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Here’s what you should do this weekend to prepare your garden for winter

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: September 12, 2019
  • Published September 12, 2019

Low temperatures predicted for the upcoming week dictate that I again put off the traditional “what to do before a hard frost hits” column. Lots of things are still going strong and the mail keeps pouring in.

One exception is to remind folks to make arrangements now for sending hanging baskets to camp this winter. If you are not going to keep them over yourself, check with local nurseries that do. They fill up fast and this is the “traditional” time to take them in. Perhaps we should push that back next year.

OK, let’s start with tomatoes. We have no idea when frost will hit, but it is getting a bit late for new fruit, which normally don’t set on the plants when temperatures are below 50 to 55 degrees. Top off indeterminate plants so there isn’t any new growth and baby the existing fruits. If your greenhouse has heat, turn it on at 55 degrees.

Green tomatoes, if at least halfway mature, will turn red when exposed to ethylene. Pick them and close them up in a bag with a ripe banana and check daily. Do not refrigerate, as this will only slow ripening. Apples also are a source of tomato-ripening ethylene.

Old-timers, before there were fresh bananas and apples, would wrap up the larger fruits in newspaper, put in a cardboard box and store “under the bed” until whenever, Thanksgiving or some special day. Me? I will stick with bananas as long as we still have them.

Next, the annual question this time of year: is this really a good time to plant trees and shrubs or is that just a marketing ploy?

It is a good time, but mostly because our local nurseries have them on sale; They don’t want to care for them all winter while not in the ground. (The same goes for perennials, by the way). Go check out a few tree and shrub lots.

No lectures (now), but I look for the native trees and shrubs. Regardless, the trick is not to use new soil. Dig a shallow (no more than 12 inches) hole so you can gently spread the roots out and replant with the native soil. I am constantly pointing out that if you put fresh soil in the hole, the roots grow in it in preference to the native soil and you get a root-bound plant.

Aghh, people keep asking, is it time? NO! It is too early to pull potatoes or pick Brussels sprouts. Cold weather is needed for potatoes and for the sprouts, the trick now is to keep the moose at bay. Look for Plantskydd, blood meal which fools moose into thinking there is a wolf kill around. Spraying it around your garden won’t hurt the plants (might even help!). Or, soak a bit in a cloth, place it in the garden under an overturned pot to keep most of the rain off it.

And, it is not too early to apply Plantskydd around the yard to at least try and keep moose at bay. Moose are creatures of habit and if you can get them to go, say to your neighbors, they won’t eat your plants. (Hey, it is a competitive, moose-eat-plant world out there). Applications now are much easier than when it gets cold.

How about seeding a lawn? It takes 21 days for lawn seed to fully germinate. We may have that if you plant this weekend; I would go for it. And, it isn’t a bad idea to toss some seed on existing lawns to thicken them up next spring. What doesn’t germinate this year will probably germinate next year if it hasn’t eaten by the birds.

Finally, do I think that is a good idea to spray glyphosate on Mayday tree trunks to stop new sprouts in private yards? There is a proposal before the Anchorage Assembly to allow its use on Muni parklands, so why shouldn’t homeowners use it.

My answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT. If ever there was a “do not try this at home” stunt, this is it. It is important to note that the glyphosate mix being proposed is not the same as Round-up Glyphosate.

Don’t get me wrong, it contains the same glyphosate that was the subject matter of two (so far), multi, multi million dollar verdicts against its manufacturer. And it is the same glyphosate whose use will expose the muni to lawsuits sometime in the future. Since none of us want that, regardless of our stands on the health aspects, please call your muni representative today and demand they not support the use of Glyphosate as well as Imazapyr and Aminopyralid on muni park lands.

It also contains the same glyphosate the Alaska Railroad uses and other folks employ. Remember my argument that this is a cascading thing. One group insists they have to have it despite acknowledged dangers and then another and another. Time to stop. Or better yet, it is Alaska and it is time to not start!

And it is definitely time to stop using glyphosate in your yard. Instead, mow over any sprouts or weed-eat them down. It may take more work and more time, but I assure you (and the muni) it works (Don’t forget to make that assemblyperson call; they work for you).

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Harvest Days festival: Sales, classes and fun over four days at the Alaska Botanical Garden, Sept. 12-15. See for details.

Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association annual apple tasting: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at the BP Energy Center. Admission for non-members is $5. This is the perfect opportunity for people to discover what Alaska grown apple varieties they like, and may want to graft next spring!

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