Rhubarb is a perennial crop, which means it comes back year after year without replanting. It thrives in temperate climates; it needs winter temperatures below 40 degrees F and summer temperatures averaging 75 degrees or lower. The leafstalks of rhubarb are edible, but the leaves contain oxalic acid and can be poisonous.
Sometimes the best choice for your garden is a piece of the rhubarb plant that is growing successfully in your neighbor’s garden. Rhubarb can be red, green, or speckled. Some are sweeter than others. Popular varieties include Canada Red, Cherry Red, Valentine, and Victoria.
Rhubarb Planting and Care
Rhubarb is a very forgiving plant; it will grow and produce is less-than-ideal conditions. For best results choose a sunny location with well-drained fertile soil high in organic matter.
Rhubarb is planted as crowns or divisions. Most people who grow rhubarb are happy to give away pieces of their plants, but you can also buy rhubarb plants from nurseries and garden centers. Rhubarb is best planted dormant, either in spring or fall.
Because they are perennials, rhubarb should be planted in a place where they can remain, like at the edge of the garden or in a separate bed. Remove weeds from the area where you want to plant your rhubarb. Prepare one square yard of space for each plant by loosening the soil to about one foot down and adding four inches of compost or well-rotten manure.
Cover the crowns of the rhubarb plants with just one or two inches of soil, then tamp the soil down around the roots and water well.
Mulch around the plants after they start growing, and water well during dry weather—an occasional deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering. An annual application of organic fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium will help the plants grow vigorously from year to year.
Rhubarb Pests and Diseases
Rhubarb is a relatively pest-free crop in the home garden. Good growing conditions and sanitation are the keys to keeping rhubarb healthy.
To give your plants time to get established, don’t harvest any stems the first year and just a few the second year. After that you can harvest up to one-third of the leafstalks when they are firm and crisp–between eight and fifteen inches long. You can twist the stalks off at the base or cut them with a knife. When the plants starts producing thin stalks it’s time to stop harvesting for the season.
Want to learn more about growing and preparing rhubarb?
See these resources:
The Joy of Rhubarb: The Versatile Summer Delight by Theresa Millang (Amazon affiliate link)
The Ohio cooperative extension service has tips for the home rhubarb grower.
The Rhubarb Compendium has a slew of rhubarb recipes.
Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.