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Summer of '12: Experts reveal what worked, what didn't

Sheila Toomey
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer
Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums.
Lesley Hammer

Here's the bad news: We're exactly two months from freeze-up.

Neil at the National Weather Service says Oct. 18 is the average day when temperatures in Anchorage dip to 32 degrees for the first time.

Who cares, you say? As long as it's not a killing frost half the garden will survive.

Sorry. The average date for the first killing frost is Oct. 20.

The good news is -- our gardens are beautiful, the rhodochiton has recovered, the dahlias and broccoli are huge and we have two whole months to enjoy it all.

Now seems a good time to check in with some experienced local gardeners to see what worked for them and what didn't. No guarantees of course.

WORKED: Master Gardener Bernie Ruskin (downtown) improved her strawberry output to "absolutely fantastic" by switching from ground plants to a "hanging" basket. She bought it at a big box store and sat it on an overturned container pot about 4 feet off the ground. It just keeps blooming and producing, she said. Maybe because it's easier to water and gets more sun?

DIDN'T WORK: Ruskin didn't bother checking measurement directions before adding a new fertilizer to her flower bed. The result: Her phlox are four feet tall with absolutely no flowers. Ditto the cosmos. Sounds like too much nitro. "But the lobelia loves it," she laughed.

WORKED: Hillside gardener Lesley Hammer was often disappointed by her straggly nasturtiums, despite choosing among the many varieties offered. This year she bought Alaska Mix for the first time and her deck boxes are bursting with mounds of trailing flowers and big, variegated leaves.

Master Gardener Kathy Feathergill, now former owner of Forget Me Not Nursery in Bird Creek, said her problem with nasties was yellow leaves. For years she tried to figure out why the leaves on some of her plantings turned yellow and others didn't. Turns out it's too much sun. A couple of days in "the two o'clock sun" and yellow leaves start appearing, she said.

Kathy and husband Dea Calvin have sold the nursery and are retiring to Seldovia (summers) and Somewhere in America (winters).

Lucky for us, they've sold to a long-time employee and her husband so the nursery will still be there for us.

WORKED: Insects were destroying Master Gardener Joette Storm's plants, her columbine and delphinium, the larch trees. "They wanted to eat my whole yard," she said. Sawflies, spittlebugs, various little caterpillars. Storm mixed garlic and water in a blender, let it cure for a day or so, strained it, mixed it with liquid dish soap and sprayed everything early in the season. It doesn't affect the plants, she said, and the insects stay away.

With Jewel Lake gardener Diane Kaplan, it was aphids in the greenhouse. In past years, they made life hell for the tomato plants she cares about. She reduced the problem to nearly nil this year by getting rid of her pepper plants. Seems that aphids love them. The peppers are gone, and so are the aphids.

WORKED: Sort of. Rabbits were the villain in Master Gardener Cheryl Chapman's Muldoon yard. For years she tried to get rid of them. This year she gave up. They ate her whole yard, then moved on to the neighbors (who apparently just killed them). Meanwhile, Chapman had a bunch of window boxes built and raised her garden above rabbit level. "I just harvested a pillowcase of lettuce from one box," she reported.

Chapman also recommends a citronella scented geranium at the door to keep mosquitoes from massing there and invading when the door is opened.

GEAR: Master Gardener Sue Lincoln (Eagle River) suggests we all buy a good rain gauge and make sure each plant gets the amount of water it needs. Water makes a big difference in how a plant flourishes and we have to provide what nature doesn't.

Most of us tend to overestimate how much water the gods dump on us. A lot of the plants we grow need an inch a week.

That much rain rarely falls in Anchorage during a summer week, no matter how crummy the weather seems.

Finally, I bought a new trowel this year that I'm in love with: narrow, pointy, one serrated edge, inches marked on the shovel and an ergonomically curved wooden handle.

Heavenly! I got mine at True Value Hardware on Jewel Lake Road but I expect they can be found around.

Photos: Lesley Hammer's Alaska Mix nasturtiums
By SHEILA TOOMEY
Daily News correspondent