Talk Dirt To Me

Gardening in Alaska presents big challenges, whether it's the extra effort in finding plants tough enough to survive our Zone 2-4 climate, communicating with like-minded Alaska gardeners, or keeping up with the latest trends, issues and solutions. We'll try to help with that. We'll also tour gardens from Homer to Anchorage to Wasilla to Willow whenever we get the chance, and post the best garden photos around. Presenting a forum about cold-weather gardening and for cold-weather gardeners is what we are all about. We hope you'll join us on the Talk Dirt garden blog.

Photographer and gardener Fran Durner (fdurner@adn.com) writes the blog.

February Garden Calendar - 1/29/2010 9:28 am

UA Anchorage recognized as a Tree Campus USA - 1/27/2010 10:36 am

Stone walls provide beauty and exercise - 1/26/2010 8:43 am

USDA program for high tunnels offered - 1/25/2010 8:08 pm

Worms could eat your garbage too - 1/24/2010 8:01 pm

Wildflower Garden Club offers annual scholarship - 1/21/2010 1:08 pm

Where did you find inspiration last year? - 1/19/2010 3:57 pm

Zaumseils say farewell for now - 1/18/2010 3:57 pm

Overwintering Roses

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From the Canadian rose breeding program, 'William Baffin' is one of the most hardy roses and can be grown as a shrub or a climber. Photo by Fran DurnerFrom the Canadian rose breeding program, 'William Baffin' is one of the most hardy roses and can be grown as a shrub or a climber. Photo by Fran Durner

I bought large climbing roses this summer, planted them in containers. They are finally growing, I originally was going to plant them in the ground this month, but now I am wondering what I need to do to keep them over the winter in the containers. Any ideas about cutting back, watering, keeping in a heated area?

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A Maze of Corn

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Dan Depner's "Corn Maze of Dreams" is shown in this aerial view in Caseville, Mich.,  Aug. 28, 2007. Depner hand cut and designed the maze which covers nearly eight acres. AP Photo/The Bay City Times, Kate PennDan Depner's "Corn Maze of Dreams" is shown in this aerial view in Caseville, Mich., Aug. 28, 2007. Depner hand cut and designed the maze which covers nearly eight acres. AP Photo/The Bay City Times, Kate Penn

Here's something fun: some Outside farmers for years have been growing corn fields just for the challenge of cutting a maze through them. The Depner family of Caseville, Michigan even has their own website for the maze. Here's what they have to say about it:

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Berry Picking Tradition

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Helen Dick, from Lime Village, visited Hatcher Pass recently to harvest berries. On this visit, despite the bushes drooping with crowberries, or blackberries, as Dick calls them, the berries were sour. Photo by Evan Steinhauser/ADNHelen Dick, from Lime Village, visited Hatcher Pass recently to harvest berries. On this visit, despite the bushes drooping with crowberries, or blackberries, as Dick calls them, the berries were sour. Photo by Evan Steinhauser/ADN

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September Blooming Lilacs?

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Some lilacs have been spotted blooming in September - why? Photo by Erik Hill/ADNSome lilacs have been spotted blooming in September - why? Photo by Erik Hill/ADN
My lilac tree has a lot of blooms coming on now - I've never had lilacs in September before. Does anyone know about this? Does it mean I won't get blooms next spring? The tree is full of them - they are not as full as spring blooms in that they have a gap or two instead of full blooms up the stem. Does anyone else ever get fall lilacs?

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Polstjarnan (Polestar) Rose

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Mel Monsen prunes some dead wood out of the rose, 'Polstjarnan', also called 'Polestar'. Though technically a rambler rose, 'Polstjarnan' grows in Monsen's yard 15-18 feet high, through the boughs of a neighboring pine tree. Photo by Fran DurnerMel Monsen prunes some dead wood out of the rose, 'Polstjarnan', also called 'Polestar'. Though technically a rambler rose, 'Polstjarnan' grows in Monsen's yard 15-18 feet high, through the boughs of a neighboring pine tree. Photo by Fran Durner

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Blue, Blue, Blueberries

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There are still some blueberries to be had if the weather holds for the pickers. Photo by Fran DurnerThere are still some blueberries to be had if the weather holds for the pickers. Photo by Fran Durner
Favorite blueberry picking spots are close-held secrets, in the, "If I tell you, then I'll have to kill you," category. And before I finally got out for some picking on my own this past week, anyone I've asked for a report has recluctently declared, "Oh, it's OK." Well, it wasn't OK. It was truly fabulous. All the right conditions, the cycles of sun and rain through spring and summer, have resulted in the the best tasting and the largest berries I've seen in years. And even though last week was a bit late to be getting started, there was plenty in my patch to go around. Some places have obviously been picked already but there were still pockets where it was so thick you had to use both hands to harvest.

