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Time to start dahlias indoors

Q: I bought dahlia bulbs and want to jump start them in peat pots. How soon do you think I should plant them? If we plant dahlias directly in the ground in May, they barely start blooming when fall frost is near.--Faye Waloch, Gwinner, N.D. A: Da...

orang and pink dalia flower in garden
For best results, start dahlias indoors during the first half of April to prepare them for outdoor planting in May. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum

Q: I bought dahlia bulbs and want to jump start them in peat pots. How soon do you think I

should plant them? If we plant dahlias directly in the ground in May, they barely start blooming when fall frost is near.-Faye Waloch, Gwinner, N.D.

A: Dahlias are best started indoors four to six weeks before the desired outdoor planting date. For our region, that means planting the tuberous roots during the first half of April.

Because plants would be injured by spring frosts, transplant them outdoors between May 15 and May 25 when danger of frost decreases. Dahlia's tuberous roots can be planted directly outdoors in May, but it takes longer for them to develop flowers, as you've found. Starting dahlias indoors coaxes them to bloom by mid-summer.

To avoid becoming spindly indoors, dahlias need high light levels, either direct sun from a large window, or directly below fluorescent light fixtures.

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The goal of early starting is to produce a well-branched dahlia plant that's about 12 inches tall by the outdoor transplant date. When plants reach that height, pinch out the central terminal growing point of each shoot, and the plant will double in bushiness.

Q: A Florida newspaper features "The Butterfly Guy" who ends every column with "Remember to help save the monarch butterflies, no matter where you live, plant milkweed and keep butterflying!" I've always thought milkweed was a nasty weed. I have a great slough at the edge of my property. Should I plant milkweed? Lynne Ebner, Pelican Rapids, Minn.

A: Species of milkweed native to our area, Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias syriaca, can "escape," spreading both underground and by seed, so should be planted with caution. But the good news is that there are several types that are tamer. One such species is Asclepias tuberosa, sold at many garden centers in their perennial flower section as butterfly flower, or butterfly weed. This species tends to be shorter lived than the more invasive types, so replanting might be necessary every three or four years.

Q: What would you suggest for a hardy flowering vine that could tolerate the west sun for at least three or four hours? We'd like something on a trellis for that area.-Karen Knudson, West Fargo.

A: You've got several good choices. Several varieties of clematis are sold at garden centers, and a favorite vigorous choice is the purple-navy Jackman clematis. Clematis die back each year to about ground level and then regrow and bloom nicely.

Another vine that you might consider is Dropmore Scarlet honeysuckle vine, with its colorful orange-scarlet tubular flowers. It's very winter hardy, surviving all the way to the tips.

A third interesting option is Summer Cascade wisteria, a recent introduction from the University of Minnesota's breeding program. It's reportedly winter hardy in zone 3. I don't know how readily available it is yet, but this one will be fun to try. Although it prefers full sun, a west exposure might be sufficient.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com . All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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Gardener's gamble
Don Kinzler, gardening columnist

Gardener's gamble
Don Kinzler, gardening columnist

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