It’s time to enjoy the late-season pleasures of an Alaska garden


The Alaskan gardener knows that the season isn’t quite over. Sure, there are signs of The End everywhere: The fireweed is finished and there’s a chill in the air. And how can you not notice the heavy dews on the lawns? Ah, but come on folks, the leaves haven’t really started to turn. What is the rush to end it all?

Do enjoy the fruits of your flower gardens. Your annuals are still performing. Pick flowers and enjoy them inside, too. This is the time to wander your yard and deadhead those flowers and seed pods that you don’t want to germinate next spring. Butter and eggs are at the top of the list. Get a paper bag and collect them, then toss them into the trash.

Of course, there may be stuff you want to keep and germinate. Just remember that Alaska perennials need a good bite of cold weather to set them up for germination. You might consider using a container to plant in and leaving it outdoors for the winter, emulating nature. Put some leaves on top as a mulch.

Two perennials always bloom in mid-September. They are often not appreciated as much as they could be. The first is Allium cranium, a pretty little blue onion that grows in clumps. The leaves are edible, very chive-like, and the flowers make an ordinary salad really pop, Martha Stewart-style. This a useful little gem. Try it in small bouquets as well as when cooking.

The second is Veronica rotunda, also known as speedwell, actually spiked speedwell at that. I see this in a lot of gardens, and it is mostly ignored because it grows so easily. It is a bit of a spreader, but very manageable, which is why we let it into our yard. (You have to be careful who you let in.) Picking the flowers helps slow any spread.

I get a lot of questions about cleaning up flower beds. My advice is to leave things as they are. No one cleans up in Nature. All the goodies in the above-ground parts of plants should be allowed to fall to the ground and decay over the winter. Even the green parts of peonies, which “the experts” say should be removed to prevent diseases.

Now is a good time to cut back spent raspberry canes so there is no confusion next spring as to what to cut down. The canes that produced fruit this year are finished. Get them cleaned out. I like to cut them at their base, lay them aside our patch and then run the mower over them so as to blow the debris, now mulch, back into the patch. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!

Now is a great time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs. Their root systems will develop over the winter, and the plant will be ready to perform next spring. Do visit local nurseries. And, while you are there, it is time to buy and plant spring flowering bulbs.

Finally, make some garden moves. What did well this year and what did not? What would do better if moved into sun or shade? As things go dormant, it is easier for them to survive transplanting into new locations. Pretty soon the ground will freeze, and by then it will be too late.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week:

Correction: The name of the Netflix show on fungi that you absolutely should see is called “Fantastic Fungi.” Sorry for the misdirection.

Garlic: 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17, is the start of Alaska Botanical Garden’s garlic sale (online only). Things sell out in a day. Pick-up for online orders and in-person shopping begins the next day, 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18.

Organic fertilizers: Should go down now so they can work in all winter. Don’t use chemical fertilizers. Period.

Potatoes and Brussels sprouts: Wait for a frost to harvest if possible. They will taste better.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Reach him at