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September Garden Calendar

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Send your garden or garden-related events to fdurner@adn.com for inclusion in this online garden calendar.

Fall colors and mushrooms. Check out the scheduled fall walks below. Photo by Bob Hallinen/ADNFall colors and mushrooms. Check out the scheduled fall walks below. Photo by Bob Hallinen/ADN

September 3rd, Monday, 10am-10pm. Last day for the Alaska State Fair. Last chance to view giant veggies and beautiful flowers and eat your way from one corner of the Fair to the other.

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An almost unnoticed record

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Mike writes: With all the hubub over Scott Robb's world record kale at the State Fair, and all those big cabbages on Friday, a new Alaska record went almost unnoticed.

Ron Castor -- who like Robb is from Palmer, where their must be SOMETHING in the water! -- arrived at the second-round of entry submissions Wednesday with a monster parsnip. It was Alaska's biggest ever, weighing in at 7.572 pounds.

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And the Rest of the Story

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Robert Thom proudly holds his 10 lb daikon radish. Photo by Fran DurnerRobert Thom proudly holds his 10 lb daikon radish. Photo by Fran DurnerIts so much fun to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the growers, young and old, as they proudly bring in and present the best produce from their garden at the crop entries at the Alaska State Fair. Timothy Dowling, 9, watches with his mom, Peggy, as his zucchini weighs in at 9.079 lbs. Photo by Fran DurnerTimothy Dowling, 9, watches with his mom, Peggy, as his zucchini weighs in at 9.079 lbs. Photo by Fran DurnerIt's also a kick to watch the crowd as they ooh and aah during the weighing and hold out their cameras as they jostle for the best photos. Rosemary Slisz and Betty Skore look over a vegetable marrow on the giant vegetable stage in the farm Exhibits building at the State Fair. The marrow weighed in at 82.6 lbs. Photo by Fran DurnerRosemary Slisz and Betty Skore look over a vegetable marrow on the giant vegetable stage in the farm Exhibits building at the State Fair. The marrow weighed in at 82.6 lbs. Photo by Fran DurnerSuperintendent of Crops Kathy Liska laughed as she moved vegetables around on the display stage, "This is my department. I do the design and I don't let anyone touch it. I know what I want it to look like!" And it's always a lovely veggie tableau.Superintendent of Crops Kathy Liska knows exactly how she wants the display of giant vegetable to look! Photo by Fran DurnerSuperintendent of Crops Kathy Liska knows exactly how she wants the display of giant vegetable to look! Photo by Fran Durner

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The Purpleness of it All

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Tables were full of all hues of purple. Photo by Fran DurnerTables were full of all hues of purple. Photo by Fran DurnerThe second year of the Northrim Bank Purple Plant contest at the Alaska State Fair brought out a few more entries than last year when only eight showed up. Tables were full of growing things in all shades of purple or near-purple. Single entries and vases full of posies featured the purpleness of it all - even purple cauliflower! Who knew?!I never knew cauliflower could be grown in purple! Photo by Fran DurnerI never knew cauliflower could be grown in purple! Photo by Fran Durner

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...and the Not-So Giants

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This year's "giant" pumpkin weighs in. Photo by Fran DurnerThis year's "giant" pumpkin weighs in. Photo by Fran DurnerI guess you could say that this evening's Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Alaska State Fair was a "bust". As of about 5:30 pm, the largest and ONLY pumpkin entered weighed in at a whopping 1.549 pounds. That's about a thousand pounds or so less than the state record holder entered last year by J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski. Unfortunately, according to the volunteers in the crop entry area, the pumpkin that Megchelsen was growing for this year's fair blew up a few weeks ago. Another pumpkin that was rumored to be coming from up Fairbanks way didn't show because it's grower was detoured by an out-of-town job. There's still time before the 9pm closing to load up your prize pumpkin and truck it over!

