That feeling when you’re munching on a rhubarb pie sitting on your outdoor dining with family. Amazing, right?
Rheum rhabarbarum (rhubarb) is a perennial vegetable meaning it will continue to come back years after planting. It is, however, used as a fruit in making desserts and jams. Pies, jellies, and sauces have never remained the same since rhubarb entered their list of ingredients. Its incredible flavor makes your sauce irresistible.
This cold season vegetable is grown for its stalk and not leaves (the leaves are poisonous). Its large textured leaves and hardy stems make it an excellent ornamental plant to have in your garden. Even more appealing as some rhubarb varieties can grow up to 20 years.
The uses of the rhubarb are almost endless and have become a mainstay in most homes. If you’re looking to add rhubarb to your garden, I’ll show you in this piece how to plant, grow, and care for rhubarb.
Before that, let’s quickly look at some widespread rhubarb varieties.
Red, green, and pink are some of the colors some rhubarb varieties have. Even though rhubarb is a cold season plant, you’ll find a cultivar from the over 70 types that’ll do well in your location. Check out some popular varieties.
- Cherry red: This variety is one of the sweetest and has less tart,which makes it suitable for people worried about its sour nature. This bright red stalk cultivar thrives in slightly warmer climates but loves the hilly and cold areas like southern California. It grows up to three feet tall and loves the full sun or partial shade.
- Hardy tarty:Also known as Colorado red, this variety produces red tarty stalks,as the name implies. If you love your rhubarb sour, then this is the cultivar for you, it has a deliciously sour taste and can tolerate warmer climates. They are slow to bolt, love sunny areas, and can grow up to 2.5 feet tall.Because of its size, it can be grown in containers.
- Victoria: Do you know Victoria is the first rhubarb variety to be used in cooking? Well, now, you do. It is one of the most popular and most widely used types. It produces fat green and red stems that are sweet with a slightly sour taste. They are comfortable growing in lower altitudes as well as higher altitudes.
- Sunrise: If you want to store your rhubarb for later use then, the sunrise variety should be your priority. It can sit in your fridge for up to 3 months without getting damaged. This will help you enjoy your rhubarb pie even in the winter when most people would’ve run out of stalks. They can grow up to three feet tall and produce very hardy stems.
- Riverside giant: One of the cold-hardiest varieties around. The riverside giant can withstand up to -40°F. It grows up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, making it one of the most prominent rhubarb varieties. Its stem is almost entirely green in color.
Riverside giant is one of the slowest growing types as you may have to wait up to 3 years before you can start harvesting. Because of its size, this is a good hedge plant you can use around your garden to keep out animals like dogs.
Uses of Rhubarb
Here are a few of the numerous reasons people grow rhubarb.
- Its roots are used as medicine for indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Rhubarb leaves are used as compost and are rich in nitrogen.
- Its stalk is an ingredient for pies,sauces, jams, and jellies.
- The stalk is rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese, and folate.
See the conditions that are ideal for growing rhubarb.
- Rhubarb is generally a cold climate plant. Even though you’ll find some varieties that are comfortable in slightly warmer areas, rhubarb does better in colder climates.
- The soil needs to be well-drained and slightly moist, as cloggy can cause root rust. Use raised beds if your garden is soggy.
- Full sun.
- It is susceptible to frost.
When to Plant Rhubarb
If you intend to plant rhubarb crowns, the best time to plant a one-year-old crown is early spring as soon as the ground is workable—plant when the root is still dormant, and leaves are yet to sprout. For seeds, sow between spring and early August.
How Long Does it Take to Grow?
If you’re wondering how long it takes to grow to maturity, the answer is not straightforward as it varies slightly between varieties. It takes about three years before you can start harvesting if you planted the seed, while it takes just over a year if you planted one-year-oldcrowns. Depending on the variety, rhubarb plants can stay up to 20 years before dying out.
Before you start planting, there are certain things to do.
- Clear the area if you’re planting directly in the ground or get the tray ready if you’re growing the seeds indoors first.
- Get seeds or one-year-oldrhubarb crowns from garden stores near you.
- Choose the best location, where it’ll get a good amount of sunlight and areas that you’ll not have to dig around because of the extensive root system it has. Remember, the rhubarb will be there for over ten years, so choose wisely.
- Mix in organic nutrients and leave it to settle for four weeks before planting.
How to Plant and Grow Rhubarb?
After the preparation, you are now ready to plant. It is advisable to plant rhubarb crowns instead of seeds as the seeds do not produce identical rhubarbs as the parent.
- Dig a hole one foot deep and slightly larger than the crown you’re planting.
- Put the crown into the hole and press down slightly to remove pockets of air.
- Make sure the crown is just 3cm below the soil surface and 5 to 6 feet away from each other.
- Add compost around the area, not directly where the shoot will come out.
- Water lightly
- Fill the container with sterilized potting soil.
- Gently press the seed about 10cm into the soil.
- Water lightly but continuously
Care for Rhubarb
After planting your rhubarb, you need to take good care of it to get a bountiful harvest. Here are some tips to get going.
- Cover the area with straws to prevent loss of nutrients.
- Apply organic manure every month in the first year. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and will need a lot of nutrients to grow.
- Remove seed stalks when they appear.
- Water lightly but consistently, especially during hot summer months.
- Apply nitrogen-rich slow-release fertilizer when the ground is thawing after the first spring frost.
- Weed the area whenever you notice the growth of weeds.
- Dig and split the roots every 3 to 4 years when you notice the rhubarb is suffocating and the stem growing thin. Do this in early spring when the plant is dormant.
This is what you’ve been waiting for, right? After growing, it is only right you enjoy the fruit/vegetable of your labor. It takes about a year for a rhubarb crown to mature; however, you should leave it till the second year before you start harvesting.
You might be wondering, why do you need to do this when you can see your rhubarb looking yummy. Rhubarb needs all its leaves at that point to grow its robust root system needed for it to survive as long as it does.
In the second year, only harvest two stalks per plant, making sure to leave up to five on the plant so it can keep growing. You can increase it to 3 per plant after the third year. The stems come out between May and July, giving you up to three pickings per plant.
Pull the stalk gently from the base while twisting it a little to harvest the rhubarb stalk. Pull out the larger stalks first, leaving the smaller ones to mature. Bear in mind the leaves are poisonous but are a great source of manure when left to decay on your farm.
To produce a sweeter stalk faster, consider the forced approach. This approach uses the absence of light and added heat to hasten the maturity process.Here, you clear the area of any weed and debris, cover the area with straws to prevent frosting. Use a large bucket or pot to cover the shoot, making sure no light is entering. This will hasten the process by up to one month and is best done around January. After about eight weeks, your stalk will be ready for harvesting.
Common Rhubarb Pests and Diseases
The rhubarb plant does not have a lot of pests and diseases. Nevertheless, there are still a number of them you need to be wary of to get a healthy stalk.
- Ascochyta leaf spot
- Anthracnose stalk rot
Rhubarb is widely used in pies and jellies and as medicine for indigestion. Even the poisonous leaves can be used as manure. One of the most significant pulls of growing rhubarb apart from its flavor is its long-lasting plant. It can keep producing for up to 10 years. So what’s stopping you from growing yours?