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Here’s a useful hack for figuring out which perennials to plant in Alaska

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 20, 2020
  • Published August 20, 2020

Dwarf orange geum stand out in Lile's Garden, the newest addition to the Alaska Botanical Garden unveiled Thursday, June 27, 2013. The garden is named in memory of Lile Vivian Bernard Rasmuson, the late wife of Elmer Rasmuson and an avid gardener. Swaths of plant colors and foliage textures are meant to create an image of Athabascan floral beadwork. A dedication was held Thursday evening.

A reader asked if I had a list of perennials to plant. I don’t keep such a list, but my new answer to this oft-asked question is to refer the asker to the “What’s blooming?” section of the Alaska Botanical Garden’s site: With wonderful pictures of blooming plants, this is a great tool. It obviously goes way beyond helping you decide if you want to wander the Botanical Garden’s trails on any given day.

This page is like having your very own Southcentral Alaska perennial catalog. All of the plants shown should have more than a fighting chance of surviving in your garden, as they obviously have made it through a Chugach Foothills winter or three. The pictures remain up for a while, so you could wade through them and really design a yard of plants that have some flowers every single week of spring, summer and fall.

Shopping? There is a very good chance you can find most of the perennials that catch your eyes at local nurseries, but also at the Botanical Garden’s own little nursery. (Members get priority on hours and discounts, by the way). You can go out to the garden and visit the nursery to buy or order online. The Garden even has curbside pickup.

Finally, even if buying is not your thing right now, there is always a benefit to learning the names of the plants growing around the state. Each picture on the Botanical Garden’s site is accompanied by the plant’s common and scientific names so you can find the exact cultivar — and what to expect — when shopping.

Next, I promised myself I wouldn’t wait until the first frost columns to tell readers that they can take cuttings from lots of plants grown in the summer for use indoors this winter. So, here is the advice on time: Right now take cuttings of any annual plants with “square” stems or leaves directly opposite each other — as opposed to staggered. Root them in damp sand or soil and get them started in a pot.

OK, still more tomato concerns. Lots of folks seem to be in need of a red tomato, not the still-green crop they have in their greenhouses. Good, sunny days are the normal way for tomatoes to ripen. Even if a fruit falls off, a bit of sunshine will turn it red on a windowsill. For the really needy, put a few green tomatoes into a plastic bag with an apple or banana. The bag should have some air holes or not be tightly closed. The release of ethylene gas will cause the fruit to ripen.

I always forget about garlics, which do very well here. They are usually ripe in late August or early September. You will know it is the proper harvest time when about 50% of the leaves are dead. Dig up a plant. The skin around the bulb should be paper-like, not plastic, which would be a sign that you are harvesting too early.

Plant garlics three to four weeks before the hard frosts hit. So, we are talking late September here in the Anchorage area. Hard neck varieties, and that is the type you want to use, can be ordered right now. (If you see them at a nursery, pick some up). I don’t recommend using varieties from the grocery store because of the possibility of introducing soil-born plant disease.

Dahlias are coming into their own. These are terrific plants for Alaskans. I suggest you take pictures of each of your varieties in bloom. You can either include plant labels in the photos or add the variety names afterwards. Print them up and use them as labels during winter storage so you know what you have next spring. You can tape them on bags or containers, and print up several copies, as you will have lots of tubers for each plant.

Finally, we all have weedy perennials that have have gotten out of hand. Ours is the pesky purple bell flower. Even if you have done battle against yours in the spring, now is the time to make sure none go to seed. Pick any of their flowers, at least, to control your weeds.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Radishes and lettuces: Really? You haven’t harvested yours? What are you waiting for? Do so and plant a new crop. Same for lettuces.

Lawn patterns: Keep sending in those pictures of your lawn art. We have some great crop circles in our lawn. Best pattern gets an autographed copy of one of my books.

Containers: Clean up! Pull dead flowers off plants. Remove yellowing and dead leaves.

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