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Alaska gardeners, it’s time to start planting for spring

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: September 20, 2018
  • Published September 20, 2018

I know you have not put in your spring flowering tulips and daffodils. Come on. What are you waiting for? If it is cooler weather, good excuse, but now is the time to plant them. Plant the lesser bulbs, too, galanthus and scilla, if you can find them. Even crocuses, which were not always hardy here back in the day, seem to make it now in this climate change world.

In addition to actually planting them, the key thing is to make sure you plant them so that when they bloom, they look good. For my tastes, there is way, way too much "lollipop" planting when it comes to spring bulbs. You know, sticking one here and one there or putting them in a mass with the plants 18 inches apart.

Unless you are going to grow your bulbs in pots (and by all means, if you can store them around 40 to 45 degrees for 12 weeks, you should so that you can have indoor flowers in later winter), plant whatever you have really close together so that they look like a cloud of color, not a bunch of isolated and lone Tootsie Pops.

Of course, it helps if you can afford to buy lots of bulbs. There are usually plenty of deals whereby you can purchase a large bag or more of bulbs, which should suit my call to use masses of them for better-looking plantings.

I know. I hear you. The problem with buying lots of bulbs is that you have to plant them all. A bulb digger makes the job easier and is a great tool if you can justify purchasing one. Don't get a cheapie; make sure it can withstand being thrust into rocky soil a few hundred times.

A really fast way to get the chore accomplished is by using a shovel or spade, which will enable you to make a slit into the growing area you have chosen. You can pull back the shovel and create a wider crevice, into which several bulbs can go. It helps to have someone assist: you dig and pull and they place the bulbs. You can either push the soil back with your foot or add new soil to fill any gaps.

In Alaska, mulch is the key to making sure your purchases actually end up flowering. You want them to grow roots to start and not grow green growth until they are ready. Mulch settles, and you want to put down enough so that there are four or more inches on top of your bulbs once it does.

Believe it or not, but soil food web-wise, a green mulch (i.e., grass clippings), is what is called for. Even so, you can still use tree leaves when they fall. Your bulbs will still bloom.

Placement is important. I like to put the galanthus and scillia, so-called small or minor bulbs, so that we can see them from the windows of the living room as the snow melts. They are the first flowers to bloom after the long winter and you want to catch these harbingers of spring. Some tulips and daffodils go at the end of the driveway to greet us and guests.

Follow the directions supplied as far as depth is concerned, so long as you put down the requisite mulch. No bone meal or fertilizers, please. You really don't even need to water, which is good news for those of you who have already turned off your systems.

That is it. Easy. What you need to do is get out there and plant them. This is a great weekend to do so.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Potatoes and Brussels sprouts: If you wait for the frosts, they will be sweeter.

Organic garden fertilizers: These take a while to break down, so fall is a great time to apply to gardens and containers so the microbes can break them down to make them available next spring

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