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Gardening

Make the most of this exceptional summer for Alaska flowers

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 4, 2017
  • Published August 3, 2017

A bumble bee searches for pollen from a peony flower during the second annual u-pick flower sale at Giggly Roots Gardens in Willow on Saturday, July 2, 2016. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

Wow, what a year for flowers: peonies, dahlias, glads, ligularias — and most others for that matter. Even the missing fireweed has reappeared.

We have had the perfect mix of rain and sun, warm and cool to produce the vibrant colors and myriad blossomed plants we so richly deserve for surviving Alaska winters.

Even if you are not a flower grower, you still know what I'm referring to because all you have to do is drive around town (or better yet, visit the Alaska Botanical Garden) to see them.

At this point, we may have six weeks or more left to continue to enjoy our flower displays before they disappear for the long winter. (Ugh!). Get yours back into shape by deadheading spent blooms. Remove dead leaves and damaged or dead branches. And, of course, stake up the tall ones.

However, as with vegetables, flowers for the most part, are meant to be harvested. Sure, you might want to leave those stately, tall ligularias be and somehow the daylilies look better attached to their mother plants than they do in a vase, but why not enjoy the fruits of your labor, indoors or on a picnic table?

If you were brought up in my family, you would take a bucket of cold water out with you to harvest flowers. You would use a sharp knife, not scissors, and you would drop the stems into the water immediately after cutting. In theory, this keeps air from entering the water-carrying xylem tubes inside the flower stem.

Before bringing anything inside, you would inspect the pickings for hitchhikers, slugs, aphids, thrips and the like. They would be shaken, picked or blown off.

Once inside you would take a sharper knife and a cutting board and re-cut the stems on an angle to increase surface area and to make a nice clean cut. Then they would be placed into a vase filled with water.

My mom was not a believer in using flower preservatives to try to extend cut flowers' lives — mostly because there were so many flowers she would just get more. However, if she used one, it would have been some sort of generic one —such as citrus soda (which she would also pour over the turkey on Thanksgiving, half an hour before it was taken out of the oven). This lowers the pH while providing some sugar. (A solution of sugar alone feeds bacteria that clog the stem.)

As important, once the flowers were spent, they were place on the compost pile or even dropped back under the plants from whence they came.

Frankly, I can see nothing wrong with this approach today, even if my mother isn't around to enforce the rules. The big difference here are the thrips that seem to be attracted to many of our flowers, especially the white and bluish ones. Try and blow and shake them off before taking flowers indoors. Who would have thought a hair dryer would be a garden tool? You may even need to hit 'em with a forceful shower of cold water. And, you can try and use blue sticky traps (make your own with cooking oil and blue cardboard) to attract them away from flowers.

You may want to leave some flowers on the stems so as to harvest seed pods later for display or to use the seeds. Peonies, in my opinion, form some beauties. Each to his or her own, I guess.

If you don't have flowers (or don't have enough), most of our local nurseries, while low on stock, do have perennials. They may not be in the best shape, but they probably are on sale and will come back next spring just fine. Finally, see this week's calendar (below) for information about the master gardeners' late-season perennial sale. You can never have too many flowers.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

On Saturday, Aug. 12, there are two great events using the same parking lot outside the Alaska Botanical Garden (actually owned by the Benny Benson School):

1. ALPAR and ABG's annual Plastic Pot Recycling Day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. No sorting this year. Bring any cleaned plastic pot or tray. (But no early or late drop-offs; the area is under video surveillance, methinks.)

2. The Alaska Master Gardener's Late Season Plant sale: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. These folks know what to grow, and this is one of the best sales around for perennials.

3. Visit the garden while you are there!

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