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How To Grow Your Own Rhubarb

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestHow To Grow Your Own Rhubarb

Sometimes, it can feel like living in the north excludes home gardeners from a lot of tropical fun. But there are also perks. Take the "pie plant," for instance. Rhubarb is native to Siberia, and thrives in the cold. It's known for its pink stalks used in jam and pie fillings. This spring vegetable is quite tart, but the German wine and Cherry red rhubarb varieties are among the sweetest kinds.

You can experiment with a few varieties until you find one (or more) you like. If given proper care, rhubarb has longevity and will bless your garden with edible stalks for over a decade.

Growing rhubarb from seed will cost a fraction of what you'll pay for a rhubarb crown at the nursery. If you're lucky, a friend will have a rhubarb crown to gift you for free. You'll need patience if you opt for seeds, though, as it takes another year to establish.

Soak the seeds for a couple of hours before planting them in compost. They'll take up to two weeks to germinate.

Share to PinterestGarden rhubarb or common rhubarb (Rheum × hybridum, cultivated form


Planting your rhubarb

Share to PinterestClose-up of rhubarb red stems in the vegetable garden with a nice contrast between red ans green

Rhubarb soil should be well-draining, fertile, and loamy to retain water. Mix in compost so the organic matter can provide a healthy dose of nutrients. Don't concern yourself too much with the soil pH, but aim for soil with less salt. Plant your rhubarb crowns about three feet apart, with three feet between rows, and water generously.


A healthy start: sunlight requirements for rhubarb

Select a spot in your garden that receives full sun. A partially shaded area could work too, and shade is welcome in hot climates. Across the pond in the U.K., rhubarbs often fill shaded gardens. Still, these plants do best when they can get at least five hours of direct sunlight.

Rhubarb generally prefers cooler climates.

Share to PinterestClose-up shot of the garden rhubarb plant growing in the garden with big, fresh, ripe fleshy, edible stalks in the garden in bright sunlight


A healthy start: watering

Rhubarb grows best when it's watered frequently and deeply because it absorbs liquid and nutrients through its root system. However, if you overwater your rhubarb, it will become susceptible to crown and root rot. This combination of traits explains why rhubarb thrives in quick-draining soil.

In most gardens, rhubarb plants survive on rainwater alone. Most experts recommend additional watering only during the hot summer months.

Share to PinterestThe gardener waters rhubarb bush in the garden from a green watering can


A healthy start: special nutrients

Rhubarb plants benefit from an all-purpose, balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Feed each plant half a cup in spring and fall. You could also use an organic fertilizer with bonemeal. Sprinkle the fertilizer on the topsoil around the plant, not on the crown.

Nitrogen is the mineral nutrient most needed by rhubarb—it helps with leaf growth.

Share to PinterestGarden rhubarb or common rhubarb (Rheum × hybridum, cultivated form


USDA hardiness zone information

Rhubarb is a very hardy, cool-season vegetable. Its leaves can tolerate low temperatures of 35F without damage, and the crown can survive dry, frozen soil for months. You can grow rhubarb in USDA zones three to eight. Most of the rhubarb in the country comes from Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, and Canada also has good growing conditions.

The cold, together with genes, is what gives rhubarb the pink hue preferred by the market. This is not a veggie adapted to Florida, unfortunately.

Share to PinterestRhubarb growing in the garden during spring


Healthy growth: pruning your rhubarb

You should prune your rhubarb after it dies back in the fall, when the leaves and stalks have been through the wringer after a hard freeze. Rhubarb is known for bolting, but its resources could be better spent forming prized stalks. The Canada Red and Valentine varieties are less likely to bolt. If your plants do rush to seed, remove the flowering stalks as soon as you can see them to stimulate new ones.

Share to PinterestRhubarb harvest in organic garden. Farmers hand cutting rhubarb stalk with knife


Harvest time

Don't cut rhubarb. Instead, hold the stalk, pull, and twist. If you go in with a knife, you're going to leave a stump susceptible to rotting. Harvest when the stems are about 10 inches long, and don't take more than half of the stem. You can expect a 10-foot row of plants to yield up to 30 pounds of rhubarb.

Share to PinterestRhubarb stems freshly cut on a wooden table with a straw hat and pruning shears. Harvest rhubarb in the garden on a sunny summer day. Flat lay.


Can I propagate my rhubarb?

Share to PinterestGrowing rhubarb with a sign on which the name of the plant is written

Rhubarb is propagated by dividing one plant at the roots, resulting in several plants with identical genetics. This method works best on healthy plants five or six years old. Dig up the plant from the roots, taking care not to damage the rootball. Identify the small buds located around the stem.

Separate the plant by cutting between these buds so that each cutting has a bud, a rhizome, and some roots. For best results, plant the cuttings in late winter or autumn.


Common diseases

Different diseases can cause spots on your rhubarb's leaves that vary in size and color. These tiny spots are often mistaken as damage caused by insects, or they might be caused by leftover pesticides.

Diseases such as ramularia and ascochyta appear as tiny spots on rhubarb leaves. These pathogens cover plants in a fungus that produces spores that can infect all nearby plants, so if you notice this disease developing, it might be necessary to dispose of your infected plants.

Share to PinterestYoung adult woman hand showing damaged green rhubarb leaf after pests attack. Garden problems. Closeup.


Common pests

Rhubarb has few enemies in the insect world. and it's rare for the plants to fall to disease. Caterpillars, slugs, and beetles may attack the plants if their defenses are ever down. These insects primarily consume the poisonous leaves, so it may not be necessary to use pesticides to get rid of them—the plant has mounted its own defense!

To deter pests from the start, keep your garden free from weeds and don't overwater the plants.

Share to PinterestDense colony of black bean aphid found on rhubarb. Additional ants crawling


Showing off your rhubarb

Share to PinterestRhubarb stalks harvested and ready for sale at a farmers market

The early stages of planting rhubarb are the most aesthetically pleasing. The plants are small enough to afford passersby glimpses of pinks and reds. Rhubarb's foliage then grows big and lush and hides the pomegranate-colored stalks.

Rhubarb is a perennial plant productive for up to 15 years; plant it towards the perimeter of your veggie garden or next to a fence.


Similar plants

Swiss chard looks a lot like rhubarb, except you can eat its leafy green leaves without trouble. Knotweed, on the other hand, looks nothing like rhubarb but tastes a whole lot like the "pie plant" and can also be eaten raw or cooked.

P.S.: to eat rhubarb raw, you might want to dip it in honey to tone down the sharp taste.

Share to PinterestKnotweed Japanese, invasive expansive species of dangerous plants leaf stems


Cautions and additional information

The innocuous-looking heart-shaped leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic to humans and pets. They contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can lead to food poisoning. Some suggest you don't add the leaves to your compost heap, but the oxalic acid actually breaks down, making the plant safe for compost.

Share to PinterestFresh young rhubarb leaves on an old wooden table. Top view. Vegetarian food. The medicinal plant is useful for the cardiovascular system.


Varieties of rhubarb

Share to PinterestFreshly hand picked organic rhubarb at an open air farmers market.

There are many rhubarb varieties, and the best choice for you depends on your preferences, the intended use of your harvest, and your location.

  • Valentine: This strain grows large stalks that are both green and red. It's popular for making jams and pies.
  • Cherry Red: This plant produces an abundance of sweet, tender red stalks that are known for their thickness and length.
  • Victoria: This variety of rhubarb develops pink speckling on its stalks.



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