Successful Alaska Gardening- Part 1

alaska gardening

Successful Alaska Gardening Part 1
By Ann Roberts

Many gardeners, newly transplanted to Alaska, have despaired of ever growing more than greens that bolt to seed before they’re worth picking. Or watching seedlings that just sit (waiting for warmer weather), or plants killed by frost before they can produce. The lesson? Alaska gardening is different from the “lower 49” states. But by learning a few things about those differences, any Southcentral or Kenai Peninsula gardener can find gardening success. And many of the lessons learned here can help others who garden in far northern states, or even Canada.

A few challenges gardeners face in this area of Alaska are, naturally, cool weather, cold soil, and, paradoxically, too much daylight! Fortunately, solutions are close at hand. Made possible by a combination of soil warming techniques and careful plant variety selection.

Cool Weather

Very little can be done about weather, though soil warming techniques will help a little, and variety selection (covered later) is very important. The Matanuska Valley may have lush lawns because of more rain, but don’t think you can skip watering – Anchorage actually only averages a few inches more water per season than Fairbanks; it is cloud cover that makes the difference. Cloud cover ensures heat accumulation remains low in South central Alaska and many plants will need greenhouse protection to mature here. The lower Kenai Peninsula stores up even fewer “heating degree days”.

Permafrost and Cold Soil

In South central and Southeastern Alaska permafrost (ground that remains frozen all summer) occurs only sporadically. It is found mostly in isolated and often widely separated masses. A boggy or swampy surface may indicate the ground is too frozen to allow drainage. But if the surface insulation (often peat moss) is removed, the permafrost can then melt down to a level that permits good natural drainage. Unfortunately, soils in Alaska are cold even where there is no permafrost at all!

Soil-Warming Tips for Alaska Gardening

The most frequent recommendations for soil warming are:

  • raised beds
  • clear plastic
  • lightening heavy soils

Other home gardening possibilities are planting in the sunniest spot, using greenhouses or hot frames, putting Styrofoam® insulating boards and/or heat tapes below the plants’ root zone, and utilizing solar collectors. If possible, water with tempered (warmed) water.

For vegetables not under plastic, sprinkler irrigation is most often recommended for Alaska, as warm air helps warm sprinkler water. Avoid sprinkling beans, which are particularly susceptible to soil-born disease organisms, spread by splattering water drops.

Ann D Roberts is the author of Alaska Gardening Guide Vol 1, covering cold weather gardening in Alaska, with specific growing tips for vegetables. The book, written and published in Alaska, is in its third printing and is already the �definitive and indispensable reference guide to every Alaskan gardener.� Readers can check out its table of contents at [] Ann is presently working on Vol 2, covering perennials and lawns. This article may be freely reprinted in its entirety, including this last paragraph.

Alaska Gardening

How To Know What To Plant In Your Garden

what to plant in your garden

How To Know What To Plant In Your Garden
By Christina Lane

How do you figure out what to plant in your garden? There are a number of deciding factors that you can use to figure out what will be the perfect plants to grow in your garden. Some of them are things that you can do nothing about, such as your particular climate. Others such as availability can still allow you to get that particular plant, but with a little help. There are many online sites that can cater to finding you a plant that you may not be able to find locally for your garden. But doing your research, as with in anything, will be what pays off for making your garden all it can be.

A first time gardener should take the time to research what particular growing climate they are in before picking out plants. It is relatively easy to find this out by going to the USDA web page for the growing zones. Once you’ve confirmed which zone you live in it will help tell you what plants you can grow. But there are variances, a family that lives in Vergennes, Vermont is in a zone 5, but plants from neighboring zones such as zone 4 or even zone 3 can be sometimes be grown in that area. It’s just that those neighboring zone plants may not do as well as in their normal area. If you check out the USDA map and simply click on your state you can easily find your specific zone.

