How to Grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that has a long history of cultivation and use. It is native to the cold climates of the Himalayas and Siberia. It appears in written recipes in England in the late 1700s, and since then has been grown in many countries across the world. Despite being a vegetable, it is commonly mistaken for a fruit, as the majority of recipes that use rhubarb are puddings and desserts. It is also a healthy addition to your diet, being full of fiber, calcium and potassium, as well as lots of vitamins and minerals. With its distinctive thick red stems and large leafy tops – which can grow a meter or more tall – rhubarb also makes an aesthetic addition to the permaculture garden. It favors a cooler climate and does best with a cold temperature while it overwinters in the ground. Areas with high humidity and very high temperatures during the summer months are not as suited to growing rhubarb, but permaculturists in such locations who wish to grow the vegetable can employ a number of planting techniques to moderate the microclimate to ensure a good crop.

Position
Rhubarb plants like to be in full sun, but with cooler air temperatures. If you have high summer temperatures, you could grow the rhubarb in partial shade, but it is likely to form thinner stems than if the temperatures were lower. Consider planting at the leaf line of an apple tree, as the rhubarb’s deep roots are beneficial to the tree, and the flavor of both species is enhanced by their proximity. Other good companion plants for rhubarb are the alliums, such as onions and garlic – and brassicas, like cabbage and cauliflower.

Soil
Rhubarb needs a soil that is well drained, and nutrient-rich to a deep level. Prepare the soil before planting by adding lots of organic material. Composted animal manure is particularly beneficial for robust rhubarb growth. This should also help keep the ground draining at an optimum, particularly if you have sandy soil that allows percolation to happen too rapidly. If you have very clay soil, you may want to consider planting your rhubarb in raised beds to improve drainage.

Planting
You can plant rhubarb as seeds. However, you will need to cultivate the seedlings in in pots in a greenhouse or indoors during the winter, before planting them out in a suitable location when the weather warms up in the spring. The seeds have a papery casing, so soak in water for a few hours before planting into well-composted potting soil.

The most common method of planting rhubarb, however, is as crowns. These are the divided parts of a mature plant’s roots. Source from an organic supplier or ask neighboring gardeners if they have some to give you – they are likely to be varieties that have done well in climate conditions similar to those on your plot. Plant the crowns just under the surface and allow between 80 and 100 centimeters between individual plants, so they will grow large, leafy stems, and not compete with one another too much for soil nutrients and moisture. Plant in the summer, water well, and mulch with straw or grass clippings.

Maintenance
In the spring, add well-rotted manure or liquid manure to encourage strong stalk growth. Keep well watered, particularly during the hot summer months, as if the plant dries out the stems will not develop their characteristic juiciness. Water thoroughly less frequently rather than lightly and often (although not so thoroughly that the soil becomes waterlogged), and avoid watering overhead onto the leaves to prevent rot.

Harvest
If you planted seeds, you are likely to have your first crop available after three years. If you planted crowns, you may be able to take a crop in the first year, but more often than not it is better to wait until the second year, when the plants are well established and the crop is likely to be more abundant. A good rule of thumb is only to harvest stems that are at least one inch across. This avoids harvesting immature plants during the first year or two. Harvestable stems will be a deep red colour and should come reasonably easily away from the crown if gently pulled. It is best to twist and snap the stalks rather than cut them to avoid damaging the crown. Do not harvest all the stalks from a single plant, as you need to leave some to set for growth the following year.

Kitchen
Because of its fibrous nature, rhubarb is usually cooked before eating it. It can be eaten raw, but is extremely tart so will need to be used in how to grow rhubarba dish that adds a sweet component to offset the acidity. Only the stalks are edible; the leaves and roots contain toxins that can cause digestive problems in humans if eaten either raw or cooked, particularly in large quantities. It is for this reason as well that you should avoid feeding the leaves to your livestock, be they pigs, chickens, ducks or rabbits. The leaves can go on the compost pile, as the toxins they contain – oxalic acid and soluble oxalates – are not easily absorbed by plant roots. However, you still should not let your livestock forage on garden beds that contains compost containing rhubarb leaves.

In the kitchen, rhubarb is usually used as you would a fruit, ideal for use in pies and crumbles that have a longer cooking time to allow the stalks to become soft and palatable, or sliced very finely raw into a salad or dessert. In terms of flavor, it combines well with ginger and apple.

