Growing Rhubarb

Fresh cut rhubarbRhubarb is pretty easy and will reward you with many years of succulent stalks for 10 years or more. It’s a plant that looks beautiful in the garden with its huge leaves and bright red stems, an impressive looking crop for a first time grower! We stock 3 of our favourite varieties which can be easily ordered below:

Timperley Early
Victoria
Glaskins Perpetual
Rhubarb Mix Pack

So, let’s get stuck in with the first step, where do I put it?

Site and Soil
The sunniest spot in the garden is the best but rhubarb will tolerate partial shade and still do well. Partial shade does not mean a corner of the garden that gets a couple of hours of sun in the morning, make sure you get 5 or 6 hours of direct sun a day. Be aware that your new rhubarb plant will be in the same position for 10 years meaning the soil around the plant can’t be dug over to avoid damaging the wide root system. When planning your planting position be aware that a medium sized rhubarb plant will be about 4 foot in diameter so make sure you have enough room!

Growing rhubarb in the vegetable gardenRhubarb will prefer a well drained soil so if you have a wet garden we recommend using raised beds. Dig over your soil 4 weeks before planting and remove as many stones as you can. Dig in plenty of organic matter as rhubarb won’t tolerate soil disturbance once it has become established. The reason for leaving 4 weeks between digging and planting is to give the soil and added organic matter time to settle. For very high quality bulk organic matter we recommend ‘Envirogrind’ natural soil improver sold in 1 tonne bags.

When to plant
You can grow rhubarb from seed but it takes much longer and can result in plants which aren’t true to the parent variety. It’s much easier to plant part of a divided rhubarb plant which are known as rhubarb crowns. The best time to put in Rhubarb crowns is late Autumn – early Winter. November and December are perfect for starting off your new plants.

Rhubarb root or crownHow to plant
Make sure you get your Rhubarb plants from a reputable supplier (us!) to ensure they are disease free. Dig a hole in your prepared bed a little wider than your rhubarb crown. The crown should be planted so the tip of the plant is approx 2.5cm below the surface of the soil. Firm the surrounding soil in around the roots to ensure it’s well packed and no air pockets remain. If due to some extraordinary shift in Irish weather conditions the ground is dry water well to help the plant get established.

Spread a compost mulch around the plant but not directly above the growing tip where it will emerge in 4 weeks or so.

Rhubarb Planting Distances
Variety Between Plants Between Rows
Timperley Early 75 cm 75 cm
Victoria 1.2 m 1.2 m
Glaskins Perpetual 80 – 90 cm 1 m

Crop Care
Rhubarb plants require very little care and will produce for you even if you just leave them alone and ignore them. With a little care and attention however they will produce much finer stalks and crop better than lonely plants.

When the season is over Rhubarb flower headand the leaves have died down spread a layer of well rotted garden compost (If you don’t have any our ‘Envirogrind’ is perfect) around the plant ensuring it’s not touching the stems. If the Summer is dry (again, unlikely) give the plants an occasional soaking. Keep the area around the plant well weeded.

Cut off any flower heads which may appear in early Spring as the new rhubarb stalks emerge from the soil. Do this as soon as you can as if the flower head is left to grow and produce seed the plant will never recover to full strength.

Rhubarb suffers from very few pests and diseases with the only problem you may encounter being crown rot. Crown rot can be avoided by planting in well drained soil and avoiding burying the growing tips under compost. If you stick to the planting guidelines this is unlikely to be a problem.

Harvesting Rhubarb
It will be tempting to harvest some of the stalks in the first year. Don’t. You should leave the new plants for the first year without harvesting any stalks as this will weaken the plant. You want your rhubarb to establish a good healthy root system and it will need all its foliage to do this.

Picking fresh rhubarb in MayDuring the second season you can pick a few stems making sure you only pull two per plant at any one time and that at least 5 healthy stalks remain. From the third season onwards pull three or four stems at a time making sure you leave 3 or 4 on the plant. The rhubarb will produce stalks from May until July or August and should give you 2 or 3 pickings from each plant.

To pick, remove the largest stalks when the leaves have fully opened. Remove the stalks by pulling gently from the base of the plant while using a twisting motion. The leaves can be composted but please don’t eat them as they are high in oxalic acid and therefore poisonous.

Forcing rhubarb with a bucketForcing Rhubarb
Rhubarb can be forced by covering with a large container like a dustbin or large pot to exclude any light. The lack of light and the warming effect of the container will make the rhubarb grow faster meaning it’s ready for picking about a month before it’s normally ready. We tend to grow ‘Timperley Early’ as this gives a very early crop without the need for forcing but it is fun to do and some people will tell you the end result is sweeter.

Forcing should be started in January. Remove any dead leaves and debris from around the plant so the crown doesn’t rot. Make sure your covering excludes all light so plug and small holes or gaps. You can also add some dry straw around the crown for extra insulation if the weather is very cold. A dark coloured bucket will absorb more heat and will warm better.

The stalks should be ready for harvesting approx 8 weeks after covering or when the stalks push the bucket off.

 

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5 Responses to Growing Rhubarb

  1. Dennis Moules says:

    Andrew
    I am taking a Fetac course in Horticulture and one of our projects is to plan a fruit garden from a site on the collage grounds.
    One fruit we decided to include was Rhubarb as we all agreed that it will grow any wear.
    But reading your article I think I may have to rethink the placement of the Rhubarb, or which veriaty would be better suited to the plot that we have marked out.
    Could you sujest a variety that would tolerate a north west partially shaded by building wall position.
    The ground is free draining with a sand mix (as we are on the coast) proned to dry out with no rain for long periods. The plot is also at the highest point in town and open to the northwest I have planed that there would be a fruiting hedge as a wind barrier to that side.
    The project asks for name’s to our plants spacing specific needs and maintenance which must be included in our design.
    Kind Regards
    Dennis Moules

  2. Marie says:

    Hi, I have just planted my rhubarb nut have have acquired dome horse manure, is it too late to dig some round the plant

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Marie. If the Rhubarb has been recently planted you will be fine to dig manure in around the plant, just stay 8 inches or so away from the plant. You can also add well rotted manure as a top dressing around the rhubarb ensuring it is not touching the stems. Also, make sure any manure is well rotted (very little smell) or it can damage new roots and also take nitrogen from your soil as it breaks down.

      I hope this helps

      Andrew

  3. Carmel Ni Shuilleabhain says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Is there any point in planting rhubarb now, April, or am stressing the plant and frustrating the gardener?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Carmel. You can plant rhubarb now but I suspect it will be difficult to get crowns. If you know someone with a crown they are prepared to split you could give it a go but early spring is the cut off time. Sorry for late reply by the way! Andrew

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