Gardening

You can try to delay the inevitable when it comes to spruce bark beetles; just don’t do damage in the process

We usually acclimate plants grown indoors by leaving them outside in a spot protected from wind —thanks to a well-placed outbuilding — and too much sun, in the dappled shade provided by a huge black spruce. This is “hardening off,” and if you start now, you can just leave plants in shade, protected from wind, for a week. Then move them into partial shade for a week and you are good to go.

This year we need to find a new spot. The spruce was hit by The Beetle and the sudden onslaught of dropping needles on the seedlings would perhaps be too much for them. I know the extra sun will be.

Spruce bark beetles are still the number one subject of questions I get, and I get lots. Fortunately, there is now an excellent set of answers to most of the questions I get at alaskasprucebeetle.org/frequently-asked-questions. If you have spruce, you should read this set of questions and answers. It is full of information presented in an extremely readable form. The site is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska DNR and the Cooperative Extension Service. It is really excellent; government at its best.

Two sections answer questions I get about injecting trees instead of spraying them. Apparently, there are lots of applicators popping up this spring who want to do injections. My opinion? If they work — and research on their use in Alaska has not been reported out yet, at least not to me! — the timing is critical. I am pretty sure now is not the time to inject. Fall is. And the tree can’t be infested already. If I am wrong on this, I am sure I will be so informed! Read the Q and A’s.

The same goes for spraying. I am against spraying for spruce bark beetles, and you should be as well, in my opinion. I don’t like the poisons used and I don’t like what they do to the environment, family and neighbors. The beetles will win in the long run. Don’t fall for someone trying to charge for spraying infested trees. And, again, you should be against spraying.

Water, proper pruning for air circulation, not damaging the trunk and not compacting the soil where the tree grows are all key to trying to prevent the beetles from hitting your trees. However, this is nature at work. Why we think we can prevent her from winning is a mystery. It doesn’t hurt to try, but only if you don’t do damage in the process.

And so there is still the big question of what to plant in place of one of these backbone trees now that they have really started to die off in landscape situations. This is the question of the moment.

We could be trying to move in something that will become more suited to our warming. Nature does this herself. If you are interested in the science here, and it is fascinating, make sure to check out “The Journeys of Trees: A Story about Forests, People, and the Future,” by Alaska-born Zack St. George.

As for our yard? I have come to the conclusion that the advice to simply replant with spruce is the way to go. I base this on the reputations of those making the recommendation as well as my own observations.

Take a look for yourself. Right next to a tree stripped of its needles will be several 6-, 10- and maybe even 15-foot young trees, probably absorbing the nutrients from the deceased neighbor, but certainly thriving. And look up and you will see some trees with cones. The species will survive. Check out the Hillside areas hit a decade or more ago and you will get confirmation. Under nature’s guidance, the spruce replace themselves. Yes, the new trees, too, may succumb to The Beetle, but if we keep them healthy that won’t be for years and years to come.

In sum, this week find a good spot to harden off your indoor grown plants. And resist the urge to spray and inject your spruce trees.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Tomatoes: Want bigger tomatoes? Remove a few of the set buds from each cluster.

Buy seed to plant directly into the garden: kale, carrots, lettuces, peas, snap peas, beets, spinach, beans, collard, arugula, tatsoi, mizuna, pac choi, and mache. These are all very easy to grow and disappear from racks quickly, so buy now.

Potatoes: Start yours now outdoors. Leave room for hilling. Consider growing them in a deep container.

Vegetables to start outdoors: Peas, spinach, onion sets, potatoes, chard, mustard, kale

Flowers to plants outdoors: Sweet peas.

Alaska Botanical Garden: It has a nursery and it has sales, too! Check it out at alaskabg.org or visit yourself. The Garden is open. Oh, and join.

Sponsored