Fresh, unwashed raw rhubarb stalks can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, and avoid cooking them in aluminum, copper or iron pans, as the high levels of acidity reacts with those materials and causes the rhubarb to turn brown. You can freeze rhubarb for later use. Cut into chunks and blanch in boiling water for a minute before plunging into cold water to stop the cooking process. Rain well and freeze in sealable containers.

154 comments

Fantastic crop that can be divided and made into beautiful, huge landscape points of interest while being edible. My favorite.

we were always told not to eat the leaves

Ewan Waterson

I have wanted to plant rhubarb for some time, just never have done it.

Dana

You’d have to eat about 5 kg of the leaves to kill yourself with them, and you wouldn’t want to, as they taste very sour.

The stems have less oxalic acid but still contain it. I would not eat rhubarb raw for that reason. Oxalic acid interferes with mineral absorption and can contribute to kidney stones. I prefer spinach cooked for the same reason. Just be sure to cook either in a way that doesn’t require you to drain off cooking water and you’ll retain most of the nutrients.

How to grow it? That stuff is almost impossible to kill. If you can’t grow it you’ve got a problem.

I have often seen growers of rhubarb being beaten and i also hear it is toxic unless cooked.

my grandmother planted hers behind the outhouse!( in Ohio ) It’s a heavy feeder and it always tasted good at her house. LOL

just don’t eat the leaves

Marilyn

I wish the article had given more advice on growing it in hot weather areas. I put out 12 crowns last spring, scattered all over my back yard, some in more sun, some in more shade, praying that at least 1/2 of them would live. I’m down to 2 plants. The ones in the sun started out REALLY well, looked fantastic, growing huge leaves. They received plenty of water, but were not wet. One by one, they each wilted badly and bit the dust, regardless of where they were planted. Any clues, anyone? (central Oklahoma, zone 7, 2014)

The first year we grew rhubarb, it surprised us as our most prolific and versatile crop! Two words: Rhubarb ketchup. See Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s awesome cookbooks. <3

Hmmm…. I didn’t think of adding rhubarb to my repetoire… but I should

Got to add strawberries

I thought cold climate was the only place it would grow.

All over my grandmothers yard

LOVE MINE FOR SURE
Got mine from Schlupps on Dicke Road about 5 or so years ago. Plant it and Don’t Go Wild harvesting for the first year or two….after that…Knock Yourself Out.

I started a big are of rhubarb on our farm a few years back.. It’s grown huge and replenished itself.. Love to cook with it and also make strawberry rhubarb preserves with it.

I saw a man picking up horse manure after a parade. He said he puts it on his rhubarb. I asked him if he’d tried custard.

divide and conquer

That is one reason I am so excited about moving back up north. Isn’t that crazy? I do love rhubarb.

Leaf poisonous ??

Well, this explains why my rhubarb didn’t grow this year in my garden. I planted it in the spring.

I have a great recipe for rhubarb cake

It grows like a weed here.. You onl have to put in a few seeds and 3 yrs later your garden is overgrown with the stuff..lol It will grow anywhere, and any soil…

I mix rhubarb with any berries I have and preserve it or even just cook it cut up fine with a bit of sugar and water to cover and it makes a great dessert. Favorite of course is rhubarb and strawberries but rhubarb and saskatoon canned fruit is hard to beat when toast is involved for a winter breakfast 🙂

And strawberry rhubarb pie

RHUBARB SMOOTHIES WITH ANY FRUITS IS REALLY GOOD TOO

Maggie

I guess I wouldn’t be able to grow rhubarb in a bucket on a balcony (apt living) would I?

Going to try to make a rhubarb sparkling drink this year by fermenting with water kefir.

I have two variety: The Ruby and the Victoria.

No No No rhubarb pie! No strawberries needed!

Love Rhubarb but Stu tries to kill it and I think maybe the dogs have done the job for him!

Last year we made rhubarb/grape/blackberry wine. This year I would like to try making just rhubarb wine.

ce livre en francais me plairait

Very good to know.

LOVE rhubarb. Lots of childhood memories involve squinty eyes from sour bites. : )

Lorraine, your Aunt Ramona really enjoys her stewed rhubarb that our grandma Brown made:) lol

Love Rhubarb compote!Mmm!

“ON A COLD CLIMATE” ? Huh ? That doesn’t make sense.

it grows easy,….just do not have it around dogs if you have them.

Love it raw and cooked, question is it a fruit or veg?

Dianne Cross, can you even get rhubarb in AZ? People here in MS dont even know what it is and those that do call it pink celery.

Joyce have not found anyone out here that grows it, but for a short time of the year they ship it in. Not as good as what grew at Grama’s house.

