Growing Rhubarb

A basic guide to planting and growing rhubarb in your garden or yard.

So you are thinking about growing a little rhubarb in your garden or yard for wonderful rhubarb pies, cakes and treats? Rhubarb is a wonderfully versatile vegetable (yes, in theory it is a vegetable as you are eating the vegetative part of the plant) which is useful in many food dishes we enjoy. Rhubarb is a perennial plant, which means that it will continue to grow and thrive for many, many years without replanting. It is propagated from tubers or roots and is actually very easily grown once the plant is established. Growing rhubarb is not a quick process but the rewards are great.

The preparation and planning for your rhubarb should ideally begin in the fall with the actual planting following the next spring. You may be able to harvest a small amount of rhubarb in the second year following planting, but most likely you will need to wait until the planting is in its third year before a larger harvest awaits you.

Your first step and possibly the most important one towards your own rhubarb is determining the best location for your plant or plants in your yard or garden. Many things will come into play here as this plant could be in place for 20 years or more. You'll want to think about future plans for your garden or yard and place the plant or plants in an area where you won't need to disturb them in the next few years because good rhubarb production takes at least 2 years from planting to achieve. The location must provide plenty of sunlight and fertile, well drained soil. Size is another consideration. The plant will start out small, but will spread and requires approximately a four-foot square area to grow in depending upon the variety of rhubarb you choose. I'll assume now that you have your rhubarb location chosen.

The next step is to prepare the plot. This should begin in the fall prior to when you are planning on actually planting your rhubarb. You should start by removing all weeds and debris from the surface. Then the real job begins. Turn and loosen the soil to a depth of at least 18 inches. Add compost, manure, grass clippings or other organic material and mix this with the soil. Allow all this to spend the winter in peace. In early spring, you'll want to again remove all weeds and turn and loosen the soil. Your plot is now ready for you to plant your chosen variety of rhubarb. Ask your local garden center or consult the many mail order catalogs available to determine what variety or varieties you would like. Remember that these plants take several years to mature to harvest size and live a long time, be sure you know what you are planting.

Obtain crowns of good size and health and plant them in the spring after the last frost date in your area. They should be planted so that the crown or top of the tuber is approximately two inches below the ground line. An application of fertilizer when the crown is planted is advisable and you should water well.

Continue to keep the area weed free and water well during the first spring and summer. Remove flower stalks and don't cut any stalks to eat the first year. A very light cutting the second year would be acceptable, but if you can stand to wait until the third year, your plant and crop will be stronger and larger.

Since rhubarb is a heavy feeder (meaning it likes fertilizer) you should apply about a half-pound of 10-10-10 general fertilizer each spring in a two foot circle around the base of each crown and gently work it into the soil. Continue to water well and enjoy both early spring/summer crops and possibly a fall crop before the plant becomes winter dormant again.

As you can see, after rhubarb is planted and established, all that is required to maintain a lush plant and wonderful crop of rhubarb is springing feeding, a little weeding, and consistent watering. Enjoy!

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