This is the week so many Alaska gardeners experience “Did I plant enough starts” syndrome, along with the “where are my vegetable seedlings” phase of the gardening season. Cooped up all winter, we want instant greenery, perfect displays of flowers, harvestable veggies and lots of leaves ASAP.
Is this where I point out a major theme of these columns? Yes: Gardening is not the basket of veggies or bouquets of flowers you end up with at the end of the season. Gardening is a process of getting to the harvests and flowers. Watching a seed germinate, tracking the progress of growth, dealing with obstacles, sensing the wonderment of bud formation and so much more make up gardening. The harvest of flowers and carrots? These are just two points in time and all gardeners should learn to relish all the moments leading up to these, and even beyond.
Let’s start with figuring out if you have enough starts. Yours are going to at least double in size and area used. More than likely, they will triple in size. Use this as your basic guide. More specifically, a standard hanging basket should have four to six starts. Two to 3 inches between starts is the rule in a window box or deck container. And, starts that are not doing well now are most probably not going to perform any better and need replacing.
If you decide you need more starts, go and get them right now. Don’t delay, as you want to make sure the new ones are the same growth size as the seedlings already planted. And every day you wait increases the great possibility that what you want won’t be available. Finally, and most importantly, you still may need to harden them off — if they were grown inside — and this will take a week or so. Get going.
Of course, it never hurts to have an extra six pack or two of starts, immediately put into bigger quarters and grown so they will be available if you need to replace a plant that dies during the summer.
As for the seeds you planted directly in the soil, give them at least the amount of time to germinated listed on the packet. If you don’t have the packets or yours does not list germination time, look up the plant on the internet with “days to germinate” as part of the query.
What you don’t want to do is dig around and try to see if you can find a seed to see if it has germinated but just not risen above the soil level. Instead, have a little patience. If you are really worried and have the space, you can try to plant more seeds. Still, it is best to just relax for another week. The soil is warming and things will be sprouting, I am quite sure, if you followed directions. Just make sure the soil does not dry out.
One plant that is sprouting is chickweed. Some of your previously used soil will have a zillion tiny seedlings on the surface that are pretty easy to simply scrape off. Now is the time to get them up and out of the gardens so they won’t compete with the wanted seedlings for light. Oddly enough, once your plants get large enough to beat the chickweed, the stuff actually acts as a pretty decent cover crop. You just have know you will have to deal with the seeds produced by it. In any case, right now, pull or hoe the stuff up. Remove it from the garden, as it can re-root if left.
Speaking of weeds, now is the time to get at those invasive perennials that take over so many of our Alaska gardens. You know which plants are your problem. At the very least, destroy tops by hoeing, hand-picking or even flaming. No poisons, please. Round-up is not safe, IMHO. A good thick layer of mulch will help slow these weedy plants down. Leaves are the right mulch for perennials. Straw or really finely ground leaves are what to use around veggies and annuals.
Finally, I failed to include in my discussion about gardening being a process is that it is also supposed to be enjoyable. If you can get into the process of gardening, it won’t become a chore and you won’t worry as much about things like having enough starts are if you seeds will germinate.
Jeff’s garden calendar for the week:
Lawns: Mow down those dandelions. Patterns, anyone?
Sales: Take advantage of the last of the bare root shrub and tree sales at local nurseries. Now is a fine time to plant both. Use native soil, however.
Alaska Botanical Garden: Why do I always urge you to join and to check alaskabg.org every week? Because this institution will help you garden better than anything I can write. Join and use the Garden. Classes, picnics, festivals, nursery, camp and the sheer joy of a beautiful garden beds and paths, not to mention it is a great place to send visitors to.