Growing Rhubarb

Early RhubarbRhubarb is an easy plant to grow and if you get the conditions right at the start will be relatively trouble free for years. It is a plant that looks fantastic in the vegetable garden with its large leaves and striking red stems but also gives you a sweet and tasty treat when there is little else to harvest. We stock 3 of our favourite varieties which can be easily ordered below with more information on our rhubarb varieties blog post.

View Rhubarb varieties.

So, here we go:

Site and soil
Rhubarb needs to planted in full sun but will tolerate partial shade in a warm garden. I would advise a spot with at least 6 hours of sunshine per day so keep an eye on the garden for a few days to find the best spot to plant. You also need to be aware that your rhubarb plant will be in the same spot for 10 years as it will not like to be moved. Rhubarb also has an extensive root system so you shouldn’t dig around the plant, choose your site well and leave it alone! When choosing your final position take into account that a medium sized plant will be 4 foot or more in diameter.

Healthy rhubarb plantRhubarb likes a well drained soil and will not thrive in wet soil, if your garden is on the damp side we recommend growing in raised beds. Dig in plenty of organic matter about 4 weeks before planting time and give it time to settle. Remember the plant won’t like to be moved so you’re adding as much nutrient rich material as you can to keep it going over a long period. If you need a good source of organic nutrient rich compost we highly recommend our soil improver sold in 25 kg or tonne bags.

When to plant
It’s much easier and more productive to grow rhubarb from crowns (divided plants) rather than seed. The best time to put them in is late Autumn to early Winter. November – December is perfect.

Rhubarb root or crownHow to plant
Dig a planting hole a little wider than the rhubarb crown in your prepared bed. Plant the crown with the growing tip approx 2.5 cm below the surface of the soil. With your fingers firm the soil well around the roots to get a good seal and to remove any pockets of air. If the weather is unusually dry when planting water well to help establish the plant. Spread a compost mulch around the plant but not directly above the growing tip which will come up in approx 4 weeks.

 

Rhubarb Planting Distances
Variety Between Plants Between Rows
Timperley Early 75 cm 75 cm
Victoria 1.2 m 1.2 m
Glaskins Perpetual 80 – 90 cm 1 m

 Crop Care
Rhubarb is easy to grow but with a bit of extra care and attention you can increase your yield and produce a better quality stem.

Rhubarb flower headAt the end of the growing season give your plants a good feed in the form of a top dressing of well rotted garden compost making sure you don’t pile it up around the stems. Keep the area around the plant free of weeds and give an occasional good soaking in prolonged dry periods.

Flower heads may appear in early Spring and these should be removed quickly to stop the plant producing seed. If the happens your rhubarb will be significantly weakened and will be unlikely to recover to full strength.

Crown rot is the only issue likely to be a problem but can be avoided by planting in well drained soil and being careful not to bury the growing tips under compost. Basically if you you do as I’ve suggested in the previous paragraphs you should be o.k!

Harvesting Rhubarb
It’s not recommended to harvest any stems in the first year no matter how proud and excited you are about your new addition. The plant will be weakened and needs a full first year of growth to establish a strong root system. The plant will need all its foliage to do this so control yourself and leave it alone.

Harvesting rhubarbIn the second year you can pick some of the stems, 2 per plant is good making sure you leave at least 5 strong ones to grow on. In subsequent years you cab pull 3 or 4 stems at a time making sure you leave about the same number. Rhubarb will produce stems fro May until July giving you 2-3 pickings from each crown.

Remove the largest stems when picking waiting till the leaves have fully opened. Pull gently from the base of the plant while applying a slight twisting motion. Remember the leaves are poisonous to eat but can be safely composted with the rest of your garden waste.

Bucket forcing rhubarbForcing Rhubarb
You can get an earlier and sweeter crop of rhubarb by a process known as forcing. The idea is to exclude light and keep the plant slightly warmer than outside temperatures making the rhubarb grow faster and therefore give you an earlier crop. Did you know West Yorkshire once produced 90% of the Worlds forced Rhubarb which had to be harvested by candlelight?

Start forcing in January for best results. Remove any dead leaves or weeds from around the crown to make sure they don’t cause rot. To warm the emerging shoots and to protect from frost you can add a layer of straw or shredded newspaper. Cover the crown with an inverted dustbin or large pot making sure all light is excluded. A dark coloured bucket will be slightly warmer as it will absorb heat from the winter sun better. The rhubarb should be ready for harvesting 8 weeks or so later or when the pressure of the stalks pushes the bucket off.

