Of bedstraw and rhubarb plants

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I suddenly have some horrible weed coming up in my flower beds. It is a skinny vine and all of it is like Velcro; it sticks to everything. I don’t remember it being there last year. How do I get this weed out of my beds and not hurt my flowers?

Your mystery weed sounds like bedstraw or it is also called catchweed bedstraw or cleavers. All parts of this annual vine are covered with small hairs with hooks at the end. Those give it the ability to cling to everything. Since the fruit that contains the seeds are also prickly, they stick to clothes and animal fur and get transported to new and exciting locations.

The plant has weak vines and will flop over all surrounding plants and cut off the light to them. The six to eight narrow leaves are arranged around the stem in whorls or circles. Bedstraw is a native plant but some magical set of circumstances of temperatures and rain has caused it to go crazy this spring. All the seeds that fall off will give you more bedstraw later in the season but spring is usually the best growing time.

If your skin is bothered by this scratchy plant, wear gloves and long sleeves while pulling it out. It has shallow roots so pulling is easy.

There is no herbicide that can be used with bedstraw. It is over and around everything in the flower bed. Nonselective herbicides will kill all the plants. Your flowers will be mostly broad leafed plants so you cannot use a broadleaf weed killer. There are no herbicides for bad plants versus good plants. So grab your gloves and start pulling. Every year, some weed gets its fifteen minutes of fame. So learn to identify it in case it gets extra minutes in the future.

I have some old rhubarb plants that used to look healthy. They now do not last the whole season; they just shut down. They are not as big as they once were. These plants have to be 20 years old. I tried planting their seeds and they don’t grow. How can I fix them or are they too old?

Rhubarb plants can live a long time but they require some care. The first clue to their problems is when you indicated that you are allowing them to flower. Once rhubarb has completed its prime objective, which is to make seeds, it shuts down. So when the large vertical seed stalk with a round head emerges from the middle of the plant, cut it off.

If the rhubarb has not been divided in the last decade, it is time to split the plant, but that adventure needs to happen in the early spring, around April. Roots can become so tough and woody and they are not vigorous anymore.

In April, dig up the big tough root. Use a hatchet, axe or big knife to cut the root into chunks. Each chunk needs at least one “eye” or bud that will become the leaves. The more buds, the bigger the plant. Replant the roots with the eyes not much more than one inch below the soil. Mix compost well into the planting hole with the soil, about half and half. Water deeply and mulch with straw.

In future years, in the early spring, a layer of composted manure can be used to ring the crown of the plant. This is both the fertilizer and the mulch. Be sure to plant in full sun. The rhubarb plants will need a year or so to return to their former glory. Then, it’s rhubarb and apple cobbler for everyone. Just don’t eat the leaves. They are poisonous.

About Maria Stuart 212 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.