio Buckeye is our official state tree and often chosen due to its iconic nature. Let’s take a closer look at a few characteristics that make this tree a fan favorite.

    Planting Requirements

    In the wild, Ohio Buckeyes typically occur in moist – but not perpetually wet – bottomlands, often along streams and floodplains. They perform best in moist locations with deep, well-drained soil but are quite adaptable. The Ohio Buckeye is an understory tree in its native habitat, so it can withstand, and even prefers, partial shade.

    Mature Size

    A medium-sized tree, growing 30-60 feet in height and 25-30 feet in width when grown in the open. Develops a strong taproot.

    Wildlife Benefits

    As mentioned above, all parts of the Ohio Buckeye are toxic for humans, dogs, and livestock. That being said, the Ohio Buckeye does have a few evolutionary partners that are able to partake in its seeds, including deer and squirrels.  The flowers attract a variety of native pollinators such as bumblebees, long-tonged bees, and ruby-throated hummingbirds.

    Phenology

    The Ohio Buckeye is a true spring ephemeral, beginning to leaf out in the early spring, as soon as April depending on location and weather. Spikes of showy, yellow-green flowers soon follow.  Its newly emerged leaves have a beautiful, bronze color and eventually develop into the classic, palmately compound leaf (5 narrow leaflets) we are so used to seeing on our OSU garb. Unfortunately, this beautiful foliage is shed earlier than other tree species, typically in the late summer. It is at this time of year that the ripened Ohio  Buckeye fruit is often noticed hanging on tree limbs, consisting of slightly spiny, golden-brown husks enclosing 1 or more dark brown seeds that are commonly referred to as Buckeyes.

    Challenges

    Ohio Buckeyes are susceptible to a variety of leaf diseases, including leaf blotch, leaf scorch, and powdery mildew. While these ailments don’t kill the tree, they can cause it to lose its leaves, sometimes as early as late summer. Because of this, it is often recommended not to make the Ohio Buckeye the focal point of your yard. Rather, it may do better along a woods edge or your side yard.

    Newly emerged Ohio Buckeye leaves in the spring
    Image by H. Zell, Ohio Buckeye seeds, CC by-SA 3.0
    Ohio Buckeye bud and leaf scar
    Image by BONAP, Ohio Buckeye Range Map

    Visit our website to order your Ohio Buckeye tree seedlings today! Seedlings can be purchased in sets of 5, 25, or 100 while supplies last. Order deadline is March 15, 2021.

    Purchased trees from us in the past? If so, enter our Facebook “Show us your Trees” contest! Visit our Facebook Page for details.

    Additional information can be found below:

    ODNR’s Trees of Ohio Field Guide

    National Tree Benefits Calculator

    South Central Power: Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

    Fairfield SWCD Tree Planting Guide

  6. Exploring an Amazing Underground World: Assessing Soil Health

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    By Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Learn how to properly assess your soil’s health.

    In our last post on Soil Health, we explored the many microscopic organisms and creepy-crawlies that make soil their home. From nitrogen-fixing bacteria and nutrient-cycling fungi, to soil-aggregating earthworms and residue-shredding arthropods, soil is teeming with a great diversity of life. And by supporting this complex food web, we are helping to improve and maintain the quality and health of our plant life.


    In order to best manage our soil, we first need to assess the status of its current health. Below, we present resources that you can use to learn more about your amazing underground world.

    Considering Soil Type

    When assessing and managing your soil, it’s important to consider your soil type. There are many factors that influence your soil’s composition, such as parent materials (ex. bedrock that has weathered to become soil particles), whether the area in question was once covered in glaciers, weather patterns, plant & animal life, and recent land use.

    Web Soil Survey

    Web Soil Survey provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey. It is operated by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future. Soil surveys can be used for general farm, local, and wider area planning.


    Soil Explorer

    The Soil Explorer allows users to explore soil properties and landscapes around the world. It shows topography, fragipans, soil orders, drainage class, and dominant soil parent materials on an interactive map. This user-friendly online resource is free and available to find more information on soil qualities.


    Soil Assessment Tools & Resources

    Soil health cannot be determined by measuring just one factor, and there are many indicators that can be evaluated. As such, it’s important to consider soil health from a variety of angles. An abundance of tools are available through agencies such as USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Ohio State University Extension that can help you to assess the health of your soils. A few helpful links are below.

    These resources, provided by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, are designed to help visitors understand the basics and benefits of soil health—and to learn about Soil Health Management Systems from farmers who are using those systems.


    In this weekly series, farmers, industry, and academic experts weigh in on practical steps to improve soil health and measure impact on crop yield and farm profitability. Sessions are Thursdays, January 14 – March 18, 2021, 8am-8:30am. CCA CEUs are available for each session. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required.


    Soil Health Kit Guides and Videos help teachers and educators implement their soils curriculum. Each guide includes an introduction to the soil property, discussion of the inherent and management factors influencing it, and explanation of the property’s relationship to soil function. The educator’s guides also include detailed information on a method to measure the soil property and interpretations of the test results. Helpful to educators, the guides double as lesson plans with thought-provoking questions so students can start to apply what they have learned. Videos cover the concepts and soil properties from overview to testing.


    Soil Testing for Producers and Landowners

    Soil testing is important in determining the overall health of your soil. Whether you are a producer who is developing a nutrient application plan or a homeowner striving to optimize vegetable production in your garden, soil testing can provide you with a baseline of your soil health.

