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With seeds harder to come by, here are some ideas for Alaska gardeners

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 1, 2020
  • Published April 1, 2020

Yippee! It is April, which means lights are no longer needed to germinate and grow healthy garden starts from seeds. We have plenty of natural light to handle virtually any seed you want to try now that okra has been grown successfully here.

This assumes you have seeds.

Herein lies a problem for some in Alaska — and, I notice, in enough places around the country to warrant an article in the Washington Post. Many were late getting seeds, dealing instead with things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. (Where are your priorities, America?) Now many are in lockdown, uncertain if they will ever leave the house.

What to do?

Well, obviously, there are still some things you can still mail-order, wait a week while it gets shipped and then germinate and be timely for the Alaska gardening season.

Then there are nurseries. Just because we gardeners think nurseries are essential businesses, doesn’t mean by the time you read this the government agrees. You should look on websites of local nurseries and call around and see if the seed you want is available and if the establishment is open. Hardware stores carry seeds. So do supermarkets. Follow the rules and practice physical distancing.

OK, but what if we can’t get seeds? What are we to do?

The obvious answer in normal times would be to share seeds, and it is even more applicable when times are extraordinary. Many of us have extra seeds from prior years, as most don’t use the entire package least we be inundated by excess. So why not pass them along?

Start by letting your friends know you have extra seeds. Just tell them and make arrangements for a drop-off or pick-up. You might even swap starts this way once the weather gets warmer and we can leave plants outside on doorsteps and porches or in driveways.

I am thinking there is at least another way to get seeds to those without, and that is to use those little library boxes that have popped up all over America, the ones where you can take a book or leave a book while out on a friendly walk or jog. What if we were to leave seeds in them, too? Just for the next few weeks? I know this must break the rules, but if you have a ribbon or a Daily News wrapper, tie it onto one of the handles so folks will know there are seeds available. Let’s give it a try. No one should have to go without seeds.

Of course all this begs the question, how do you know your old seeds are viable? There is only one way and that is to start them and see what happens. Yes, I know there are proper ways to keep seeds and yours were not kept that way, but what have you to lose? Especially if you can’t find new seeds.

And if you can’t get seeds, at least concentrate on what you do have. Take everything out of storage: fuchsia, dahlias, tuberous begonias, pelargoniums, rhodochitons and spring flowering bulbs. What are you waiting for, the snow to melt? If you can’t get to a nursery to get starts, these will have to do.

Take cuttings from pelargoniums to multiply plants. You know the rule: let them callous over for 48 hours and then root in damp sand or soil. Those new shoots on the fuchsia, carefully removed as you shape your plants, make great cuttings and will all turn into individual plants with just a bit of care. Root them as you would the pelargoniums, only don’t wait 48 hours.

I have heard of people cutting their tuberous begonias in half to get a duplicate of the same variety. I haven’t tried, but why not do so on a few — but not all, just in case! Rhodochitons stored usually have seed pods, and the seeds germinate easily. Dahlia clumps should be cut so that each tuber has a bit of last year’s stem or neck. This should result in several new plants, at least, when each is put into soil with the neck up at the surface.

Remember, do not wash the roots of any stored plants. Leave the soil on them. If you don’t have the appropriate mycorrhizal fungi to apply before planting things up, at least this soil should have some spores and propagules from last season.

No able to get soil? It is perfectly fine in my book — literally — to use last year’s soil. You may want to mix in some compost now or top dress later and perhaps add some low-nitrogen fertilizer, but the idea of using sterile soil is an old-fashioned one.

If you are missing something, reach out. We are all in this together. Gardeners always have been.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar:

Nurseries: Nurseries are open in Anchorage and I hope elsewhere. Wear a mask and follow the rules! We are lucky to have them. Please give them your business, as they were planning on a normal spring. If you want to have them here next year, we need to make sure they survive.

Lilies: If you have been growing yours indoors, take them outdoors and keep them there until planted. Use a nice, wind-protected area in the shade.

Flowers to start from seed: Dianthus, stock, lock spar, asters, Nicotiana, cleome, ice plant, zinnia and salpiglossis. schizanthus, nigella, phlox, portulaca, nemesia, marigold and nasturtiums.

Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.

Gladioli: What are you waiting for?