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Plantland Home & Garden

Prince George, BC, Canada

Gardening Tips

What you Need to Know When You Don't Have a Green Thumb

Harvesting Rhubarb

Rhubarb Plant
Rhubarb Plant

If you have rhubarb in your garden or landscape, chances are it is ready to harvest. We already have! Rhubarb is one of the earliest perennials to show signs of growth in the spring and one of the first crops to harvest from the garden. It is an easy to grow, perennial vegetable that can be found growing in many local gardens and even flowerbeds as the plant is quite attractive with its large leaves. Rhubarb is sometimes known as the ‘pie plant’ as it makes greats pies, but it is also used in other baked desserts as well as jams, jellies, stewed, and one of my favourites ‘wine’.

Rhubarb is grown from a root/rhizomes which becomes available at the garden centre in the spring. They can be purchased as a root or as a plant already growing in a pot. Rhubarb is easy to grow, requires very little maintenance, and rarely bothered by pests or disease. Choose the planting site with some thought as the rhubarb will be there for many years to come. Most gardens have the rhubarb growing on the edge in in the corner so that it is not in the way of other crops. It prefers a full sun location, in a soil that has some drainage, and is rich in organic matter. Before planting, clean the area of all perennial weeds. To plant rhubarb, dig a 45 cm round hole. Mix compost or old manure into the dug up soil and replace most of it back into the hole. Place the root 15 cm deep into the hole and cover with the remaining soil. Space rhubarb plants 1-1.3 meters apart. Tap the soil around the area and give it a good water. A good layer of mulch will help with keeping the soil moist, as well as discourage weeds. Continue to periodically water the plant, as rhubarb needs moisture for healthy growth.

Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and should be fed in the early spring or late fall, with a good layer of old manure or compost. Rhubarb plants can be split and divided every 4-5 years. Divide plants in early spring or late fall, when the plant has gone dormant. Roots are divided by using a sharp spade to cut through the root. If you are dividing rhubarb roots to create new plants, make sure that each division has at least 2 eyes.

Do not harvest any stalks off the plant in the first year as you want the plant to grow a strong and healthy root system first, before you begin harvesting. Stalks can be harvested the following spring (second season). To harvest, gently pull a stalk by grabbing it from the base of the plant and give it a good tug. It should come off easily. Do not cut the stalk off the plant as you want to get the entire stalk rather than leaving a stub which could rot. Only harvest two-thirds of the plant so that the remaining stalks can continue to feed the roots. Only harvest stalks during the spring and early summer, about 10 weeks, so that the plant can restore itself for next year. If you see the stalks are becoming very thin, stop harvesting as this is a sign the plants good reserves are low. Rhubarb plants will sometimes produce a large flower stalk, which should be removed immediately, as this takes important energy away from the plant. Rhubarb stalks are very tasty but the leaves are not. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should be thrown into the compost pile or placed on the ground near the rhubarb plant and used as a weed barrier. They can also be used to make an organic pesticide.

If you have rhubarb growing in your garden, check to see if it is ready to harvest and if you don’t have rhubarb growing in the garden, this is a great time of year to be planting it, so that you can enjoy rhubarb pie next year!