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Growing Rhubarb

Category Growing Food
Whether it is your first time growing rhubarb or you have had problems in the past, there are some helpful tips that can make this a positive gardening experience. This is a guide about growing rhubarb.
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By 5 found this helpful
April 19, 2011

If you enjoy cooking with rhubarb, it's worth making space for a few of these plants in your garden. Although the tart flavored stalks are traditionally used like a fruit for pies, jams, and jellies, rhubarb is actually a long-lived perennial vegetable. With just a minimal amount of effort and care, an established plant will happily provide you with a crop of tasty stalks and attractive foliage for many years.
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How to Grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is classified as a cold-resistant perennial vegetable. It grows best in climates where the ground freezes to a depth of several inches in the winter, and where summer temperatures seldom climb above 90 degrees F. Although rhubarb is eaten and enjoyed throughout the United States, it tends to struggle in hot, dry climates and can be difficult to grow in many parts of the south (commercial production is concentrated in Washington, Oregon, and Michigan).

Propagation: Rhubarb is usually propagated by planting "crowns" (divisions of the roots that contain buds for new plants). If you neighbor doesn't have some extra plants to share, crowns are easy to obtain at nurseries, garden centers, or through mail order (or online) catalogs. Two to three plants will usually provide plenty of stalks for the needs of an average family.

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Where to plant: If you take the time to prepare your planting site ahead of time, established plants will reward you handsomely for possibly decades into the future. Because rhubarb is a long-lived perennial, it's best to set aside a large, sunny, out-of-the-way spot in the garden where it will be free to grow without interfering with annual vegetable crops. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and grows best when planted in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-6.8. Work the soil to a depth of 24 inches before setting in the crowns so roots have plenty of room to expand.

How to plant: Plant rhubarb in early spring. For each crown, dig a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Space each hole 3 feet apart in all directions. (Some varieties are larger and may need even more space). Back-fill the hole to a depth of 12 inches with equal part soil and compost or well-rotted manure, plus 1/3 cup of 10-10-10- fertilizer.

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Place one crown in each hole so that the plant buds sit 3-4 inches below the soil surface. Tamp the soil firmly around the roots, and fill the remainder of the hole with equal parts compost and topsoil. Mulch around each plant to conserve moisture and protect roots.

Feeding: Work a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer into the top few inches of soil around the shoots at the first sign of growth each spring.

Division: Older plants can become crowded and should be divided every 4 to 5 years or when they start to exhibit spindly growth. This is best done in the early spring. Use a sharp spade to cut down through the center of the plant. Cut the roots of the removed portion into several parts, each of which should have one to three buds. Plant them as you would crowns.

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Harvesting: Rhubarb plants are usually mature enough for harvesting a few stalks the second year after planting. Stalks are ready to pull when they are 12 to 18 inches long. Young stalks with the deepest red color usually have the best flavor, although some varieties produce only green-colored stalks. Harvest the stalks by twisting them off near the base (cut stems bleed and encourage disease). Rhubarb leaves should never be harvested for food as they contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.

To maximize production, remove seed spikes as soon as they form to keep them from diverting nutrients from the stalks. Stop harvesting in early July to give plants time to build up food stores for next season.

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By 0 found this helpful
February 14, 2006

Planning Tips:

Rhubarb suffers from a bit of an identity crises. It's closely related to Garden Sorrel, which technically makes it a perennial vegetable, but it's often lumped in with the "fruit" pies on restaurant menus and in cookbooks. No matter how it's classified, it's an easy-to-grow, trouble-free addition to any garden in zones 2-8.
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Site Preparation:

Select a site away from annual vegetables (near berry patches, etc.) where plants will be safe from being accidentally dug up. The location should receive sun at least half of the day and consist of average to rich, well-drained soil. Avoid low areas prone to frost or standing water.

Planting:

Three plants are an adequate number of plants for most gardens. In the spring, plant crowns (buds up) 11/2 feet deep in a 3 foot wide bed, making sure holes are wide enough to accommodate spreading roots. Cover with soil and water thoroughly.

Care & Maintenance:

Apply a light fertilizer in the spring and cover new growth with 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch. Flower stalks should be cut off and removed as they appear throughout the growing season. Watch for signs of wilt and root rot during the season. Mulch plants heavily to prepare them for winter after foliage dies back in the fall. Dig up and divide plants when they start to produce thin stalks.

Harvesting & Storage:

Rhubarb should not he harvested until the second season after planting and then only for 1 to 2 weeks. Harvesting can be increased to 1 to 2 months by the third season and after that, plants can be harvested as often as you prefer. Select stalks that are thick with well-developed leaves. To harvest, simply twist stalks until they break from the plant or cut them off to the desired length with a knife. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should not be used (compost them). Stalks can be blanched by surrounding sprouting plants with an open-ended box about 2' wide and 2' to 3' tall. Blanched stalks will grow longer and be ready a week earlier than usual.
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June 2, 20160 found this helpful

This guide is about rhubarb plants turning yellow. Rhubarb likes to grow with good drainage and cool temperatures.

