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Gardening

Think rabbits are plaguing your garden? You’re off by a hare.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: June 18
  • Published June 18

A snowshoe hare pauses in sunshine for a moment before bounding back into the woods at the edge of town Thursday afternoon, May 1, 2003, in McGrath. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 2003)

The gardens should be in. We have had the first flush of dandelions. The robins are training new hatchlings to fly. Things are finally starting to take off and grow. It must be summer!

It is amazing to me that I got three questions about rabbits this week. This is pretty unusual, especially because none of the pictures that accompanied the plea for help were of rabbits. We do have feral rabbits hereabouts, but these were actually questions about snowshoe hares. There is a difference, but not when it comes to damaging everything from roses to lettuces.

This spring we have had a pair of eagles using tall spruces to observe potential prey. It turns out they are hunting the hares in our neighborhood. For those who don’t have eagles hanging around, and perhaps even if you do, there are a few things to try to keep hares from getting into your gardens.

First, you can put up barriers. This means fencing — some sort of chickenwire. And, make sure that it is at least 3 feet high. Hares are like rabbits. They jump.

The second possible solution, and I stress possible because hares are not stupid, is to use blood meal to make them think something was killed in the area and they don’t want to be next. This should make any respectable hare a bit wary. Plantskydd should make any respectable hare worry a bit, and since many of us use it to keep moose out of the yard, it is worth a try. At least the moose will stay away.

Again on the theory that these critters are wild and rascally and will run off in the presence of humans, human urine might be worth a try, too.

Next, a few readers want to know what kind of organic fertilizer they can put down on their lawns to thicken them up. Water first, of course. Toss some new seed down, too, and of course leave the clippings. However, If you think your grass needs a kicker, then you want to feed the microbes so they can fertilize the lawn.

The answer is a mix of soybean meal and non-sulfured molasses. You can also use alfalfa meal. Each alone will provide food for your soil’s microbial tribes, so you could use any one without mixing. However, mixing gives the microbes a bit more choice in what to eat and, in theory, increases the diversity of soil food web life, which is good. There are no real mixture rules here, however. You can try half soybean meal and half molasses to start. And, there is no right amount to apply. You can’t apply too much, as these will not burn. You want to be able to see physical evidence of the mix after it is applied, however.

OK, on to potatoes. “Hilling? What is that?” I was asked. It is a term of spud-growing art. Potatoes are a root crop, and you want to increase the root area so more can be produced. One way you can do this is by covering up all but the tops of the sprouts, which should be developing from the potatoes’ eyes. You can use soil or leaves or a mixture of both. The areas under this cover will develop roots and tubers, i.e., potatoes. Hilling is simply putting soil or leaves around the plants as the tips grow. It’s as if you are building a classic sand castle.

Many of us grow potatoes in containers. Start with the potato chits — cut pieces with eyes — on a thin layer of soil or leaves. Then as the sprouts grow, the container can be filled with soil or leaves. Obviously, some tip needs to remain uncovered, some leaves can get sun. A tip: you can angle the container to get light into the bottom when shoots are small.

Last week I urged everyone to get those chickweed seedlings. I am going to double down on weeding this week. Bird vetch was called out by one reader and butter and eggs by another. And chickweed will soon start rooting at nodes. This makes it harder to remove and more destructive to surrounding plants when you do so. Get the plants now, while they are little.

Then mulch around your plants. Ideally, use a straw mulch on vegetables and and vegetables and leaf mulch on perennials, as these attract the right kind of microbes to feed plants involved. If you can’t get straw, run over leaves with a mulching mower and use the results.

Finally, it is not too early to put some traps out for slugs and snails. They are out there and in some cases already doing damage. Remember the rule and the reason: put shallow containers with beer or yeast water right outside gardens and containers so as not to attract slugs and snails into the garden.



Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week:

Alaska Botanical Garden: A great tool for gardeners is to see what is blooming at the garden. Now you can. This, and information about classes, plant sales and more are at alaskabg.org. Visit the site today.

Plant A Row: Remember to dedicate one row or container in your garden to feed the hungry

Second crops: Radish, lettuces

Peonies: Do yours need “caging” or another type of support for the flowers that are coming?

Rhubarb: Pick now, as it is ripe! I pull off seed heads.

Lilacs: If you are going to prune, do so right after yours finish flowering. Cutting flowers can be a form of pruning, too.

Tomatoes and cucumbers: Stake before they get too tall.

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