Plant Culture Tips
Northern Gardening Tips

Flowers & Containers

For those big, beautiful nasturtiums you see around town, forget what the seed packet tells you about not fertilizing them. Start seeds in peat pots in April, water & fertilize as you would your other seedlings, then stand back & watch them grow! Be sure to give them enough room in your garden.

Canary bird vine is one of our best kept secrets in Alaska. Try starting it in peat pots or in a container. It loves to climb & can be trained with a little support.

Nice flower combinations: nasturtiums, nemesia, red snapdragons & pineapple sage. Also, in a container: pink petunias with schizanthus & mixed lobelia. (Sally Randich, Anchorage)

Rapid-grow "Bloom Builder" gives you all the flowers you want all summer long.

Schizanthus & Nemesia are beautiful together in a pot.

In the wet Southeast, try slug-resistant flower varieties, such as snapdragons, narcissus (daffodil), foxglove, lobelia, grape hyacinth, calendula, English daisy, astilbe, bleeding heart, & bee balm. (Karen Joan Jones, Craig)

Never throw away that extra flower--the scraggly ones left in a six-pack, put them all in one pot. It will be the best one you have. Fill in the gaps with lobelia or plant them in a small pot & give to a neighbor child who will turn on early to gardening.

In late May, start an "Annual Mixture" flower bed from seed. Don't bother thinning very much. By August & September you will have great flowers for indoor arrangements. (Sally Allen, Anchorage)

When cutting poppies to bring indoors, immediately singe the cut end with a lighter so the hollow end of the tube will seal & the flower will keep longer without wilting. (Jennifer Kowalski, Anchorage)

If you have problems with glaciation and bulb rot in your flower beds because of poor drainage, try preparing beds as described below:

Start beds with 4-6" of gravel followed by 8" of good quality top soil. This is a good time to try contouring mounds for a different effect. Next, set the bulbs out in groups of 10 with a mixture of bone meal & slow release bulb fertilizer, such as 9-9-6 (about a handful per square foot). Cover bulbs with 8-10" of topsoil & mulch the entire bed with straw. I have gotten a 98% success rate with this method in areas that were previously unsuitable for growing! (Jim Meesis, Homer)


It is important when watering to use warm water or at least water that is of ambient temperature (air temperature). (Dick Green, Anchorage)

Before watering with cold well water, fill plastic garbage can(s) in the morning & let it warm through the day before watering in the late afternoon/early evening. (Arlene Strandberg, Fairbanks)

Connect the outdoor water line to the tempering valve on the toilet. Hook up the hot & cold water to the valve. Connect the outlet on the valve to the outdoor pipe. This will temper water for watering, increasing the normal temperature of city water from 40 to 50-60 degrees F. (Robert Boyer, Anchorage)

Depending upon the size of the garden, it's possible to warm water to air temperature by using elevated hot water heaters. Remove the outer shell & insulation from the heater, the remaining black twill will absorb heat & a faucet head can be easily attached to the bottom for force fed drainage. (Mary Harris, Wasilla)


Carrots grow well in a bed prepared with lots of sand (1/2 sand, 1/2 soil) (Rebecca Perry, Kasilof)

Cover newly seeded carrots with reemay cloth. Plant onion sets between the rows of carrots to keep the cloth above the ground. This will prevent the seeds from washing away when watering & keeps the top soil from getting crusty. (Beth Schulz-Blitz, Anchorage)

Raised beds work wonderfully for carrots. They improve germination & keep the soil from becoming compacted by keeping feet out! The walls keep the compost & fertilizer right where the plants can use it. Plant the seeds in rows only 6" apart, cover with clear plastic to hold in heat & moisture. Watch your germination rate rise to 100% & enjoy an early harvest of carrots. I do this for lettuce & spinach too.

Carrots, lettuce & beets will benefit from liming.

Thin lettuce to at least 12" apart for heads to form-it really does make a difference!

For faster germination, plant turnip, peas, beets, lettuce & cabbage seed outside as soon as you can walk on the ground. If breakup is over, it's time to get those seeds growing! (Tommye Jo Corr, Soldotna)

When setting out cole crop starts, protect them with paper cups that have the bottoms cut out. Originally used for cut-worm protection, they also protect young plants from the wind, acting like mini-greenhouses. (Beth Schulz-Blitz,Anchorage)

Quick start potatoes in four inch pots in the greenhouse. Sure beats the cold ground & makes for an early crop of new potatoes. (John & Johnelle Reid, Homer)

Start potatoes indoors in April, transplant outside on June 1st. The yield doubles because the potatoes get huge.

