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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Low Maintenance Gardening in Anchorage

Low or No Maintenance Gardening in Anchorage

by Emma Forsberg, web and social media manager for Dan Benton

Spring has arrived! Many people in Anchorage are already busy planting and growing their annual seedlings. Every year, many look forward to choosing new flower types and colors for their annual garden displays. If you have a brown thumb or very little time to plant a garden of annuals, here are some ideas for planting low to no maintenance gardens for your Anchorage yard. If you are feeling overwhelmed and just want a professional to install your garden plants for you, I have added links to local gardeners and greenhouses in Anchorage at the end of this blog post.

Perennials are plants that come back on their own every year without having to plant new seeds. Although there are many perennials to choose from, I have mentioned just a few of the hardiest and easiest to grow perennials I could find. If I can grow them, anybody can!

If you want to go see garden examples, visit Anchorage's Alaska Botanical Garden located on Campbell Airstrip Road off of Tudor. They have many types of gardens on display and would be a great resource to begin your own gardening plans.

4 Hardy Perennials for Anchorage Gardens

1. Lilies of Course!

Along with the bleeding hearts, lilies will never let you down!

You can even divide a large bulb (or root stock?) and start another patch of them from the mother plant.

There are many colors and styles of this hardy favorite. Here is the Alaska Master Gardeners' Lily web page to help you choose the perfect lily for your Anchorage garden.

2. Bleeding Hearts

These plants are truly ubiquitous to Anchorage gardens. I have one of these and it always comes back every spring. You can't go wrong with this flowering perennial.

Here is an interesting article about bleeding hearts published by Alaska Home Magazine. Bleeding Hearts: This queen of hearts is a favorite of hopeless romantics year after year Story by Carrie Miner

3. Peonies
i actually grew this myself!

Years ago I bought and planted a peony. I forgot to put a label on a stick near it so I quickly forgot what it was that I planted. The shoots and leaves came up year after year and I had no clue what it was until finally, on the 3rd or 4th year it started blooming. Now I have giant peonies every summer. I'm sure I could have gotten it to bloom sooner if I had followed the right instructions on what to feed this plant. If you are patient, you can grow nice large peonies too – without having to be a master gardener! Here is the website of the local Alaskan Peony Growers Association to help you in learning about how to grow peonies – maybe even how to get them to bloom sooner than I did.

4. Delphiniums

I read through several suggestions for hardy perennials and delphiniums are mentioned frequently. These grow to tall and full bloomed plants that make good tall back row border plants. I have planted some delphiniums, but they never took hold. I think the constant rain of pine needles in my yard where they were planted may have something to do with it. Good luck – I have heard they are tough enough for Anchorage. Here is an article about how to maintain and grow delphiniums published in the Alaska Dispatch News Tips for dealing with delphiniums By Jeff Lowenfels

As your perennials start to expand and take a larger foothold of your garden, you may want to divide them the thin them down in order to get their blooms to grow larger again. You may also want to make your perennial bed larger by dividing to establish new plants of the same species. Here is an article published in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner about dividing perennials: Divide perennials in the fall by Michele H├ębert

4 Perennial Space Fillers

Here are four plants to plant in your Anchorage garden to fill in large areas. These plants fill up a lot of space and add a little non-flower interest to a hassle-free yard.

1. Rhubarb

Rhubarb is super hardy and even provides some pie filling when ripe! The leaves of rhubarb quickly grow to large diameters and provide a great fill for large empty corners of your yard. They can even be divided and grown in multiple areas from one mother plant. Here is the Cooperative Extensions PDF publication, Growing Rhubarb in the Alaska Garden

2. Ferns

Whether you transplant wild ones or buy them from a store, ferns are always a great way to fill in big spaces.

They are hardy and thrive in shady areas. Here is a web page on how to transplant a fern :

If you would like to know more about Alaska's local wild ferns, here is a great pamphlet published by the US Dept. of Agriculture on the wild ferns of the Chugach and Tongass Parks.

