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Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

Q: I am thinking about buying some milkweed seed and planting it for monarch butterflies, but one thing worries me. Is it likely to become an invasive weed?

A: That is not a worry. Common milkweed is indeed a weed in the plains of the central United States, where it is a native perennial with a big root system. Here, milkweed is more likely to refuse to grow at all. It seems to be very fussy about where it will live. You may notice milkweed plants at this time of year, most often at the edge of a grain field. The plants will be two or three feet tall, and the seed parachutes will be a silky white mass bulging out of the big seedpods.

If you want to grow your own, look for a milkweed plant and harvest some seeds. They will be ripe at this time of year. More important, they will be adapted to this climate and will have a good chance of growing. Plant them outdoors so that they are exposed to winter cold. Most milkweed seeds require chilling in damp soil before they will sprout.

If you prefer to start your seeds growing in the house, you can store them dry and cold until late winter. Then put a little damp potting soil with the seeds in a plastic bag and refrigerate the bag for a month before planting the seed in spring. Milkweed seeds, like many other wild plants from cold climates, know that they will die if they sprout on a warm autumn day. They have learned to wait until winter is over — whether real or faked winter — before they start to grow.

After its period of cold, you should allow two months from the time you plant the seeds indoors until the seedling plants are big enough to move outside. To be healthy, the milkweed will need to grow next summer in a sunny, open spot with regular watering. Raising food for monarch caterpillars is a real challenge in western Montana.

Q: Is it really true that garlic is easy to grow?

A: It is. Buy any kind of garlic, including that at a grocery store, as a source of cloves to plant. Plant only the biggest cloves, from the outside of the bulb, and eat the rest. Plant cloves about five inches apart and one inch deep, with the pointed end up. Get the garlic into the ground sometime in the first half of October. It will make roots but not green tops before winter comes.

The only trick to growing garlic is to cover it with a couple of inches of mulch for the winter. Any kind of loose, dry mulch will work. (I use pine needles because I have a big supply.) Cover the garlic after the ground freezes for the winter, sometime near Christmas. Uncover it in March, when the green shoots appear.

Next summer while the garlic grows, all it needs is sunlight and regular watering. The biggest job will be the usual weed removal. Garlic planted this fall will be ready to harvest next July, when three leaves at the bottom of the stem have turned brown.

Q: I am interested in the deer repellant called Deer Ban. Does it smell so bad that I would not be able to use it near the house?

A: I have a sensitive nose, and I smelled nothing at all.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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