Gardeners, it’s time to get bear aware

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: July 19, 2018
  • Published July 19, 2018

There are always lots of questions this time of year. Of course, I expect and look forward to them. I hope you do too, because I am going to share a few again this week.

I am going to do so by turning these into public announcements that relate to questions. The first has to do with wandering bears. I get questions about how to keep them out of gardens ("electric fences") or if there is a repelling plant? (There isn't a repellent plant). However, the real answer is to be much more bear aware.

Really the term should be "bear sensitive." This is something far too many Southcentral homeowners, at least, are not. However, all gardeners need to remember that bears were here first. They generally mind their own business, but we don't seem to remember that most of their occupation is looking for something to eat.

All homeowners in Alaska who live where there are bears (and I guess that means all Alaska homeowners) need bear-proof refuse containers. For an extra couple of dollars a month, you can get a bear-proof garbage container from refuse companies. Too much money? Then always put your garbage out an hour before your pick-up. (You know when they always come). No utility refuse pick-up? Then you must buy or construct bear proof containers.

There is another important thing to remember. We have to be careful what we keep in our sheds and outdoor greenhouses. Granulated molasses and fish meals are two popular organic fertilizers that are also primo bear attractants. A bit of sugar on those sunflower seeds must be irresistible. Keep doors closed if bears are in the area and of course, remove the offending substances to a safe location.

A final must is to stop feeding birds in the summer and stop storing sunflower seed in outdoor sheds and greenhouses. I spray bird feeders with Clorox to get rid of the seed smell.

Bear proofing: Do it. If you don't, you are putting all your neighbors in harm's way and real gardeners don't do that kind of thing

The second announcement has to do with two important gardening events that are going to take place in the Benny Benson parking lot out by the Alaska Botanical Garden. Mark these down. The first is the Great Late Season Plant Sale put on by The Master Gardeners from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11.

Master Gardeners put on great plant sales, with everything from perennials to houseplants. And there are always lots of master gardeners hanging around to answer questions. There are scheduled talks at the school, too. See

Then on Saturday, Aug. 18, out in the Benson parking lot there will be the now-annual Southcentral pot recycling day. Sponsored by the Alaska Botanical Garden and ALPAR, this is your opportunity to get rid of all those old pots, cracked seed starting trays and other plastic planting containers. And, this year I do mean all of your plastic pots, trays and cell packs. Just remove wires. No biodegradable or fiber pots. Incidentally, if you want, you can take someone else's containers home. People recycle some really amazing stuff. More information is at

Next, I tell readers not to use RoundUp and other synthetic, non-organic chemicals. What do you do if you finally come around and see the light. How do you get rid of these things?

The answer is simple: Find the nearest hazardous waste site and deliver them. Obviously, under no circumstances should you dump them down a drain or otherwise toss them. Use your internet search engine to locate the nearest facility. They exist in all of Alaska's major urban areas.

And, finally, what do you do with food you don't want? The urge to grow 20 kohlrabi in the spring may not match your desire to eat them all when they ripen all at once. You know the answer. Gardeners don't let things they grow in the garden go to waste.

The obvious answer to the dilemma of too much harvest is to find friends who want your extra stuff. It isn't that much more difficult to find an agency that needs it. Food kitchens throughout the state love donations of fresh food (and even flowers). And there are food banks all over the state. All you have to do is go to the internet to find one closest to you.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar: 

Thin: Do it. Things that don't have room stop growing.

Great plant sales: Any place that sells plants want to get rid of them before the season ends. You can find some really great sales, but you need to look. Just because it is summer doesn't mean you should stop visiting nurseries and nursery departments.

Weed: Chickweed, butter and eggs, purslane, etc. You know what to do.