3. Ornamental Grasses

There are many to choose from. Some ornamental grasses have varied leaf color and even interesting seed displays after the summer grown matures.

Here are some interesting ornamental grasses to consider from the Alaska Master Gardener's website:

4. Hostas

These are good shade growing leafy perennials. They are not as large as rhubarb but fill in nicely. Here is the American Hosta Society's web page to find out which species of hosta will do best for Anchorage's planting zone.

Moss Gardens

If your yard is overshadowed by a large pine tree like mine, growing a moss garden may be the right move for you. Moss gardens don't need to be mowed or trimmed and can tolerate bad soils well. In fact, they prefer acidic soil, so the pine needles won't harm them. Here are some ideas on establishing a moss garden and useful information about the local mosses in Alaska.

What's a moss milkshake?

Moss Acres is a website about growing and maintenance of moss lawns and moss terrariums and any other moss related things. They have an online store to order your moss growing supplies.

USDA's Mosses and Liverworts of Alaska Pamphlet

Getting to know acrocarps and pleurocarps.

Here is a great blog post about the very basics of moss cultivation for gardens by -

4 Moss Garden Boards on Pinterest

Alpine Rock Gardens

Similar to moss gardens in that these hardy plants can adapt and thrive in harsh conditions. I like the idea of rock gardens because you don't have a lawn to maintain around your plantings. Alpine plants that are found in nature clinging to rocks and steep slopes found on mountainsides. Here are some ideas and plant types to try using on your own rock garden. Anchorage's location near the Chugach Mountains makes access to viewing and learning about alpine plants readily available.

Alaska Rock Garden Society

Learn about rock gardening in Alaska. They offer plant workshops, garden tours, and more.

Alpine Garden Society

Here is a gardening organization dedicated to alpine plants. Here you may find useful information about creating an alpine rock garden.

Alpine garden design ideas on Houzz

Houzz is an awesome website with all sorts of ideas about anything to do with the home. They have tons of photos of homes and gardens all over the country.

4 Alpine Rock Garden Pinterest Boards

Transplanting Wild Alaskan Perennials

Perhaps the easiest and most guaranteed way of establishing a truly no maintenance garden would be to transplant naturally occurring perennials. Wildflowers and plants that grow around Anchorage include: wild roses, geraniums, blue bells, lupines, daisies, forget-me-nots, columbines, irises, fireweed, and wild chives. It would be best to read up on the types of soils and water native plants need to help ensure their survival after transplanting to your garden. Here are some links for finding out more about native perennial gardening.

Alaska Native Plant Society

A website for learning about the naturally occurring plants of Alaska.

UAA Alaska Native Heritage Program

A program run by UAA to document native species of Alaska.

Blueberries, Raspberries and more

Here are a few links of interest about growing wild Alaskan berries in your garden.

Rules for Transplanting Wild Plants

Please be aware that there may be rules for harvesting plants for cultivation from State and Federal lands. Also, please get permission from private land owners before harvesting on their land. Here are some resources for researching what the rules are for harvesting wild plants.

Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources Wild Harvest Manual

US Forest Service Plant Collection Permit

Anchorage Gardeners

There are a lot of landscapers in the Anchorage area. I have just added the ones that posted gardening services on their websites. Some landscaping companies focus on land excavation and grading rather than the smaller details of choosing plants for garden beds. If I have left a company out, please feel free to add it in the comments section and I will update this blog post!
Above the Grade Landscape
Arctic Green
Faltz Landscaping Nursery
Frontier Landscaping
Green Acres
Green Earth Landworks
Ground Effects
Hillside Landscaping & Excavating

Anchorage Greenhouses

These are just the ones I found on a Google search for Anchorage greenhouses and nurseries. You can also buy plant starts from large retail stores such as Fred Meyer or Walmart. If I have left a company out, please feel free to add it in the comments section and I will update this blog post!
Alaska Mill and Feed
Arctic Organics - at the Farmers Market once a week
Bell's Nursery

