Growing Rhubarb

Growing Rhubarb

Victoria Rhubarb

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Description

Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow, cool season, hardy perennial vegetable. Its leaf stalks (petioles) are used to make desserts and tart sauces. Because it is most commonly used as a dessert ingredient, it is sometimes called pie plant. Plants are productive, yields early in spring, and are hardy in zones 3 to 8.

Note that only the leaf stalks should be eaten, as the leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, which makes them toxic.

How To Plant

Plant rhubarb in well-drained soil in full sun. Bare root rhubarb can be planted outdoors 4 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Because the plants are long-lived, making sure to eliminate weeds, especially perennial weeds like quackgrass, is recommended.

Prepare a planting hole 12 inches wide and deep amended with compost or other organic matter. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart, with rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Plant with the top of the crowns 2 inches below the soil surface. Apply several inches of organic mulch, like straw or chopped leaves, to the soil surface after planting.

Maintenance

Do not harvest any petioles during the first season, and make only one light harvest in the second year to allow plants to become established. A third to a half of the leaf stalks can be harvested from mature plants. For the best flavor, harvest young stalks when the leaves first emerge.

Remove flowering stems if they are formed, to allow plants to focus more energy on leaf and root growth.

Plants may need to be divided and replanted if stalks become spindly or production declines after 5 or 6 years. To divide plants, use a sharp space to cut through the center of a plant in early spring. Leave half of the existing plant in place, and remove half. The removed portion can be further divided and replanted. Make sure that each division has some growing points (buds or eyes).

Fertilizer Recommendations

A moderate to heavy feeder, rhubarb benefits from yearly fertilization in spring. Use low rates of ALGOplus All Purpose Fertilizer (6-6-6) or Purple Cow Organics BioActive All-Purpose (4-6-4).

Common Problems

Rhubarb is long-lived, low-maintenance, and usually free from significant problems. Crown rot can occur if plants are growing in heavy, wet soil. Rhubarb curculio beetle is a rare problem. If plant vigor declines, ensure that plants are fertilized once every year and consider dividing plants if they have been in the ground for 5 or more years.

Alternative Products

Asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke are other hardy perennial vegetables. Artichoke is a tender perennial vegetable crop.

Complimentary Products

Delicious desserts are made by combining strawberries with rhubarb in pies or cobblers.

Rhubarb Facts

Rhubarb roots have a long history of use as a medicinal herb. Although often used like a fruit for making sweet dishes, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable.

Growing Tips