Ask the gardening expert

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My raised bed veggie garden is loaded with weeds. In the spring, how can they be prevented from growing without affecting young veggie plants? There is what I think is chickweed in the flower beds as well.

In the raised bed, I think the easiest option would be to cover them over with a good thick layer of organic compost, then hand pull the weeds — they are easy to pull normally, but even more so after a layer of compost has wintered over on the surface covering the weeds. Chickweed grows best during the fall and winter months. To prevent this small-leaf succulent weed from taking over your beds and borders, check regularly and pull any you find. Just make sure they are not allowed to go to seed.

After reading that tulip bulbs should really be treated as annuals in most garden beds and that container planting was an option, I planted my tulips in a container and placed them in my garage for the winter. They have started to grow — should I take them outside now, despite the possibility of freezing weather? What do I do after they have bloomed? Do I need to discard them or can they be salvaged for container planting next year. If so, how do I salvage them?

Your containers of tulips should be taken outdoors now so they can bloom on schedule. The bulbs are pretty tough, but if they are in clay pots or don't have adequate drainage, you might want to just sink the pots into the ground to give the roots and pots a little protection from a hard freeze. Normally, early spring bulb leaves contain a natural antifreeze, so if the weather is too cold, they'll stop growing, then continue when the cold moderates a bit. They should be just fine in the weather. When temperatures warm up, they'll begin growing again. After they've finished blooming, let the leaves die down naturally, then dig and replant in beds if you care to and they may survive for a season or two before the gophers or deer find them. This coming spring, it will be easy to hide the dying bulb foliage with all the other dwarf plants in the container. When they are finished, I find the dead leaves pull away easily. Mine have come back for the third year. They have better and more blooms each year

I have several PJM rhododendrons in a shaded woodland garden. All are planted in the same area and conditions. All have been in this location for two years with excellent results except for one of the three rhodies that has rolled-up leaves (lengthwise like a taco shell) and is not blooming like the other five. It has small buds, but no flowers. Its leaves are staying darker brown than the others, too. Any ideas on what's going on with this rhodie? We had several days of quite cold nights that left many plants with brownish, curled leaves. But this rhodie did not come out of it the way the others did.

PJM rhodies are among the most trouble-free shrubs — they're resistant to root weevils (a common problem in the Pacific Northwest), and usually do not develop bacterial leaf spots — but like all plants, they have their limits. Rhodies tend to curl their leaves under toward the center vein when temperatures reach freezing. This is their way of conserving moisture and allowing only the smallest amount of leaf surface to be exposed to cold weather. The foliage should uncurl when temperatures rise. If the leaves on your PJM have not returned to normal, perhaps the freezing rain and wind damaged it to the point where it will not recover. If the roots and stems of this rhododendron are healthy, the damaged foliage will be shed and new leaves will develop. You can check for life in the stems by gently scraping the bark away with your thumbnail. Green tissue directly beneath the bark indicates live tissue; in spring, it may respond by producing new leaves. However, If you can't find live wood, you may want to replace that one PJM. Since this rhodie is the only one that way, you might want to dig it up and check the root system. The roots may be tangled, or damaged in some way that indicates it was doomed from the start, but had not shown signs yet. Additionally poor drainage can cause root rot, and rhododendrons are notoriously susceptible to root rot. You would be able to tell by looking at the roots (healthy roots are creamy white on the inside; dead or dying roots are rusty orange or brown). Soil drainage can differ from one spot to another in a garden.


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