Ask the gardening expert

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I was surprised to see my big rhubarb plant beginning to bolt here in early April. Do I have to stop harvesting so soon?

You will not need to stop using stalks from the plant, but do reach in and cut off the bloom as close to the base as you can. It may try to bolt more than once -- remove the flowering stalk each time

There are several reasons that a rhubarb plant bolts. Of course, we know it is flowering and attempting to set seed. Some older varieties bloom earlier than the more modern varieties on the market these days. It’s sometimes hard to know if you have the older varieties such as Victoria or MacDonald. If it’s been there some time and you feel it’s coming into bloom or “bolting” sooner, maybe it is an older variety, and it may need to be divided. Dividing it may solve the early bolt, or you might replace it with one of the newer cultivars, such as Canada Red or Valentine.

My neighbor cut off all the daffodils this afternoon. They just faded this week; isn’t this too early to do that?

Yes, I think it is, if he cut the leaves as well as the flower stalk. The leaves need to remain on the plant and photosynthesize in order to build strength for next year’s bloom. Most of the informational resources tell us to reduce watering after the bloom, but that’s a little difficult here in the Pacific Northwest. It rains and the daffodil is going to get wet! But somehow it seems to bloom next year.

I hope your neighbor’s do bloom again. I just can’t recommend cutting off the leaves before they are ready to dry up naturally.

When I plant my containers, do I have to make sure all the plants are either for sun or for shade? Can I mix them?

I do mine; the reason I think I get away with it is that in most gardens it’s not a matter of all sun or all shade. In most gardens, I’ve noticed, we have sun for so many hours, but then dappled shade and sun. I also hide/protect delicate plants toward the center, with tougher sun plants on the outer side of the container. If you had nothing but sun in your yard all day, then I think you might want to be pretty careful in plant selecting -- I’d also think you might be thinking of doing some major landscape planting to create some shade!

From the past, I know you don’t think people should plant tomatoes until about June. My brother is planting his outside now. He has a plastic thing with water in it surrounding it. He says it works fine. What do you think of this method?

You are right that’s not something I would do, but I know lots of folks get quite a bit of fun working on a project like this. They have some success often enough to keep it fun for themselves, so why not?

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.