There is a distinct warning signal gardeners get when they walk outside to pick up the morning ADN. The experience of that first chill of the fall season triggers an instinctual reflex. You know it won’t hit for a while, but it is time to be much more wary of the impending winter season and those first few frosts.
It isn’t exactly time to get out the driveway markers to guide the snow plow, but we could be hit by a frost any night from here on in. We’ve had them early and we have had late ones. Most often they are light, and we continue to have above-freezing weather, but not always. Best to just be prepared for whenever it hits and no matter how hard.
Fuchsias and tuberous begonias are probably at the top of the list of plants worth saving. Neither does well with frost. You can take yours in for over-wintering, a service provided by some nurseries, or store them yourself.
Let start with begonias, which ideally should simply dry out in their containers once moved inside and left there until next spring. If you need the space, let the plants die back, then carefully lift the tubers out of the soil. Make sure to label what you have and store them in a dark, cool location, such as a crawl space or unheated basement room. It must never get below 32, wherever you keep them. Put them in sawdust if you can. You can also store tubers in paper bags or cardboard boxes as long as they don’t touch each other.
Fuchsia will continue to grow and flower, but only under lights. Most people will want to put theirs to bed for the winter, however. Stop watering and trim your plant to a pyramid shape. Store the plant with the begonia tubers.
Collect seeds from the rhodochiton flowers. Let the soil dry and then put containerized plants with the begonias.
Dahlia tubers don’t mind early frosts, and some say they do better the next year as a result of exposure. The leaves will die back, then take them in and let them dry for a week or so. Be careful digging them, as there will be a banana-like bunch of tubers, not just the one you planted. The soil that sticks has the microbes that have been helping all season. Don’t wash it off as they come back to life when the plants are started next spring.
Gladioli also do fine with some freezing weather. Put them — roots, corms and leaves — upside down in paper bags and store with the rest of the stuff in that dark and cool spot.
If you have houseplants outside, they need to come in before frost, but make the transition slowly, sort of a reverse hardening off. Put them in an unheated garage for a few days to a week. And spray them with Neem or other organic insect killer to ensure you don’t transport hitchhikers into the house. Look for and remove slugs and snails. In fact, set up a few traps using beer/yeast water.
Before a frost is predicted, it is time to let amaryllises go into their annual dormancy. Just put their pots on their sides in — you got it — a dark, cool location like where you are keeping your other plants. Let the leaves die back.
While most gardeners look for frost to know when to take things indoors to store, when the temperatures hit 32 degrees, it is time to plant hard neck garlics so they will have enough time to develop a root system before the ground actually freezes. This is a great crop to grow in Alaska, especially since we are looking for new crops that are not invasive. Check out the internet for information, starting here: uaf.edu/ces/garden/garlic. There’s also a live educational Zoom session from Alaska Botanical Garden on Sept. 14 ($10-$12).
Finally, don’t wait for the frost to harvest your crops! The exceptions are potatoes and Brussels sprouts, which will taste better if they are allowed to suffer through one or two.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar:
Alaska Botanical Garden: Momentum Dance Collective presents “Uncovered,” a garden performance. 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 4 and 5. Tickets are $15 for youths (7-17), $25-$30 for adults and free for children 6 and under. alaskabg.org (4601 Campbell Airstrip Road)
Butter and eggs: You can still get some in flower and remove the rest, which will be carrying seeds by now. As pretty as they are, these are a real invasive pest.
Plant a Row: Share what you grew. Don’t waste.
Fertilize gardens and containers: Now is when organic supplements should be applied so microbes can do their thing on them all winter. It is also before you add leaves and mulches for the winter.
Lawns: Thanks for all the emails regarding the first Don’t Mow Your Lawn Week. Organic lawn supplements can go down now so they are decayed over the winter and made available. There is no need to tell you not to put chemical fertilizers down because no one should be using them.