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Originally published Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:07 PM

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In the Garden

Stake perennials early in the growing season

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris recommends staking tall growing perennials before they blow over in the wind. He also offers tips on harvesting rhubarb and growing corn in the western part of the state.

Special to The Seattle Times

If there isn't an old English saying that states it's better to stake your plant before than after it falls down, there should be. Plants such as delphiniums, dahlias and lilies may look like they can stand on their own, but all it takes is one windy day to knock the whole stand over.

Once a plant has fallen, it will take so many stakes and strings to keep it standing, the plant ends up looking like a hostage in the front yard!

My favorite system is to use English Y Stakes (available at most nurseries). They come with sturdy aluminum poles of various lengths topped with wire arms that can be bent to support most any shape of plant. The arms also contain eyes at the end so you can use wire to hook a number of stakes together to encircle the plant for added stability.

Y stakes are expensive, but they're much easier to use than bamboo and string, and can be reused year after year.

How to harvest rhubarb

Despite its tart fruitlike flavor, rhubarb is actually a vegetable related to sorrel. Starting in May, you can harvest rhubarb for about eight weeks.

Harvest the biggest stems by grasping them at the base and pulling to the side. Never cut the stems as it leaves a stub that will decay. Stop harvesting after removing about half the stalks to allow the remaining foliage to replenish energy reserves. Promote regrowth by feeding with a nitrogen rich organic fertilizer once the harvest season is over.

Cut off any flower heads as soon as they appear because they weaken the plant.

Then pile plenty of ice cream on your rhubarb pie to ensure you eat from all levels of the food pyramid.

An early corn harvest

Even Brussels sprouts can't match the flavor of homegrown sweet corn. The problem with growing corn in Western Washington is that you must wait to sow seed in the garden until soil temperatures remain above 60 degrees, and by the time that happens, it's almost too late for the corn to grow and mature.

Get the jump on Mama Nature by starting your corn indoors now. Corn doesn't transplant well, so plant each seed in its own peat pot filled with starter soil available at your local nursery. Keep the pots in a warm room or use a seedling heating mat to make sure that soil temperatures remain above 70 degrees.

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Grow the seedlings under fluorescent lights or put them outside on nice days, bringing them back into the unheated garage on cold nights.

Once they reach about 4 inches tall, plant the seedlings in the northeast side of the garden so as they grow, the tall corn plants won't shade out the rest of your crops.

Work about a half-pound of nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer such as 6-5-3 per 10 square feet, and plant your corn in a square pattern, spacing the plants about 18 inches apart to take maximum advantage of wind pollination. Keep the soil evenly moist, and harvest when the silks turn brown and milky liquid squirts out when you poke a fingernail into a kernel.

For indescribably sweet flavor, eat it as soon as you harvest, either by dunking it into very hot water — or just eat it raw right off the plant!

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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