Monday, March 29, 2010

Ever been thwarted by nature?

If the answer is "no", then I must conclude you either live in a biodome or are homebound.  I had prepared a post on "The Five Ways to Know It's Spring in Alaska," to be completed with a picture or two, a short numbered list, and a question to get the comment juices flowing.  With a self-satisfied smile, I arranged for the post to be published on Monday (two Mondays ago, that is), and pressed the "publish" button.  And then it snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed.  The post was up for four hours before I realized my error.  Fill in your favorite exclamation here (I favor "whoopsie" for a family friendly blog, but to each their own).

Spring is not quite here yet.

For those that have never visited our great state, snow is the official state of oxygen accompanied by two hydrogen molecules here.  Liquid water enjoys but a four-month repast, and then it's straight on to solid ice and the lovely crystalline structure of snow.  We're used to getting foiled and frustrated so this isn't the first time the weather and its fickle nature have laid to waste my best-formed plans (and even the scatter-brained or spur of the moment ones, too). 

I've taken to playing the leafy version of Russian roulette: hardening off annuals before the last frost date, or even (gasp) planting my containers before that special day.  For Alaskans, it has traditionally been Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend in May.  These days I push the envelope by two weeks at least.  I once had a candidate for public office stop during her spiel at my doorstep, and tell me I had planted my annuals too early.  And yet, I felt no guilt.  Can you blame me, I mean, the last weekend in May?  Calendar, or "official", spring is more than half over by then!

  A couple of flats of annuals, waiting for me to plant them (too early).

My early push has resulted in the demise of many a good annual.  Some frequent casualties include Coleus, Impatiens, Helichrysum, and Heliotropium.  You'd think I would figure this out.  Instead I just throw my "emergency cover", a painting drop cloth, over the lot at night in (very early) spring when temperatures get too cold.  They sell real products that probably do a better job at this, but hey, I'm cheap.  The Coleus in particular doesn't care for this brutal treatment/low temperature and inevitably I kill all, or nearly all, of my precious, colorful acquisitions.  Well, as grandpa says, "You can't fix stupid." 

Do I get thwarted in summer, you ask?  Our summer reversals are usually of two types: too wet or too hot.  Just as the petunias are opening in their full glory, releasing their scent to great anticipation, we get rain.  We are quite dry here in Anchorage, with only 16 inches of precipitation annually (that makes us a desert sans cactus), so the rains in late summer, though welcome, are always a bit of a surprise.  I never plant petunias in-ground, and the better drainage in containers seems to help with too much water, but when it rains for an entire day, the blossoms do get damaged.  Actually, damaged is too kind.  They turn into a putrid, slimy mess.  The white-flowering varieties seem to fare the worst. 

                                             Petunias just waiting to be spoiled by the rain.

If it's not raining, it's the odd over 75 degree Fahrenheit day that toasts all the container plants and even stresses the in-ground plantings.  (Stop that laughing, 75 is a scorcher here.)  Two years ago, we had no days over that temperature, so I get lulled into thinking it can't happen.  And when it does, I want to be at the lake, not running around with the hose or watering can doing plant triage.

Before the snow, Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue', looking good.

Fall has the same trick every year.  Firstly, I should explain "fall" or "autumn" if you're English, is a newer concept to most Alaskans.  Traditionally, it's the time between September and the first snow.  So about three hours or so.  Recently, gardeners here have taken to planting more annuals and perennials that thrive in cooler temperatures.  But it's a losing battle.  Around the first part of October we have our first real snow of the year.  The one that sticks, which means end game for annuals.  A couple of stalwart perennials can truck through a few light snows; Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' comes to mind.  I've taken to planting ornamental grasses, which look great in autumn and (many of them) into winter as well.

An Alaskan winter has many hidden tricks and traps to thwart even wily gardeners.  Ice, freeze-thaw cycles, rodent damage, moose damage...well, I'll end there, lest my list get too depressing.  Even after enduring many winters and their reversals, I still get snookered.  Hope springs eternal in the gardener's heart.  Read on for one example of this involving the hulking, steroid enhanced version of Bambi, pictured below.  

Snap!  There goes two hundred dollars.

