Skip the trends and stick to the standards as you prepare to plant this spring

The media world has apparently decided this should be “The Year” of two things. As a garden writer one of these suggestions drives me crazy. And, as an Alaskan, the other just doesn’t seem applicable here.

The first trend is what I call the kitchen ingredient trend. It is usually headlined with something like ”Why you should use this kitchen spice in your garden.” There have been so many of these articles this winter that several variations have been used including my favorite: “This expert gardener reveals milk as the secret to growing the best tomatoes.”

Once you click and start reading, you realize a few things. First, like so many web news stories and articles, most require you to scroll through several paragraphs to find out what the heck the story is really about. Trend reporters don’t need to follow the “who, what, when and where all in the first paragraph” rule the press used to generally follow.

And, sure enough, there are always ads galore and confusing requirements to click so you can “read more,” which often result in erroneous clicks on the ad material. And then you find out the author is trolling you by suggesting you use cinnamon, baking soda or milk to grow better tomatoes. You get the picture.

I hope you are not stocking up on cinnamon or baking powder. These don’t help the soil food web and are not cures for most tomato problems. Your tomatoes most probably don’t need calcium from milk either, as our soils have plenty.

It turns out anything horticulture-related makes really great clickbait. One of these articles reels in hundreds of thousands of eyeballs and, alas, that seems to be all that counts. I prefer more reliable sources that care about me and not the publisher or an advertiser. Oh well, it is just a trend. How long can it last?

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Listen to the ‘Teaming with Microbes’ podcast with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White:

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The second gardening trend you will not be able to avoid this spring is fluorescent plants. So far it is personified — or should I say plantified? — in the form a glow-in-the-dark petunia variety called “Firefly.” Yes, a regular annual white flowing petunia just like the kind we put into our hanging baskets and other containers has been genetically modified to glow in the dark.

Somehow, breeders were able to get the right part of the DNA from a glowing mushroom settled into the genetic makeup of these petunias. They emit light that has been described as “moonlike.” From the pictures I have seen, it reminds me of light emitted by old-fashioned watch dials.

Not only will you see lots of articles and pictures about this petunia, there will be stories regarding what is coming next. A glowing cabbage? A bright head of lettuce? Things could get really weird given the already-alluded-to universal love of gardening and all things plants.

I admit to being intrigued by the idea of a plant that emits light. GMO aside, there could be some neat applications in the landscaping arena and the like. Still, I am not the kind of gardener who is going to shell out $29 for an annual plant that glows. That is what they will sell for this spring!

Oh, I didn’t finish the thought. Yes, $29 is way too much to pay for any petunia, but money isn’t my only issue. We live in Alaska. What good will an annual plant that glows in the dark be in the Land of the Midnight Sun?

Instead, I am going to wait for one of my Outside brothers or some Lower 48 garden writer friend to tell me how these plants really perform. In the meantime I can buy an awful lot of starts for $29 that I know will “glow” with their own beauty.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: How many times do you need to be reminded, prodded and pleaded with to join? Now is the time. There is the annual Spring Conference, nursery sales, all manner of events, and members get pretty special treatment!

Seeds to start: Sweet peas, celery.

Forcing bulbs for early spring flowers: Time to bring them out into the light and get them flowering.

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.