David Loftus
Rhubarb, like other garden plants, can develop problems that limit the crop.

Dear Martha: My bathtub has seen better days. What are the options for making it look new again?

A: You could just replace the bathtub, but this is a costly (not to mention messy) option better left for a total bathroom renovation. There are two neater, more affordable solutions to consider. The first is to have the tub relined. To do so, a professional from a relining company must take precise measurements of the bathtub and have an acrylic liner fabricated. About six weeks later, an installer will bond the new liner to the old tub.

The second option is to have the tub refinished. This technique is similar to auto-body repair, except that it happens right there in your bathroom. A technician will clean the tub, fill any scratches, buff the surface and spray on a few coats of enamel. The process is intrusive, but it will preserve any intricate details in the surface more precisely than a liner, plus you won't have to wait a month and a half for your new tub.

Dear Martha: My rhubarb plants have spots all over their leaves. What are they and should I be concerned?

A: Rhubarb is a resilient plant, but it can develop two fungal leaf spots. Although the infections aren't likely to kill the rhubarb, they can weaken it over time, which in turn could limit your crop.

Ascochyta leaf spot is the more common of the two in most regions. It affects only the leaves of the plant and looks different depending on the stage of infection. In the beginning, yellow patches form on the foliage. Eventually the blemishes turn brown and then drop out of the leaf, leaving a small hole that could be confused with insect damage.

The other leaf spot is called ramularia. It attacks the leaves and edible stalks, so an extreme infestation could spoil your crop. Ramularia is occasionally called "red leaf" because the spots are crimson when they first appear. As the leaf tissue dies, the spots turn tan, but they don't fall out and leave a hole. After ramularia has spread to all the leaves, it will cause the stalks to turn brown and wither.

The best way to control leaf spot is to remove all infected leaves as soon as you notice the blemishes (do not throw them in a compost). The use of fungicides isn't recommended; not only is cutting back the contaminated plant parts enough to contain an outbreak, but harmful residues could end up on the edible stalks.

Rhubarb leaf spots are common in spring and early summer. A few sound horticultural practices should prevent an outbreak. Buy healthy, disease-free plants from a reputable source, and plant them in nutrient-rich soil. Site rhubarb in a sunny spot, and don't overwater, as moist, stagnant conditions are ideal for fungal growth. It's important that you remove dead foliage when the plant goes dormant; the spores that cause leaf spots will survive in the withered matter throughout winter, lying in wait for new leaves to develop.

Dear Martha: Do you have any advice for taking a pet bird on a road trip?

A: Some birds travel better than others. A few practice drives around the neighborhood will determine your feathered friend's tolerance.

Regular birdcages are not suitable carriers, however, because sudden stops can cause a bird to flutter around and get its feet stuck in the bars. Instead, use a small pet carrier (some are designed for birds, although a cat carrier will also suffice) with ventilation holes. Secure it with seat belts or bungee cords.

If the trip will be shorter than two hours, water and food shouldn't be necessary for larger birds, such as a cockatiel. But small birds, including finches and canaries, require a constant supply. Plan for some extra pit stops on longer jaunts, since most birds don't like eating or drinking during excessive movement.

When packing the car, put your bird in last so that you don't forget it's in there — a real danger during hot summer days.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: [email protected]. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com. © Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. Dist. by The New York Times Syndicate