I have a strong, funny relationship with rhubarb, not just because caring for and growing Rhubarb is super simple. My story and relationship with this plant goes way back to the beginning.
This is the plant that started my sometimes-crazy farm and garden adventure.
When we first moved to our farm, I came across an overgrown, red, leafy plant half buried under a falling down shed. My grandma told me it was a rhubarb plant, handed me a ball jam recipe and strawberry rhubarb jam was my start.
You may not have a crazy relationship with the plant, but growing rhubarb can be your simple start too.
What is Rhubarb?
This is a simple addition to any garden because it is a perennial, it will only need to be planted once. Plant once and harvest year after year…. If that isn’t simple gardening, I don’t know what is.
Like every plant there are three main parts the roots, the stem, and the leaves. Knowing the parts of your rhubarb plant is important because only the stem is edible. The leaves are poisonous and should not be consumed! The leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid and cause health problems if eaten.
The edible stems of this perennial are usually used like a fruit, for baking in things like cakes, sauces, muffins, pies, and other sweet treats. Rhubarb is commonly known for being combined with strawberries, like in strawberry rhubarb jam or strawberry rhubarb pie to name a few.
What does Rhubarb Taste like?
Rhubarb is one of those vegetables where you either love or hate the taste. Alone rhubarb has a tart almost sour taste, that is why you find it combined with sweeter fruits or in recipes with sugar to help balance out its taste.
One recipe that I like to make is this rhubarb cake, the cake really balances out the sweet and sour taste. It is a simple recipe with very few ingredients and is great for a beginner just getting the hang of things.
Other Rhubarb Treats:
- Any kind of berry and rhubarb Jam
- Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
- Rhubarb Crisp
- Rhubarb Tart
- Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
The list of different recipes to look for is endless, and if you are felling adventurous you can always create your own.
Different Types of Rhubarb
There are a lot of different varieties of rhubarb, like over 60 different kinds. Anyone that has decided to try growing rhubarb will have many to choose from. Like any variety vegetables, there will be some that do better depending on the zone they are being grown in. Rhubarb is very cold hardy and is especially good for gardeners that live in colder climates.
4 Common Rhubarb Varieties
- Timberly Early -Is your all around rhubarb variety, it does well no matter where you are. It also has one of the earliest harvest seasons.
- Holstein Blood Red Rhubarb – This varieties stalks are as it names suggest very red. This plant gets very large and is known for producing tons of those red stalks.
- Canadian Red Rhubarb – This one can be found in far north regions and does well in very cold climates. It is known for being one of the sweeter, less tart varieties.
- Victoria – Know world wide, this variety is the original cooking rhubarb variety. It has red stalks and has the original very tart taste found in most rhubarb varieties.
For a more in-depth list that may help you choose what type is right for you, read 13 of the Best Rhubarb Varieties for the Garden by Gardener’s Path.
What You Need to Know About Growing Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a perennial, which means you plant it once and it will keep coming back year after year. You can grow your own rhubarb plant from seeds, crowns or by dividing an established plant.
Growing Rhubarb from Seeds
Growing rhubarb from seed is one option, but it does take more time then the other two growing options. If you decided to start your rhubarb plant from seed, it will take a few years before it becomes established enough to harvest your first stalks.
In a warmer zone, you may be able to plant your seeds directly into their forever home a few weeks after the last frost. If you are to grow rhubarb from seeds and you live in a zone that has a cooler, shorter growing season you will want to start them indoors then transplant them outside to their permanent location
Growing Rhubarb From Crowns
Crowns are the part of the plant that are found just under the surface or the first layer of dirt. This is the part where you will see the rhubarb buds popping out from in the spring.
If you are growing rhubarb from crowns then you will need to find a reputable source to provide them. You will want to do your search starting in the fall to plant in early spring or search during the summer if your plan is to plant in the fall when they are in a dormant state.
Planting a Rhubarb Plant
Unlike seeds or crowns, plants can be planted at almost any time of year. I say almost because there are some exceptions. You do not want to plant your rhubarb plant when the ground is frozen, your soil is extremely soggy or when you are going through a drought.
Planting a potted rhubarb plant is probably the easiest way to get started growing rhubarb. Transplanted rhubarb plants are quicker to become established in their new homes, so you may be able to harvest your stalks sooner.
Where to Plant Rhubarb
Rhubarb will only need to be planted once, and then it will grow in your chosen place for years. To make things simple it is a good idea to find it’s forever home, so you don’t have to transplant it again. Things to consider when searching for a location include spacing, soil conditions and sun exposure.
Choosing the Right Location for Growing Rhubarb
An established rhubarb plant can be large, spanning 3 to 4 feet and growing to be 2 – 3 feet tall. The ideal location is 4 feet from other plants and buildings with enough room to grow up without crowding.
Rhubarb likes moist soil and requires a lot of watering. You will want to pick a location where the soil will stay moist but not hold water. If the ground is too soggy or has standing water your plant is likely to end up with root rot.
This is a sun loving plant that thrives in full sun, but it can be planted in partial shade and still do well. In warmer climates it is better to find a partial shade location to hide the plant from the sun during the hottest parts of the day.
How to Care for Your Rhubarb Plants
Water and Weeding
Rhubarb is a pretty self-sufficient plant it doesn’t need much from you once it has been planted. If there is a dry spell it will require water, they like to stay moist. Weeds will need to be removed from the surrounding area, so your plant won’t have to share nutrients.
Dividing Your Large Rhubarb Plant
After you have had your plant for 5 or more years, it will probably need to be divided into smaller plants once more. You will know when your plant needs to be divided by the size of the stalks it is producing, they are usually growing smaller. Dividing is done to keep your plants healthy and productive for long term growth.
Dividing or splitting can sound like a terribly hard thing to do, but like every other part of growing rhubarb it is very simple.
Dividing Rhubarb Steps
- Wait until late fall or early spring to divide your plant. If divided in the fall your plant will be in a dormmate state, but if you decide on the spring you will want to divide it when the buds have just popped up.
- Dig down below root level about 6 to 8 inches
- Lift the plant out of the ground
- Break the crown into 3 or 4 pieces making sure there is a larger bud and roots on each (the bud will be the start of your new plant).
- Replant your crowns in their new locations or pots.
Dividing your plant is like starting over, the new plants will need to reestablish in their new locations. Keep in mind the bigger the crown pieces and the more buds you start with will mean a bigger plant in the spring.
When to Harvest Rhubarb
Harvest time when you are growing rhubarb is spring through the beginning of summer. In zone 5 where I am at this time frame starts in May and ends in July. If this is your first year growing rhubarb, you will want to skip harvesting this season. This will help build a healthier more established plant for the next year.
The stalks should be 8 to 15 inches long with full open leaves before you take them from the plant. Do not depend on the color of your stalk to tell you if they are ripe, rhubarb can have a wide range of reds and greens depending on the type you have planted.
To get the ripe stalks simply pull carefully away from the plant, the stalk will come away no harm done. Remove the leafy end right away, this will help the stalk stay crunchy longer.
After early July, the harvesting of stalks should come to an end, if you continue through the summer your rhubarb plant may not come back as healthy the next year. The plant will need time to rebuild for hibernation during the winter months.
Is Growing Rhubarb right for you?
If you are looking for a simple self-sufficient plant to grow in your garden, then rhubarb is for you. This perennial vegetable is an easy keeper that you will harvest year after year. If baking and sweets are your thing, its tart taste will go well in your sweet treats like jam, cake and pie.
Could Rhubarb be your simple start?