CHAPTER 1 - MARCH

The following subjects will be covered for the month of March:
  1. March Gardening Schedule
  2. Gardeners Bring Spring Indoors by Planting Seeds
  3. Get Those Seedlings Off to a Good Start for Summer
  4. Grow and Behold Showy Begonias
  5. Time to Prepare Fuchsia Flower Baskets for Summer
  6. Its Time to Pick Your Tomato Seeds

March Gardening Schedule

Reference: "Starting Dates for Vegetable and Flower Seeds to Grow Transplants"--University of Alaska Cooperative Extension.

    Date       Time Frame to          Vegetable          Flower              
               Setting Out at the                                            
               end of May                                                    
 February 24   14 weeks                                  Portulaca,          
                                                         Geranium            
   March 9     12 weeks                                  Hollyhock,          
                                                         Foxglove            
  March 16     11 weeks               Celery, Leeks      Lobelia, Gazania,   
                                                         Carnation, Shasta   
                                                         Daisy               
  March 23     10 weeks                                  Pansy, Salvia       
  March 30     9 weeks                                   Dusty Miller,       
                                                         Nemesia, Godetia,   
                                                         Bells of Ireland,   
                                                         Petunia, Cosmos     
               5-6 weeks              Greenhouse                             
                                      tomatoes,                              
                                      Brussels                               
                                      Sprouts,                               
                                      Peppers, Eggplant                      

Gardeners Bring Spring Indoors by Planting Seeds

* Reference: "Seedbook" from the Alaska Tree and Garden Center and "16 Easy Steps to Gardening in Alaska" --a University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Booklet as reference for gardening information.

Looking out across the Tanana Valley from my hillside home on Farmers Loop Road, I was thinking to myself it would be a long time before I would get a chance to rototill my little garden. However, after living here for 50 years, I know that spring has a habit of sneaking up.

Looking at the dripping icicles on homes I see around Fairbanks, I can't help but long for something green in the house. And, I welcome to smell the freshness of spring.

I bet that most of you know that you can take sprigs from various bushes, including willow, birch, lilac, chokecherry or alder, into the house to force them to gloriously leaf out. In order to do this, Anchorage gardener Jeff Lowenfels, a South-Central Alaskan gardener and gardening columnist, suggests you take a hammer and smash the ends of each twig thus allowing for better water absorption. Then, you place the twigs into a bucket of water and wait for the first leaves of spring to pop out. It is always such a joy to see the first fragile mouthwatering shade of green leaves of spring.

It is also time to get a few seeds started, especially if you want to have some nice plants to set out in your garden or greenhouse the end of May. Garden stores and supermarkets around Fairbanks have an abundance of seeds and bulbs for you to select from.

After being involved with the Master Gardening Program with the University Cooperative Extension Service for many years, I found out that if you get the recommended variety list for vegetables and fruits from their office, it will save you a lot of grief. The University of Alaska's Agricultural Experimental Farm has proven which types grow the best for our sub-Arctic area of the world.

At this time of year, carnations, geraniums, lobelia, Shasta daisies, ageratum, columbine, delphinium, diantthus, nicotiana, pansies, petunias, portulaca, pyrethrum, snapdragons, violas, begonias, peonies and bleeding heart could be started indoors. The starting dates are critical, for if you don't start types of seeds at the right times, you'll end up with very spindly plants by the end of May, which is the recommended starting in the garden time.

Seed germination is best accomplished in a soil-less mix, such as Jiffy Mix, which is a peat and vermiculite mix. This is readily available in most gardening shops. Since most gardeners don't need a large number of plants, I recommend you use a small container to germinate your seeds.

Fill the container with Jiffy Mix and gently compact it. Make sure that the container is completely full to insure good air circulation around the base of the new plants. If the mixture is below the edge of the container, there will be a dead air space which is conducive to the growth of bacteria which of course causes the dreaded 'damping off', oar killing of plants.

Broadcast the seed evenly in the container and sprinkles a little more of the mix on the top of the sees just to cover them. Water the mix. A clear piece of plastic or a glass pane that is well placed over the container prevents drying out of the mix. However, your containers will get very hot if exposed to the direct sun of a window. So, punch several holes in the plastic with a toothpick. When the seedlings are up, take the cover off. Mark the container with the name of the plant and the date started.

Once the seeds have germinated and have their true leaves, they need to be transplanted for further growth. This requires a composted soil rich in peat and sand and preferable sterilized.

