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Gardening

With bears still awake, it’s too early to put out bird feeders

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: November 1
  • Published November 1

Let me jump around a bit. It is that time of year, first snows and all.

I still think it is too early to put out bird feeders, for fear of bears. I am judging this based on a Nov. 7 article last year about brown bears rummaging though trash in Eagle River. Right now is the post-apple and -berry season, and if you were a bear you would be hungry, prone to raiding trash cans and praying for sunflower seed.

Don't give bears food this time of year. No seed and certainly no suet. And as far as trash, be sure to keep yours secure. A lack of food will help get bears into hibernation mood.

I've already suggested that you clean and sterilize your bird feeders while you wait for hibernation, but like my annual advice to get winter lights for growing plants, the call to do so bears (sorry) repeating. Do it now. There isn't much else going on in the yard or garden.

Plastic feeders can go into dishwashers and will come out cleaned. Wooden feeders should be scrubbed with a good brush, first using soap and boiling water and then a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse off the solution with more boiling water.

Next, I know I have looked at one too many pictures in those doctor's office bird magazines, but I like the idea of providing water to the birds we attract to our feeders. Feral cats have decimated populations, so we have to help them as much as we can.

You can buy various bird baths with built-in heaters via the internet, but check locally first, anywhere bird seed and supplies are sold. If you can't find the actual bird baths (like the ones you see in those magazines), you may find a de-icer, a gadget designed to keep open water available for cattle that has been adapted for your feathered friends.

Next, after last week's convincing column, all readers rushed right out and got lights in place, up and running. I suppose, since everyone now has lights (right?), that I should quit while ahead.

However, the return of furnace activity is enough of a nudge to get me going on the humidity needs of your plants. You know: They can limp through the winter, hoping you will leave the bathroom door open while showering, or better, that you will keep them in the bathroom or mist them three times a day.

There has to be an easier solution! And, there is: Get a humidifier or put plants on pebble-filled trays, fill the trays with water and let evaporation do its thing. I know, not all readers will take this advice to heart. Still, most of your houseplants are tropical and they need more than the average dry-as-a-bone Alaska home provides.

At least, get trays to use for the plants that are put under those lights I convinced you to install (right?).

Finally, like clockwork every year at this time, I get questions about zippy little black flies and tiny spiders. The flies are thrips. The little spiders aren't spiders, they are spider mites.

Thrips lay eggs in the top inch of soil and are a pretty good sign that soil is not drying out enough between watering. Don't water so much. After you finish reading this column, cut circular discs to cover the soil in your pots. The thrips will have a hard time getting in.

The spider mites make webs on the bottom of the nodes of branches. You need a hand lens to tell they are not spiders. Wash off your plants and spray them with any neem-based product with a label saying it's recommended for spider mites.

Then put your plants under those lights to recover. (I never give up!)

Alaska Garden Calendar

Lights: Make sure yours are rated to work with a timer. Some are not.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Time to think about a renewing membership

In-Service Day Camp At The Garden: Nov. 12, ages 7-10. Your child will have a fun day learning about nutritious snakes and light meals with simple ingredients from the garden. Pre-registration required, fee. Online or 770-3692.

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