If you don’t grow your plants for your garden yourself from seeds, then you can check with your local nurseries to see what they have. Some hardware and lawn and garden stores will carry garden plants too; so that may be a good resource for you. But if you do grow your plants from seed the sky is the limit as to what you can try. Some plants that aren’t designated in your zone may be a harder grow and require more TLC; but it can be really fun to try. There are a number of seeds available in many of your local stores for choosing from. You may find them at: hardware stores, lawn and garden stores, nurseries or even your grocery and drug store. But if you’re looking for something specific, check out some of the tried and tested online seed stores.

But the biggest deciding factor in what to grow in your garden should be based upon space and a poll of the family members within your house. If you grow a garden full of say… turnips and nobody in your home eats turnips then, well… that’s a waste. But polling your family is a great way of getting them involved in what to grow in your garden.

Gardening is a great stress reliever along with allowing you to provide food for your family. Find more tips on gardening at LanDavi Farms . You can also find books, links and more tips on gardening at their sister site LOL Lane’s Online Lawnsale.

What To Plant in Your Garden?

Designing Your Garden

designing your garden, garden design

Designing Your Garden – What Makes a Good Garden?

By Sandra Pullman

Garden design is a very personal thing and is often an expression of your personality. What I like, you may not and vice versa. Some people like neat and tidy gardens where there are no surprises, others love the thrill of winding paths, lots of different plant material and not knowing what is around the corner. There are three main styles of gardens formal, semi-formal and informal. They can then be divided into many types of gardens and that depends on what you would like. In designing your garden you can be intimately tidied to the style of your house as in example of the grand French chateaux where the geometric patterns of the garden mimic the geometric construction of the house or it can have no connection to your house at all.

Some people are lucky and have this innate gift of knowing how to design space, making it a pleasing place to be in. Others don’t have this gene and find it very difficult to visualize how the space will work. To create a good design it is important you understand that design is about managing space and people moving around it. The core of good garden design centers round patterns and the space within these patterns. By using geometrical shapes, circles, triangles, rectangles etc. you can achieve a unified feel to your garden. So you need to think about ground patterns and movement around your garden. Where would you like people to go? Ground patterns can be achieved with the use of bricks, paving and plant material such as cut grass etc.

Formal gardens are symmetrical and geometrical and are strict in terms of repeating patterns and plant materials on either side. It is very controlled, plants are clipped, shaped, manipulated regularly and today is often suitable for small gardens like court yards. Urns, balustrades, stone, gravel paths, parterres, formal pools and framed views are all part of the formal garden. There are no surprises, you know what to expect.

Informal designs are asymmetrical and not as regimented. Plant material is allowed to spill over the structural elements such as walls, steps and paths. Plant material is allowed to self-seed and wander around the garden. Informal garden design is softer, full of surprises thus you don’t know what to expect.

And semi-formal is the combination of the above two. Usually it is the built structures such as retaining walls, paths and steps that are formal and the informal element is the plant material which is allowed to spill over them, softening their hard outlines.

Within these three types, there are many different styles of gardens to choose from such as contemporary, Japanese, Mediterranean, cottage, courtyard, kitchen garden or secret garden.

Contemporary is a modern style that likes to reflect the surrounding but also use a wide range of plant material. Form and texture of foliage are as important as flowers. Hard landscaping is woven into geometrical shaped buildings; all of which flow into the wider landscape. Plants are used as focal points to highlight the architectural forms.

Cottage was a late nineteenth-century ideal to return to the simple cottages of the country. They were planted with hardy bulbs, flowers, fruit bushes and herbs and vegetables. They were geometric, colors were harmonized and luxurious as plants grew well as they were heavily manured regularly.

Mediterranean is not limited to one particular area but is defined according to hot summers and low rainfall. They encompass entertaining areas, shade, good views and dramatic shadows. Hot colorful plants are used and lots of lush green foliage plants to create a cool atmosphere. Plants need to be drought tolerant. Evergreen plants are popular because they cast shade on hot days. Walls are white washed to reflect the sun, pergolas built to create shade and use terracotta pots. There is often a water feature and water provides cooling vibes.