    Soil testing is an inexpensive way to maintain good plant health in lawns and landscapes, and to maximize productivity of vegetable gardens and fruit crops. Soil test results pinpoint plant nutrient needs, and a soil testing lab’s recommendations can help guide fertilizer applications so just the right amount is used. Test results also provide information for making plant selection decisions based on “the right plant in the right place” and a soil test can help diagnose what went wrong if good plants go bad.


    Productive agriculture is dependent upon healthy soils. The goal of a comprehensive soil fertility program is to maximize economic return while minimizing potential off-site environmental impacts. A soil fertility program starts with a representative soil sample that is used to develop nutrient recommendations.

    If you are a producer who is interested in a Nutrient Management Plan, contact your local NRCS office. Fairfield County Residents can reach out to Dave Libben at 740-415-3921 or Brice Shaw at 740-415-3907.


    Fairfield County OSU Extension has developed a partnership with the University of Kentucky Soil Testing Laboratory that allows them to work with Fairfield County residents and farmers to service all soil nutrient testing needs. Soil bags, input forms, and instructions are available through your local Fairfield County OSU Extension office to assist those interested in having their soil analyzed. Contact OSU Extension at 740-653-5419.

  7. Exploring an Amazing Underground World: Soil Function & Biology

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    By Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Join us for Part 1 in this exciting series as we investigate the many important functions of soil and the hidden biology behind it!

    You may not know it, but there is an entire world that exists under your feet that is as grand and complex as any ecosystem you may find on the surface of the Earth.

    Like all other ecosystems, it is composed of plants, animals, and fungi, along with a few organisms you may not be quite as familiar with such as protozoans and nematodes.

    Though it is often overlooked, this world is responsible for providing us with clean water & air, diverse forest ecosystems & wildlife, and the majority of the world’s food in the form of crops and grazing land for meat production.

    Soil provides a basis for all life and has many essential functions.

    What is Soil?

    Soil is a complex blend of minerals, water, air, organic (living) materials, and the decaying remains of once-living organisms.

    As formally defined in the Soil Science Society of America Glossary of Soil Science Terms, soil is:

    1. The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.

    2. The unconsolidated mineral or organic matter on the surface of the earth that has been subjected to and shows effects of genetic and environmental factors of: climate (including water and temperature effects), and macro- and microorganisms, conditioned by relief, acting on parent material over a period of time.

    Because plant life is dependent upon this underground ecosystem as a growing medium, there would be no food without it. This is just the beginning, however, as soil has many other essential functions:

    Soils moderate the atmosphere by emitting and absorbing gases such as water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide.
    Soils provide a habitat for wildlife we can observe, such as mice, snakes, and groundhogs, and organisms too small to see, such as fungi and bacteria.
    Soils play an important role in the water cycle, absorbing, holding, and filtering water.
    Soils provide a perfect building material for the construction of roadbeds, house foundations, and dams.

    Soil is essential for life as we know it on this planet. Let us take a closer look at this complex environment.

    Soil Biology

    Did you know that there are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on this planet?

    Though we cannot see it with the naked eye, soil is teeming with a great diversity of life.

    If you think back to elementary school science class, you may remember the concept of a food web.

    A food web is a representation of how organisms are related to each other based on what they eat.

    And you might recall that the source of the energy getting passed along is the Sun. Plants are able to utilize the Sun’s rays to make food for consumers, such as humans.

    It turns out that within the soil there are numerous organisms that are also dependent upon plants and many assist plants in making this energy transformation.

    Let’s take a look at some of the major players:

    Image by NRCS, The Soil Food Web

    Soil Bacteria

    Though very tiny, bacteria are abundant in soil and serve many essential functions. Most bacteria are decomposers and play the important role of transforming dead matter into a form that can be used by other organisms in the food web. Some can even break down pesticides and pollutants in the soil.


    Additionally, many people are aware of the symbiotic relationship some bacteria form with the roots of legumes such as soybean and clover, ultimately transforming nitrogen from the air into a form that other plants can utilize.


    Soil Fungi

    Most of us think of mushrooms when we hear the word fungi. If we think of fungi in terms of an apple tree, the apple is represented by the mushroom, also called the fruiting body. Fruiting bodies produce spores rather than the seeds found inside of an apple, but the purpose is the same: to ensure that there are future generations.

    The apple is only a small portion of the apple tree, just like the mushroom is only a small portion of the fungus. But rather than having a large structure above the ground such as a tree, most of the fungus organism is found below the ground! In fact, a single fungus is a complex underground tangle of strands that can cover areas even larger than a baseball diamond.


    Soil fungi have a variety of functions in the food web including nutrient-cycling. As such, fungi will colonize the roots of plants, essentially extending the plant roots’ reach, allowing it to obtain important nutrients, such as phosphorus, that would normally be out of grasp. In return, the fungi are supplied with carbohydrates from the plant. This symbiotic relationship is essential for healthy plant function.

    Image by Charlotte Roy, Mycorrhizal network, CC by-SA 4.0

    Soil Arthropods

    Ranging in size from microscopic to several inches long, there are many species of bugs that call the soil home. While some act as pests consuming live plant matter, most consume fungi, worms, or other arthropods.

    Image by Walter Siegmund, Armadillidium vulgare, CC by-SA 3.0

    As they feed, arthropods aerate and mix the soil, regulate the population size of other soil organisms, and shred organic material.


    This is not an exclusive list of soil-dwelling organisms, however. There are many types of single-celled soil protozoa, primarily feeding on bacteria. Additionally, tiny worms called soil nematodes exist and can be both beneficial and detrimental.