Rhubarb leaf with yellowing leaves in the background

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June 2, 20160 found this helpful

This guide is about transplanting rhubarb. For a successful crop, learn the best time of year and method to move rhubarb plants.

Rhubarb plants in cardboard box

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June 1, 20160 found this helpful

This is a guide about harvesting rhubarb. Every fruit and vegetable has an optimal time to harvest it for best flavor.

Hands holding freshly picked rhubarb stalks

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

June 9, 2013

My husband wants to plant more rhubarb this year. However the major plant companies we usually deal with (Park Seed, Burpee, etc.) are out of the crowns. I can find rhubarb seeds many places, but not the crowns. Can anyone help me out?

By Mary W.

Answers

June 17, 20130 found this helpful

Go to freecycle.org and sign up with your Yahoo. account. This is a place where you can post what you are looking for (rhubarb crowns) or post any thing you want to give away. Absolutely free-nothing is ever sold or bought. I have gotten tons of plants for my garden on Freecycle. Every state in the Union has freecycle.org sites. good luck.

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By 0 found this helpful
July 23, 2007

Today is July 23, and just yesterday I was given some rhubarb to transplant, I have planted it in full sun, and have spaced the root out some. My question is today, just 1 day later, my rhubarb is limp looking, and I'm not sure if it is going to make it. Can you tell me if there is anything that I can do to keep it alive and growing or should I just cut down the stalk's that I do have and hope for more next year?

Hardiness Zone: 5a

Tina S. from Bloomington, Illinois

Answers

July 23, 20070 found this helpful

Keep it nice and moist, watering it thoroughly every other day. Rhubarbs have heavy leaves, and it's asking a lot for a transplant to hold up as if everything's a-ok. Just pamper it this year, and it'll come back better than ever next year. Don't give up- they're hardy little boogers, and you'll be cursing its size in no time!

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July 23, 20070 found this helpful

I agree with Beth, but I would like to add a tip my grandfather gave me that still works today, water it with a bottle of fizzy lemonade for the first few days after transplanting, not sure how it works, but it also works for houseplants in need of TLC, and even cut flowers!
After that water it with the rinse out water from your used cartons of milk. The best, cheapest, and most effective fertilizer I have ever used!

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By guest (Guest Post)
July 27, 20070 found this helpful

Most plants go 'limp' for a day or two after transplanting it's a shock to their systems. As said, they should pick up. My son and his wife moved into a house they had just bought around two years ago and there was a bit of a vegie garden up the back which had rhubarb and silver beet growing in it.
Well, being busy people, work, study, a baby girl, they virtually have neglected that vegie patch for 2 years and the rhubarb and silver beet are still thriving, getting along nicely on the their own.

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July 27, 20070 found this helpful

Fresh transplants in full sun should be shaded for a few days to get used to the yard. Then gradually remove the shade, keeping the sunnyiest part of the day the last time to be shaded.

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By 0 found this helpful
April 6, 2006

How do you plant and maintain Rhubarb? What kind of soil do they like? Sun or shade?

Hardiness Zone: 5b

Carol from Nebraska (Southern)

Answer:

Carol,

You can start rhubarb from seed, from potted plants, or from root divisions that contain one or more buds.

Site Selection:

Planting:

Maintenance:

Harvesting:

Answers

By guest (Guest Post)
March 14, 20060 found this helpful

Hi Carol,
When you plant Rhubarb, plant it in full sun after you work the soil with either compost or a good organic fertilizer. It will come back year after year, especially if you work into the soil, compost or fertilizer every spring. When harvesting the Rhubarb, take the very colorful leaves off the stalk and lay then under the plant. This is a great way to keep feeding the plant all summer.

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March 31, 20060 found this helpful

Carol,
Ragteller is right, full sun, lots of compost - any cow manure in in southern Nebraska? Use that after the crop is finished in the fall. I cover my patch with it & then leaves on top of that in in fall.
Don't use the rhubarb the first year after planting new plants or transplants, allow to establish. ALWAYS put the cut leaves back around the plants after PULLING up the stock from the ground. Some think you should cut the stock off from the plant. Pull it up from the ground, only one stock at a time, and don't pull all from one plant. It will come away from the plant very easily, should look like a stock of celery (curved) but a pale pink...
Have had ours for over 30 years now.
Cheers
D. in N. S., Canada

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April 11, 20060 found this helpful

According to Ellen's response...the rhubarb will never come up. The hole, yes, should be about 1.5 feet deep but the crown should be planted so that it will only be between 1 and 4 inches below the surface of the soil. I prefer 1 inch.

When dividing a rhubarb the roots will be quite long...that even a 1.5 foot hole might not be deep enough. I remember my grandpa digging out some of his rhubarb plant for me and he placed the pieces in a large garbage bag to transport them here.