There are several ways to sterilize your own soil: one good methods is described in "16 Easy Steps to Gardening in Alaska" from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, (address).

Set your plants about 2 inches apart in flats, and give them plenty of light and water. Let them grow until they are ready to put outside. You should feed them with a water soluble plant food about once every two weeks. Follow the directions on the fertilizer container for the amount to be used.

Among the vegetables that should also be started are peppers, greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and parsley. Take not of the March Gardening Schedule listed below.

With the proper light, daytime temperatures of 75deg.F and a nighttime temperature of 50deg.F to 60deg.F, air circulation and ventilation, you should be off to a fine start to produce some strong plants for your garden or greenhouse.

Get Those Seedlings Off to a Good Start

*Reference: The University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Master Gardener lecture and pamphlets.

This time of the year everyone is elbow-to-elbow at nurseries and garden centers choosing seeds for their gardens.

Remember to choose good seeds recommended for the Interior of Alaska sub-Arctic Fairbanks area. Not all the seeds available in Fairbanks are on the recommended list, which is available at the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. If you wonder why your radishes are woody and your spinach turned to a mass of yellow flowers, this could be the reason.

When you plant your seeds, think about the containers you will need--wood flats, fiber trays, plastic trays or clay and plastic pots. Peat pots work fine, too. However, do not plant them into your garden.

Your soil mixes for seed starting should be loose, well-drained and fine-textured.

You can use fine-grade sterile vermiculite, since it won't crust. Synthetic mixes made from 4 quarts peat moss, 4 quarts vermiculite, 1 tablespoon superphosphate and 2 tablespoons limestone is good. A soil-vermiculite mix of 1/3 soil, 2/3 vermiculite that is sterilized works well, too. Also, a sterilized soil-peat-sand mix of two parts garden soil, one part shredded peat moss, two parts perlite, vermiculite or sand does the trick too.

Remember that milled sphagnum moss inhibits damping off. If you are going to sterilize your own soil, moisten it, cover it and heat it up to 180deg.F for 1/2 hour in the oven. Sterilize your flats with one part chlorine to nine parts of water.

Remember, when you are seeding, don't start too early or too late. Look at the gardening schedules and follow them.

Fill your containers. If the medium is dry, moisten it. Make sure that the drainage is adequate. Level and make your rows about 1 to 2 inches apart. If you are using all the same seeds, they may be scattered.

Large seeds, such as the cucurbits or sunflower seeds, should be planted directly into pots. Cover the seeds with dry vericulite or milled sphagnum moss. Some sorts of seeds need not be covered. Then you should water by misting or bottom watering. Place the containers into plastic bags and place in an 80deg.F - 85deg.F spot.

Cool crops, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, should be kept at approximately 55 degrees. Do not place your containers in full sunlight. After the seeds have germinated, you move them to the sunlight in a cool area.

Damping off is a fungus disease which we can really dread. When this happens, the plants fall over at the soil line. It is usually caused by high temperatures, poor light and excessive moisture. Preventive measures are the best, along with cleanliness. The fungicides that can help are Captan or Thiram.

When your seedlings are growing they need light from a bright window or fluorescent light for 14 to 16 hours a day. The temperature should be 60deg.F to 65deg.F at night and 10 degrees higher during the day.

Warmer temperatures tend to create leggy plants. Cool season plants should have 55deg.F nights and 65deg.F days. You can keep up air humidity by the use of gravel pans. Remember, do not overwater. However, don't allow any wilting. Do not use cold water on young plants. You should use soluble fertilizer promptly after germination for the sterile mixes. Use soluble house plant fertilizers. Start with half-strength fertilizers and use in two-week intervals.

After the first true leaves appear, transplant the seedlings into individual pots or space them in flats. Spindly plants result if they are not transplanted soon enough. An Artificial mix of one part soil, one part peat and part sand works very well.

Set your pots or flats out of the sun and heat for several days. Some easy transplants are broccoli, cabbage Brussels sprouts, lettuce and tomatoes. Those plants with slower root development are cauliflower, celery, eggplant, onion and pepper.

You must harden off your tender plants to protect shock from temperature change from the home to the garden. start hardening two weeks prior to planting outdoors. Move the plants outdoors or into a cold frame during the days, in shady areas first, then into the warm sunny area. Gradually increase the length of exposure.

Don't put out your plants on windy days or in temperatures below 45deg.F. Reduce the frequency of watering. But, don't let your plants wilt!

