Skip to main Content

Answering reader questions: Holly plants in Alaska, growing a tree from a clementine seed and more

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: December 7, 2017
  • Published December 7, 2017

You can find complete holly plants in Alaska, but they won’t be hardy enough to survive in Alaska. (Getty Images)

I get a lot of questions this time of year. It is clear people have too much non-gardening time on their hands and are starting to miss outdoor planting. We have a way to go, alas.

Anyhow, one reader recently asked about that cute little holly plant she found at one of our supermarkets. You know the question: she bought it for indoors, but will it survive outdoors this spring and next winter?

Holly sprigs have been part of the holiday season forever. When I was a kid, my grandfather, who grew thousands of hollies every year as a hobby, would give small rooted cuttings out as presents. These could be planted outdoors in the spring if they survived.

Nowadays, you find complete holly plants, not simply cuttings, for sale. Many have berries! Unfortunately, these are not the same kind of hollies my grandfather grew and won't survive outdoors. In fact, even those holly would not be hardy here, so you are out of luck.

Next, vinegar as a fertilizer? A reader was confused because he used vinegar this summer to try to kill dandelions. How can it be a fertilizer? What's the scoop?

Vinegar can and has been used as a fertilizer. The problem is there are lots of different kinds and not all are suitable to use as plant (actually, microbe) food. Many are too strong and many are made using petroleum distillate and are decidedly not organic.

The easiest way to employ vinegar as a soil amendment is to use organic vinegars made from fruits like apple or wine vinegars. Think about what these are: very diluted organic matter full of nutrients. Mix up 1 ounce with a gallon of water and use this to water your plants.

Know that your plants only need 18 of the 50 nutrients in the stuff, but the microbes in your soil will use them to keep happy and they end up feeding the plant. Happy microbes, happy plants.

OK, on to the birds, or lack of them. I have had several people confirm what we are experiencing here in South Anchorage: a lack of birds. Well, a lack of song birds, at least; there are plenty of magpies and even jays.

Where are the masses of birds that used to populate the area? Is this simply a limited problem or have the feral cats and the burgeoning magpie population gotten so bad? Let me know so I can pass on your experience this season.

Next, clementine oranges make great Christmas stocking stuffers, but a reader wants to know: can you grow them? You can, indoors of course, and you probably won't ever get fruit, but you can create a nice plant or display.

All you need to do to grow a clementine is to plant a thoroughly cleaned seed a 1/2-inch deep into well draining potting soil. Cover with plastic until germination and you are good to go. This is a zone nine plant, so keep it warm and give it plenty of light.

Consider planting lots of clementine seeds in an appropriate container and thus growing a bonsai forest. If you have them, add other citrus seeds. You will end up with a really neat miniature scene. When these seedlings get too large, simply transplant to individual pots.

Finally, why didn't your amaryllis re-flower? Revived amaryllis, if stored for dormancy long enough, will start regeneration with a flower stalk. However, if the temperatures were too warm during dormancy, you didn't wait for long enough (minimum two months) or if the plant was not able to put on enough growth the previous season, then the plant will only produce leaves.

Sometimes it is possible to tell if your plant will produce flowers or leaves by looking carefully at the growth coming from the bulb. Flower stalks have a notch in their tips which is lacking in leaves. Keep this in mind when you go looking for these bulbs (on sale all over now). If the packaging allows you to see the bulb, you might be able to get some with more than one flower stem.

Jeff's garden calendar

Birds: if you are seeing few, at least make sure you have the right food — i.e. black sunflower seeds.

Turn plants: 'T'is the season of leaning toward light. Give pots a 1/ 4 turn every few days.

Alaska Botanical Garden membership: It has its perks — free garden entry, 10 percent off and first showing on nursery sales, discounts and free admissions at gardens all around the country and so much more. Every reader of this column would like a membership. What a great gift for them, yourself, or even some who don't read me! And, if you have ever wanted to send me thanks, joining the ABG is the best way to do it! Do it now. (

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.