Japanese gardens encompass religion and Japan’s cultural history. Japanese gardens are very symbolic often the symbols relate to nature. Plants are ‘tamed’ and there is an emphasis on evergreen trees and shrubs. They are very controlled and often minimalist. True Japanese gardens are contemplative a place of meditation and great calm.


If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start when designing your garden, I suggest you break it up into areas called rooms thus dividing one big space into several smaller spaces. For example: there is the front garden, the side garden and the back garden. Once you have decided where they begin and end you can then divide each of those areas up again. For example in the back garden you could have the entertaining area, the grass/children’s area, the utilities area (includes the compost heap and shed), the pool area and the vegetable/orchard area. Once you have defined the areas/rooms you can tackle one at a time, thus making a huge project into several smaller projects.

The Three Planning Stages

To create an interesting and exciting garden there are 3 sets of plans (may be four if you need an engineer’s structural plans) you need to devise:- Site Analysis Plan, Concept Plan and Planting Plan, usually all drawn to scale.

The First Steps

To design a garden that works there are several things you need to do before buying plants and planting them. If you follow these steps you are more likely to have a successful garden.

Site Analysis

It is important to make an inventory of the area you are designing. Things to include are:

  • Levels – steep/flat
  • Aspect – North/south
  • Sun/shade
  • Sun Summer/Winter
  • Shadows
  • Existing trees and buildings
  • Wind
  • Views – good and bad
  • Soil conditions
  • Entrances – Front/back doors
  • Power lines
  • Underground cables and pipes
  • Clothes line
  • Fences
  • Sheds and garages
  • Paved and unpaved areas
  • Patio/BBQ
  • Lighting
  • Drainage – runoff of storm water

Once you have noted the above, it is now time to really start designing your garden by drawing up the space. You can draw it roughly (not to scale) but eventually you will have to draw it to scale. Start by measuring the area you is designing, draw it to scale i.e. 1:100 and put all the above points onto your drawn plan. All these influences need to be drawn on paper, so that you can gauge any trends. For example there might be a paved path from the back door to the garage, but everyone takes a short cut across the lawn, creating a desire line. No – one uses the paved path. So perhaps pave the desire line and make it the official path.

The next step in designing your garden is the concept plan and this is the plan where you put down your ideas. It can be as wild and as adventurous as you like. Forget cost, enjoy your creativity. This is the stage where you put down your dreams of what you have always wanted. Later on, you hip pocket will decide for you whether you can have them. Anything is possible, so don’t be shy, dream away. Again this can be roughly drawn or to scale, it is up to you.

The third and final plan is the planting plan and it is preferable that it is drawn to scale as this allows you to know exactly how many plants you will need. It incorporates all the ideas you have decided upon and shows you how the finished garden is going to look. It is the road map which will guide you to building your new garden.

There may be a fourth plan if your site is steep or you are having major elements built, as you may need the advice of an engineer.

Points to Consider

Think about your soil conditions, is it heavy clay or light and sandy? What plants will grow in these conditions? Are some areas boggy and some always dry?

Sun conditions

The sun is higher in the sky during spring and summer and shadows are shorter. Whereas in winter, the sun is lower in the sky and casts longer shadows. So a plant might be in full sun in summer and complete shade in winter. Can it tolerate this? Also think about the conditions the plants require. Are they full sun plants like roses or shade loving plants like azaleas?


You also need to think about wind direction. Which way does the prevailing wind come from? Screens and hedges are one way of managing this problem but what problems are they going to cause? Making the block feel narrow, casting shadows etc.? It is important to know because some plants don’t like wind and it is no good putting the BBQ/entertainment area in an uncomfortable spot.


Views out your window or from your garden are very important. Some are intrusive while others are desired. If you wish to block out flats/neighbors etc. you may need to put in a higher fence or a hedging screen of some kind. Or you may want to design your garden to enhance the view of the mountain, ocean etc.

Utilities and Service Lines

You also need to be aware where your services and utilities are; things like clothesline, overhead power lines etc. If you damage the gas, telephone or electricity lines, you are liable to pay for their repair.

