How to Grow Rhubarb
Let’s take a closer look at how to grow rhubarb. This plant should have a place in every garden!
Oh rhubarb, how I love thee. I am a HUGE fan of sour foods. I grew up on sour patch kids and every other possible sour candy you can think of. I’ve always personally considered rhubarb as ‘adult sour candy’. Of course, I loved eating rhubarb as a kid, too, but now, I don’t eat store-bought sour candy. But I still love my rhubarb recipes!
It’s always nice to have a few rhubarb plants since they are so undemanding and are one of a very few perennial vegetables. Plus, they are are pretty easy-going, so even if you do nothing to the plant at all, you can expect a decent harvest of rhubarb.
Rhubarb also freezes well for winter use and also provides you with a nice fruitlike dish in the spring and early summer when other fruits are not yet bearing.
NOTE: Remember that the rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should never be eaten. The stalks, however, are rich in vitamins and flavor.
Where to Put Rhubarb in Your Garden:
**Rhubarb is a big mound that gets to be about 3 feet wide and almost as tall.
**Rhubarb does not like hot, dry climates. It will still grow, but not very quickly and will often try to go to seed. I was able to easily grow rhubarb when I lived in Michigan and Wisconsin, however, here in South Carolina, I have found it does better with some shade and drip irrigation.
**Choose a spot that is out of the way, like a back row of a garden. Since rhubarb is a perennial plant, it’s placement is permanent, and it will not be part of a crop-rotation program or ever be part of the turning-over-of-soil routine.
**Plant it in a sunny spot, but if your climate is warm, choose a shady spot. It is a nice idea to plant it near your asparagus because they are planted, grown, and harvested in a similar way. (Learn how to grow Asparagus here).
**Like asparagus, rhubarb needs a deep, fertile, well-drained soil. The large roots will spread several feet out and several feet deep. They prefer a pH that is lightly acidic, about 5.0-6.5.
Propagation of Rhubarb: Seeds or Divisions?
**Rhubarb is not generally grown from seed, but from divisions of existing clumps. The seeds cannot be trusted to breed true and they take a long time to produce mature plants.
**If you already have an established clump of rhubarb, divide it in half where it grows. Hold a sharp spade over the clump and plunge it straight down the middle. Leave one half in the soil, where it will keep growing and will actually be invigorated by this pruning. Divide the rest into many pieces or just a few larger pieces and plant elsewhere.
**If you do not have a plant to divide, check for divisions from a reputable nursery or online gardening website.
**Plant the divisions in early spring as soon as the ground has dried out enough to be worked (in milder climates, plant in the fall). Make a deep, wide trench similar as that for asparagus and dig rich organic matter into the bottom. Give each plant a large area to spread out, approximately three feet between each plant. Read more about what to plant in Early Spring.
Maintenance of Your Rhubarb Plants
**In spring seasons, give your rhubarb plant a top-dressing of compost or manure. The more water and nutrients you give your plant, the more stalks it will produce and the thicker they will be. There is very little danger of overfeeding. Simply make sure that the water can drain and not puddle up around the base of the plant to prevent rot.
**After the ground has warmed up, mulch around the plant and then remove the mulch the next early spring season to allow the sun to warm the soil again.
**In the summer, the plant will send up tall stalks that look different from the leaf stalks and produce flowers. Cut these flowering stalks down near the base, possibly before it begins to flower if you notice in time. If the plant sends up these type of stalks, it will produce fewer leaf stalks and might stop producing altogether.
**If you want to force a rhubarb plant in your cellar for winter eating, dig one up before the ground freezes in the fall, trying to get as many of the roots as possible and leaving as much soil around them as you can:
- Put in a large container and fill in around it with light soil or moistened peat moss. The crowns should be cut back almost to the roots and covered with several inches of whatever soil medium you are using.
- Leave the container outdoors and let it freeze at least once.
- Then bring it into a cool, dark place (about 40 degrees) if you are going to keep it dormant for a while.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy wet.
- When you want it to start growing, bring it into a somewhat warmer area (about 60 degrees), but keep it covered with something that will exclude the light.
- Soon the plant will start sending up edible stalks. When it has finished producing, you can either throw it away or replant it in the spring. The plant will recover eventually.
**Rhubarb plants will thrive almost indefinitely without being divided, though dividing will help benefit the plant. When a plant is old, the stalks will be very numerous but thinner.
**Occasionally, the plants get foot-rot, causing the stalks to rot at the bottom. Dig up the whole plant and burn it if this happens, and if you have been mulching the rhubarb, stop. Give the plants plenty of air circulation and perhaps relocate it to a new, sunny spot.
Harvesting Your Rhubarb Plants
**The first year you plant rhubarb, you should not harvest any of the edible leaf stalks, but do cut back the flower stalks.
**The second spring, you can pick some leaf stalks that are at least an inch thick, but most of them should be left on the plant to form leaves so that the roots can grow. Keep removing those flower stalks!
**The third year, you can pick the thick leaf stalks for about a month. Keep removing those flower stalks!
**From the fourth year on, you can pick as many of the thick leaf stalks as you like.
**You can cut the stalks from the base with a knife or twist the stalk and give it a tug.
I hope you learned a lot about how to grow rhubarb! Do you grow it already? Are you going to start growing it? Tell me about your rhubarb dreams/goals in the comments below!
Now that you have rhubarb, what can you make with it? Check out these delicious rhubarb recipes:
- Basic Rhubarb Sauce
- Rhubarb Coffee Cake
- Strawberry Rhubarb Overnight Oats
- Rhubarb Fruit Leather
- Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins
- Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- Rhubarb Pudding Cake
For More Gardening Tips:
- How to Grow Watermelon
- 10 Plants For Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden
- How to Grow Strawberries
- Early Spring Gardening Chores