Sunday, January 10, 2010

Severe Weather Gardening: Alaska

Think you can't grow good vegetables in Alaska?
Think again. The Alaskan long and cool summer months is just the right environment for growing awesome vegetable gardens, even giant cabbage! Most gardening begins indoors in the month of April when the last snow typically falls. However, some can be started as early as March. To melt the snow in the garden, river sand is best but fireplace ash can be used for most types of gardens. After seedlings appear, they should be kept in south facing window that receives sun and will need 12 hours of light per day. A grow lamp or florescent lighting is necessary. In a room that has a cool environment, a plant heating mat is necessary to help generate plant growth. Plant peas and nasturtiums in biodegradable pots. Peas do not like to be disturbed but can be planted straight into the ground with their pot when the weather warms. A stunning nasturtium to grow is the Canary Bird Vine.

Preparing the Seedling Mix
Mix 1 part vermiculite to 1 part Miracle Grow Moisture Control potting mix. Vermiculite is a foam-like volcanic conditioner that will stretch your soil volume and also act to retain water. It is also a natural germicide and will help to prevent a build up of mold and mildew. Vermiculite can be purchased by the bag (3.5 cubic feet) at Lowes for $24 and goes a long way. Perlite is a good substitute for vermiculite, but it is has a more dusty texture and can float to the surface of a container during watering. If you are someone who is not someone who does well with seeds, then small plugs can be purchased from a garden nursery.

Planting Outdoors
When you are ready to plant outdoors, place a clear soda bottle with the bottom cut out over your seedlings. Push the bottle about 4" down into the soil. The little greenhouse will increase the humidity and temperature inside and will also protect the ground and plant from frost. It will also protect the young plants from slugs while they are getting established. Water with warm house water or water warmed in a container from the sun.
Suzanne Forsling from Juneau, Alaska had limited space to garden (photo on right). She created a garden by attaching rain gutters to her siding, drilled holes for drainage, and grew her vegetables there!

EARLY KILLERS: Prevent Mold and Mildew - Root Rot - "Damping Off"

When I brought my artichoke plants into my greenhouse last November, I did not take into account that they could not handle the increased humidity. I ended up losing about a dozen plants. With the increased damp air, I also experienced an infestation of gnats! And, because there were no predators, cut worm moths came and finished off the few healthy plants I had left.

The same can happen in the beginning stages of growing seedlings. In Alaska it is called "damping off." This happens when seedlings rot away before or soon after they emerge from the soil. Moisture is important for plant growth, but if garden plants and house plants are not allowed to dry between watering they will become subject to fungus infection. Because Alaska is a damp environment, there are problems with fungus growth - especially if plants are transplanted outside too early in the season. When infected, plants will often rot at the base of the stem, leaves can curl, wilt, and brown, and roots can turn black or turn to a mushy consistency. Poorly drained planters are one cause for the problem and can be prevented by laying down a layer of gravel at the bottom of a planter box under the soil. There are fungicides for damping off, but by the time it is discovered it is often too late. Pull the dead plants. Toss them in the compost pile and start over again.

Heating the Greenhouse:
Heating the greenhouse is certainly a huge task when subfreezing temperature exist. The greenhouses posted on The Pond Plant Girl Show are designed as temporary structures and are not effective for cold climate zones. Because of the sever weather and heavy snow, a more permanent solution is required. A simple wood shed with double pane ceiling windows is a perfect way to get a jumpstart on the season. Heating a greenhouse with a wood stove might not be worth the expense. A waste oil heater is a more economical choice. This heater is not recommended for use in a small area greenhouse or in a plastic sheeting greenhouse. Excessive heat can spark a fire. If constructed and installed in a small area, I recommend a concrete, dirt, or brick floor. Aluminum siding should also be installed on the walls adjacent to the oil heater and possibly on the ceiling to prevent fire danger.

Read more about building your oil heater at:

Zone 1 Fairbanks: Below -50 f
Zone 2a Prudhoe Bay: -50 to -45 f
Zone 2b Unalakleet: -45 to -40 f
Zone 3 St. Michael -40 to -35 f

February 24 (14 weeks) Portulaca, Geranium

March 9 (12 weeks) Hollyhock, Foxglove

March 16 (11 weeks) Lobelia, Gazania, Carnation, Shasta Daisy

March 23 (10 weeks) Pansy, Salvia

March 30 (9 weeks) Dusty Miller, Nemesia, Godetia, Bells of Ireland, Petunia, Cosmos

April 6 (8 weeks) Outdoor tomatoes, Dahlia (seed and tuber), Dianthus, Aster, Ageratum, Snapdragon, Candytuft, Chrysanthemum

