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What should we do after beetles kill Southcentral’s spruce trees?

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: February 6
  • Published February 6

Hans Koeneman and Tyler Valeu with Paul's Tree Service carry the top of a white spruce tree infested with the spruce bark beetle to the chipper on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

This is the in-between time for Alaska gardeners. We are ready, but Mother Nature is most definitely not. That leaves us all with a bit of idle time on our hands. Fortunately, at least for those who are in Southcentral, there are two key events which should be on your calendar and on your to-do list. Make time for both.

The first event is the annual Alaska Botanical Garden spring gardening conference, this year titled “Seeing More in the Garden, 2020.” It will be Feb. 22 at the Benny Benson Secondary School, right across the parking lot from the botanical garden.

Longtime Alaska gardeners know this is a must-attend event — it is all day and includes lunch — and shouldn’t need any more encouragement to sign up right now. I always get in trouble mentioning a few speakers when there is not enough column space to list them all, so I won’t. However, they are all listed at This is where you get local information on growing fruits and learning about new plants. This is where you will learn solutions to garden problems, get design ideas and so much more. Best of all, everyone there is a gardener.

In addition, the conference always includes great vendors who know you are ready for gardening and so are ready with dahlia tubers and all manner of seeds, from annuals and perennials to vegetables and wildflowers. There is always a great bunch of books and all the goodies that are just right for the start of the garden season. (Incidentally, if you want to be a vendor, contact the botanical garden or fill out the form at the site soon as there is a bit of room, but only as of this writing).

You must buy a ticket to attend. There are lots, but space is ultimately limited so don’t delay. It is easy: go to and click on the link for the spring conference. Tickets include lunch.

The second event is a new one. It is a Community Tree Forum to start the discussion about what to do post-spruce bark beetle. It takes place the night before the spring conference, from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at the BP Energy Center. Thanks to Pat Ryan, the garden’s education specialist, this is going to be the first public discussion about what we should do about Southcentral’s spruce tree loss. It comes none too soon.

This will be a forum consisting of a panel discussion and audience questions. The panel will include Alaska Community Forest Council members, the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Alaska Master Gardeners, landscape designers, arborists and other experts.

While the spruce bark beetle and what to do about it will be covered, as will the question of what to do with all the dead wood, this discussion will really be about what we should do once trees are gone. What do you replace a 50-year-old spruce with? Is it a good idea to simply replace spruce with spruce? How do we take climate change into consideration?

Anyone who has lost a tree, or is going to, needs to attend. So do local government officials who will play a role, no doubt, as the latest epidemic beetle kill continues. You can see why this is such an important event and why you must attend.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Seed racks: They are coming. Don’t go crazy. It is still a few months until we can be outside.

Houseplants: The light is really returning this month. Start turning yours so they straighten out and grow right!

Poinsettias: Do you really want that ratty-looking remnant sitting around? If you are done, toss the plant, but keep the pot. Otherwise, clean yours up and give it the supplemental light it needs.

Flower seeds to start: Sweet peas

Vegetable seeds to start: Celery