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58 Responses to Growing Rhubarb

  1. anthony bryan says:

    i have still plenty of stalks on my rhubarb as of now 6/9/16.is it safe still to eat? i heard it may be poisanous at this time

    • admin says:

      Hi Anthony. Thank you for getting in touch and apologies for the late reply. Your rhubarb stalks won’t be poisonous but it is generally accepted that you finish harvesting by the end of June to give the plants a chance to store energy for next year’s crop. Continuous harvesting will weaken the plants and reduce next year’s harvest. I hope this helps. Andrew

  2. Jane Ferguson says:

    I have three new plants which I haven’t harvested in their first year, although it’s now clear that they weren’t one year crowns as they have outgrown their positions already and have huge spreading foliage. They’re massive, more like gunnera! I need to spread them out and need to know when to do it. They are three different varieties. Thanks.

    • admin says:

      Hi Jane

      Thanks for getting in touch. Rhubarb can be divided or moved over winter when the plant is dormant. It is generally accepted that early November is the best time but still fine up to early Spring provided the ground isn’t frozen. I hope this helps. Andrew

  3. MARGARET LYNCH says:

    can u tell e how and when best to start rhubarb seeds off please
    maggie

    • admin says:

      Hi Maggie
      Rhubarb crowns are planted in late Autumn/early Winter. Rhubarb seeds are tricky and rarely result in plants true to the parent type so not a very reliable method of growing rhubarb, crowns are a much better option. If you do want to sow rhubarb seeds I would start them off in early Spring using a heated propagator, they can be potted on to larger pots before planting out in Summer. I would not recommend growing from seed for the above reason but seeds are easy to germinate and grow quickly. I hope this helps. Andrew

  4. Brian Lloyd says:

    an old gentleman who has an allotment and grows most veg including rhubarb told me he digs up his crowns every other year and allows them to be exposed to the weather and frost then early spring replants the crowns. Is this a wise thing to do or is he wrong allowing the crowns to be exposed to frosty weather i have not heard of this practice before at present my crowns are 2 years old and do not yield very much hope you are able to assist me in getting better results
    thanks Brian

    • Sally says:

      I have also heard of this practice, when dividing the crown, letting the frost get to it before replanting.

  5. Ashley says:

    Hello!

    I have quite the community out in my yard. I stepped on the biggest flower head (it looked like the biggest pimple). It made me kind of upset. I was so excited about that one specifically. It is half there now. Will it grow back? Should I care about that one?

    Thanks!

    Ashley

    • admin says:

      Hi Ashley
      Thank you for getting in touch. Don’t worry about the rhubarb, it will grow new stems. Nature is able to take a few setbacks from the odd clumsy foot!

      Andrew

  6. Michele Hawn says:

    I planned a rhubarb crown last spring and it looked good all summer. Now it is spring but I see no sign of it… Do I need to plant again??? 🙁

    • admin says:

      Hi Michele. Thank you for getting in touch. I am afraid of there is no sign of your rhubarb crowns this year at this stage it would seem the plant has died. I would have a look at your planting conditions to make sure the demands of the plant are being met first and then plant a new crown.

  7. Donna jules says:

    I am wondering what do with seeds do they need be dried out then germinated or?

    • admin says:

      Hi Donna. You can grow rhubarb from seed but it will take 2 years to achieve a harvest. Rhubarb seeds will not necessarily have the same characteristics as the parent plant so growing from seed is a hit and miss method, this is why gardeners usually grow rhubarb from root cuttings or ‘crowns’. If you really want to grow from seed you can use the seeds to grow new plants by drying them and sowing them in pots of seed compost, they should germinate quickly and easily. In general you do not want your rhubarb to go to seed as it takes energy from the root, I would remove any seed heads that appear.

  8. Janice Hill says:

    Is it true I should never cut the rubhard with a knife?? Also are some years better than others. Thank you . Please email my anwser as I don’t always have access to a tablet

    • admin says:

      Hi Janice

      Thank you for getting in touch. Yes, it is true that you should not cut rhubarb. This is to prevent the remaining stalk from rotting and infecting the root. It is also thought that removing the complete stalk (by twisting and pulling) encourages the plant to produce more than if they are cut.
      I hope this helps.
      Andrew

  9. Nelson says:

    should I fertilize my rhubarb and with what kind?

