How To Plant Rhubarb [ Full Guide ]

Rhubarb is a hardy and easy-to-grow perennial vegetable that is particularly well-loved for its tart and tangy stalks, which are commonly used in pies, jams, sauces, and other culinary delights. Planting and growing rhubarb can be a rewarding experience for both experienced gardeners and beginners alike. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of how to successfully plant and grow rhubarb in your own garden.

Rheum rhabarbarum, commonly known as rhubarb, is a perennial plant that belongs to the Polygonaceae family. Rhubarb is prized for its juicy, thick, and brightly colored stalks, which are often used in a variety of culinary dishes. When it comes to planting rhubarb, it’s essential to understand the basics of its growth requirements, including the right soil conditions, suitable planting locations, and the best practices for cultivating this versatile vegetable.

Quick Answer: How To Plant Rhubarb

Before delving into the details, here’s a quick overview of the key steps involved in planting rhubarb:

  1. Choose the right location: Select a well-drained area with plenty of sunlight.
  2. Prepare the soil: Ensure the soil is rich in organic matter and well-drained.
  3. Select the variety: Choose a suitable variety of rhubarb for your garden.
  4. Planting: Plant rhubarb crowns in early spring or late fall.
  5. Maintenance: Regular watering and fertilization are key to its success.

Now, let’s explore each of these steps in more detail to give you a comprehensive understanding of how to plant rhubarb successfully.

Understanding The Basics Of Rhubarb Planting

Before diving into the specifics of planting, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of the basic requirements for growing rhubarb.

Climate And Growing Zones

Rhubarb is a cool-season perennial that thrives in temperate climates. It is well-suited to growing zones 3 to 8, with some variations depending on the specific variety. It requires a cold period to produce healthy yields and generally prefers temperatures between 40°F to 75°F (4°C to 24°C) for optimal growth.

Growth Habit And Lifespan

Rhubarb is a long-lived plant, with some varieties capable of producing harvests for up to 15 years. It has large, sturdy leaves and thick, edible stalks. It’s important to note that the leaves of rhubarb are toxic and should not be consumed, so care should be taken to ensure they are not ingested.

Propagation Method

Rhubarb is typically propagated by dividing crowns, rather than growing from seed. Rhubarb crowns are clusters of roots and dormant buds that give rise to new shoots and stalks. By planting healthy, vigorous crowns, you can establish a productive rhubarb patch.

Harvesting Season

Depending on the variety and growing conditions, rhubarb can be harvested in late spring to early summer. It’s essential to allow young plants to become established before harvesting stalks, typically starting in the second year after planting. Harvesting should be done by gently pulling or cutting stalks when they reach a suitable size.

Choosing The Perfect Location For Your Rhubarb

Selecting the right location for planting rhubarb is crucial to its long-term success and productivity. Here are the key factors to consider when choosing a suitable spot for your rhubarb patch.

Sunlight

Rhubarb thrives in full sun or partial shade, so it’s important to choose a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. However, in warmer climates, providing partial shade during the hottest part of the day can be beneficial to prevent excessive heat stress on the plant.

Soil Drainage

One of the most critical factors for rhubarb cultivation is soil drainage. Rhubarb plants do not tolerate waterlogged conditions, as it can lead to root rot and other diseases. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a location with well-drained soil to prevent water accumulation around the roots.

Soil Ph

Rhubarb prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. It’s important to test the soil pH in your chosen location and make any necessary amendments to ensure it falls within the ideal range for rhubarb cultivation.

Space And Air Circulation

When planting rhubarb, it’s important to provide adequate spacing between plants to allow for proper air circulation. This helps to reduce the risk of fungal diseases and promotes healthy growth. Aim to space rhubarb plants approximately 36 inches (91 cm) apart to ensure sufficient room for their expansive root systems.

Preparing The Soil For Rhubarb Planting

Once you’ve selected the perfect location for your rhubarb patch, the next step is to prepare the soil to create an optimal growing environment for the plants.

Soil Enrichment

Rhubarb thrives in fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Prior to planting, incorporate plenty of well-rotted compost or aged manure into the soil to improve its structure and fertility. This will provide essential nutrients and improve water retention without sacrificing drainage.

Soil Testing

Before planting rhubarb, it’s recommended to conduct a soil test to assess the nutrient levels and pH of the soil. This will help you determine the specific fertilizer and soil amendments needed to create an ideal growing environment for your rhubarb plants.

