If you’ve thought about growing rhubarb but never done it…right now is the perfect time to get started. Right now means, ideally, a cool spring. For rhubarb is a cold-loving plant, able to survive and even thrive in sub-zero temperatures, and in mid-April 2016 the new knobby “crowns,” or growing rootstock, are available for garden upgrades.
What may prevent a lot of gardeners from trying rhubarb is that it requires at least two growing seasons to mature and start bearing enough of the bright pink stalks to harvest. Once established, though, the perennial rhubarb may produce for 15 or more years. It’s an excellent value.
Not only is the tart and tangy “fruit” delicious, but it is rich in vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. (Don’t eat the leaves, though, they are considered poisonous).
Good taste, good nutrition, and there’s more. Rhubarb fully leafed out is a handsome addition to the home garden, growing about 18 inches high and with big, dark-green crinkly leaves.
Here’s how to get rhubarb started in your garden:
- Choose a sunny space at the edge of a garden, where the roots can remain undisturbed for many years.
- Make sure the soil is worked to a depth of about a foot, with plenty of composted soil and aged manure included.
- Plant crowns six inches or so below ground level, and about three feet apart if you are planting multiples.
- Water generously. Cover with soil.
- Wait. Rhubarb will send out leaves the first year, die back in winter, and send out new leaves the second season. You should wait until the third year to harvest.
To harvest properly, don’t cut across the stalks, but twist the big outer stalks off sharply at the base. Never cut across the crown, but allow the leaves continue to develop from the inner stalks outward.
And here’s how enjoy rhubarb, now that my own has put on a few years. I love to cook pieces of rhubarb stalk with strawberries for 15 minutes or so, then strain. The resulting juice is sweet tart and makes a good product to can for enjoyment all year. Even better, I find strawberry-rhubarb wine to be one of the very best homemade garden wines possible. Some folks like a simple dish of stewed rhubarb, perhaps with a little honey added; try this with granola or on ice cream.
For gardeners in the hotter regions of the Deep South or far the West rhubarb may not be the best choice. The plants require temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to break their dormancy. Growth slows down in hot weather, and is most vigorous in locations with cool summer temperatures.
Written by Sow True Garden Ambassador, Nan Chase