Learn How to Grow Rhubarb

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Rhubarb Plant Profile

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a vegetable that is often prepared and eaten as a fruit, made into pies, jellies, jellies, and more. This cool-season crop, which is perennial in many areas, is grown for its fibrous leaf stalks, which can be a wonderful bitter delight.

Additionally, rhubarb can make a beautiful ornamental plant with its large, textured leaves and thick stems. Rhubarb plants are generally hardy and long-lived, with some varieties growing for 20 years or more.

Plant in early spring, but don't start harvesting until the second growing season.

Botanical NameRheum rhabarbarum or Rheum ×  hybridum
Common NameRhubarb
Plant SizePerennial vegetable; grown as a winter annual in warm climates
Mature Size2–3 ft. tall; 3- to 4-ft. spread
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-drained, fertile, moist
Soil pHAcidic (5.5–6.5)
Hardiness Zones3–8 (USDA); sometimes be grown as a winter annual in zones 9, 10.
Native AreaAsia
ToxicityLeaves are highly toxic

How to Plant Rhubarb

Rhubarb is generally grown from purchased crowns (root divisions) rather than seeds to speed up harvesting. In early spring, when the soil becomes usable, plant your rhubarb crowns about 2 inches deep and four feet apart.

If they are placed too close together, the rhubarb will be smaller and less productive. You can plant it in a long trench, like asparagus, or dig individual holes. After planting, water the rhubarb well.

Remove the flower stalks, which are thicker and taller than the leaf stalks, as soon as they appear. If the rhubarb matures and blooms, the leaf stems will be thinner. Rhubarb doesn't like weed competition. A 2-inch layer of mulch kills weeds and helps conserve water.

Rhubarb Care

Light

Rhubarb tends to do best when planted in full sun. However, plants in warmer growing areas generally benefit from some shade in the afternoon, especially during the hottest months of the year. However, too much shade can result in thin stems.

Soil

Rhubarb prefers soil with a slightly acidic pH of about 5.5 to 6.5. In addition, it likes soils rich in organic matter, which helps support its growth. The soil should be moist but well-drained. If you have heavy soil like clay, consider planting your rhubarb in raised beds to provide the proper growing environment.

Water

Rhubarb likes constant humidity. Although mature plants can be somewhat drought resistant, rhubarb, in its first two years of growth, needs regular watering. Don't overwater the rhubarb though, as the crowns can rot in damp soil. A good rule of thumb is to water the plant when the top layer of soil dries out.

Place a thick layer of mulch over the rhubarb as soon as the soil freezes. This will help prevent the roots from drying out while the plant is dormant.

Temperature and Humidity

Rhubarb likes climates where the average temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and below 75 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. It can be grown annually in warmer areas; however, too much heat can cause thin stems and leaves.

Dry climates make it difficult for rhubarb to maintain its desired moisture level, although a layer of mulch can help.

Fertilizer

Rhubarb needs a lot of organic matter, like compost, in the soil to grow well. Do not use any chemical fertilizers on a young rhubarb plant, as nitrates can kill it.

You can add an organic fertilizer around your plant at the beginning of its second growing season, but make sure it's safe if you plan to eat your rhubarb.

Is Rhubarb Toxic?

Only the rhubarb stalks are edible. The leaves are poisonous and must be removed at harvest time. They contain oxalic acid crystals, which are toxic to humans and animals.

Also, ice damage can cause oxalic acid crystals to move up the rhubarb stalks. So if the stems are not firm and straight, don't eat them.

Some symptoms of poisoning include weakness, shortness of breath, burning or pain in the mouth and throat, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. Symptoms are similar in humans and animals and should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Varieties of Rhubarb

There are several types of rhubarb, each with certain attributes that make it desirable to grow. Here are a few common varieties:

  • 'Victoria': This is a popular rhubarb variety for cooking, thanks to its mild and tender stalks.
  • 'Valentine': This variety is hardy against climate fluctuations and diseases.
  • 'Crimson Cherry': This variety is known for its sweetness.
  • 'Canada Red': This plant does well in colder climates and contains more sugar than many other rhubarb varieties.

Propagating Rhubarb

Rhubarb should be cut and divided every three to five years. You will know that it is time for the plant to start producing thin stems. To divide the rhubarb for propagation, dig up the root mass and divide the crown into pieces about two inches in diameter with the roots attached.

Then replant the healthy sections a few feet apart (or anywhere else). You can do this in early spring or fall, although it is easier in spring when the plant is coming out of dormancy and taking root.

Harvesting

Don't harvest rhubarb in your plant's first growing season to allow it to establish. You can harvest a small crop in the second growing season. During the third season, you can harvest rhubarb for about a month.

And after the third year, you can harvest as long as there are stalks ready to harvest. However, if you are growing rhubarb in a warm climate like one year, you can harvest whatever you want in the first year, because the plant probably won't survive the second year.

The main harvest season is spring, although smaller harvests may continue through the summer. To harvest, cut the stems at the soil line or remove individual stems as needed. You can harvest the entire crop at the same time or over a period of four to six weeks.

Common Pests and Diseases

Rhubarb can be susceptible to canopy rot, especially in moist, poorly drained soils. If you have heavy clay soil, consider growing rhubarb in raised beds filled with corrected soil. Leaf spots can occur, but although disfiguring, this generally does not prevent the stems from being harvested.

Rhubarb is also susceptible to stem borers, beetles, and rhubarb curculus. Generally, organic or chemical pesticides will control them, although you should follow label directions for using these compounds with edible plants.

The affected parts of the plant must be removed and destroyed. Keep the soil around plants free of debris to eliminate breeding areas.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About How to Grow and Harvest Rhubarb

Source: David Domoney

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