Grow Kohlrabi instead of turnips. Since the vegetable forms above the ground there are no root maggots in the part you eat. (Dawn Hibbert, Anchorage)

Give peppers, eggplants & other hot climate vegetables a boost of potassium by placing banana peels into the hole dug for each plant. (Susan Rogers, Anchorage)

When the weather man says "frost tonight", it's time to harvest outdoor tomatoes. The quickest & easiest way is to cut sprays of fruit from the vines. Indoors, snap fruit from the stems & remove stems completely, if possible. Do not tear fruit skin. Leaves will drop off when they become dry. Wash fruit thoroughly in cool water & wipe or air dry them. Store tomatoes in the purple paper trays found in apple boxes. This separates the fruit & prevents cross-infection. Check boxes frequently & remove ripe fruit for consumption. All green tomatoes will ripen but it may take as long as 2 months. (Enid Meglyesi, Fairbanks)

Springtime Gardening

Sprinkle river sand (dark) or ashes over the snow covering your garden in April to accelerate it's removal. The dark color absorbs sun & heat. But be careful with ashes, match the type of ash with the type of plants. (Don Kunkel, Anchorage)

Seeding soil: Mix 1/2 vermiculite & 1/2 seeding soil. Gives you a better quality, quantity soil & earlier seedings. The quality of my plants improved over previous years.

Buy plugs from nurseries for early greenhouse blooms & cheaper prices. (Arlene Bowman, Palmer)

Give young transplants additional protection after hardening them off by rinsing out plastic milk jugs at least twice, cutting off the bottoms & planting cole crop seedlings outside as soon as the soil can be worked. Put the plastic hot caps over each plant & bury the bottom in the soil until the plant outgrows it. This protects young plants & practically eliminates hardening off. (Anonymous M.G.)

Planting peas early, by the end of April, gives them a good start before the slugs become too active. (Anne Cusick, Kodiak)

Pests and Weeds

Try laying down Typar (road fabric) in an area overrun with chickweed. It works better than clear or black plastic & is woven so rain can penetrate. Watering through plastic is difficult. (John & Johnelle Reid,Homer)

Spread rhubarb leaves between rows in the garden for slug control. These work 2 ways: slugs are attracted to the rhubarb leaves & thus leave the other vegetables alone (somewhat) & it's easy to collect slugs from the leaves & dispose of them. (Anne Cusick, Kodiak)

When ordering spring plant plugs, place an order for ladybugs to combat aphids in the greenhouse. Spray ladybugs with a mixture of soda & water to keep their wings glued together for three or four days. This method works better than insecticidal soaps. Pick up a fresh pack of ladybugs every few weeks to let loose in the greenhouse. (Arlene Bowman, Palmer)

On the smaller specimen trees you're trying to keep nice, use two 6' metal green fence stakes on either side of the tree surrounded with tie wire to the appropriate height. The moose don't seem to want to put their mouth around the wire. This method is not as unsightly as burlap or netting. In appropriate places, leave the stakes in the ground. Once things green up in the spring, you hardly notice them. (Sally Randich, Anchorage)

In the fall, lay spruce boughs upside down over garden beds to keep the animals out. (Anonymous M.G.)

If shrews, mice, etc. are eating your garden, bury a one gallon can to the soil level, add two inches of water in the bottom. Rodents running along the path fall in it & drown. (Mary Harris, Wasilla)

In the greenhouse, try companion planting herbs with vegetables as a means of organic pest control . While there is no scientific evidence of herbs repelling pests, the hanging basket of dill, basil, oregano & nasturtiums makes an attractive & space saving addition to the greenhouse & any little bit helps against the bugs! (Priscilla Messner, Kodiak)

To prevent fungus from growing, spray vulnerable plants with an insecticidal soap solution mixed with 1 tablespoon baking soda. Begin spraying when the leaves are just beginning to emerge & continue spraying weekly until the seasonal occurrence of the targeted fungus is past. It seems to be working on my currants which are susceptible to Melampsora Ribeseii & on the peonies which have problems with Botrytis. (Ruthe Rairall, Cordova)

The dandiest tool for getting rid of real fine moss around plants is a hair pick. It works great! (Margaret Sturtevant, Wrangell)


If you have a fresh water aquarium, don't toss out the old water when you clean the tank. Use the old water to root cuttings & fertilize plants. Please note: This smells bad. Don't use too generously if your house is closed up for the winter. (Anonymous M.G.)

Keep a 30 gallon trash can full of water soluble fertilizer mixed 1/2 strength for watering hanging & container flowers. Sure is convenient. Plants benefit from the warm water, too. (MiSchelle Carpenter, Anchorage)

Use seaweed anytime of the year, but especially when there is herring roe on it (beware of the odor). Also in the Southeast you can use liquid fertilizer more often than the usual recommendations due to heavy rain falls & the long summer days. (Melanie C. Dabler, Sitka)

Bury freezer burnt fish in your garden during the spring to fertilize the soil. Not recommended for bear country! (Anonymous M.G.)