Principles of Designing Your Garden

To create a well-designed garden, it is important to put the right plant in the right position. This means considering the cultural requirements of the plant. For example putting a full sun plant such as rose into a shady position isn’t going to work, because the rose won’t be receiving the right amount of sunlight for it to grow. The idea of good garden design is to follow this philosophy, using the placement of plants to create mystery, tension and surprise by using tricks of the eye, colors and textures.

Tension, mystery and surprise make a garden interesting. One way to create these is to use hedges, low walls, screens, paths, steps to make individual ‘garden rooms’ with tension points that captures your attention on the way. For example a narrow oblong garden can be made more interesting if you can’t see the back fence – that there is a feature (plant or statue etc.) that obscures the fence. It also becomes more interesting if the path way is narrow then opens up into another room. A winding path adds mystery to the garden if you can’t see what is around the corner. Surprise comes when you go around the corner and discover a focal point.

A focal point is something like a seat/statue/water feature that leads your eye directly to it. For example – a pergola that has a statue at the end of it. The statue is the feature and is the reason why you look/walk to see it. Another example of a focal point is a pathway leading through a door that is open and shows a vista of the wider landscape.

The success of the focal point can depend on the how successfully the ground patterns lead you there. If the paving encourages you along this path thus creating some tension and mystery, you are more likely to follow the path to see what’s there because you have become inquisitive. Narrow paths encourage you to walk quickly and not to dilly dally along the way, whereas wide paths say stroll, take you time, and look at the surrounding vegetation. A gentle curve can be negotiated at speed, but a tight curve can’t be so people slow down as there is risk involved. Paving is used as a directional tool says don’t walk that way, but walk this way. Edging bricks say don’t step over this – this is a boundary. Paving can also be used to reflect the ground plane of the house or other shapes in the garden.

Long narrow gardens have a strong directional emphasis that needs to be broken up. Square plots are static. To solve these problems the space’s shape needs to be changed. A circular design distracts the eye from the straight lines of the boundary fence. You could also use a series of rectangles using the boundaries as part of the design.

Another method is to turn the garden onto a 45 degree angle. A long diagonal line will immediately create a feeling of space. The paving near the house could be done on an angle and high light the diagonal line of the entire garden.

Gardens with a dog-leg in them can utilize the bend by using tension, mystery and surprise to lead you around the corner to a focal point of some kind.

Unified space is created by controlling the movement around the garden. It is the way areas are linked together by paths, bridges, pergolas, steps and terraces that determine whether a garden is successful. Careless placing can ruin the flow of the garden. If you wish to direct someone’s attention to a particular point then there must be a clear reason in the design for following this pathway.

Ground levels are very important when designing your garden. If a slope is too steep to walk down safely, steps may be needed and if the entire block is on a slope, the whole area may need to be terraced. What material you use is also important. Steps should not be of slippery materials and gravel may wash away. The surfaces need to be flat otherwise they could be dangerous and people will not want to walk along them and instead they may create a desire lines.

Levels help to create interest and ‘rooms’ in a garden because you move from one place to another by steps/paths/etc. Allow your levels to gently flow into one another and keep them simple. Don’t over decorate them. A slope up from the house will appear foreshortened whereas a slope down from the house will appear larger.

Choosing Plant Materials

There are 3 types of gardens:- the plants man, the garden designer and the gardener’s (mix of the first two). The plants man gardens consist of lots of singular plantings, unconnected and often rare and difficult to source. The garden designer’s garden consists of plants that are tried and tested – they use plants that they know and how they perform. The gardener’s garden has learned that their favorite plants can be more effective if planted in a scheme.

When choosing plants you must consider what the conditions are of your garden. There is no point putting alkaline tolerant plants in acid soil or vice versa. It won’t work! You need to think about what your plants you have chosen require moist soils, dry soils, shade, sun, well drained, boggy soils. If you do your research correctly and place your plants in the right position, you are well on the way to a successful garden.

The height and spread of your plants also needs to be considered. Tall growing plants are placed at the back of the garden bed, graduating down to the low plants. Remember some plants send up flower spikes that may be much larger than the plant itself, so they need to be positioned according to their flower spike height. Some plants are bushy so don’t forget to leave sufficient room for them to spread. They may need annual pruning to keep them in check.