    • admin says:

      Hi Nelson. Thank you for your question. Your rhubarb plants will benefit from a generous top dressing of well rotted manure. Add around the crowns to in a circle of 1 meter diameter but keep leave about 10 cm clear around the rhubarb crown as manure piled against them can lead to rot. I hope this helps. Andrew

  10. Jeannette says:

    Hi,we were given 3 crowns 4 years ago from a friends allotment,it went into our allortment but we learnt later they were too close to the privot booshes.we have since moved and it looked like the rhubarb had died.Anyway they have all come back to life and have thin sticks of rhubarb on…do we treat this as a one yr old crown and leave all the produce on?

    • admin says:

      Hi Jeanette
      Yes, to be on the safe side I would leave the Rhubarb alone this year. Even through the root would have been bigger than a 1 year old rhubarb crown it will still need to grow a whole new root ball as all the fine root mass will have been broken in the move. I hope this helps. Andrew

  11. Jeannette says:

    Sorry wrong email on post

    • admin says:

      Hi Jeanette
      Yes, to be on the safe side I would leave the Rhubarb alone this year. Even through the root would have been bigger than a 1 year old rhubarb crown it will still need to grow a whole new root ball as all the fine root mass will have been broken in the move. I hope this helps. Andrew

  12. Alun Hughes says:

    I want to grow rhubarb in my small sunny garden for the first time, is there a sweeter variety available? can you guide me with regard to purchasing some crowns online. Alun.

    • admin says:

      Hi Alun. Sorry for the late reply to your query. We sell rhubarb plants in their dormant period over the Winter, we have crowns for sale from October through to March. Please let me know if you need any more specific information.
      Andrew

  13. Alun Hughes says:

    I have now seen your 3 variety Mix pack,and note that they are currently out of stock,can you tell me when the crowns will be available ? Alun

    • admin says:

      Hi Alun. Sorry for the late reply to your query. We sell rhubarb plants in their dormant period over the Winter, we have crowns for sale from October through to March. Please let me know if you need any more specific information.
      Andrew

  14. Do you have to wait for Rhubarb to turn, red before you cook it, or does it not matter if it still green.
    Can you freeze Rhubarb cooked or raw.

    • admin says:

      Hi Margaret
      Thank you for your comment. Some rhubarb varieties have stems which are quite green anyway and never turn red (Victoria) but you can also still use green stems on red varieties but they wont be as sweet as those left to ripen.
      I hope this helps.
      Andrew

  15. Cindy Simpson says:

    Hi. My first year planting Rhubarb – 1 plant in a raised bed garden. Plant is huge and beautiful.
    I was aware not to harvest the first year – so now what do I do?
    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Cindy
      Thank you for your question. If you have already harvested this year give the plant a good feed of manure in early Autumn and harvest sparingly next year. I would not harvest any more this year as the plant will need its leaves to make energy to grow a large and healthy root system.

  16. Sher says:

    I accidentally sprayed weed killer on one of my rhubarb leafs. I Picked that one and a few around the area. Will it be ok or will it die now?

    • admin says:

      Hi Sher. What weed killer did you use. Obviously you should not eat the beetroot leaves but unless more leaves have been hit by the weedkiller the plant should survive. I hope this helps. Andrew

  17. Jauneen Dore' says:

    Hi there! For the second time I’ve planted rhubarb in a sunny, well fertilized location and once again the leaves are being completely devoured by something. I’ve found this to be the case with not only rhubarb, but cauliflower and peppers also. Are you aware of anything that can be used to protect the rhubarb from whatever it is that is devouring it?

    • admin says:

      Hi Jauneen.
      It depends what the pest is. Can you describe the damage to the leaves? Is it consistent with slug damage? Where are you located?

  18. Flo says:

    My rhubarb plant did well this year, and we have enjoyed the produce. However, now that we are into July, I will not be harvesting again. What do I do with all of the good looking rhubarb remaining?

    • admin says:

      Hi Flo
      Thank you for getting in touch. You should leave the rhubarb stalks as the leaves are processing energy from the sun and transferring it to the roots to produce next year’s crop. I hope this helps.

  19. Nancy MacDonald says:

    Something is eating the leaves on my rhubarb, I’ve checked the bottom of the leaves at several different times during the day and have found nothing unusual. Whatever it is it’s eating my lobelia, delphiniums and marigolds. Please help. Thanking you in advance for your suggestions.

  20. Theresa says:

    My rhubarb is a transplant from my parents rather large crop. After about three years, it still doesn’t go to seed! Is this a problem? Will it eventually die out? I don’t want to lose it; the house is sold and I can’t get another plant. It is kinda sentimental for that reason!

    • admin says:

      Hi Theresa
      Thank you for getting in touch. Different varieties are more prone to going to seed than others (‘Victoria’ is particularly trigger happy). You don’t actually want your plants to go to seed as the seed head takes energy away from the root and plants are generally weaker after seed heads are produced. Plants are also more likely to go to seed if stressed (by overcrowding or drying out) so if yours aren’t that’s a good thing!

