Even in this difficult winter, these tasks can simplify gardening when the weather warms

Ahh, I see the Municipality of Anchorage is advising businesses to clear the snow off roofs. I am issuing a similar edict for those outdoor greenhouses and backyard sheds still standing. Most are designed to shed snow, but probably not as much as we have, so get out there and pull the snow off if it isn’t too late. By the way, in the fall you are supposed to shore up these roofs with two-by-fours or similar posts; I hope you did.

Once you get back inside from that chore, I am sure you will see why it is so difficult to celebrate the rapid increase of daylight hours we are experiencing. It is so darn cold. Still it is hard to reduce the astonishment that we gained two hours of light last month. It is not enough to germinate seedlings, but right now it is the only little bit of hope left that spring will come.

I hate to say it — no I don’t — but this is when those plant lights I constantly harp about come in handy. It is not just that you should be anticipating the seed starting season, but there are “gardening” things you can do indoors, of course.

First, do check your grow light bulbs to make sure they are still putting out great light. Replace any now so you have the best light for the seed starting season.

Granted, we have a long way to go until we can let natural sunlight grow our plants. Still, we are gardeners and garden we must. Here is a chore: I think I mentioned cutting back any pelargoniums — geraniums — you may have growing indoors. Shape your cuttings so that they are all similar in size and pot them up after their stem cuts callous over, after 48 hours or so. Put them under your lights. Come April you will have matching plants to use in baskets or containers.

Next, more and more of us are coming to the realization that we can extend the sweet pea flower season, not to mention increasing the number of flowers. The key is to start them in February, indoors of course, and then periodically pinch them back as they grow to induce branching. These plants traditionally started in early April and they are not usually pinched back. However, once they get four leaves or so, taking off the growing tip will cause more branches to form. And the early start means they will flower way early when put outdoors. These may have to be staked, so be prepared.

Now is also a great time to test seeds you have had laying around to see if they will still germinate. I have some 15-year-old special broccoli. Sacrificing a few seeds will tell me if they are still viable. And, since I have lights, I might even let these test seedlings grow to maturity indoors.


Then there is lobelia. Usually I buy lobelia for our containers. This might be the year to start some, however, just to thumb our noses at the cold. These small seeds take awhile which is why they are started so early. This way you can ensure you get the colors and shades you want.

Finally, I always insert start dates for seeds in the calendar that accompanies this column. However, if you want to use this cold period to plan ahead, Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a neat internet calculator that lets you plan your own seed starting calendar. Put in your area’s planting out date and calculate away. Use May 20 as the planting out date in Southcentral and adjust depending on your area. You can use the internet to find your last frost date, too.

Jeff”s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Do check out the website, as there is a lot of info on how to register for the Spring Garden Conference, sign up for summer camp and learn how to make flowers from Legos!

Bending limbs: Might as well wait until it warms up. Bending limbs back when it is so cold is a good way to accidentally snap them.

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.