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Last year’s garden did great. This year, it did nothing. What went wrong?

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 1, 2019
  • Published August 1, 2019

Time to clear out the proverbial mail bag, starting with questions about the annual ALPAR-Alaska Botanical Garden Pot plastic garden pot recycling day! The date is Saturday, Aug. 17, and the hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is absolutely free, and this year you can once again unload all of your pots, cell packs and trays at the botanical garden parking lot. For those who do not know (really?), the Alaska Botanical Garden is located at 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road.

If you cannot make this important recycling event, you can still recycle your plastic gardening goods. Just drop your plastic pots off at Faltz Nursery (1401 Labar St. in Anchorage). Only plastic, cell packs and trays are accepted in this program. That means absolutely no fiber pots, no wires attached to plastic ones, no clay pots or otherwise. Just plastic that has been rinsed off. By the way, you can pick up someone else’s pots while at the garden. That is how we got all of our 4-footers! What a deal!

OK, I get this question every year from gardeners whose gardens did great in the past, but this year just sat there. They put in their starts and nothing happened. Odd, but I know it isn’t the temperature (which is only helping things grow, assuming there is supplemental water). So, what is going on?

Of course, I can’t be sure of the cause. I don’t have enough information and neither do they. The first thing you need to do is get your soil tested. What are you waiting for? In my experience, the problem is most often a pH out of range. When this happens, nutrients get locked up and are unavailable to plants, hence no growth, so start there. Get a pH test. Many local nurseries will do the test, but call first.

There are two home soil test kits that are said to give readings on which you can rely. These are the LaMotte and Rapitest soil test kits. Look locally at nursery and grow stores or go online (let’s see how fast Prime’s shipping is to Alaska!). These tests are not for micro nutrients, however, only the macro ones like NPK, but they also do acidity, so pH is covered.

I like Kinsey Agricultural, but you can learn more about testing labs and what they do and find a few choices by getting the Coop Extension’s pamphlet on the factors to consider in selecting a soil lab. Google the extension at UAF and then search for “Soil testing.” Information is power. How can you know what is wrong without testing?

Next, small raspberries are a complaint from some. This is an easy one. All things taken, I am betting too little water as the cause. All the hot weather and no rain. Next year. … Ah, but here is the rub: An unpicked berry falls to the ground and can help spread the species when it falls (or is carried off by a bird). They may be small, but you still may want to collect them. They are still very edible.

Potato plants getting tall? Hopefully they are hilled or mulched to cover most of your plants. The spuds grow in the dark under it. You can check the bottom level of soil for some “new” potatoes, but don’t take too many as there is a long way still to go for fully mature ones. Make sure to continue to hill will soil or leaves so only 3 to 4 inches of plant are be exposed.

Finally, those leaf rollers really did a number on most of the lilac bushes. Lots of brown leaves. What to do? The only thing you can do is treat them well. That means a good mulching with a brown mulch to provide the right environment for the correct microbiology. Do not fertilize. Do not over-water. Pray for next year’s crop and that we don’t have a repeat of the problem. Onward and upward!

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week of Aug. 2

Guided mushroom walks: Join mycologist Christin Swearingen for really interesting and informative mushroom ID walks at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Aug. 22 and 29. Registration required. $20 for members, $25 for those silly people who are not yet members.

Now is when you check for thatch: You still probably don’t need to do it, but now is when you check for thatch. Got patch green lawns? Cut a chunk of lawn and look at it crosswise. Thatch is an inch or so of stems that are not decaying and which prevent water going into the lawn and new blades of grass growing out of it. You most probably don’t have thatch unless you are using high nitrogen fertilizer.

Butter and eggs: If you don’t know what Linaria vulgaris looks like, search the internet asap. These yellow snap dragon-like plants are the area’s next dandelion. Each flower has a gazillion seeds. You must pull the plants and do not let them go to seed. If they do, pull and toss them in the garbage, not the compost pile. And get those you see while on walks off your property.