Skip to main Content

Take these tasks off your autumn to-do list forever

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 1, 2020
  • Published October 1, 2020

Gidget the collie rests near potted fruit trees in Government Hill on May 23, 2017. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

I hit a nerve last week when I suggested trees don’t need staking. Apparently, not many people know this is the new norm. It is my fault. I should have been much clearer, and I should have included more information. So here it is.

Studies have shown that staked trees develop smaller root systems, trunks which don’t taper properly and exhibit uneven xylem (the tubes that transport water from the roots through the tree). As important, these trees do not develop the flexibility needed to prevent damage in winds (and under heavy snow loads) when the stakes are eventually removed.

In short, staking results in weak tree trunks that are susceptible to breakage in high winds. Even while staked, these trees often snap where the ties attach to the trunk. And, all too often improper materials are used to support a tree to ground stakes and the bark is damaged.

One more point. Last week I was referring to containerized trees, since spring is bare root season here in Alaska. Bare root trees can be be staked, but only if they really won’t stay upright. Consider using only one stake, too. The stakes should be removed after a month or two. Finally, if you plant a bare root tree now, remove the “wires” after the ground freezes. That tree won’t be going anywhere, and roots will develop all winter.

Not staking trees when planting is a relatively new concept, like using only native soil when planting trees instead of adding compost to the hole. The garden writing community hasn’t fully caught on, and many professionals have not adapted. It is time.

Moving on, I also hit a nerve when I suggest not raking leaves off the lawn. To so many this is simply crazy, as they have been taught their whole lives to rake leaves into piles in the fall and get them off the lawn. They have been brainwashed to think that leaves smother lawns.

Every year I note I have never seen a dead lawn caused by leaves being left on it. Leaves will not kill your lawn. They will feed it and make the application of costly fertilizers unnecessary. Leaves will feed your lawn. Don’t tell Scotts.

OK, finally, a few questions of interest this week. Is starting a compost pile this time of year a good idea? Any tips if it is?

Anytime is a good time to start composting, but one of the neat things about starting now is that it can be easier than any other time of the year. Why? Because once leaves fall on the lawn, you can put your mower bag on and collect a nice mix of “brown” and “green” material which are needed to make compost.

You will need at least 3 cubic feet of this material to make a pile. There should be activity before snow hits, as microbes start the decay process and heat it cup. Microbes will also be working away all winter, making great compost for use some time next summer.

Finally, what do you do with green tomatoes, and are the seeds worth collecting? The cold is coming.

You can fry green tomatoes, of course, or you can wrap them with newspaper and check their ripeness every few days. You can also put them into a paper bag with an apple, but these ripen all at once and very quickly. If you can’t eat them all, freeze quarter sections.

Only the seeds from open pollinated or heirloom varieties are worth keeping. Hybrid seeds will grow plants, but they will not be “true” to the characteristics of they variety. For Alaskans, the idea is to collect the seeds from open pollinated specimens that show the best characteristics. Repeat over several years and develop your own heirlooms.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week:

Spooky Garden: Alaska Boo-tanical Garden has a spooky walk through Oct 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are Halloween displays and it’s free for members! Join. For more info, see

Leaves: They are falling, fallen etc. Mulch them up. Leave them on your perennial beds!

Plant A Row: Have extra produce? Bean’s Cafe and the Food Bank of Alaska are here for you. Be there for them!