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Take these steps now in your yard so you’re ready for planting time

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 29
  • Published April 29

Louise Colbert looks for flowers last year at Dimond Greenhouses. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Those pesky birch buds. Come on, squirrel-ear-sized leaves. What are you waiting for, Mother Nature? Have patience, Alaskans.

No matter! As I keep saying, the soil is too cool to plant this time of year anyhow, unless you are talking containers. However, it is not too cool to clean up those areas of the yard that have dried out. This has been a long winter, with lots of wind that blew things around and lots of snow to cover it all up so we didn’t care. No longer. Spring is here. So is clean-up.

Please note, I am not suggesting you spend the weekend raking up leaves from last fall or thatching any dead grass tops. To the contrary, no raking is allowed, unless it is to clean the deck or the driveway and walks. It is too much work, and those leaves and twigs out there are gold for microbes that feed your plants. Use your lawn mower on the lawn instead of a rake and mulch things up. Just wait until it is dry enough to be safe.

The regular reader will know that fertilizing lawns this time of year is just silly, despite the plethora of advertisements to do so and all the sales of the stuff. Fertilizer companies are just trying to sell you something. I, on the other hand, am just trying to save you work and money. You have no idea if your lawn needs to be fed until it greens out and you can assess it. I am betting that if you listen to me, it won’t need anything but water all season.

Water. Funny how I tell you to let things dry out so we can go work in the yard. Then I tell you all your lawn probably needs is water. Well, it is true. So if you really want an early, lush, green lawn, water it when days are dry and sunny. This, of course, means you need to attach the hose and get out that sprinkler. Remember the rule: no water leaks. Get washers if you need them, repair things if it isn’t just a washer or toss and replace anything that still leaks.

Containers in the sun can support plants now, provided you can protect them if a night gets close to freezing. Try peas, both the flowering kind and the edible ones, should you want to do a bit of outdoor planting. Peas benefit from a good roll in Rhizobia bacteria, the kind that fix nitrogen. Get some and keep it on hand for use with legumes.

If you can get to your raspberry canes, now is a great time to clip out the dead ones from last year’s harvest. It is also time to cut back this year’s canes to 4 feet or so. If you have the energy, it is always a good idea to stake and cage your bushes with wire.

Now is also the time to trim back cotoneaster and caragana hedges and specimen plants. They will thicken as a result.

I mentioned removing mulch last week. Now go back and check your peonies. That mulch composts to soil after a few years, and this buries the roots too deep. Gently “scratch and blow” off the crowns to return them to their original depth in the soil.

Finally, it is time to start buying starts. What are you waiting for? I keep telling you the good stuff goes first. As soon as those birch leaves open, you can leave stuff outdoors to harden off — and to make it easier to water. When shopping, bring a tarp for the back seat of the car. Look for healthy plants that are not in bloom — unless they are tomatoes — as you want the plant to bloom in your garden, basket or container.

Finally, keep an eye out for bags of leaves foolish people put on the curb for the refuse folks. If the yard looks dog-free, go for them. You will need leaves to keep the compost going and, of course, for mulching those beds.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Nurseries are open: Visit many and often during the week. Look for sales.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.

Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), Stock(10L), Lockspar (20C). These numbers represent the days to germinate. C means grow cool and L means seeds need light.

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Alaska Botanical Garden classes: Most have Zoom element. Lots of great things at Join while you are at it. What are you waiting for?