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Gardeners, forget the what-ifs and take advantage of this weird and wonderful fall weather

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 5, 2018
  • Published October 4, 2018

I was driving into town the other day, stopped at a light, when a guy in the car next to me signaled to roll the window down. Oh oh, flat tire? I lowered the window and he said: "Don't mention the weather, please!"

He knows about the Lowenfels column curse, and I really shouldn't ruin things, but gee whiz, the forecast doesn't have below 40-degree nights for at least another week. How long can we go?

This is the year we all should have had two crops, one harvested at the normal time and a second harvested in mid-October, or perhaps even later. This is also the year you could have grown a decent crop of cannabis, as the required daylight shift to shorter days than nights was not accompanied by freezing weather. This is also the year we could have grown some of the longer-days-to-harvest vegetables and flowers. You can affirm that by noting all of the gladioli blooming right now.

If I had any confidence in the pattern, I would have insisted all of you pinch your hanging baskets one more time as there would have been plenty of time to get more flowers. And I would have insisted you pay much more attention to those sweet peas, pulling off the non-edible pods that form late in the season so the plants would produce even more flowers.

I am not sure what to do about the brussels sprouts. They really need some cold weather to taste sweet. As it is, though, carrots are still growing and this year's season is so long those spuds you have been waiting to harvest once the weather gets cold are going to make baking size, that is certain. And yes, there are lilacs blooming for a second time, along with a few other perennials. It happens and you should rejoice.

And then I keep repeating to myself the questions I put into last week's calendar. I did not see one single yellow jacket this summer. Not one. Heck, I really can't remember even seeing a mosquito, and that is REALLY something.

One reason there were no yellow jackets or paper wasps was the seemingly total absence of aphids in our trees. We had them on meadow rue, but not on our trees as we usually do. And where were the leaf miners we usually endure? No aphids means no wasp predators, of course, but also no sticky dew on the cars and lawns. I don't have an answer for how this will impact things in future years, but I am looking for answers.

Meanwhile, make sure that the place you store your fuchsia and tubers for winter is actually cold enough to hold them. Right now, these spaces may be warm, even too warm.

And since it is still so warm, it is great for planting spring-flowering bulbs. It is also a great time to plant trees and shrubs. As far as pruning is concerned, other than removing dead cane from raspberries, I would wait until very early spring. Birch trees might be the one exception as they drip so much sap when cut then. And now is the time to cut dead limbs — you can still tell them from those that are alive as they still have leaves on them.

I know the lawns are still growing. Since you need to be mulching over leaves, they should be fine. In fact, the mulched leaves and the grass clippings mixed are perfect for the microbes residing in your lawns. Next year should see some really killer lawns. Worms will also be encouraged to help aerate and bring organic matter into your lawns soils. And this mixture is great for making compost. You will need a pile that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. And, hopefully, it should stay thawed long enough for you to turn it a couple of times before freeze-up. By next spring, you should have great compost.

Meanwhile, get some of that lawn furniture back out and enjoy this unheard of weather. Let's hope it is the new norm and that somehow the word gets to me early so I can change my advice for next year!

Alaska Garden Calendar

Hypertufa trough making: Tuesday, Oct. 23, 6-8 pm, $55 for members and $65 for nonmembers. Limited class size. For more information, 907-770-3692 or sign up online.

Houseplants: Start looking for outside pests that sneaked indoors. Also, when the heat goes on, spider mites often appear.

Leave 'em: Leaves belong on the ground, not in bags.

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