January is the time to plan your garden, not plant it

Let’s revisit spruce aphids. I’m hearing lots of talk about how lucky we are to have cold temperatures after too many warm winters and how detrimental to the aphids this will be.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble but the temperature needs to be 10 to 15 degrees (or colder) and hold there for a week to 10 days to put a halt to the infestation. The ice skating may be great but the aphids will resume eating our trees in February. Thanks to Janice Chumley, the integrated pest management technician at the Cooperative Extension Office in Soldotna for confirming my suspicions.

There is also much buzz about starting plants. Please, people, let’s not get overzealous. Just because we have sunshine in January does not mean it is time to get seedlings going. Especially not on your window sill.

But it most certainly is time to be planning. Now is when you want to think deeply about what you want to eat from your garden and what flowers will make your heart sing when you come home from a long day.

There are so many vegetables that grow here with abandon and joy you need only take your pick. The seed racks will be offering selections that are tried and true for our area. But, really, we have such lovely nurseries here that buying your seedlings makes the most sense. Leave the seed starting agony to those who really and truly need to, and that does NOT need to be you.

Another thought along this line is to leave difficult plantings to the high tunnel people who will be selling at the Farmers Market. They should really be coming into production this year, having scaled the learning curve. My hope is to see piles of winter squash at their stalls. I have yet to make a successful harvest.

January IS the month to really give your house plants attention. I mostly have African violets. I know variety is the spice of life but I do like to keep my life simple and one of the methods is to mono-crop my houseplants. I know how violets work, they fit on my windowsills, they bloom year round (although they really get with it in the spring), and they are ever so easy to tend. I can’t ask for anything more.

Whatever your choice of houseplants may be, I’m sure that right about now they need a shower. Go ahead, take them to the kitchen sink or the bathtub and give them a good washing.

If they look like they need to be repotted what a great time to tackle that chore. Get a fresh bag of potting soil. Lay out the Homer News (before it goes to recycle) on your kitchen table. Pull the plant out of its pot, crumble off the old soil and dead roots, set it back in its pot with fresh soil, feed and water it and you are both good to go. Your whole house will look like you did something special to it, and you did, with very little time and effort.

Here’s another thought for you: trees. We were in Anchorage in October and I was so impressed with the ornamental trees that are lining the streets and gracing homes. They have become established. Anchorage finally looks like it has been around for a while.

The three species that seem to dominate the landscape are mountain ash, Amur chokecherry (with the wonderful copper bark) and Shubert (covered with white flowers in the spring and then the leaves turn maroon in the summer).

I hesitate to recommend the Amur because I have seen too many of them keel over. Planting a tree is a major investment of both time, money and determination. It’s a shame when you think you have a gorgeous tree nearing its prime and it falls over. Plant one if you must, but — you have been warned.

There are streets and subdivisions in this little town that have been here for 20-30 years and still look like they dropped in from another planet. Why not nestle in some lilacs, roses, mock orange, red twig dogwood? Is it the threat of moose? That’s a very good reason. Think about fencing a portion of your property, not all of it, just enough to establish a manageable garden. This would be so much easier than caging each and every tree and shrub. That alone would discourage even a die hard. Keep it small and simple but get going. Make your house a home.

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