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Now is a great time of year to get your kids into gardening

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 20, 2017
  • Published April 20, 2017

A marigold flower holds water at a municipal greenhouse. March 26, 2010 (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

What a difference a bit of snowmelt makes. Robins are back. The geese are returning. And so are lawns.

These signals say it is time to plant some seeds, for sure. This week's choices include a bunch of really easy ones and the kind that children can help with, if you are so inclined.

Right at the top of the list are marigolds with big seeds, almost guaranteed germination and dozens of solid flowers on each plant. In addition, there are dozens and dozens of varieties from which to choose, which means they come in lots of colors, sizes, shapes and forms.

I know marigolds get a bad rap here in Alaska because of their propensity for attracting slugs. Just keep an eye out for them. And, you can actually use this characteristic to your advantage by planting them at the edge of the gardens and using them as trap plants. Put your beer/yeast traps nearby.

Less attractive to mollusks than marigolds, but very similar in appearance are calendulas and zinnias. Both are easy to grow, fast and very early flowering, which are some of their marigoldlike characteristics.

How about sunflower seeds? My vision is of 15-foot-tall plants bearing yellow flower heads my father used to grow, but today, there are many shorter varieties with varying shades of red and orange flowers as well as yellows.

Of course, those tall ones are pretty impressive, and the seed is most definitely edible by you, your children and the birds. All it takes is a nice warm location and staking up.

Next, it is time to plant dahlias, only this time from seed and not from tubers. The seeds are also big enough for kid hands. What is fun for kids, too, is these seed-grown plants end up with a banana bunch of tubers at the end of the season which can be replanted next spring.

It is the traditional time to plant sweet peas, though I am pushing folks to start theirs way earlier, February even. Still, you can start some now.

You might even consider planting them, and vegetable peas, right outside in the soil if there's a spot where it's thawed. They can germinate and grow in cool temperatures and soils.

Nasturtiums and canary bird vines are always fun. You can eat the flowers if desired, and annual vines are always welcome in containers, giving some height to garden designs.

Consider buying some nitrogen-fixing inoculant to keep the bacteria that infect their roots at bay. The inoculant supercharges the nitrogen-fixing properties in the vines and should also be used on pea seeds as well before planting. Find it at your nursery.

Finally, this is poppy-starting season. Choices include Shirley, Arctic and California poppies. These can be very easy to grow if they co-operate. Individual containers help with transplanting, but the seeds are small.

On the vegetable side of things, cucumbers and squash (including pumpkins) need to be started. Most varieties will need some sort of protection from cool nights to develop fruit.

You can also start shiso (aka Perilla) which is a member of the mint family. It is a delicious herb, represented by that green plastic thingy that comes with your take-out sushi. It is easy to grow in containers and there two varieties, a green type and a red one.

Finally, a few universal add-ons here. Read the back of the seed packet for instructions on growing. Knowledge is power when it comes to getting things to germinate in a timely fashion and there is a lot of info on those packets.

Endomycorrhizal fungi is the thing to roll seeds in. Unless you know and can find the specific one that partners with your plant, look at the label and get the packet that has the most kinds. Ecto doesn't count for annuals and row crops. Cabbage family and beet family members do not need it. Everything else does.

Jeff's Alaska Garden Calendar for week of April 21

Mulch: Remove mulch from garden beds, but keep it at hand to put back in a few weeks after the soil has warmed.

Flower seeds to start in individual containers: Nemophelia (grow cool), canary bird vine, nasturtium, silene, mignonette, Arctic poppy, California poppy, sunflower, morning glory, sweat peas (a second set if you planted some earlier), Shirley poppy, marigold, zinnia, clarkia, calendula and cosmos

Flowers to start from seed : Nemesia, scabiosa, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons

Vegetables to start from seed in individual containers: Cucumbers, squash

Grand Opening, Alaska Botanical Garden Greenhouse: 2-5 p.m. Saturday at the garden, 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road. Come celebrate this milestone, an all-season greenhouse!

Tree pruning workshop: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Alaska Botanical Garden, 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road. Instructor: Paul Guzenski, Paul's Tree Service. Limited space available. For fees and other information, call: 907-770-3692.

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