All Tucked In

By now your outdoor chores should be pretty much done; hoses put away, pots stacked ready for Spring or recycling, tools hung up, etc. The Alaska Cooperative Extension Service ( has a nice checklist on their site to help you get organized. Plenty of other good articles there too, in the Publications section. You can download them, three-hole punch them or put in page protectors and make a notebook of ideas this winter.

Storing Bulbs for Winter

The ground is finally freezing so any bulbs you have left over can be potted up and the pots stored in a crawlspace or garage. I put my forcing pots on the floor of my heated greenhouse, where it stays cooler than on the shelves. You may find unsold bulbs on sale in your area, but make sure they are not desiccated (dried out). They should be priced at least half-off.

Yellow tulips in pot.
Tulips in pot. Photo: Patrick Ryan.
Yellow and pink tulips in pot.
Tulips in pot. Photo: Patrick Ryan.
Muscari (Muscaria armeniacum) in pot.
Muscari (Muscaria armeniacum) in pot. Photo: Patrick Ryan.

Growing Under Lights in Winter

 If you have lights set up, you can grow some greens or herbs for eating, or give your houseplants a nice sunny vacation under lights.   Searching for “Best Houseplants for Low Light Areas” will net you several sources which will mostly include some classic plants. But having a small dish of succulents is a more modern take on “plant parenting.” They are easy to grow and they’re weird and cool-looking. I like to group mine in a bonsai tray. My succulent go-to site is Mountain Crest Gardens ( They will even add a hot pack for shipping plants in winter. Check out the web for tons of houseplant support.

Succulents in bonsai tray.
Succulents in bonsai tray. Photo: Patrick Ryan.
Succulents in bonsai tray.
Succulents in bonsai tray. Photo: Patrick Ryan.

Some Down Time

The Winter months are a good time for reflection, planning, researching and reading. What did you enjoy most about your yard and garden this past Summer? What would you do better? Which plants did well for you? Did you try something new? Make a wish list. Take some notes before last season’s thoughts fade to black.

Twinkles Dwarf Mix Phlox

I really want Twinkles Dwarf Mix Phlox, so don’t order all the seeds before I get mine! I saw them at the Alaska Botanical Garden this past Summer.

Our months of May and June were hot in Anchorage­—75 degrees! And then the rain came in July. Then August. And September, so gardens were a challenge this season. I’m happy for the poppies and lilies I planted, and my hypertufa trough gardens did well. My wife Debbie plants a lot of containers  and our beautiful Marguerite Daisies bloomed all Summer and into Fall, rain or shine.

Pushkinia in hypertufa trough.
Pushkinia in hypertufa trough. Photo: Patrick Ryan.
Yellow marguerite Daisies
Marguerite Daisies. Photo: Patrick Ryan.

To keep my brain flexible, I’m currently brushing up on Latin names and the etymology of the plants that I grow or that I see in the forest. Take, for example, our native Wild Rose, aka Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis). The specific epithet (the second name) means “little needle” or “little pin”. Grab a rose stem sometime and you’ll remember this name! We’ll talk more about this in a future post.

Tree Trouble

Now that the leaves are down, is there a neighbor’s window you’d like to block from view? If you lost a spruce tree to wind or beetle kill, what are you planning to do? Replace, and if so, with what? This is a huge issue in Anchorage that will have to be addressed. There is a lot of discussion about replacing the White Spruce with the same species or another conifer, like Colorado Blue Spruce. I’d like to see more fir trees. I lost a 60 foot, sixty-year-old Spruce to the beetles. Along with the cost of removal, the loss of this beautiful specimen is heart-wrenching and irreplaceable in my lifetime. They are so beautiful in winter. The best I can do is plant a six-foot tree from a nursery.

Spruce tree trunk showing beetle damage
Spruce tree trunk showing beetle damage. Photo: Patrick Ryan.

For deciduous trees we do not want to plant any more Prunus padus (European Bird Cherry) or Prunus virginiana, Canada Red Cherry. It’s another chokecherry. They have become invasive here and are displacing native trees and shrubs.  Take the Winter downtime to learn about invasive plants in your area. Just today I saw a fence line covered with Bird Vetch vines (Vicia cracca). It was still bright green even though temperatures have been in the ’20s and our native plants have lost their leaves. Non-natives tend to stay green and give themselves away.

I didn’t get everything done in my yard that I wanted to this summer before winter set in, but Spring will come again and I’ll be ready to garden like a maniac again in our short season. Truth to tell, I’m glad for the break. I’m pooped!

Think I’ll peruse some of Larry Hodgson’s 60 plus books with a cup of tea and a cozy blanket…

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

5 comments on “All Tucked In

  1. Curious as to what beetles are affecting the spruce? Pine beetle?

  2. Now that twinkles phlox will be on my “grow someday”list, too! One of my most important winter gardening tasks: take a seed inventory. Reminding myself how much I have already, as the catalogs roll in with all their gorgeous glossy photos, helps cut down on my spending. It’s also great fun to put together packets for spring seed swaps and to share with other gardening friends!

  3. Jerelyn Ryan Sehl

    I can just hear your voice as I read this??????

  4. I love spruce trees too and why must beetles harm them? Ugh. Love your last line too.

  5. Exceptional photos! Now, I want to buy some succulents!!

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