Gardening

We hate to say it, gardeners, but it's time to think about frost

The first column in September is always dedicated to saving plants from frost so you can reuse them next season.

I hate writing this column. It's as close to an Ann Landers repeat as I get. And, it's always a melancholy time for me — as it must be for you. I don't care how much you like winter sports, nothing beats gardening. No one wants to see that first frost.

Since I don't think we're going to have a frost for a while (jinx?), let's just take it easy this year and concentrate this week on the plants that should be taken in before we have a frost. The rest can take a hit or two. These include pelargoniums (aka geraniums), fuchsia, fibrous begonias and rhodochiton. In addition, you should take in any plants you know to be house plants such as coleus and hydrangea. And, of course, your amaryllis and cyclamen and cacti that are summering outdoors need to come in as well.

[Weather service says clear skies in Southcentral Alaska mean cold, nearly freezing nights]

OK, a few details: The pelargoniums are to be either grown indoors all winter or you can pull them from the soil, shake it off and put them upside down in paper bags, which should then be stored all winter in a dark location that is cool, but not freezing. If you are going to use them this winter as houseplants, inspect them and isolate them in the garage for a few days so you can get the slugs and other free riders who are living on the plants.

The easiest thing to do with your fuchsias is to pay to have them stored at a local nursery for the winter. Camp, as it were. You'd best hurry up and reserve space, however, as there are literally tens of thousands of fellow gardeners's fuchsia baskets looking for similar treatment and not always enough space.

If you want to save some money and store your own, leave your fuchsias in their containers and cut them back. They need to be trimmed to a nice Christmas-tree shape, about 6 to 8 inches tall, as next year's branches will grow the branches you leave. Store the entire container in a dark, cool spot (roughly 40 degrees) such as a crawl space or unheated room. You will want to be able to check up on them and make sure they have not dried out, so make it as convenient a location as possible.

Store rhodochiton, also in pots, in the same location as your fuchsias. Many of the flowers will have turned into those distinctive seed pods. Gather these. The seeds are very expensive and make great gifts to friends and neighbors.

Finally, harvest yacons if you have them. The round tubers are to be saved for next year. The long ones are what you want to eat. They are very sweet fresh or dried.

In the meantime, of course, enjoy your gardens. I harp on the need to harvest vegetables instead of letting them go to waste. You know once the fair is here it is time to eat, freeze or give away those vegetables you don't want. Remember Plant A Row for the Hungry? Now is the time to donate. Exceptions are potatoes and Brussels sprouts, which need to stay in the ground until at least one or two good frosts. This will make them sweeter.

Don't forget any currants and gooseberries you might have on your property. Sure, these are landscape plants, but they are also edible fruits. These often go to waste, which is a shame. By the way, you may still find some raspberries and strawberries.

Finally, pay particular attention to plants that are going to seed in your gardens like mint and mustard, which can spread like wildfire next year. This is particularly true for some of those perennials that turn to weeds real fast. We all have one or two of them. Simply picking a seed head won't get rid of all of them, but it will go a long way toward saving you a lot more work next year.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Nurseries: This is a great time to visit. All manner of sales and some great trees and shrubs, which can be planted now.

Pesto Class: Alaska Botanical Garden, Sept. 10, 1-3 p.m. A workshop by Michelle Semerad of the Herb Study group that maintains the herb garden at ABG. Space is limited; reserve at alaskabg.org/event/no-yo-mamas-pesto.

Cleanup: It is time to start putting stuff away. Are you really going to use that sprinkler again this year?

Amaryllis: Let yours go dormant. One last watering and then put the pot on its side in a dark and cool spot for eight weeks.

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