Keep bird feeders indoors until Alaska's bears go to sleep

Bob Hallinen

Lots of questions coming in both by email as well as Saturday mornings on The Garden Party (10 a.m.-noon on KBYR 700 or online at Let's get to some that have not be answered.

First, it is way too early for bird feeders. In Southcentral the set up date is after Halloween, when ADF&G gives the coast is clear call that bears have denned up, or whatever it is called. However, it is not too early to prepare. If you are already into feeding birds, then find your feeders and clean them up. Plastic ones can go into the dishwasher. Scrub wooden ones with soap and water. Find your feeders or buy one or more.

Next, start looking for seed. Me? I have totally given up on anything but sunflower seeds. Either way, make sure you have a secure, bear and mouse-proof container in which to keep seed. Continue to keep it inside until after Halloween lest a wandering bear looking for one last meal of fatty oils happens by.

Finally, set up the locations where you will hang your feeders. Put in hooks, pulleys and, if you have one, your Wingscape motion detector camera. If you don't own one of these neat gadgets, take a look at I have one and I have to tell you it is a fantastic addition for the Alaskan who is away all day but wants to look at birds at the feeder.

Next -- right on cue after the home heat is on for a couple of weeks -- people are complaining about those little flies that appear out of nowhere and seem to love the sinks and potted plants. It happens every year. These are fungus gnats and they are easy to get rid of. But first you need to water a bit less. They love damp soil. Letting the top half inch or inch dry out is a good idea and will help considerably with the problem.

These insects are eating the fungus in your potted plants' soil, not a bad thing (fungus or gnats). But they are annoying. You can cut out newspaper circles to cover the soil to block them or you can try a suggestion I got a few weeks ago: Grind up a "mosquito dunk" and spread it on the soil to kill their larvae.

The other calls and emails that are right on schedule are leaf drop by ficus plants of all kinds. This is because they are getting hit by cold drafts. Move them away from doorways, air vents and other drafty locations. Ease back on watering whenever a plant starts to loose leaves. They don't need as much.

Of course, I am starting to get "what plants will bloom this winter, indoors?" questions. Before I answer them in future columns, let me ask about your lights. Do you have yours up yet? Don't have any? Buy a set to keep your plants happy this winter. I had to slip this in. The regular reader knows that I strongly urge -- nay, insist -- that all Alaskan gardeners get a set of indoor lights for growing plants.

Next, have you taken photographs of your yard to use this winter when planning for next year's growing season? Given the ubiquity of cell cameras and our ability to take, store and then manipulate photos, this should probably be added to the list of things to do every fall. Just walk around the property and take pictures. Or photograph your deck. Later this winter you can print these up or pull them up on screen and start dreaming about what changes and additions you want to make. If you don't take these pictures now, however, you will probably have a snowy, blank slate to work with and this isn't as useful. Sorry, Hillsiders.

Finally, have you thought about buying some new houseplants this season? Alaskans spend millions of dollars buying plants every spring. I propose we think about buying plants every year when we have to come indoors. Nurseries that stay open have some great selections as do local supermarkets and a few of the box stores. A few selective purchases will help you get through the winter.

In the old days, you might see a plant in a supermarket, for example, and not know if it was good just for its blooming period and then died off or if it would grow in your house. And it was hard to tell what the plant would need by way of care. Again, the cell phone has changed all that. Just look up any unfamiliar plant and get all the information you need to be an informed buyer.

What a world! What a world! It is just too bad it has a long winter in Southcentral.


Jeff's Alaskan Garden Calendar For the week of October 11, 2012


• Pay attention to house plants: Look yours over. Repot if necessary. Clean up and shape.

• Lights: Again, come on. It's dark nine months of the year. You need them and so do your plants.

• Plantskydd: Moose? Spray now or forever hold your peace.


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