Editor’s Note: For 20 years Rosemary Fitzpatrick encouraged area gardeners in her column in the Homer News, the Kachemak Gardener. She took a break, but is back this year with one goal in mind: to help you realize your gardening dreams.
If you have yet to prune your trees, wait no longer. Our Amur chokecherry (prunus maackii) is the one that gets the most consistent pruning in this garden. This is a fast growing, hopefully hardy, tree that reaches up to 45 feet and spreads from 25 feet to 40 feet. It has gloriously beautiful copper bark that tends to gracefully peel away from the trunk. That copper color is so welcome in the winter when it glows in the low light. In the summer it has clusters of white flowers that become nondescript blackish berries in the fall that are best left for the birds.
But, it needs to be pruned to keep it somewhat under control. If left to its own device the branches will break under the weight of an early/late snow. Fast growing trees are short lived and prone to damage. Keep this in mind.
It took me years to gather the courage to face that tree with a saw. Using advice from a fearless friend I took a good look at it, determined which branches were growing downward instead of up and cautiously removed them. I have removed three branches a year for the last three years.
Any more than that and the tree will compensate by shooting up water sprouts amongst its branches come spring. These will look like nests — clusters of dense branches. Prune judiciously and your tree will reward you rather than rebel. If you don’t have one of these beauties, put it on your list.
Take a look at each and every one of your trees. You probably have mountain ash (sorbus). They are quite popular because, once again, they grow fast.
Even your spruce might need pruning. Perhaps a branch has broken, or is in the way of the car when you park (gee, I wonder who has that problem?). Take the branch off at the trunk, do not trim the end as it will grow a puffy tuft where you cut. It looks unfortunate. If you wait any longer the sap will start to run and it really will be too late to do any pruning. The time is now so get on it.
Whatever you do, do not prune your lilacs. The buds formed last fall. If you cut now you will destroy the glorious bloom that we have all been waiting for since last July.
Now that takes care of what is happening outdoors. We have a long way to go before we can do much more.
If you have yet to pot up your begonia tubers you need to take action. I was faced with a bitter disappointment — the tubers I have nurtured for 15 years did not make it this winter and I know exactly why. When they were finished in the window box I put them in the covered porch like I always do. But then I left the state and that was one very cold October.
Oh well. I now have three new ones looking quite frisky on the guest room window sill.
If yours have weak, white growth sprouting everywhere, just knock it off and let new fresh growth get underway. Nestle the tubers into damp (not wet, you don’t want them to rot) potting soil, give them a sunny window and wait. You will be thankful.
Tuberous begonias do not like direct sun or wind. Mine live happily on the north side of the house in a window box. I put each one in its own pot and set it into the box. Then I fill in around it with soil and plant some lobelia and pansies. This sounds predictable, and it is, and it works. Can’t argue with success.
This brings me to what is going on under the lights in the guest room. Tomatoes, cucumbers, artichokes, leeks, shallots, pansies, veronica, two kinds of columbine. I think that’s all. They are looking gorgeous. I water at least once a day, sometimes twice. I keep moving the lights higher so the plants are not touching the fluorescent grow lights. You can use one warm and one cool light in your fixture and get the same results as grow lights. It gives a good head start on the season and you will be thankful. I leave the lights on 24/7, no timer.
I find myself wandering out to the greenhouse about three times a day. It is unheated at the moment but I have seeded in some lettuce and radish. Why not? I might get something. And something is better than nothing.
Note: The Yukon-Kuskokwim Cooperative Extension Service is sending us Leif Albertson today at 7 p.m. at Kachemak Bay Campus, room P 212. He will speak to us on the viability of local gardens as a dietary intervention. If you are interested in rural nutrition, food security and healthy communities, this is for you.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.