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Resist the temptation to rake your lawn right now — you’ll be thankful later

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 26, 2018
  • Published April 26, 2018

When can we plant? The leaves on the birch tell the Alaskan gardener (and any other who happens to learn our trick) that there won't be any more frosts for a while. When they are the size of a squirrel's ears, we can rest easy. After they appear, it is safe to start to harden off things up close to the house and all we gardeners have to do then is wait for the soils to warm up a bit.

In the meantime, hopefully, you have already started to pull back mulches from covering the soil around perennials. Carefully, of course. And while you are out there, you can put a white plastic bucket over a few of your rhubarb clumps to induce an early crop should you so desire. (By the way, I just learned that rhubarb plants are part of that tiny group of plants that do not form mycorrhizae, a wee bit of info you won't get from other garden columnists!)

These acts will help the soil warm up. You could put black or clear plastic down on bare soil to speed up the process. In the summer, clear plastic works best, heating up the soil 15 degrees or so more than black, if I remember correctly. I assume the same is true now. I am not sure you will be all that much better off time-wise, but you will be able to plant in the ground at least a little bit earlier.

Of course, it always helps to move baskets, planter boxes and other outdoor containers to the south side of the house, assuming they are not still frozen stuck where you left them last fall. You can plant in them earlier if the soil is warmed up and then move them back to where they belong.

One place where it will be warm enough to garden is that outdoor greenhouse. First, make sure your fan and venting system is working properly before you put anything out there. The temperatures soar above 95 during a sunny day in an enclosed greenhouse, and that is not what your plants need.

Your lawn greens up as it warms, not because you put fertilizer on it. (Don't!). It is still way too cool to do anything to yours. This includes dealing with those vole highways which look like they really damaged your lawn. (Their activity seemed to be up this year). Don't panic. A gentle raking, followed by a bit of compost and some seed in a few weeks and all will be fine again. And, you could leave them be and the neighboring grass will move in. By June, you won't even remember where the tracks were.

That is all the raking you should be doing. This includes thatching. Note, however, that some of your neighbors do not read this column or at least do not follow my urging to not rake lawns in the spring, but rather run them over with the mower and mulch up what has accumulated. This mulch is much better fertilizer than anything you can buy for your lawn.

Ah, but for the rest of us, now is the time to keep an eye out for these unfortunate souls. At some point in the next couple of weeks they will work all weekend, bag up their cleanings and then leave them on the curb for the taking. You want enough of these bags to allow you to mulch over all of your perennials, feed your compost pile brown material and have enough around during the summer to smother any weeds that appear in your beds.

I suppose you should ask if it is OK to take someone's bagged yard waste. The benefit of doing so is that you can figure out if there is a dog living on the property. If there is, find another set of bags. There will be plenty from which to choose.

Jeff's garden calendar for the week: 

Alaska Botanical Garden: High tunnel class, wildflower classes, membership discounts, sales and more. You simply must head over to at least once a week. Do it now and sign up for these events and more. And now is a great time to join.

Flowers to start: In addition to above there are the harder, smaller seeds that need individual cups ie nemophila, silane, mignonette, Arctic poppy, California poppy, morning glory, Shirley poppies.

Flowers to start in four packs or flats: nemesia, scabiosa, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons, marigolds, clarkia, zinnia calendula

Vegetables: Squash, cucumbers and edamame