The rule of thumb for starting seeds if you don’t have supplemental lights is to wait until April 1. That is when there is enough light streaming through a typical Alaska window to get things started and growing without having them stretch for light.
Ah, still some of you still don’t have lights, but you have the instinctive urge to grow something given the lengthening days. What will scratch that itch? Lucky for you there are two great choices: dahlias and gladiolus.
Let’s start with the gladiolus. They grow from a corm and each produces a big stalk that is full of blooms late in the season. In the meantime, their sword-like leaves can provide a green backdrop or accent for other, earlier performing flowers.
There are two thoughts about starting “glads.” The first is to begin a bunch every week for the month of March. The idea is this stretches out the period of blooms. Others insist you can plant them all at the same time at the end of the month and they will perform just as well. The jury is still out on this and we should do some citizen science. Either way, now is when you must be on the lookout for corms at local nurseries and national big-box chain stores.
There are all manner of varieties of glads. You can find them bearing different colors, flower shapes and even different-size plants. This is a key reason to shop for them early. You know how it goes — early bird and worms.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that while planting a corm four inches deep is the ideal, as long as the corm is covered, roots will grow. It does make sense to give them as much soil room as you can so they can grow a good root system. Anyhow, you can plant gladioli corms in flats or in individual containers such as saved coffee cups, old or homemade paper pots, anything that has drainage. Once planted, they pretty much grow all by themselves.
Dahlias, on the other hand, grow from tubers. Again, you can start them now, even without lights. And, again, you will find them for sale right about now with all manner of types, colors and sizes. Shop a bit and get the best and what you want. Yes, yes, early bird gets the good tubers, too.
You may have tubers from last year in winter storage. Now is the time to get them out and into the light. If you didn’t last fall, divide yours, ensuring a piece of the main stem is attached to each tuber. This is the “top.” When you plant, that piece of the neck should be an inch or so below the soil, tuber pointing downward. Don’t wash off last year’s soil. It has microbes the new tuber will use.
You can put a whole yard’s worth of gladioli in one or two flats. Dahlias, for my money, need individual containers and larger ones at that — 5-inch minimum. They will put out a lot of growth between now and when you take them outdoors for hardening off in May. This means you will need room to grow them so don’t plant too many if you don’t have it.
Neither glads nor dahlias are fussy about starting soil. Don’t waste the special stuff you use for starting seeds. Compost, last year’s soil, it doesn’t really matter. The fleshy tuber or corm has a lot of the goodies the plant needs to get going.
So, there you have it for those who don’t have lights. I would not be in character if I didn’t point out it is not too late to get some lights. You can use them this month and for years to come.
Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar
Tubers: Buy dahlia tubers this week or get yours out of storage. Set them out on newspaper in a cool location that gets some light.
Flower seeds to start: Rhodochitins, fibrous begonias, dahlias lobelia (don’t cover seeds), snapdragons (don’t cover seed and grow cool), carnations, verbena, pelargoniums, hollyhocks.
Herbs to start: Sage, lavender, lovage, lemon balm
Vegetable seeds: Celery, leeks