Where to plant rhubarb?

Rhubarb Growing Guide

Rhubarb is one of the hardier crops, tolerant of cold, frost and wind. It’s a staple crop you can plant, fertilise, water and walk away from once it’s established. Aesthetically, it adds colour and texture to the garden.

Rhubarb is sometimes considered a fruit, because it is generally eaten with sweet dishes. Technically, however, it’s a vegetable, and hence it appears in vegetable patches and plots around the country.

When planting rhubarb remember that rhubarb leaves are poisonous and that only the stem can be cooked and used.

Choose a variety – top picks

  • Glaskin’s Perpetual: an early variety with slim, bright red stems that is quick to establish from seed.
  • Victoria: the most popular variety of rhubarb, it has a chunky, more compact habit with upright red and green stems.
  • Ruby Tart: strong growing with ruby red stems and a superior taste.
  • Winter Harvest: produces juicy, sweet, bright red stalks.

There are red and green varieties of rhubarb available, green stems are normal for green varieties.

Plant

Rhubarb enjoys fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and dislikes having wet feet. It doesn’t like sandy soils unless plenty of organic matter has been dug in.

Prepare the soil by digging in Tui Super Sheep Pellets and Tui Compost before planting rhubarb. Then you can add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix.

Rhubarb is also happy growing in large pots and containers, making it an ideal portable crop. Fill pots and containers with Tui Vegetable Mix.

Directions for planting in garden beds

  • Soak seedlings in a bucket of Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic and allow to drain. This will help prevent transplant shock.
  • Add a layer of Tui Vegetable Mix to the planting area.
  • Dig a hole, approximately twice the depth and width of the root ball of your plant.
  • Gently loosen the root ball of your plant and position the plant in the centre of the hole.
  • Fill in with Tui Vegetable Mix.
  • Press soil gently around the base of the plant.
  • Water your plant well and continue to water regularly.

Rhubarb can also be grown from seed, by dividing existing clumps or purchasing a plant from the garden centre.

Plants sown from seed take a few years to establish themselves. Sow seed in trays of Tui Seed Raising Mix in spring, and transfer into pots to grow once a few sets of leaves appear. Plant out 1m apart in the garden once seedlings are at least 10cm tall and look robust.

When dividing existing clumps the quickest way is to split pieces off an existing plant in spring, autumn or winter. To do this, slice through the crown of the plant with a sharp spade or long knife. Plant the whole section in the ground or in a pot (that is bigger than the off-cut). Once the plant begins to put down roots, new leaves will appear.

Nourish

Feed your plants and they will feed you. To promote the growth of more stems, keep plants well watered through dry periods. However, don’t panic if plants get dry, as they will bounce back once watered.

Feed with a general fertiliser such as Tui General Fertiliser or Tui Blood & Bone during the key growth periods of spring and autumn. Keeping it well nourished and watered will help keep insect pests at bay.

Harvest and storage

Pick rhubarb when the stalks are thick enough. Avoid leaving them too long as the larger stalks can sometimes taste bitter and come woody. When harvesting, firmly grasp a stalk close to the ground. Twist and pull the stalk – it should break free of the plant. Do this carefully as you don’t want to break off new shoots while you are picking your crop. If you can’t twist the stems off easily, cut them as close to the base of the plant as possible.

Rhubarb stems will store in the fridge for a week or so. They can also be frozen for up to three months once cut into 5-10cm lengths.

Tui Tips

  • Soak rhubarb seedlings in Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic before planting to help avoid transplant shock and apply every four weeks to promote strong root growth.
  • As rhubarb like nitrogen rich soil, another way to feed your rhubarb is to place sheep pellets and water in a muslin cloth or old stocking and pour over your plants.
  • Keep the area around the plants weed free. Watch out for slugs and snails, which can quickly shred the lush leaves of your rhubarb. Lay Tui Quash slug & snail control to protect your plants.

Information extracted from the Tui NZ Vegetable Garden Book, 3rd Edition, By Rachel Vogan.

