The Habitat
A Quick Guide to Cultivating Rhubarb
A Quick Guide to Cultivating Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a peculiar plant. It has edible stalks, but its leaves are poisonous. Humans have been eating it since the 10th century, yet its origins remain unknown. Rhubarb is classified as a vegetable but typically used as a fruit, with a sweet, tart flavor profile that is popular in pies, jams, and other desserts. ThiIt can be cultivated in a garden or indoors. Under the right conditions, rhubarb can even be grown in total darkness.


Providing an ideal environment for rhubarb

growing the best rhubarb

Rhubarb grows particularly well in cold climates where the temperature drops below 40ºF in the winter. In this environment, rhubarb is a low maintenance plant that may produce for decades. The plant suffers a short lifespan in warm weather that exceeds 90 degrees, however. Regardless, select a location that has access to full sunlight and well-draining soil. Plant your crowns or seeds several inches beneath the soil's surface and place them five feet apart.


The advantages of growing rhubarb indoors

growing rhubarb in pots

There are a number of benefits to growing rhubarb indoors as opposed to planting it in your garden. Outdoors, the plants tend to become massive bushes, spanning up to five feet in height and width. This leaves little room for other plants to flourish. In a container, growers can easily regulate the plant's size.


Choosing the appropriate soil

Holding soil bymuratdeniz / Getty Images

Whether growing in a container or a garden, rhubarb favors well-draining soil. The ideal pH level for rhubarb is between 5 and — neutral or slightly acidic. To improve the plant's production and health, mix organic materials into the soil. Cow manure, lime, and compost work well. Adjust the ratios of organic matter until the soil reaches an ideal pH level.


How to propagate rhubarb

New plants temmuzcan / Getty Images

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.


Best watering practices

Watering can amenic181 / Getty Images

Rhubarb grows best when it's watered frequently and deeply because it absorbs liquid and nutrients through its root system. However, overwatered rhubarb is 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. Additional watering is only recommended during the hot summer months.


Feeding rhubarb plants

applying fertilizer Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Rhubarb plants require a lot of nutrients to produce big leaves and stalks. Plant crowns in soil that has previously been amended with organic matter. Bonemeal, rotted manure, and compost are highly effective organic fertilizers. Avoid chemical fertilizers because the nitrates can kill the plants. Feed your rhubarb every spring.


How to handle the occasional pest

pests of rhubarb

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 at times. These insects primarily consume the poisonous leaves, so it may not be necessary to use pesticides to get rid of them. To prevent and deter pests, keep your garden free from weeds and water only when necessary.


Diseases common to rhubarb

Diseased rhubarb Latvian / Getty Images

Rhubarb may develop spots on its leaves that vary in size and color depending on the disease. These tiny spots are often mistaken as damage caused by insects. They can also be caused by leftover pesticides. Diseases such as ramularia and ascochyta also appear as tiny spots on rhubarb leaves. However, these pathogens also infect, kill, and cover plants in fungus. The fungus produces spores that infect all nearby plants.


Recommended varieties of rhubarb

various types of rhubarb
  • 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.

Growing rhubarb in the dark

forced rhubarb Pauws99 / Getty Images

Forcing rhubarb is a growing technique that involves exposing dormant winter plants to frost then placing them in a warm, dark environment. Large clay pots prevent the plants from getting any sunlight. This process tricks the rhubarb into growing quickly as it searches for light. Instead of sending glucose to its poisonous leaves, forced rhubarb stores sugar in its stalks, changing them from tangy to sweet.




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