Fertilize plants continually when you water them by using a 1/2 strength solution of water-soluble fertilizer. The same goes for houseplants, outdoor bedding plants, baskets & greenhouse plants. Trees also benefit from this method & it helps against the onslaught of aphids & spruce bark beetles. Don't forget to spray tree & shrub foliage with the solution too. (Kay Towle, Soldotna)


A handy way to gather vegetable waste, coffee grounds & eggshells is by reusing plastic bags--makes for a quick clean-up. Don't forget dog hairs & dryer lint, which add tilth to the soil. (Arlene Strandberg, Fairbanks)

Build a compost pile in a sunny location. Use heavy duty fencing or wire mesh, so it breathes yet, keeps the critters out. Try composting salmon, halibut & shellfish scraps & bones in addition to most anything organic (weeds, wood ash, & kitchen scraps). On garbage days in the fall, drive through your neighborhood to pick up large plastic bags of leaves that can be layered into the pile. This will save space in our landfills, you get free garbage bags to reuse & improved soil in you garden . (Peter D. Tompkins, Fairbanks)

In Glennallen where -60 F degree temperatures are common December through February, try mulching with tundra moss. In the spring, add it to the compost heap or burn some of it--mosquitoes hate it. (Tom Thompson, Glennallen)

In Cordova, cold soils, a general absence of heat & a total lack of topsoil has encouraged this Master Gardener to search for new ways to compost. I make soil from composted peat, glacial sand & silt, old sawdust, vermiculite, etc.

I have discovered a new method for making winter compost. I layer kitchen wastes with leftover potting soil into two large garbage cans which I place on my deck for easy access. By winter's end, I was left with a smelly & slimy mess. As soon as I could I dumped the entire seething mass into the nearest vegetable box, covered it with soil, limed it thoroughly on top & treated it liberally with compost starter (bacterial type). Then I watered down the pile & covered it with visqueen. All this took place during the last week of April. On June 7, I started turning the pile & it was reduced to a third of its original size. Pure compost in just six weeks! The center of the pile was full of earthworms of all sizes. I recommend this procedure to any one willing to wear a gas mask when dumping the initial material in the spring! (Ruth Fairall, Cordova)


Raised beds made into a rectangle of 4'x8' boards makes it easy to weed from all sides & saves the gardener's back. (Arlene Strandberg, Fairbanks)

Living in a tiny yard does not mean the end to gardening. Build planter boxes on supports to line a fence for flowers & a six tier planter box 12' long can be used for lettuce, spinach, herbs, & nasturtiums. I grow six types of lettuce, spinach, eight herbs, & beautiful flowers in my tiny yard. The best part is NO WEEDING! Hooray for container gardening. (Sandy Allen, Anchorage)

Order soil & fertilizer in the fall. Store in a corner of the greenhouse to keep it sterile & ready for early planting. (Arlene Bowman, Palmer)

When transplanting trees, keep them facing the same direction. Keep the north side facing north. Mark the tree before it is moved. It makes a big difference. (Sandra R. Anderson, Anchorage)

In the Southeast, try starting grass on sawdust & using lots of fertilizer. (Karen Joan Jones, Craig)

For good grass & no mosquitoes or other insects, mix equal amounts of Listerine, ammonia, Epsom salts & liquid soap (1/2 10 3/4 cup each). Fill the rest of the container with beer. Mix & spray by hand or hose, (Sandra Rogers, Anchorage)

Pink flamingoes keep the birds out of my strawberry patch! Two seasons without a peck out of my strawberries. Place at least two of the beautiful creatures in the patch once the fruit begins forming. Move them every week or so & take them down once fruit production slows, unless pink flamingoes are an important part of your garden decor. (Sally Randich, Anchorage)

When cleaning up around ornamentals or berry plants, save the suckers in pots. It's easy to share roses, raspberries, & other favorites with gardening friends & neighbors. Also, do not be shy about asking for a transplant or a small sucker from a desirable plant. Grafted plants may be a problem, but overall this practice is fun & will add to your landscape beauty & productivity. (Ray Grey, Anchorage)

If your house has a portion of the foundation exposed, try installing a raised bed. Heat escaping from the foundation can be used to warm the soil in the bed. (Lillian Nuzzolese, Anchorage)

Make a trip to the local hockey rink & collect broken sticks to be used for garden stakes. Place them at the corners of beds to keep hoses from pulling across plants while watering. Also, use the stick shafts as row markers for lush plants that grow too big & hide shorter stakes. (Peter & Norma Bente, Fairbanks)

Place old mail boxes around your garden, of course, on a stand or post. Then put garden tools, etc. inside. This is really handy & cuts down the time spent walking here & there for garden tools. (Toni Walken, Fairbanks)

Take pictures of your vegetable & flower gardens. Write the varieties on the back along with any notes you have. Take pictures of the disasters along with the wonders. This will be a strong reminder when you start pulling together plans for next year's gardens. (Sally Randich, Anchorage)



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