Growing Rhubarb

Bare root winter fruit varieties

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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7 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

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