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Rhubarb and the battle of the bindweed…

Fruit bushes waiting to be planted

A fruity little number…

For years I’ve kept a number of currant and berry bushes in pots down the side of the vegetable garden, waiting for the day when I would get around to clearing some space for them to stretch their roots.

This winter I decided that enough was enough; the fruit bushes were outgrowing their containers and also beginning to get in the way of the rapidly establishing raspberry canes; it was high time to get digging.

A handful of bindweed roots

Battling with bindweed…

On the ornamental side of the garden is a patch of  ground I have pondered on as a potential site for a fruit cage for a couple of years, but being one of the last bastions for bindweed I’ve been rather reluctant to tackle it. Those of you who have this perennial weed will appreciate just how persistent it is, and in our garden it chooses to hunker way down in the deep top soil below the range of any fork.

However, over the past month I set about digging this area, which is approximately 3m square. I removed five or six large compost bags of bindweed root and a couple of shrubs that were well past their sell by date in the process, but before I could start to settle my fruit bushes, I had one last thing to do, I had to move some rhubarb…

Early rhubarb leaves

Rhubarb, rhubarb…

I’m not a big fan of rhubarb to eat, but I do love its beautiful architectural leaves and so it’s taken pride of place in the herbaceous border since we moved it about 10 years ago. This particular plant was inherited along with the house and garden, so I’m not sure how long it had been lurking at the bottom of the garden, but it must have been there at least 20 years as it was huge and moving it was a mammoth task. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to moving it again.

Rhubarb and sugar waiting to be made into jam

Rhubarb jam – in progress…

For some reason, many of the rhubarb’s leaves had got going early this year and carried on growing despite having been covered with snow for a week at the end of January. It seemed a shame to waste them, so before I started digging the plant up I pulled all the leaves off and saved them for making some early rhubarb jam, another of the great recipes from Pam Corbin’s ‘Preserves’ book; never miss an opportunity to make something from your garden!

A rhubarb plant being dug up

The garden gym…

HOW TO: Moving rhubarb is an interesting feat of strength, but is probably something we should all do on a regular basis to remove old ‘wood’ and keep the plant growing well. The basic method is as follows:

  • Dig a ‘moat’ around the plant that’s about 12-18″ deep
  • Cut off any large roots that protrude beyond the diameter of the plant and also underneath (last time the rhubarb’s roots were the size of my arm, but this time they were only about 1″ in diameter – phew!)
  • Get your fork underneath and lift until the plant comes loose and can be moved somewhere for splitting
Hollow sections of rhubarb that have been cut off and discarded

Hollow legs?

Being the best part of 30 years old (!), the plant was in a bit of a bad way (but not so bad, considering its age), and so I hacked off over half of the existing plant with a spade, removing parts of the body and root that were completely hollow.

Removing this old hollow ‘wood’ is very important, as not only does it lend a space for small creatures to lurk, such as slugs, but it also provides the perfect hideout for bindweed, neither of which you want to encourage!

A crown of rhubarb

Crowning glory!

Once the dead areas were trimmed back I had a nice crown of rhubarb with lots of healthy little rootlets ready  to replant, along with my blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and a jostaberry.

Rhubarb leaves just poking though the soil in late winter

Signs of spring!

Unfortunately, with daylight still at a premium in February I didn’t get as far as planting everything, but they’re all positioned in their pots waiting for the coming weekend. I can’t wait until they’re all in and I can look forward to the coming season of fruit (weather permitting).

With regard to the bindweed, I’m sure the war’s not over yet, even though I may have won this particular battle. With fruit bushes growing, I’m going to have to be vigilant about removing any bindweed growth as soon as it appears and hope it eventually gives up the fight…

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