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Bears probably aren’t ready to raid your bird feeder (and answers to other spring garden questions)

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 21, 2019
  • Published March 21, 2019

Full bloom pink amaryllis flowers (Getty Images)

I am always amazed a column of answers to questions begets more questions. I know that these questions are also a result of days getting so much longer as we quickly recover from setting the clocks ahead an hour. I will answer some questions below, but the one question I have for all of us is why don’t we make the Legislature do away with daylight saving time? Write and call your reps today! Gardeners get things done.

OK. First, how much longer can we keep feeding birds without fear of attracting bears?

I am pretty sure area bears can wake up anytime and wander a bit even in the middle of winter, but they normally they go back into hibernation. As for when they wake up for good in spring, I understand it is mostly influenced by their food needs. They need stuff that will clear them out of any residual winter digestion, yet hold them over until the moose calves appear.

Believe it or not, this diet consists of grasses and sedges. By my calculation, we have a few more weeks until anything resembling green grasses and sedges become available, though nights are now generally above freezing. My guess is your average bear will probably not be a problem for a couple of weeks yet. Still, I would start using up the seed you have in your feeders and most definitely store what isn’t in a safer place than you might during the winter months. Finally, do keep an eye out for obvious signs of bears.

Next, how do you train a fuchsia plant to grow like a tree instead of a bush?

A tree-like plant in fuchsia talk is called a “standard,” A standard is actually very easy to create. All you need is a young fuchsia. It does take a while, however, so you will also need patience. As the new plant grows up, you will need to secure it to a tomato stake or similar support. What makes a bushy fuchsia plant is the pinching of the growing tips. This causes them to branch. If you don’t pinch the tip, however, your plant will remain just one stem.

To start, remove all but the top four to six leaves (or let the plant develop that many) from a first-season plant. Then let the plant keep growing. Remove lower side leaves if they appear on the naked stalk, Over the course of the early season, you will get a tall plant. It is as simple as that. At the point it has reached the size you desire, pinch your fuchsia’s top growth once or twice to create a canopy. Voila, a fuchsia tree, aka a standard. You can buy or make a wire support for the top branches to attach to your vertical support. And, of course, you can buy an already developed standard, too. They will grow for years as long as you continue to prune them.

When amaryllis finish blooming, it’s time for the annual question: what to do next?

The answer is simple. Let your plant continue to grow after it finishes blooming. The goal is to have it add leaves so that they and the existing ones will nourish the bulb. In the fall bring it inside and let it go dormant for eight weeks or so. Cut back the flower stems. There is no need to have the plant waste energy trying to develop seeds. You can grow your plant outdoors during the summer either on a deck or in an outdoor greenhouse or keep it indoors.

Finally, how does one determine which plants need to be pinched?

Generally, plants with symmetrical arrangements of leaves that grow directly opposite each other are “pinchable.” Cut off the growing tip and two appear in its place. This is because in lots of plants, there is a hormone in the tip that prevents branching. When you pinch the tip off, the hormone is no longer able to do so. Those plants that have alternating leaves as you go up the stem should not be pinched as the main impact is to simply slow the plant’s growth.

Jeff’s garden calendar for the week of March 22

Sure cure for spring fever: The annual master gardener conference is open to all gardeners, and all gardeners would be smart to take advantage of this. This year’s title is "Urban gardening in the Last Frontier.” Don’t miss this event. It’s April 6 at the Lucy Cuddy center. There will be an auction, market, and speakers, featuring my friend and fellow author Robert Kourik, who really knows his roots. You will cure your fever. Registration and fee with an early discount:

Spruce beetles in landscape trees: Got questions? Then get 'em answered, and learn what there is to know and what to do. Jessie Moan, integrated pest management tech, will give a much-needed class in Anchorage. Free to all. 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday April 2 at Anchorage Outreach Center, Loussac Library, fourth floor.

Seeds to start: Lobelia (needs 20 days to germinate; seeds need light, so don’t cover), snapdragons (10 days to germinate; needs light and cool temperatures) carnation (2 days to germinate), verbena (20 days to germinate), pelargonium

Herbs to start: Lavender, lovage, lemon balm

Corms to start: Glads, unless you want to plant them directly

Tubers to start: Dahlia, yacon