I have always suggested Alaska gardeners start tomatoes the first week of April. I am changing this year. Start tomato seeds anytime in March.
Why the change in timing? Simply put, our outdoor greenhouses and cold frames are warming up quicker and earlier. This being the case, it stands to reason an earlier start for the seeds is in order. Lately, due to the warming of our Alaska climate, it is even possible to grow several varieties of tomatoes outdoors without a greenhouse or cold frame. Why not start these and get them ready, too?
Yes, I am aware that an unheated greenhouse won’t keep things above 55 degrees, which is required for tomato flowers to set. However, your plants won’t start to produce flowers until the plants develop 27 leaves. This will take at least a month of growing. So, you don’t need to keep the greenhouse above 55, just above freezing so the plants will grow leaves.
Speaking of that outdoor greenhouse, it is always a good idea to clean it out in the fall, but practically no one ever does. Do it now.
Break up and keep the old, dead plants for your compost pile. Save old labels. Toss or put away for recycling all the broken and unwanted pots. Collect all those stakes, too, for reuse. If you are really into it, I suggest you get out the shop vac and really clean up.
It may be a wee bit too early to turn the outdoor water on, but the soil in your greenhouse pots will be very dry after the long winter. Start wetting the soil in these pots now. (You can use snow for this.) Sprinkle a bit of compost on the surface of all pots, too. Both actions will help wake up and get your microbes into shape and at the right numbers.
And, since you are preparing for spring to finally arrive, it is time to check out the lawn mower or lawn tractor. (This may mean cleaning up the tool shed to get at it!) Now is when you want to sharpen your mower blades. Check your engines and by all means get things serviced before you will need them, which won’t be long from now.
Actually, it isn’t a bad idea to make an inventory of all of your tools; toss and replace those that are not repairable and fix those that are. When things start growing, you don’t want to be shopping, but rather in the yard.
Finally, the most important thing you can do this week is to visit a nursery or two. This will not only perk you up, but it is time to get growing supplies. Remember, you are not a real gardener unless you grow at least one thing from seed by yourself. This means you need the seeds, soil, pots, labels and mycorrhizal fungi (or rhizobium bacteria for nitrogen fixing plants).
Of course, you will want to buy some starts as well. It is not too early, but I warn that you should have a garden plan before you buy plants for your yard. You will also need to provide your plants your house’s best light or you will be wasting your money. That outdoor greenhouse may actually come in handy for keeping them over. All the more reason to go out there and clean up.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Succulent workshop: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 24. Join master gardener Dawn Groth at the Alaska Botanical Garden as she walks you through creating perfect soil, watering, propagating, bunching and top dressing for attractive displays. Registration required at alaskabg.org.
Houseplants: Turn yours a quarter-turn a few times during the week so they won’t grow too much in one direction due to the returning light.
Flower seeds to start: Rhodochiton, fibrous begonias, snapdragons, carnations verbena, malva, dusty miller, petunia, lavatory, linaria, pansies, violets and pelargoniums
Vegetables to start: Last call on celery
Herbs to start: Thyme, oregano