True story, my hubby spayed a beautiful big rhubarb plant we had been given and transplanted with what he “thought” was his home made concoction to ward off slugs….turns out he dosed it with bleach and water! 🙁 killed it..however, the following year it came back again! Thanks goodness cause I wanted to throttle him! lol

Nancy, Remember how your mum made you folks dig up and drop off rhubarb at the rectory? And how she wrote out rhubarb and strawberry recipes for me while she was in palliative care? Wonderful memories.

:O We’ve never been successful! 🙁

Love this plant, it makes good dessert and pie

Home grown ANYTHING always tastes much better 😉

rhubarb/strawberry is the best slush ever

If you are interested google forced rhubarb. I have about 25 plants in Ontario.

Yummm just had strawberry rhubarb pie minutes ago… my grandmother (kye7e) used to grow these in her back yard when I was a child, we also had some in my childhood home. 😀 Delish raw, stick the end in sugar 😀

Do you think the snow will hurt the Ruhbarb ?

Well it grows up in Canada and trust me, it will survive. BTW, it is poisonous to dogs.

I LOVE RHUBARB! <3 <3 <3

Gtampa. Said use manure. Same as article.

Double dig add lots of manure then watch out

Do you remember the Rhubarb patch at Brookside? We used the big leaves as hats & mom used to make us rhubarb for breakfast. It is still a favorite…and I like it by itself, not mixed with strawberries!

Melissa Jordan

You want me to grow rhubarb?

When I was little and we lived in Duboistown we had a rhubarb garden because my mom and grandma loved making rhubarb pies. We had pies all the time in the summer.

Is tha related to Ru Paul?

Debra Long-Aikey

It is a vegetable because it has no seed.

I AGREE COUSIN. THANK YOU.

We hope to bring a cut of ours to get started 🙂

You plant it and let it do its thing.

I have a big patch of my grammas in 93 she died an was 85 an she had when we were kids

My grandma made the best rhubarb pie!!

hmmmm good info michael, didn’t know that. Haven’t had any for a long time

leaves are poisonous to humans and other animals. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder — plant it next to your compost pile and it will be happy.

Supposed to be easy to grow but at my farm it doesn’t seem to like the soil, may just need more fertilizer.

Loves a mulch of organic matter: manure, topsoil, compost. No need to fertilize. 🙂

My experience is that if you throw it down on the ground it grows.

…rhubarb pie…

rhubarb with strawberries mm

it makes wonderful jam and can be mixed with many things including strawberries

Love my Rhubarb with Strawberries.

It likes to grow here in Canada — great plant. I need one.

Hmm…grows in Siberia; no wonder it is one of the plants that does grow well for me! Fortunately, we really like it!

dumb question but what is the crown of plant

looks like Swiss Char

rhubarb..less versatile than kale

My mouth got all puckery just looking at this .Never one of my favorites .

Helen, here’s the recipe that got me to love rhubarb: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/sour-cream-rhubarb-coffee-cake/

and don’ let your ruminants eat the leaves – deadly prussic acid

In BC we grew the strawberry rhubarb variety, very tasty and naturally sweeter but much smaller.

I live in a townhouse with little room for a garden but I do have a rhubarb patch in the front!

So, if I want to grow it with my asparagus here on the desert southwest, I’ll have to replant each year.. bummer. I’m thinking I can put it in pots and bring it inside in the summer?

I love rhubarb.

Rhubarb wine.. we are fortunate to be able to grow tons of it in SW Wi. Freeze it for bread and rhubarb crisp for the winter season….

grows great in alaska

I grew up with rhubarb behind our garage in michigan. I always ate them , yummy.

I’m in NY and couldn’t kill it if I tried 😉 Very hardy here!

yes love it –6 patches

Tucker thank you for sharing this link and making me think about the Rhubarb Tart I enjoyed so much living in Dublin, Ireland. My Irish mother, Maureen Boothman grew it in her yard and always made homemade desserts. Once the Tart was made, she would serve it with whipped cream! 🙂

That’s an interesting crop!

if you can get rhubarb and oranges try making yourself some marmalade with those two together. trust me on this.

I love Rhubarb but can’t grow it here in NC. Too warm

MC-Keep it in a wet spot and heap horse dung on top. Rhubarb likes it HOT.

