Fall is bulb planting time in Alaska. Mercifully, it is not quite autumn yet. Still, it will come soon, and we gardeners need to be thinking about it so we are ready. Specifically, it is time to start ordering and buying bulbs.
What most of us consider spring-flowering bulbs — tulips, daffodils and the like — are now very easy to find in Alaska. Well, not right now because it is a few weeks early, but soon they will fill the shelves. This does not mean you shouldn’t order from outside catalogs. Doing so might increase your choices. Still, if you shop early locally, you will find quite a variety and great prices.
The things you might consider ordering are the so called "lesser" bulbs. Consider Scillas, Squills, grape hyacinths and Galantuhus or snowdrops. These all have delicate, small flowers and bloom earlier than their bigger "relatives," often while there are still patches of snow around. They also will grow in the shade and under our spruces. Since they are so small, they are much easier to plant, too.
Even these so-called “minor” bulbs are available here if you shop around, and especially if you do it early. If you are going to put in a mail order, however, do it now. We still need to plant a bit earlier than most States-side gardeners, and you want to have supplies on hand.
Next, garlics are considered bulbs, too, and for those who are looking for something really easy to grow that you can actually harvest and eat, garlic is it! Again, it is a bit early to plant. We don’t put garlic into the ground hereabouts until the week after the first hard, killing frost, but now is when you should start buying so you are ready for that dreadful day!
Don’t be fooled by its “exotic, Italian nature.” Garlic is every bit as easy to grow in Alaska as the traditional, colorful spring bulbs, and surely the harvest is much more rewarding. Garlic even produces an interesting flower, if you want.
There are two types of bulbs when it comes to garlic, soft necks and hard necks. Without getting into the weeds (sorry) here, the hard neck varieties have proven to do much better than their brethren, at least in Southcentral Alaska.
In fact, there has been an astonishing amount of research on growing garlic in Alaska. It is very extensive and I won’t repeat it all here, as you can very easily download it yourself from the Cooperative Extension at uaf.edu/ces/garden/garlic. There is a very complete list of varieties to consider — again, all tested — so do check it out before you make any purchases. Obviously, however, your local nurseries won’t sell garlic that doesn’t grow here.
There are some “new” rules for planting bulbs, be they garlic or spring flowering. Always follow any specific directions you are supplied with, but in general, plant in holes 2 to 3 times the bulb’s height. Then mulch with 2 to 3 inches of grass clippings, straw or leaves. You will want to create groupings — called “drifts” — of bulbs instead of creating “lollipop” lines.
Bone meal was a traditional nutrient people used to put at the bottom of planting areas to provide phosphorous to bulbs. Not only does it accumulate moisture, it prevents the mycorrhizal fungi-root formation, and these fungi are much more efficient at getting the bulbs phosphorus. Use an endo mycorrhizal mix and rub the bottom of bulbs in it before planting. Go out and get some now, as supplies diminish as the season ends.
Jeff’s Alaskan garden calendar for the week of August 15
Plastic pot recycling day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Alaska Botanical Garden parking lot. Clean, plastic garden containers only; cell packs and trays. Feel free to take any pots and containers home with you.
Guided mushroom walks at The Garden: 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 22, with mycologist Christin Swearingen. Pre-registration is required. Bring specimens you’d like help with identifying. alaskabg.org
Butter and eggs: Just because they have flowered doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still pick and destroy them. Do it.
Harvest: What are you waiting for? Eat and be happy. Give some of your food to Beans, a food bank, etc. Remember to Plant A Row for The Hungry.