April 13 (7 weeks) Alyssum, Oriental Poppy, Helichrysum, Statice, Bachelor Button, Sunflower, African Daisy, Calendula, Verbena, Nicotiana, Godetia, Layia, Matricaria, Phlox

April 20 (6 weeks) Zinnia, Salpiglossis

April 27 (5 weeks) Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Schizanthus

March 16 (11 weeks) Celery, Leeks

March 30 (5-6 weeks) Greenhouse: tomatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Peppers, Eggplant

April 13 (7 weeks) Parsley and all herbs

April 27 (5 weeks) Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Melons, Onions

May 3 (4 weeks) cucumbers, pumpkins, winter squash, head lettuce

May 10 (3 weeks) summer squash, beets, parsnips, carrots, peas, chard, potatoes, dill, radishes, lettuce, spinach
Plant carrots 1 part potting soil with 1 part sand.

Buy pond plants from The Pond Plant Girl!

ZONE 1 - 3
Variegated Sweet Flag Iris (Acorus calamus 'Variegata')

Lavender Musk (Mimulus ringens)

Blue Water Forget-me-Not (Myosotis scirp.)

Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata)

Anacharis (Egeria densa)

Micro Mini Cattail (Typha minima 'Europa')

Graceful Cattail (Typha laxmannii)

Hardy Water Lily: Can be grown in Alaska, but must be wintered over indoors.

Iris Louisiana 'Colorific' - pink & white

Iris 'Roy Davidson' - yellow

Iris Blue Flag

Iris Deep Rose

Iris Mountain Brook

Mediterranean Giant Reed (Arundo donax 'Variegata')

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus)

Perennial Wild Rice (Zizania latifolia)

Lovesick Blues (Juncus inflexus)

Giant Corkscrew Rush (Juncus effuses ‘Unicorn’)

Corkscrew Rush (Juncus effusus 'Spiralis')

Giant Horsetail Rush (Equisetum hymale 'Robustum')

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to Grow Healthy House Plants

Keeping your plants healthy during the spring and summer time is fairly easy, but even house plants can struggle during the winter. I often receive questions about:

Why does my houseplant look so bad?

Follow these simple steps and you too can keep your house plants healthy, big, and strong.

1. Toss out that glass bulb! They function best as a plant ornament and NOT an easy way to water your plant. The glass plant bulb does not slowly water your house plant as advertised. Nearly everyone I have met who uses a glass bulb has ended up with a dead plant! My mother included.

2. Change the soil and repot once a year: Hard water can calcify the soil - leaving a white crusty appearance on the soil surface. This is a sign of poor soil conditions. Changing the soil each year will promote healthy growth. My soil of choice is Miracle Grow Moisture Control soil.

3. Once a year - Toss out the old pot and plant in a slightly larger new pot. Not always necessary, but is a good idea. It lessens the chance of mold and fungus which can damage the root system. It also gives your plant room to grow. New soil is good for all plants, but it isn't always necessary to repot cactus due to their slow growth.

4. Potting Rule: Remember tera cotta (clay pots) are best for succulents and cacti, and plastic is best for all other house plants. While cactus is usually sold in plastic containers, clay is best because the material absorbs excess water and prevents any over watering. Never use metal containers! Metal containers rust and release toxins.

5. Fertilize with each changing season. My fertilizer of choice is Osmocote. It is a time released fertilizer. However, if you have small children I’d would advise against it, because the fertilizer is small and bead-like, and can be ingested.

6. Fertilizer alternatives: Do not use coffee grounds! Coffee has too much acidity and should not be used to fertilize plants. An excellent fertilizer alternative is water from your fish aquarium. Plants will thrive on fish water every week. Fish water is safe and will not burn young plants, and you cannot over-fertilize using fish water.

7. Water once per week. About a cup of water is the right amount for the average medium size plant.
Do not allow your plant to soak in a pan of water! This will promote root rot and calcification. The only time I soak my plants in standing water is when I travel and am away for more than 2 weeks.

Do not use a metal or foil pie pan under your plant! Metal is never a good idea for plant care. It is best to use a ceramic dish under your plant, because it will absorb excess water which will quickly evaporate. Plastic dishes or ceramic plates are my next choice.

In very dry climates water 2 times per week. A humidifier might also be necessary in dryer climates. If mushrooms start to grow... you will know that the air is humid and you are watering too much! Leaves will also burn on the edges if a plant receives too much water.

8. Play with Light. Some plants survive well in a warm sunny window and others prefer being placed under a table lamp. If you are unsure about plant placement, do not be afraid to move your plant to an area where it seems the most happy.

Follow these simple tips and you should have happy and healthy house plants! Your comments and questions are always welcome! Please visit my website for more information! GARDEN BLESSINGS, GAiL