Tips for growing rhubarb

Rhubarb will thrive for years if you provide the proper growing conditions. Follow these tips to ensure many plentiful harvests.

The ancient Chinese grew rhubarb for medicinal purposes. Medieval Europeans discovered rhubarb's delicious tart flavor in pastry fillings. And, just after the Revolutionary War, Americans began growing this cold hardy perennial plant, calling it the pie plant. You too can grow this disease resistant yet tasty plant by following these rhubarb-growing tips.

Keep Your Rhubarb Cold

Rhubarb is one of those rare plants that needs cold weather to stimulate growth. In fact, they need about two months of below 40 degree weather. Otherwise, the rhubarb stalks will become thin and sparse. Rhubarb also tends to wilt when temperatures reach 70 degrees or higher, so spring is the optimal time to harvest this plant.

Bring in the Manure

To keep your rhubarb plants strong and robust, add manure and compost material to the soil before you plant your rhubarb starts. The mixture of manure and compost will keep necessary moisture in the ground while also providing adequate drainage. Ever spring, add of few handfuls of manure or a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to the top layer of soil to keep your rhubarb plants healthy.

Rhubarb Likes Moisture

Rhubarb plants will go dominate if they do not have moist soil. Be sure to water your rhubarb on a regular basis, but do not flood the soil or the plant will rot. During winter months, rhubarb is also susceptible to drying out. Remedy this problem by trimming back all growth after the first frost, and then cover the crown with a layer of straw or mulch. When spring arrives, uncover the crown and mix in the mulch in the surrounding soil.

Divide and Multiply

Rhubarb plants usually last eight to ten years. However, after four or five years, you will see a decrease in the amount and quality of rhubarb stalks due to overcrowding. You can remedy this problem by dividing your old rhubarb plants. Begin by digging up your current plant and cutting it up with a shovel. Make sure each plant division has at least three buds and two inches or more of rootstock. These divisions can then be planted, and you can begin harvesting them in two years. Make sure you have at least thirty-six inches between plants, as they like to have space.

Harvest with Care

Open cuts can make rhubarb plants susceptible to disease, so snap off the stalks at the base rather than cutting them off. Promptly cut off the leaves of the rhubarb since they are poisonous, and the compounds can leach into the stalks after harvest. You can discard the leaves or compost them since the poisons will decompose after some time. The stalks can then be stored in the refrigerator up to a week, or you can freeze them for use later in the year.

Before you begin picking rhubarb stalks, determine your harvest method. One method is to take up to two-thirds of the stalks off the plant once during the spring. This method allows for a quick harvest, but the plant can only sustain this method once during the growing season. The other method is to harvest two or three stalks several times during the season. This method allows for an extended harvest season while not shocking the plant. With both methods, wait until the second year to harvest to allow your rhubarb plants time to establish a good root system.

By fertilizing, keeping the soil moist and harvesting with care, you should have several seasons of rhubarb pie.

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