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Gardening

In Alaska, dark winters are a constant. That’s all the more reason to string lights.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: November 28, 2019
  • Published November 28, 2019

Birch trees glow with holiday light on Dec. 22, 2015, on O Street at West 15th Avenue in Anchorage. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)

Global warming is resulting in lots of variables here in Alaska, but there is one constant: Our days will always get really short during the winter months. Lately, I find myself wondering what Alaskans will do as winters get warmer. It won’t be warm enough to garden (at least for a while) of course, but what happens when we can’t get on our skis, ice skates, sleds and snowmachines? What do we do with darkness when there is no snow?

There is only one answer: We go to lights. Anchorage did it once before back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. We loaded trees and shrubbery with strings of those tiny, white lights you still see around. In fact, the story goes we bought more strings of those lights than any other place on earth. I believe it.

The program ran into politics with rival mayors, but I say politics be damned. Today there are all manner of string lights that are very different from those we Anchorage old-timers put up during that City of Lights campaign. After all, that was more than a quarter century ago. There were no cellphones, few computers and LED technology was just coming into its own.

If you have not visited a hardware store or box store lighting department in a while, do check some out. You will still find the 2-foot rolls of string lights, but there are much more. How about a string of icicles or even meteors? No electricity? There are battery-powered strings of light. Others are solar powered.

There are all manner of colored LEDs, of course. And some of these are put inside all sorts of objects ranging from those with holiday themes like reindeer and Santas, to more personal themes such as hearts, hot peppers and worse. Some of these lights come on net arrays for some pretty impressive, but easy to construct, backyard displays.

You can now buy 150-foot rolls LED “rope” light, with the lights inside a plastic tube (which makes them so easy to put up and, more important, take down and store). And, if you don’t want to get into the hanging lights thing, you can now buy gadgets that project points of light onto your plants or house, trees and lawn.

To get an idea of what I mean as to the new kinds of lights, you should head to the internet. Check out “string lights” and “outdoor lights.” There is no reason to buy online as anything you could possibly use is for sale right here, locally. Oh, and, we have the darkness for free.

It is important to be safe when stringing lights as you are dealing with electricity (and perhaps a ladder). No sense harming yourself. It is just as critical that lights don’t harm the plants used to support them. This starts with how they are attached. They have be secure enough so they don’t rub against bark, yet not so tight as to harm the limbs. Moreover, you really must give pre-hanging consideration to how you are going remove them so the plant doesn’t get damaged as it thickens during spring and summer growth.

Finally, why not check out the lighting displays at the Alaska Botanical Garden anytime from 5 to 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, Nov. 30, through Jan. 11 (with the exception of Dec. 25. and Jan. 1). There, you will not only find wonderful light displays, but live music, bonfires, vendors, model trains and a warm drink in an ABG mug (or bring your own). Welcome to “global warming, it is our turn now.” Check out the schedule of special events at alaskabg.org.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Christmas trees: They are for sale. They must be in water, especially if you are buying early.

Poinsettias: They are back. Make sure you don’t put yours where there is a draft as this will cause them to drop leaves. Soil should be slightly moist

Free mid-winter lunchtime garden talks: The Alaska Botanical Garden is putting on a week of garden talks Dec. 16-20. All talks start at 12:30 p.m. and are held at the botanical garden’s greenhouse. Oh, bring your lunch. Go to alaskabg.org for topics.

Jeff thinks autoflowering cannabis is the next tomato: Check out his new book “DIY Autoflowering Cannabis” on Amazon.

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