Buying Rhubarb Plants
Cultivars vary in stalk color from pink to red to speckled to
green. The flavor is fairly consistent among cultivars and there
is no correlation between tartness and stalk color.
Red stalk cultivars include 'Canada Red,' 'Crimson Red,'
'McDonald' and 'Valentine.'
Red cultivars may produce thinner and fewer stalks.
a robust green-stalked variety, is a very reliable performer
with thicker stalks.
Rhubarb divisions and crowns can be found at local garden
centers and by mail order. It can be grown from seed but takes a
long time, and the seed may not be reliably similar to the
When to Plant Rhubarb
Spring or early fall are the best times to plant. Rhubarb
requires a site in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil
amended with organic matter such as leaf mold, compost or
well-rotted manure. It is not sensitive to the pH of the soil.
The area around the site should be weed-free. Provide plenty of
space, about 3 square feet. With our clay soil, you may need to
hill up the area for drainage or plant in a raised bed.
Once it's planted, have a little patience. Harvest nothing the
first year and sparingly the second year. This delay will allow
the large leaves to provide sufficient energy for crown and root
development. From the third year on you may start harvesting in
the spring to early summer, but remove no more than half of the
plant at one time. This cool-season crop will naturally slow
down during the hotter days of summer but resume growth as
cooler temperatures return. You may continue to harvest, but
back off when the stalks get thinner as this is a sign that the
reserves in the crown are depleted.
Maintenance of Rhubarb
Rhubarb requires little maintenance. Water it deeply during
extended dry periods. Fertilizer helps with growth and large
yields. In early spring, apply around the perimeter of the plant
either a half-cup of 5-10-10 all-purpose fertilizer (and work it
into the soil) or a 2- to 3-inch layer of well-rotted manure.
Mulching suppresses weeds and conserves soil moisture. If a
flower/seed stalk appears, remove it by pulling or cutting it
off at the base. Otherwise, it will reduce plant vigor and stalk
formation. After the ground is frozen in the late fall, apply 2
to 3 inches of straw mulch.
this perennial every seven to 10 years as you notice it becoming
less productive, with thinner fruit stalks and perhaps more seed
stalks. In early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, dig
up the entire plant and lift it from the ground. Section the
clump into divisions that contain at least one or two buds and a
good root system. Inspect the center of the clump for
indications of root rot as this crowded area may need to be
discarded. Plant each divided section in a prepared hole so that
the buds are upright and 1½ to 2 inches below the surface. Firm
the soil around the plant but don't press directly on the
sensitive buds themselves.
Very few pests bother rhubarb. Deer don't touch it. Rhubarb
curculio may cause minor damage by puncturing the stalk. This
¾-inch-long rusty snout beetle lays its eggs in curly dock
stems. To control this pest, eliminate curly dock from your
garden in July, after the beetles have laid their eggs. Another
pest, rhubarb stalk borer, overwinters in the egg stage on
grassy weeds. Eliminate grassy weeds from the area.
The only other potential issue is phytophthora crown or "root
rot." Control this culturally by planting only disease-free
divisions in a well-drained sunny site with good air
Wait until your stalks are 10 to 15 inches long, then harvest by
holding the stalk firmly and pulling with a slight twist. Do not
harvest by cutting the stalks as this will allow for disease to
enter the plant crown. Take your knife to the garden and cut off
the leaf as well as the base of the stalk where it attaches to
the crown of the plant. The leaves are poisonous with toxic
levels of oxalic acid but can be safely composted.
Fresh rhubarb can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator
for up to two weeks. For longer storage it can be easily frozen
or canned. To freeze: wash, trim and cut into appropriate sizes
for later use. Pack a measured amount tightly into a
freezer-safe container; leave appropriate headspace, label, seal
and freeze. I store 2- and 3-cup batches based on the amount
needed in future recipes. To can, follow only research-based
methods and recipes.
However you choose to use the stalks in the kitchen, rhubarb is
sure to provide beauty in your garden for years to come.