The days are long. The sun shines — sometimes — warm. It is time. The window for planting is now. You only have a few weeks. After that, the window closes for the season. It will still be warm, and there will still be long days, but it will be too late to get any crops. Do not let that happen to you.
First and foremost, if I haven’t already made it clear in a zillion columns, you have to acclimate indoor-grown plants to the wind and ultraviolet rays they will experience outdoors so they will continue to grow. It takes a week and you would be foolish to try to skip putting everything in the shade for a few days, at least, and then some dappled light or a couple of hours of early or late sun for the rest of the week. I know people often skip hardening off with success when we have cloudy weather. It isn’t worth the risk.
And no rototilling either, unless you are establishing a brand-new garden. By the same token, don’t turn all the soil over in it. Keep the soil’s fungi intact and the bacteria in the right place. The rule is to disturb the soil as little as possible. A small furrow for seeds works great — run a stick or two-by-four up a row; a trowel is the tool for transplants.
If you have a choice, plant on a cloudy day. Don’t put fertilizer in planting holes. When you transplant, the only thing your seedlings need are an endo mycorrhizal inoculation and, if they are legumes, some Rhizobia bacteria. Water plants in their containers before planting. Water the soil before you plant, too, especially seeds. Make sure to water starts again after transplanting, as this will settle the soil around the roots — which should receive as little disturbance as possible.
Do not let the soil dry out, at least not until the plants and seeds get established. The soil doesn’t have to be soaking, but you do not want to let starts dry out. They need to establish anchoring root systems and branching so they will absorb water and nutrients and, it turns out, bacteria — yes, bacteria. I sense another book in the Teaming series coming. This should take at least a week and more likely, two. And don’t walk all over the garden, ever. Establish paths or foot holds.
I know many of you have already planted your gardens. Keep an eye on those plants in case you need to replant some. I hope the soil was warm enough to germinate seeds in a timely fashion.
Mulch is what should be used to keep weeds out or down. Using leaves for perennials and straw for annuals is the best recommendation. These decay and feed the right kinds of microbes. Grass clippings will substitute for the straw if it is mulched up and applied thinly. If you can shred leaves very fine then these can be used on annuals as well.
Moose will stay out of your garden if you spray/paint corners with PlantSkydd. Cats seem to be a huge problem this spring, bigger than ever — which is amazing considering there is a leash law. Do no let your cat roam! The best solution to keep cats away is a big dog or a motion-sensing sprinkler.
Dandelions are starting to bloom. Here is the deal: The real Alaskan does not use toxic poisons on dandelions — anymore than she lets her cat roam. Do not use weed and feed type products, even though they are advertised and put on sale to make you think it is OK. It isn’t good for the environment, at the very least.
If you must get dandelions, go out with a hand weeder for a few minutes every day. Or spray with clove or other organic mixes. In the end, the dandelions will win, but I know it makes us feel better to put up a battle. Just don’t be brainwashed into the conspiracy that you really can control them. If you have to keep putting poisons down to keep them out of your lawn, ask: why? The only answer is to mow down the flowers, hopefully before they turn to seed.
Finally, speaking of mowing, is it time? Only you can tell. There is nothing wrong with letting the lawn grow long. This allows the roots to really get great photosynthates and, perhaps, grow well enough to out-compete those dandelions. You can spread some seed over those winter vole trails and bare spots and just water the lawns to green them up. Bottom line, however? Get those gardens in first. There will be plenty of time to fool with the lawn.
Jeff’s garden calendar for the week:
Seeds to start outdoors: Peas, beans, carrots, lettuces, radishes, Swiss chard and so many more!
Trees and shrubs: Take advantage of bare-root sales. Apply ecto mycorrhizal mixes to tree and shrub roots before planting.
Alaska Botanical Garden: If you want to know what should be blooming in your yard, check out the Garden’s gardens. Plant sales at the nursery are amazing. And, there is a whole summer’s worth of activities you need to see. Go to alaskabg.org.