Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Feed your lawn, eat your rhubarb this spring

The middle of March is a good time to give your lawn a spring feeding. You can assure a grass-roots movement by raking the lawn first to remove dead grass, storm debris and leaves so the lawn food can fall more easily onto the soil.

Do not waste your money on a weed and feed product. The soil is too cold, and many weeds are not yet actively growing. By encouraging the lawn to grow now it will crowd out newly emerging weeds.

Got lots of moss in your lawn? There is nothing wrong with enjoying a moss lawn and making peace with Mother Nature.

Moss stays green during the summer; it crowds out dandelions and other wind blown weeds and is soft to walk upon. Another huge advantage of a moss lawn is that it does not need mowing.

Most lawns in the Northwest are part moss and part grass. The moss takes over in the winter when the soil is wet and the grass will dominate in the summer.

Feeding the lawn in early spring helps the winter weary lawn to wake up and compete with the moss. Moss killing products are effective in the short run but you must change the soil conditions to keep the moss from coming back. This means improve the drainage, limb up trees to allow more sunlight, and add lime to make the soil less acid.

Q. We moved into a house with rhubarb plants. How and when does one cut rhubarb? Also, someone said the leaves are poisonous. Is this true? N.Email

A. First, back away from that knife. You should not cut the stems but instead grab and pull off to the side so that you’ll take the entire stem and petiole of the rhubarb stalk.

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks are 12 to 18 inches long. You should stop harvesting when the stalks that emerge become smaller – usually in late spring. Yes, the leaves of rhubarb plants are poisonous but then so are the leaves of many other edible plants. I like to cut off the large leaves from the stalk while still in the garden and use them as a weed blocking mulch around other plants.

To sweeten the stems after you harvest, peel them and soak in cold water for a few hours. During the summer, rhubarb will send up stalks of white blooms – remove these if you want a strong harvest next year as the flowers take nutrients away from the plant. Rhubarb is considered a spring tonic plant – enjoy too much and you’ll wake up frisky and dance around the garden at sunrise.

Q. I have gray, flat, weird growths on my tree trunks and some azalea branches. It is not moss; it is a gray or silver color. Is there a spray I can use to save my plants? S.S., Email

A. No need to get excited over the 50 shades of gray in your garden. Your plants are not being tortured by this natural growth, and it does no harm. After our warm, wet winter many plants display a combination of fungus and alga called lichen. If you really do not like the lichen, you can free your plants from its bondage by using a brush or gloved hand to rub it off.

On tree trunks you can dip a soft brush into a weak bleach solution (2 tablespoons bleach to one quart of water) and scrub the lichen off. A much more practical approach is to appreciate the added silver sheen and enjoy the lichen. Many cultures use lichen to make food, medicine, soap and dyes.

Q. If I see plants like candytuft, pansies and primroses for sale at the grocery. Does this mean it is time to plant these into my garden? B.G., Puyallup

A. The simple answer is yes. Perennials such as hellebores, rock garden plants, hardy pansies and primroses can be added to beds, containers and window boxes now, as they can survive frost.

Just know that any greenhouse grown plant may need to be hardened up a bit by exposing them to cold nights gradually. Let newly purchased plants sit in a protected area on a covered porch or patio for a week or so until they toughen up or cover the sweet young things with a sheet the first few nights if a frost is expected.

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