Here are the plants you need to start now for them to be ready for summer

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 1
  • Published March 1

Early March is the time to start lobelia from seed in Alaska. (Getty Images)

If you are an outdoor gardener, as most who read this column are, then it is time to start reading, at least, the weekly calendar accompanying these columns. That is because the 2018 gardening season is now in full swing, albeit indoors.

There are things that you must start early in order to have plants big enough to transplant outdoors and far enough along so that they will produce in our short outdoor season. Miss the right time to start a plant and you will either have to buy starts from a nursery if they have them, or wait until next year.

You may think it is too early to get into the swing of things, but my research shows that by the beginning of March Alaskans are ready to garden again. I say "again" because it sometimes takes this long for the memory filter that weeds out (ouch) the bad experiences from the good ones to work. By March, we've forgotten how much work those final mowings seemed or the failure of the potato plants to produced despite being fussed over all season long.

And so, it begins all over again, though I have to warn all that there are still three months, as in 12 weeks, before we can safely plant outside. That is a long time to support seedlings. Oh, and you will need to grow your starts under lights until April 1.

Where to start? Well, for starters, artichokes. These are really fun plants to grow, but their California reputation is a bit of a put-off for many and that they normally produce as biennials doesn't help with their Alaska popularity. Still, they are easy container plants to grow, produce huge plants and usually a few flowers or 'chokes. This makes them worth an early, March start. Just make sure you have really big containers, at least 2 or 3 feet in diameter and just as deep.

Of course, leek, onions and celery should be started very early in the indoor season. These next two weeks should be about the last call on them. Up next will be peppers, kale and Brussels sprouts. The latter is the last to be harvested from our fall gardens, so if you start your own, you will really develop a relationship with your crop.

You can get a great tomato crop starting yours in early April, and that is when you will usually find plants for sale, but if you have the room and the lights and the desire, I suppose you can start some now. Consider how many plants you really want to take care of for three long months.

There are a bunch (again, ouch) of flowers that need to be started now. I have already written about rhodochitons and, I think, fibrous begonias. Two really tall plants, hollyhocks and foxglove, need to be started now as well. You can usually find a few foxglove for sale, but not many, and hollyhocks are usually really hard to come by. Both are extremely showy plants that produce beautiful flowers you will not see in everyone else's gardens.

The flower seeds that should be started sometime during the next two weeks include some real some favorites. These include lobelia, pansies, rhodochitons, fibrous begonias, foxglove and hollyhock, all of which can be found on local seed racks and most of which come in several different varieties. These plants are tall and will need staking outdoors and indoors. They require the lights to be moved up as they grow so they may not be compatible with slower growing and shorter plants that you may wish to start. You may need a different set of lights for these.

Finally, now is also the time to start sages. There are lots of varieties and you shouldn't limit yourself to just one. Lavender, too, can be started now. As with the other plants that need to be started now, you will need to use lights.

As noted at the start of this column, this is the time of year that snoozing results in losing. You have to start plants on time to ensure timely success in Alaska. Pay attention now so that you have a successful garden this summer.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Vegetables to start from seed now: Artichokes (not really a vegetable), leeks, onions and celery.

Flowers to start from seed now: Fibrous begonias, rhodochitins, hollyhock and lupine.

Annual Alaska Botanical Garden Annual Spring Conference: 8:45 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday. As of this writing there are a few tickets left. Call ASAP if you want to get them or be waitlisted. Great speakers and vendors. 907-770-3692