Ask the gardening expert



Each winter, chickweed wants to cover my empty raised beds. I pull it out but it gets the best of me by the end of winter. How can I keep it out? Should I spray it in fall to kill it?

I'm not sure why you need to keep it out. It makes a pretty good ground cover — much better than thistle, morning glory, wild grasses or other weedy stuff. I suggest you let it grow there, and turn it under in spring when you are ready to plant. It will act as a green manure and add nutrients to the soil. Something will grow in any empty bed, and chickweed is not one of the bad things to have overwintering there.

We've had a big patch of rhubarb for years. My daughter wants a start, and since we're at it, I'd like to move it to another location. Is this the time?

I think it might be better to dig the plant up in late November. If it's an old plant and the root is large, there will likely be crusty fiber that you should discard. Check for strong buds or eyes (growing points), and perhaps even a few immature leaves attached. Cut the root up, so that each clump has a strong bud. Replant with eyes at the soil line, in a good sunny spot. Don't pull any stalks from the plants this spring; let the new plants become well-established. And harvest only lightly the second year.

I've read that saffron comes from crocus. The garden in my rental has some big purple blooms coming up, and the neighbor told me they are autumn crocus. Is this the right kind to use for saffron?

Sorry to disappoint you, but this fall-blooming bulb is colchicum, not the same species. In fact, autumn crocus is poisonous. This bulb sends up green leaves in spring and summer that wither away as the weather warms, then blooms in early fall. The saffron crocus is Crocus sativus. Only its stigma is harvested, and it takes about 4,000 blooms to yield an ounce of saffron.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to