    And one cannot forget to mention the most notorious soil resident, the earthworm. These critters benefit crop production in many ways such as mixing and aggregating soil, increasing water filtration, and providing channels for root growth.

    Join us in 2021 as we take a look at assessing the health of your soil and review tips on maintaining soil health.

  8. Farmers and Farm & Forest Owners Can Conserve Natural Resources with EQIP Cost-Share

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    The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program which helps producers make conservation work for them. Applications are due by January 15, 2021.

    NRCS provides agricultural producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improvements, or what NRCS calls conservation practices. Using these practices can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat, all while improving agricultural operations.

    Through EQIP, you can voluntarily implement conservation practices, and NRCS co-invests in these practices with you. Together, NRCS and producers invest in solutions that conserve natural resources for the future while also improving agricultural operations.

    Accepting Applications

    Any eligible agricultural producer can submit an EQIP application at any time. NRCS announces “cut-off” or application submission deadline dates to evaluate, rank, and approve applications received by the announced date. EQIP contains provisions to distribute percentages of program funds by categories including type of agricultural land use, type of producer, natural resource concern, conservation practice and special initiatives.

    The State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee and Local Work Groups, has developed the 2021 ranking criteria to prioritize and subsequently fund applications addressing priority natural resource concerns in Ohio. To learn how to get started with NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted.

    Applications signed and submitted to NRCS by the January 15, 2021 deadline will be evaluated for fiscal year 2021 funding.

    To discuss eligibility and/or apply for EQIP, contact your local service center. If you live in Fairfield County or Hocking County, contact District Conservationist, Dave Libben at dave.libben@usda.gov or 740-415-3921; or Soil Conservationist, Brice Shaw at brice.shaw@usda.gov or 740-415-3907.

    Eligibility

    Eligible EQIP applicants include agricultural producers, owners of non-industrial private forestland, and Tribes that:

    Control or own eligible land
    Comply with adjusted gross income limitation (AGI) provisions
    Comply with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements
    Agree to develop an NRCS EQIP plan of operations

    Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland, non-industrial private forestland and other farm or ranch lands. Additional restrictions and program requirements may apply.

    Participant Responsibilities

    Applicants must complete and file all application and eligibility paperwork as required. Applicants approved for funding must sign an EQIP contract and implement the planned conservation practices to NRCS standards and specifications as scheduled.

    Starting a conservation practice in an EQIP contract before final written contract approval renders that practice ineligible for EQIP assistance unless NRCS granted a written waiver.

    EQIP Categories

    Applications may be considered for funding in a variety of agricultural categories such as cropland, pasture operations, and organic. Several special projects are also available which address water quality, forestry management, improving pollinator populations and wildlife habitat, pasture improvements and many more. See the EQIP Category Table for full details.


    Supporting Local Pollinators and Wildlife

    Wildlife Habitat Conservation: This category promotes habitat conservation for at-risk wildlife species, including restoring, developing, or enhancing wildlife habitat.
    Honey Bee Pollinator: This category assists producers to increase honey bee habitat. The honey bee pollinator effort will provide floral forage habitats to benefit hive nutritional health as part of an overall effort to increase the health of honey bees.
    Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project: This category assists producers to increase monarch butterfly habitat. Planting milkweed and nectar-rich plants not only benefit butterflies, they also strengthen agricultural operations and support other beneficial insects and wildlife.

    Forestry Practices

    Forestry: This category assists producers with non-industrial private forest land to address resource concerns on land used for producing forest-related products.
    Conservation Activity Plan (CAP): A Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) developed by a non-NRCS individual or entity identifies conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need, typically for land transitioning to organic production, grazing land, or forest land, or for specific resource needs such as nutrient management.

    Livestock/Cropland

    Cropland: This category addresses soil erosion and water quality resource concerns on cropland and adjacent incidental areas and managed on a regional basis.
    Pasture Operations: This category assists producers that have a pasture operation to address natural resource concerns related to the growing, raising, or reproducing of livestock.
    Confined Livestock & Manure Management: This category assists producers with confined livestock to address resource concerns related to the storage, treatment, and management of animal waste.

    Other Opportunities

    Seasonal High Tunnels: This category assists producers to extend the growing season, improve plant and soil quality, reduce nutrient and pesticide transportation, improve air quality through reduced transportation inputs, and reduce energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce.
    Beginning Farmer and Rancher: This fund category is for applicants meeting the definition of Beginning Farmer/Rancher or Veteran Farmer/Ranchers who also meet the Beginning Farmer/Rancher definition.
    Limited Resource Farmer: This category assists limited resource producers to address resource concerns.
    Socially Disadvantaged Producer: This category assists socially disadvantaged producers to address resource concerns.
  9. Connecting Through Citizen Science in the COVID-19 Era

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    Looking for ways to connect with others in the midst of this pandemic? Citizen Science may just be the answer.

    Amid a global pandemic, it’s not uncommon to experience a sense of isolation and a thirst for human connection. Citizen Science is an ideal way to connect with others virtually, while contributing information that can trigger real world change.

    Science needs more ears, eyes, and perspectives than any one scientist can possibly possess. Citizen Scientists conduct scientific research, collaborate with scientists to improve their capacity, and ultimately increase the public’s understanding of science. Additionally, Citizen Science is a fun and engaging way to learn something new, while connecting with people locally or across the globe.

    From surveying and recording the bird species at your backyard birdfeeder, to noting the date your favorite tree begins to leaf-out or flower, there is a Citizen Science project for all ages and interests. Citizen Science advances many fields including ecology, medicine, meteorology, genetics, engineering, and more. These immense collaborations amongst people from all over the world allow for discoveries that a single scientist could never attain alone.

