Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through Growing Your Own Food in Canada. This month, Redawna shows you how to grow rhubarb in your own garden!
Rhubarb has had a bit of a revival in the past few years and has become quite popular. It's an easy-to-grow, cold-hardy and drought-tolerant perennial vegetable that produces for up to 20 years. It's 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 the crowns in individual spots where they can live undisturbed for many years to come. If you do decide to place rhubarb in the vegetable garden, it's a good idea to plant it along the edge or in the corners so that it's easy to work around with a tiller without disturbing the plants. Rhubarb prefers cooler weather, so keep that in mind when choosing its permanent location.
Rhubarb requires temperatures below 5 °C to break dormancy and trigger spring growth. Summer temperatures averaging less than 24 °C support strong growth. The south side of buildings with full sun is not the ideal location if you live in an especially hot part of the country. Shaded areas are fantastic and growing rhubarb 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 two feet apart. If you plan on growing rows of rhubarb, space the rows at least three feet apart so you have some working space between the rows. Each individual plant needs approximately a square yard of space.
It's 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. 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 aids in weed control.
Once your rhubarb plants are strong and established you may dig and split them every three to four 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 the rhubarb plants to become properly established. In the second year, stems can be harvested from as early as April in some areas through 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 use a knife to cut the stalk 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.