Answering reader questions: Living Christmas trees, heart-shaped houseplants and indoor spiders

Several readers want to know if it is too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs. (This question pops up every year just before the ground freezes hard. Go figure!) The rule is if you can work the soil, then you can plant bulbs. Don’t delay, however. Not only will the deep freeze set in soon, you want to give the roots as much time to develop as possible before it does. Besides, what else are you going to do with them? They don’t keep.

Oh, of course, you can force spring-flowering bulbs, even the ones you intended to get into the ground this fall. You will need a dark, indoor space where the temperature is around 40 and, of course, pots, soil and bulbs. As with planting outdoors, this is not something to put off. It takes 12 to 14 weeks for these bulbs to set roots and start the flowering process.

Finally, some bulbs do not need a dark and chilly session to bloom. In particular, certain narcissi, freesia and hyacinths are pre-chilled and ready to start growing now. Look for them especially around the holiday season. You can get these to bloom in 30 days at room temperature.

Next, anticipating the holiday season, two readers want to know if they can dig up an evergreen now and keep it outside in a container until it is time to bring it in for the holiday season. The idea is to then return it outdoors for planting next spring.

Simply put, taking a spruce indoors doesn’t work no matter the season. If you want to grow your own Christmas tree, look for and buy a Norfolk Island pine. These will grow indoors all year long.

OK, another perennial question: Is it too late to apply Plantskydd to keep moose in the neighbors’ yards? It is not the best time, but it is not too late. Plantskydd is an emulsified blood meal and is messy and difficult to apply the colder it gets. Mix it indoors with hot water.

Will putting up bird feeders now attract bears? The Fish and Game folks suggest Nov. 1 as a safe date. This means it is time to fill yours up. We always use sunflower seeds, as this is what almost all Alaska birds eat. Sure, you can try to train them to go for the other stuff like millet, but why? (If there is a reason, hopefully you will let me know.)

If you are new to bird feeding in Alaska, get the “Guide to the Birds of Alaska” to help you identify the ones you will attract. There are all manner of online resources for different levels of interest. Of particular use is Audubon Alaska:

Next, a reader wants to know about Hoya kerrii, the plant I wrote about just before the pandemic began that is a heart-shaped Hoya. It is becoming THE Valentine’s Day plant to give. If you see some for sale now, however, do buy at least one. They are usually sold as one heart-shaped leaf stuck into the soil. However, they are a typical Hoya vine and grow new leaves. If you have one from previous years, you can remove single leaves and put their pointed ends in a sandy soil to root. They will surely be ready by Valentine’s day.

Finally, I always get a few questions about indoor spiders this time of year, Specifically, folks ask what kind of spiders they are, whether they are poisonous and how to get rid of them.

I can’t tell you what kind of spiders you have in your house, but you probably have at least 30 to 50 of some kind or another. There are several sites on the internet that will help you identify what you have. While almost all spiders are venomous, there are no poisonous ones here. And they have probably been inside all summer.

We have wolf spiders in our house. One lives around my greenhouse office desk where I write. I let him/her be, and vice versa. I know spiders live on insects and that means “Wolfie” and his kin are helping me out. I am not sure what they are subsisting on, but come to think of it, there were darn few for those fall flies we usually find on the windowsills.

Get rid of them? You could use a pesticide to get rid of spiders, but then what are you going to use to get rid of the insects they live on? More pesticides! This seems silly. I suggest you let them be unless you have a serious problem with spiders (or a serious spider problem!).

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week:

Stake those walks and driveways: What are you waiting for? Snow plowers and shovelers as well as drivers will appreciate the guidance. So will your lawn and protected landscapes.

Indoor tomatoes: If you took plants into your home or have a greenhouse that has heat and light, don’t forget to pollinate until the insect pollinators return late next spring.

Pelargoniums: Geraniums are great houseplants if you give them a bit of light. If you took yours indoors, pick off flowers as they start to fade. Given cool temperatures, they will bloom all winter.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He's authored several books on organic gardening; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at