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Alaska gardeners, it’s time to germinate something

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 29, 2018
  • Published March 29, 2018

Tomatoes grown in a high tunnel greenhouse in the Palmer area. Photographed on Thursday, September 15, 2011. (Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News)

We have about 6 to 8 weeks left before we can think about planting most things outdoors. That is just a hop, skip and jump away for gardeners who have been suffering through what is turning out to be a long, snowy winter. If you have not already done so, it is time to germinate something.

The loyal reader knows the rule: you are not a real gardener if you just buy all your stuff from a nursery. You need to start at least one thing on your own to fully qualify. The need for supplemental lights to sustain many plants that have to be started early stymies a lot of folks. We now have enough daylight that you no longer need those lights to germinate and grow seedlings.

So the question now becomes not if you are going to grow something, but what should that something be? The choices are plenty. All manner of things need to be started this week, but if you don't want to care for plants indoors for the next 6 weeks, you can wait a couple of weeks and start some of those that really germinate quickly. (They will be listed in my weekly calendar).

Right at the top of the list for this week as far as I am concerned are tomatoes. They are really easy to grow and take care of and they will produce. Big plants really do need an outdoor greenhouse of some sort as most tomatoes won't set fruit if night temperatures drop below 55 degrees, but there are plenty of small container plants that will do great on a porch or in a cold frame or even just take inside when it gets too cool.

Also on the list is kale, which is about as easy as it gets when it comes to starting and growing vegetables. It may not be as much in vogue anymore, but it still tastes great and grows exceedingly well in the Alaskan climate. In addition, there are the ornamental kales which will add color and texture to your gardens. A bit more difficult once you transplant outdoors, but not much, are kale's relatives, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

On the flower side of things, nothing is easier than cosmos. There are lots of different varieties so you need to read the package labels to make sure you are growing the ones you want to ensure proper height and leaf structure and the like. The taller varieties are prized and not usually readily available as starts from nurseries.

Also not readily available from nurseries are cannabis plants, obviously. Now is the time to start the summer crop. You can buy seeds at dispensaries. You want to try and find "feminized" seeds to ensure female plants. You can also often buy growing clones which should ensure you have a female.

As amazing as it may seem to beginners, those beautiful tuberous begonias that do better here than anywhere else in the world are really easy too. Use the best compost or humus you can find, rich in organics and press the tuber, concave side up into it. Keep the hollow part free of any soil and water. Keep the underlying soil slightly moist and stand back. Remember there are hanging and upright plants.

Finally, real Alaskan gardeners visit nurseries and they do so a lot. It is a great idea. First, you can see what they are planting to sell to you. Maybe you want to start some or all off those things yourself. Second, you can get the supplies you need to start seeds, including, of course, the seeds themselves. And finally, just walking around a nursery will perk up your gardening senses. Who knows, if these columns don't stimulate you to start something yourself, maybe a walk down a few nursery aisles will!

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Spring Garden Show at The Mall at Sears: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. April 7. All manner of plants will be for sale, both indoor and outdoor, along with info, garden organization booths and more. Plan on it.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes.

Flowers to start from seed: Cannabis, cosmos, snaps, ageratum, seed dahlias, godetia, aster, celosia, malva, salvia, lupine, Achimenes (tubers), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), stock(10L), lockspar (20C). (The numbers represent the days to germinate. C means grow cool and L means seeds need light).

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel, parsley

All stored plants: Should be out of storage and starting to grow. Pinch back to shape and cause branching.

Tuberous begonias: Start as above.

Dahlias: Expose last year's tubers to light so eyes develop before dividing and replanting.