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Don’t wait for spring: Early-bird gardeners get the fattest begonia tubers

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: February 25
  • Published February 25

A begonia soaks up sunlight at Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse. (Marc Lester / ADN)

We are just about in March and the light is coming back at a faster pace. Darkness after 6 — I could play with that and get a good movie title. And it is getting lighter by minutes every day.

This time of year, if you keep your plants in a sun room, you may need to provide ventilation on sunny days or you risk cooking them. As much as I keep yelling about the need for plant lights during the dark months, there is nothing like the impact of the return of the sun to demonstrate how well plants respond to light.

The new growth on my houseplants tells me it is the time to get those summer blooming plants out of storage. Roses, fuchsia, pelargoniums, rhodochitons and even begonias need to get some water and take in some sun.

Fuchsias need to be shaped. You do this by cutting them back and then letting them grow. If you are unsure what your plant should look like, peruse the internet or go to a local nursery and see what theirs look like. That will show you.

And, now is the time to buy fuchsia starts. These plants can be used in baskets — four per — or trained to grow into a plant that resembles a tree, a fuchsia standard. If you have lots of growth on your plants, you can use it for cutting material. Fuchsia root easily in damp compost.

Tuberous begonias should be exposed to light. Leave them in their containers if you didn’t remove them last fall. Wait until the little plantlets pop up from the concave portion of the tuber. Give the soil the plant is in some water later in the month to get them really growing. Don’t get soil or water in the concave area.

My saying when it comes to tubers: The early bird gets the worm, which in this case are the fattest tubers. Getting yours now also has the advantage of less damage to those little plantlets as a result of people pawing through the collection doing what you are: choosing the ones you what they want. They will all produce, so don’t panic if you haven’t been vaccinated and won’t be going to the nursery for a couple of weeks.

We keep our pelargoniums over the winter in pots, in the house. They get natural light now and a bit of supplemental during the dark period. They are big and going crazy now, all in bloom. As long as we remove these before they go to seed, we will have flowers clear up through the frost, when we will bring them indoors again. We have plenty of cutting material to make new plants — do it now and don’t root in water.

You may have stored your pelargoniums, dormant, in the garage or elsewhere. Take the plants out and cut from the tops down until you hit — and hopefully you will — green growth. Pot them up in good compost soil, keep it slightly moist and get them growing again.

You can buy pelargonium starts and grow them out just as you can fuchsia. There are so many varietal choices for both. Keep the labels so you know what you have.

Rhodochitons are the bell vine plant, aka the Alaska State Fair vine. They regrow leaves when taken out of storage, but you will also find seed pods either on the plant or the pot’s soil. Collect these. They are pretty expensive to buy and not many people have them, so they are a really nice gardening gift. And, you can start some new ones yourself. Do it now.

Rose stored over the winter can be prickly — sorry — to get going again. They really need a period of cold weather. However, yours may be showing signs of life. Bring them out, but grow them in a very cool spot.

Finally, I keep getting warnings that there is going to be another seed shortage this year as a result of COVID-19. This alone should be the excuse you need to mask up and socially distance while visiting a couple of local nurseries. I know all of ours have gone out of their way this year to meet the demand they had trouble filling last year. Still, as with begonia tubers, it is the early birds that get the worms.

Jeff’s garden calendar

Forsythia: This non-native, spring-blooming shrub has slowly made its way into area gardens. (I am not sure how I feel about that). They grow fast, but the flowering period is only a week or two. You can get a second kick by taking branch cuttings and plunging them into warm water. Keep these in the dark garage for a week and then bring them out to light. They will bloom and leaf out, early spring on display.

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