After your plants are hardened and with weather permitting, you are now ready to plant your cared for plants into the garden. When you remove your plants from the flats, be sure to leave soil around the roots. Dig a hole about two times the diameter of the root mass.

Put in one cup of starter solution: 1 tablespoon of 10-52-17 or a similar chemical analysis to a gallon of water. Leggy tomatoes can have the stem buried horizontally. Really, roots will develop on the stem! Be sure and don't leave peat pots in the soil. The roots just can't penetrate. A plant of inferior quality will develop.

Remember to transplant on cloudy days and keep your plants in the shade during the hardening off process. Supply your garden plants with the equivalent of about 1 inch of water per week during the growing season. This means deep watering. Drip irrigation systems work wonders for Fairbanks, Alaska gardens. The deeper you water your garden, the more bountiful will be your crop.

Grow and Behold Showy Begonias

*Reference: Personal interview with Joan Rockney.

As I started a few flower seeds this week, I couldn't help but reflect on the nice conversation I had with Joan Rockney, who is an expert in growing tuberous begonias.

She is convinced tuberous begonias are the showiest and most spectacular plant you can grow in shady areas in Fairbanks. The most common upright forms of the begonia are the rose and carnation types. For hanging baskets there are two different kinds. The Belgian has serrated blossoms, but the rose-formed American is Joan's favorite. Begonias seem to thrive in cool, damp weather during our sub-Arctic summers.

When buying tubers, you have to look for good, firm and large ones two-to-three inches in diameter with no white mold present. Try to get them with little sprouts showing on one end.

Joan says the best time to plant is in the last week of February or the first week of March. It would not be too late to plant some right now, even though your blossoms will appear later in the summer. You might want to pick up some already started begonias at the local greenhouses.

They like to be started in a sterile growing medium such as vermiculite. You can start them in their permanent, preferably fibrous pots, if you have the space. If you do start them in 10-inch fibrous pots, remember to use a very porous soil of two-thirds loam and one-third sand with the addition of one tablespoon of fish meal.

When planting, set the rounded side of the tuber, which is the bottom, into the soil. The top side has a little indentation. Tip the tuber so that water will not stand in the indentation to start a rotting process. cover the top of the tuber with at least one-half inch of soil. Make sure there is an inch of soil around the whole tuber's edge.

Remember that roots, in addition to shoots, grow from this portion of the tuber. The more roots there are, the stronger the plant will be. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. If the soils is too wet, the plant will die before the season ends.

Using the natural light method, you can put your plants in an east or south window until June 1. If using grow lights, keep the lights eight to 10 inches above the plants for up to 16 hours a day. Keep the temperature between 70deg.F and 75deg.F. It may take several weeks before your tubers show any signs of leaf growth.

Tubers that are retrieved after the first frost of fall can be dried and stored in vermiculite in a 45deg.F area. They will start sprouting in late January or early February, forcing you to get out the grow lights. Like a potato, you can split the tuber up to get more than one plant, as long as you keep an eye or two on each piece. If you don't use grow lights, they will become spindly.

Remember, your plants can't get too much sunlight until about June 1. When the first shoots develop three or four leaves, it is time to pinch off the growing tip. This will cause the shoots to branch out. If repeatedly done, your plant will end up nice and bushy. After June 1 you have to move the begonias to the north side or lightly shaded area of your home. They need strong, but not direct, sunlight. However, if you move them into too shady a spot, they will become spindly. If you give them too much heat and sunlight, their leaves will look burned and the growth will be stunted.

Begonias like to be fed a fertilizer every two weeks after the leaves appear. You might consider using fish fertilizer or Liquinox Grow (10-10-5). When the buds form, you can switch your fertilizer to Liquinox Bloom (0-10-10).

You shouldn't underfeed your plants, if you expect large blooms. But, if you overfeed your plants, the green leaves will turn a deep bluish green and will roll under! If you underfeed your plants, the leaves will be a yellowish green.

In Fairbanks, Alaska begonias are pretty much pest free. However, they will develop a powdery mildew under humid conditions coupled with poor air circulation. Mildont or sulfur will take care of the problem, especially if your improve air circulation around the affected plant.

Begonias have a distinct front and back. The flowers always come out in the direction the leaves are pointing. Sometimes, the flowers can't get through the mass of foliage. So, you have to pinch the offending leaves off.

