Don't be tempted to start planting outside yet

GardeningMay 2, 2012 

The big temptation when the night temps seem to stop dipping below freezing is to plant everything outdoors. Obviously, the experienced Alaskan gardener knows this is a big, big mistake. It is way too early. Do not give in to your desires. We have a few more weeks before the birch leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, which is the sign that we really won't have any more frosts until the end of summer.

Even then, it is too early for most things to go into the ground because the soil is simply too cool. There are some exceptions. These are the plants (or seeds) that you can put into the ground right now: peas (including sweet peas), spinach, onion sets, kale, chard and mustard. If you must plant something this weekend, limit yourself to these unless you find something a local nursery says can be planted.

So what else is a gardener to do while we wait for Planting Out on Memorial Day Weekend or a week or so beforehand? I assume you have carefully cleared off mulch from the perennial beds and, if your lawn is dry enough, mowed over the winter's debris. Really, cleaning up is about all you should be doing in the yard.

You could (and should) spend a bit of time getting your gear in order. Repair hoses, change washers and make sure none of your watering tools leak. Toss out any that do not work or leak. Consider setting up some way to get warmer water to your plants, either a storage barrel in the sun or actually using hot water from the laundry room.

Oil the handles of all wooden tools with a good vegetable oil to keep them in shape or consider painting handles bright colors so you can easily find the tools to which they are attached. Coat metal parts with WD-40. A bit of sand paper on rough handles is a good idea as well.

This is also the time of year to make sure your mowers are working properly and, since you've hopefully used the blade to clean the debris, consider getting it sharpened. This will reduce the brown tips that occur when you cut the lawn with a mower that has a dull one. If you have a push reel mower, oil it up. Power mowers, which happen to pollute three times more than your car, should be tuned up.

Wander around the yard with a pad of paper and make the plan that I am always trying to get you to make. This is useful when you go to nurseries to buy plants. It doesn't have to be complicated, too scale or even pretty. Just something that tells you what you need and where so you don't over- or under-buy plants. Take it to the nurseries you should be visiting this weekend and use it.

Finally, a quasi apology. Sometimes my organic zeal gets the best of me! I dissed the Muni/FWS rain garden program a week or so back. Under this program the government helps you build a rain garden on your property. I said it was a gimmicky trend here in southcentral where every garden is a rain garden! I guess that is not entirely fair as the idea is to help runoff of water. If you are interested, check out the program at anchorageraingardens.com.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com.

Garden calendar FLOWER SEEDS TO START: MARIGOLDS, CALENDULA, NASTURTIUMS. FLOWERS TO PLANT OUTDOORS: SWEET PEAS, EITHER SEEDS OR PLANTS. VEGGIES TO PLANT OUTDOORS: PEAS (INCLUDING SWEET PEAS), SPINACH, ONION SETS, KALE, CHARD AND MUSTARD RHUBARB: COVER WITH A BOX OR BUCKET TO SPEED UP GROWTH (IF YOU MUST FOR SOME REASON). GARDEN PARTY ON KBYR RADIO: WE ARE OFF THIS WEEKEND. BACK NEXT SATURDAY FROM 10 A.M. TO NOON AS USUAL.

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