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Starting summer bulbs and tubers indoors

This is the year you have decided to create your own baskets and containers or maybe you always have but never started early enough and had to wait until late June or July for Begonia and Dahlia blooms. We have all seen the incredible works of beauty that mysteriously appear in early every year, huge moss baskets or patio containers that seem too large to be believed. They all have one thing in common, gardeners with a plan! Begonias and Dahlias are two plants that can be easily started indoors in the late winter and each will benefit from the early start. Lilies are fast growing and flower somewhat earlier so an early start is not as important but it is possible.
To begin with, you will need a closed nursery flat with drainage and a good quality soilless mix. Fill your flat to within a half inch of the top and moisten the soilless mix but not to the point of being soggy. If you are starting Dahlias use a mixture of soilless mix and sand, lay out your Begonia or Dahlia bulbs to ensure they will fit and not impede one another once they sprout. Begonias are placed hollow or indented side facing up with an inch of mix over the top and dahlias with the eyes of the “bananas” facing up approximately 3 inches deep. It’s okay to lay the Dahlias horizontally, they are generally quite large. If your flat does not seem deep enough you can use a Rubbermaid tub, just be careful with the water.
Place your flats in a warm location or use a heating cable or mat to ensure the flat stays at about 60 degrees. If your home is very dry, you can cover the flats loosely with a plastic sheet to slow evaporation. Once you see activity above the soil surface, remove the covering, and you can water sparingly. When the new growth of either type of bulb is an inch or two tall, pick the bulbs out and plant them into pots large enough to contain them without a large amount of extra space, two times the size of your bulb is ideal. At this point, you can feed your bulbs with a quarter strength, low nitrogen fertilizer every other week.  Water the soil, not the leaves. You should consider placing your stakes in the pots next to the tubers now, it’s easier at this stage and you are less likely to damage a bulb.
You may need to move your new plants to larger pots prior to planting them in your outdoor containers or beds. It may seem like a lot of work but both of these plants will benefit from the attention. Once the outdoor temperature has reached 60 degrees you can plant them in their summer homes. Your begonias should be planted about an inch below the surface and your Dahlias can be planted with about an inch of the stems buried. If your Dahlias are taller than 12 inches you should pinch out the extra height, above the third set of leaves.  Each of these plants prefers a low nitrogen food similar in composition to vegetable food. Some Begonia growers prefer a balanced food, but high nitrogen will make your Begonia leggy. Dahlias are heavy feeders and like to be fed at quarter to half strength every two weeks but no more as too much food is bad for them. Begonias can be fed quarter strength every week. Be consistent, a calendar helps, and you will be amazed with your accomplishment.
This is the year you have decided to create your own baskets and containers or maybe you always have but never started early enough and had to wait until late June or July for Begonia and Dahlia blooms. We have all seen the incredible works of beauty that mysteriously appear in early every year, huge moss baskets or patio containers that seem too large to be believed. They all have one thing in common, gardeners with a plan! Begonias and Dahlias are two plants that can be easily started indoors in the late winter and each will benefit from the early start. Lilies are fast growing and flower somewhat earlier so an early start is not as important but it is possible.
To begin with, you will need a closed nursery flat with drainage and a good quality soilless mix. Fill your flat to within a half inch of the top and moisten the soilless mix but not to the point of being soggy. If you are starting Dahlias use a mixture of soilless mix and sand, lay out your Begonia or Dahlia bulbs to ensure they will fit and not impede one another once they sprout. Begonias are placed hollow or indented side facing up with an inch of mix over the top and dahlias with the eyes of the “bananas” facing up approximately 3 inches deep. It’s okay to lay the Dahlias horizontally, they are generally quite large. If your flat does not seem deep enough you can use a Rubbermaid tub, just be careful with the water.
Place your flats in a warm location or use a heating cable or mat to ensure the flat stays at about 60 degrees. If your home is very dry, you can cover the flats loosely with a plastic sheet to slow evaporation. Once you see activity above the soil surface, remove the covering, and you can water sparingly. When the new growth of either type of bulb is an inch or two tall, pick the bulbs out and plant them into pots large enough to contain them without a large amount of extra space, two times the size of your bulb is ideal. At this point, you can feed your bulbs with a quarter strength, low nitrogen fertilizer every other week.  Water the soil, not the leaves. You should consider placing your stakes in the pots next to the tubers now, it’s easier at this stage and you are less likely to damage a bulb.
You may need to move your new plants to larger pots prior to planting them in your outdoor containers or beds. It may seem like a lot of work but both of these plants will benefit from the attention. Once the outdoor temperature has reached 60 degrees you can plant them in their summer homes. Your begonias should be planted about an inch below the surface and your Dahlias can be planted with about an inch of the stems buried. If your Dahlias are taller than 12 inches you should pinch out the extra height, above the third set of leaves.  Each of these plants prefers a low nitrogen food similar in composition to vegetable food. Some Begonia growers prefer a balanced food, but high nitrogen will make your Begonia leggy. Dahlias are heavy feeders and like to be fed at quarter to half strength every two weeks but no more as too much food is bad for them. Begonias can be fed quarter strength every week. Be consistent, a calendar helps, and you will be amazed with your accomplishment.