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Planting Rhubarb: How To Grow Rhubarb

Planting Rhubarb: How To Grow Rhubarb


By: Kathee Mierzejewski

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.

How to Grow Rhubarb

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.

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Growing Rhubarb: Varieties, Planting Guide, Care, Problems, and Harvest

Jennifer is a full-time homesteader who started her journey in the foothills of North Carolina in 2010. Currently, she spends her days gardening, caring for her orchard and vineyard, raising chickens, ducks, goats, and bees. Jennifer is an avid canner who provides almost all food for her family needs. She enjoys working on DIY remodeling projects to bring beauty to her homestead in her spare times.

Rhubarb. Pronounced roo-barb, is a funny-sounding name for a vegetable isn’t it?

As funny as it may sound, it’s a fun plant to grow. I wanted to begin growing it a few years ago because I heard of rhubarb pie.

Once I knew there was a pie in my future, I got busy planting. Rhubarb is one of the few vegetables that is mostly served sweet.

Unsure if you have what it takes to grow the vegetable that can pass as a sweet treat? Follow along with me as I fill you in on all you need to know about growing rhubarb.


What is Rhubarb?

The rhubarb plant is a vegetable with big leaves and red stalks that are similar looking to celery. A perennial plant, it is one of the first vegetables that can be harvested in the spring. As a member of the Polygonaceae family, garden rhubarb’s scientific name is Rheum rhabarbarum.

Is Rhubarb Toxic?

You may have heard rumblings about the toxicity of rhubarb. So, is rhubarb poisonous? Technically the answer is yes and no. The stalks, which are what you will find in all rhubarb recipes, are completely safe to eat cooked and raw (though they will be very tart when eaten raw).

The leaves, however, should not be ingested as they contain oxalic acid, a chemical that can lead to kidney problems. That being said, don’t panic if a piece of a leaf makes its way into your harvested rhubarb. Only eating the leaves in whole will make you feel sick.

Is Rhubarb a Fruit or Vegetable?

Another interesting rumour about rhubarb is whether or not it is a fruit. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but in the USA it is legally a fruit. This is because a New York court ruled in 1947 that rhubarb was a fruit because it was most commonly cooked as one. As silly as it is, the confusion remains to this day!


Second-Year Care

Remove the old mulch or till it under around the rhubarb for added nutrients. Cultivate the soil around the rhubarb carefully to avoid injuring the shallow roots and crowns. Water the plant well and add a new layer of organic mulch.

Fertilize the plant before new growth starts with a fertilizer that contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is good for rhubarb grown in a Mediterranean climate. Apply the fertilizer according to the package directions.

Harvest just a few stalks from the second-year growth. Either break the stalks from the plant with a sideways twist or cut the stalks with a sharp knife. The leaves contain oxalic acid crystals that move into the stalks when frosts occur. Harvest the rhubarb before any frosts damage the stalks. After harvesting, apply a layer of organic mulch for winter protection.