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How to Grow and Care for Rhubarb (The Easy Way)

How to Grow and Care for Rhubarb (The Easy Way)

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Growing rhubarb in your garden is a unique and rewarding endeavor, offering both culinary delights and ornamental beauty.

As an avid gardener, I’ve always been fascinated by rhubarb’s robust growth and the versatility it brings to the kitchen.

From its distinctively tart stalks ideal for pies and jams to its large, lush leaves creating a dramatic presence in the garden, rhubarb is a plant that serves many purposes.

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of growing rhubarb, highlight some of my favorite varieties, and provide essential care tips to help you cultivate this fascinating plant.

Benefits of Growing Rhubarb

1. Culinary Versatility

Rhubarb is renowned for its tart flavor, making it a favorite for pies, jams, and desserts. Homegrown rhubarb offers a fresh and organic option for your culinary creations.

2. Easy to Grow and Maintain

Once established, rhubarb plants are incredibly hardy and require minimal maintenance. They can thrive in a variety of climates and soil types, making them an excellent choice for both novice and experienced gardeners.

3. Long-Lived Perennial

Rhubarb is a perennial plant, meaning once you plant it, you can enjoy its harvest for many years. It’s not uncommon for a rhubarb plant to produce for ten years or more, offering a long-term return on your gardening investment.

My Favorite Rhubarb Varieties

Rhubarb comes in a variety of types, each with its unique characteristics. Here are three varieties that I find particularly delightful:

1. Victoria

This is one of the most popular and easiest varieties to grow. Victoria rhubarb has greenish-red stalks and a sweet, mild flavor, making it perfect for desserts. It’s known for its high yield and reliability.

2. Canada Red

If you prefer a more intense flavor, Canada Red is an excellent choice. It features deep red stalks and a more pronounced tartness. This variety is also known for its tender texture, which is ideal for cooking.

3. Riverside Giant

For those who enjoy large harvests, Riverside Giant is a standout. This variety produces very long, thick stalks and is known for its robust growth. It’s less sweet than the other varieties but great for those who want a substantial yield.

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Rhubarb Care

Proper care is essential for growing a healthy and productive rhubarb plant. This hardy perennial requires specific conditions to thrive, but once established, it’s surprisingly low-maintenance.

Let’s go through the essential aspects of rhubarb care, including planting, light requirements, soil conditions, water needs, temperature and humidity preferences, and fertilization.

Planting

The best time to plant rhubarb is in the early spring. Choose a sunny spot in your garden, as rhubarb plants thrive in full sun.

Plant the rhubarb crowns (the upper part of the root system) about 2 inches below the soil surface. Space the plants about 3 to 4 feet apart to allow enough room for growth.

Rhubarb can also be grown from seeds, but this is less common and takes longer to establish.

Light

Rhubarb plants need full sun, ideally 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Adequate sunlight is crucial for the plant to develop strong stems and vibrant flavors.

Soil

Well-draining, fertile soil is ideal for rhubarb. The soil pH should be slightly acidic to neutral, around 6.0 to 6.8.

Before planting, it’s beneficial to enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter or well-rotted manure to improve fertility and drainage.

Water

While rhubarb plants are relatively drought-tolerant, they perform best with consistent moisture. Water the plants deeply, especially during dry periods, to encourage deep root growth.

However, be careful not to overwater, as rhubarb does not like “wet feet” and can be prone to root rot in waterlogged soil.

Temperature and Humidity

Rhubarb prefers cooler temperatures and can even withstand light frosts. It’s a perfect crop for temperate climates and can usually survive winter conditions with some mulch for protection.

In very hot climates, rhubarb may struggle and require some shade during the hottest part of the day.

Fertilizer

Feed rhubarb plants in the early spring with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. Additionally, applying a layer of compost or well-rotted manure around the base of the plant each year can help maintain soil fertility.

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Avoid over-fertilizing, as too much nitrogen can encourage leafy growth at the expense of the stalks.

Harvesting Rhubarb

Harvesting rhubarb correctly is essential for both the health of the plant and the quality of your harvest.

The best time to harvest rhubarb is in late spring or early summer when the stalks are about 12 to 18 inches long.

Gently twist and pull each stalk from the base of the plant. Remember, only the stalks are edible; rhubarb leaves are toxic and should not be consumed.

In the first year after planting, it’s best to avoid harvesting to allow the plant to establish itself. From the second year, you can start harvesting but do so sparingly to not overtax the plant.

Pruning

Pruning is not typically necessary for rhubarb plants. However, you should remove any flower stalks as soon as they appear.

Flowering can reduce the vigor of the plant and the quality of the harvest. Also, remove any damaged or diseased leaves to maintain plant health.

Propagating

Rhubarb is most commonly propagated by dividing the crowns. This is best done in early spring before growth starts or in the fall after the plant goes dormant.

To divide, dig up the entire plant and split the crown into sections, each with at least one growth bud. Replant the sections immediately.

How to Grow Rhubarb From Seed

Growing rhubarb from seed is a longer process and not as common as propagation by division. If you choose to grow from seed, start the seeds indoors in late winter.

Sow the seeds in a seed-starting mix and keep them moist. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual pots.

They can be moved outdoors once the risk of frost has passed.

Growing in Pots

Growing rhubarb in pots is feasible but challenging due to the plant’s large root system. Choose a large container (at least 20 inches in diameter) with good drainage.

Use a high-quality potting mix and ensure the plant receives plenty of sunlight. Water regularly, as potted plants tend to dry out more quickly than those in the ground.

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Be aware that container-grown rhubarb may not be as vigorous as those grown in gardens.

Overwintering

Overwintering rhubarb is an important aspect of its care, especially in regions with harsh winters.

Rhubarb is a hardy plant and can typically survive cold conditions, but taking extra steps can ensure its health and productivity.

After the first frost, when the leaves die back, clear away any leftover plant debris to prevent disease. Then, apply a thick layer of mulch, such as straw or well-rotted manure, over the rhubarb crown.

This mulch layer provides insulation, protecting the crown from extreme temperatures and frost heaving.

Transplanting

Transplanting rhubarb is best done in early spring or fall when the plant is dormant.

If a rhubarb plant becomes too crowded or you wish to propagate it, lifting and dividing the crowns is the best approach.

Carefully dig around the plant, lift the entire crown, and divide it into smaller sections, each with at least one or two buds. Replant these divisions promptly, ensuring they are spaced adequately to accommodate future growth.

Common Pests & Diseases

Rhubarb can be susceptible to several pests and diseases. Crown rot is a common issue, often caused by poor drainage or overly wet conditions.

Ensuring well-draining soil can prevent this. Pests like slugs and snails can be attracted to the large leaves, and they can be managed through manual removal or environmentally friendly controls.

Growing rhubarb in your garden adds a touch of rustic charm and offers the unique reward of tart, flavorful stalks for your culinary adventures.

Whether stewed, baked into pies, or even used in savory dishes, rhubarb provides a delightful taste experience. This hardy, low-maintenance plant can be a joy for gardeners of all levels, bringing both beauty and flavor to your garden year after year.

Remember, the success of your rhubarb plants lies in the joy of the growing process and the anticipation of that delicious harvest.