Originally from Asia, this beautiful hardy perennial vegetable features large green leaves with bright edible red stalks. Rheum rhabarbarum has poisonous leaves but delicious rich and tart stalks that are used in desserts and jams. Plants can grow up to 4′ tall and wide.
While tolerable to most soils, rhubarb prefers fertile and well drained soil that is high in organic matter. Choose your planting site carefully as rhubarb is not easily moved once established. Rhubarb thrives in full sun but can also tolerate partial shade.
Plant rhubarb crowns in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Dig a deep and wide hole (12″ x 12″) and fill with compost and topsoil. Plant the crown approximately 1″-2″ deep allowing 4′ between each plant.
Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and will only grow with lots of watering. Mulch generously with straw and compost to help maintain moisture and suppress weeds. After the first year of growth, fertilize lightly with a high nitrogen fertilizer just lightly as to not affect the roots. Dig and split plants every 3-4 years when they are dormant in early spring or fall.
Harvest stalks at the base of the plant in the second year of growth when they are between 8″-12″ tall by wiggling out the stem from the crown; cutting may bring disease. Be sure to discard leaves as they are poisonous. Leave at least two stalks unharvested each year to ensure continued growth. After the third year of growth, the harvest window is between 8-10 weeks long. The plant above ground will die back in winter.
Curing and Storage
Use rhubarb stalks very soon after harvest; they will keep in the refrigerator fresh in plastic bags for one week. They can also be cut into small pieces and frozen.