Plants find a bright side to our cold summer

GardeningJuly 18, 2012 

I don't know about you, but for a while there I was laughing my head off and poking fun at the relatives back East, suffering through the warmest weather the area has ever seen. And it was only the end of June, well before the normal sweltering heat and humidity.

I wrote all sorts of snide emails to my bothers (who had battered me mercilessly this winter and in the past about Anchorage's atrocious weather). Now it was my turn to write, "How can you stand the weather where you live?" And I was pretty smug about it, at that, especially on those one or three 60 degree days we had there.

Remember those?

Fast forward to today. Any day the Drudge Report will pick up that Southcentral Alaska has had the coldest July in history, on the back of the most snowfall we hopefully will ever receive. Once it goes viral, it's over. The right will use it as a sign that Global Warming is not happening. The Left will use it as a sign Global causes extremes and is upon us. And we will be caught in the middle, where it has been cold and damp for all but those two weeks when I got to mock my brothers.

The tides have turned, however. Now I am searching for a bright side to this weather so I can defend myself from their retaliation as well as justify my continued optimism that as far as Global Warming, it is our turn now.

There is no doubt, for example, that the lilacs have benefited greatly from all the cool weather. As far as I am concerned, they have never looked better. First, people forget that these are really hardy plants that actually require winter. And we had one of those. The excessively deep snow cover this winter actually enabled some lilacs that would have otherwise have been browsed to hide from hungry moose.

I have another theory on the lilacs. They formed their buds last year and this spring they were able to take advantage of the extra nitrogen in the soils. This came from the 130 some odd inches of snow we had. Before people went to the devil and started buying commercial fertilizers, snow was called "poor man's fertilizer." Snow contains fixed nitrogen and it was there right when the lilacs needed to call on it this spring. This helped produce fantastic blooms.

That same nitrogen might have something to with the beautiful lawns all over Southcentral. I haven't given mine anything other than its own grass clippings and they are surely green.

And, it is becoming ever more apparent that not using weed-be-gone and letting clover take over is also adding to the Emerald Isle look. More and more of us are letting lawns go natural and the white clover patches are starting to be the mark of a responsible lawn owner. Along with the white comes the green leaves. This clover is adding its own nitrogen as a result of nitrogen fixing bacteria that form symbiotic relationships in nodules formed in the clover roots. This is why you don't need to fertilizer clover.

Then there is the rain. Neither my neighbor nor I have watered our lawns once. The only reason I brought out a hose this year was to water the annuals and vegetables and fill the water barrels for the outdoor greenhouse. In fact, I am starting to pray that I won't need to water our lawns once this year. It will save a lot of time and effort in draining the darn things and lugging them back off to storage.

My neighbor and I can't be the only ones who don't need to water lawns. It seems this year we hardly need to attend to vegetables and annuals, be they container bound or roaming free in a garden. They seem to be doing fine, don't they?

No, the problems don't seem to be with the plants this year. It is with us. We aren't enjoying it as much because it is too cold to get out there and really enjoy the gardens while you are wearing a snow suit. At least the plants don't seem to care and there might just be a warming trend somewhere out there. When it was really hot in New York, one of my brothers promised to send the heat here. I'll take it.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com and hear him (and call in) on the Garden Party from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR, 700 AM.

Garden calendar

LORRI ABEL WILL DISCUSS LATE BLOOMING PERENNIALS AT 10 A.M. SATURDAY, JULY 21, AT IN THE GARDEN NURSERY, 7307 O'BRIEN ST. REFRESHMENTS AND PLANT SALE TO FOLLOW. FREE, BUT REGISTER AT 346-4247.

SWEET PEAS: THEY SHOULD BE FLOWERING. PICK FLOWERS SO THE PLANTS WON'T GO TO SEED.

POTATOES: ITS BEEN A BANNER YEAR FOR GREEN GROWTH. KEEP HILLING. ADD TO THE HEIGHT OF CONTAINER SIDES BY INSERTING TOMATO STAKES AND WRAPPING WITH WIRE OR PLASTIC.

THIN: COME ON. YOU DON'T NEED ME TO TELL YOU WHICH ONES. JUST DO IT.

NURSERIES: LOOK FOR SALES.

PEONIES: ENJOY. THEY ARE UP WITH DELPHINIUMS, NEXT.

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