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Gardening

Alaskans would find a lot in common with Wyoming’s short-season gardeners

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: June 17
  • Published June 17

A mostly vegetable garden located on a Pacific View neighborhood in Anchorage, photographed on July 29, 2012. (JR Ancheta / Anchorage Daily News archive)

I have a confession. I am not in Alaska as I write this. Still, given the unbroken record of columns over 45 years, I submit one, even if I am not home. After 18 months of not seeing The Grandkids in person, our time came, and here I am checking out how much they grew during Isolation.

Fortunately, my daughter and husband chose a location just like Anchorage, with long winters and cool-night summers. In fact, I am in an identical growing zone to Anchorage, judging from the flowers, bushes and trees currently in bloom and the stage of the veggie seedlings in the garden beds around town. I feel at home.

By the time you read this, I will be back, badgering you, but today I am going to walk around town with a granddaughter, who somehow turned into a teenager while I wasn’t looking and is now taller than my daughter. And I am sure there will be some Pokemon shenanigans with our pre-teen grandson who can now navigate and manipulate a computer better than my MIT-trained son. Almost as good is the pleasure of watching my daughter deal with her own kids.

I am not gardening while we are visiting other than a bit of weeding at the plot in their community garden. Instead I get to see what Alaska must look like from a tourist’s point of view when they pile off those ships during normal summers. The huge variety of lilacs along with tartan honeysuckle and Siberian peas are in full flower even while tulips and daffodils are in bloom, just like in Southcentral. Colorful fuchsia and begonias are everywhere. Peonies are starting to open and annuals, particularly petunias abound. Chard, spinach, kales (no tomatoes!), carrots potatoes and Swiss chard — the gardens here look like ours. And, how things develop quickly!

Personally, I like the look of a pioneer yard, that particular set of plants that every short-season area, remote from big nurseries, presents. Young cottonwoods become landscape plants — and, yes, the fluff off them is all over, just like at home. The adventurous gardener here is experimenting with Montmorency cherries and crab apples. I know I have seen young hops vines starting out and I think I saw some kiwi.

When it comes to gardening here, I can see mistakes all short seasoners make. I have to restrain myself — for the sake of my daughter’s reputation — from knocking on random doors to urge the gardener there to use mulch, as almost no one does. Oh, and the smell of dandelion killer along paved walking paths and in the parks shows this is definitely something that this little town needs to address before the second wave of them.

Ouch, I see too many people fertilizing their lawns with weed-be-gone formulas, though beautifully cut on the diagonal, a la Alaska style, complete with weeds. (I’ve actually run into a few ex-readers here and they are spreading the word about the diagonal mow.)

And, don’t get me going on the beets, which last week in this column I pointed out are in pods and always need thinning. There are way too many cottonwoods here, and I think I saw some chokecherries being used as landscape plants, too, which is a big no-no if these folks want to protect their riparian banks.

We have been here eight days and wow, just like in Alaska. You turn your back and the carrots are an inch taller, the snap peas have leaped up their supports and the potatoes need hilling again. Nothing, however, grows faster or gives more satisfaction than the grandkids.

Jeff’s Alaska — or Wyoming — garden calendar

Tomato and cucumbers and peppers: Greenhouse plants need to be pollinated. Open the door and let in the bugs or do it yourself with a small paint brush.

Potatoes: Hill all but the top 3 inches or so

Thin: Beets, carrots, lettuces.

Mulch: Keep weeds at bay. Use mulches. Green for annuals, brown for perennials.

Radish: Time to eat some, pull the rest and plant some new ones? They are not supposed to get to the size of golf balls.

Lettuces: Harvest leaves, carefully cutting leaves above ground with scissors instead of pulling the plants. New leaves will grow back for future harvests.

Butter and eggs: Get at this pernicious weed now while these invasive are small and before they can produce seeds.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Make a habit to review their offerings each week by checking alaskabg.org. And you can also see what is in bloom.

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