Christmas evergreens in pots are unlikely to make it through an Alaska winter


It is probably a good idea to clear the mailbox before the end of the year.

First, there are the questions about holiday gifts. As the loyal reader knows, I don’t like Christmas gift columns. I probably don’t know your gardener and have no idea what would be suitable. All I know is a gift you can give any gardener and be sure it will be appreciated is some help gardening.

You can come up with all manner of ideas, say a new tool or a special plant or two, but the chances are your gardener purchased whatever she needs or dropped a significant enough hint so there wouldn’t be any questions as to what is desired. Still, you simply cannot go wrong with an offer of help, perhaps reduced to a certificate. I suggest you simply go there instead of guessing on something else.

Next, there have been several questions about the viability of potted evergreen holiday “trees.” (Finally, I get a tree question!) Essentially readers want to know if those evergreens in pots being sold here might be able to make it outdoors next season.

Alas, there are two problems with this thinking. First, even if they were Alaska-hardy, the wait between now and when spring planting occurs is way to long for most to keep an evergreen alive in a pot, indoors or outdoors. Second, the trees I have seen are pines or other not-hardy species that are sure to die during an Alaska winter. Buy them, but don’t expect to keep them. The exception might be if it is a Norfolk Island pine, which will survive indoors for years.

Next, I get several questions every year about the use of coffee grounds on indoor plants and in the outdoor gardens. Some want to know if the coffee is too acidic. Others want to know if you have to compost it first. And what about that caffeine?

There are lots of opinions on this subject. Let me just tell you that all of our grounds — and we drink a prodigious amount of SteamDot coffee every day — are dumped on whatever plants happen to be by the door of the greenhouse. I have never experienced any problems even though some say the caffeine kills roots. If it does, it must do so very slowly. I will add that my father used his grounds too, and I don’t ever remember any problems.

In fact, coffee grounds contain nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as some of the minor nutrients. This makes for good fertilizer — microbe food, actually. I do notice that after a while the grounds will coagulate and make a barrier that makes it hard for the water to drain through. When this happens a simple “racking” sets things right again. I should add that coffee is an excellent addition to compost. Worms love it.

Here is an interesting one: Can you grow a banana from seed? The answer is yes, but not from the bananas you buy at the supermarket. Commercially grown bananas don’t contain seeds. They have been bred out of the product. Instead, growers use suckers.

Don’t despair, however. You can buy banana seeds. Several catalogs on the internet carry them. Try Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can also buy banana plants. If you get something other than a Cavendish variety — the kind found in stores — you may end up growing fruits that have seeds. Hey, who knows? This might make a great holiday present — for the right gardener.

Jeff’s Garden Calendar

A correction from last week: One attentive reader wanted to know if it wasn’t George Sullivan and not one of the Dans who was mayor when the International Airport Road beautification project started.

Alaska Botanical Garden: OK, if you need a gift idea, membership in The Garden will also always be appreciated. So will a visit to see the light display.

More Alaska Botanical Garden: The ABG recently received national recognition for its Meconopsis collection. Click here to access the most recent edition of Public Garden Magazine. That’s the ABG on the front. The article is on Pages 18-19.

Poinsettias: No drafts, not too much heat and keep slightly moist.

Christmas trees: Water, water, water. Check yours twice a day.

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, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Reach him at