Growing Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a cool season, perennial plant that is very winter hardy and resistant to drought. Its crop is produced from crowns consisting of fleshy rhizomes and buds. Following a season of growth the rhubarb crown becomes dormant and temperatures below 40 °F / 5 °C are required to stimulate bud break and subsequent growth. The first shoots to appear in the spring are edible petioles and leaves. These emerge sequentially as long as temperatures remain cool (below 90 °F / 32 °C). As temperatures increase, top growth is suppressed, even appearing dormant in periods of extreme heat. With declining temperatures in later summer, foliage growth resumes.

Climate and Growing Region

Rhubarb is a cool season, perennial crop. It requires temperatures below 40 °F / 5 °C to break dormancy and to stimulate spring growth and summer temperatures averaging less than 75 °F / 24 °C for vigorous vegetative growth. The Northern U.S. and Canada are well suited for rhubarb production. In the United states it grows best in the northern states from Maine south to Illinois and west to Washington state. Once planted, rhubarb plantings remain productive for 8 to 15 years.

In the United States, commercial production is concentrated in Washington (275 Acres), Oregon (200 Acres), and Michigan (200 Acres), with small commercial acreage in many northern states field and greenhouse forced production. A good commercial yield is 15 tons and an exceptional yield is about 18 tons. Red varieties usually yield about 50% of the green types; however, if the crop is harvested twice in one year, total yields will increase about 50%.

Rhubarb can not be very successfully grown in the southern regions of the United States, although there are exceptions. Rhubarb is a popular garden vegetable in northern areas of the United States but unfortunately will not do well in hot, dry summers of the south. If it survives the heat it will not grow well will produce only thin leaf stalks which are spindly and lack color. Rhubarb will wilt very quickly on hot days (over 90 °F). There has been mention of an unknown variety of rhubarb with large green petioles that thrives in the Panhandle north of Amarillo (Texas).

Rhubarb tolerates most soils but grows best on fertile, well-drained soils that are high in organic matter. A clean planting site is essential for the cultivation of rhubarb since no herbicides are registered for use on rhubarb. Small areas of perennial weeds can quickly build up to serious proportions. To prevent this, all perennial weeds should be killed the year before planting. The fields should be cultivated in the spring and after cutting, and hand hoeing may also be necessary. Rhubarb is relatively free of insect and disease problems.

Fertilization

Rhubarb is rather tolerant of soil acidity but does best in slightly to moderately acid soil. The crop can tolerate soil pH as low as 5.0; however, maximum yields are attained at a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Liberal quantities of fertilizer are needed.

Rhubarb responds well to fertilizers. The quality of the crop harvested depends to a large extent on the care and fertilization received. Commercial growing requires about 1500 pounds of 10-10-10 per acre before planting. Home gardeners should give each plant 1 cup (about 2 handful’s) of 10-10-10 fertilizer each spring, applied in a circle around the plant when growth starts. Fertilize each year and cultivate shallowly as often as necessary to remove weeds.

Manure is an extremely valuable source of organic matter as it helps to conserve moisture, preserves the soil structure, and makes nutrients readily available. Fifteen tons of manure should be applied per acre before planting for commercial growing or one to two shovels per plant for home gardeners. An application of composted manure or leaves is beneficial in late fall and early winter, but do not cover the crowns as this may promote rotting. Fresh manure should not be used as this will burn the tender rhubarb plants.


Adding Manure to rhubarb plant
photo credit

Planting and Spacing

Plant rhubarb roots in early spring. Planting seeds is not recommended as it may take too long for the plants to become established, and the seedlings would not come true to color and size, if that is important to you.

Space rhubarb roots 24 to 48 inches (60-120 cm) apart in rows 3 to 4 feet (1 m) apart for commercial growing. These distances can be decreased to 36 inches for plants in rows and rows for smaller gardens (non commercial). Much smaller than this will seriously crowd the plants and result in a diminished crop and increase the likelihood of spreading disease. A 2-3 year old plant, the Victoria variety can be 4 feet (1.25 meter) in diameter and 3 feet (1 meter) tall. Plant the roots with the crown bud 2 inches (5 cm) below the surface of the soil. The hole for the crown should be dug extra large and composted manure, peat moss or dairy organic should be mixed with the soil to be placed around the roots. Firm the soil around the roots but keep it loose over the buds. Water the crowns after planting. Give the plant 1/4 cup of 5-10-10 worked in to the top 10 inches of soil at planting time. Good garden drainage is essential in growing rhubarb. For home gardeners, planting in raised beds helps ensure against rotting of the crowns. Crowns will have a longevity of many years, but because of diseases and insects, it is Normal to reset a bed after 4-5 years.