I am an acolyte (as are all Alaskans who plant young, deciduous trees) of moose-repelling products.  My go-to choice is Plantskyyd, which might be Swedish.  (Don't they love of the vowel "y"?  Or is it the Russians that love "y"?  Perhaps a reader will clue us in.)  I know it can't be American because our vowels are: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.  A sometimes rating doesn't get you two "y's" in a row.  [Just realized my razor sharp editorial skills have served me well, once again.  The product is actually spelled Plantskydd.  That's right.  Two d's, not two y's.  My apologies to Sweden and other "y" loving countries.] 

This product, touted to repel rabbits, elk, and deer, has worked pretty well for me when applied monthly in the winter.  (Who is that disciplined?)  Any gardener who has had the good fortune of using this animal blood-based product also knows the stench that goes with it.  I'll try to paint a fair picture for the uninitiated: mind numbing, stomach turning, dry heave-inducing stench.  It also has a tricky nozzle that seems to get clogged after the first squirt and thereafter, somehow, sprays backward onto the human applicator, a bit like the magic bullet that shot JFK.  So the point of this is: application is messy and I don't like doing it.  I apply and expect the stuff to work for a month at least.  Here's the obstacle: it snows, or the snow melts, or a windstorm blows the snow away and I should reapply but I don't.  The moose know this: they have an ungulate version of The Force and can sense a disturbance.  One unprotected night and voila: where once a young tree proudly stood lies an homage to Marilyn Manson, the Addams family, and Nightmare on Elm Street.  Yes, quite shocking.  It's the only known case of the Last Frontier Gardener thinking dark, malicious, assault rifle-laden thoughts having to do with a four-legged animal.  For the calendar year at least.

I guess the point is (wow, there's a point here?) we can get lulled into whatever the weather (or fauna) status quo is, and then are surprised, dare I say outraged, when there is a change.  Doesn't some Harry Potter character keep barking "constant vigilance!!" or some such thing?  Reflection on my past behavior has led me to conclude that I don't think I can maintain the proper watchful, attuned attitude for more than one month, but a little more preparation and awareness would be good.  And if that fails me, I'll just have to find that door-to-door politician cum horticulturist to advise me on my next move.
      
I'm convinced Mother Nature is a temptress.

How are you and your plans frustrated or foiled by nature?

39 comments:

Laurrie said...

Wow, and I have been bemoaning 3 days of rain in the low 40s here. I feel so much better (its schadenfreude, isn't it, when you feel better if someone else has it worse?) Find a big blue tarp and crawl under it till June comes, you can wait this out!

Di said...

Hello Christine, sorry about the continued snow. We on the other hand are having our continued rain... as I type, wind and rain and rain the rest of the week. ;) Similarly we too are dry in the summer; interesting that we go from being drenched in the winter to hot and arid. And as for the politician... well, I'd plant the flowers even earlier. lol Hope you have a great week. Diana

Melanie said...

I ve been gardening for over 20 years and have had my share of frozen annuals . Now I pay attention to the statistics, frost dates. i at least bring the pots inside or cover them every night with a tarp until that last date has passed. Although, we did have snow and sub zero temperatures in July once :)

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Great post!!! 2 weeks before the end of May? You are much braver than I am. I usually plant the May long weekend, but it is sometimes too soon, the garden centre is advising waiting til June 1 (!!!!!!!!!!!). We often get snow at the end of May though, so it probably makes sense. A few times I've had to plant, and plant again. Love the Bambi on steroids term, very appropriate! Glad you're keeping a sense of humour about the whole thing...

Carri said...

OMG- I will never complain about squirrels again! I can't imagine having to battle a moose in my garden!

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

I really enjoyed reading about your weather. I've seen pictures of beautiful gardens in Alaska, but never knew what Spring and Summer was really like there. I can see that your would want to stretch those seasons as long as possible.
We don't have weather like yours, but the PNW has had a few weird years of weather which actually makes it difficult to know what to plant. Just when we get used to dry summers and plant drought tolerant plants we get a extremely wet and cool summer, followed by one of the hottest ever. Same with winter; a record setting low one with lots of snow followed by a very mild one. The plants are getting confused.

Brandi Mills said...