    Below, we highlight four popular Citizen Science projects that you can get started with today!

    Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS)

    Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of seeing rain falling in the distance but never feeling a drop in your location? If so, you know how variable precipitation can be!

    CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network) is a nonprofit, community-based network of volunteers from all over the country who measure and report rain, hail, and snow in their backyards. The measurements collected by Precipitation Monitors have many applications that help the public better understand weather & climate, and the information is used by many organizations, including The National Weather Service, NOAA, and locally by emergency managers, farmers, and homeowners.

    Fairfield County has an active Precipitation Monitoring network. Citizen scientists take daily precipitation measurements in their own backyards using low-cost measurement tools, including a 4” diameter, high capacity rain gauge.

    Want to learn more? Listen to our recent interview with OSU Extension, describing the Precipitation Monitoring program and the rainfall trends observed in Fairfield County this summer. If you are interested in getting involved, contact Carrie Brown at cbrown@fairfieldswcd.org.


    Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count

    Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project and fuels Audubon’s work throughout the year.

    Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurs December 14 to January 5 every year. Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle. Count volunteers follow specified routes through the designated area, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

    If you are a beginning birder, you can join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.
    If your home is within the boundaries of a CBC circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit your feeder on count day as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler. Check out a map view of the circles expected to be included in the 121st Christmas Bird Count on how to contact the compiler.


    iNaturalist

    One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist connects people with nature by helping them identify the plants and animals around them while contributing to a vast biological database.

    iNaturalist is an online social network of over a million people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. It’s also a crowdsourced species identification system and an organism occurrence recording tool. You can use it to record your own observations, get help with identifications, collaborate with others to collect this kind of information for a common purpose, or access the observational data collected by iNaturalist users. What’s more, by recording and sharing observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.

    iNaturalist is free and easy to use for anyone with a computer or smartphone with Internet access. It’s also fun to try and identify other people’s observations, meet folks with similar interests, and participate in projects that other people on iNaturalist are running.


    Nature’s Notebook

    We have all reveled in the changing colors of leaves in the autumn and witnessed the long-awaited burst of green as trees begin to leaf-out in the spring. The study of these seasonal changes is known as phenology. Also described as nature’s calendar, phenology is the study of life cycle changes in plants and animals. This includes the flowering of plants, the emergence of insects, and the migration of birds.

    Nature’s Notebook is a national, online citizen science program that connects participants with nature and gives them the tools needed to contribute to scientific discovery by observing the seasonal changes surrounding them.

    As an observer, you’ll spot things you never noticed before – the green tip of a breaking leaf bud in the spring or the slightest blush on a maple leaf that foreshadows the coming fall. You can develop a more nuanced appreciation of our natural world when you participate in Nature’s Notebook.

    Researchers, resource managers, educators and others use your data for scientific discovery and decision-making. Phenology data helps to predict threats to people and the environment such as wildfires, drought, or flooding. The information helps to decide the timing of events, from when to harvest or irrigate land to when to conduct controlled burns in forests.

    Create a free account to intimately connect with plants or animals that you see all the time in a brand new way.

  10. “Pond”ering Your Backyard Watering Hole? Tips for New and Veteran Pond Owners

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    We often receive questions regarding new pond construction, as well as the maintenance of an established pond. This week we cover the common “dos” and “don’ts” of pond management.

    Do:

    Review our Pond Design & Management booklet for information on design/construction, fish stocking, vegetation control, etc.
    Hire a soil consultant to dig soil test pits prior to building a pond or dam to ensure soils are suitable for pond construction.
    Ensure you use an experienced contractor with the proper equipment for pond and dam construction.
    Consider your watershed size. This is the number of acres draining into your pond and will be responsible for keeping your pond full. We recommend 10 acres of drainage per 1 acre of pond surface area.
    Research whether there may be field tile that will need to be rerouted around the pond. Checking historical aerial imagery may assist in identifying existing tiles. Download Google Earth Pro (free version) and enter the address or intersection in the search window at the top left. Clicking on the clock icon in the toolbar at the top will allow you to scroll through several years of aerials through the timeline (usually 1994-2017, depending on location). Contact our office for older aerials, dating back to 1938.
    Monitor for critter damage (beaver, muskrats, grass carp, groundhogs, etc.) and address issues immediately.
    If stocking your pond with fish, maintain an area at least 6′ deep for fish habitat.
    Monitor outlet structures after heavy rain events for damage or debris that could cause clogging.
    Maintain a level top of dam. Overtopping could result in a low area that will eventually erode.
    Compact Bentonite with a sheepsfoot roller if adding to pond to seal it.
    Provide readily accessible safety equipment/rescue devices.
    Remove submerged safety hazards and any debris that could cause clogging.
    Contact your local fire department if you are building a pond and are considering installing a dry fire hydrant.
    Consider aeration to provide oxygen.
    Properly manage vegetation in your pond. Only spray vegetation/weeds with chemicals that are labeled for aquatic use.
    Additional information regarding pond maintenance can be found in ODNR’s Ohio Pond Management Handbook.
    Construction equipment typically used in pond construction. A pan is used for earthmoving and a sheepsfoot roller is used for dam soil compaction.
    Excessive amounts of submerged plants can present
    problems for pond owners.
    Outlet pipes should be inspected regularly for debris buildup and erosion. Above, the soil around the pipe is eroding, signaling that water is likely running from the pond to the outlet, outside of the pipe. If this isn’t addressed, dam failure will follow.

