Rhubarb is best started from rooted crowns, which can be planted in early
spring. Get a division from a friend or buy from a local nursery so you’ll start
with a plant that is already adapted to your local growing conditions.
This vegetable is a perennial to USDA zone 3, although with winter mulch, it can
be hardy in even colder climates. While rhubarb prefers cool weather, the plant
can usually adapt to hot summers (especially if you started with a local
strain). It’s heat-tolerant in AHS zones 8 to 1.
For tender and juicy stalks, give rhubarb your best soil in full sun (or part
shade in warmer climates). Be sure the soil is rich and well-drained. raised
beds and plenty of perlite or sand can improve drainage.
Once established, a well-fed plant will produce 8 to 10 pounds of stalks every
spring. Three plants should provide plenty for a family of four rhubarb lovers
To give a new plant a chance to establish itself, try to wait two years after
planting before you harvest. Be patient! If you just can’t stand it, you can
sneak a couple of stalks from each plant one year after planting.
For the best flavor and texture, harvest stalks when their leaves have opened
completely, or when they’re about 1/4 pound each. And to keep the plant healthy,
never harvest more than a third of the stalks at any one time. Gently grasp the
stem close to the crown and pull while twisting slightly. Stop harvesting when
the plant starts producing only slender stalks. In a well-fed rhubarb patch,
this usually gives you about six weeks of rhubarb heaven. Remember — only eat
rhubarb’s stalks. Its leaves contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, which
make them poisonous.
Feed rhubarb with a thick layer of Black Forest Organic Compost or aged manure
each spring. And make sure that it gets plenty of moisture: mulch will help keep
the soil continually moist but not soggy. In addition, to keep production up,
cut flower stalks off at the base when they appear. Once the plant starts
putting energy into setting seeds, it may slack off on the stalks.
Divide a crown when the middle stalks become spindly. In early spring, dig up
and separate it into softball-sized rooted pieces with at least one bud each.