IN THE GARDEN: Spring brings perennials

Saturday, May 20, 2017 - 19:34
  • Daisies are a common Alaska perennial. (Photo by Marian Pound/Courtesy)

There is nothing more exciting to a gardener than to see the emergence of perennials in the spring. As the Alaskan spirit is tough, so is the Alaskan perennial that survives our cold harsh winters.

All perennials are not created equal. What is a perennial and how do some come back and not others? These questions can be costly as I found out when new to Alaska. This article then will attempt to save you from some of my Sourdough mistakes made early on.

What then is a perennial? A perennial is a plant that will come back year after year. Trees and shrubs are an example of woody perennials. Some of the hardy flower perennials favorites that live easily through our winter include: Peony (Paeonia), Asiatic lily (Lilium), Delphinium (Delphinium elatum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Alaska wild iris (Iris setosa), and Globeflower (Trollius). The Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum, which is pictured above) is one of the favorites in my yard, putting on quite a show in mid June.

There are many more perennials that grow easily in Alaska and The Cooperative Extension Service of University of Fairbanks has a large list of these available on their website that is worth researching.

Alaska’s growing is broken down into zones and knowing these zones when buying plants will save you from wasting your time and money. In our area, we are basically zone 2 on in the higher elevations of the hillside and zone 3 the rest of our area. Some areas of our yards can have what is called a microclimate, or small areas that have a slightly different climate than the surrounding area and can support zone 4, but this is an exception. While some people in Anchorage are successful in growing zone 4 perennials our area tends to be colder and may not apply to us. The big box stores will sell “perennials” that are beautiful and that you may want to grow here outside but that does not mean that they will. Be aware of this and ask what zone the plant in question is or look it up before spending the money. Gardeners have asked that these stores pay more attention to our zone hardiness and I have seen improvements in the selections lately in an attempt to accommodate Alaskan’s needs.

Our local nurseries know which plants grow well here and are a great resource for you. The Cooperative Extension Service has done the hard work of evaluating hardy Alaska perennial plants and is a valuable resource for the new gardener to Alaska.

When choosing perennials for your garden, your success can be dependent on several factors: Try observing several areas of your properties characteristics before purchasing. Analyze your soil texture and drainage, water availability, hours of sunlight as well as frost conditions. The plant growers will give the conditions needed for their particular plants viability which should be considered. For an example, I have plants under the eaves of the house that get very little water, and face west and get less than 6 hours of sunlight. These plants stay warmer next to the foundation but need watering by hand to survive and thrive. These plants also like partial shade.

Following the instructions of your particular plants viability needs is the key to its survival. More than once I have needed to move plants around in the yard to find my plants happy place. Don’t give up or be afraid to move your plants around if they just seem to be lacking in the luster that you expect. Most plants are forgiving and will keep trying to look their best. We must however do our part.

Invasive Plants of Alaska weed them and reap!

More and more, populations of highly invasive plants have been documented in Alaska. These plants pose a threat to Alaska’s agriculture, wildlife, fisheries. Be on the lookout!

We are in a position to avoid extensive invasive plants problems that plague the lower 48.

This week the species called Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is identified. This plant is a perennial and spreads by seed and short rhizomes.

If a friend gives you this plant, just say no. Although beautiful and from the sunflower family, this plant is mildly toxic to grazing animals. This plant can grow along streams and restrict water flow. Primarily found on roadsides, river and stream banks and beach meadows and spreads like crazy! Don’t let this one get a foothold.

Send me your questions to [email protected] and I will do my best to find answers for you.

Remember, we must “Keep calm and garden on.”

May upcoming garden events:

Monday, May 15

Anchorage Master Gardeners meeting and presentation on Edible Flowers by Ginger Hudson, Master Gardener. 7-9 p.m. at Anchorage Cooperative Extension Service, Chugach building room 116, 1840 Bragaw Street.

Saturday, May 27

Alaska Public Garden Day, with free admission to the Alaska Botanical Garden at 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road, Anchorage.

Plant Sales:

Saturday, May 20

Alaska Botanical Garden and Rock society plant sale, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the garden. 4601 Campbell Airstrip Road, Anchorage.

Tuesday, May 23-26

Highland Correctional Facility plant sale 9-6 p.m. 9101 Hesterberg Road, Eagle River.

Saturday, May 27

Alaska Rock Garden Society plant sale, 9-4 p.m. at Snowfire Gardens, 3379 Inlet Vista Circle, Wasilla.

Chris Wood is a Master Gardener from Eagle River. Write her at [email protected].

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