By Glenna Gannon, GBG Vegetable Variety Trials Research Coordinator
It is that time of year where you have probably just got your garden completely planted and everything is feeling great! Of course it is rewarding to sit back and enjoy your efforts while you watch your garden grow, however the seasoned gardener knows their work is never done (or at least not until winter!). Here are a few late spring – early summer tips to keep your garden looking great and growing healthy.
Yes it can be tedious, but I find weeding a sort of meditation. It is completely up to the individual to decide what kind of garden they want to keep and how many weeds they will tolerate. I like to start out with a fairly weed-free garden bed, and start weeding once my seedlings (anything I’ve direct-seeded) emerge, so that I can be sure what I’m pulling is a pineapple weed, and not a carrot seed! Once seedling’s true-leaves emerge, I try to weed (and thin) fairly thoroughly around them, so that they are not out-competed by any opportunistic weeds. For places like aisles where lots of weeds tend to accumulate, but that might not get as much of your attention, my favorite tool is an “action” or “stirrup” hoe. It cuts the weeds off from their roots just beneath the surface of the soil, and makes quick work out of places where one doesn’t need to be as meticulous about what they are pulling. There are a number of different weeds that interior gardeners will know all too well (looking at you, chickweed). For those who are new to gardening or want to get to know both local and invasive weeds better, I recommend the following resources:
The Alaska Plan Materials Center’s Field Guide to Terrestrial Weed Identification – a full downloadable PDF with color pictures is available here:
The Alaska Master Gardener Blog – Master Gardeners from all over the State have written a number of good posts regarding how weeds are thought about and dealt with from a number of different gardening philosophies.
The USDA Selected Invasive Plants of Alaska handbook – a full downloadable PDF with color pictures is available here:
If you’re not familiar, deadheading is the term used to refer to removing spent flowers in your garden. There are a few reasons deadheading is important, plus it will help you keep your garden looking fantastic. First, by removing old flowers, the plant puts its energy into producing more flowers, not seed. Doing so not only extends the life of your display, but its will keep un-wanted seeds from being spread in your garden. While this is not usually a big problem in the interior, our warmer winters mean that more annuals can self-propagate if they go to seed. Second, deadheading can also prevent damage to the rest of the foliage. By keeping dead flowers off of the foliage, you are preventing them from rotting and spreading disease on your plants. Popular flowers like petunias and peonies are susceptible to this. To dead head, simply use a set of garden shears to cut or pinch-off flowers as they fade after they have bloomed. Cut below the flower head and above the next set of healthy leaves. This is a task that should be repeated regularly throughout the season.
The saying goes something like, “there are good bugs, and there are bad bugs”, in the garden we have both. Alaska is lucky in that we do not have too many voracious pests to worry about (unless you count the moose, rabbits and voles, but that’s a topic for another time). There are a few that are known to cause gardeners grief, like aphids, root maggots and more recently, slugs. For every pest there is a management strategy. For instance, for those listed above; aphids can be treated with a soap-spray made of Murphy’s soap, diluted to 1 teaspoon per 1/4 gallon (or 32 oz) of water or by releasing lady bugs in your garden (though they are harder to direct); protect against root maggots by covering your root crops (i.e. turnips, radishes) with frost cloth over low-tunnels after you’ve planted them, and; slugs can be controlled by using copper foil around your garden perimeter, and by smooshing them when you find them. There are of course many more ways to deal with these pests and others, these are just some examples. If you are experiencing a pest problem, there are some great resources through the Cooperative Extension Service’s Integrated Pest Management Program (IMP). You can submit photos and questions to the IMP Citizen Monitoring Portal if you’re unsure about what it is you’re dealing with, and to get advice on management strategies. Resources for the above can be found at:
IMP Home Page: https://www.uaf.edu/ces/invasives/ipm/
IMP Citizen Monitoring Portal: https://pestreporter.alaska.edu/
We hope these tips and resources help you get off to a great gardening season!