Gardening

Ignore those fertilizer ads. Here’s what your lawn really needs.

It is just a question of weeks before we start seeing those commercials on TV that insist we go out and fertilize our lawns immediately or else bad things will happen to them. Or worse, we will be told to go out and fertilize and kill dandelions at the same time. Of course, when it starts, we probably will still have snow patches in our yards, but I know they get even Alaska yardeners’ attention. Let’s talk lawns and try to counter some of this.

First of all, don’t listen to those commercials. The rule all readers should follow no matter the lawn’s location is to wait until your lawn starts growing before you make any feeding decisions. It will green up. Only then can you figure out if it needs feeding. Besides, fertilize too early with one of those spring-advertised formulas and much of the stuff will run off.

Weed and feed type formulas are worse. These are only effective when temperatures warm, both the soil’s and the air. Organic gardeners, readers of this column I hope, should stay away from these formulas even when it does get warm. There are other ways to try to deal with dandelions, though I have come to believe they’ve won the war.

Let me back up. Your lawn is undoubtedly wet. Stay off it. I think I once wrote that you shouldn’t really walk on a spring lawn until you can do so in stockings without getting your feet wet. Doing so creates paths and low spots which can cause problems later and are unsightly.

Once the lawn does dry, the irony is you should water it until it greens up. You may want to toss some grass seed around, especially if you have bare or thinning spots in your lawn.

Then there is snow mold. People freak out when they see lots and lots of fuzzy threads covering parts of the lawn. There are things to spray on them, I am sure, but I have never heard of anyone losing even part of their lawn to snow mold. You can rake it away, but you might want to wear a face mask to avoid inhaling fungal spores. In Alaska the stuff goes away by itself.

This year there is a lot of wind-strewn debris on the lawn. Once the lawn is a bit drier I will collect the big stuff and use it for fires. The rest I plan on running over with my mower. (This is the one time it helps to have a power mower.) Those chips will feed the lawn. If you are worried that mushrooms will invade to decay some of this, bag and use the collecting in your compost pile. Or plan on aerating the lawn early when you can walk on the lawn. Aeration seems to keep lawn dandelions at bay.

Similarly, you really don’t want to be walking around in your garden beds until they dry. You don’t want to compact the soil, especially since the rule is gardeners should not rototill or turn over soil in an existing garden. I guess this is why the advice is to clean up in the fall, huh?

All garden soils should be covered with mulch. The exception is in April when you can remove it so the soil will warm up faster. Keep it close by and replace it on the gardens once they do. Remember: soil temperature is what determines when things should be planted. Warmer soil means gardening sooner.

And just to tie things together, those twigs and sticks you mow over make a great mulch for perennial beds. Just don’t apply them until the snow melts and the soils warm up

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

ABG seed starting workshop: Monday, April 4, 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Registration required, www.alaskabg.org

Dahlia correction: Hatcher Pass Dahlias is robw@mtaonline.net. The link goes to wellsrobw@mtaonline.net.

Composting: Solid Waste Service’s Curbside Composting Program is open for registration. Call 343-6250 today to register or find out if you are a SWS customer. Anchorage residents can also receive a free disposal pass for referring a new curbside compost customer by June 1! Food scrap drop-off sites will be available at the Central Transfer Station and the Anchorage Regional Landfill. Free finished compost will not be available this year.

Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.

Flowers to start from seed: Achimenes (tuber), brachyscome, dianthus, stock (seed needs light), larkspur

Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join now. There are lots of activities and classes you won’t want to miss. See: www.alaskabg.org

Bird feeders: Time to take yours down and time to put seed away securely. The bears are back.

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; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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