General Growing Information

Rhubarb responds to good care and watering. Remove the flower stalks as they are seen. During the first year of planting, the stalks should not be picked, since food from the leaves is needed to nourish the roots for the next year’s growth. One light picking may be taken during the year following planting if the plants are vigorous, and beginning the second year following planting, the entire plant may be harvested. When harvesting rhubarb, the first step is to cut the stalks at the soil line or simply pull them out individually. All of the stalks of a plant may be harvested at one time, or pulled out selectively over a 4-6 week period. After the stalks are cut, the leaves may be removed. For the home (small) gardener, rhubarb will tolerate a fair amount of neglect and still thrive, they are very tough plants.

Growing Season

The rhubarb season (in the United States) runs from April to September, although it can be grown forced (see Forcing in winter) which accounts for its availability early in the year when other crops are scarce. Early forced rhubarb has a distinctive bright pink color and delicate flavor. Outdoor rhubarb is a little darker in color.

Refrain from harvesting rhubarb the first year after planting. Each plant needs time to build up food reserves in the root to produce thick, robust stems.

Established rhubarb plants can be coaxed into early outdoor production by covering plants with clear plastic in the early spring, before the crown starts to grow. As growth starts, cut 1/4 inch ventilation holes in the plastic. As leaves get larger, cut the plastic to keep the leaves free.

Frost Damage

Rhubarb hit by a frost or freeze can still be eaten provided the stalks are still firm and upright. Leaf injury may be noticeable with some brown or black discoloration on the edges. If the stems appear soft and mushy, do not eat them. Severe cold injury may cause the oxalic acid crystals in the leaves to migrate to the stalks increasing the likelihood of poisoning problems. If in doubt about the safety of eating the stalks, don’t. Cut those stalks off and compost them. Allow new stalks to develop before eating, or if it is the end of the growing season, try forcing some rhubarb indoors (see Forcing in winter).

How do I prepare my rhubarb plants for winter

Rhubarb needs cold to trigger spring growth. Rhubarb tolerates very cold (-20 F) very well. Collect the last few stalks after the first hard frost and throw them on the compost pile. Then spread a layer (2-3″) or compost (or leaves or hay) to prevent winter winds from drying out your roots. You don’t need to do much.

Do I need to thin my overgrown rhubarb?

Established clumps will have to be trimmed every 4 to 5 years or when the stalks get small and spindly or when the crown is visibly crowded. This will help the plant to keep growing nice thick stems. This is done by digging around and trimming the crown down to 4 or 5 buds. You can also use this opportunity to divide your plant into more plants. You may encounter is rot in the crowns from excessive water in the crown area. If so, destroy these plants.

Growing rhubarb

About rhubarb

For a first-time vegetable grower, there isn’t an easier place to start than with rhubarb. It will flourish without too much attention and will provide you with tasty stalks at a time when little else is ready for harvest in the garden. Cultivated for its delicious, pink stems, rhubarb is a very hardy, frost-resistant vegetable – in fact it requires a period of frost in the winter in order to produce the best stalks.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • All varieties develop a deep root system and grow best in a fertile, partially shaded, free-draining soil.
  • Start digging over your soil four weeks before planting, removing any stones you find and adding as much organic matter as possible.

How to plant

  • Rhubarb can be grown from seed or as plants purchased from your local garden centre. Rhubarb grown from seed will take a year longer to produce stalks, and even then, the plants aren’t guaranteed to be true to type. We recommend buying one-year-old plants, known as ‘crowns’, that have been divided from strong, disease-free plants.
  • Choose the right variety for your patch, prepare the soil, then plant your rhubarb in late autumn to early winter. Keep in mind that many varieties grow to be very large plants, and require a lot of space. Before planting, dig a hole with a trowel a little bit wider than the plant.
  • The depth should be such that the top of the plant is at, or just below the soil surface. Gently firm the surrounding soil and water well. Spacing between plants should be about 75cm (30in) for smaller varieties, and up to 120cm (48in) for larger varieties.
  • After the leaves have died down, spread a new layer of compost around the plant to conserve water and suppress weeds. Dead-head flowers immediately after they appear in the early spring, as allowing flowers to set seed will weaken the plant.

