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Lowenfels: Good time to plant trees and shrubs

Jeff Lowenfels

There have been lots of questions lately about planting trees and shrubs. Both are a great thing to do.

Let's start with whether this is a good time to plant trees and shrubs or should you wait until fall?

Some successor to Don Draper of "Mad Men" fame coined the phrase "Fall is for planting!" in order to help his clients to sell trees and shrubs at the end of the season so there would be less or no inventory to carry over. I never liked the phrase much. Aside from the fact that our autumn season can be a very, very short one, practically anytime is a good time to plant a tree or shrub here in Alaska.

So, you can plant new stuff now or the fall. Remember one important fact about planting in the fall in Alaska: Where are you going to get your trees and shrubs? My advice is to buy now since by the time the leaves turn color, there won't be much left. It's all about supply and demand, not a Madison Avenue quote. Still, if you want to wait until fall, you can keep your stock in their containers until then.

Of course, planting new shrubs and trees begs the question of natives versus non-native plant material. That, is another column.

Next, I am getting quite a few questions about strawberries producing only one crop while neighbors seem to have a continuous supply.

Strawberries come in two forms. The first bloom only once and the others -- those that are "neutral" to the length of day, which causes the other kind to bloom and develop fruit -- will continue to bloom as long as it is warm enough. With each successive bloom, the berries tend to get sweeter, in our experience. And, if you have a few, they bloom continuously. This makes them ideal for hanging baskets as well as elevated planters.

As always this time of year, there have been lots of questions about peony blooms, only this year the question is why are they not blooming.

It's hard to diagnose this kind of thing without seeing the plant and its soil. There is no doubt that lots of plants have been delayed. They are lucky to have made it, but they should be setting buds by now, at least. Ours are almost finished blooming.

Of course there are lots of things that could be wrong. First, too much nitrogen fertilizer causes the problem of great foliage but no blooms when it comes to peonies. This can be caused by either by directly fertilizing the plant with high nitrogen fertilizer (first number in the trilogy) or by putting too much down on the lawn next to the peony bed. It leaches over to the peony roots. Either way, you are in trouble.

Another other major cause of no blooms up here is lack of sun. This shouldn't have been a problem this year if your plants are properly located. Or, you might have a very young plant. They don't bloom until they sport three or four "eyes," as in potato tuber-like sprouts.

The best time to plant or move peonies, by the way, is in the fall. (Again, when is that here?) When peonies put out new roots before the ground freezes. Early September is a good time to move them, divide them and to buy and plant them.

Again, pickings may be slim. You can buy peonies now and keep them in containers until you transplant them. Make sure to follow directions and keep the plant in the ground at the exact same level as it is in the pot.

Finally, should you trim the lower limbs of spruce trees?

In most instances, it is normal for the lowest limbs of a growing spruce tree to die back. Wander in the forest and you will see that most of the more mature trees do not have limbs all the way down to the ground. This is because plants take up nutrients in a water solution. The solution moves into and through the plant as a result of transpiration, the evaporation of water from the leaves. Dropping those bottom limbs when the plant gets larger helps increase air circulation in, around and through the remaining needles on the tree.

So, unless you have a landscape reason to leave the lowest limbs of spruce, carefully remove these dead limbs, making sure to leave a small "nob" so the cut can heal. Don't waste time or money nor risk the health of the trees by painting the cut areas with anything. Let them heal by themselves.

You can always ask questions by going to my website, teamingwithmicrobes.com.

Keep em coming!

Garden calendar

HARVEST: KOHLRABI, BROCCOLI (CUT CAREFULLY SO IT WILL CONTINUE TO PRODUCE), CAULIFLOWER (YOU ONLY GET ONE CUT ON THESE), LETTUCE, BEANS, SNAP PEAS. YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR FOOD SHOULD LOOK LIKE, HOW BIG AND WHAT COLOR. GO FOR IT. THIS IS WHY YOU GROW THEM. DO NOT LEAVE THEM FOR THE MOOSE.

HARVEST DAY AT THE ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: ENJOY A FALL HARVEST FESTIVAL AT THE GARDEN WITH FAMILY FUN, EDUCATIONAL DEMOS, GAMES, CONTESTS, FOOD, VENDORS, AND MORE ON AUG. 10. $7 PER PERSON, OR $5 WITH DONATION OF AT LEAST 3 CANS OF FOOD OR BAGS OF GARDEN PRODUCE. KIDS 5 AND UNDER ARE FREE. FOR TICKETS, CALL 770-3692 EXT. 0 OR GO TO ALASKABG.ORG.


Jeff Lowenfels
Gardening