It is hard to believe the annual return of geese to the shores of Cook Inlet normally happens this week. I will go out on an unpruned limb to assert it will, but they won’t be happy. The forecasts are for much warmer weather and I can actually see grass around the trunks of trees, so have hope both geese and gardener.
Time to answer some questions and pass on some comments. I’ll start with tree pruning since I’ve already made a reference to limbs. This is not a good time to prune trees. For the next month or so, sap will be running up from the roots in order to bring stored starches to the limbs that initiate above-ground growth.
This is not a flow you can stop. I remember once cutting a birch tree limb in late April and watching it “bleed” to a point of concern. Why do you think they tap trees in late winter and early spring? Wait until fall to do pruning unless it is an emergency job.
Next, a reader wanted to know my rationale for rolling seeds in mycorrhizal fungi — endo type — and getting spores on roots just before transplanting?
[‘Teaming With Microbes’ podcast: How to control the kind of nitrogen available for your plants, and why it’s important]
My reasoning has to do with temperature. Mycorrhizal fungi, which help feed most plants, generally grow best when temperatures are between 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, or 20 to 30 Celsius. And more spores are formed at the higher end of this range. This soil temperature is easily attainable indoors, but a bit difficult in Alaska’s outdoor soils. Anything that helps infect your plants is desired. So, if you want to take advantage these important fungi, take advantage of the indoor warmth.
Next, I always get questions about soil pH, the measure of the soil’s acidity and alkalinity. The pH scale runs from acidic 0 to alkaline14 with 7 being neutral. Plants generally grow best in soils with a pH between 6 and 7. See friend Lee Reich’s explanation at finegardening.com.
Soil pH is important because the wrong pH can limit the ability of nutrients to move in the soil. Organisms in the soil react to pH, too. The ones we want to have around do best in the same pH. That is evolution for you!
You can test your soil pH with a microbiometer test. Some nurseries will do a pH test for you and you can get a ballpark idea using pH test strips from a pharmacy. You can buy a pH meter.
Limestone is used to raise pH, and sulfur is used to lower it. It takes a while, so if your soil tests poorly, use organic commercial compost or starting mix. It is too late to correct things for this indoor growing season.
Finally, what to do about spindly or “leggy” seedlings. Who doesn’t experience this? Either the light is too low, you are not turning flats and containers so seedlings are leaning or you didn’t plant the seed deep enough.
To fix the immediate problem, either transplant the seedlings but put them deeper. Or, depending on the plant, add soil to “lower” the seedlings’ height.
By the way, the reappearance of geese is a sign. Before we know it the birch leaves will reach squirrel’s ear size. It’s been a long, long winter, but it is passing.
Jeff’s Alaska Gardening Calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: Time to join!
2023 Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Grafting Workshop: April 15 at Begich Middle School. The public is welcome to attend from 1-2:30 p.m. for grafting instructions. There will be numerous scions from many different apple varieties from which to choose!
Flowers to start: Asters, nicotiana, cleome, ice plant, zinnia, salpiglossis, schizanthus, nigella, phlox, nemesia, marigold, nasturtiums achimenes (tuber), brachyscome (15C), dianthus (5), stock (10L), lockspar (20C).
Vegetables to start: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, head lettuce, pepper.
Herbs to start from seed: Sorrel
Geese, seagulls, thrushes: This is the week the geese come back. Sightings of seagulls have been made as well as thrushes and robins. Welcome back to our gardens and yards.