I know how you feel. Although not as extreme as Alaska, of course, here in Maine we have the same problem with Spring sneaking in and then jumping back while pointing and laughing at all of us who are desperately waiting for the warmth.

Gilly in Ariège said...

What a fascinating read. As a zone 7 going on 6 gardener, who likes to moan about cold winters and late frosts I feel humbled and should never complain about anything again. But of course I will. Don't we all?

Jim Groble said...

Hey, is that a real moose? it makes my deer problem seem small, I mean really small. I bet they're not afraid of dogs, are they? My boys shure would be afraid of them. Great pics and post. jim

Kara said...

I feel your pain! This is such a crazy time of year for both our climates. We never know what will happen.
Wow the moose there sure are brave aren't they? In my area moose and deer don't dare come near the houses, because they know some crazy Frenchman will shoot it, even out of season.
I am loving the photo of your Scabiosa. Maybe I can beg you to save some seeds for me this year? :D

Christine B. said...

@Jim Groble
Real moose, eating the Sorbus buffet kindly provided by our municipality. Yes, they do stomp and charge dogs but some dogs are dumb enough to chase them, so it goes both ways.

@Kara,
Send your crazy Frenchman up here. We need more of them. Our local game management folks turn a blind eye to the (botanical and vehicular) carnage caused by an exploding moose population. Very ironic as we are in a state that has scads of people who love to hunt. I would be happy to "sponsor" a Frenchie. I'm just afraid the LFG hubby would want in on the illegal moose hunting action. I'll try to remember about the Butterfly Blue Scabiosa seed. They do come true from seed in my experience...a real plus.

CB

lkw said...

Christine, I've been meaning to visit your blog, and goodness, what a remarkable contrast to our seasons here.

I'll look forward to hearing about what grows in your very long days in summer!

But, I shall try to moderate my whiny comments about cold weather. And good luck with the moose repellents (I though woodchucks and deer were voracious herbivores, but moose, now, can really chow down).

All the best,
Lisa

debsgarden said...

I will remember you when our temperature in August is 98 at night with 95 percent humidity, when the clay earth turns to rock, and even the mosquitos and gnats try to get inside where it's air conditioned. I will remember your moose and not complain.

College Gardener said...

Good luck for your presentation!

Noelle said...

I love hearing about your gardening trials in Alaska. They are both similar and different from what we deal with here in the desert. For us, it planning for fall way too soon because we are sick of summer ;-) I hope your weather warms up for you soon.

Faith Kolean said...

Remember the foot of snow in April 2008? It was around the 20th. As long as it melts.

Patty said...

I can't imagine the snow is over for the season here in VT. I have learned to have enough patience to wait until Memorial Day to plant. Unless May is just really mild.

But it snowed in May last year. So back to that patience...

JWLW said...

HI Christine: I like your moose, does it have any friends?

Have a great evening,
John

Grace Peterson said...

Well Christine, I hope you've got that post saved. You will get to use it eventually. Thwarted by nature? ALWAYS. I suppose it's part and parcel with gardening.

It's turned cold here too. Relatively speaking. There was rain and snow mixed off on my windshield this morning.

Live and learn....

Michaela said...

Well,how pitiful was I was being a whiny baby about snow in Chitown when you my dear are still battling on through. No wonder you take your chances on your spring plantings....good for you!

Elephant's Eye said...

Scorcher? That's 24C, just the perfect temperature for people. Thwarted by nature? Yup. Now it is cool enough, I am removing the ones that didn't make it thru the summer. And the autumn, which hit 40C!

Benjamin Vogt said...

I'm an English teacher, and I must say, "Y" as a vowel is far, far under represented and it makes me sad. Those Swedes or Fins or Norwegians know how to use letters. And the Russians. Right? tomorrow's class assignment: think up as many words that use "Y" as a vowel, THEN think up words that should use "Y" as a vowel to make them more interesting. Hmmm. Mylk. Pencyl. Cypcyake. Oak Tryy. Dyffydyl. Yes, this is certainly progress for the language.

Maureen said...

I will try not to moan about our terrible British climate again, well not for a week at least ! and 75 degrees fahrenheit is too hot for me. I like Spring and Autumn best as I don't care much for scorching days.
Maureen

A Garden of Threads said...

