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Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2001

The earth writhes, exploding with emergent tips, long anticipated spring practices its hide and seek game this year. We're ready for the real thing; daffodils, primroses and violets we see waiting buds and count the days. The soil is alternately softened and thickened again as the temperature hovers around the freezing point, and the feeling of growth is almost audible.

Protected corners, south-facing walls, and surrounded places are weeks ahead. There tulips that thrust themselves up during the warmth of January, that held their shapes and waited, are beginning to sway gently during the heat of the day. Crocus flare back the threadlike leaves surrounding their flushes and only a few warm days separate them from their adolescent glory.

Colder places whose bulb plants emerged at the same warm flush either went into suspended animation, or if they had attentive care were swaddled in some type of mulch. We used the chipped spruce foliage available from the tree care companies and gently filled between those unwisely early buds. There were south facing brick walls that would have been in full color by the end of January, except that we are in Alaska.

Outside our domestic spaces the warmer zones show new life too. The beaches are sighing with tender grass tips, low hums of returning green fill the ground levels of hardy clumps of beach wild rye, and just above tide line Indian Rhubarb is knobbily entering the aboveground world again. The winter glow of crimson on the dogwood branches is still showy, but adjacent Elderberries have already given notice. They are moving into the season with their accustomed pioneer verve. They will be open for business when the first customers show up.

The humans are stirring too, poking and prodding at their landscapes, checking for signs and eagerly comparing indicators. Piles of protective mulch have done their jobs, keeping the ground frozen and plants dormant, but nothing can hold back the spring. It is irresistible, and we would never want to resist anyway.

Roses have started swelling, and even in the yards exposed to cold waves of nighttime air sweeping down from the mountain heights our old familiar lilacs have buds as large as children's thumbs. Mountain ashes in the Pioneer Cemetery downtown have crossed the threshold already and are irrevocably foliage bound.

Interest levels are high among gardeners, with shows, lectures, and classes already well underway. The master gardener sponsored series of talks and training sessions has begun, and the new Extension Service offices in Vintage Park are humming. Contact can be made there for all of these sessions. The Mendenhall Watershed Partnership is setting up a booth at the Home Show on March 17, and will be promoting streamside gardening methods designed to encourage waterway health while making the most of those desired spaces. Bank stabilization and reinforcement methods will be illustrated too.

The campaign for our large Spruce trees is showing unanticipated response, homeowners are drilling and placing the insecticide emitting capsules into the underbark layers in such numbers that local stores run out frequently. Spruce aphids that devastated local trees are expected to be just as voracious after this mild winter. Feeding them during the next couple of months will be helpful, but burying these capsules in the cambium layer and having the chemicals flow up with the sap to be there when the first waves of aphids come will really help the trees resist the bugs. That does not address the regional effect of the insects, caring for individual trees is only a stopgap, the aphids are here until a cold winter breaks their cycle.

Spring pruning season is approaching, thinning larger spruce trees for greater light penetration and lessening protection offered by masses of small branches will help keep insect damage down, and it will help keep trees up too. Reducing the sail effect on these large trees really is the best thing you can do for long term preservation in developed areas.

Spring pruning on deciduous trees is a much more positive topic, it is really fun, and allows such dramatic changes in lower level landscapes. Light penetration to formerly shaded gardens brings back flowers and plants that faded and languished decades ago. Turf rebounds, and new opportunities for color in the foreground reinspire lucky gardeners. The side benefit of keeping gutters cleaner and walls less moldy are real positive too.

Spring has really shown up, and all the delight of sharing our outdoor spaces is beginning. It is going to be a thrilling season.



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