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Spring is finally here, but try to stay off your lawn for a while

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 22
  • Published April 22

We are finally finished with winter. In most populated areas the nights are above freezing and the Canada geese are back. Very soon you will have those squirrel-ear-sized leaves on the birch and you won’t have to take my word for it.

The urge, of course, is to go out and walk all over the lawn and see what is going on. Who can resist checking for vole damage (those 2-inch meandering paths in the lawn), seeing if there is snow mold this year, or just looking for signs of those spring-flowering bulbs you planted? It is always good to observe signs of spring. It is not always good to walk on the lawn looking for them.

One question I get this time of year is if it makes sense to water garden beds with hot water to get the soil to warm up quicker. It is a tempting idea, and in theory should work. I am a big proponent of homes having an outdoor hot water spigot to mix with the cold water we use on our gardens. My big concern this time of year is drainage, and water that is too hot kills microbes. Still, I suppose you could spray a bit of hot water if you were so inclined. If you want to really warm up the beds, lay down some clear plastic sheets.

A better idea is to remove the mulch I told you to put on your garden beds last fall. Save it, as you need to put it back once the soil does warm up. Yes, you can put ashes from the fire pit out on the gardens, as long as you have been using natural woods. Put it into a compost pile, though, where it will ultimately do better.

Your outdoor containers, however, are no longer frozen to the deck and can be moved into the warmest spots. If the soil is thawed, consider planting peas. Don’t forget to roll the seed or roots in a Rhizobia bacterial inoculant.

All peas and other legumes should be rolled in this inoculant, so buy some when you hit the nurseries, even if you are not ready to plant yours. The same goes with endomycorrhizal fungi, which you should buy to ensure you get some before nurseries run out. You are also going to need Bt to get rid of delphinium defoliators and cotoneaster leaf curlers. These caterpillars get to work very early in the season, so apply it as soon as leaves green out and do so in accordance with directions, which call for 24 hours of dry weather post application. The caterpillars have to ingest it before it can work.

The best flower combo I have ever seen is a mixture of schizanthus and nemesia. Maybe it is just me and perhaps the colors are a bit gaudy, but seeing these flowers for the first time when we moved here obviously made an indelible and colorful impression. These are not plants you see in lots of other states and when sold here, they are in limited quantities. Either start yours this week or buy yours when you see them and before supplies run out.

Finally, this is the week for getting children into gardening. This is because it is time to start marigolds. These seeds are big and don’t need to go very deep. They germinate very quickly and can really spark an interest in gardening. Nasturtiums, too, are easy seeds for youngsters to handle, but it helps to soak them first, which might be a bit more work and take a bit more time than a little one wants. In any case, gardening is a life-long obsession if you as a parent let it be.

Jeff’s garden calendar for the week

Plant a Row For The Hungry: Please open your email contacts and urge all your friends to plant one row in their gardens dedicated to feed the hungry. Even if COVID-19 disappears, hunger will be a problem this year. And, please plan on planting a row for the hungry here in Alaska.

Flowers to start from seed: Dahlia, schizanthus, nigella, phlox, portulaca, nemesia, marigold and nasturtiums.

Vegetables: Broccoli and cauliflower.

Gladioli: Lots of concern about the height some have reached. Not to worry, as you bury them a few inches deeper when planted outdoors.

Nurseries: Don’t wait. Early birds do get the best worms.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Time to sign up for summer camp at the garden. There are lots of options at