  21. Sharan says:

    Actually I was new gardener and I planted ruhbab in March didn’t know the best time to plant. I have planted from roots bought from supermarket will it be still grow as i cannot see any improvement thanks

    • admin says:

      Hi Sharan

      Thank you for your question. If you have seen no growth from you rhubarb root since March I do not expect it to grow, the root may have dried out and died before you planted it. If you would like to grow rhubarb we can supply you with good quality crowns in the Autumn, just check the fruit section on our website.

      I hope this helps.

      Andrew

  22. Denise Wood says:

    Hi my rhubarb was replanted to a raised trough and has produced a good crop, however apart from the thick stems there are lots of thin weedy ones am I better to leave these to die off as they certainly are not worth harvesting.

    • admin says:

      Hi Denise

      Yes, leave the weedy stems as their leaves are doing an important job converting energy from the sun into sugars that are stored in the roots.

      I hope this helps.

      Andrew

  23. Joan says:

    My rhubarb plants are about 15 years old and produce a small amount of stalks that are either very short or very thin every year. However, the plants do not seem to expand and thrive. Originally the ground was dug deep and manure added but I added no specific nutrients after that. In the past year I started adding a compost/ manure mixture that I purchased. I added it both last fall and again this spring. The area gets at least 6 hours of sun a day and I make sure that it gets water during spells without rain. I mulch it with leaves in the fall. The ground could use more enriching as it was originally tough Virginia clay but I do not want to dig down and damage the roots. What would you suggest?

    • admin says:

      Hi Joan. If conditions are all good (plenty of sunlight and not waterlogged or too dry ground) then it is soil nutrition. I would be inclined to dig out the roots work over the plot adding approx 50% compost and manure. I would also purchase 1 x new crown and plant that to see if it thrives. If it does and the old ones don’t, get new crowns. I hope this helps. Andrew

  24. Poppy says:

    Need to ask a question. Have new plants from this year and had a huge harvest. Plants are still huge. Do I leave the stalks on all winter or at some point do I cut them off.

    • admin says:

      Hi Poppy. You should leave the leaves on the plant to allow it to process energy from sunlight. I would not be inclined to harvest too much in the first year as the plant need to build its root system. I would be inclined only harvest a third of the stalks next year to ensure you have good harvests for many years to come. I hope this helps. Andrew

  25. heather says:

    what do i have to do now withmy rhubarb plant (for plant tub only)it is a year old .i have’nt picked any this year,do i cut it right back or just leave it

    • admin says:

      Hi Heather
      Yes, yo can prune your rhubarb stalks back to soil level in late Autumn/early Winter. If you live in an area with hard Winters you may want to move the pot to a sheltered area to prevent it from freezing.
      I hope this helps
      Andrew

  26. ruth megraw says:

    how long will a rhurbard plant last and still be good …

    • admin says:

      Hi Ruth
      A rhubarb plant should be productive for 10 years or more if kept well fed. You should dig up and divide rhubarb crowns every 5 years to keep them productive.
      I hope this helps
      Andrew

  27. Helen says:

    Hi, I moved into my new rented house in April and there is a rhubarb plant in the garden (apparently The pride and joy of my landlords late mother!) we have had a couple of really good harvests but about a month ago my young son decided to ‘help’ with the gardening and pulled all the stalks off. Nothing appears to be growing back in. Has he killed it? Or given that it’s such a well established plant will it survive my sons brutal gardening technique? Praying for the latter!!!!

    • admin says:

      Hi Helen
      Sorry for the late reply to your question. I think it is highly unlikely that your son has killed the rhubarb plant. I would give it a mulch with well rotted manure (though leave about 2 inches around the crown) and it will come back next year.
      I hope this helps
      Andrew

  28. mark T says:

    I Planted my crown this year, as its only one year old do i pull of the stems for winter or leave it alone ?

    • admin says:

      Hi Mark.
      Yes, you can remove stems when you get the first frost and around the plant with good garden compost or and/or well rotted manure but leave 2 inches clear around the crown.
      I hope this helps.
      Andrew

  29. bill price says:

    should you leave the leaves on should you remove them and also should you cover them?

    • admin says:

      Hi Bill

      Yes, you should remove the rhubarb leaves at the end of the growing season to expose the crown to frost. Mulch around the plant with good garden compost or and/or well rotted manure but leave 2 inches clear around the crown. I hope this helps.
      Andrew

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