© 2015 Dan Benton
Dan Benton - Realtor with Jack White Real Estate
3801 Centerpoint Dr., Anchorage, AK
Phone: (907) 727-5279

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7 Signs You Have a Drainage Problem

7 Signs You Have a Drainage Problem
Article From By: Jeanne Huber
Photo: Flickr CC License: Greenway Guide
Finding drainage problems when they're smaller and easier to fix can save you thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches down the line.
You don't have to be a geophysicist to know that puddles in the basement or a lake on the front lawn are signs of drainage problems.
But many drainage problems aren't so obvious. Here's how the pros read some of the more subtle signs of bad drainage, and why you'll save big bucks if you tackle these problems now instead of later.

Sign #1: Gushing gutters

A mini Niagara over the edge of your gutter means dead leaves and debris are blocking the flow. But you don't need a live gusher to tell you you've got problems: Vertical streaks of dirt on the outside of gutters, mud spattered on siding, or paint peeling off the house in vertical strips are other sure signs. If you don't take action, overflowing gutters can rot siding, ruin paint jobs, and cause structural damage.

Best case: Leaves are clogging the downspout, and you just need to clear them out or hire a pro to do it (about $75).

Worst case: Gutters are undersized or improperly pitched and need to be replaced or reinstalled. That could run a few thousand dollars, but it's still cheaper than new siding.

Sign #2: Downspouts that dump

Each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of a roof produces more than 600 gallons of runoff--enough to fill 10 bathtubs to the brim. Dumping that much water too close to the foundation can send it right into the basement, where it can ruin furnishings, flooring, and all the stuff you swore you'd put on shelves one day.

Best case: You can add gutter extensions (about $10 for a 10-foot length) to carry the water at least 5 feet away from the house.

Worst case: Too-short downspouts continually dump buckets of water around your foundation. The water seeps deep into the soil and puts pressure on your foundation walls, eventually cracking them. A foundation contractor comes out and gives you an estimate of $30,000 to excavate around your foundation and fix everything. You begin to cry, dumping buckets of water into the soil around your foundation.

Sign #3: Water stains in the basement

Depending on where a stain shows up, you can tell if the problem is caused by surface water, which can be easy to deal with, or water traveling underground, a potentially bigger headache.

Best case: You see stains high on your foundation wall, meaning that water is coming from an overflowing gutter, or that surface runoff backed up against your house because the soil around your foundation doesn't slope adequately (6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet is best).

Worst case: The stain extends in a line around the basement. If that's the case, you may be looking at a high-water mark caused by a fluctuating water table. Or, your basement floor lies below the level of municipal storm drains that back up during heavy rains. In either case, an interior drain system and sump pump (around $3,000) will pump any seepage out of our basement, keeping your old bowling trophies dry.

Sign #4: Cracks in the foundation

Foundations often have small cracks that appear as houses settle over time. Most are harmless, but bigger cracks bear watching. Keep an eagle eye on cracks larger than 1/8-inch wide by marking the ends with an erasable pencil line. Measure the width and jot it down. If you notice the cracks are growing, you've got potential problems.

Best case: A crack appears where the builders finished installing one load of concrete and began pouring the next. Such cracks usually don't penetrate all the way through. And even if they do, as long as they're stable you can patch them with hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk for less than $20.

Worst case: Cracks are continuing to widen, indicating that a drainage problem may be ruining the foundation. Call a structural engineer (not a contractor or waterproofing expert) to diagnose the problem, assess the risk, and suggest a repair. Expect to shell out $300 for a structural engineer's diagnosis.

Sign #5: Flaking and deposits on walls

If you see areas of white or gray crust on the basement walls, that's efflorescence--mineral deposits left behind by evaporating water. Or the wall may be flaking off in big patches, a condition called spalling.

