Skip to main Content

Here’s how to make good gardening use of this warm fall weather

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 5, 2017
  • Published October 5, 2017

Summer Holt places soil and compost onto a perennial bed at the Alaska Botanical Gardens during United Way’s day of caring campaign Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. Holt, a BP employee, participated in the half-day of volunteer work with a few dozen of her co-workers. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Hey, what is going on here? It's October and it seems way too warm for this to be Alaska. There are all manner of flowers still in bloom and the carrots still left are adding carotene and getting even sweeter every day! No one seems to be complaining, not exactly, but there seems to be a lack of yardening chores in this in-between season.

First, as for the above-freezing weather, it does seem unusual. This may depend on the length of your Alaska residency (some remember when the hard frosts always came by mid-September). You can draw your own conclusions by checking out the statistics yourself at the Current Results website (

As for chores, I am sure there are more than a few gardeners who are kicking themselves because they didn't take the gamble and put in a cover crop after harvesting vegetables. It takes three weeks to start getting benefits from a cover crop. We got the three weeks. Will we have another three?

And if we had all planted that second crop — broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas  —  wouldn't we be sitting pretty right now? These are things to consider next year. It is too late for second crops now, no matter how unseasonably warm it gets.

However, how about putting in garlic? This is a crop that is planted in the spring in most places. Here it does so much better if planted the last month of the season, which used to be mid-September to mid-October. You have time do plant this weekend and probably next. If you want to know all you need to know to buy and plant garlic in Alaska, check out UAF's website ( With that kind of information, you don't need me to tell you what to do.

This weekend is a great one for putting mulch down on your gardens and your containers so that it will decay during the winter months and feed the microbes in the soil that feed your plants. Unfortunately, tree leaves are not the best for soils that grow annuals and vegetables. Still, it is what we have. My suggestion to improve it is to make a last run over an area with your mower and use that for mulching pots and boxes and the like. Breaking up the leaves helps make it more available, ultimately, to the bacteria you want in those soils.

Then put your mower away. OK, you can make one more pass over your lawn and leaves. After that, let things be. You will get your chance again next spring.

We keep a worm bin. I am debating whether to leave it outdoors or bring it indoors and continue to operate it. Outdoors the worms will die, but they leave "eggs," which will hatch next spring, I hope. With this warm weather, I have a while to decide. Meanwhile, I am spreading their makings. If you have worms, you should, too, along with any compost. Get it down on the gardens now and the microbes can work their way in.

If you really have nothing to do this weekend, you could start a compost pile, even though it may not heat up enough to create compost this season. Those clippings with leaves in them are terrific. Just make sure you get a "pile" that is big enough to heat up now and next spring. It should be at least 3- by 3- by 3-feet. You do not need to add microbes for the composting to happen.

Of course, there are always spring flowering bulbs to plant. You can't have too many of them, especially if we end up with an earlier spring to go with this later fall. Climate warming! It is our turn now.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: It is open! Don't forget there is now a greenhouse/classroom area, so do check the calendar for classes and events (

Flowers: Pick 'em.

Lights: First nag of the indoor season. Get some. You need them and so do your plants. There are now numerous places where you can get some really neat systems and some inexpensive ones, plus advice.

Narcissus: You can buy these bulbs and get them flowering quickly, without having to resort to a cold period. They are already cooled and ready to go, indoors. Look for them and buy them. Warning: To some, the delicious, sweet smell of these flowers is simply too overpowering.

Indoor plants: Time to start buying new ones and primping your old ones.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.