Another trick in the designing tool bag is using color. Color is the sensation of illumination which is light. The way colors inter-react with each other depends on their position in color wheel. Manipulating color is great fun and can create all sorts of illusions. Colors are divided into 2 groups primary red, yellow, blue and secondary green, violet, orange. Secondary colors are made of combining two primary such as mixing blue and yellow together to create green. You can make a space look cold or create distance by using pale and brown colors. You can also make a space looker bigger than it really is by using warm colors such as oranges, reds or yellows. If you want to make a space look closer to you, again use warm colors. As reds, oranges or yellow are very busy colors to the eye, it is a good idea to intersperse white flowers or grey foliage plants to calm the visual scene down. White and grey also intensify blue and pale colors.

One thing to remember about the Australia sun is that the best time to look at our gardens is in the late afternoon when the sunlight is not as strong. Our hot sun tends to fade our flowers colors and the glare at mid-day tends to wash the color out.

If you are feeling overwhelmed about designing your garden, divide your space up and take it slowly, completing one section at a time. Don’t start another part until you have finished the section you are working on and very soon you will have a beautiful garden. Remember gardens are ephemeral, it is a process that is forever evolving. You never really finish.

See my next article On Creating a Gorgeous Garden and Living with Pets

Sandra Pullman B.App.Sc. (Hort) Hons. Burnley-Uni Melb. Visit my website for “down to earth”, good quality, reliable and practical advice explained to you in layman’s terms. I also run gardening courses for beginners. Check out my website for upcoming class dates and locations. All your gardening solutions are one click away! Or check out my blog site: There you can ask me questions.

Article Source: Designing Your Garden – What Makes a Good Garden?

Using Natural Pesticides

natural pesticides

Why You Should Be Using Natural Pesticides in Your Gardens

By Nicki Goff

Many farmers and gardeners use chemicals to kill bugs that harm their crops. These pesticides are an environmental and health hazard. Often local governments spray pesticides to combat mosquitoes and other insect infestations, and these sprays can drift… who knows where.

Understandably, we all want to protect our crops and maximize production. It shouldn’t be at the expense of your health, the health of those who consume produce, or the purity of our water supply. The good news is there are sustainable practices to keep slugs and bugs off your garden fruits and vegetables.

Improve Your Soil

This may sound odd as a pest control, but if you have built up a fertile, loose soil, your plants will grow much more healthy. Healthy plants can more easily resist the devastation of insects and disease. When you do see insect or pest damage, if the pests are visible, just pick them off and destroy them. If not, give these other measures a chance.

Make Your Own Natural Pesticides

You probably have in your kitchen or home some of the ingredients for natural pesticides. For example, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper and dish soap steeped together and sprayed on some plants will protect against slugs and many bugs. Combat caterpillars, aphids, and several types of worms with a mixture of water and tobacco. Look for more recipes for natural pesticides online.

Garden Pest Deterrents

Slugs and snails can destroy your plants and flowers faster than you can say “slimy”. You can deter them from getting near your precious plants in a variety of ways. They will have difficulty crossing a barrier of sharp gravel ashes and soot or broken eggshells or copper wire. You can set up a vertical barrier around plants with clear rigid plastic inserted on edge around a group of plants. Protect a group of plants by setting beer traps – containers filled with beer and set in the ground, with rims just above the surface. The slugs will crawl in and drown. Get rid of excess mulch and decaying leaves, as these are natural hiding places for slugs and snails.

Encourage Carnivorous Bugs

Ladybugs are wonderful for your garden. They eat aphids, scales, and mites. Many garden supply shops will sell them, or you can order them online.

Use Companion Plants

Finally, many plants work quite well to repel bugs from your garden. Plant marigolds among your vegetables. They look pretty and colorful, and also will repel nematodes, Mexican bean beetles, squash bug, thrips, tomato hornworms, and whitefly. Geraniums repel cabbage worms and leaf hoppers and mint repels ants and aphids, and the cucumber beetle. Plant garlic next to or beneath your rose bushes, and say goodbye to aphids.