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Giant Veggies

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Alaska State Fair Superintendent of Crops, Kathy Liska, left, laughs with Mardie Robb after placing a 65.5 lb cabbage , grown by Mardie and her husband Scott Robb, in the place of honor. Scott Robb entered a record 105.9 lbs kale as well as a nearly 15 lb table beet and a 34.5 lb red cabbage on the second entry of crops day on Wednesday, August 29, 2007. Photo by Fran DurnerAlaska State Fair Superintendent of Crops, Kathy Liska, left, laughs with Mardie Robb after placing a 65.5 lb cabbage , grown by Mardie and her husband Scott Robb, in the place of honor. Scott Robb entered a record 105.9 lbs kale as well as a nearly 15 lb table beet and a 34.5 lb red cabbage on the second entry of crops day on Wednesday, August 29, 2007. Photo by Fran DurnerAccording to Scott Robb, the cabbage he and his wife Mardie brought in to the State Fair this evening was the "small one." Weighing in at 65.5 lbs, one of the volunteers said it was larger than the one he brought in last year for the Great Cabbage Weigh-Off. "Every year I grow seventeen (cabbages). I've got 7-8 in the garden, you just never know," said Robb. The variety he grows is one he developed himself and named 'JAC' after his three daughters, Jaesah, Amanda and Chelsea. Kale: Scott Robb poses in front of his world record 105.9 lb kale on Wednesday evening. Photo by Fran DurnerKale: Scott Robb poses in front of his world record 105.9 lb kale on Wednesday evening. Photo by Fran DurnerRobb and Mardie also brought in a world record 105.9 lb kale, a 34.5 lb red cabbage and a 14.923 table beet. The Robbs will be back Friday with the "big" cabbage.

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Flower entries

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Judy Lavigne of Anchorage carefully arranges flowers for the "Artistic Design" category. Photo by Fran DurnerJudy Lavigne of Anchorage carefully arranges flowers for the "Artistic Design" category. Photo by Fran DurnerAt the Flower Exhibits building on the red path, Judy Lavigne concentrated on making an arrangement of her freshest flowers to enter in the "Artistic Design" category. A lovely pink gladiolus was the centerpiece and she carefully held up and then tucked in dahlias, veronica and petunias. This is the fourth year she's entered her flowers and has won a ribbon in this category once before. "I usually do pretty good with my dahlias," she laughed.

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Gorgeous Day at the Fair!

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Tiers of red petunias look like trees near the red gate entrance at the Alaska State Fair. Photo by Fran DurnerTiers of red petunias look like trees near the red gate entrance at the Alaska State Fair. Photo by Fran DurnerGreetings from the Fair where it's FABULOUSLY sunny and hot, hot, HOT! The first thing I had to do was check out the Fair gardens. There's Millie's Garden near the red gate entrance.

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Lawn problem

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What should we do about the patches of this nasty looking "fungus" that are appearing in our lawn?What should we do about the patches of this nasty looking "fungus" that are appearing in our lawn?Little patches of our lawn - mostly a few inches in diameter - are succumbing to a type of leaf spot infection. Some spots already have turned brown and others still are in the initial stages of fungal attack (the leaf tips have purplish-gray dots on them). It seems likely that we will acquire some dead patches this year, boo hoo.

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Julie Riley is 'doing good'

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Julie Riley, Horticulture Agent with the Anchorage office of the Cooperative Extension Service, hands out samples at the Potato Lovers Bash in 2006. Photo by Fran DurnerJulie Riley, Horticulture Agent with the Anchorage office of the Cooperative Extension Service, hands out samples at the Potato Lovers Bash in 2006. Photo by Fran DurnerMike writes: Julie Riley, the indispensible fountain of garden information for Anchorage area growers, has taken a leave of absence from the UAF Cooperative Extension office to have hip-replacement surgery.

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Plants and outdoor projects

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Cheryl writes: When you start to think of replacing the Steps of Death, expanding the porch, any remodeling/ upgrading/ painting/ insulating/ whatever, it’s a good idea to make what happens to your plants part of the process from the start.

Your most prized Alpine, to your dismay, will exert an irresistible magnetic force on Size 15 workboots. Also, some people do things with hoses and rubble that a normal person can’t feature.

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Scales of record

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State inspector Mike Campbell checks the digital readout on the 300-pound scale, which will determine the winner of Friday's Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)State inspector Mike Campbell checks the digital readout on the 300-pound scale, which will determine the winner of Friday's Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off. (ADN photo by Mike Peters)

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The giants are landing

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Scott Robb and his wife, Mardie, mull ways to unload the giant kale Scott grew this summer. (ADN photo by Evan R. Steinhauser)Scott Robb and his wife, Mardie, mull ways to unload the giant kale Scott grew this summer. (ADN photo by Evan R. Steinhauser)Mike writes: What does an 84.7 pound kale do when it arrives at the Alaska State Fair?

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