If you are a gardener, this is the time of year you start to pay special attention to the temperature, particularly at night. A week or so above 32 degrees should just about wrap up this winter, and by the second week of April, we expect that. Why are we experiencing the coldest nights of the year?
Have no worry. And, even if you do, it is a waste of time fretting because you have no control over the arrival of spring. At least reports of impending snows are now referred to as showers, not storms. And, keep reminding yourself that melting snow contains useable nitrogen for lawns and garden beds.
For the newbies out there, the signal we wait for is when the birch leaves on our properties grow to squirrel’s ear size. After that, we are home free. When this will happen this year is anyone’s guess, but for me, guessing is much more exciting than betting on the Nenana Ice Classic.
None of this matters, however, because it is the soil temperature and not the air temperature that really controls our calendar. A pea planted in 40-degree soil takes 30 days to germinate. The same seed only needs 9 days if the soil is 60 degrees. Timing really is everything.
Fortunately, we start so much of our crop indoors and then transplant when it is warm enough that it doesn’t really matter what is going on outdoors. One thing is for sure, you will be planting stuff outdoors by the third week of May. Between now and then, concentrate on the indoor part of outdoor gardening.
This week is a great one for starting a few tomatoes and some broccoli. Heck, plant a bit of kale. I know you’re probably sick of it, but kale looks great in containers and you don’t have to eat it, though the original Kale chips were made on barbecue grills and still taste great.
If you visit a local nursery you may be able to locate some of hardiest varieties of tomatoes that can actually produce outdoors without the need for a greenhouse. The early bird gets the worms, however. Same for the really ornamental kales, the best begonia and dahlia tubers and the few tall snapdragons for sale. This is Alaska. Don’t pass things by and think there will still be supplies of a plant next time you visit.
Want to make your own hanging baskets this year? Four-inch starts are what I suggest you use, and they are available now. Four or five plants to a standard-size basket is the norm. This doesn’t include a clump or two of hanging lobelia, which are grabbed up quickly this time of year, so pick that up as well, temperatures outside be damned.
Some of the national chain stores are selling perennial plants in boxes. Sure, lots of these will grow here, and even if not, you may get some flowers the first year. However, you have to keep them growing until it is time to take them outdoors. Sometimes this is not easy and takes up too much room. Buy wisely. Their tubers and bulbs are probably a better bet than the growing plant.
Speaking of tubers, there’s no reason you can’t get some eyes growing on potatoes you intend to plant. You will need to cut them up before you plant them, but for now, just put them, uncut, on newspaper or in a flat of some sort. No soil is needed and they only require light, not great sun. I’ve planted chips that had 8-inch plants attached. All it means is you can start hilling earlier.
All of this by way to try to cheer you up a bit. Sure it is unseasonably cold. It is also Alaska. And this is a week to get some great things growing no matter the weather. Stay inside. Plant a few tomatoes.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week
Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel, summer savory, parsley.
Vegetables to start from seed: Head lettuces, cabbage, kale, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower
Flowers to start from seed: Dianthus, larkspur, stock, asters, nicotiana, cleome, annual ice plant, zinnia, salpiglossis, snaps, cosmos, lupine, Malva.
Alaska Botanical Garden: Summer camp. Floral classes. So many things to do. Go to alaskabg.org. Join! Visit. Nursery. Really, any reader of this column should be a member already, but if not, now is the time.