Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Rhubarb Essentials

by National Gardening Association Editors

Planning

  • Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable; put it where it won't be disturbed.
  • Purchase and plant rhubarb roots (not seeds) in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked.
  • Three to five plants should provide enough for an average family.

Preparation

  • Select a well-drained site in full sun.
  • Eliminate all perennial weeds before planting.
  • Dig large bushel basket-size planting holes and add a mixture of equal parts garden soil, sand, and rotted manure or compost.

Planting

  • Space rhubarb roots 4 feet apart. Set roots so buds are 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil, cover with soil, and firm the area.

Care

  • Mulch with straw and composted manure if possible to provide nutrients and retain moisture during the summer.
  • Remove seed stalks as they form.
  • Fertilize in the early spring each year with 2 to 3 shovelfuls of well-rotted manure per plant (or 1/2 cup of 5-10-10 or similar fertilizer). Side-dress plants at the same rate in early summer after the main harvest period.
  • Dig and split roots every 3 to 4 years. Expand your patch or give root sections away.
  • If you keep your rhubarb patch weed-free, it is not apt to be disturbed by insects or diseases.

Harvesting

  • Start harvesting the year after planting in early spring when the stalks are 12 to 18 inches long.
  • When the plants are established (after 3 years), the harvest period should run 8 to 10 weeks, or until the stalks become thin, a sign that the plants' food reserves are low.
  • At least one third of the stalks should be left on the plant after the harvest.
  • The petioles (leafstalks) are edible; the leaves are poisonous.
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