Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, suggests planting a new Japanese Maple Acer palmatum 'Bihou' to add color to your garden; cutting the flowers from rhubarb before they weaken the plant and go to seed and heading out to some of the areas big spring plant sales.

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Available in local nurseries, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ is a thrilling new Japanese maple that is taking the gardening world by storm. The spring leaves emerge chartreuse, edged in red, turn green in summer, then burst into magnificent shades of yellow-tinged orange in fall. The best feature of all, however, is saved for winter. In cold weather, the bark glows orangish-yellow. Add red buds that contrast beautifully with the golden bark and you’ve got an unsurpassable winter display.

Even the name of this tree is irresistible. In Japanese, ‘Bihou’ means “beautiful mountain range.” This small, vase-shaped tree is fast growing when young, but is expected to only reach about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It’s a sun lover; so plant it in an open location where its glowing bark will light up the winter garden.

Cut the flowers off edible rhubarb

If you see a strange-looking growth appear on your rhubarb plant, cut it off. It’s a flower stalk and will weaken the plant if you allow it to remain and go to seed. That’s because it will expend more energy producing offspring than thick, juicy stalks.

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There are a number of reasons why rhubarb tends to flower heavily. Some of the older varieties are highly prone to flowering. Too little or the wrong fertilizer can also promote flowering. To discourage flowering and enhance stalk growth, apply organic lawn food in spring.

Finally, if your rhubarb plant is flowering heavily and you haven’t divided it in the last 8 to 10 years, it’s telling you its roots are overcrowded. Wait to divide the rootmass until it goes dormant next winter, then cut out and toss away the middle section and replant the ends.

Work in plenty of compost before replanting, and make sure the growing points are located right at the soil surface. Then make friends with a generous person with a big rhubarb patch. You can’t harvest any stalks the first season after you divide it, and you don’t want to suffer a whole year without rhubarb pie a la mode!

Feel good as you spend

Shopping at plant sales allows you to buy great plants without guilt because your purchase supports important causes and organizations. This weekend, three of my favorites are going on (see listings for details).

The 88th Annual Children’s Hospital Garden Sale will offer plants propagated by the staff from the famous hospital gardens. The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden Spring Plant Sale offers plants from more than 25 specialty nurseries, and a purchase gains you free admission to their great garden. The Northwest Perennial Alliance Plant Sale includes plants from specialty nurseries. In addition, they are selling selections from their famous NPA border at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

Watch for the following sales coming soon: The Arboretum Foundation FlorAbundance Spring Plant Sale (April 28 and 29) remains the big daddy of them all, offering a wide variety of plants from a dazzling collection of specialty nurseries. Note their sale will be at the arboretum this year.

The Kubota Garden Spring Plant Sale will be May 5 at 9817 55th Ave. S., Seattle. The King County Master Gardener Foundation Plant Sale will be May 5 and 6 at the Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st. St., Seattle.

The Seattle Tilth May Edible Plant Sale will be May 5 and 6 at 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle.

Ciscoe Morris:; “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING5.

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