By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

This is a really yucky time of the year. Lawns are brown, covered in twigs and treasures the dog has dragged home from all over the neighborhood. The mess is driving Petunia buggy. But now is not the time to be raking up the mess.  Until you can comfortably kneel or sit on the lawn without getting a damp bum, stay off the grass. Raking a wet lawn opens up bare spots and tears up the grass giving weed seeds an opening to sprout. Walking on the soft, wet grass isn’t a good idea either as it packs it down, never a good thing.

Stay out of the flower garden too. It is much too easy to step on a just emerging lily destroying that bloom for this year. Your big feet may just pack down the soil over   a tulip or daff, setting them back a bit. Wait until you see a lump of mulch where a daffodil or snowdrop is popping up. Then gently loosen the mulch around it. Don’t remove it as it is keeping weeds from coming up with the flowers.

If you are a Martha type, those last year’s flower stems sticking out of the mulch are making your clipper finger itchy. If you must cut them down, don’t burn them. Pile them in an out of the way place as, more often than not, a pollinator is sleeping in a hollow stem. Leave a bit of stem standing as it may also have an occupant.

Rhubarb will soon be poking those tender pink buds out of the ground. Did you know that rhubarb originated in Siberia?  That is why it does so well in the northern tier of states. It actually likes our cool summers and deep freeze winters.

If you are planning to transplant a hunk of rhubarb this spring, start by looking for a spot in full sun, then plan to do a lot of digging. Site plants at least 4 feet apart. Now, dig a hole 18 inches deep. That’s right a foot and a half. Now throw all the good stuff you have been saving in the hole, compost, well composted manure and a half cup of organic fertilizer. Mix well and drop in your ‘steckling’ the old timer’s word for a rhubarb transplant.  Mulch it well. Next spring when those pink noses are just poking through, fertilize heavily and keep the soil moist. Actually, if you have a low, damp spot in the garden, plant your pie plant there. Remember, rhubarb is a very hungry plant.

Don’t pull any stalks for the first year and stop harvesting about July fourth to give the plant time to get well established. Even if it is a well-established plant, Don’t pull stalks after July as even older plants need a recovery period. Remove flower stalks as soon as they appear as they take energy you want for the edible ribs. No matter if the stalks are green or red, if you cook them for any length of time the result will be green.

One easy and more healthy way to cook them is in the microwave. Rinse them well then cut to the length you desire.  Don’t add water. There is enough clinging to the pieces.  Put them in a larger dish than you think you need. Cook till tender then add sugar and stir.  Adding sugar before you cook it will result in a glob of hard sugar in the bottom of the bowl. The result will be thick, but the color will be brighter and you save time.

When Ma Nature gets over her fits, it will be a real spring.