Story last updated at 3:50 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2002

Holiday weekend kicks off season to plant seedlings
Rosemary Fitzpatrick
What fun! Memorial Day weekend is the traditional planting out date here in the Far North. I am hoping for rain, or at the very least, overcast skies for that wonderful moment when we can plant our seedlings into the ground. There is nothing as brutal as a beautiful day on a tender young plant.

You have plenty of time to get your seedlings hardened off. This is the process of introducing your plants to the harsh reality of life in a Homer garden.

Gradual is the key to this process. Bring your plants outside for a few hours in the morning and gradually increase the time spent outside until they can spend the night out. You may want to throw a piece of floating row cover over them for the first night or two. This will also protect the plants from the fly that lays the dreaded root maggot.

My nongardening spouse, John, ran the power tiller for me in the raised beds of the vegetable garden. He didn't think that was necessary because he did such a lovely job of it last fall. But I really think that the slugs and their eggs need as much disturbance as possible. They are an incorrigible scourge.

There are those who think that twice yearly tilling is hard on earthworms but I have a thriving population so I don't give that aspect of tilling much concern.

I have direct seeded: four kinds of lettuce, spinach, onion sets (Stuttgart), Yukon Gold potatoes (because I like them), peas, carrots and beets. Why not? It really is not too early. After all, the directions on the package say to plant as soon as the soil can be worked.

My neighbor called with the news that she was having her horses paddock cleaned out with a Bobcat. What a boon. At first I didn't want any at all, having spread plenty of manure in the fall. But then I decided that a couple wheelbarrows full would never hurt. Then I decided that four would really come in handy. So I took my son's truck over to the paddock and had Jeff fill 'er up. Greed. Or so I thought. But it was such nicely aged manure.... I quickly called yet another friend and said as soon as I had used what I needed I would be over with the rest for her to use. Oops. I used every iota of that manure. First I spread it under all of the roses, then the asparagus, then shrubs, then the perennial beds, being very careful not to toss any directly on the crown of the plants. Ah, satisfaction is a load of nicely aged horse manure. Doesn't take much (after all I DID get the puppy and an industrial strength diamond to boot)!

I have been digging dandelions by the basket full. They are coming out of the ground with remarkable ease. It must be the time of year, or moisture in the soil but I am getting the whole root. Keep in mind these weeds are ever so edible and even delectable. But may I suggest that you learn to like yellow because there seems to be no getting rid of them. Good luck on this. Which brings me to equisetum, horsetails. They will appear in full force as the spring progresses. There is little you can do to eradicate them. But you can keep them at bay by cutting them down. Using a mover, weed-eater, or just snapping them off will slow them down. As the season progresses they will become less prevalent. If you try to pull them out you will be amazed by the vastness of their root system. Pulling them may be more disruptive to the surrounding plants then their presence. Learn to live with them.

Friends recently bought a house that has an established garden. There are some mistakes that have been made there that we can all learn from. The most important is planting large shrubs and trees to close to the walls of the house or a fence.

One glaring instance is a Scotch pine hard pressed between a fence and larch. Poor thing. It is misshapen and stunted. What a waste. Read the label before you stick that honeysuckle in a corner by the entry door. In five years you may not be able to get in and out of that door.

Think twice before you plant a lilac under the bedroom window. In just a few years you won't be able to see out of the window. Off to the side would be a good idea.

Most trees and shrubs that you have bought at a nursery will have a tag on it that will give you a good idea of just what to expect in height and width. If you still do not have the Alaska Cooperative Extension publication "Landscape Plants for Alaska," get one immediately. This spiral-bound book is crammed with information.

As you hit the nurseries this week keep in mind that you really want to buy at least three of the same plant. Think in mass and not one of this and one of that. When planting annuals in containers, pack them in. You will have already used an excellent potting soil and will expect to water and feed with a dilute solution of fish emulsion as the growing season progresses. It will be worth it.

As you plant out your hardened off seedlings, give them a handful of compost if you have it and water in with half strength solution of fish emulsion. This will mitigate transplant shock. If the plants seem leggy to you just bury the stem up to the first set of true leaves. This will keep them from whipping around in the wind and help them develop a sturdy root system.

Note: Homer Garden Club will meet Sunday at 2 p.m. downstairs in City Hall in the Council Chambers. Guest speaker will be Homer's own Jordan Hess, aka "The Tree Guy". Here is an excellent opportunity to learn about what trees and shrubs will thrive here and how to plant them. Also the Annual Plant Sale will be June 1 in front of the East branch of the college, at 10 a.m. sharp.