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11 Rhubarb Growing Mistakes That You Can Avoid

11 Rhubarb Growing Mistakes That You Can Avoid

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Rhubarb, with its tart and tangy flavor, is a favorite in pies and desserts.

Growing rhubarb in your garden can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not without its challenges. As an expert gardening blogger, I’ve seen many gardeners face obstacles with this unique vegetable.

Let’s dive into the common mistakes in rhubarb cultivation and how you can avoid them to enjoy a bountiful rhubarb harvest.

1. Planting in the Wrong Location

One of the first and most crucial mistakes in growing rhubarb is planting it in an unsuitable location. Rhubarb thrives in an area that receives full sun, for at least six to eight hours daily.

Planting rhubarb in too much shade will result in weak stems and poor growth. Additionally, rhubarb needs well-drained soil as it’s prone to root rot in waterlogged conditions.

Choose a spot in your garden with good sun exposure and well-draining soil to give your rhubarb the best start.

2. Overcrowding Rhubarb Plants

Rhubarb plants can grow quite large, and a common mistake is not allowing enough space for them to develop fully.

Plant rhubarb crowns about 3 to 4 feet apart to provide ample room for growth. Overcrowding can lead to poor air circulation, which increases the risk of fungal diseases.

It also results in competition for nutrients and water, leading to weaker plants. Proper spacing ensures that each rhubarb plant has enough room to flourish and produce abundantly.

3. Harvesting Too Soon

A frequent mistake among eager gardeners is harvesting rhubarb too soon. Rhubarb needs time to establish its root system and grow strong before it can withstand harvesting.

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In the first year after planting, resist the temptation to harvest any stalks. This patience allows the plant to develop a robust root system, ensuring better growth and productivity in subsequent years.

From the second year onwards, you can start to harvest, ensuring not to take more than half of the stalks at any one time to keep the plant healthy and productive.

4. Neglecting Soil Fertility

Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and require nutrient-rich soil to thrive. A common mistake is neglecting the fertility of the soil in which rhubarb is planted.

Before planting, it’s beneficial to enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure. This not only improves soil structure but also provides essential nutrients.

Annually adding organic matter and considering an all-purpose fertilizer can significantly impact the vigor and yield of your rhubarb plants.

5. Inadequate Watering Practices

Watering is crucial in the care of rhubarb, and both overwatering and underwatering can be detrimental.

Rhubarb requires consistent moisture, especially during the growing season, to develop those thick, juicy stalks.

The soil should be kept evenly moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot, while underwatering can cause the plant to become stressed and reduce yield.

Mulching around the base of the plant can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature, creating ideal growing conditions.

6. Ignoring Pest and Disease Management

Pests and diseases can pose significant threats to rhubarb plants. Neglecting to monitor and manage these issues is a mistake that can lead to reduced plant health and yield.

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Common problems include crown rot, snails, and slugs. Regular inspections of your rhubarb plants and implementing appropriate control measures, such as organic pesticides or natural deterrents, can help keep these issues at bay.

Maintaining good garden hygiene and removing any affected plant material promptly are also key steps in keeping your rhubarb healthy.

7. Not Dividing Rhubarb Plants Regularly

A vital aspect often overlooked in rhubarb care is the regular division of mature plants. Rhubarb plants should be divided every 5 to 6 years to maintain vigor and productivity.

Over time, the center of the plant can become crowded and less productive. Dividing the plant rejuvenates it, encouraging new growth and larger yields.

The best time for division is in the early spring, just as the plant is emerging from dormancy. This practice not only benefits the health of the plant but can also expand your rhubarb patch.

8. Using Chemical Fertilizers Excessively

While fertilization is important for rhubarb’s growth, excessive use of chemical fertilizers is a mistake.

Over-fertilizing, especially with high-nitrogen fertilizers, can lead to lush leaf growth at the expense of the stalks, which are the edible parts. It’s better to use organic matter like compost or a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to provide nutrients.

This approach not only feeds your rhubarb but also maintains soil health, promoting overall plant well-being.

9. Harvesting All Stalks at Once

Harvesting rhubarb correctly is crucial for the plant’s health and future yield. A common mistake is harvesting all the stalks at once, which can weaken the plant.

Throughout the harvesting season, only take what you need, typically no more than one-third to one-half of the plant’s total stalks at a time.

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This method ensures that the plant retains enough foliage to continue photosynthesis and support healthy root development. Sustainable harvesting practices lead to a more robust and productive rhubarb plant year after year.

10. Letting Rhubarb Bolt (Flower) Without Action

Rhubarb can sometimes send up flower stalks, a process known as bolting. This is often a response to stress but can also be a natural part of its growth cycle.

A mistake many gardeners make is not removing these flower stalks promptly. Bolting can divert energy away from stalk production, the part of the plant we harvest.

When you notice a flower stalk, cut it off at the base to redirect the plant’s energy into producing more and larger leaf stalks, ensuring a better harvest.

11. Forgetting to Protect Rhubarb in Winter

In areas with harsh winters, failing to protect rhubarb plants can be detrimental. While rhubarb is a hardy plant, it still benefits from some winter protection to ensure its longevity and productivity.

A common mistake is not adding a layer of mulch or straw around the plant’s base before the onset of winter.

This mulch acts as an insulator, protecting the roots from extreme cold and temperature fluctuations. Proper winter care is essential for the plant to emerge strong and healthy in the spring.

Avoiding these 11 common mistakes will greatly enhance your success in growing rhubarb. Each step, from selecting the right location to providing winter protection, contributes to a healthy, productive plant.

Enjoy the journey of growing this unique and flavorful vegetable in your garden!