Best case: The efflorescence points to a place where moisture is condensing. It doesn't cause structural problems, but you may want to check out your gutters, downspouts, and the grading of the soils around your foundation. Scrape off the crust if it looks ugly.

Worst case: The wall is spalling because water is getting inside the masonry. Spalling can be just superficial, but if it's deeper than 1/2-inch and widespread, it may be a sign of improper drainage that threatens the integrity of your foundation.

Sign #6: Mildew in the attic

Sure, the attic might be a strange place to look for drainage problems, but mildew on the underside of the roof can be a tipoff to serious trouble at the ground level.

Best case: Bathroom fans are spewing hot air directly into the attic, where it condenses on the cold back side of the roof and causes mildew. Venting the fan through an outside wall or the roof (about $200) solves the problem.

Worst case: Moisture from the basement or crawl space is rising through the house and condensing on the underside of the roof. In that case, you've got to find and stop the source of the dampness under the house. If you don't act, you'll end up replacing roof sheathing and shingles, a job that runs $6,000 to $9,000 for the typical house.

Sign #7: Migrating mulch

When soil doesn't drain properly, rain runs off in sheets, carving gulleys in the landscape, dumping silt on pathways, and carrying piles of mulch or wood chips where they don't belong.

Best case: For a few hundred dollars, you can hire a landscaper to create a simple berm (a soil mound) or swale (a wide, shallow ditch) to redirect the water flow away from the house.

Worst case: Your concrete patio cracks and paving stones start popping up because the gravel or sand base material has washed away. After redirecting the water, you'll need to excavate the patio and start again.

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

© 2015 Dan Benton
Dan Benton - Realtor with Real Estate Brokers of Alaska
1577 C Street, Suite 101A., Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 727-5279

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Friday, April 10, 2015

How to Search for Homes on the Alaska MLS

How to Use the Alaska MLS

A question and answer guide from Great Alaskan Homes Blog, to finding the right home in Anchorage, Eagle River, or Chugiak.

What is the Alaska MLS?

When a property is put up for sale it is called a listing. Brokers and their agents subscribe to a data networking service, called the MLS, to share information about their listings with each other. MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service. Before the Alaska MLS was formed, real estate agents shared 3 ring binders with each other of their properties for sale. This was a cumbersome process and information was quickly outdated. With the advent of the internet 3 ring binders became obsolete and market data can now be updated within minutes. This network provides both home sellers and buyers a much more efficient way to advertise their listings and shop for new homes.

What kind of information does the Alaska MLS have?

The MLS has information about properties that: are currently for sale, have been sold, have been cancelled, have been re-listed, have expired, or have been withdrawn. Many time sellers will reduce or increase the price they are asking for a property and the MLS records data on all price and status changes in real time. The Alaska MLS is able to analyze this data for members to provide them important market reports on where the market is heading.
For example:
According to the latest Alaska MLS Freedman Reed Index Report, the average home sales price in Anchorage rose 2.62% up to $346,212. Also, the average time it takes for a home to sell in Anchorage decreased from 60 days in 2012 to 47 in 2013. A days on market rate not seen since 2006. This tells us, that if you own a home and are thinking of selling- NOW IS THE TIME!
This information is from the general Index report available to the public. Only your real estate agent has access to the full Index which is a more powerful market research tool used every day in the real estate industry.

What is the Freeman Reed Index?

According to the Alaska MLS, 'The Freeman-Reed Index is a detailed monthly statistical analysis of the Alaska real estate market. The complete Index is a comprehensive analysis of local and regional data and includes data by narrow price ranges, property types, specific communities, and detailed data tables including current and historical information, market trends and more in much greater detail.'

How does the Freedman Reed Index help with my real estate needs?

