Gardening

Methods for destroying the weeds showing up in your yard — yes, even the pretty ones

Ah, it is good to be back in the yard again, but my oh my, the dandelions were not mowed while we were away. Is there a category at the fair for the largest dandelion plant? There sure should be!

Anyhow, there are a ton of yardening questions that need answers, starting with one on thatch. Is it time to do the lawn?

My object to thatching stems from the knee-jerk reaction Alaska yardeners used to have: Snow melts. Go get the thatch rake and attack the lawn, even before it’s fully greened up. This was before Alaska yardeners learned that thatch is not the dead grass blades which fall between plants and will decompose in a season, but rather the accumulation of the stems of these blades over years.

If you have half an inch or more of stems that simply won’t decay, by all means thatch. It is a ton of work, and a machine rather than a rake is the way to go if you can afford to rent a de-thatcher. As you work, realize that high nitrogen, synthetic fertilizers are a big part of the reason you have to exert all that effort. How many times do you need to be told? Alaska yardeners are organic.

Next, does a well on property preclude fertilizing? The answer is no. First, again, real Alaskans only use organic fertilizers. Second, the well is deep enough so the soil and sublayers filter any microbes in manures, which should be composted first, anyhow.

[Thin your garden. It may be painful now, but you’ll be rewarded.]

Next, a reader tosses pulled weeds onto the lawn for them to be mulched up during the next mow and wants to know: do weeds such as chickweed generate and spread from the mulched segments?

I love the intent behind this idea, as it is so very regenerative! The mower should do a number on the weeds such that they don’t root from segments, but I like the idea of running over them on the driveway, raking them into a pile and letting them dry out before putting them on the lawn. This way, you can bet they won’t sprout.

Better yet would be to toss weeds into a compost pile and then spread the compost on the lawn. We don’t do enough compost spreading here.

The same reader asked if I could identify a plant. This reminds me to note that there are some very good phone apps that identify plants. Search the internet using “plant ID apps” find one that fits your needs.

A reader insists that butter-and-eggs, Linaria vulgaris, are wonderful wildflowers and wants to know how to germinate the seeds she collected last year. Is she kidding? These are noxious weeds. Instead of planting, get a big jump on them by pulling them now before those yellow snapdragon flowers form and then morph into thousands of seeds.

I have had a similar argument with readers about orange hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum. This is a terrible flower, with fuzzy seed heads much like dandelions. If you see it, make sure to destroy it. I am so worried about it that when I found a few plants in the woods on our property, I put them down the kitchen disposal. Report sightings in the wild so patches don’t form and seeds spread elsewhere.

Finally, a question about keeping cats out of your garden. Is there a spray? What about poison?

Wow. Please, no poison. I realize cats wandering outdoors is a huge problem in Alaska. However, Alaskans don’t take the law into their own hands. Obviously, if you can identify the cat, let the owner know there is a problem. Or call the local animal control.

I don’t know of a spray that works, but some folks swear by motion detecting sprinklers. Others have resorted to live trapping and transporting to an appropriate agency for adoption.

The real solution is for cat owners to act responsibly. Wow. What is a cat doing outside in the first instance? Of all the irresponsible and cruel things to the cat and our birds.

Finally, a reader wants to know what I have against radishes. My mild aversion to rhubarb she can understand, but radishes?

I am not against growing radishes. I only note that they should be harvested after three weeks — now — or so, and not grown until the day before the state fair. I also maintain the average individual’s consumption of radishes is about three to five per year — and often because they are sliced and can’t be picked out of the salad — so gardeners should both plant different varieties than the standard, red, salad version, as well as short rows.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Pelargoniums: Dead-head spent flowers so they will continue to bloom profusely.

Greenhouse tomatoes and peppers: Pollinate yours just in case the insects don’t. Shake and use a paint brush.

Lawns: Mow in a pattern. Circles, diagonals, triangles. Have some fun.

Alaska Botanical Garden’s 20-foot willow sculpture: Exhibition opens on Tuesday, June 29, with a 10 a.m. walk-through and informational video about magpies courtesy of Bird TLC. Check it out at alaskabg.org. (And visit soon! The nursery and gift shop are open.)

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