It’s tu­ber time

Valley Journal Advertiser - - COMMUNITY - Mark & Ben Cullen Mark Cullen is an ex­pert gar­dener, au­thor, broad­caster, tree ad­vo­cate and holds the Or­der of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth­gen­er­a­tion ur­ban gar­dener and grad­u­ate of Uni­ver­sity of Guelph and Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity in Hal­i­fax. Fol­low them a

The gar­den­ing sea­son is here. Take tu­bers for ex­am­ple, more pre­cisely, dahlia and be­go­nia tu­bers. If you over- win­tered them in your base­ment or your veg­etable crisper, now is the time to take them out and start them for a sum­mer full of colour.

If you didn’t hold yours over from last fall, now is the time to buy them from your favourite gar­den re­tailer. We urge you to do this soon, while the se­lec­tion is at its best.

If you start tu­bers now you will end up with the long­est pos­si­ble sea­son of colour. The later you start the shorter the flow­er­ing pe­riod.

Here is how to get started.

Dahlias

The large, cac­tus flow­er­ing dahlias are re­mark­able, mostly for their pie-plate size and their suit­abil­ity for cut­ting to bring in­doors. The smaller pom-poms are just as pop­u­lar but are used more as bor­der plants. There are many va­ri­eties of dahlias in be­tween, in a riot of colours.

Re­move the mother- tu­ber from its win­ter stor­age and sep­a­rate the long, fin­ger-like tu­bers from the main stem. Each one will grow up to 10 times their orig­i­nal size in good soil and sun­shine. A tu­ber about 10 to 15 cen­time­tres long and three to six cen­time­tres thick will pro­duce a good- sized plant come late spring. Pot each tu­ber up in to a gal­lon size pot now. Use a qual­ity pot­ting mix that drains well like Pro Mix.

Push the soil down around each tu­ber and firm it into place about five cen­time­tres deep. No need to worry about ‘which side is up.’ Place the thick root in hor­i­zon­tally, you won’t go wrong.

Wa­ter it well and place in a sunny win­dow. Gal­lon sized pots are a bit large for most win­dowsills. We put ours on the floor at the slid­ing door at the back of the house. As the plants push through the soil, in about four to six weeks, turn them ev­ery few days to en­cour­age even growth.

Tuber­ous Be­go­nias

Tuber­ous be­go­nias are fa­mous for their large dou­ble- sized flow­ers that look much like roses. Be­cause they grow so well in part shade ( not full shade) they are a great sub­sti­tute for roses on the north side of your house or un­der the dap­pled shade of trees. The hang­ing va­ri­eties are very showy in hang­ing bas­kets.

Plac­ing your be­go­nia tu­ber in the soil right-side-up is im­por­tant. The con­vex side (the bulged por­tion) goes down while the con­cave or in­dented side faces up. Spread a qual­ity peat-based seed start­ing mix in a seed start­ing tray soil about five cen­time­tres deep. Leave room at the rim of the tray for wa­ter to per­co­late down into the root zone of the soil. Push each tu­ber into the soil and give it a twist. Be firm.

Then ap­ply a layer of soil, about two cen­time­tres, over the top of the tu­bers. Wa­ter well and let the soil be­come dry to the touch be­tween wa­ter­ing.

Place the tray on top of your re­frig­er­a­tor, where the warm heat ris­ing up the back of it will help to en­cour­age early root devel­op­ment. In about four to six weeks, gen­tly tease each tu­ber out of the soil and plant them, new roots, green shoots and all, into 10 cen­time­tre ( four inch) pots.

Place the pot­ted be­go­nias in bright sun­light un­til plant­ing time in late May or early June.

Note that both dahlias and be- go­nias are ‘hot crops’ that en­joy heat and wither in cold weather and cold soil. Plant them out when the soil has warmed up to about 15 C.

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SUB­MIT­TED

Start dahlias now in or­der to en­joy the long­est pos­si­ble sea­son of colour.

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