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It’s too early for starts, but here are ways to scratch the itch to grow something

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: January 31, 2019
  • Published January 31, 2019

This is a difficult time for the Alaska gardener. Seed racks start to appear and so do lawn fertilizer ads even though it is way early for us. Still, it is February, the magic point in time when last year’s growing season fades from the memory while increasing day length starts to stimulate the instinctive need to plant something. So begins the start of the indoor portion of this year’s outdoor growing season. This is the one season where you absolutely, without question, need the lights that I always insist every Alaska gardener must have.

If you don’t have them, you don’t get to play, or at least play very well. There has been enough said on that subject that I will take the year off. For most gardeners, this time is spent on an accumulation of seed and supplies and planning, not necessarily a planting. Planting takes great lights and perhaps a greenhouse, and you may have these, but there are just too many weeks, nay months, before we can plant outdoors. That is a lot of tending, watering, re-potting, staking and the like. No vacations for you unless you have a trusted house sitter!

So, the trick in February is to find something to tide you over until the real indoor growing season begins. For some it won’t be until April’s need to start tomato seeds, while others might start with fuchsia cuttings next month. I know my wife has been keeping her interest with mandarin orange seeds. However, we do have lights. If you don’t, then realize this period is why they invented amaryllises, which are on sale now. Now is when you grow these easy flowering bulbs. And, of course, stored bulbs need to come out. If you see some for sale, get them. Growing an orchid or two that already has buds is another terrific pre-season satisfier. These are available at nurseries and supermarkets and have come way down in price over the years. Buy the ones with all or some of the buds about to open.

Supermarket orchids are easy to grow, you will not only get these first flowers, you can then induce them to flower again and again for years to come. Of course, there are all manner of little houseplants for sale at both nurseries and supermarkets and box stores. While many do need light to grow, the succulents at least, will do OK under kitchen light. With the increasing daylight, they will most definitely survive and this summer, they may even flower.

Even a deep foray into sprouts will help scratch that growing itch for a while. These are easy and quick to grow. And there are the benefits of some fresh veggies. Sprouted sunflower seeds are on my list as these are not available where I shop, but even starting plain, common mung beans is growing something! Use a jar or buy one of those sprout kits. Even growing mushrooms will help. Yes, yes, mushrooms may not be plants, but they do produce and it is considered “gardening” when you grow them. You can find kits locally or order online. They don’t need lights, and can, in fact, be grown in the furnace room.

Alaska garden calendar

Insect ecology lessons: Three-day course on the insects in your garden. 6-8 p.m. at the Alaska Botanical Garden, 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road, on Thursdays (Feb. 21 and 28, and March 7). Fee and registration required. (

Guided garden in your own garden bed at the ABG: The Alaska Botanical Garden is offering a guided gardening program growing your very own vegetable garden at ABG. Garden staff will mentor and guide. Great opportunity, but you must register and reserve your space.