    Don’t:

    Don’t back water up onto neighboring properties. Ensure you are familiar with Ohio Drainage Laws.
    Avoid introducing non-native aquatic species; many are invasive and will take over quickly.
    It is not recommended to share ownership of a pond with a neighbor without clear legal agreements.
    Don’t plant trees on the dam, as roots can cause seepage.
    The root systems of trees can be a potential hazard by allowing seepage pathways to develop through a dam. Trees eventually die and their roots decay and rot. The root cavity leaves a void within the dam through which water can enter and flow. This can ultimately lead to failure of the dam.
    A residential leach field should not be located in close proximity of a pond.
    Critters such as muskrats can cause bank erosion. This can lead to dam failure in severe cases.
  11. The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Water Drainage

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    We often receive calls regarding the best practices of water drainage. (“Water” is in our name, after all!)

    Below are water drainage “rules of thumb” that we at Fairfield Soil and Water Conservation District often recommend to folks.  Some information is found in more detail in the resource sections of our website at www.fairfieldswcd.org.

    Streambanks and Ditches

    DO:

    Seek advice prior to placing hard materials (stone, etc.) in streams and determine if permits are required for your planned work.
    Maintain vegetation; turf-type fescue is recommended.
    Use a rigid material such as PVC for tile outlets. Single-wall tile can droop, catching passing debris and ultimately causing stream bank erosion.
    Locate rock pads below tile outlets to prevent bank erosion from falling water.
    Remove fallen trees quickly to avoid back-ups and logjams. Logjams cause erosion when water makes its way around them, cutting into streambanks.
    Add rock in the toe of the streambank to secure it, as this is where water velocities erode the soil causing collapse of the area above it.
    Learn more about preventing erosion and stabilizing your streambank in our Stream Management Guide.

    DON’T:

    Don’t dump concrete over the bank. Concrete floats and can cause issues downstream.
    Don’t spray herbicides creating bare soil. This will cause erosion issues quickly.

    Water Patterns and Waterways

    DO:

    Maintain vegetative cover where possible; turf-type fescue is recommended.
    Repair any tile blowholes as soon as possible to prevent additional erosion. To learn more about tile, refer to our article, What is Field Tile?
    Seed and mulch any bare areas that develop.

    DON’T:

    Don’t pollute! Do not throw grass clippings or yard waste into any water course or pattern. Keep any compost/manure away that could leach into water. Learn more about keeping yard waste out of drainage patterns in Engulfed in Leaves? 3 Options for Dealing with your Trees’ Autumn Offerings!
    Don’t build structures (house, barn, shed, etc.) in or too close to a water pattern.
    Don’t drive across a waterway when it is too wet; ruts could prevent proper flow.

    Watch a grassed waterway in action! The timber drop structure at the bottom of the waterway helps to control flow and prevent erosion.

    Residential Drainage

    DO:

    Work with your neighbors. In most cases, drainage issues are a civil matter that must be resolved in court. Read more about Ohio Drainage Laws.
    If possible, talk to previous landowners about the location of drainage tiles, including those that connect to gutters/downspouts, sump pumps, leach fields, perimeter/foundation drains, etc.
    Add animal guards to tile outlets. Small critters can crawl into tiles and cause a blockage.
    Checking historical aerial imagery may assist in identifying existing tiles. Download Google Earth
    Pro
    (free version) and enter the address or intersection in the search window at the top left. Clicking on the clock icon in the toolbar at the top will allow you to scroll through several years of
    aerials through the timeline (usually 1994-2017, depending on location) . Contact our office for older aerials, dating back to 1938.

    DON’T:

    Don’t plant trees near tile, unless the tile is non-perforated. Tree roots searching for water will quickly plug tile.
    Don’t plant trees under power lines.

    Aerials can be very revealing! The aerial on the left clearly shows systematic tile in a field. The aerial on the right was taken a few years later after the western portion of the property had been sold as a house lot.

    As you can see, tile lines were cut when the house was built. Unfortunately, the tiles weren’t appropriately rerouted during construction. This resulted in a very wet basement (see below) and had to be addressed.

  12. Ghost Pipes, Kudzu, and Dodder, OH MY!

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    3 Real Plants that Rival Halloween Monsters

    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    From Vampires and Ghosts to Werewolves and Zombies, science fiction and horror writers have created many startling characters with terrifying, yet memorable, traits.

    With Halloween quickly approaching, let’s take a look at three science fiction inspirations…that are anything but fiction.

    Dodder

    With nicknames that include “Devil’s guts,” “vampire plant,” and “witch’s hair,” few plants hold the spook-factor that dodder does.

    Belonging to the morning glory family, 13 species of dodder can be found in Ohio. Common Dodder and Field Dodder are the two most common species that are native to our state, and both have been reported in Fairfield County.

    There are many characteristics that make this plant peculiar, the first of which is that most dodder species lack something we often think of as fundamental in the plant world: leaves.

    As a result, dodder produces very little chlorophyll, thus doesn’t quite have the “umph” to readily photosynthesize.

    Following germination a dodder plant, depending upon its feeble capacity to make food, only has the ability to power its solitary existence for up to 15 days….unless it finds a host.

    As illustrated in this video, a young dodder plant will mosey around until it is able to sniff out a suitable host. As an obligate parasite, it has no other choice, and it turns out it’s not too picky.

    From goldenrod, to Callery pear, to soybeans, dodder has a wide range of tastes.

    Once a host is detected, dodder will begin wrapping itself around the plant.

