Prepare feeders for winter's bird buffet

GardeningNovember 1, 2012 

O.K. gardeners. There are a few things that need to be checked this weekend, some of them outdoors. I know it is cold, but you are an Alaskan gardener, not just some ordinary, Outside soil shifter.

At the top of the list, it is time to put bird feeders out. You might want to wait another week or so before you put feed in them, given the recent bear-chicken story. There is a little chance of an awake bear wandering around looking for sunflower seed this time of year. That can't go on much longer.

Feeding birds sunflower seeds in the winter is part of gardening here. We need the color and the life. They need the fat the seed provides. Notice how I simply went right to sunflower seeds? I just have not had good luck on the millet seed mixtures, cheaper though they be. They do attract birds, but if your neighbors are serving up sunflower seed, not many.

It is always a good practice to have a few different feeders and to try placing them at different heights. This will attract different kinds of birds to the yard. One suet feeder and one peanut butter dispenser will also help generate some diversity.

I am not a believer in feeding squirrels. Unlike birds, they can get into the house and cause quite a bit of damage. Squirrel proofing the feeder is a must. And for heaven sake, don't fall for those corn cobs and other things developed to attract these rodents. They have plenty to eat without attracting them closer to your home.

Next, it is always a good idea to check outdoor faucets this time of year just to make sure that they are not leaking. If they are, it is probably not too late to save the pipes.

You will know you have a leak because there will be an obvious ice build up underneath the faucet. Take a wrench with you to tighten things up. And, again, make sure nothing is attached to outdoor faucets from timers to splitters to hoses. If you live in a house with heating cables around outdoor faucets, make sure yours are plugged in and working.

Given all the strong winds we had this fall, it is definitely a good idea to take a good survey of your trees now that they don't have leaves. Downed trees are easy to spot. What I am suggesting is looking for broken limbs that might be of a danger to life and property below. You may need professional help to cut these down and by now most of these companies have caught up on the back log of jobs created by the extraordinary windstorms of September.

While on the subject, it is important that we all start to take a closer look at the growth of our trees starting when they are very young. Limbs that make too wide of an angle with the trunk abound in Southcentral yards because we let them get that way. These branches are the ones that snap in high winds and after heavy snows.

Again, a professional can help you spot and fix these problems in large trees. Train and prune trees when they are young, however, and you will get to enjoy their full life.

Continuing with the subject of tree damage, if you had or have storm debris ground up in the process of cleaning up things like stumps, non-firewood twigs, branches and stuff, save those wood chips. They make great fungal mulch under trees and shrubs and provide lots of carbon in compost piles.

While you are doing things outside, how about cleaning your windows, at least the ones that support houseplants? It seems like a non gardening chore, but you can increase the amount of light getting through the window by 10 percent and more just by applying a bit of Windex and elbow grease. In the winter your plants need every bit of light they can get.

Back inside, but perhaps still a bit chilly, those of you who are wintering over plants in storage should check on them now. The temperature should be above freezing but decidedly cool. Remember, 47 degrees or so is the ideal for forcing bulbs.

If your location turns out to be too warm due to the heat being on, it is not too late to move things to a cooler location. Alas, if things did go below freezing you may have lost your plants. Move them anyhow, but you may have to wait until spring to see if they are still alive.

Also make sure that the storage area is totally dark. The idea is to have the plants go totally dormant. If they are exhibiting green growth, then light is getting to them.

Reach Jeff Lowenfels, co-author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide To The Soil Food Web, " at www.teamingwithmicrobes.com/home or 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays on KBYR 700 AM or www.kbyr.com.

Garden calendar

BIRD FEEDERS: Well, maybe another week.

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: Now is the time to join and help this wonderful institution.

WATER FOR INDOOR PLANTS: It doesn't hurt to let it sit for a day to gas off the chlorine.

CHRISTMAS AND THANKSGIVING CACTII: Time to put them in places where night temps drop to 55 degrees. Do not put under lights.

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