What do pesticides do?

Pesticides (and there are well over 9,000 different acceptable pesticides approved by the FDA) have a number of health implications:

And a whole lot more. Scientists are only beginning to understand the level of contamination already existing, and how pesticides are affecting our health, the health of our children and our planet.

You can reduce or eliminate pesticide damage by buying or making natural pesiticides whenever possible, and by using natural pesticides when you grow your own fruits and vegetables. No one likes a bug-infested garden; however, it takes just a few simple steps to deter or eliminate them.

Gardening expert Nicki Goff offers a free e-mail starter course all about her main passion… herb gardening. For access, visit her website, [], and to find more great tips, and her new comprehensive e-book, on creating, maintaining and enjoying your own home herb garden, along with bonus e-books on specific aspects of herb lore.

She also blogs about her passion of gardening at [] Find general gardening articles here, along with recommended books and resources.

Planning A Garden

planning a garden

Ideas for Planning a Garden

Almost all backyard garden ideas are challenges in one way or another but occasionally a new garden, regardless of whether installed by the building contractors or by the former owner, is almost a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. But have faith! Several of the prettiest and most entertaining gardens I know were created by those who knew little or practically nothing at all about planning a garden, let alone about gardening itself when they first began.

When thinking of planning a garden, three facts about the process of bear repeating:

  • Planning carefully before beginning will save time, money, and aggravation later on
  • Define the amount of space you are going to devote to your garden; and then make use of all of it
  • Pick out only plants and flowers that will develop successfully in your region and give all of them space to grow

Start at the Beginning

A new owner faced with a lot full of builder debris and weeds will think first about grass and then a garden. Once the lot has been cleared and sod put down a garden is a logical next step.

Now is the time for those ideas you have about planning a garden come to life. Installing fully developed trees can be a good way to start. While expensive it is definitely possible to get first-class fully developed examples of quite a few attractive trees and shrubs. Lots of nurseries offer a multitude of mature trees and shrubs that produces the look of an apparently mature garden. Making use of mature trees and shrubs is a really good garden planning idea but be prepared for sticker shock! Moving and planting significant foliage does not come cheap.

To assess what other features will compliment your space, look beyond the boundaries of the garden itself. If there is a nice tree far away, “take” it for your own. Plant more trees in front of it so that the in-between scene (if this isn’t appealing) is concealed and the distant tree seems to be an extension of your garden design. If there are a lot of trees in the distance, or even in adjoining gardens, picture your garden against the backdrop produced by them and group your plants accordingly. Taking the backdrop into consideration when planning a garden helps your garden to look bigger than it really is.

Given that most of us have to face more limited budgets, we’ll need to implement our garden planning ideas by looking ahead ten years or even more to visualize the final effects we hope to achieve. Small plants are much more reasonable in price and when bought from a respectable nursery almost sure to grow when using appropriate care. Except for specific quick-growing types most of these will grow very little during the first year or two of their newly planted life. After this, however, when reasonably well-established, they are going to accelerate the rate of their growth till they are no longer seedlings but strong plant life that plays a vital role in the landscaping design of your garden. While these plants mature, the gardener who goes about planning a garden with creative ideas can easily create a pleasing panorama with quicker growing plants to fill out the bare areas.

Now, having said all that, here are a couple of factoids you should know to help you start planning a garden on your own:

  • Most of us see our gardens being an extension of our living room.
  • Most people see planning a garden among the first jobs to be completed when relocating into a new home

Know Where You want to End Up

The best take away from this piece is that, when you first begin planning a garden, be certain you have a vision of the completed plan before starting to dig.

  • Should you build a design with fencing and partitions, or define your space with trees and shrubs?
  • Would you prefer a carpet of green turf or perhaps an area which uses mulch to spotlight the plants
  • Should the space also be utilized for a children’s playground?

Put simply, before you begin beginning your efforts in planning a garden, ask yourself what the finished garden ought to provide your family and your home’s curb appeal.