Rhubarb

RhubarbA cool season perennial plant, rhubarb is easy to grow, hardy and resistant to drought.

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 50-60 days
Height: 2 to 4 feet
Spacing: 3 to 4 feet apart, 4 to 6 feet between rows

Initially cultivated for medicinal purposes more than 2,000 years ago, home gardeners today are growing rhubarb for its tangy stems which are used in pies, tarts and sauces. Plants require cool weather to thrive and do not do well in warmer climates — growth slows when temperatures exceed 80˚F. Rhubarb is rich in vitamins A and C, iron and dietary fiber.

Note: The leaves of this plant are poisonous if ingested; use the stems only and compost the leaves.

Site Preparation:

Rhubarb thrives in cool locations with full sun, or partial shade and plentiful water. In warmer climates, plants benefit from light shade but form longer, thinner stems. Rhubarb should be planted at the end of one side of the garden where it will not be disturbed since it may be productive for five years or more.

Soil requirements; fast draining soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in to improve nutrients and loose texture. Add a handfull of bone meal or seabird guano to your soil if it is lacking in phosphorous. Rhubarb requires some winter chill to thicken the stems and to develop a deep red color.

How to Plant:

Plant divisions of rhubarb in late winter or early spring. Make sure each division contains at least one bud. Set the tops of the divisions at the soil surface, space 3-4 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Mulch the garden area heavily with compost, leaves or straw to prevent weeds and conserve moisture.

Harvesting:

Permit plants to grow two full seasons prior to harvesting. Harvest the leafstalks by grasping the stem near the base of the leaf and pulling sideways and outward. Cutting with a knife is not recommended since it will leave a stub which will decay and promote fungus disease. Never remove all the leaves from a single plant. After the harvest, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, top-dress the bed with organic garden compost, and water freely. Remove any blossom stalks that appear.

Insects and Diseases:

Pests are usually not a problem on this plant in the home garden. However, the rhubarb curculio (PDF), a rusty snout beetle about 3/4 inch long, can cause serious damage to the leafstalks. If present, use short-lived, organic pesticides to establish control.

Seed Saving Instructions:

While it is possible to save rhubarb seed, they do not produce plants that are true to type. In other words, the plants that are produced may or may not look anything like the parent plant. It is best to take cuttings of a favorite plant.

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