Patience - the better part of planting

The force to seed is strong, but the wise gardener knows the frost waits in the shadows

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

Juneau residents shouldn't be fooled by the warming sun and longer afternoons.

George Campbell, president of the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners, said he knows from the calendar that Juneau's spring planting season hasn't arrived. He also knows from calls the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office has forwarded to him that some people's early planting didn't survive last weekend's cold.

The Master Gardeners get the horticulture questions because Juneau lacks an agent, despite the need, Campbell said.

He will be planting in May and still has his trees wrapped, he said.

Gardeners' Web Site

The Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners offer gardening tips and a calendar of their upcoming events at their Web site, www.seakmastergardeners.org.

Campbell said he didn't need to look at a thermometer to tell him last weekend was cold. He was trying to "run topsoil" - taking peat moss and mixing it with sand. "The sand piles were frozen solid," he said.

Campbell doesn't recommend that Juneau residents begin work on their summer gardens during the upcoming weekend either, even if it seems appropriate in their neighborhoods.

He is looking to plant in May. The Master Gardeners have a plant sale scheduled for May 7, he added.

"Nobody I know was actively planting (last weekend)," he said. "We pretty well can expect freezing weather into April."

Juneau landscaper and Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners board member Ed Buyarski said people should plant bare-root trees and shrubs as soon as he ground thaws. When they are leafed, he added, they are more tender and more susceptible to damage, especially near the Mendenhall Glacier, where there are later hard frosts.

He also has no doubt that last weekend's "very cold and drying wind could have damaged some existing stuff."

While they live in a place where towering trees thrive in the nearby wilderness, Juneau residents still need to devote special attention to caring for their trees, he said.

Juneau had experience a few days late this winter when the warmth of the sun brought sap up out of the roots and into the bark. Especially in thin-skinned trees such as maples, a cold snap can freeze the sap and cracks start to appear, which can lead to infection from bacteria and spores, Buyarski explained.

Trees in the wild often shelter each other, but an early thaw followed by a freeze can hurt them in visible ways, he added.

It is too early to predict this year's wild blueberry crop, he said, "but if the flower buds are damaged, they won't bear fruit."

"The sun may be dancing jigs in your yard," Campbell said. But when it is suddenly obscured behind a cloud or drops behind a mountain, the temperature drops substantially.

While many people wrap their trees to protect them, he said, many have their perennial plants and shrubs covered with insulating materials just to avoid that temperature fluctuation.

There are some areas of Juneau that could be ready for planting earlier than others. Campbell said he sees four zones, with the Montana Creek area requiring hardier plants.

Buyarski said people can even have different conditions between their front and back yards, especially if they're in the Mendenhall Valley and one of their yards faces the glacier.

While the downtown area can expect frosts until around May 1, the airport can expect them through May 15. Close to the glacier, the date is May 30.

"Folks have to think about that," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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