    Soon after, it develops small piercing structures called haustoria that penetrate the host plant, allowing the dodder to imbibe water, nutrients, and carbohydrates from its host.

    It turns out “vampire plant” is quite fitting.

    Since dodder now has a free source of goodies, it no longer has the need for roots. Once severed from the Earth, dodder is truly one with its host.

    Because of this fraternization, it is impossible at this point to terminate the dodder without also killing the host plant. As a result, dodder causes millions of dollars in crop losses worldwide every year.

    Learn more about this fascinating, life-sucking creature in Buckeye Yard & Garden OnLine’s article “Weaving the Dodder’s Tale“.


    Ghost Pipes


    Perhaps you’ve noticed this “ghostly” plant species while walking in densely wooded areas.

    Often confused for a fungus, Ghost Pipes, also known as Indian Pipes, is indeed a type of flora.

    As you may have guessed by its pale complexion, this perennial wildflower lacks chlorophyll. This is the green pigment most plants use for photosynthesis, the process in which plants harness the sun’s energy to produce food.

    Instead, this species elected a different and somewhat unconventional evolutionary path.

    Image by 018, Indian Pipe, CC by 3.0

    Because it is not reliant on sunlight, the Ghost Pipe has free range of shaded, thickly forested areas. And since it is not producing its own food, it must rely on outside sources. This is where things get interesting.

    Whereas many parasites feed directly on other plants, such as dodders discussed above, Ghost Pipe receives its energy from….let’s say a food delivery service.

    Deep under the forest floor there’s a constant give-and-take proceeding between tree roots and a tangle of stringy underground fungus called Mycorrhizal Fungi.

    Like an intricate game of telephone, tree roots and fungi are relentlessly exchanging goods: the tree roots provide fungi with carbohydrates that the tree makes through photosynthesis, while the fungi swaps minerals & nutrients that are out of the tree’s reach.

    Ghost pipes take advantage of this bartering, stealing the newly gifted carbohydrates from the fungi, in turn stealing from the tree…and offering nothing in exchange.

    The term for this shifty embezzlement is scary in its own right: mycoheterotrophic.


    Kudzu

    With the ability to grow up to one foot per day, this green monster can quickly conquer natural areas and turn them into a green monoculture. There’s a reason this plant is known as the vine that ate the South

    Image by Katie Ashdown, Kudzu, CC by 2.0

    Kudzu is native to East Asia, primarily Korea, Japan, and China. It was first introduced at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition as an ornamental plant and was widely distributed in southeastern U.S. for forage and erosion control purposes until its wicked nature was fully comprehended.

    Images by Pollinator (Kudzu seedpods) and Forest & Kim Starr (Pueraria montana var. lobata with flowers), CC by 3.0

    There are more than a few adaptations that give this green beast the ability to dominate both inside and outside of its native range.

    Kudzu is a legume, such as soybeans, and capable of fixing its own nitrogen. As a result, it can exist in poor soils that other plant species must pass up.
    Because of its ability to grow up to 60’ a season, it easily suffocates existing vegetation and literally crushes native biodiversity.
    Stems are lined with versatile nodes, capable of sending out tendrils when there is something to climb OR roots when there is soil to further anchor itself.
    This plant has a killer foundation. Thick storage roots can account for up to 40% of total biomass for the plant….meaning that what you see above the ground is only a bit more than what is under the ground.
    Kudzu has a sweet tooth for CO2. So increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will likely favor its spread.

    Kudzu is now present in Ohio and appears on Ohio’s prohibited noxious weed list. Although our shorter growing season and cooler winters help to suppress this monster, it still poses many threats to our woodlands and should be reported.

    Management techniques do exist, including manual removal, chemical application, and animal grazing & browsing.

  13. Engulfed in Leaves? 3 Options for Dealing with your Trees’ Autumn Offerings

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    This week we wrap up our series on leaves by examining the methods and benefits of utilizing the fallen ones!

    I don’t know about you, but one of the keystone autumn memories I cherish from my childhood is raking leaves into an enormous pile…only to wreck my efforts by diving into them.

    Of course, this would happen repeatedly until my father would declare the scattered mess off limits and hurry me inside to clean up.

    As I got older, the task of raking lost its allure and became more of a chore, so as an adult, I’ve become a bit savvier when dealing with autumn’s leafy offerings.

    Engulfed in leaves? Here are some options!

    1. Leave the Leaves!

    Option one, and likely the easiest route, is to simply leave the leaves where they fall!

    If your yard is scattered with black cherry, locust, or other broadleaf species that have mostly smaller leaves, there may not be much action to take after they fall.

    In the case of maple, oak, and other trees with larger foliage, however, a bit of mulching may be in order.

    Use a lawnmower to shred the leaves into dime-sized pieces.

    There are several benefits to gracing your grass with this mulchy mixture:

    Provide habitat for wildlife such as frogs, turtles, bats & salamanders. Additionally, many moths and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.
    Increase your soil fertility and offer your lawn a nutrient boost! As leaves decompose, nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and potassium are added to the soil.
    Supply food for critters like earthworms, millipedes, and other essential decomposers.
    Suppress weeds in your lawn. Decomposing leaves cover the soil in between individual grass plants where weeds are most likely to germinate.
    Save your back! Mulching is far faster and much easier on the body than raking leaves.

    2. Compost to Feed Future Plants

    If your yard is rather arborous and fallen leaves are too thick to mulch with a lawn mower, it may be necessary to turn to plan B: Collect and compost leaves in a designated location.

