Gardening

Gardeners who miss an indoor seed-starting window may find it’s closed for the year

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By my calendar this is the start of the indoor part of the 2022 outdoor gardening season. There isn’t really a term for this. Any suggestions? No matter. What a winter this has been — so far, I hesitate to add. We are ready!

This means we need to pivot to meet the times. No more houseplant talk. It’s time for flowers, vegetables and fruits. The weekly calendar that accompanies this column will include what seeds need to be started when. I will try to lecture less and get you what you need to have the best garden possible.

Newcomers need to know that if you miss one of these seed starting windows, it is closed for the season unless you can find the plants at a nursery. Just so you know, these suggested start dates are based on lots of experience, mine and others’, and are designed to give your plants the right amount of time to do well outdoors.

There are exceptions. I have mentioned sweet peas a couple of times. You can start them now and pinch them back for earlier flowering and bushier plants. Otherwise start them in April. You will get blooms, just later.

Then there are tomatoes. The traditional time to start them in my book is around April 1, which happens to be the day Alaska gardeners finally have enough daylight to germinate any kind of seeds without using supplemental light. However, starting tomatoes earlier will result in fruit earlier. And, since we grow these plants in greenhouses, it really doesn’t matter when you start yours.

If you do start tomatoes early, use indeterminate types that will continue to bloom all summer. You could start determinate plants, but they flower only once and stop. Still, you will get early tomatoes. Just remember, either way you will need to be the pollinator as your flowers won’t be visited by outdoor insects. You will also need room to grow the plants in the house before they go into that outdoor greenhouse or cold frame.

You surely could grow everything you plan on using in your garden from seed. However, again for newcomers, thanks to our wonderful system of nurseries, it is not necessary. It is important, however, that you start at least one thing from seed. This is the only real requirement for being a real gardener up here.

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In addition to thinking about seeds, now is the time to take winter-stored plants out of that crawl space, garage or wherever you keep them. For the most part, just clean them up, water them if they are in last year’s containers, and wait for new growth if you don’t already see some.

Tuberous begonias can be lifted out of their containers and started in flats, or left in their containers. Remember, no soil or water should get into the concave area of the tubers. This is where the shoots will appear. Don’t forget to label, a rule that applies to all plantings.

Roses stored over the winter should be pruned back to a foot or two. Get rid of canes that cross each other. If you have to grow your roses by a window, turn the plants every few days.

Repot pelargoniums, aka “geraniums,” stored soilless in paper bags. First, cut plants back to where there is “green” in the stem. Shape the plants as needed.

Fuchsia should be watered well. Trim them into a pyramid shape. Make sure to remove crossing branches. If there is a lot of spindly green growth, remove it or pinch it back.

Rhodochiton, aka “the Alaska State Fair vine,” will come back from the dead wood just as fuchsia do. Get yours into light. If you didn’t collect seeds in the fall, they can be collected and started next month.

If you have supplemental grow lights — and everyone who reads this column does, right? — use them for your seeds and for your stored plants. If you don’t have lights, I am asking — aghhh, once again — why not? You should too. Are you an Alaska gardener? You need a set of grow lights, for goodness’ sake, so you can start anything you want.

So, gather up your flats, soil, labels and seeds and stored plants. Winter still may be around, and awful, but it is coming to an end, which means outdoor gardening can’t be too far away. Get ready.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Vegetables to start from seed now: Artichokes (not really a vegetable), leeks, onions and celery.

Flowers to start from seed now: Fibrous begonias, rhodochitons, hollyhock and lupine.

Alaska Botanical Garden’s Annual Spring Conference: The conference will be held virtually this year on Friday and Saturday, March 11-12. Details for registration at www.alaskabg.org.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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