In all the excitement surrounding the arrival of spring, I can’t find my official records, the ones wherein I note the day the leaves on a certain birch tree in our yard finally get to that squirrel’s ear size. This has become nature’s signal to Alaskans that frosts are over for the next few months. Soils will still be too cold to plant, but that follows when frosts stop.
I do remember that back in 2015, Squirrel’s Ear Day was the first of May. Not this year; as I wrote this column last weekend, my tree’s leaves are just about there. It is surprising given that the day before we had 1.5 inches of the white stuff. Not to worry. Nature does not fool itself. This week, I predict, is leaf-out time. Of course, we still need our soils to warm up, as evidenced by snow sticking to the ground. However, the fast melt last weekend convinces me that this, too, is happening ahead of schedule.
Snow or not, this is the time of year when there are so many things to start from seed you just have to ignore the weather. It’s when many of us start seedlings for use in deck pots. There are lots of choices; I don’t know where to start, so a list is perhaps the best way to go. You have the next couple of weeks or so to start a few of these. My guess is unless you visit a nursery this weekend, you may have difficulty finding seeds for some of the things that need to be started.
All of these plants should be familiar. If not, make them so with an internet search. Some need special treatment. Specifically, sweet peas and canary bird vines are climbers and will need something to support them. California, Shirley and Arctic poppies do not transplant well and perhaps should be started in their permanent summer homes.
Consider planting bachelor buttons, sweet alyssum and silene in flats for mass plantings, or at least easier pre-transplant growing. Look for different sizes of sunflowers and marigolds and choose according to your designs. These, along with nasturtiums, are great for planting with kids, as are zinnia, and calendula.
Nemesia is the flower all your visitors will ask about, especially when planted with schizanthus, also known as poor man’s orchids. These, along with nemophila and clarkia can be a bit challenging, but so worth starting from seed as there are never enough nursery starts for sale.
On the vegetable side, all of the things that need to be started this week should be planted in individual containers. These are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce and peppers. With the exception of peppers (which really require a greenhouse or cold frame to produce this summer), consider staggering seed plantings to every four days or so. This way you won’t have all of a crop ripening on the same day. Your family will be grateful.
Outside, get that mulch off the gardens if you have not done the chore. This will help the soil can warm up. (And don’t worry about last week’s snow; it didn’t hurt anything.) Most definitely, run over the lawn debris with the mulching mower. All of that stuff will feed the lawn the natural way. Put a cardboard box over the rhubarb too to speed it up.
And visit as many nurseries as you can. Each has its own personality and special offerings. All are fun to visit. Winter, dear reader, is over.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: Join. www.alaskabg.org. Just look at the up coming events like the annual sale and you will instantly see that it is worth the small family member fee. And, you will be supporting a terrific organization that is here for us to use.
Bird feeders: Make sure yours are down. Put them and any left over feed in a bear-proof area. A garage that is left open does not count.
Nurseries are open: Visit many and often during the week. Look for sales.
Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.
Flowers to start from seed: See above
Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel