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Fairbanks gardeners share their mistakes from the 2012 season

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Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Last week I listed the dopey mistakes I made during the 2012 gardening season. This week will highlight the mistakes I heard of through emails from readers.

1. Not helping greenhouse tomatoes pollinate and form tomatoes. Outdoor tomatoes get this assistance from the wind, but greenhouse tomatoes need daily gentle shaking of the plants.

2. Not helping squash and zucchini plants pollinate. You’d think that with the bright, large flowers summer and winter squash have, that bees would be drawn to them. However, you would be wrong. Every day you should go out and pull off a male flower (at the end of the long stems), gently peel back the petals, and rub the exposed stamen around the inside of all the open female flowers (which are the ones that are sitting on the end of what look like miniature squash).

3. Thinking that if a little fertilizer is good, a lot is better. What frequently happens is you end up with tons of foliage and very little yield.

4. Not knowing the growth habits of plants. Someone contacted me upset because her tuberous begonias kept falling over. It turned out she had purchased a variety that is designed to cascade down, not stand upright. Another person called and wanted to know why her mint was so aggressive. Because that is the nature of that herb, to spread quickly and wildly and claim ground before any other plants can.

5. Not remembering that dogs will be dogs. One guy called me to complain that his dog insisted on digging up his transplants. Turned out he had sprinkled blood meal around as a fertilizer; I explained that if he had used Cadbury chocolate as a fertilizer, I’d be rolling around in his garden. Also, if you have animals you cannot expect them not to inspect (read: dig up) interesting new stuff. It is in their nature. You can do some training, but you and the animals will be less frustrated if you use fences or raised beds.

See the picture of my dog, Alistair Cook? My husband is not a short man, so this gives you some idea of the size of my dog. When I put up fences to keep my sheep out of the garden, they turned out to be too short to keep Alistair out; I ended up replacing the fencing because of him. I also learned not to plant peas close to the fence because he loves peas and would simply put his head over and eat the tops off. Now I raise beans there because he doesn’t care for beans.

My point? If you want to mix pets and gardens, you have to do some planning and expect some losses.

6. Not watering the potatoes because we’ve had a lot of rain. Plants with dense leaves, such as potatoes, or huge leaves, such as some squash varieties, sort of slough off the rain. The leaves look wet but if you check the ground underneath, it is dry as the proverbial bone. In other words, there are some plants that you will always need to water, even when we have a week where it rains every day.

I hope you didn’t make any of these mistakes. If you did, take heart: It is almost time to start looking at seed catalogs and dreaming about next summer’s perfect garden.

Linden Staciokas has gardened in the Interior for more than two decades. Send gardening questions to her at

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