Ask the Gardener: Butterfly weed, tomato seeds, rose bushes and more

Posted on: October 12, 2018 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Gardening editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

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(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

Butterfly weed

Question 1: Butterfly weed

Lyman: I am harvesting seeds from the butterfly weed plant (asclepias tuberosa) and was wondering if there are any special things I need to do to prepare the seeds for planting next spring (such as storing them in a cold environment to break dormancy)? Any tips you have for giving the seeds the best chance to propagate would be greatly appreciated!

Doug: The seeds will need to be stratified if saved and then sowed in the spring. Put them in a sealed container and store them in the fridge for two months before planting. Another way to get them to sprout would be to plant them right away in a bed and let nature do the work. Then they will sprout when they are ready in the spring. You might want to try both ways to see which one works best.

Question 2: Tomato seeds

Mary Ann: To save seeds from a special tomato, do I need to let the tomato rot?

Doug: It needs to be a little overripe to be sure the seeds are mature. One thing to note, if the tomato is a hybrid variety, it won’t grow true. The seed will either be sterile or revert to one of the parents used in the breeding process. It can be interesting to see what happens, but it’s not the same tomato. If it’s a hybrid variety, that is always on the seed packet. The other type of tomatoes are open pollinated. Those seeds will grow the same type of tomato.

Squeeze the seed into a glass of water. Stir it once or twice a day for two or three days. This starts a fermentation process that removes the gelatinous coating on the seed and kills some diseases. I like to dry mine on coffee filters as the seeds don’t stick to them. Store the seeds in an airtight container to keep them dry.

Question 3: Winterizing rose bushes

Bobbie: How do I winterize rose bushes? Do I trim and then cover them somehow?

Doug: Any deadwood can be cut off now, but the major pruning will be done in April. Once the ground freezes, a light coating of mulch at the base will act as a blanket for the roots. Just make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk of the plant.

Question 4: Winter rye

Josie: Can I plant winter rye in raised beds and if so, how can I prepare the beds in spring?

Doug: Yes, the winter rye is called a cover crop. It will hold the good soil in place, provide a habitat for beneficial insects and green manure in the spring. Cut down the foliage in the spring and leave it as a mulch for plants or turn it under. Remember though, the sheared plants stop seeds from sprouting, so put in plants.

Question 5: Garlic

Becky: Can garlic be planted in a 4x8x2 foot raised bed and survive winter and grow? Or do I need to plant it in the ground.

Doug: That will work. The key will be giving the cloves a thick layer of straw. Six inches or more. Over the winter it will flatten down. If you even wanted to cover the whole bed after mulching with a floating row cover, that would even keep the bulbs warmer over the winter.

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