Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Like many of us, I’ve been working from home a bit this winter. I’m sitting at the kitchen table because it has a nice south-facing window. I had my oatmeal, “everything”  bagel and a glass of sunshine, AKA orange juice. It’s a convenience staying in when the temperatures are in the single digits. No bundling up, warming up the car and I’m saving gas.

Today is clear and cold, single digits, but the sun streaming in the window is welcome. We know that clear skies mean we are currently experiencing a high-pressure weather system and that the nights will be even colder, as there is no cloud cover to hold in what little warmth was generated during the day. But clear nights are great for stargazing and Aurora watching. In Winter, become a weather watcher, keep a journal and try to get outdoors every day for a little vitamin D and fresh air. Take some pictures. Get some traction devices for your boots.

Aurora borealis.
Aurora Borealis. Photo:

Catalog Time

The first garden catalog has already arrived, reminding us that this is the time of year we dream of gardens. There’s not much else to do outdoors. The ground is frozen, we have some snow cover (a good thing for plants), so we are limited to moving snow as our main outdoor chore. We’ve only had about 12 inches of snow and much of that melted last week when it was 45 degrees and rainy.

seed catalogs
Print Catalogs-Coming to Your Mailbox Soon!

UPDATE! I started writing this post at the beginning of December. Now it’s December 8 and it’s been snowing for 24 hours straight. We will end up with about 2 feet of nice fluffy snow. I sure am excited about my new electric snow blower! Starts every time, no fumes and very quiet. I fear no snow!

Tending Houseplants

Indoors, I hope you have a hardy houseplant or two to tend. It will help you cope. You should have at least one succulent!  You can also study your yard from various angles indoors and decide if you need more screening or sadly, tree removal. I have been known to shuffle through the snow to outline a new garden with my tracks or to shrink my lawn by expanding existing borders.

Succulent nursery. Photo:


Feeding the birds is a great Winter pastime, and it’s a hoot to watch these characters coming to the feeders. On cold days they are very puffy-looking as a way of staying warm. Right now I’m watching nuthatches, red polls, boreal chickadees, black-capped chickadees, Stellar jays and an occasional woodpecker. The Bohemian waxwings are back, munching of the Mountain Ash berries and my leftover apples. I feed peanuts, suet cakes and a seed mix that includes sunflower chips. As with potting soil, buy the best bird seed you can afford. Remember to keep feeding all Winter as the birds will come to depend on you. One benefit of feeding the birds is that it will attract them to your yard so they can eat insect pests next season.

We put away our feeders here around tax day, April 15th. That’s because bears are waking up and are attracted to feeders. We note that all of Anchorage is bear country. By that time there will hopefully be natural foods available for the birds. You might not have finished tidying up your yard all the way last Fall and that’s OK. The leftover seed pods and brush piles become food and shelter for insects and the birds that eat them. I should mention the Ravens and the Bohemian Waxwings, not as feeder birds but as entertaining characters around town. Ravens are fantastic fliers and have a great variety of vocalizations.

Two Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Feeder in winter
Two Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Feeder. Photo: Patrick Ryan
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) at feeder in winter
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). Photo: Mr. Whitekeys.
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) at feeder in winter
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus). Photo: Mr. Whitekeys
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) at feeder in winter
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Photo: Mr. Whitekeys.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) eating suet
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens). Photo: Mr. Whitekeys.

Learn Something New This Winter

I would recommend learning something new this winter. I’ve taken classes online, relating to trees, plants and wildlife. I recently earned CEUs (Continuing Education Credits) in climate change, identifying fungus around trees, using my camera more effectively to tell plant stories, native trees vs. non-native and soils. Botanical gardens often have free or inexpensive classes you can take to keep your brain in working order and you can find some great You Tube talks on nature topics. I recommend getting to know Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and the Nature’s Best Hope.   You can find him on You Tube. His books will change the way you think about Nature and the way you garden.

Winter sunset
Photo: Debbie Ryan (love of my life).

The Sun’s Going Down

Well, the sun’s going down after only showing up for 5 hours and a few minutes here in early December. At this time of year, the angle of the sun is about one fist above the horizon. (Extend your arm, make a fist and hold it on the horizon line.) The difference between the angle of the sun is dramatic from summer to winter. The sun is so low it’s hard to see if heading south.

Today, we lost around 3 minutes and a few seconds of daylight. That just puts us closer to the Winter solstice where we gain a few more seconds of welcome daylight each day.

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.

4 comments on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

  1. Nice!I know there will be less snow this winter. As a sports lover, I recommend it to you retro bowl unblocked 67

  2. Joe King

    Your delightful insights into winter gardening, shared in your recent article, bring a touch of warmth to the chilly season. Nurturing plants amid the cold is truly a rewarding endeavor, and your practical tips and personal anecdotes make it all the more appealing. Due to the help I got from expert who can do my homework for me, I have much more time for gardening. Thank you for sharing your gardening journey and indirectly highlighting the importance of holistic support in various aspects of life.

  3. I just ordered via your link to Mountain Crest gardens (only issue was I qualified for free shipping and then there was no place to check free shipping so they charged me). Hopefully my comment to them will go through and they will fix my total on their end.
    I am excited to finally get some succulents though! Happy New Year to ALL!

  4. Jt Michaels

    One’s gotta appreciate your version of hibernating, Patrick!

    Although our weather surely participated in the bitter holiday storm, this morning I awakened to 49°! That’s a first for this 70 year old, life-long NW Lower Michigan rural resident. 5 days ago, there were three feet of snow on the deck. It’s bare today. Climate change, anyone?

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