Gardening: Let’s stalk about planting rhubarb

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A RHUBARB revival has taken place in the last few years, with restaurants serving up good old-fashioned crumbles – maybe with a hint of ginger – and a little work now can ensure a good supply of strong, tender stalks.

It’s extremely easy to grow and you can start now, planting dormant crowns in a richly manured spot with fairly heavy soil. It often does well near compost heaps, making the most of the rich run-off in the soil. If you can find a spot in full sun, even better, as this will encourage the stems to develop a redder hue and a sweeter flavour. It can be picked as required between April and July.

Established rhubarb crowns can be forced now for the earliest tender stems. Forcing excludes light from the growing crown, by the use of a rhubarb forcer or just an upturned bucket. Keeping the crowns in the dark encourages the plant to send out tender young stems, which are forced upwards looking for light.

Heaping compost, straw or well-rotted manure around the forcer or bucket will generate a bit more warmth and they will start producing even sooner. Pull the stems as you need them until the end of March, but then uncover the plant, allowing it to grow naturally, for the rest of the season.

But there are plenty of other gardening jobs you can also be getting round to this weekend and the coming winter weeks.

• Order summer-flowering bulbs, particularly if you are planning to grow any that need to be started off indoors, such as tuberous begonias;

• Sow quick-growing perennials such as campanulas and poppies to flower this year;

• To perk up a winter display, replace badly damaged plants with pots of dwarf, early-flowering bulbs, such as scillas and narcissi;

• In sheltered areas, prune tender climbers and wall shrubs that are already showing signs of strong growth, to further encourage growth;

• Cut back the dead stems of ornamental grasses to ground level;

• Not always a favourite, but keep weeding to ensure perennial weeds do not take hold before spring.