Soil Ph Adjustment

If the soil pH is outside the optimal range for rhubarb cultivation, you can adjust it by incorporating suitable amendments. For acidic soil, add lime to raise the pH, while for alkaline soil, incorporating elemental sulfur can help lower the pH to the desired level.

Mulching

Applying a layer of organic mulch around newly planted rhubarb can help conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and regulate soil temperature. Mulching also contributes to the overall health of the soil as it breaks down, adding organic matter and nutrients to the growing environment.

Selecting The Right Variety Of Rhubarb For Your Garden

Choosing the appropriate variety of rhubarb is essential to ensure a successful harvest and optimal growth in your garden. Consider the following factors when selecting a rhubarb variety for your growing conditions and culinary preferences.

Varieties

There are several popular varieties of rhubarb, each with its own distinctive characteristics and growing requirements. Some of the most widely cultivated varieties include ‘Victoria’, ‘Riverside’, ‘Timperley Early’, and ‘Canada Red’. Each variety may have differences in stalk color, flavor, and cold hardiness, so it’s important to select a variety that is well-suited to your specific climate and preferences.

Cold Hardiness

Consider the average winter temperatures in your region when selecting a rhubarb variety, as cold hardiness can vary among different cultivars. Choose a variety that is adapted to your climate to ensure that it can withstand the winter chill and emerge vigorously in the spring.

Stalk Color And Flavor

Rhubarb stalks come in a range of colors, including red, pink, and green. Different varieties also offer variations in flavor, with some being more tart or sweeter than others. Select a variety that aligns with your culinary preferences and the visual appeal you desire in your garden.

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Disease Resistance

Some rhubarb varieties exhibit increased resistance to common diseases and pests, such as crown rot and powdery mildew. When choosing a variety, consider any specific disease resistance traits that may be beneficial for your growing conditions to ensure a healthy and productive crop.

Planting Rhubarb Crowns

Now that you’ve prepared the perfect growing environment and chosen the right variety, it’s time to plant your rhubarb crowns. Follow these steps for successful rhubarb planting.

Timing

Rhubarb crowns are typically planted in early spring or late fall, when the soil is workable and temperatures are cool. Planting at these times allows the crowns to establish strong root systems before the onset of hot summer weather.

Digging Holes

Prepare the planting area by digging individual holes that are large enough to accommodate the rhubarb crowns comfortably. Each hole should be approximately 2 feet (61 cm) wide and deep enough to allow the roots of the crowns to spread out without being cramped.

Planting Depth

When planting rhubarb crowns, it’s essential to position them at the correct depth for optimal growth. Set the crowns in the planting holes so that the uppermost bud is just below the soil surface, typically around 2 inches (5 cm) deep. This will encourage strong and healthy shoot development.

Spacing

Space rhubarb crowns at least 3 to 4 feet (91 to 122 cm) apart to allow for their expansive root systems and to ensure sufficient room for the plants to mature without overcrowding.

Watering

After planting, thoroughly water the newly established rhubarb crowns to provide the moisture they need to initiate root growth and establish themselves in their new environment. Maintain regular watering throughout the growing season, particularly during dry periods.

Maintenance And Care

Once your rhubarb plants are established, regular maintenance and care are essential to ensure healthy growth and abundant harvests.

Watering

Consistent moisture is crucial for the successful growth of rhubarb. Keep the soil evenly moist, particularly during hot and dry periods, to promote robust stalk development. However, avoid overwatering, as waterlogged conditions can lead to root rot and other issues.

Fertilization

Apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring to provide vital nutrients for your rhubarb plants. A slow-release organic fertilizer or a top dressing of well-rotted compost can help sustain healthy growth throughout the growing season. Avoid over-fertilization, as excessive nitrogen can lead to lush foliage at the expense of stalk production.

Weed Control

Keep the area around your rhubarb plants free of weeds to prevent competition for resources and to maintain good air circulation. Mulching can help suppress weed growth, but regular monitoring and hand removal of weeds may also be necessary, particularly in the early stages of plant establishment.

Division And Refreshing

Over time, rhubarb crowns may become crowded and less productive. To rejuvenate older plants and encourage vigorous growth, consider dividing established clumps every 4 to 5 years. Lift the crowns, divide them into smaller sections, and replant the healthiest portions in newly prepared soil.

Pest And Disease Management

Monitor your rhubarb plants for common pests, such as aphids and spider mites, and promptly address any infestations. Additionally, keep an eye out for signs of diseases, including crown rot and powdery mildew, and take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate these issues.

