Gardening

Spring is here. Remember to follow these best practices for your lawns, plants and vegetable gardens.

The geese are back. The sandhill cranes are too. We are definitely on our way. I know this, not just because of the bird sightings, but because of the volume of questions I am getting. I am going to jump around a bit as there are a number of things I should cover.

First, it is a bit cooler this spring than on average. We normally have a 50-degree day about a week or so earlier than this year. Don’t get discouraged. Things can change rapidly. You never know about Alaska’s weather, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

OK, next, a repeat about snow mold, those fuzzy threads you may see on your lawn as the snow melts off. It was a good year for the growth of it and as I wander around, I see people raking it to clear it off the lawn. Snow mold rarely causes problems in Alaskan lawns. Just let it “melt” away on its own, which it will. You don’t need to rake it or put anything on it. In fact, why spread the mold’s spores? Just leave it and save yourself a lot of effort raking.

And, my annual advice regarding spring lawn care. Once the snow goes, all your lawn needs is water. Don’t fertilize, despite the presence of all manner of fertilizers on sale. And, let me save you a lot of hard work: don’t thatch. Let the lawns green up for a few weeks before you decide if they need feeding. I am betting most don’t.

What about mowing? There is a big effort in the Lower 48 to not mow lawns in May. This is supposed to allow weeds to bloom and enable pollinators to thrive. This is a form of Daylight Mowing Time discussed last year. Here in Alaska, I think it is a better idea to mulch up the debris on the lawn. Then deal with that first flush of dandelions by mowing them down before they fully flower and go to seed. Stop mowing after that for a few weeks if you want to help pollinators.

Next, a bit more on worms. I have had discussions with a few readers who point out that since all earthworms are invasive, it is a bad idea to buy them for producing vermicompost and compost and surely one should not toss worms onto a lawn or garden. They may be right. I am thinking on it.

I do want to point out that worms are not needed to make compost. There is no reason to add them to a pile, so it is best that we don’t.

OK. This is the time of year when you should be planting what I call “the big seeds.” Specifically, nasturtiums, sweet peas, canary bird vines, scarlet runner beans, peas, beans and soybeans. By big, I am referring to their physical size. All of these develop from large seeds, the kind that children can easily handle. And it turns out these are some of the easier seeds to start. You should soak them before germinating them.

There is no doubt in my mind that food costs will be much higher this summer due to the invasion of Ukraine. Peas and beans produce all summer long if you harvest them. These are great crops as almost everyone likes to eat them and they just grow automatically. Depending on the varieties you grow, you probably need a trellis system, which is easy enough to make or buy.

Finally, this is a good time to buy potatoes, not to plant them just now, but to expose them to light so they will develop “eyes.” Just put them in sunlight. Do not wash your spuds as the bacteria on them will jump off into the soil when you plant them and help the resulting plants. Potatoes are a great crop for Alaskans. This year, why not plant more than one variety to spice up the dinner table? Just make sure to buy locally as Outside spuds may have viruses that could be bad for Alaska potato growers. And don’t forget the names of those you plant so you can buy or avoid those varieties depending on how they perform.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Why are you waiting to join? Nursery sale starts in May with first call to ABG members. There are self-guided art classes, summer camp sign-up and, of course, The Garden, itself.

Grow your own food: Check out www.anchorgardens.org, a new group to help pair experts with those who want help. Find a coach in your neighborhood or become one.

Flowers to start: Nasturtiums, sweat peas, canary bird vine, scarlet runner beans, peas, beans and soybean. nemophila, silene, mignonette, Arctic poppy, California poppy, morning glory, Shirley poppies.

Flowers to start in four packs or flats: Nemesia, scabiosa, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons, marigolds, clarkia, zinnia and calendula.

Vegetables: Squash, cucumbers and edamame

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.

Sponsored