Tips can help keep plants growing

posted June 11, 2018 7:31 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Bev Carney | Gardening Columnist

This year, my rhubarb is sending up flower stalks long before I have been able to pick as much rhubarb as usual. Doesn’t the flower stalk mean that the plant stops producing new shoots? Should I stop picking it?

The unseasonably cold weather, followed by record-breaking heat has forced the rhubarb to start producing later and send up a flower stalk prematurely. From the plant’s perspective, all it really wants to do is produce seed and it is doing its job. However, you can thwart this process. Just reach down to the bottom of the flower stalk and wrench it out or cut it out. Pay attention to the plant and as you see new flower stalks developing, take them out as well and your plant will keep producing for you.

Last year, my tomato plants looked awful. They had yellowing leaves with splotches and the bottom leaves all fell off. I figure this is one of those diseases that are so common, but what can I do to prevent this problem?

Good for you planning ahead to prevent diseases of your tomato plants. Once started, fungal diseases are hard to stop and prevention is the best cure. By now you probably have your plants in the ground. Ideally, you want lots of space between each plant and I recommend 4 to 5 feet in each direction. If yours are very close together, you might want to thin them, perhaps transplanting a few. Staking or caging tomatoes keeps the foliage off of the ground which helps. Be sure that your tomato cage is a tall and wide one. I like to use concrete reinforcing wire. For instructions, see https://​​diy-tomato-cages.

A thick layer of mulch all around the base of the plant will also keep the soil from splashing up onto the leaves, which is important since so many diseases attack the leaves. Mulch also preserves moisture, and maintaining consistent moisture levels prevents stress that can make the plant more susceptible to disease. Avoid watering with a sprinkler, using some sort of bottom watering, such as drip lines. Finally, a preventive treatment with a fungicide such as copper dust can help resist fungal spores. Oddly, this treatment should be applied when rain is anticipated.

Should you get splotchy and yellow leaves despite your best efforts, remove them from the plant and throw in the garbage. Consistent pruning of these leaves will extend the life of your plant. If disease persists, look for disease-resistant plants in the future and grow indeterminate varieties which, while also subject to the disease, keep producing leaves.

I’m excited to see strawberries developing on my plants and a few of them are even turning red. This is my first year getting berries. I have heard that there is a lot of maintenance necessary once harvest is finished. What do you suggest?

Congratulations on your first red strawberries. Home-raised strawberries, picked at the height of ripeness, are truly one of nature’s finest delights.

You are correct in that the plants will require some maintenance, but it is not too daunting. Of prime importance is to continue watering the plants until frost. That can be hard to remember to do once the harvest is over for the year. Strawberry plants produce runners which, when allowed to grow uncontrolled, can produce an over-crowded patch of land. You will want to watch for these runners and place them where you want them to grow in the future. These will be your new plants.

For detailed instructions on growing and maintaining a strawberry bed, see https://​​ydbj8fgy.

Beverly Carney can be reached at

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