Planting and growing rhubarb can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for gardeners of all skill levels. By understanding the specific requirements of this versatile vegetable, selecting suitable varieties, and providing optimal growing conditions, you can establish a thriving rhubarb patch that yields bountiful and delicious harvests for years to come. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a novice enthusiast, following the steps outlined in this guide will set you on the path to successfully planting and cultivating your own rhubarb.

Purchasing And Preparing Rhubarb Crowns For Planting

Rhubarb is a popular perennial vegetable known for its tart, tangy stalks that are often used in pies, jams, and other delicious desserts. It’s a hardy plant that thrives in cooler climates and can be grown in gardens or containers.

Before you can start planting rhubarb, you’ll need to purchase rhubarb crowns. Rhubarb is typically sold as dormant crowns, which are the thick roots of the rhubarb plant. Here are a few tips for purchasing and preparing rhubarb crowns for planting:

  1. Choose a reputable source: Look for a reputable nursery or garden center that sells healthy and disease-free rhubarb crowns. This will ensure that you’re starting with high-quality plants.

  2. Select the right variety: There are different varieties of rhubarb available, each with its own characteristics. Look for a variety that is well-suited to your climate and gardening conditions. Some popular varieties include “Victoria”, “Canada Red”, and “Crimson Cherry”.

  3. Inspect the crowns: Before purchasing, inspect the rhubarb crowns for any signs of damage, disease, or mold. Choose crowns that are firm, plump, and have healthy-looking buds or eyes.

  4. Prepare the planting site: Clear the planting area of any weeds or debris. Rhubarb plants prefer well-draining soil and full sun, although they can tolerate partial shade.

  5. Prepare the crowns: Before planting, soak the rhubarb crowns in water for a few hours to rehydrate them. This will help promote healthy growth once they’re planted in the ground.

Timing And Seasonality For Planting Rhubarb

Timing is crucial when it comes to planting rhubarb. Rhubarb is a cool-season crop and is best planted in early spring or late fall. Here are a few important considerations regarding the timing and seasonality for planting rhubarb:

  1. Spring planting: Planting rhubarb in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, is ideal. This allows the plant to establish its root system before the onset of warmer weather. In colder climates, it’s best to plant rhubarb in spring to avoid potential winter damage.

  2. Fall planting: If you live in a region with mild winters, fall planting can also be successful. Planting in the fall gives the rhubarb a head start on growth in the following spring. However, make sure to plant at least six weeks before the first hard frost to provide enough time for the plants to establish.

  3. Avoid summer planting: Avoid planting rhubarb in the summer months when temperatures are high. Rhubarb is prone to stress and can struggle to establish in hot weather.

  4. Consider your climate: Different regions have different climates, so it’s important to consider your local climate when deciding the best time for planting rhubarb. Consult your local agricultural extension office or experienced gardeners in your area for specific recommendations.

Step-by-Step Planting Guide For Rhubarb

Once you have your rhubarb crowns and have determined the appropriate planting time, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start planting. Follow these step-by-step instructions for successful rhubarb planting:

  1. Prepare the soil: Rhubarb prefers well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. Amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve fertility and drainage.

  2. Choose the planting location: Select a sunny spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Ensure that the location has enough space for the rhubarb plants to spread out as they grow.

  3. Dig the planting holes: Dig holes for the rhubarb crowns that are at least 12 inches deep and wide. Space each hole about 3 to 4 feet apart to allow enough room for the plants to grow.

  4. Plant the crowns: Place each rhubarb crown in a planting hole, making sure that the bud or eye is facing upward. The bud or eye is the point from which new shoots will emerge. Position the crown so that the top of the crown is about 2 inches below the soil surface.

  5. Backfill and firm the soil: Gently backfill the hole with soil, making sure to firmly pack it around the crown. Avoid burying the crown too deeply, as this can hinder growth. Leave the top part of the crown exposed.

  6. Water thoroughly: After planting, water the rhubarb crowns thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate any air pockets. This will also provide the necessary moisture for the newly planted crowns to start growing.

  7. Mulch the planting area: Apply a layer of mulch around the rhubarb plants to help conserve moisture, suppress weed growth, and regulate soil temperature. Use organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, and apply it in a 2 to 3-inch layer.

  8. Support the plants: If you live in an area prone to strong winds, it’s a good idea to provide support for your rhubarb plants. Use stakes or a sturdy trellis system to prevent the plants from toppling over.

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Caring For Young Rhubarb Plants

Once the rhubarb plants are in the ground, it’s important to provide proper care to ensure their healthy growth. Here are some essential care tips for young rhubarb plants:

  1. Watering: Rhubarb plants need regular watering, especially during dry periods. Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water deeply, providing about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, either through rain or irrigation.

