Watering is the best way to give your Alaska lawn a boost in early spring

The ability to gather gardening information to pass on to readers has changed an awful lot over the years. When I first started writing this column some 45 years or so ago, there were a few horticultural newsletters that featured “new” stuff and while other gardening publications existed, they were what I call “picture based” horticultural writing.

Today, of course, the media we view has changed and we are bombarded with so much clickbait it gets overwhelming. This includes gardening stuff. There are a zillion how-to-grow this or that articles and even more what-you-should-do in order to succeed stuff. This month you have undoubtedly seen several stories arguing that May should be a no-mow month this year. If you haven’t seen them, you will. Trust me.

The loyal reader knows I like the idea of skipping mowing every now and then — Mowing Savings Time — and even have thoughts of not mowing our backyard at all this year. I am not motivated by these articles, however, but rather a desire to see if not mowing will negatively affect the dandelions in our lawns and if I can introduce some of our beautiful, native grasses. In any case, I am not opposed to the notion of letting the lawn go during May.

Regardless of how you roll on this one, I do think it is a good idea to use your mower to first mulch up all the spruce cones, twigs and limbs that accumulated in the yard over the long winter. This includes any leaves that are left from the fall. This is exactly the kind of organic material you need to keep the microbes in your lawn happy all summer long without necessarily fertilizing. Pick up the really big stuff and run over the rest. Leave it on the lawn, no bagging.

Even if you don’t mow your lawn in May, you should give it water, which for my money is the only treatment a lawn should get in the spring. No thatching, liming or fertilizing until things green up and you can make a real determination if you need to do one of these things. In the meantime, just water. You not only help the lawn reestablish for the season, you provide needed moisture for the trees and shrubs on your property.

This is where I jump in and tell you to set up your watering system now. During the summer, this system will be used more than anything else you need for a good-looking yard. Set things up properly now and watering chores, indeed yardening chores, will be so much easier.

Obviously, you need hose. My rule is to be able to reach every area on our property that will need water. In some instances you will be able to lay hose down and leave it all summer. If mowing and other chores would damage such a system, then invest in a hose reel to keep the hose safe and things tidy.


All hoses should be fitted with quick-release and -attachment fixtures. There are several kinds, plastic and brass, but it doesn’t matter what you use as long as they are all the same system. Every faucet bib should have one so you can move hoses around. All watering tools need one as should the working end of all hoses. No twisting and turning; just snap a tool on and off you go.

Consider investing in one of those traveling sprinklers. They travel along the hose as they water so you don’t have to go out and move them yourself. These are real time-savers and worth every penny you pay for them. Talk about a time-saver: add a timer to your faucet, turn it on and go to bed or fishing. Your lawn will be watered.

I love the idea of adding hot water to your outdoor system so you don’t cool the soil down to 40 degrees every time you water. I realize this is not all that practical. You can get a large black garbage can to keep water for use in the vegetable garden. Fill it and let the sun warm it up. I assure you your crops will appreciate the warmer water and perform better.

The important thing is to get outside and start cleaning up and preparing for the planting of seeds and starts.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanic Garden: Join now and get great gardening discounts. If you read this column, you should be a member! Among other benefits, the nursery will open and you will get first dibs on the unique stuff The Garden sells.

Hardening off: It is a bit too early, but you should be looking for a good spot: One with shade, completely out of the wind where you can leave the plants all night. It is too much work pulling them in and out of the garage or house.

Veggies: Summer squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, edamame

Plant these seeds outdoors if you have warm soils: Peas, spinach, onion sets, potatoes, Swiss chard, mustard, kale

Corn gluten: This is the stuff that stops seeds from germinating and lasts for 6 weeks. Depending on when your snow went out, these next two or three weeks are the time to prevent new dandelions plants from germinating. It won’t kill existing plants, however. There are several pre-emergent weed killers. Make sure you know what you are buying.

Potatoes from the grocery store: It is not a good idea to use store-bought potatoes. They may carry viruses we don’t need here in Alaska. And, the spuds may be treated to prevent or slow growth of the “eyes.”

Jeff Lowenfels

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 is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.