ASK THE GARDENERS. Q&A

Q I have purchased a beautiful but neglected farm in West Virginia and would like to grow American ginseng and Jerusalem artichoke. Will these grow in that area? What special conditions do they need? Do you know of of a source? J.C. Lynbrook, N.Y.

Both plants will grow in most areas of West Virginia. Ginseng is more difficult to grow than Jerusalem artichoke (Girasole, or Helianthus tuberosus), a close relative of sunflower. Ginseng prefers a moist wooded area, although it needs good drainage. Both seeds and roots are an expensive investment if you are thinking of quantity. For example, stratified (cold treated) seeds can cost as much as $85 a pound or $10,000 an acre.

Commercial growers sometimes start plants from seeds, but if the seeds are unstratified, they need a cool treatment for four months before they germinate. Coldframes are often used for starting. From seeds, it can take five years to form good roots. Lath houses are used to simulate tree-shaded conditions.

In winter, plants should have a mulch of leaves. You should contact the state cooperative agricultural extension service in that area before getting serious about large-scale growing of ginseng.

Girasole will grow in any good garden soil and needs full sun for good tuber production. Plants need watering during dry spells if you want good-size tubers, but plants are extremely hardy. Ginseng roots and Jerusalem artichokes (not true artichokes) are available from Gurney Seed & Nursery Co., Yankton, SD 57079. It will send growing instructions. Q I have a question that is late this year but the answer will be helpful next spring. I have been told that rhubarb cannot be harvested after blossoms appear because it then becomes unfit to eat.

Is this true? R.S. Boise, Ind.

Rhubarb stalks can still be pulled and eaten after blooms appear. It is best, however, to remove the blossom stalks as soon as they appear so that leaf stalks will continue to grow and remain tender.

If blooms are left to go to seed, they are a drain on the plant and tender growth stops. Blooms are a signal to the plant to stop producing for the season.

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