If you grow begonias to show, be sure to de-bud the side female flowers to show off the beautiful center showy flowers.

Joan Rockney says, if you hanging basket won't hang, withhold water until they droop. With the hanging basket variety, be sure to pinch the centers from the stems to encourage branching. This makes a much fuller basket. Plant one or two tubers in a 12 inch hanging basket. Try enhancing your baskets with trailing lobelia.

Go for those begonias, everyone!

Time to Prepare Fuchsia Flower Baskets for Summer

*Reference: Gardening column by Anchorage gardener, Jeff Lowenfels, personal interview with Penny Wakefield, New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening.

With warmer temperatures comes the annual "basket brigade." Fuchsias and tender shrubs native to Central and South America and New Zealand can be outstanding choices for hanging baskets.

Maybe some of you have overwintered your fuchsias at 40deg.F and high humidity, along with some light. If so, now is the time to start shaping the plants up for summer.

Start with cleaning old, dry leaves away. Then, long thin branches should be shortened and old weak ones cut out. Long side shoots on the main branches must be shortened to within a few buds of the base of last summer's growth.

You should replace the potting soil. However, some people only replace the top 3 inches of soil. Save your labels so you will know which ones you will want to take cuttings from. Water the plants.

The best shape for hanging basket fuchsias is a pyramid about 6 inches high. when new leaves begin to form, a pyramid-shaped plant is obtained by pinching the shoots from time to time as may be necessary to ensure the required number of branches.

By pinching off the growing tips, your plant will be nice and thick. Remember, blooms usually appear about six weeks after pinching. You can always pinch off newly formed buds until you get your plant to the size you want. Pinch off old flowers so that the plant's energy will not be wasted on developing seeds.

If you have four or five sets of leaves, pinch them back to one set. Then, when the two stems start to grow, pinch back again. If you keep this up until April, your baskets will start blooming in June. You should take care to always train one of the shoots upwards to form the main stem.

"Standards" are plants allowed to develop unchecked until the desired height of the stem is reached. then, the top is cut off and the side shoots will grow and form the head of branches. there are certain varieties of the upright or semi-trailing sort that should be picked for standards.

Fuchsias need a rich and loose soil. Some people use five parts of fibrous composted loam and one part of leaf mold and sand, along with a sprinkling of wood ash. Some people add a little steer manure. Good potting soil can be obtained from local greenhouses.

Early spring or late summer is the best time to take cuttings from fuchsias for future plants. Take your cuttings when the shoots are about 3 inches long. The lowest leaves are removed and the base of the shoot is cut beneath a joint: The cuttings root up quickly if placed in a moist vermiculite medium in a propagating box, which looks like a clear plastic shoe box.

If you decide to buy fuchsias, avoid plants with tightly packed roots in their pot. Fuchsias need room for their roots to develop. Beware of typical packed root signs: The plant does not seem to take up water and roots poke out the drainage holes of the pot. If you buy a plant that is blooming now, the chances of a top-form fuchsia for July and August is very remote.

Fertilizer should be applied every two weeks. Rapid-Gro, 20-20-20 or fish fertilizers work well.

A long time ago, my friend Penny Wakefield gave me a "sure shot" fertilizer recipe that will make your blooming plants bloom to death: 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon Epsom salt, 1 teaspoon saltpeter and 1/2 teaspoon household ammonia mixed in one gallon of warm water. This recipe can be used once every four to six weeks with wondrous results!

Watering is critical for growing fuchsias, since the soil should be kept moist all the time. Sometimes you will have to water your plants twice a day, depending on the intensity of the photoperiods. On cloudy days maybe you won't have to worry about watering as much. On newly transplanted cuttings, which take a couple of weeks to harden up to new potting soil and outdoor environment, you don't have to water as heavily.

Fuchsias come in all shades of red, blue, purple and white. They can be single-, double- or triple-flowered. Whatever variety you pick, I am sure you can't go wrong.

Have fun with your fuchsia basket!

It's Time to Pick Your Tomato Seeds*

* Reference: Interview with Grant Matheke, horticulturist at the University of Alaska Experiment Station.

If you find yourself in a quandary over what sort of tomato variety you'll have in your garden this year, you are certainly not alone. Tomato vines are easy to grow and yield delicious fruit abundantly in Fairbanks, Alaska. With dozens of varieties listed in dozens of gardening catalogs, it is easy to feel a little flustered about making the final decision.

