Keep off the grass as lawns emerge from snow

Jeff Lowenfels

Oh my goodness! Lawn grass is showing in our yard! Not a lot of it, to be sure, but enough to assure that the rest of this winter's snow won't be around much longer. Once it starts melting, it goes fast. That is just the physics of how snow melts.

Lawn! It's been quite some time, hasn't it? Whoopee! Now give me the sense to stay off it until it dries out. Why compact it any more than the 11 feet of snow that piled up on it?

The only excuse to walk on your lawn until it does dry out is if you have to go and get the bird feeders and the bird seed and make sure they are put away in a bear-proof location. You can bet if I am seeing lawn, bears are up and looking about for that quick meal fix after a long winter of hibernating. Nothing satisfies that bear hunger better than a bunch of sunflower seeds. Those in your feeder can be smelled a mile or so away. Get it locked up today. It's the only fair thing to do. Once a bear becomes a nuisance bear, it is put down.

In addition to possible bear sightings there is no question that this week a few people will be sighting daffodil and tulip plants. It's a bit early for seeing their flowers, I would think. Usually this means that deck containers should be free of snow and present some interesting possibilities. Either move them inside and plant directly into them, or consider putting some onion sets and sweet peas in them where they are.

Indoors, it is time to plant cole crops: kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. These are all easy to grow from seed. They are the only plants started indoors that shouldn't have seed rolled in mycorrhizal fungi. They don't form mycorrhizae with fungi.

Don't get carried away and plant entire packages of cole crops all at once. Stagger the plantings, say a few seeds every four days or so. That way you will have a longer harvest instead of everything coming ripe at once. It is hard to get a family to eat 25 cabbages in a week.

Use individual containers if you have the space. Each seedling can remain until transplanting outdoors. If you plant any other way, the seedlings will most probably need transplanting indoors into larger quarters. This is a lot of work, so skip it. Just make sure the containers, be they paper or styrofoam cups to plastic or clay pots, have adequate -- meaning great -- drainage.

Tomatoes should be started now, too. You need an outdoor greenhouse for most varieties, though there are some that will grow in the outdoor garden. Unfortunately, they are not the biggest or best-tasting, but if you don't have a greenhouse, they will do. Look for names like "polar" and "Siberian."

On the flower front, this is the last week to start snapdragons. These germinate when the seeds are exposed to water and light. Do not cover them and grow them at cool temperatures. Look for the tall varieties that you can't buy as starts.

Cosmos are up for planting this week as well. There are lots of kinds, but the large, purple standards work the best here if we have a sunny summer. And we will. Again, plant these up in individual containers so you don't have to mess with repotting into larger containers up before transplanting outdoors. Pinch Cosmos back after they get four real leaves.

Tuberous begonias should be started as should gladioli corms and dahlia tubers. What this means to those who are new to gardening in Alaska, is that it is time to start visiting local nurseries and buying stuff. We have a great collection of nurseries. Each has its own "thing." However, we never seem to have enough to go around so the early bird gardener gets the good stuff. It is important, therefore, to start making visits to nurseries part of your weekly habit. It is, after all, spring. I know; I saw lawn.

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

Garden calendar

Alaska Master Gardener Conference: April 14, Marion Owen from Kodiak, Rita Joe Shultz from Homer, Dr. Linda Caulker Scott from Washington, and lots of other great speakers. You do not have to be a master gardener to attend. It is a great conference for all gardeners. Go to for details and sign up. $75 and well worth it.

Classes at Alaska Mill and Feed: April 7, "Composting with Worms" with Joan Dimond at 10 a.m. and "Potato Growing for New Gardeners" with Jay Dearborn at 1 p.m. April 14, "Raised Beds" at 10 a.m. and "Roses in Alaska" with Dani Haviland at 1 p.m. Classes are free. Call to register, 276-6016.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper. • Flowers to start: Achimenes, begonias, and dahlias (tubers), brachyscome, dianthus, Stock, Lockspar, cosmos, snapdragons

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Nurseries: They are open and you should visit

Yard work: It is time to pick up after rover. Wait any longer and you will be sorry. Frozen is better.

By Jeff Lowenfels