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It’s been a cool spring, but don’t be fooled. Now is the time to put plants in the ground.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 31, 2018
  • Published May 31, 2018

Tomato plant starts being watered at the C Street Community Gardens on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

It isn't every year that I pass up the opportunity to plant before Memorial Day. And it isn't every year that the soil is warm enough, but the outside air temperature isn't. Yes, it seems like an unseasonably cool start to gardening in the ground, but this is Alaska, after all.

I keep reminding myself, weather like we have had this spring is exactly why writing a garden column in Alaska is the toughest job in America. And, I think it has been cold enough this year for you to finally agree with me. My next near-impossible chore: talk you into getting out there this weekend and planting things once and for all.

If you wait another weekend, hoping that some sort of Palm Beach Express is going to blow into the area so you can plant in your shorts and tee shirt, you are going to be sadly disappointed, not just in the weather, but in getting any kind of harvest out of your crops and flowers. Time is awaiting, but not for long because it is Alaska, after all, and if you don't act on time, you miss the chance.

So, get planting. Endomycorrhizal fungi on the roots of all starts. Water them a few hours before you plant. Disturb soil as little as possible as you plant. Annuals get a green mulch while perennials, trees and shrubs get a brown one. All things must be mulched. There are no bare soils in nature.

And, what about those starts you did manage to get in earlier, before you realized how cool it would remain. They just sitting there? It takes a while to repair from the shock of cold, no matter how much you harden them off. Take a good look and make sure yours are still growing! And, by all means, mulch around them. This will keep them warm and afford some protection from wind. Water with warm water if possible. Replace if dead, obviously.

And, if you did plant seeds early and nothing is happening, it is time to check things out. Dig up a few inches of rows to see if there is any germination – or just rotting seed. Check the seed package or the web to find out how long it takes for each type of seed to germinate. Replant if you are past the proper time.

Next, don't forget potatoes. You have time for a good crop. Yes, you can mix varieties in one hill or container. No, potato starts do not need hardening off.

I did see a few honey bees on dandelions, but I am worried about pollination of fruit trees outdoors. You have to go around and do the job with a paint brush or q-tip, I am afraid, unless we have some really sunny days while things are in blossom. Indoors, too, you need to be the pollinator. Tomato pollen spreads best when the flower stems are vibrated – as in, now you know what to do with that old electric toothbrush.

It may be cool, but chickweed is appearing. This is a sign of not weeding the stuff out of the garden last year and using too much chemical nitrogen fertilizers. Hand pick and remove from the garden. You can eat chickweed, if you so desire.

And, of course, dandelions are into their first flush. We are beyond using dangerous synthetic chemicals to kill them, right? So, instead, try this: Forget the advice to mow the lawn grass high for a mowing or two. Instead, adjust so you can cut the dandelions down. Then raise the mower back up to 3 inches until the second flush hits in six weeks or so. A weed eater can be used to raze dandelion plants down to the ground. It takes just a bit of practice. They will grow back, but they won't flower and send seeds all over.

Finally, there is simply no way you can kill off horsetail. No spray will work, organic or not. They are literally prehistoric, and they are not going away just because you come along! What does work, again, is mowing them, cutting them with a weed eater and using mulches. Hand pick them out of garden beds. Once the stalk is cut, that is it for the stalk for this year. Yes, there may be others, but it won't grow back above ground.

Do not spray equisetum because it will not work. And do not dig up the garden,  because the roots will multiply the plants and digging breaks up the roots. Not only do equisetum spread by underground roots, but also by above ground spores. Hey, no one said it was going to be easy.

In sum, get out there and plant. Make sure all things are hardened off, of course.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Nurseries: Visit and buy. Look for sales, especially bare root tree and shrubs, as they are considerably less expensive than potted stuff.

Delphiniums: Get those defoliators. Hand squash or use Bt products.

Gooseberries: Look for the the fly larvae in the center of plants. These look like caterpillars.

Alaska Botanical Garden 25 year anniversary celebration: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 21. It is going to be a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing you all there. You don't have to be a member, but have you joined anyhow? Go to right now. Art sale, live jazz and a light dinner catered by South Restaurant. Tickets $75 in advance; $90 at the door.

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