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You don’t have to fertilize your lawn. Really.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 4, 2019
  • Published April 4, 2019

Green grass greets Midtown Anchorage motorists in January 2014.

A few questions today, starting with can you use old soil to start seeds? The simple answer is that I do it successfully all the time. The idea that starting soil should be sterile is no longer viable, as everyone that reads “Teaming With Microbes” knows. Microbes in the soil feed the plants growing there. Just be sensible and don’t use soil that has caused problems in previous years. If you had powdery mildew on your tomatoes, for example, you should toss that soil on the compost pile and let it ‘regenerate” rather than start seeds with it. And make sure that your old soil is up to the job nutrient-wise. Maybe mix in some new compost?

Next: what about starting “new" plants that don’t normally grow here? Okra, for example. The simple answer: do a bit of research before trying to grow annual “exotics.” These are annuals and vegetables that don’t get coverage in the garden calendar that accompanies this column, or in the Cooperative Extension literature. Plants I do mention have been tested and should grow in most of Alaska. However, when it comes to things I don’t mention, by all means go ahead and try them. This is how the envelop is pushed out, but you really should know a few things before you do.

First, our season is short (90 to 130 days depending on location and type of summer we have) and you don’t want to waste time, not to mention effort. Look at the back of the seed packet. How long does it take for the seed to germinate? How long does it take before the plant fruits, flowers or does whatever it is supposed to do? Is it all going to fit between June and the first frost? If you can’t figure these things out, then Google it. It isn’t just the length of time to germinate the seed that you need to consider. Obviously, soil and air temperatures come into play. Okra likes really warm weather to grow and almost hot soils to germinate. It is pretty hard to get soil to stay at 95 degrees when the rain water is 45 degrees! You can look up what temperatures a particular plant needs and then figure out if you want to try growing it here.

Ah, and now the annual snow mold questions. This means that most of us are experiencing lawn rebirth. Anything to worry about? No worries, friends. I have never seen an Alaska lawn killed or even damaged by snow mold. Leave it alone and it will go away as the lawn dries. I wouldn’t even advise raking it. In fact, stay off the lawn until it dries so you minimize soil compaction, which can lead to lawn problems.

And, finally, the “what to put on the lawn-lime-fertilizer-etc." questions are going to come, so let me try to head off some of them. Unfortunately, few will remember a column last August noting every single lawn in Southcentral was verdant, even those that hadn’t been bombarded with high-nitrogen fertilizer earlier in the season. I pointed out that lawn fertilizer is so heavily advertised in the spring simply because that is when lawns are brown! You wouldn’t buy it any other time of year. If you leave clippings after you mow and mulch up in place all your fall leaves, you do not have to fertilize your lawn ... ever. Why not play along with me this year and skip the knee-jerk, advertised-induced, fertilizing frenzy?

You have nothing to lose; If I am wrong and simply watering your lawn doesn’t work, put down all the fertilizer you want in June (though make it organic such as soybean meal and granulated molasses.) I am betting, however, that I will save you money and lots of work. By the same token, liming a lawn will not rid it of moss. And the only way to know if your lawn needs lime is to test the pH. Lastly, consider not removing all those leaves and such from your property this spring. Your best bet is to run them over with the mower and let the work right where they are. You need leaves for mulching garden beds, around trees and shrubs and for use in the compost pile, so collect a few bags while you can.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.

Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), Stock (10L), Lockspar (20C). (These numbers represent the days to germinate. C means grow cool and L means seeds need light.)

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Garden beds: When you can get to them, gently remove mulch but keep it for reuse once the soil in the beds warms.