Gardening > Grow Your Own... Rhubarb

Grow Your Own... Rhubarb

Rhubarb © 57Chevy & Dreamstime
Rhubarb is a very useful plant to have in the vegetable plot. It is a fleshy stalk which is treated as a fruit for the purposes of cooking. The pink or red stalks freeze very well cooked or raw and are a wonderful stand by for crumbles, pies, fools and many other desserts. A bumper crop may result in enough to make an excellent wine.

A little care and attention in growing rhubarb can result in a steady crop of succulent stalks from march (or earlier if forced) to July. Remember however that due to their oxalic acid content the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous and should be composted immediately. As they rot down the leaves pose no threat.

Rhubarb can be grown from seed sown in March but it is better to buy a crown and divide it into pieces, each with at least two buds. These pieces of crown can be planted during February or March.

Choose an open, well-drained spot allowing about 3 feet x 3 feet for every 4 pieces of crown. Dig the bed deeply in the preceding Autumn adding plenty of well-rotted manure to the soil. When planting dig a hole for each piece of crown deep enough for the bud(s) to rest just below the surface of the soil. Firm the soil on top after planting.

Rhubarb plants can remain productive for up to 10 years and each plant can yield about 6lbs during the harvesting time between April and July.

Harvesting can begin about 18 months after planting.

The rhubarb plants need to be kept well-watered. They also need to be fed with a suitable fertilizer once harvesting has stopped in July. In January or February mulch the rhubarb plants with compost or well-rotted manure.

Early rhubarb can be grown by forcing a plant or two in January. Cover the plants with an upturned plastic bucket and cover that with compost or straw. This should only be done every two years at the most or the plants can become weakened. The forced rhubarb should be ready after 6 weeks.

Rhubarb should be pulled rather than cut. Just grasp the stalk near the base and pull upwards. Always leave at least 4 stalks on the plant when harvesting.

Possible Rhubarb Problems

Honey Fungus

The rhubarb crown dies back and whirte streaks appear on the plant. Orange toadstools grow around the affected plants.

Solution: Dig out the diseased roots and burn them.

Crown Rot

The crown decays. The rhubarb sticks are spindly and dull in colour.

Solution: Dig up the roots and destroy by burning. Do not replant rhubarb in that bed.