Dividing

  • In order to keep the plants healthy, rhubarb should be divided every five or six years during winter, when dormant. Each plant can be split into three or four separate crowns with a spade. Make sure each crown has an ‘eye’, or a large bud that will provide next year’s shoots.
  • Dig out a hole slightly larger than the divided plants and place the crown in the hole with its roots facing downwards. The top of the crown should be 2.5cm (1in) below the soil surface. Mark where the crown has been planted with a cane or stones until new shoots appear above the soil surface in late February or March.

Forcing

  • This simple process provides an earlier harvest of sweeter stems that don’t need peeling. For forcing outdoors, cover plants with a container or large pot to exclude the light. Place the cover over the rhubarb as soon as it begins to show signs of growth.
  • For forcing indoors, lift whole crowns in November and place them on the soil surface to be chilled for two weeks in order to break their period of dormancy.
  • Pot each crown up with compost and bring into a cool greenhouse. It’s important to completely exclude any light by placing forcing pots or black polythene over crowns.
  • The lack of light and the heating effect of the cover will quickly cause the rhubarb to ripen and it will be ready to eat within four weeks.

Harvesting and storage

  • Allow rhubarb to establish for one year before taking your first harvest. Select three of the largest stalks, waiting for the leaves to fully open before pulling from May to August.
  • Stalks are harvested by gently twisting the stems and pulling from the base of the plant. Leaves shouldn’t be eaten as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.

Growing tips

  • Rhubarb suffers from few diseases. Crown rot is the main threat, particularly if soil conditions are wet. The fungal infection occurs at the base of the stalks where crowns turn brown and soften.
  • Plants suffering from rot should be dug up and destroyed immediately. To avoid crown rot, make sure rhubarb is planted in fertile, well-drained, weed-free soil.

Five to try

  • Rhubarb ‘Ace of hearts’ – a good choice for a smaller garden
  • ‘Prince Albert’ – an early variety with good long stalks
  • ‘Timperley early’ – lovely flavour, good for forcing
  • ‘Victoria’ – a classic allotment favourite, good for forcing
  • ‘Mammoth red’ – grows up to 1.5m (5ft) high

Harvesting Rhubarb – How to Stalk the Stalk

Some people are worried about harvesting rhubarb because they’ve heard that the leaves are poisonous. While it’s true that rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, they are only toxic if ingested. In other words, you don’t need a radiation suit or a haz-mat team to be able to harvest your rhubarb crop. It’s fine if your skin comes in contact with the leaves. Just don’t eat them.

Do NOT think about harvesting rhubarb the same year that you plant it. The plant needs time to develop an extensive root system. If you harvest the first year, the plant won’t grow well and stalk production in the following years will be greatly diminished.

The year after you plant rhubarb, you can harvest 3-4 stalks. The plant is still developing its root system, and yields in future years will be greatly reduced if you harvest too much. After the plant has been in the ground a couple of years you can harvest your rhubarb normally.

Rhubarb is ready to be harvested when the stalks are at least 12 inches long. The thickness of the stalk doesn’t really matter, just the length. You can grasp the stalk with your hands and pull it up, twisting it as you pull. You can also use a knife and cut the stalk at soil level. It is not recommended to cut below the surface of the soil as you may accidentally damage the crown. Once you have harvested the stalks, cut off the leafy portion at the top of the stalk and cut off the base. Both the base and the leaf should be discarded. What’s left is perfectly edible and will resemble a trimmed celery stalk.

The harvested stalks will keep for several days in the refrigerator if left whole. If they go unused for more than a week, the stalks will become slimy and spoil. Fresh rhubarb can easily be frozen for future use. Immediately after harvesting rhubarb, chop up the stalks and put them in an airtight bag or container. Store the container in your freezer for up 6 months.

Remove any flower stalks you see emanating from your rhubarb plant and discard them – they are not edible. By getting rid of the flowering stalks, you are focusing the plant’s energy on edible stalk production.

Most mature rhubarb plants will be able to be harvested for approximately 2 months. When the stalks fail to reach 12 inches tall and are about the diameter of a pencil, stop harvesting. This will allow your rhubarb plants time to gather and store enough nutrients to produce another bumper crop of stalks the following year.

