Grow Your Own Food is an information series on Gardening in Canada that covers every aspect of growing your own food at home. I help you every step of the way so that you can have the garden you dream of. This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers of Canada.
Rhubarb has had a bit of a revival in the past few years and has become quite popular. It is an easy to grow cold hardy and drought tolerant perennial vegetable that produces for up to 20 years. It is one of the first spring foods that can be eaten from the garden and freezes well so you always have a supply on hand.
Where Should I Grow Rhubarb?
When planning to plant rhubarb you have a few options for placement. You can pick a spot in your vegetable garden or plant them in individual spots where they can live, undisturbed for many years to come. If you do decide to place them in the vegetable garden it is a good idea to plant them along the edge or in the corners so that it is easy to work around with a tiller and not be disturbed. They prefer cooler weather so keep that in mind when choosing its permanent location.
Rhubarb requires temperatures below 5 °C to break dormancy and to stimulate spring growth and summer temperatures averaging less than 24 °C for vigorous vegetative growth. The south side of buildings with full sun is not the idea location if you live in an especially hot part of the county, shaded areas are fantastic and it is a great way to fill in those areas of your yard or garden. Once mature, plants produce quite well so only a few plants are needed to assure a good supply every season.
How Do I plant Rhubarb?
Take the time to prepare the planting spots. Dig the soil well adding amendments like compost, manure or peat moss and weed the area thoroughly. Rhubarb comes in crowns and should be planted a minimum of 2 feet apart. If you plan on growing rows of rhubarb space the rows at least 3 feet apart so you have some working space between the rows. Each individual plant needs approximately a square yard of space.
It is best to plant rhubarb as early in the season as possible. You can find crowns at the greenhouse or garden center. Plant the crowns no deeper than two inches deep. Be sure to water well after planting to assure the roots have enough moisture to establish themselves. Mulching around the plants helps keep the ground consistently moist and aides in weed control.
Once your rhubarb plants are strong and established you may dig and split rhubarb plants every 3 to 4 years. Divide when plants are dormant in early spring or in the fall in warmer locations.
How Do I Harvest Rhubarb?
In the spring remove any flowers as they appear. This directs all the energy back into the stems and root system. During the first year, resist the temptation to harvest the stems, in order to allow Rhubarb plants to become properly established. In the second year, stems can be harvested from as early as April in some areas thru to June and July, when the leaves have fully unfurled and the stems are a foot long. To harvest pull each rhubarb stalk from the base of the stem and twist them away from the crown or using a knife cut the stock at the base of the plant.
Rhubarb Leaves are Toxic
One important thing to note about rhubarb, the leaves of the plant are toxic and should never be eaten. Trim the leaves from the stems and add them to your compost.