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Did moose snack on your trees over the winter? Here’s what to do now.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 7, 2020
  • Published May 7, 2020

A moose trims a tree in East Anchorage while browsing on Thursday morning, March 14, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The robins are back. The leaf buds are squirrel-ear size in many parts of the state, and it is mail time. Lots of readers have questions this time of year, as you can imagine!

First up, what to do about tree and shrub limbs with winter, moose-induced bark damage? Some winters hungry moose really do a number on the bark of the limbs of trees and shrubs; this was one of them. If the bark is stripped all the way around a branch or limb, my suggestion is to cut it off at an appropriate spot, as it most probably won’t grow. If the strip is only part-way around the limb, you can wait and see how it does.

By the same token, people want to know if there is anything to put on a cut once a limb is removed. There isn’t, even though you will find all manner of salves sold for use on limb wounds. None are recommended and some actually help pathogens grow. So just let the cut be.

Why are some of my birch trees dripping water? This is caused by the tree’s sap running from the ground up into the burgeoning buds. It is full of nutrient sugars, which have been stored in the roots all winter. This is the same sap used to make birch syrup, though you have to greatly concentrate it before it will be sweet. If you cut a limb off, the sap still runs through the phloem tubes — up, and now out. This is why it is not a good idea to prune birch trees, or any trees, once winter is past and the sap starts “running.”

What about rototilling the garden beds? Do not do it. That’s right, no tilling! It is an outdated practice. It breaks up the soil’s structure, displaces and destroys the soil food web and more. Note: no double digging, French trenching or anything else that greatly disturbs the soil. Oh, sure, if you have a forest floor or a thick lawn and you must get a garden bed asap, rototill, but that is it — and there are better ways to go about setting up a new bed. The bottom line: Do not disturb the soil in an established garden.

Instead of rototilling, make seed-size holes with a pencil or drag a stick down a bed to make inch-wide furrows for planting in rows. Trust me, I wrote the book on it, there is simply no benefit to digging up the entire garden and, actually, truly and verily, a great deal of loss if you do. Don’t.

Next, where can one buy autoflowering cannabis seeds? These produce day neutral plants which can be harvested in as little as 45 days, making them perfect for the Alaska gardener. Unfortunately, I do not know of any “legal” source in the state. Our misguided and in-need-of-amending statutes define regulated cannabis to include seeds, even though there is no THC in them. (Can you imagine banning and regulating the sale of tomatoes? Why do we let this kind of travesty happen?). Check out for other possible solutions.

Is there a way to fix those brass hose end couplers once they become stuck and inoperable? Ah, every hose, water bib and watering tool should have quick-connect couplers attached. It happens to the best of us, though: sometimes you can’t get the little balls on their edges to move to release or attach. The solution is WD-40 or machine oil. It is not a bad idea to hit up all of yours before they seize up in order to keep them in shape for the season.

Finally, can you transplant spruce trees now? You sure can, but if the tree is over 3 feet or so, it’s better to cut a circle around the tree’s dripline, about 8-12 inches deep. Use a spade. The tree will produce new roots and these will grow inside the cut area. Then you can dig up the tree this fall and transplant it. Either way, do not plant new trees with new soils. Use the existing native soils.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Trails are open to the public. Check out for the latest news on operations affected by the virus.

Harden off: Any plant grown indoors needs to be acclimated to sunlight and wind over a week’s period before being transplanted outdoors. Without fail.

Lawns: Water only. No fertilizer. Let it green up.

Dandelions: They are back. And they will keep coming back no matter what you do, so learn to either eat them, enjoy them or mow them. You can hand-pick to hold them off for part of the season. Under no circumstances should any self-respecting gardener and human being use a weed and feed product. No poisons are allowed anymore in gardens and yards. It is a new rule.