In 1983, Grant Matheke at the University of Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station provided me with a long list of outdoor tomato varieties. By now, I am certain there are others. Be sure and check with the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service. They have recommended varieties listed.

These greenhouse-grown plants were 49 days old when transplanted into the outdoor field on June 6. The plants were grown through 1.5 mil clear polyethylene. Fertilizer application was 1,815 pounds per acre of 10-20-20 prior to rototilling.

It is always safe to choose a variety suited to our sub-Arctic climate that will yield the sort of tomatoes you like on the kind of vines you can easily handle. The highest yields of outdoor tomatoes with good flavor a few years ago were the Gem State and Shoshone, available through Mountain Seed and Nursery, P.O. Box 271, R1, Moscow, Idaho 83401.

Good yielding outdoor tomatoes from other years field trials are the Sub-Arctic 25, Sub-Arctic Plenty and Early Tanana. The seed is available at local nurseries. Greenhouse tomatoes recommended are Tuckcross 520, Tuckcross 533, Vendor and Sugar Lump. Check with local nurseries for seed.

To grow your own hothouse tomato plants from seed, sow tomato seed around the first week of March for transplanting in mid-April to your greenhouse or mid-March for a later greenhouse in early May. The outdoor tomatoes, mentioned previously, should be started about April 7, or eight weeks before setting out through clear polyethylene.

For anyone interested in trying the Siberia tomato, which sets its fruit at 38deg.F, enclose a self-addressed envelope and $2.00 to Siberia Seed, P.O. Box 3000, Olds, Alberta, Canada TOM1PO, using no U.S. Stamps. Ten years ago this would buy 10 seeds.

Tomatoes can be sown in a light soil mix or in a ready-made seed starter sold at nurseries. In pots, cover the seed with one-half inch of fine soil. Firm the soil over the seeds. Keep the soil surface damp.

Place the seed container in a sunny window in about 65deg.F to 70deg.F temperatures. Transplant the seedlings when they are 2 inches high into 3 or 4 inch pots. Keep these pots in a sunny area and grow them to transplant size.

When you consider tomatoes, you should think about their growth habit. "Determinate" tomatoes are bushy, self-topping plants. These varieties are usually the ones to give you that first ripe tomato in the summer. They are the best type to choose if you will be using the tomatoes for canning or making sauce or juice, since the fruit ripens at about the same time.

"Indeterminate" tomatoes will continue to grow taller and bloom all summer long and produce fruit until frost. These are the hothouse type of tomato. They should be topped in mid-July so that the set fruit will have a chance to ripen before frost.

When planting your tomatoes in well-drained soil, space the plants about 18 inches to 3 feet apart, depending on if you stake them or not. Make your planting hole extra deep.

Set the seedlings in the hole so the first leaves are just above the soil level. Additional roots will form on buried stems and provide a stronger root system. The soil likes to be enriched with organic matter, such as sphagnum peat moss or well-rotted steer manure. Have your greenhouse soil tested at the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service. S soluble fertilizer such as 10-52-17 applied during a weekly watering will produce good growth.

A common training method is to drive a 6 foot long stake (at least a 1-by-1 inch size) into the soil near each plant. Tie your plants to the stakes as they grow.

some people, like the later Florence and Lawrence Irving, who were superb gardeners, used a wire cylinder made of concrete reinforcing screen (6-inch mesh) as a support for their field tomatoes. He formed a cylinder with about a 11/2-foot diameter. The screen is about 84 inches wide and can be cut according to the size you need. It works nicely to support older tomato plants.

Some of the best hanging basket or container tomatoes recommended a long time ago for Fairbanks are Basket King and Pixie, available through Burpee Co., 6350 Rutland Ave., P.O. Box 748, Riverside, California; Presto, available from Harris Seed Co., Moreton Farm, Rochester, NY 14624; and Toy Boy, available through park Seed Co., P.O. box 31, Greenwood, South Carolina 229647.

These recommended types are seeded around April 19 and transplanted into 81/2-by-81/2 inch No. 2 nursery containers and grown in the greenhouse until about June 1, when they are hardened off and placed outdoors. They are fertilized weekly with 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer applied at the rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon.

Fresh juicy tomatoes are the epitome of gardening pleasure. By carefully selecting the recommended Fairbanks, Alaska varieties, your tomato crop this year will be your pride and joy!



4/28/95 - gardener@polarnet.com
Copyright © 1995 Pat Babcock