    Composting is a process in which microbes break down organic materials into a nutrient dense, soil-like material.

    When done correctly, leaves and other fall garden debris can be composted and ready to use by late spring.

    This is a great option for gardeners with the desire to build their own rich planting medium.

    In the case of leaf piles, size and location matters!

    A pile that is 3’ x 3’ x 3’ is manageable and large enough to maintain the heat needed for the composting process. Make as many piles as necessary, choosing a shaded site with good air flow.

    “Feed” your compost pile throughout the fall season by adding freshly fallen leaves to a pile of older leaves.

    You can also supplement by adding other natural materials you may have laying around such as grass clippings, garden debris, and kitchen scraps. (It’s important to note there are a number of materials that shouldn’t be added to backyard compost piles, such as animal products, that will attract pests and take too long to compost.)

    Maintain your compost by keeping it moist and oxygenated.

    Water is needed for the composting process, so it may be necessary to add water to your pile. Additionally, compost requires aeration. This can be accomplished by occasionally turning the pile with a spading fork or other garden tool.

    Additional information on backyard composting can be found in OSU Extension’s Composting Series.

    3. Utilize a Leaf Pickup Service

    If you don’t have the space to compost your leaves and live in an area that offers leaf pickup, this service may be a good option. There are some important tips to remember when readying your leaves for collection however.

    Keep yard waste, including leaves, grass clippings and garden debris, out of drainage ditches and storm drains.

    If you caught our earlier article on stormwater, Only Rain Down the Drain, you likely remember that everything that enters a storm drain is ultimately outletted, untreated, into a local water body.  Leaves, in particular, can be very problematic for storm sewer systems so never leave them in the path of stormwater. Even if leaves are left behind, water filtering through can become rich in nutrients. When this “leafy brew” makes its way into rivers and streams it can cause an overgrowth of algae and wreak havoc on water quality.

    These same rules should also be followed in rural ditches and waterways.

    Avoid piling leaves, grass clippings, etc. in drainage ditches and grassed waterways. Doing so blocks the natural path of water and can result in flooding and erosion.  

    When bagging leaves and yard waste, use biodegradable paper bags.

    Paper is a better option, as plastic trash bags can take many years to break down. Better yet, designate a trash can for yard waste and mark it appropriately.

    Specific leaf pickup guidelines for Fairfield County communities can be found below:

  14. 4 Mysteries of Autumn Revealed

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    It’s that time of the year again. The air is getting brisker, the days are getting shorter, and the leaves are changing color. Join us this week for the second post in our series on leaves as we unravel the mysteries behind this brilliant display.

    1. Why does this explosion of color occur each autumn?

    It’s difficult not to become entranced by the majestic display tendered by changing autumn leaves. Offering an explosion for the senses, what we are really experiencing is chemistry happing right before our eyes! Let’s take a closer look at where these colors come from.

    Have you ever heard of the idiom, “showing one’s true colors”? During autumn, this is exactly what leaves are doing!

    In fact, the brilliant fall colors we are now experiencing are actually embedded in the leaf throughout the entire year.

    We simply don’t see these other pigments during the summer because they are overpowered by the surplus of green chlorophyll leaves produce for photosynthesis.

    The shortening days of autumn trigger plants to begin shutting down their chlorophyll production, and existing chlorophyll is slowly broken down. The result of this lack of green is the exposure of many other colors! These colors come from a variety of compounds found within the leaves:

    Orange

    Beta-Carotene

    Responsible also for the color of many fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, beta-carotene is a common pigment in most leaves year-round and assists with photosynthesis. In the fall, it gives leaves their orange hue by reflecting yellow and red light from the sun.

    Red & Scarlet

    Anthocyanins

    Unlike beta-carotene, the production of this pigment occurs primarily during autumn. Its presence acts as a sunscreen, shielding the leaf from damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet light. During the growing season, chlorophyll does this job.

    Yellow

    Flavonols

    Flavonols are present in leaves all year. During the growing season, flavonols assist leaves in light absorption and energy production.  Their colors aren’t revealed until chlorophyll production begins to cease in the fall. Interestingly, they also play a primary role in the coloration of many types of flowers.

    While we bask in the beautiful changing colors of fall, trees are busy preparing for the approaching winter.

    Because the soft plant tissue that makes up broadleaves would certainly be damaged by the cold winter temperatures, many perennial plants have adapted to lose their leaves and enter a dormant state.

    Energy is removed from the leaves and the connection with the plant is slowly severed at the base of the leaf stem.

    Water and nutrients no longer move in or out of the leaf, and the leaf dies and eventually falls to the ground. Here, it decomposes to a rich humus that will help to feed the plant the following year.

    Nature is quite resourceful!


    2. Why are some Autumns more vibrant than others?

    There are many factors that influence the intensity of autumn leaf colors. Temperature, water supply, and light can all affect the duration and brilliance of fall color displays. This is why no two autumns are the same from year to year.

    Generally, the most dazzling autumn displays result from warm sunny days followed by cool nights. Low temperatures in the fall that are above freezing, trigger the production of anthocyanin. This is the pigment responsible for vibrant reds and scarlets and is abundant in species such as sugar maples. Early frost decreases this red color.

    Soil moisture can also have an effect. Summer droughts can result in the early onset of fall color due to stress. Oftentimes, temperatures aren’t adequately low for bright displays. Windy and rainy weather during autumn can cause leaves to fall to the ground prematurely and interrupt colorful displays.


    3. Why are some trees a bit more colorful than their neighbors?

    As discussed above, fall color is the result of multiple compounds. Different species of trees have varying compound makeups that can dictate which colors they display in the fall.

