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Ladies and gentlemen, start your compost

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: June 14, 2018
  • Published June 14, 2018

I get a lot of questions about spraying dandelions or putting down an application of some weed and feed product. Please don't. We have lost the war. They are here to stay and at best, you can only control them for a short time.

The good news is they usually flower in waves. We just had our first one here in Southcentral, and if you mowed yours down, you won't see masses of them again for another month to six weeks. Mowing them down is now the best control. If you are super sensitive, this might be a week to bag your clippings and toss them into a compost pile. The heat of the pile takes care of the seeds.

After this first flush, raise up the mower so that the grass will grow taller than the now flowerless dandelion plants. Competition helps control them — a bit.

Speaking of compost, now is the time to start a pile, turn existing heaps and apply it as a side dressing.

A compost pile must be at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet to heat up properly. You use leaves, grass clippings and weeds and dead plants to make one. How do you know you have the 30 parts of material to supply carbon to every one part of material to supply nitrogen? Input your materials into one of the free compost calculators available online. It takes the guess work out of making compost.

All parts of a compost pile must be heated to 160 degrees for at least 3 days. You must turn a pile to get it to reheat and to expose the outside parts to the inside heat. Finished compost always smells good.

There is no need to apply thick layers of compost. It is the microbiology in it that counts, and putting just ⅛ to ¼ of an inch around your plants will suffice.

Next, yes, your lilacs are late this year. Those on our property are still leafing out. The leaves that have appeared are a dark purple color. Hang in there a couple of more weeks and don't cut off what appear to be dead or dying branches. I am pretty sure your lilacs will leaf out, and if the moose left them alone this winter, they will flower by early July.

OK I know that thinning vegetables is difficult to do because you worked so hard to get living plants going. However, it is a necessity. You know how big vegetables are that you buy at the store. Just give them that room and an inch more. This means cutting seedlings to make the room.

Again, you know what constitutes sprouts (I have been taking them off my sandwiches for years), so eat the cuttings of those in salads or as you work your garden. I cut with a scissors rather than pulling so that I don't disturb the roots of the plants left in the ground.

Tomatoes flowering but not settings? You are growing them where night temperatures drop below 55. Move them or otherwise ensure warming evenings. And, as noted in previous columns, you need to be the pollinator.

Mint. This stuff is so easy to grow because it spreads. Do not plant it directly in the ground. If you have, dig it up (get all the roots) and put it into a container.

Annual plants that have had flowers that are finished will usually bloom again if you cut off the dead flowers so that plants don't form seeds. Roses will also usually flower again if you cut flowering stalks down to a branch with 5 leaves.

Finally, make sure to spend a bit of time just sitting and enjoying what you have planted.

Jeff's garden calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden 25th anniversary party: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 21. This will be a fantastic event and I expect to see you all there! Includes art sale, live jazz music and a light dinner from South. Tickets are $75 in advance and $90 at the door. See for more.

Lettuce: Leaf lettuces are ready to start harvesting. Cut the leaves, not the plant and it will continue to produce. Start more seeds outdoors, directly in the ground.

Rhubarb: Cut off flower stalks to keep plants producing at their max. Young stalks are the best, if there is such a thing with rhubarb.

Raspberries: Water yours if it is dry.

Chickweed and Butter and Eggs: Stay on them.

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