The fireweed is blooming: Here’s what Alaska gardeners need to do next

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 2, 2018
  • Published August 2, 2018

A bumblebee on fireweed blossoms along Upper Skyline Drive in Eagle River on Monday, July 30. 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Well, it is the first week in August and the fireweed is in bloom. This used to cause the Old Sourdough to start the countdown to winter. Today, however, no one really knows if the appearance of these wonderful flowers means there are six more weeks of frost-free weather left or if that call comes only once the last of the flowers puffs out into seed.

We better get used to it. Global warming will, and obviously, does, have a way of messing with our quaint proverbs.

No matter. We still need to do what Alaskans have always done, and that is live every day in the garden as if a frost will come tonight. (This garden writer will never forget filing a column from Outside in August, which was completely rendered (more) useless by an unpredicted frost.) Global warming is about extremes. It could happen again.

So for starters, we should be harvesting. Do so not only because a frost might come, but because the vegetables and flowers you planted are in many cases, ripe for the picking. It doesn't help a kohlrabi to get to the size of a kickball or to be able to substitute one of your radishes for a baseball. YOU know when produce is ripe. The rule is that if it looks like it does in the grocery, harvest it.

The only other harvest rule is not to let things waste on the vine.

If your plantings got the better of you and you find yourself with too much of something because it all ripened at the same time, make a note of it for next year. You can stagger planting times next year or not plant the entire packet of seeds.

In the meantime, head to your favorite search engine and look up how to store the excess vegetables or fruits in question. Best bets are in the freezer or by dehydrating. Actually, even better would be to donate "in kind" to Bean's or a soup kitchen in your area. Don't forget friends and neighbors who would appreciate it.

Next, we seem to be between flushes of dandelion blooms. Now is the time to let the grass grow longer. This will make it more difficult for some of the new seeds to germinate, compete with those that do and means you won't have to mow quite so often during the next three weeks or so, at least.

Instead, heed the warning before it is too late as it is with dandelions: concentrate on the butter and eggs I keep harping about. Pull these plants before they go to seed, which will be very soon. The cute, little, yellow, snapdragon-like flowers are dangerous, very dangerous — as in dandelion dangerous.

I know we all love the flowers in our gardens, but now is the time to harvest at least some of them as well. Folks pay big bucks for bouquets of flowers and you have them out in your yard? Treat yourself. Do look for hitch-hiking insects.

And, even though a good frost will shut them down, we don't want one and hopefully won't have one for a month or more. That means your have to also harvest those slugs, too. They are big enough this time of year to find and to do serious damage, which is easy to spot as they chew holes in leaves. Worse, they do this to veggies and flowers that do need a bit more time.

Hand pick or use yeast traps consisting of shallow bowls filled with cheap beer or yeast and water. My best bit of advice for all times is to place these 10 feet or so outside the gardens to attract the beasts out of the gardens not into them.

Finally, on the prospects that we won't have snow, but rather our traditional rain, do make sure you have staked up your taller plants. I am thinking about delphiniums, but if you are lucky enough to have sunflowers, malvia, or hollyhocks, not to mention late-blooming peonies, heed the warning. Of course, global warming may do away with our proverbial rainy season, just like it has our fireweed weather vane. Hopefully, she won't mess with the size of our squirrels ears.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Master Gardeners' late season plant sale and seminars: Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Botanical Garden parking lot (Benny Benson school).

There are mostly perennials and house plants, but random other treasures too. Plus free classes on the hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on pruning, soil prep, how to enter the Alaska State Fair and win and flower arranging.

Paper flower making: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7. Learn to make paper flowers. Check to learn more and sign up.

Story time in the garden: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9. August is "Blueberries for Sal," one of my faves.

Harvest time out at the garden: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. Celebrate harvest time and sample produce, herbs and fruit from the garden. It's a $5 donation plus three cans. Members free. See