Edited by Graeme, Lynn, Eng, Slider and 2 others
Rhubarb is a popular vegetable, although most people think it's a fruit. Most people like it when it's used in pies, muffins, jams, sauces, cobblers, chutneys and savory dishes. There are both red and green varieties. Even though you can eat the stalks of the rhubarb plant, the leaves and roots contain oxalic acid, so they are highly poisonous to humans.
Rhubarb is a perennial plant, which means it will grow every year and, if tended properly, the same plant can be harvested from for 10-20 years. This makes rhubarb an amazing plant that many people really enjoy growing and eating.
Rhubarb is a very hardy plant that needs cool temperatures when it's dormant and moderate temperatures during spring and summer. It needs this cycle of dormancy and growth to produce the edible stalks.
The best mix of temperatures for growing rhubarb is 40 degrees F or below in winter and no higher than 75 degrees F in the summer. This means that it will grow well in the northern US, southern Canada, the UK and northern Europe. It won't grow well in hot climates like the southern US or southern Europe.
- 1 Preparing to Plant Rhubarb
- 2 Seeds or Plants
- 3 Caring for Rhubarb Plants
- 4 Harvesting Rhubarb Plants
- 5 Forcing Rhubarb
- 6 Forcing Outdoors in Situ
- 7 Forcing Rhubarb Indoors
- 8 Speeding up Your Spring Harvest
- 9 Important Facts
- 10 Questions and Answers
- 11 Comments
Preparing to Plant Rhubarb
So if you've decided to grow rhubarb, now you must get the soil ready. Having excellent soil conditions is vital if you want success in growing your rhubarb. While it prefers being planted in acidic soil with a pH level of around 5, it grows best at a pH of between 6 and 8.
- 1To begin with, get rid of all weeds in the area in which you propose growing it.Advertisement
- 2This should be done about four weeks prior to planting.Then, dig the soil to a reasonable depth and add organic material such as compost or well-rotted manure so the soil has the nutrients and texture the plant needs.Advertisement
- 3For best results, plant in soil that drains well.
Seeds or Plants
Rhubarb can be started from seeds, but it usually takes three or more years before you'll harvest any stalks. Plus, you can never be sure what you are getting when growing from seeds as they don't always come true and may not exhibit the same characteristics as the mother plants, this can also affect its taste. For more certain results, probably the best way to grow rhubarb is by buying and planting crowns that are several years old.
Growing from Seeds
- 1Then, plant the seeds in a good soil mix. Seedlings should appear about 10 days after sowing. The plants will need another two months or so to mature.If you really want to grow from seeds, they will need to be soaked in warm water for several hours prior to planting.Advertisement
- 2Once they are between two to four years old, the plants could have grown to four feet in diameter and up to three feet tall (the size plants will grow is very dependent on soil and climatic conditions). Although you can probably take a few stalks from a two year old plant, it's best to wait until the following year to harvest more than that.Depending on weather conditions, by the end of the growing season, the stalks should be about a foot or more in length, but they will probably be far too thin to harvest in their first year.
Growing from Crowns
- 2Make sure each section of the crown has a bud and some roots that are several inches long. For best results, split crowns in early spring.To propagate or split the plant because it's gotten too big, dig up the crown and cut it into sections, plant each section in the same way as mentioned above.
Caring for Rhubarb Plants
Be sure to weed around your plants regularly, as rhubarb doesn't like the competition and can be easily damaged. Add a good general fertilizer regularly and water well but the plant should not sit in water.
Harvesting Rhubarb Plants
- 1Do this by cutting the stems at ground level or pulling them up sharply. Limit your harvest to three or four stalks per each plant, and leave the rest to regenerate. As the years go by and the plant spreads, you'll be able to harvest more stalks each year.By the second or third year the rhubarb will be ready to harvest.
- 2To keep the plant thriving, they should be cut down to the ground every four or five years or if it gets spindly or over crowded.In the winter, the rhubarb needs to go dormant, cover it with leaves, hay or compost to protect the crowns.
- 3Plus the rhubarb must be grown in cool temperatures and acidic, well-fertilized soil. Follow these suggestions and you can have a bountiful harvest to cook into delicious desserts or savory dishes for your family and friends.The bottom line is that if you want to grow tasty rhubarb, you have to have patience and wait a couple of years before harvesting.
If you recoil at the price of rhubarb in the grocery store, especially when it's out of season in your area, growing your own in the dark or forcing, is a great way of getting tender sweet stems much earlier than you otherwise would.
What is Forcing?