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By guest (Guest Post)
July 5, 20070 found this helpful

New plants, something is eating holes in the leaves and not being very wise with rhubarb, my first try. Help

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February 11, 20110 found this helpful

I need some advice regarding rhubarb. Firstly my stalks are well over 10 inches but still green, should they be red to eat? Secondly one of my bushes is seeding on top. Should I pull this bush out or just cut the top off. Thanks for your answers in advance.

By Phil

Answers

February 12, 20110 found this helpful

I've never grown rhubarb (it's my understanding that it doesn't do well in this area), but my relatives up north have it. Dad grew up around it, and I remember him telling me that part of the plant is toxic. Here is a link to Dave's Garden -- it's a great resource! I typed in "rhubarb," and this is what came up. Some parts of the site are free, but to access other parts you have to be a subscribing member.

http://davesgar  ch.php?q=rhubarb

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February 18, 20110 found this helpful

Some strains of rhubarb does not get red. Canadian is a red type, and does not require as much sugar. It would be red as soon as it pops out of the ground in the spring. If it is not red at the stage you mentioned it will not get red as it is ripe right from the start. As for the seed pods you cut them off to allow the other stalks to grow. Rhubarb never gets to old, it lasts for years and years. The roots should be broken up every few years and replanted to make more plants. Dig them up and cut them up with a shovel. Rhubarb grows best in cold areas like in the north. Does not grow well south of Mason Dixon line.
Frank

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February 19, 20110 found this helpful

Sounds like you may have the old variety called "Victoria" which is green, not red. It is prone to trying to bloom and set seed. Just cut off the seed stalk. By the way, rhubarb is a perennial plant that will die back to the ground each winter, unlike a bush that will have branches that remain from year to year.

Sounds like you are south of the Mason-Dixon line if your rhubarb is that large already in February. If you just put it in last year, pick lightly this year because it is still getting established. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and likes to be mulched so the soil stays moist.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 29, 2010

Something is eating the leaves on my rhubarb, but I can't determine what it is.

Hardiness Zone: 5a

By Tall Boy from Louisville, KY

Answers

March 29, 20100 found this helpful

Call your county extension office & ask for info about your Rhubarb & gardening, good luck.

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April 1, 20100 found this helpful

The only thing that eats my rhubarb leaves are slugs!

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April 2, 20100 found this helpful

Hi there,
My grandfather a few times poured soapy water over the plant and when I asked him why, he told me that will stop the bugs from eating the leaves. I hope this helps. Many from Australia

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By 0 found this helpful
May 31, 2009

What's causing my rhubarb to be stringy? What can I add to my rhubarb's soil to produce a more tender plant? Thanks.

Hardiness Zone: 4a

By countessj from Anchorage, AK

Answers

May 31, 20090 found this helpful

Maybe you're letting it get to old before you cut it.

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June 5, 20090 found this helpful

I believe that is the nature of the stem.

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June 5, 20090 found this helpful

Rhubarb does have a lot of strings naturally. But as your plants get older, you may find that the stalks are thinner and stringier. This is a sign the plant needs to be split into smaller plants and given more room. You need to do this every two or three years or so.

Also, rhubarb is a heavy feeder. I surround mine with 2 or 3 inches of organic compost in the spring when it first sprouts and it feeds it all summer long.

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April 26, 20120 found this helpful

Our rhubarb plant has "gone to seed"; do we cut this off or leave it as it is? The rhubarb was growing fine then all of a sudden it grew this huge globe shaped head on one of the stalks. It burst open and, hey presto, seeds.

By Ruth G

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April 26, 20120 found this helpful

It is best to prune that seed stalk off and then your rhubarb plant will produce more edible stalks during the season.

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May 9, 20120 found this helpful

Do you plant the seed part of the rhubarb to make new plants, or is that bad?

By V.B. Jones

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By 0 found this helpful
April 12, 2010

I have just transplanted some rhubarb and I want to plant cucumbers in the spot where it was. I just want to make sure the rhubarb won't grow back. What sound I do?

Hardiness Zone: 5b

By SummerRay from Saint Johnsville, NY

Answers

April 12, 20100 found this helpful

Rhubarb is a perennial which means it will keep coming back every year. To get rid of it you must dig up the root system. It is a woody type root and tends to break apart easily so be sure to get it all! Rhubarb sends out runners underground and can spread.

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By 0 found this helpful
May 16, 2015

I planted a rhubarb plant last year and did very little in terms of pulling stalks so as to not ruin the crown. This year, the left over leaves were soggy. I pulled them off, very easily. Now I have "dirt", but can feel maybe the crown. Should I have pulled the soggy leaves? When will I see if the rhubarb will bloom?

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In This Guide
Rhubarb
Growing Perennial Vegetables
Categories
Home and Garden Gardening Growing Growing FoodJanuary 7, 2013
Guides
Rhubarb plants in cardboard box
Transplanting Rhubarb
Hands holding freshly picked rhubarb stalks
Harvesting Rhubarb
Rhubarb leaf with yellowing leaves in the background
Rhubarb Plants Turning Yellow
Growing Artichokes
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