    “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

    -Albert Camus

    For instance, maples, sassafras, and sumac tend to produce high rates of anthocyanin, the compound responsible for that vivid red color. Anthocyanin production is triggered by sunlight, so the parts of the tree most exposed to sunshine will exhibit the brightest colors.

    Forest age can also have an effect on overall color. Due to forest succession, the composition of dominant tree species can change as forests mature.

    Early successional species, such as sassafras, sumac, and tulip tree, often reward viewers with brilliant colors of reds and yellows. More mature forests, especially those disturbed by fire or timber harvest, may contain more oak and hickory, offering displays of reds, browns, and yellows. Less disturbed mature forests may be dominated by shade-loving sugar maples, red maples, and beech and also offer a vibrant color presentation.

    Finally, some cultivars, such as the Freeman maple ‘Autumn Blaze’ and serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ have been selected for their bright fall colors. These beauties are most often found in home and city landscapes.


    4. Why is my understory still green?

    You may notice a wall of green remaining in forests beneath those beautiful fall colors.

    This green understory is likely made up of non-native, invasive species such as bush honeysuckle, autumn-olive, and privet.

    These shrubs make their living on extending their growing season beyond that of native species. Fall is the perfect time of year to spot these invasive species and make plans for their removal. Visit the Ohio Invasive Plant Council’s website  for tips on invasive management.


    BONUS: Leaf Rubbing Activity

    Are you looking for a fun and colorful way to preserve memories of the brilliant display offered this autumn? Why not get out the crayons for a leaf rubbing craft! Pair this with a good tree identification field guide to add an educational component to this activity.

    Collect dried or freshly fallen leaves of all shapes and sizes. Ensure they are not wet and can be flattened easily.
    Using a flat, hard surface, sandwich a leaf between two white sheets of paper. You can use one leaf or use several as a mosaic.
    Holding the top paper steady, select a crayon you’d like to use to create your leaf rubbing. It is helpful to peel the paper wrapper off of the crayon. Turn the crayon on its side and gently rub over the top sheet of the paper.
    Remove the leaf from under the paper and admire your creation!

    Join us next week for our third and final installment as we explore the benefits and challenges offered by those many falling leaves!

    In the meantime, get the latest in fall color with ODNR’s Fall Color Update!

  15. Leave it up to the Leaves!

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    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    It turns out there are some amazing capabilities hidden amongst that beautiful canopy.

    If you’re anything like me, you treasure many childhood memories associated with playing outside. Maybe it was fishing in the watering hole on the back forty with Grandpa. Or perhaps you recollect swinging as high as the clouds on the neighborhood playground.

    Pondering those simpler times, there are a few reliable old friends that often come to mind: the line of dense white pines along our property border and a scattering of apple trees nearby. My sister and I would spend countless happy hours hiding out in the conifers, stocked only with apples and our active imaginations.

    I’m inclined to believe that many have a tree or two that we remember fondly.

    Trees provided a place of solace then and continue to today. From their deep roots to their stately wooden frame, they are an embodiment of comfort and sanctuary.

    However, what really catches the eye and provides differentiation among species is the canopy. The myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors of leaves is astonishing, from sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates to slender clusters of pine needles. (Yes, conifer needles are leaves! Read on to find out more.)

    Photosynthesis, Let’s Get Into This!

    With so much diversity among leaves, interestingly they all serve the same major function: acting as solar panels for the plant they embody.

    Thinking back to biology class, perhaps the term photosynthesis comes to mind? We won’t get into the specifics, but basically plants have the amazing ability to chemically combine sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the air to make food! It’s really pretty incredible when you think about it.

    If you want to know more about the process of Photosynthesis, watch this video. But be warned, this catchy tune may be stuck in your head for days!

    Jack of Many Trades

    Leaves have also evolved to have a variety of interesting “side jobs.”

    Carnivorous plants, such as Venus fly trap, use adapted leaves to capture insects.
    Many succulents use their leaves to store water.
    Leaves serve as a foundation for many ecosystem food webs. For instance, oaks support over 500 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars – more than any other native tree! These insects are a principal source of protein for our migrating and breeding birds.
    Species such as stinging nettle equip their leaves with specialized hairs that deter disturbance by delivering an inflammatory chemical when touched.
    Plants such as dogwoods and poinsettias use colored leaves to attract pollinators to their tiny flower clusters.

    Conifers vs. Broadleaves

    As stated earlier, conifer needles are leaves! They perform the same function as broadleaves such as maple & oak, capturing sunlight and turning it into fuel.

    There are some fundamental differences between these two tree types, however. While broadleaf trees tend to shed their leaves each fall, most conifers hold their needles for a few years and lose them on a staggered basis.

    Needles have a thick waxy coating and diminished surface area that helps them retain water, which comes in handy in drier climates. And their tendency to grow in a conical form with slender leaves help conifers shed snow while still capturing sunlight.

    A Sneak Peak of Next Week

    You have likely noticed that many of our broadleaf trees are going out in a blaze color! In fact, the Autumn of 2020 is forecasted to be one of the more brilliant falls we’ve had in years (and goodness knows we deserve it!) Peak fall color in Ohio is predicted to hit in mid-October.

    With this quickly approaching, tune in next week as we explore the following:

    Why does this explosion of color occur each autumn?
    Why is it better some years than others?
    Why are some trees a bit more colorful than their neighbors?
    Learn about a fun, kid-friendly activity that combines leaf identification and art!