In general, stalks that are harvested in early spring are more tender. Stalks harvested later in the growing season are usually tougher and more sour. Reserve the early spring harvest for pie and cobbler making. Use later season rhubarb stalks for sauces and jams.

After the first hard frost in the fall, remove any remaining stalks from your rhubarb plant(s) and discard them. Then apply a 3-4 inch layer of mulch over the crowns. Grass clippings or leaves work well as mulch. This will help protect the plants over the winter and add nutrients to the soil.

Now that you’re done harvesting rhubarb, it’s time for a few recipe ideas…

Quick Guide to Growing Rhubarb

  • Plant rhubarb during the cool days of early spring, once the ground thaws.
  • Rhubarb produces a harvest for up to 8 years, so grow it in a sunny area where it will go undisturbed for a long time.
  • Give rhubarb room to spread out by planting them 4 to 6 feet apart.
  • Improve your native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • When hot weather arrives, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch to keep soil moist and help block weeds.
  • Check soil moisture regularly and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Feed rhubarb regularly with a continuous-release plant food.
  • Start regular harvesting in year 3 when stalks are 12 to 18 inches long and reach their ideal red color.

Soil, Planting, and Care

A true perennial, rhubarb plants can yield harvests 5 to 8 years or longer. Once plants are established, they don’t transplant easily, so choose your planting site carefully. It will also help to start with the best plants you can get. Young Bonnie Plants® rhubarb plants are strong and vigorous, so you’re already ahead of the game when you plant. Rhubarb thrives in full sun but will yield to light shade. Select a location that gives plants ample room; individual rhubarb plants can measure up to four feet wide and tall.

Plant crowns in spring as soon as soil is workable. Tuck plants into slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter; blend in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost, or improve the soil with aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. Rhubarb crowns require shallow planting (around 4 inches deep), but because plants are such heavy feeders, you should dig planting holes at least a foot deep. If your soil is heavy clay, you may want to consider planting rhubarb in raised beds filled with soil designed especially for that kind of growing environment, such as organic Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil.

Water newly planted crowns, and keep soil moist throughout the growing season. As summer heat arrives, mulch plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of organic mulch, such as compost, straw, or shredded bark. Replenish mulch throughout the growing season as needed to maintain 2-inch thickness. Best growth comes from using plant food that works in concert with the soil to provide just the right nutrition for your rhubarb plants. Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition feeds plants continuously for up to 6 weeks, plus also feeds the beneficial microbes in the soil that help make nutrients available to your plants.

In fall, when stems die back, remove all plant debris. Mulch plants after the ground freezes, covering crowns with 2 to 4 inches of compost or leaves.

How to raise perfect rhubarb: If you know how to look after it, you can have a steady supply from Christmas through to summer

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How to Grow Rhubarb

The ultimate guide to growing rhubarb in the UK
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What could be better than rounding off your Sunday lunch with a piping hot bowl of rhubarb crumble? Or how about a delicious rhubarb pie, summer fool or homemade jam?

Rhubarb is an undemanding perennial that’s easy to grow and fantastically hardy. In fact, it actually needs a cold snap in order to produce the best crops.

A healthy rhubarb plant will remain productive for at least 10 years so it makes an excellent investment. During the first year, you’ll need to resist the temptation to harvest the stems. But from the second year, you can harvest your rhubarb from April to June. Here are some tips to help you grow your own.

Which variety to choose

Different varieties have different flavours, strengths, and qualities.
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There are lots of different varieties of rhubarb to choose from. Here are some of our favourites – all of which are suitable for planting in autumn or spring.

  • • ‘Champagne’: Reliable and easy to grow, this early variety is ideal for forcing to produce long, slender, pink-tinged stalks. Leave it unforced for a deeper, red-coloured stem.
  • • ‘Victoria’: These greenish-pink stems have an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity. Once established, it will produce a heavy crop, year after year.
  • • ‘Raspberry Red’: These have thick, deep red stalks with a superb sweet flavour that can be harvested early in the season, without the need for forcing.
  • • ‘Giant Grooveless Crimson’: This compact rhubarb produces a bountiful supply of tall, uniform, fully coloured, bright red stems with a delicate acidic flavour.
  • • ‘Thomson’s Terrifically Tasty’: These thick pink, flavoursome stalks (that taper to green) are produced from March through to mid-summer, a whole month earlier than other rhubarb plants!
  • • ‘Delight’: An everbearing variety that crops over a long period with good disease resistance, this rhubarb plant has dark green and red stems with a lovely flavour.
  • • ‘Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise’: These strong, vigorous plants produce eye-catching, vivid red stems with a well balanced acidity. It was voted best-flavoured rhubarb in the RHS Wisley trials.
  • • ‘Glaskin’s Perpetual’: This easy to grow garden variety produces large, juicy stems that can be lightly harvested the following year, if started in heat during the winter.