  2. Weed control: Keep the planting area free from weeds to reduce competition for nutrients and water. Regularly remove any weeds that may sprout around the rhubarb plants.

  3. Thinning: If you planted multiple crowns close together, thin out the weaker plants to allow the stronger ones to grow more vigorously. Leave a spacing of 3 to 4 feet between each plant for optimal growth and to prevent overcrowding.

  4. Protect from frost: In regions with late frosts, protect the young rhubarb plants by covering them with a layer of straw or a frost blanket. Remove the covers once the threat of frost has passed.

  5. Pest management: Rhubarb plants are relatively pest-resistant; however, they can occasionally be attacked by pests like aphids or slugs. Monitor your plants regularly and take appropriate action if you notice any signs of pest infestation. Use organic pest control methods whenever possible.

  6. Proper air circulation: Good air circulation is important for preventing diseases, especially in humid climates. Avoid planting rhubarb near other plants that can create shade or hinder airflow. Prune any surrounding vegetation that may block air movement around the rhubarb plants.

Fertilizing And Mulching Rhubarb

Rhubarb plants benefit from regular fertilization and mulching to promote healthy growth and high-quality stalks. Here’s how to properly fertilize and mulch your rhubarb plants:

  1. Fertilizing: Apply a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 formulation, to the rhubarb plants in early spring. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the appropriate application rate. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can encourage excessive leaf growth at the expense of stalk production.

  2. Mulching: Mulching is beneficial for rhubarb plants as it helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, around the plants in early spring, maintaining a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Avoid mulching too close to the crown to prevent rotting.

  3. Annual top-dressing: In addition to regular fertilization, rhubarb benefits from an annual top-dressing of compost or well-rotted manure in early spring. This helps replenish nutrients in the soil and promotes healthy growth.

  4. Feeding during the growing season: As the rhubarb plants continue to grow, you can provide additional nutrition by side-dressing them with compost or a balanced organic fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer around the plants, keeping it a few inches away from the crowns, and gently work it into the soil.

Growing your own rhubarb can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to enjoy the fresh tangy stalks straight from your garden to your plate. By following the step-by-step planting guide and providing proper care, you can ensure the successful establishment and growth of your rhubarb plants. Remember to choose an appropriate planting time, prepare the soil, and provide regular watering, weeding, and fertilization. With a little patience and attention, you’ll be able to harvest a bountiful supply of delicious rhubarb for years to come.

Common Pests And Diseases Of Rhubarb And How To Prevent Them

Rhubarb is a versatile and delicious plant that is often used in pies, jams, and other desserts. It is a perennial plant that can be grown in most regions, and it is relatively easy to grow if you follow the right steps.

Like any other plant, rhubarb is susceptible to certain pests and diseases. Here are some of the most common ones and how you can prevent them from affecting your plant:

  1. Aphids: Aphids are small, pear-shaped insects that can cause damage to rhubarb plants. They feed on the sap, which can result in stunted growth and distorted leaves. To prevent aphid infestation, you can regularly spray the plant with a mixture of water and mild soap, or use insecticidal soap.

  2. Slugs and Snails: Slugs and snails can be a major nuisance for rhubarb plants. They feed on the leaves, stems, and roots, causing significant damage. To prevent slug and snail infestation, you can create barriers around the plants using crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth. Additionally, you can handpick and remove any slugs or snails you find on the plants.

  3. Fungal Diseases: Rhubarb plants are prone to various fungal diseases, such as leaf spot, crown rot, and powdery mildew. To prevent fungal diseases, ensure that the plants have good air circulation by spacing them adequately. Avoid overhead watering, as this can promote the development of fungal diseases. If you notice any signs of fungal infection, such as discolored or spotted leaves, remove and destroy the affected parts of the plant.

  4. Root Rot: Root rot is a common problem in rhubarb plants, especially in poorly drained soil. To prevent root rot, make sure the soil is well-drained, and avoid overwatering the plants. Additionally, you can improve the drainage by adding organic matter, such as compost, to the soil.

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Harvesting And Storing Rhubarb

Rhubarb can be harvested once it reaches maturity, which is typically in its second or third year of growth. Here are some guidelines for harvesting and storing rhubarb:

  1. Harvesting: To harvest rhubarb, simply grasp the stalk near the base and pull it gently away from the plant. Avoid cutting the stalks, as this can leave a wound that is susceptible to infection. It is recommended to harvest only a third of the stalks at a time, to allow the plant to continue producing throughout the growing season.

