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Gardening

It’s time to put away your garden hoses, plant bulbs and scope out OPL (other people’s leaves)

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: September 24
  • Published September 24

Use fallen leaves on naked lawns, keep some for composting next year and spread the rest on your garden beds. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

The leaves are yellow and starting to drop. The problem for Alaska gardeners is the end of the outdoor season could be three or four weeks away. Or, it could come tomorrow as I write this. It is hard to guess when we will all need to go indoors.

What to do? The water needs to be turned off and the hoses disconnected and drained, but there are still baskets, containers and outdoor greenhouse plants flourishing. You know you need to put the lawn furniture away, but you don’t want to miss out on any possible last days of warmish weather. Should you harvest the Brussels sprouts and potatoes, even though it hasn’t really been cold enough?

Well, I guess we all just need to take one day at a time on the weather and soldier on, starting with the lawn. It will need mowing before all is said and done. I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how high or low you mow it this time of the year. All of the green tops will die regardless of length. What is important is that you mow in the leaves that are falling on to it. These will decay, even under snow, and feed the microbes that feed your lawn.

No trees for leaves on your lawn? Then cut the blades down to an inch and let the clippings feed the microbes. And, plant some trees. In the meantime, look for OPLs — Other Peoples' Leaves — bagged and waiting for you to pick up curbside. Use these on naked lawns, keep some for composting next year and spread the rest on your garden beds. The new right way is NOT to rake leaves, except to get them off the driveway and porches and to collect a few bags for composting and mulch.

It is time for spring flowering bulbs; tulips, daffodils, squill, galanthus, croci and grape hyacinth. Get as many as you can locally from nurseries, supermarkets and big box stores. It is not too late to mail order, either. You can plant them now through many frosts, as the ground will be workable. Getting bulbs in now, however, is better. Mulch on top with straw or grass clippings.

I count garlic as a bulb. Get yours planted.

Faucets and hoses? You don’t need a hose for any chores this time of year, save watering a newly seeded lawn, tree, shrub or washing the car. Use a bucket of water from the utility room. Or turn one outdoor faucet on. Disconnect all the rest, drain and store. Take off all connections and turn off the water inside if necessary. You can take the car to the car wash and help the economy.

I am not one for cleaning up perennial beds, even peonies. If you have a good soil food web established — and readers of this column, at least, probably do — you shouldn’t have problems. If you use synthetic fertilizers, however, you might and should consider taking top growth out, mulching heavily and swearing off the hard stuff from here on.

Last call on invasive plants to make sure you are getting their seed heads. And mark any perennials you don’t want to be stepped on during the winter, as well as those that are easily damaged by the removal of mulch to warm things up early in the spring.

Plant trees and shrubs. I say this because chances of success are better in the fall when the trees don’t have leaves and “can concentrate” on establishing good roots. The rules: Only use native soil, do not supplement with compost or ferts. And, don’t stake your trees. This is now a no-no, even if your contractor/landscaper does it.

So carry on. It will end soon and even though you don’t realize it, you will be missing all of this. Oh, wait on a good couple of frosts before you harvest those spuds and sprouts.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Boo-tanical Garden: A fun and spooky walk through the gardens featuring botanical- and Halloween-inspired displays! 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday Sept. 23-Oct. 24 (closed Sundays and Mondays). Free for members and kids 6 and under, $5 for non-members. (4601 Campbell Airstrip Rd.)

Botanical Berry Drawing: Virtual class! Learn how to observe and sketch berries from the Alaska Botanical Garden collection. A supply list is available, or you can purchase a botanical berries materials kit for curbside pickup. You’ll receive a link to each of the videos after you register. Videos will be available to watch until Sept. 30. alaskabg.org

Lights: What are you waiting for? Snow? Get some for growing this winter

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