Should you grow rhubarb from seed?

A rhubarb crown is a good option for beginners and green thumbs alike.
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Like most crops, you can grow rhubarb from seed, but it’s much easier to plant crowns or budded pieces. They establish well, making them ideal for beginners, but even experienced gardeners will appreciate the grow boost.

Rhubarb crowns are established plants that are at least one year old. They will produce a crop in the first harvest season after planting, which is much sooner than rhubarb plants that are grown from seed.

Budded pieces, meanwhile, are a portion of an established crown. These can be cropped two years after planting.

When to plant rhubarb

Rhubarb crowns are best planted in autumn or spring.
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Rhubarb crowns and budded pieces are best planted in autumn or spring, while the soil is warm and moist.

If you’ve grown your rhubarb in a pot, this can be planted out at any time of the year as long as the soil is not frozen, waterlogged or suffering from drought.

Where should you grow rhubarb?

Find a place you’re happy for rhubarb to grow for up to 10 years.
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While undemanding, there are a few key things to keep in mind when selecting a place to plant rhubarb.

Firstly, rhubarb grows well in a sunny position with moist, well-drained soil, but it will tolerate semi-shade.

It doesn’t respond well to disturbance so the place you choose will need to be a permanent home – somewhere your plants can grow without interruption, from year to year. Take the time to properly prepare the right spot in your garden before you begin planting.

How do you plant rhubarb?

Take some time to properly prepare the area before you plant.
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Prepare the ground by thoroughly weeding the area and digging in two bucketfuls per square metre/yard of well-rotted manure.

Once you’ve done that, spread out the roots and plant so the tip of the crown is just visible above the soil.

When planting rhubarb crowns or budded pieces, set them so that the top of the crown sits 3cm (1″) below soil level. If you’re gardening on a heavy, wet soil then plant them slightly higher, so that the top of the crown sits at ground level. This will help to prevent crown rot. Rhubarb plants can get quite large so allow a spacing of 75cm (30″) between them.

Can you grow rhubarb in a container?

A big, deep container is a good option for growing rhubarb.
Image: Rhubarb ‘Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise’

Rhubarb plants have big root systems so they do require a decent amount of space to grow. But if you use a container that holds a minimum of 40 litres of compost, you should be fine. In fact, you’ll most likely produce a decent crop.

A soil-based compost, such as John Innes No 3. mixed with plenty of well-rotted manure, is best for growing rhubarb in a container. To get started, why not try one of our 60 litre vegetable patio bags.

How do you force rhubarb?

Traditional forcing pots work, but so do dustbins and buckets.
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Forcing rhubarb will yield an earlier crop – a useful option if you can’t wait until April for your first harvest. While clay or terracotta pots are traditional (and are specifically designed for this purpose), an upturned dustbin or a large bucket will work equally well.

In January, cover the crown with a layer of straw and then place your choice of large container over the crown to exclude the light. Forced rhubarb stems can be harvested around eight weeks after covering, which may be up to a month earlier than unforced crops.

However, try to avoid forcing the same rhubarb crown for two years in a row; this can weaken the plant. Our top tip? Grow several rhubarb plants at a time and force just one a year in rotation.

Any seasonal advice for growing rhubarb?

Rhubarb needs different things at different times of year.
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Rhubarb plants are very low maintenance, but they will produce better crops if given a little extra care and attention according to the season.

