Gardening

Fertilizer is a waste of money. For proof, look at nearly any lawn in Anchorage right now.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 30
  • Published August 30

August is one of our wettest months and this has been a wet one. Let's also declare it the month we ended the lawn fertilizer era.

If anything proves you don't need lawn fertilizer and that the whole industry is an advertising sham, simply drive around this week and look at the lawns you pass by. Find me a lawn  that is not growing well and as green as you would want! Go ahead: You can't. Every lawn for as far as you can see is nice and green.

I am a garden writer. I have been trained to look for things like this, but now the smart homeowner should also definitely take note. Why do so may of us spend so much money every spring to put needless fertilizer on our lawns? What a waste of money these formulas are, when all you really have to do is water, foremost, along with the easy job of leaving grass clippings where they fall and mowing over tree leaves when they drop.

Think a bit about it. Why do all of the lawn food advertisements occur in the early spring and not now? Why is there such a blitz on TV and in store promotions and via social media? It is because in the spring lawns are yellow from the dead grass tips left by winter. These same ads would have absolutely no impact in August in Alaska. Next spring, ignore them.

I am the first to admit there may be a scientific reason we used to need lawn foods and now don't. Lawn owners used to pick up and remove clippings and leaves which, if left, return the nutrients it took to grow them back to the soil. This is the law of return. Smart homeowners now leave everything on the ground. We don't need fertilizer.

If, for some strange reason, your lawn is actually not doing well in terms of growth and greening, buy a bag of granulated molasses and a bag of soybean meal. Mix them and put it down on the the areas that need help. Moss is a different matter. It is pH related and putting fertilizer down is not going to help get the lawn there. Nor is this week's column.

Next, it looks like a great year for Brussels sprouts. Garden writers urge growers to wait until the temperatures gets cold — even for a frost or two — before harvesting, because the cool temperatures make them sweeter. If you want to harvest now, you can, but the reasons for this should only be to beat the slugs to them, or because you won't be here during the normal harvest time.

Keep enjoying those sweet peas. The flowers actually do morph into seed pods and when they do, they tend to slow down or stop the plant's flowering. Remove now and you may get to pick more flowers to enjoy indoors.

And, speaking of seeds, keep an eye on mint plants. They are in flower and the flowers turn to seed which can spread them. They already spread enough by roots, and should be kept in containers, so you don't want to increase the chances of escape.

Time for an early Plantskydd call. Moose are creatures of habit. Once they find solitude and comfort in your yard, they will return and return. This might be OK during a summer night, after the moose has browsed the neighborhood gardens and shrubs. It is not OK in the winter months, when there is never enough to eat, so anywhere they stay becomes a food station, too.

Plantskydd is an emulsified blood meal that smells like a wolf has made a kill in the area. Moose don't like that. I usually suggest an application in late fall, as the stuff lasts through rain and snow, up to six months, but why not start to train your four legged browsers to avoid your yard now? Especially since the stuff is gooey, a bit messy to apply and much, much easier if done now while it is still warm. You can spray it on or paint it on tree trunks with a paint brush.

Finally, this is the time of year to trim dead limbs from trees (and shrubs). The concern, besides appearance, is that these will break off and do damage to humans or property. It is awfully hard to discern which are the dead limbs you want to remove during the winter months. Either take care of the job now, or mark the limbs with tape and take a picture with your cell phone, and do it after leaves drop.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar:

Spring flowering bulbs: If you see them, buy some. You can't plant too many bulbs!

Bulb and garlic planting workshop: This workshop is taught by Ginger Hudson at the Alaska Botanical Garden. 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25. $45-$55. See alaskabg.org for details.

Mushroom walk and ID: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Alaska Botanical Garden. $20-$25. See alaskabg.org for details.