Perennials: Be wary of plants that spread by stolons, runners or rhizomes. Although they are easy to grow they can become pests and take over the flower beds, if not the entire yard. Read the fine print and the Latin name when planting Ajuga or Buddleia (butterfly bush). The variety can make all the difference.
Flowers: Plant colorful nectar filled flowers that attract beneficial insects and help reduce the need for chemical sprays. Alyssum, cosmos, zinnias and tithonia are good choices. Sunflowers and marigolds lure the predators such as lady beetles and hover flies which will attack aphids and mites. These blossoms look as beautiful in a vegetable garden as a flower bed.
Vegetables and fruits: If you are planning a first time vegetable garden, make sure that the area has at least six hours of sun during the middle of the day. Any less will cause disappointment. If there is only a small sunny area, consider a herb bed which lends itself to many creative designs, using bricks or stones, a small sculpture or a container forming a focal point.
Trees and shrubs: Winterberry is still displaying bright crimson berries, sustenance for birds throughout the winter. Some viburnums also attract birds, but the Japanese barberry and Russian olive have become invasive because of birds spreading the seeds throughout the woodlands.
Lawns: Avoid using the same paths across the lawn area.
Houseplants: Winter stress makes houseplants vulnerable to pests. Check stems, leaves and buds often for the presence of barely visible spider mites. Give the plants regular showers and spray badly infested areas with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Plants ordinarily happy in a east or west window should be moved to a south facing window at this time of year or give them supplemental artificial light.
Susan Henry, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester