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Gardening is different in Alaska. Keep that in mind when you see advice from Outside.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: August 27
  • Published August 27

I read a lot of gardening stuff in order to see what kind of advice is floating around out there that I might need to counter, lest one of my readers be misguided. Of course, I realize that I live in a glass greenhouse and shouldn’t throw stones. I surely wouldn’t want a Florida reader to follow my scheduling advice.

Here is a great example: It is late August and a reader writes to an Outside columnist that his tomato plants are starting to exhibit yellowing leaves, and they are moving up starting at the bottom of his plants. She replies the problem is a lack of nitrogen — the new growth is stealing from the old leaves, and the solution is to fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer.

Me? Besides advising my readers never to use a high nitrogen fertilizer, I would advise the writer not to worry. It is close to the end of tomato season, with three weeks or so of production left. Yellow leaves? Who cares! The fruit is on the vine, and what you see is all you are going to get. So, fertilizing? Don’t bother. Instead, amend the soil later this fall after you clean up, and it will be nitrogen-ready again next spring.

Here is another: a reader asks about wildflowers because his COVID-19 reading included a bit on the internet that set up a great case for simply tossing out a mix and growing a carefree profusion of flowers that exhibits all season long. Aaagh! This type of article is just filler, click-bait — like those articles on rototilling or French digging. No one does these things any more. I can tell when someone is getting paid $25 dollars an article and cranking the stuff out. It is sneaking up in internet news feeds and the like.

Anyhow, when it comes to “wildflowers,” there are a few warnings to heed. The first and foremost? Ascertaining what is in the mix. Here, seeds must be either native to Alaska or, at the least, non-self-seeding and root-spreading. You don’t want to create a picture-perfect garden full of invasive plants that will strike in future years. That Kansas prairie look probably contains some objectionable and uncontrollable beauty and surely was not designed specifically for Alaska. Read the label.

Even Alaska mixes can be suspect. One I found lists “Forget-me-nots.” If this isn’t the biennial plant then it is the annual pest which spreads so badly. I won’t even let my wife bring a small bouquet of it on the property just to draw!

You may get a decent display of wildflowers the first season. However, in Alaska yards at least, these mixes almost always cause disappointment the second season. What usually happens is the second year does not live up to its billing, but by the time you realize it, you don’t have time to plant anything new. Oops, season wasted.

Then I have to be prepared to react to the obvious paid stuff designed to sell you product you didn’t know you needed. I included lawn fertilizing articles in this group. To be clear, there are no self-respecting garden writers concentrating on killing dandelions with poisons anymore. All articles suggesting such practices are commercials. So are all articles telling you to feed your gardens in the middle of the summer. These internet news feeds replacing newspapers feel the necessity to sprinkle these junk articles in. As noted, click bait. The closest thing to horticulture is that they are planted. Can I say fake news?

Anyhow, the point is, if you live in Alaska, read Outside gardening advice with Alaska in mind. Your yards and gardens are not like Outside ones, at least not yet.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Please join. What are you waiting for? There are all manner of benefits, not the least of which is a place to wander and wonder outdoors.

Yellow jackets and aphids: Is it just me or are numbers in check after a real buildup this spring?

Lilac leaf rollers: Is it just ours or is the outbreak much less severe this year?

Indeterminate or vining tomatoes: Many pinch the tops to stop the plant from growing any further and stop it from producing flowers so it can concentrate on turning the existing ones into fruit before the frost.