No excuses: Plant now before the window closes on Alaska’s short growing season

One of the hard and fast rules of Alaska yardening is that you must take whatever weather nature gives you, be it hell or high water. We don’t — yet — have the luxury of a long enough growing season to take a weekend off because it is too cold or wet, fool around and go fishing or do anything else that might delay getting our gardens in.

The bottom line: If you don’t get starts and seeds planted now, the window closes and there won’t be enough time for plants to mature. We have a brief growing season and if you blink, you might miss out. This is one reason there is such a rush at nurseries, but you can’t find dipnets when that season opens either. It is all the same — timing is everything.

So, by all means get those plants into your gardens. This includes annuals, row crops and those tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that grow in outdoor — or, better put, “summer” — greenhouses. You still must harden indoor grown plants if they have not spent some time outdoors and that is going to take four or five days or so. Rototilling won’t speed up soil warming and is still a no-no. Mulches, on the other hand, are the best thing to prevent weeds and will feed your garden soil’s microbes.

You still must make sure your plants get enough water between you and Mother Nature, so set up your watering system. Quick-connects are needed for every hose-end and water tool. Nothing should leak, so get a packet of replacement washers. Buy a new hose if you need it. A traveling tractor sprinkler and a timer help save a lot of time with lawn watering.

When it comes to our lawn, I am still at the “just water” stage. Ours is greening up more and more every day. Once again this year, no fertilizer needed here. You might want to aerate your lawn. Rent a machine or walk around in golf shoes? Sure.

Speaking of lawns, it seems every form of news media has or is featuring some article about how wonderful a grass-free, naturally wild yard is and the magic that happens when you turn your lawn into a world-class, native wildflower sanctuary or using nothing but those all-the-rage, tall grasses.

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There is one big problem. It is it is extremely difficult to recreate those vogue yards when you have to start with a crappy, existing lawn. Hard to impossible, in truth. I am letting our back lawn go wild for a proposed truthful article that needs to be written on the effort. Right now this means letting all the dandelions thrive while the lawn grass tries to catch up. Hardly something worthy of a magazine photo and I have a distinct feeling it is going to get much worse.


Anyhow, no doubt your own dandelions are thriving now as well. It is time to mow down their flowers. If ever you needed to collect mower clippings for green material for a compost pile, this is the mowing to bag. Resist the temptation to mow short. If you take off more than 1/3 of the grass blade, you are slowing growth down. Since these first dandelions are the greedy ones that shoot up to the light to beat the grass, it is pretty easy to snip them and not much of the grass which needs to grow to compete with dandelions.

The loyal reader knows I have ceded our lawns to dandelions and now simply mow them over without bagging even seed heads. After they are mowed, however, we have what looks like a lush, green lawn. Maybe I should start calling it “yard” instead.

Reseeding or over-seeding a thin lawn, even one with dandelions, is a great way to get a better, grassier lawn. Throwing lime down, however, is not, at least until you test your lawn soil’s pH. Too many Alaskans simply toss a few bags down every spring. Too much work when you could be planting and doing the time-sensitive chores instead. In Alaska, nature waits for no one.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join and enjoy. Note: The Garden will take some of your pots in the following sizes: 2-gallon, 1-gallon, 5.5-inch, 4-inch, 3.5-inch — deep and regular. Clean pots in good condition can be dropped off with admissions staff during open hours only. Pots left at the front without staff awareness will be taken to the landfill. See for details.

Sweep: Time to clean up the driveway, walks and porches. Nothing makes a yard look better. Driveway gravel can go onto lawns.

Compost: Need green material this time of year? Consider coffee grounds and add granulated molasses.

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.