  2. Storing: Freshly harvested rhubarb can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Before storing, remove any leaves attached to the stalks, as they can draw out moisture and cause the stalks to wilt. To extend the storage life, you can blanch the rhubarb stalks by dipping them in boiling water for a few seconds, then plunging them into ice water. After blanching, dry the stalks and pack them in airtight containers or freezer bags before freezing.

Best Practices For Maintaining A Healthy Rhubarb Patch

To ensure the health and productivity of your rhubarb patch, it is important to follow some best practices. Here are a few tips:

  1. Site selection and soil preparation: Choose a location that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day and has well-drained soil. Rhubarb prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Before planting, prepare the soil by removing weeds, rocks, and debris, and amend it with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure.

  2. Planting: Rhubarb can be grown from crowns or divisions. Crowns are sections of mature rhubarb plants with their root systems intact. Divisions are smaller sections of the crown that can be separated and replanted. Plant the crowns or divisions in early spring, either in a prepared bed or in individual containers. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the crown or division, and place it in the hole with the bud or growth point just above the soil surface. Firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly.

  3. Mulching: Mulching is important for conserving soil moisture, suppressing weeds, and regulating soil temperature. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, around the base of the plants. This will also help improve soil fertility as the mulch breaks down over time.

  4. Watering: Rhubarb plants require regular watering, especially during dry periods. Water deeply and evenly, ensuring that the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged. Avoid overhead watering, as this can promote the development of fungal diseases. Mulching can help retain moisture in the soil and reduce the frequency of watering.

  5. Fertilizing: Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and requires regular fertilization to ensure optimal growth. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer, such as compost or well-rotted manure, in early spring and again in late summer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates.

  6. Weed control: Keep the area around the rhubarb plants free from weeds, as they can compete for nutrients and water. Regularly inspect the patch and remove any weeds by hand or with a shallow cultivation tool, being careful not to damage the shallow root system of the rhubarb plants.

Troubleshooting Common Issues With Rhubarb Growth And Yield

Even with proper care, rhubarb may experience certain issues that can affect its growth and yield. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

  1. Thin and spindly stalks: If the stalks of your rhubarb plant are thin and spindly, it may be a result of overcrowding or lack of nutrients. Thin out the plants by removing some of the smaller crowns or divisions, and ensure that the remaining plants have enough space to grow. Additionally, fertilize the plants with compost or well-rotted manure to provide them with the necessary nutrients.

  2. Bolting: Bolting refers to the premature flowering of rhubarb plants. This is often caused by stress, such as temperatures fluctuating between cold and warm or insufficient nutrients. To prevent bolting, ensure that the plants are well-fed with compost or well-rotted manure and provide consistent moisture.

  3. Yellowing or pale leaves: Yellowing or pale leaves can be a sign of nutrient deficiency, particularly nitrogen. Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, such as blood meal or fish emulsion, to the plants to correct the deficiency. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application rates.

  4. Stunted growth: Stunted growth can be caused by various factors, such as poor soil quality, inadequate watering, or pests and diseases. Address these issues by improving soil fertility and drainage, providing regular and adequate watering, and implementing pest and disease prevention measures as mentioned earlier in the article.

Conclusion

Growing rhubarb can be a rewarding experience. By following the guidelines mentioned in this article, you can successfully plant and maintain a rhubarb patch that will provide you with a bountiful harvest year after year. Remember to select a suitable site, prepare the soil properly, protect against pests and diseases, and provide adequate water, nutrients, and care. With time and patience, you’ll be enjoying delicious rhubarb pies and desserts straight from your own garden.

FAQS

What Is The Best Time To Plant Rhubarb?

The best time to plant rhubarb is in early spring or late fall.

How Do I Prepare The Soil For Planting Rhubarb?

To prepare the soil for planting rhubarb, clear the area of any debris and weeds and mix in organic matter such as compost or aged manure. The soil should be well-drained and slightly acidic.

How Deep Should I Plant Rhubarb Crowns?

Rhubarb crowns should be planted about 2-3 inches deep with the top of the crown just below the soil surface.

How Much Spacing Should I Leave Between Rhubarb Plants?

Rhubarb plants should be spaced about 3-4 feet apart from each other to allow room for growth and to prevent overcrowding.

Do I Need To Fertilize Rhubarb After Planting?

It is not necessary to fertilize rhubarb after planting. However, you can top dress the soil with compost or aged manure in the spring to provide nutrients for the plants. Avoid fertilizing with high-nitrogen fertilizers as it can lead to weak growth and poor flavor in rhubarb.