Gardening

All the rain isn’t bothering your plants, and it shouldn’t bother you either

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Am I allowed to write about rain these days? Given my rain-causing track record, I do have to be careful. Thankfully, the weeks of wet weather we have experienced should convince even the skeptics that this column did not cause all the moisture we have had recently.

It is August, after all. Isn’t this the rainy season anyhow? Isn’t this when we normally see droughts end? Regardless, as my grandfather used to say, “There is nothing you can do about it, so live with it.” He was right, of course. Buck up gardeners. Besides, there are distinct benefits to rain.

Mind you, being plant-concentric, I give plants the credit for this rain. It started with bacteria on their leaves. Winds lifted these into the atmosphere where they formed ice crystals. These collect water and rain drops were created. When they got heavy enough, they fell and returned the bacteria to the plants. Nice system.

And I am sure you have heard that rain drops cause the release of geosmin, an organic compound made by bacteria known as Streptomyces. You definitely have smelled this earthy compound as the human nose is extremely sensitive to it; we are 200,000 times more sensitive to its smell than a shark is to the smell of blood! Why? Some speculate it had to do with ancients’ need to find water, but that is possibly another column.

No matter, obviously, your plants, for the most part, love the moisture. I can almost feel the spruce sucking up the moisture so they can deal with invading beetles. They use the water to make sap that is then used to force beetles back out the holes they made when they entered. I don’t even have to mention lawn grasses which throughly green up when it rains. Rejoice. Think of all the time and effort watering that this rain is saving you.

Just because it is raining doesn’t mean you should ignore your gardens. All your outdoor vegetables should be doing just fine. Put a rain parka on and continue to hill potatoes, thin carrots and of course harvest snap peas, broccoli, radishes, lettuces and all else that is ripe in the gardens.

Flowers may be a different matter. We still are getting blooms, but some can really hold a lot of water and this can weigh the larger ones down. This is why you should have staked delphiniums, caged peonies and supported dinner plate dahlias. If it is not too late for yours, do it this weekend. We might get more rain, don’t you know!

Then there is the outdoor greenhouse. When it rains, we don’t get pollinators so you need to be the bees. An electric tooth brush will vibrate tomato flower holding branches. A little shake of pepper plants will help and a small paint brush or Q-tip will do the job on cukes and squash plants.

Now is a good time to tend to trees, however. First, take off any guy wires and untie from supports. Trees do not need to be staked. In fact, it is not good for the tree, which won’t develop a good strong trunk and be able to withstand winds.

Next, make sure there is mulch under the tree’s drip line. Leaves are the ticket here but not too thick, please. No “volcano shapes” around the trunk which, actually, should be free of mulch so the bark won’t decay.

And, finally, try to leave mushrooms under trees. These are most probably mycorrhizal fungi. They feed the trees with which they are associated. You undoubtedly have read tons of articles, lately, about the underground, worldwide fungal web.

Again, it may be wet out there. Your plants really don’t care and you shouldn’t either.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Wonder what does well in rain? This is a great time to take a pad and pencil to the Alaska Botanical Garden and take notes. And, check out the mushrooms on the Nature Trail. More at www.alaskabg.org

Dead limbs: Time to check the property’s trees for dead limbs while trees still have leaves. You know what to do when you find them.

Alaska Apple Tasting: Write this down in your calendar so you don’t forget. The Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association invites you to a free apple and fruit tasting on Sunday, Sept. 11, from 1–2:30 p.m. in the Anchorage Begich Middle School All-Purpose Room. Sample the many apple varieties grown locally and discover the ones that you want to grow!

Harvest: What are you waiting for?

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 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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