A reader who had a fantastic bowl of raspberries last week asked if it was possible to start raspberry plants from seed. Similarly — or I should say the answer is related — when is the best time to start poppies collected from last year's seed heads?
Obviously, it is possible to start any plant from seed. Raspberries are not an exception. In fact, it is really easy to grow your own raspberries, but there is an important trick: the seeds need to be stratified. This means they have to be exposed to cold temperatures for a period of time in order to break the seeds' dormancy. In the case of raspberries, it is best to pot up to three or four seeds per 1- or 2-inch pots and keep them at about 31 to 41 degrees for three or four months. If you are interested, you better get started now.
Poppy seeds also need to be stratified. You could toss them out on the snow right now, but it is too deep to ensure that they will not float or blow away before coming into contact with thawed soil. Instead, mix them with some damp potting or starting soil and put them in the refrigerator. They only take 45 days or so for stratification to occur and then you can either plant them up in pots or, better, toss them directly out in the garden.
Next, I know we like to complain about the lack of Cooperative Extension folks close to Southcentral and while we don't have Julie Riley and a full Cooperative Extension Service office, we do have access to the publications and media offered by the Cooperative Extension Service. Every year a catalog is published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. You can get a full listing at uaf.edu/ces if you follow the links to gardening.
You might be surprised at the offerings. Sure, there are the perennial favorites (come on, I am allowed!), like "Raised Bed Gardening in Alaska" and "Growing Rhubarb in the Alaskan Garden." However, there are also offerings on bee keeping, getting agricultural loans in Alaska, using plastic mulch, plans for poultry equipment, all manner of lawn advice, lists and pictures of invasive plants and so much more. All of the "community pest problems" are covered, including birch aphids, spruce needle rust, aspen tortrix. If you and your neighbors have a problem, there is every likelihood that the service has covered it.
It is definitely worth spending a bit of your screen time this weekend checking things out.
Many of the publications you will find listed by the Coop Extension are available from your local nurseries. Keep an eye out for them. Most, if not all, are free for the taking. And, if you can't find what you want, you can always order it.
Lots of people ask if you can get bulbs that were forced to bloom indoors to bloom again outdoors. The answer is no. What usually happens when you grow bulbs is that a new one forms under the old one. This does not usually happen when you force them in containers. So, as I always advise, toss the bulbs. The pot and the soil may be reusable, however.
Finally, every year people ask when it's the right time to try to force some flowers into bloom from branches of flowering shrubs. Lilac, forsythia, apple, cherry and rose tree of China will all flower if you cut limbs and put them in water and store them in their container in the dark for a few days and then given light and room temperatures.
Jeff's Alaska garden calendar
Seeds to start: Lobelia (20 days to germinate, seeds need light), snapdragons (10 days, seeds need light, cool), carnation (20), verbena (20), pelargonium, salvia and pansies.
Herbs to start: Lavender, lovage, lemon balm and it is still not too late for rhodochitons
Over-wintered fuchsia: Expose to sun, water and grow
Tuberous begonias: Buy tubers but don't plant yet. Expose to sun. Concave side should be facing up. Lightly spritz with water every few days.
Lawns and dogs: It is never too early to start picking up after Fido. When the stuff isn't frozen it is much more unpleasant to pick up.