Lowenfels: Right now is crunch time for planting

Jeff Lowenfels

Oh, we love those warm Memorial Day Weekends. And here we are, a week later, plants all hardened off and the soil as warm as it is going to get before we transplant. It is now or never. Well, maybe next week, but we have a time constraint here when gardening in Alaska and due to the late start at outdoor gardening we need to make sure we don't fool around and waste any precious days.

For starters, make sure your plants are hardened off. OK, I will stop. That is about the billionth time this year I have insisted you harden off plants. Enough. And, I will only mention once in this column that you really need to have your soils tested in order to know what kind of fertilizer to put on it to help your plants grow most efficiently.

A couple of days before you transplant into the ground or containers, make sure you fertilize you plants. At least they will get off to a healthy start. If you don't have specific recommendations from a testing lab, I will give you a secret from my new book "Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener's Guide to Plant Nutrition" (http://tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients). Use a mixture of 1½ parts fish emulsion or powder or ½ part bat guano and one part liquid kelp. This works for spring when diluted according to one of the first product's label. For now, 4 parts part water and one mix will do.

When transplanting make sure that mycorrhizal fungal spores or propagules are brushed on the roots or a soluble solution of them is washed over the roots. (My friend Wayne Lewis dips his plants into a solution, which is a good idea with both powder or liquid formulations.)

Next, properly prepare your planting areas. The most important lesson in this regard is to "band" fertilizer down in the zone into which the roots will grow. Just an inch or so below transplanting depth or right at the base of your plants and a bit deeper will do. Don't pile it up, make as wide a band as possible. Microbes will start to work and the roots will grow into the area and the plant and its soil food web partners will be happy as can be. So will you.

As for the soil, don't forget we live in a no rototilling era. This practice breaks up the soil food web and it results, in longer term, in soils that become compacted so it is hard for water and air to flow. This is not a good thing. Ah, you say, but my garden is like a rock. Just disturb the soil where roots will be, not the whole garden. A small furrow with a hoe or stick, holes made with a dibble or a dowel. It is easy.

And, when you get things planted, mulch. Brown mulches are what perennials and trees and shrubs need. They have lots of carbon and feed the fungi which feed these plants. The vegetables and annuals you plant need a green mulch that feeds bacteria. Grass clippings are ideal. The fresh ones are highest in sugars which are what are needed. Last year's rakings are a start, but you will need to add new stuff. Soon the hard soil will become rich with humus and structure.

Mulching not only feeds the soil food web which feed the plants and build soil structure, but it also prevents or at least greatly slows weed growth. Not bad. Equisitum in the obvious exception. Just pick off the tops or use a hoe and chop and they will be gone for the season. Or learn to love them. In the right place they are very attractive. And natives are defiantly "in" this year and equistums are native to our soils.

Don't forget to label things. You don't have label every single plant, just enough of them so that you and your visitors can find out what something that is exceptional might happen to be. And stake things that are coming up or that you don't want the spouse to accidentally step on or remove. This is a form of labeling, too.

Finally, the lawn. I know you want to feed those lawns. Don't do it yet. Someone once said all newborn babies and lawns look like hell when they are born, but can pretty quickly turn beautiful. In the case of lawns, it is usually just the lack of water. New grass leaves will grow from the existing plants quicker if the lawn is watered an inch or so every day or so for a week or so. You can skip a day, especially if it rains. Then, after it has greened up, see how it looks. In most instances you will not need to feed your lawn. Suppliers need to move the stuff, but that doesn't mean you need to buy it.


Check out Jeff Lowenfels' new best selling book "Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener's Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition."

Garden calendar

Nurseries: Keep visiting those nurseries. This has been a tough year and they need our support and we need theirs. There are great sales and lots of new stuff. And, the birch leaves are now the size of a birch leaf, and you can’t get better than that when it comes to starting to garden outdoors.

Dandelions: Up even if lawns are still brown. You can see them in there, especially the newbies. Try the new product, ADIOS or get out the hand pickers. The feed and weed formulas require much warmer temps and I think you will agree if you read the labels (carefully, with gloves on and a face mask and then wash your hands right away) that they are very dangerous.  Instead, hit them with a spot spray of ADIOS so it pools in the crown and they will be gone forever, according to the owner of the company that makes it. The bigger guys may need a second hit, but ADIOS works when the plants are actively growing and they sure are now. By the way, if the plant is in flower, it is better to mow and then apply this very safe herbicide.

Clean up: Spring is here. It is time. You have no more excuses.

Pots and used containers and flats: Keep them for the Annual ALPAR ABG recycling day. Stay tuned.


Jeff Lowenfels