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How to Grow and Harvest Rhubarb

THE TED LARE LOOK
rhubarb plant

While many of us love the tart taste of old-fashioned rhubarb, there are many new varieties of rhubarb that are surprisingly sweet!  Did you know this perennial vegetable is easy to grow and ideal for even small garden spaces? Here’s a breakdown of some sweet varieties that add some sugar to this otherwise pucker-inducing perennial. 

  • Cherry Red is one of the sweetest and least tart varieties of rhubarb. One cannot miss its bright red stalks, making it an attractive addition to your edible landscaping.
  • Chipman’s Canada Red is another extra sweet variety, though it does get quite large, from three to four feet tall and wide, so be sure to measure and leave room for growth.
  • German Wine can be as sweet as a dessert wine! It is a smaller cultivar that has speckled stalks and is fantastic for wine, baking, canning, and sauces. 
  • Glaskin’s Perpetual is delicious all season long! With hearty, large yields, this reliable rhubarb is a gardeners go-to.
young rhubarb in garden

How to Grow Rhubarb

Whether you loved or hated rhubarb as a kid, growing it is a worthy experiment, and with our easy planting tips and tricks, anyone can grow it! You can plant rhubarb as a division, seed, or rootstock. If you are growing rhubarb from seed, it will need to establish itself for two to three years. If a friend has one you love the taste of, ask if you can have a division. But if you haven’t found one you like in a friend’s garden, then start with a new rootstock or from seed.

Growing Rhubarb from Seed

If you’re growing rhubarb from seed, it needs to be started about ten weeks before the last frost. In this area of Iowa, that can be anywhere from May 11 to May 20. So you should aim to be planting seeds in the first one to two weeks of March. 

Rhubarb plants get pretty large, so unless you have friends who want starter plants, only start a few seeds, not the whole package. When you grow rhubarb from seed, it will take two to three years before the plant will be mature enough to harvest stalks from. 

Growing Rhubarb from Divisions or Rootstock

If you have a friend that can give you a division from their plant, you’ll be able to harvest sooner or pick-up a plant here at the garden center. Rhubarb should be divided in early spring, as soon as you see the first signs of life popping up from it. Get your friend to split off a chunk of roots with at least two to three buds. Get this piece into a bag or nursery pot with soil quickly. If you can’t plant it immediately, make sure to keep the soil damp. 

Choose a location with plenty of space, as much sun as possible, and good drainage. If you don’t have great drainage, growing rhubarb in containers will help provide better drainage.  You can also grow rhubarb from purchased rootstock. Similar to taking a division from friends or family, it will be more established, and you will be able to harvest rhubarb next year, or possibly even the first season, if you get it planted early in the spring.

harvesting rhubarb plant

How to Maintain Rhubarb

Once your rhubarb is planted in the ground, it’s pretty low maintenance, but there are a few things you can do to help it stay healthy and keep growing lots of tasty stalks for you. Rhubarb is hardy and can survive a surprising amount of drought, but it will taste the best if it has consistent water, especially during the hottest days of summer. Mulching around your rhubarb plant will help to retain moisture in the soil for the plant to use. 

You can also use the leaves from harvested stalks as mulch underneath the rhubarb plant. Rhubarb will bolt and then bloom when summer gets hot. Once it starts to bolt, the flavor will become more bitter. Keep watch for flower stalks and chop them off as soon as you see them.

rhubarb in hands

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Harvesting rhubarb is easy and doesn’t require any tools. You can start to use your rhubarb once the stalks are 12 to 18 inches tall. The stalks don’t have to be completely red; some varieties are pale. Simply grab a stalk near the base, and twist it while you pull up. If the stalks are getting a little tougher toward the end of summer, you may need to use a knife, but the twist and pull method is the best method since it doesn’t leave an exposed area that could contract a disease. 

Always make sure to leave several stalks on the plant, at least three to four, so the plant can keep collecting energy and growing. When you chop the leaves off the top of your rhubarb, use them as mulch or toss them into your compost bin, but remember––rhubarb leaves are considered inedible due to their high concentrations of oxalic acid (a chemical that can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities). 

Stop by Ted Lare garden center and see what varieties we have in stock this year! We love rhubarb whether it’s tart and tangy or sweet and savory. Regardless, rhubarb is an ideal addition to your edible garden this summer, so come talk to our specialists for more growing tips and tricks.

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The Ted Lare Look

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