Skip to main Content

Buckle up, Alaska gardeners: It’s go time.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 18, 2018
  • Published May 18, 2018

There is lots going on now that we have passed leaf-out day. If you read nothing else, know that cool temperatures or not, now is the time to visit nurseries and buy plants so you can start to harden them off. All plants grown indoors need a week to adjust to outdoors.

Having said that, there are some things you can plant right now. Let's start with potatoes. It is time to buy yours. Always make sure they are grown here in Alaska to prevent the introduction of unwanted Outside diseases. Once home, cut each up into several pieces, each with at least one eye. Set these aside for a few days.

With potatoes, as the eyes develop into plants, they are covered with soil or mulch, always leaving a few inches of green exposed. Potatoes will develop at the base of the hill and along the buried stalk. In the old days, everyone just made hills in their garden. A much better way is to use a barrel, trash can or cylinder made from chicken or similar wire. Put some soil on the bottom and then place the chips on top. As the plants grow, add soil or leaf mulch. At the end of the season, dump the container and collect the spuds.

Next, it is time to put peas into the ground. These are easy to grow so don't miss the opportunity. Sugar snaps, for my taste and money, are the best. There are lots of different varieties these days. Peas will usually need something to cling to and grow up on such as a wire fence. And, if they are hardened off, you should plant those sweet peas you started indoors.

Lettuces, too, should be planted. Instead of planting an entire packet of seeds which will "ripen" all at the same time, stagger your plantings to spread the harvest out. And, plant different kinds.

By the way, if you have not put mulch on your garden beds, now is the time to do so. This includes adding back the mulch you may have taken off earlier this spring to allow the soil to warm. The rule is simple: use a green mulch, i.e. grass clippings or straw, on annuals and brown mulches such as last fall's leaves on perennials, and around trees and shrubs. Plant through this mulch or pull it back just enough to expose the area you need to plant. The reason it should go on now is to block weed germination and growth and to feed those hungry soil microbes that will be feeding your plants.

Speaking of starting things, start a compost pile now or activate the one you have. You do not need to place it in a sunny location, as compost heat is created solely by the metabolism of the microbes in it. Nor do you need a fancy container. What you do need is a pile mass that is at least 3 cubic feet and a carbon to nitrogen ratio close to 30 to one. This requires the right mix of brown and green materials.

Here is a great tip: If you want to know how much of what material to mix to get the required ratio of brown to green material, use a compost calculator like the one located here:

Lots of people ask what to do about lawns and I will say it again: the only thing you should be putting on your lawn right now is water. This means getting those hoses out, hooked up and working – without leaks. Quick connectors are a must on all faucets, hose ends and tools. Now is when your plants and soil would appreciate your mixing in some hot water with that cold outdoor faucet.

Aeration is the only other thing you might consider doing to the lawn other than running over it with the mower to mulch up the winter debris. Do not bag this stuff up. It is microbe food and should be all your lawn needs if you leave the clippings down after each mowing.

As for moss in lawns, just know that here in Alaska, moss is inevitable. You can only prevent it by raising the soil pH with lime, but only after you kill the existing moss, which takes a tremendous amount of work. Since you can only raise the pH one point a year, at best, it can take a long, long time to fix a moss lawn. Personally, I am hoping I can get more moss. It stays green and doesn't need mowing. Once again, as Alaskans we need to adjust our thinking about what a perfect lawn should be.

Finally, finish cleaning up. Sweep that driveway. Get rid of the tree limbs that the mower can't mulch. Pick up the debris that blew out of the trash container. Retrieve the newspaper that got tossed into the shrubs. And, put away the snow shovels for goodness sake! We have spring things to do.

Jeff's garden calendar for the week of May 18

Alaska Botanical garden plant sale: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday for members only.

Plant a row for the hungry: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at Alaska Mill and Feed. You dedicate one row and feed the world!

Dandelions: They are in flower. Each one you pick and dispose of properly prevents hundreds upon hundreds of seeds from germinating. You won't win the war, but you will win a battle and perhaps feel better

Spraying for bark beetles?: I am not a believer. In the end, nature always wins and we do so much harm in the meantime.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.