GARDEN DOCTORS: Putting rhubarb leaves in compost?

  • Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilcherr; The Garden Doctors.

Nancy Martin writes: I've got some beautiful, healthy rhubarb plants growing alongside various other perennials in a raised bed in my garden. My question is this: I know that the leaves are toxic and should be discarded after harvesting the stalks. Can these leaves safely be put into the compost? Will the heat of composting neutralize the toxicity, rendering the compost safe to use?

Hmmm, good question! I have put rhubarb leaves for years in compost piles and have not observed any toxicity problems when the compost has been used in various planting beds throughout the garden. When one thinks about other common plants that are poisonous and break down readily during the compost process, it never seems to be a problem.

What you never want to add to your compost pile are plants that are diseased or known to be invasive. An example of an invasive grass is yellow nutsedge; it does not always break down in a home compost pile because the temperature is not hot enough to destroy the hard nutlets that form on the roots and consequently germinate to form many new plants.

D.A.L. asks: My Epiphyllum is green, lush and looks healthy but never blooms! I have it growing in a hanging basket under a sheltered porch with an eastern exposure to light. What am I doing wrong?

Epiphyllums, commonly known as orchid cactus, require bright indirect light, a fertile soil mixture that drains well and minimum temperatures of 50 degrees. Epiphyllums flower well if potbound!

It is most important to allow the orchid cactus to have a period of rest of 8 to 10 weeks during the winter months. During this rest period, water slightly if the leaf-like stems appear to be overly shriveled. Do bring your orchid cactus inside or hang it in a very protected area to avoid lower temperatures.

Water lightly but regularly starting in early spring (May-April) and continue though late summer (July). Also in early spring, begin a fertilizing program of applying a liquid fertilizing higher in potash and lower in nitrogen every two weeks when new flower buds begin to form. Too much water can also cause bud drop, so be careful not to lose the new buds with too much kindness!

Dolores Seda writes: How come I never can find when the horseradish should come out of the ground? When has it reached its full growth? I enjoyed your article, but unless I missed seeing it, nowhere does it say when to pull it out. . . . Please help.

P.S. When I do pull mine up it has the thickness of a "shoestring" . . . never thick and root-like . . . what am I doing wrong?

Dolores, it seems like you need some clarification! In November you can harvest by digging a trench 12 to 24 inches along the side of the plant, then working from the opposite side of the plant with a shovel or spading fork dig the roots. Use the top for pulling them laterally from the soil. If horseradish is fairly new, the roots may not be that thick, but will form thicker roots if the plants are more established. The rule of thumb for some growers is the diameter of the root should be about 1 inch.

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