“The perfect pink of the epiphytic cactus that I picked up at the grocery store years ago reliably blooms two or three times a year,” the Kachemak Gardener said of this flower blooming on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at her Homer, Alaska, home. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

“The perfect pink of the epiphytic cactus that I picked up at the grocery store years ago reliably blooms two or three times a year,” the Kachemak Gardener said of this flower blooming on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at her Homer, Alaska, home. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Kachemak Gardener: It’s difficult to believe spring is here

Tea and toast comfort

while spring equinox serves snow

bulbs cuddle below

– Debi Poore

March 21, first day of spring— although I’m finding it difficult to believe. Here at elevation 396 feet we have 18 to 24 inches of snow and more is forecast. This is the gardener’s fate for choosing the Far North to call home.

We like to use Monday mornings to go to the dump; we refer to this as our Dump Date. We take the long way home and last week we ventured out East End Road. The difference in snow depth was interesting. In places there was a million feet of snow and others less than at our house. There have definitely been localized snow events this winter. Even here in town, a friend asked if my crocus are up. I laughed; they are under much snow and it certainly will take a major change in temperature for them to show up, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon. She has a mere 6 inches at her house and was shocked at my abundance. But for those of you who planted bulbs close to the foundation you will soon be rewarded.

I can rail all I want at March, to no avail. It will do what it must and I will tend the seedlings thriving under lights in the guest room and wait it out.

John has thoughtfully kept the greenhouse door shoveled all winter, knowing that access would be crucial come April and might as well keep up with the accumulation instead of tackling it all at once. Wise man. I made my first foray out there this afternoon. The compost that we put in the bins last fall is thawed, at least it is in the afternoon, and just waiting for me to begin watering. I like to start now; this gives any weed seeds (always weeds) a chance to germinate and a chance for me to remove them before the tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and basil need to settle in. I’m really looking forward to all this but must temper my enthusiasm. And so should you; we are a way out for planting in the ground.

The greenhouse won’t be heated until the first of April and that’s if the weather forecast is auspicious. Heating is tricky. Solar gain will heat the space successfully but the structure won’t hold it. That’s where the space heaters come in. There are two of them and I hold my breath every spring. There is usually a windy session that could cause a power outage, thus no heat. Or the temperature drops so low that the heaters can’t keep up. I’m not asking for much — 40 degrees would be ideal but I usually have to settle for 34. If there is a serious cold snap I’ll cover the plants with floating row cover to offer them a touch more protection. It’s really all very interesting and keeps me on my toes.

* * *

African violets — I’ve made a really difficult decision: I’m thinning them out. There are 30 of these, each has a place in front of one of the window panes. I deeply appreciate the symmetry, but some of these are 40 years old. I have divided them; scraped their “turkey” necks and repotted them; trimmed off the brown leaves and stuffed them back into the pot. Enough. I’m ready for space on the window sills. As they bloom this spring I will evaluate who stays and who gets retired. I have two that I will continue to make new plants from leaf cuttings for sentimental reasons. Margaret Pate gave me one and Liz Johnson the other. Both of these fine ladies have died and this is my connection to lovely memories.

As I go about our little city I notice what plants are showing up in windows and, by far, the most popular is the ever reliable epiphytic cacti, otherwise known as Christmas cactus or holiday cactus. I have two of these and one is blooming at this very moment. The other got a major overhaul last fall and is still in recovery, looking hale and hardy but no blooms. If yours is reluctant to bloom, move it to another window. Once you get the correct location for it you will be rewarded with blooms two and three times a year. Don’t give up.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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