It grow well here Washington State, a beautiful plant

I had a rhubarb plant that sprang up in my patch. It took over the entire patch and blocked sun for lettuce and other things. So sadly i ripped it out. I also didn’t know when to harvest it but the leaves and stalks got bigger and bigger.

it may be a vegetable…but it tastes like a fruit…a tart one …but what a super pie it makes

And now we know why some animals hibernate. I’m with them. Give me those summer veggies… lol

Sue

When we moved to Florida from Michigan I gave up on growing rhubarb and bought it frozen but found it too fibrous in pie and not as good, so I put the partially thawed rhubarb chunks in my food processor and processed them into smaller chunks and baked as usual and it was much better. I plan to try again to grow it this year.

Your old enough to have had a few years of university and you still don’t know the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. American education system at it’s finest.

My dad raised Rhubarb all the time. He shared with so many people.

I love rhubarb!!

Michelle Palfi.. here is a warning warning danger will robinson for you, LOL… if you grow it.. grow it in pots or put underground barriers to contain the root systems.. other wise.. it will take over your entire yard in time, and is almost impossible to kill off. Been there done that 🙂

Nice to know 🙂 Yummy

Really?? I’ve lost all the plants I got from work because of drought and my new
Fire break got rid of the last hope of any springing up because the machine ploughed through them … There are three fallow paddocks at work because our local major supermarket won’t pay freight costs and they are doing poorly .. I have not seen them spread out of their paddocks for at least 3 years ..

Well Michelle Palfi, maybe it depends on where you live.. it took me almost 2 years to control my chard , LOL

Even silverbeet??

That is a new one on me.. sorry 😉

One mans trash is another mans treasure so to speak lol 😉

That has always been the case 😉

Silver beet is like the rainbow chard .. Same thing …

What ever you call it .. it makes a mean pie 😉

My father said they were survival food .. he could grow it in any country and I have some amazing recipes to get those vitamins and minerals in hahaa!!

BoooYah !!!

Did I spell that right ? LOL

I want out of here so bad.. I miss earth… stuck on a broken boat, in a crowded city, I hate it.

Are you able to save Janet?

save what ?

Is it true it can be poisonous? ?

The leaves, I believe. Stems make delicious pies, or crisps. Goes very well with strawberries.

I love rhubarb and have grown it quite successfully for many years! My rhubarb plant is immense after probably 15 years in that spot…

Cut it about a 1/4″ thick, dry it and use it in cookies in place of dates or raisins.

I hope I remember to plant some rhubarb this fall. Jerry Kremer, really like your idea of cutting and drying to add to cookies.

I was thrilled when we moved to South Dakota, and we had a large rhubarb plant in the garden. I get several cuttings a season off of this one plant. I have made jelly, bread, and pies.

love rhubarb

Rhubarb is supposed to make a good wine as well!

people MUST be made aware that the leaves are inedible/poisonous!

rhubarb is one of our favorites!! We’re into permaculture…Dave is taking a course with Verge permaculture in Calgary this spring.

Rhubarb and strawberry pie. The best next to Blueberry. 🙂

grew up on Rhubarb all my life, and you don’t ever eat the leaves. I make a nice rhubarb relish that you eat for dinner with meat and potatoes or rice. It’s so nice and tangy like chow chow Julia Finley if you want my recipe just call me or e-mail me. I loved it so much raw as a kid, would take a stock and bite off the end and stick it in a small bowl of sugar till it was all gone. And it grows the best with sheep manure. Just saying. 🙂

I grow in in my Front yard as an ornamental. It’s is a kinda shady spot but does well. Love to cook with it.

Sandy

We used the bigger stalked, old fashioned rhubarb and made juice out of it. It was delicious. It took about 1/2 cup sugar per quart of juice. You can color it pink if desired. The smaller stalked, red rhubarb would be pretty and probably sweeter to use for juice but we used what we had at that time. I also cook my rhubarb with tapioca and sugar for a tasty sauce like pudding.

I have the hardest time growing it. I’ve tried twice and they always die on me.

Florida is to hot I guess…I’ve had no luck.

Anonymous

We are growing rhubarb here in Huntsville, Texas, with plants over six feet across with stems two inches and more across, planted in raised beds dug five feet deep and back filled with organic enhancements and mycorrhizal fungi. More details on request to [email protected]

Anonymous

Someone told me the other day that you can use rhubarb to deter slugs from eating hostas?. You boil up a stalk in some water, strain it, allow it to cool then spray onto hostas and they don’t like the taste. He also said that his mum had always put a chunk of rhubarb stalk in the bottom of the hole when planting hostas as it does the same job from the inside. Wondering if that means they would be good planting companions? Has anyone tried this or heard?

That was my thought as well!

It’s too hot & humid for it where I live 🙁

Plant a section of root and jump back.

Great article!

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