Gardening

With frost season likely over, it’s time to acclimate your plants to the outdoors

The birch leaves on our property have most definitely reached the size of squirrel ears. If the past holds true, and I see no reason it shouldn’t, this means there won’t be any more frosts for the season. We have all been waiting for this week. Judging from the emails and the so far coolish season, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

It is always a surprise to new gardeners to learn that we need to “harden off” any plants grown and purchased indoors so they won’t be damaged by wind and UV rays. In the past, I have made this process way too complicated. It should be simple.

First, you can buy plants now. Many outlets store and sell them outdoors. These probably don’t need further hardening off. Just make sure to buy the plants that have not been damaged by the sun and wind. You will be able to tell which these are.

Everything else however, needs special treatment. Leave them outdoors in shade, up against a wall which will block wind. Water them, but other than that, just let them sit there for a week or so. That should do it. Skip the moving into and out of the house every night. The one week outdoors will allow them to adjust sufficiently to both wind and sun. The worst thing you can do is wait until planting time to buy these starts. They may not make it without hardening off.

Next, there is a new theory making the gardening click-bait rounds that contends it is best to leave slugs alone. The theory is they grind up more underground soil organic matter than damage above-ground plants. Actually, for every slug you see, there are five others in the soil doing their thing. Me? I am going to continue to trap the ones that are above ground with beer and yeast water traps.

Speaking of pests that eat plants, once they emerge, delphiniums are susceptible to a defoliating caterpillar. Hand-picking or spraying the plant with any product that contains bacteria known as “Bt” will control them and prevent damage. Do not wait if you want delphinium flowers this year.

Next, mulch should be off the garden beds so the soil will continue warming. It is fine to toss some soybean meal on them or some compost or even composted manure, but no rototilling. Rototilling disturbs the all-important soil food web. The microbes will work the new stuff into the soil instead. The best time to feed a garden organic fertilizers is in the fall, however.

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There is some confusion over No Mow May — Mowing Savings Time. Sure, give it a try, but as noted last week, first run over lawns with your mower, sans bag, and then leave it be. This will ensure the stuff that fell this winter is mulched up and is better able to feed the microbes in the lawn soil.

OK, potatoes are a great Alaska crop everyone should grow. Get a good head start by buying yours and exposing them to light so the eyes develop more. This will make it easy to cut up spuds into chits, one eye per piece. If you grow in containers, plant them up outside. Put the chit on a layer of soil and cover with a few inches of more soil. Once the plants grow, continue to cover stems, leaving a few inches of green shoot.

Finally, if you want to save money buying plants for hedge or want to spend less on trees and landscape shrubs, then buy “barefooted plants.” This is nursery stock that has not been potted up yet. Buying barefoot is a spring thing, so inquire as to availability of plants or when they are going to be shipped and get to nurseries before they pot them up.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join and take advantage of the nursery sale. And, do visit The Garden and The Garden website, www.alaskabg.org

Sales: Plants: what are you waiting for? It is time to be buying.

Hoses: Get them out and set up your watering system. No leaks. Timers are a great addition.

Lawns: Water them. Do not fertilize or apply weed and feed products.

Things to start directly outdoors: Start peas, spinach, chard, potatoes, mustard and kale.

Mycorrhizal fungi: Buy Endo mycorrhizal fungi and sprinkle on roots before transplanting. If the nursery you buy plants from doesn’t carry mycorrhizal fungi, consider going somewhere else where they understand the importance of these fungi.

Peas: Peas should be inoculated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria known as Rhizobium to perform better. You can buy appropriate bacteria when you buy mycorrhizal fungi.

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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