Gardening

Pay attention to spring seed-starting windows and improve your chances for a thriving summer garden

Get those trowels ready. We are approaching the proverbial “you-don’t-need-lights” to germinate and grow starts time, April 1. This is what so many of us have been waiting for all winter.

We may not need supplemental lights to support our seedlings, but gardeners won’t be able to transplant indoor grown stuff to the outdoors until the last two weeks of May. Sure, you might get some stuff into the ground a week or so before that, peas come to mind, however soil temperatures are the key factor, not the last frost date. Our soil wont’t be warm enough for us to be able to safely plant for another 10 weeks, at best.

All Alaska gardeners should know the window for starting some of these plants is a very narrow one. You really do need to start things at the proper time to get the best crops. It is too late to start celery now, for example, and expect a decent crop before fall and its frosts. By the same token, it is really too early to start snap peas or cucumbers. You most probably won’t have enough room for the plants come mid May and you will definitely need to transplant into larger containers before we get outside.

The point: it is best to wait until a particular plant’s starting window opens and plant before it closes. How do you know when? I always try to alert readers in the calendar that accompanies these columns.

Right now, or April 1 if you want to be a purist, there are lots and lots of vegetables to start from seed. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and head lettuce are on this list and the window is wide open. Since these have a very wide window in which to start, you can and really should stagger planting seeds over a few weeks so your family doesn’t have to deal with the harvest of 21 broccoli plants all at once. On the other hand, peppers, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes don’t need staggering. Get them growing now.

Flowers to start from seed now include cannabis (autoflowers are best for Alaska), cosmos, snaps, ageratum, seed dahlias, godetia, aster, celosia, malva, salvia, lupine, brachyscome, dianthus, stock (seeds need light) and lockspar. Some of these need to be started now because they take a long time to germinate. Others need to be started now because they need more time to mature.

There are always some herbs to start from seed and the early ones to start now are sorrel and parsley. The latter is a biennial, meaning it will really produce next year. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start some. Fresh parsley is so much better than store bought.

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Finally, there are tubers to start. Achimenes, begonias and dahlias are the main ones we grow here in Alaska. Expose them all to light now to get things going.

Oh, and don’t forget those fuchsia and other stored plants such as roses, tuberous begonias, rhodochitins, pelargoniums and yacons. They need to come out of storage now. Water them and expose them to light.

As you can tell, there is much to do and we are just getting started with spring seed starts. One bit of advice you should heed is not to try to start every seed possible. Instead, pick a few of the many plants we use in our gardens and concentrate on them. Let our wonderful nursery system help by supplying the rest of your plants!

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Seeds to start this week: See above. Next week, these will be listed in this calendar

Local dahlia source: Professional dahlia grower Rob Wells is again accepting orders for his incomparable dahlia tubers via email. See them pictured on the Hatcher Pass Dahlias Facebook page.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Classes, garden plots, summer camp and more. Check it all out as you join at www.alaskabg.org.

Mowers: Time to get blades sharpened and engines tuned. If you are buying new, go battery or electric, not gasoline powered.

Seed starting class: This is an intensive, 90-minute class on all things you need to know and do to start seeds. It is taught by the incomparable gardener, Kodiak’s Marion Owens. Classes are limited and this is a huge opportunity, so hurry. Here is the link for more juicy information and to share:

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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