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Growing Rhubarb

Find out how to grow and care for rhubarb

Growing Rhubarb

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Although rhubarb is typically eaten as a dessert, it is actually a vegetable since the fruits are not eaten. Originating from Siberia, rhubarb is completely hardy - in fact exposure to frost is essential during the winter if it is to grow to its best. Rhubarb is an ultra-low maintenance crop and can be left completely to its own devices all year, however for best results a little effort goes a long way.

Growing Rhubarb

Healthy rhubarb plant

Although it is possible to grow rhubarb from seed, it is much easier and more reliable to grow rhubarb from a crown (plant). The area around a rhubarb plant cannot be dug once the plant is established (as this can damage the roots), therefore sufficient space around the rhubarb plant must be left. All weeds must be removed as it is very difficult to get rid of them once the rhubarb is planted.

Rhubarb grows best in a sunny position, although it will tolerate some shade. It prefers neutral soil dug to at least 2 feet with as much fertilising organic matter (well rotted manure or compost etc) as possible. Rhubarb plants do not tolerate being moved once planted and will happily stay in the same position for up to 10 years.

Rhubarb should ideally be planted in December in a hole a little wider than the plant and so that the top of the crown is around 1 inch below the surface. Backfill with soil gently firming it down to get rid of any air pockets, and then water well. Mulch around the plant, but not directly over the top of the crown. Space rhubarb plants approximately 3 feet apart.

Caring for Rhubarb Plants

Rhubarb plant

As mentioned earlier, rhubarb plants require very little care. In very dry periods during the summer a good watering goes a long way, and try to remove any weeds as they appear (by hand). In early winter when the leaves of the plant die down, spread a good layer of organic matter around (but not over) the rhubarb plant. In February a little general fertiliser can be spread around the plant to feed it.

If any flower heads appear in March/April, cut them off as soon as possible. If these are left, they will flower and set seed taking nutrients from the plant which will never be recovered.

Harvesting Rhubarb

Rhubarb should not be harvested until the plant is well settled or it will be weakened. Wait until at least the second year before pulling any stalks - and even then only pull a couple of stalks and ensure that at least five remain. During subsequent years three or four stalks can be pulled at a time with three or four left on the plant. It is usually possible to harvest two or three times per plant per year between May and August.

Rhubarb harvest

Wait until the leaf at the end of a stalk has fully opened before pulling the stalk. To pull a stalk, hold it as close as possible to the base of the plant and twist. Cut off the leaves immediately and put them on the compost heap. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and must not be eaten.

Forcing Rhubarb

For thinner, sweeter, and more tender rhubarb try forcing. Simply place a large opaque container over the rhubarb plant when it shows first signs of growth in the spring. The container will act as greenhouse warming up the air around the rhubarb, and it will also exclude all light.

Forced rhubarb ready to be harvested

Delicious tender rhubarb stalks will grow and be ready for harvesting in just four weeks. After pulling the stalks, leave the plant the one year to recover, and do not force it again for two years or the plant will be weakened.

Dividing Rhubarb

Once a rhubarb plant is over five years old, it can be dug up and divided into three new crowns. This should be done when the plant is dormant during the winter. The older the rhubarb plant, the lower the quality of the rhubarb grown and the more difficult it is to divide the plant - therefore, try to divide all rhubarb plants when they are five years old. This will keep the plants healthy and strong as well as giving you free rhubarb plants. Use a spade and a fork to lever the plant apart into equal thirds.

The crowns obtained when dividing a rhubarb plant should be planted in exactly the same way as explained earlier in this article.

Article Published: 14:59, 15th Jul 2008

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