  • • Spring: Remove rhubarb flowers as they appear in order to direct the plants’ energy into growing tasty stems. A feed of general purpose fertiliser will also give them boost during this time.
  • • Summer: Keep an eye on your rhubarb plants and water them during dry periods. You don’t want the soil to completely dry out. Rhubarb that’s grown in containers will need to be watered much more often in order to keep the compost moist.
  • • Autumn: When the leaves die back naturally, simply cut back the old rhubarb stalks to leave the buds exposed. Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure around the crown of the plant; this will help to conserve moisture in the soil and keep the weeds down, as well as feeding the plants for the following growing season. But take care not to cover the crown as this may cause it to rot.
  • • Winter: Every five or six years you’ll need to lift and divide the rhubarb crowns in order to maintain their vigour and ensure that the plants remain productive. Use a spade to lift each crown before splitting it into 3 or 4 pieces and replanting them separately. Each piece needs a healthy looking bud – this will become the growth point for next year’s new shoots.

How do you harvest rhubarb?

A little patience in the first year helps you harvest more later on.
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During the first year, you need to resist the temptation to harvest the stems, in order to allow your rhubarb plants to become properly established. But your patience will pay off because, from the second year onwards, your rhubarb can be harvested from April to June, when the leaves have fully unfurled and the stems are 30cm long.

To harvest, pull each rhubarb stalk from the base of the stem and twist it away from the crown. It?’s important to only harvest a few stems at a time (never more than half of the available stems), as over-cropping will reduce the plant’s vigour.

The rhubarb plant will need time to build up energy reserves for next year’s crop, so make sure to finish harvesting by the end of July. Don’t worry if you find that you have more rhubarb than you can use; rhubarb freezes really well. Pickling and preserving is also a great way to extend the shelflife of your rhubarb.

A word of warning: only the stems of rhubarb are edible. The leaves contain oxalic acid, which is toxic if eaten. Simply trim the leaves away from the stems and add them to your compost heap.

Any problems to watch out for?

Slugs and other critters may find your rhubarb appealing.
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Crown rot can be a problem when growing rhubarb. It’s caused by fungi or bacteria (either in the soil or water) and, once it spreads, the disease call kill the plant. The best thing to do is act quickly and cut away any affected areas of the plant. Don’t be afraid to cut into healthy plant tissue – it could save the whole plant.

You may find that slugs, snails and other garden critters feed on your tasty rhubarb. The bane of gardeners all over the world, you’ll probably have your own way of dealing with slugs, from eggshell barriers to biocontrols. Keep an eye on your plants and deal with any pests quickly.

Which slug-deterrents have worked best for you? Get in touch over on our Facebook page and let us know! In the meantime, happy growing!

Planting Rhubarb: How To Grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a different sort of vegetable in that it is a perennial, which means it will come back every year. Rhubarb is great for pies, sauces and jellies, and goes especially well with strawberries; so you may want to plant both.

When thinking about how to grow rhubarb, plant it where the winter temperatures go below 40 F. (4 C.) so that dormancy can be broken when it warms up in the spring. Summer temperatures below 75 F. (24 C.) on average will yield quite a nice crop.

Because rhubarb is a perennial, its care is a little different than that of other vegetables. You will want to be sure you are planting rhubarb along the edge of your garden so it doesn’t disturb your other vegetables when it comes up each spring.

You should purchase either crowns or divisions from your local garden center. Each of these crowns or divisions will require enough space to come up and provide you with large leaves. This means planting them about 1 to 2 feet (.30 to .60 m.) apart in rows that are 2 to 3 feet (.60 to .91 m.) apart. You can also just plant them on the outside edge of your garden. Each growing rhubarb plant requires about a square yard of space.

Take the crowns and place them in the ground. Don’t put them more than 1 or 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) into the soil or they won’t come up. As flower stalks appear on the growing rhubarb, remove them right away so they don’t rob the plant of nutrients.

Make sure you water the plants during dry weather; rhubarb doesn’t tolerate drought.

The care of rhubarb plants doesn’t require a whole lot from you. They pretty much just come up each spring and grow well on their own. Remove any weeds from the area and cultivate around the stalks carefully so you don’t injure the growing rhubarb.

When to Harvest Rhubarb

When you are ready to pick rhubarb, don’t harvest the young leaves the first year after planting rhubarb, as this will not allow your plant to expand to its fullest.

Wait until the second year and then harvest the young leaves of the growing rhubarb once they expand. Simply grasp the stalk of the leaf and pull or use a knife to cut it off.