I have put sheets over the tomatoes the beginning of June because of frost. Frustrating, but we still garden.

joene said...

You have snow, we have rain - 17 inches in March. You have moose, we have deer - lots and lots of them with the same uncanny sense of opportunity. I hope spring comes soon to you, it sounds like you could use a good dose. ;-)

Gail said...

What a stout heart and optimistic soul Alaska gardeners must have! In the Middlesouth (Tennessee) we get thwarted all the time...Just when we are enjoying a sweet spring the summer temps arrive melting the crocus...It will be 80F today. So glad you stopped by my blog and I get to see how Alaskans garden...gail thank goodness we only have deer.

vrtlarica said...

This is so very interesting post. I have to admit that knew nothing about climate or gardening in Alaska. All that I knew is from that TV show that was filmed some 15 years ago (forgot the name). Thank you very much for this lovely post.
It is such a difference to out climate - last week we have 75F (this is too hot for this time of year, but not unusual). You do have a lot of gardening challenges!

I would say that "Y" is more Nordic thing, as Russians write in Cyrillic letters and "Y" is actually "U" in Cyrillic.

kirsten said...

You always make me laugh!

As for my (always losing) bouts with nature, until moving to Edmonton, summer was the difficult season in Austin, TX. The heat and humidity would seriously curtail my time spent outside and so many vegetables just couldn't produce during the scorching summer months. Until I shook off the last vestiges of the northern rhythmn, I would plant my cool season crops too late in the spring and they were always just starting to produce something when the summer heat hit. So I just started planting most things in the fall and, if they survived the inevitable late winter ice storm, I felt that I was, at least, holding my own.

Gardening in a Sandbox said...

I am so sorry that you got all that snow. Hope spring will come soon to you. I hear your rant and I feel your pain. Valerie

camissonia said...

Your moose are like our mule deer here in the hinterlands of Southern California. Every morsel of plant material for these guys seems to be delectable fair game. The worst offenders in my garden are those adorable rabbits that will mindlessly mow down any plant under 3' tall that is not encaged with chicken wire. I've tried sprinkling Rabbit Scram around the most vulnerable plantings, but to no avail. I think the product offended me (olfactorily) more than it did the bunnies...

GloriaBonde said...

We got rain and a bit of snow last night. But it shouldn't last long - We had a warm spell and I really got out and did some major rock changes. I'm sure your presentation was great. Hope I do not have technical difficulties? G

heather @ what's blooming this week said...

Hi Christine - thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on the forced magnolia post. I'm in the Toronto area and we have our last frost around the same time as you. We have the same traditional planting weekend, just one week earlier. Don't know how many times my annuals have been bitten by the frost. Good luck with the magnolia. One way to make sure it made it is to try forcing a few cuttings. - just cut off a couple of branches with some buds - pop them into a vase with some warm water and wait. It takes about 2 weeks for flowers to open.

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

That type of nature thwarting is pretty hardcore! I've never had to engage a moose or deal with snow... but that's because I'm minutes from the beach in California, so there you go. Good luck!

Wendy said...

wow, well that's a real trick by nature!

I can't believe the politician stopped in the middle of her spiel to tell you that!

That container holds a really great combo. It'll be memorial day in no time!

Leonard said...

"Did you ever try deer off? It's also organic and the label says it lasts for 3 months, so I barely have to apply the stuff.
Here's the repellent I use:
http://www.deeroff.com/advantage"

Christine B. said...

@Leonard
Nope, never tried it. I'll have to give it a whirl, nothing could be as stinky as what I'm using now.

CB

Kathryn said...

Love the fishes on your title pic...you are a very brave woman to be gardening in Alaska, by the sound of things...I enjoyed your Blog, it made me laugh (and I feel better about the weather in Sydney already!)...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at lastfrontiergarden.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Peter

Christine B. said...

@Anonymous
Here is the link:
http://www.plantskydd.com/
At least, I guess that is the link you wanted as it is the only one I found after a quick read through. Let me know if not.

Plantskydd can be found here in Alaska at almost any plant nursery or big box store so it's pretty easy to find. Good luck.


CB

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