- 1People have been forcing rhubarb since the 1800's and at one time England's West Yorkshire region grew over 90 percent of the forced winter rhubarb that the whole world enjoyed. In order to prevent the rhubarb bolting, harvesting was done using candle light.Forcing is the process of "fooling Mother Nature" by putting the plants in total darkness and adding a little warmth.
- 2Forcing can also be done out in the garden.The commercial growers use "forcing sheds", but home gardeners can force their rhubarb in a garage, cellar, greenhouse, garden shed or another outbuilding.
- 3Having the light totally excluded means the plant seeks light and in the process, it grows pale sweet stems. Unlike rhubarb grown the usual way, forced rhubarb usually requires less sugar to balance its tartness and its taste is far more delicate.Total darkness sets up the conditions in which the plant cannot create chlorophyll through the process of photosynthesis.
Forcing Outdoors in Situ
- 1Use upturned pots, cover the hole of the pot with tape or use special rhubarb forces to prevent any light from getting to the budding crowns. Then bank up straw outside the pot or insulate the inside of the pot with straw to create a micro-climate around the crown. You can also pack straw around the outside of the upturned pot, but this might encourage slugs into this lovely warm environment or create conditions that will make the crown too wet so it rots. If the stalks start flowering, cut these off, as flowering will affect the growth of the stalks.Forcing in Situ in late winter means there is no disturbance of the dormant crowns.
- 2After covering, the rhubarb will usually be ready to cut within eight weeks.
- 3You need to let the plants recover for at least a year (two would be better) after being forced; otherwise, they could be weakened and more susceptible to disease.It's not a good idea to force the same crowns for more than two years in a row.
Forcing Rhubarb Indoors
- 1Take as much soil as possible with the crowns you dig up. Well established plants are the best ones to use.After the last harvest, late autumn or early winter, before winter's freeze really sets in, dig up the roots or crowns of the plants you intend to force.
- 2At this point, you could add compost or well-rotted manure and straw to protect against frost. Keep the soil moist but not wet.Put the crown in a half barrel or large pot and cover with soil.
- 3Cover the pot with an upturned pot or forcer, and you can use any cover that excludes light but it needs to be big enough to allow the plant to grow. Your crowns have to be in total darkness. Under these conditions, your plant will slowly grow stalks or petioles. Don't let them dry out, but equally don't allow the plant to get too wet.Place the pot somewhere cool - a garage, cellar, potting shed or greenhouse - the temperature should be around 10 degrees C or 50 degrees F.
- 4You should be able to harvest your forced rhubarb approximately four to six weeks after bringing the plants indoors.
- 5As with forcing outdoors in Situ, it's not a good idea to use the same crowns for forcing for more than two years in a row. You need to let the plants recover for at least a year (two would be better) after being forced, otherwise, they could be weakened and become more susceptible to disease.In the spring, the forced plants can be put back into the garden.
Speeding up Your Spring Harvest
- 1Even though you might not want to bother with forcing, you can seriously "encourage" your rhubarb to produce stalks for earlier harvesting by using a clear sheet plastic to cover the plants before the crowns start to grow in early spring.
- 2Once the plants show new growth, put holes in the plastic for ventilation. As the leaves grow, remove the plastic covering completely.Because it holds the heat, the plastic helps to speed up the plant's growth.
- 1So, in order to have sufficient rhubarb for your needs, you may want to force several crowns.Forced rhubarb will yield about half what the same plant will yield if grown outside.
- 2This rest period is an important part of the growing cycle, and having been frosted, the plant will produce stronger growth and better stalks.Leave the pots that you've planted the crowns in outside until the rhubarb has been exposed to several hard touches of frost (0 degrees C or 32 degrees F).
- 3While any rhubarb cultivars can be used, there are certain varieties that are specially bred for forcing:
- "Victoria" - widely available
- "Stockbridge Arrow" - vigorous and widely used in the "rhubarb triangle" of Yorkshire in England
- "Timperley Early" - or any other varieties with "early" in its name
- Don't be at the mercy of the grocery store prices or the insipid flavor their rhubarb usually has early in the season. With a little effort, you can harvest wonderfully sweet rhubarb well before the season really starts.
Questions and Answers
What should outdoor rhubarb look like at the end of the season mid to late fall? should it show new growth?
I am growing Rhubarb in Kansas. I am using different growing methods. Some of my Rhubarb are showing healthy new growth. Is that typical?
It is normal. You are growing indoors so the "seasonal" changes will not be the same.
Categories : Gardening
Recent edits by: vc, Slider, Eng