Gardening

The magic of mulch to revive a lawn, a shrub or a vegetable garden

I love watching the snow melt off the lawn. Not only does it give me hope for the gardening I know is so close at hand, it is always a surprise to see to what appears as the snow disappears.

Last year, for example, we had a maze of vole tunnels in the grass. These little critters eat down to the soil and leave their trails bare of grass. Rake the tunnels away and you are left with what can look like a lawn that had a maze constructed in it. You might think it will never be the same.

Don’t worry. I give the same advice regarding vole trails as I do snow mold. Let them be. New grass plants will move in naturally. If, in a month they still bother you, you can toss some grass seed on them. In fact, many professionals toss grass seed all over spring lawns to help thicken them. For me, it is a bit early to do so, but it is an option once the grass starts to green up.

Then there are all the twigs, cones and branches and the occasional copy of the Anchorage Daily News wrapped in orange plastic. There is quite a collection at our house. On one hand, I love the idea of running them over -- all but the ADNs -- with the Deere. On the other hand, I realize we are in the middle of a shift away from gasoline-powered mowers so I feel conflicted.

However, it is impossible to mulch this debris with a reel-type push mower. I could pick up the stuff, but I justify using the gas mower because this debris is such terrific lawn food once it is mulched by a power mower. After all, one of the rules of gardening with the soil food web is “what falls on the ground in nature is supposed to stay there.” So I won’t rake it but will mulch it instead. I will be searching my soul, however, as I do it.

Speaking of mulch, once the lawn is dry enough, and most in Anchorage should be by now, go out and remove the mulch from existing beds so the soil will warm up faster. Just rake it aside, making sure not to damage any perennial shoots. Once things really start to grow, put it back. This mulch feeds the soil food web microbes that feed your plants and it will keep the weeds down.

If you make a quick review of the soil food web rules, you will find that brown, woody and leafy mulches are best for perennials and around trees and shrubs. That means you could use a bagger on your mower and collect all the winter debris and use it as mulch on your perennials. Green material is full of sugars and this is what you should put on your veggie gardens once planted. Straw is great for vegetable garden mulch if you happen to come across a bale at a visit to a nursery.

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Finally, fall is the best time of the year to fertilize organic gardens. If you didn’t do it then, apply some to the surface of your gardens now after you remove its mulch to warm the soils. We have a month or so before we will be planting in them and it will help feed the microbes in the soil so they will be ready to feed your spring plants. I like to apply soybean meal for perennial beds and non-sulfur granulated molasses for the vegetable beds, or use an organic fertilizer with numbers below 10-10-10. No rototilling, as that destroys the soil structure and disturbed the soil food webs in your gardens.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Check out this week’s activities at www.alaskabg.org. Join!

They are back: Better than the swallows arriving at Capistrano, geese returned to the Anchorage Bowl. Summer isn’t too far off.

Grow Your Own Apple Tree!: Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association is holding their annual grafting workshop at Begich Middle School Saturday, April 23, from 1-2:30 pm. Free grafting instruction and scion wood with the purchase of an apple root stock as long as supplies last.

Flowers to start from seed: Sweat peas, asters, nicotiana, cleome, zinnia, dianthus, annual ice plant

Vegetables to start from seed: Lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peppers, tomatoes

Herbs to start from seed: summer savory, sorrel

Corms: Start gladiolas, a few at a time over the next few weeks.

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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