This index report is released in its entirety to members of the Alaska MLS. Your real estate agent can look up detailed statistics tailored to your own property needs. For example, if you are looking to sell your home, your agent can research similar homes that have sold in the past 6 months. When analyzing local sales history and competing homes that are currently for sale, your agent can suggest the best price for your home. If you are looking to buy a home, your agent can research what similar homes have recently sold for, making sure you are not overpaying for your home.

Who can search the Alaska MLS?

The general public can access MLS listings through IDX syndication websites, such as Trulia or Zillow, while real estate agents and brokers can access the Alaska MLS directly. Although the general public has access to view the same listings, real estate agents usually get access to the newest listings sooner than the IDX websites. Many IDX websites only update once a day, while the actual Alaska MLS database records pending sales, closings, price changes, cancellations, new listings, status changes, and expirations in real time throughout the day.
Also, the Alaska MLS provides more commentaries and supporting documents to listings than the basic summaries found on the IDX websites. Even if you do your own MLS searches, your real estate agent can provide you with the actual MLS data sheets, disclosures, as-builts and any other information disclosed under a private documents section. This shows you overlooked details you may need to know about a property before you buy.

What is an IDX website?

The Alaska MLS is not a free public resource, it is a privately owned real estate industry organization. The Alaska MLS charges members significant money for access to the data. The money generated pays for its administration, hardware, network, member training, maintenance and other agent services. Real estate agents, through their membership dues pay for this access and are granted the tools to search the MLS directly from its servers.
For public access, fees are paid by website owners, who must apply for permission and follow MLS rules in order to syndicate MLS listings through their websites. Upon succesful application, contracted permission is granted by the Alaska MLS to website owners who then pay web developers and coders to format the MLS listing data to display on their webpages. This type of MLS data syndication is called an IDX service, which stands for internet data exchange.

Do I need a real estate agent to access the Alaska MLS?

No, you can search publicly available IDX syndications on your own. However, detailed property information and supporting documents are only available to the active members of the Alaska MLS. When you choose to work with a real estate agent, they can provide you information that you may not know is available to you. IDX services only display the basic information of a listing.

So where do I go to start searching the Alaska MLS?

You can visit to search for free courtesy of Dan Benton with Jack White Real Estate. This is his IDX service he provides for all of his websites, including If you register with Dan's website, you can save your own custom search results, sign up for new listing alerts, and have access to general market statistics prepared in easy to read charts and tables.

© 2014 Dan Benton
Dan Benton - Realtor with Jack White Real Estate
3801 Centerpoint Dr., Anchorage, AK
Phone: (907) 727-5279

Join Great Alaskan Homes on:
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Renting vs Buying

Renting vs. Buying

Which is best for you?

The pros of renting

A Landlord
When a pipe bursts in your rental home, someone else foots the bill to fix it. When you own a home, you are responsible for all of your own repairs.These repairs can become expensive extremely fast.

Renting gives you the freedom to take a new job or move to a new city without the hassle of needing to sell your home, which could take months.  The freedom to end a lease and take a new opportunity elsewhere can be a major plus for younger tenants.

Smaller Down Payment
The costs of putting a down payment on a home, along with the costs of closing, can add up quickly.  Though rental deposits can seem unreasonable at times, odds are it’s a lot less than the up-front costs of purchasing.

Buying a home is a major investment, but in some parts of the country you’ll be paying less in the long run by buying instead of renting.  However, buying a home isn’t for everyone. Here are some pros and cons of both buying and renting, and factors to consider when buying a home.

 The cons of renting

A Landlord
When you’re only paying rent on a property, not owning it, there can be varying rules that decide how much you can alter your residence.  You may not be able to paint your walls or alter any aspect of the property, a major downside for more creative types who may want more freedom.

Writing a rent check every month can add up.  You aren’t building any long-term equity when renting a house or apartment, you’re only putting money in your landlord’s pocket.

Changes in Rent
If you live in a larger city, you may have noticed a hike in rent prices lately.  As soon as your current lease ends, your landlord likely has the ability to inflate rent based on demand, a trend that many people are experiencing throughout the country.