Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb is generally known as a fruit because it’s a popular ingredient in desserts such as crumbles and pies.
It’s a perennial crop, which means it harvests for more than one season and could last for around ten years, and with a little care you can collect lovely succulent stems on healthy plants.
How to prepare the soil for rhubarb
In a sunny site, if possible, dig over the topsoil and work some bulky compost into the ground.
If you need to improve the drainage of the soil, add in grit or extra manure, or even drainage pipes and a soak-away to the ground if needed.
Avoid frosty soil locations as stems can be affected by frost.
Growing rhubarb crowns
Rhubarb is best planted as ‘crowns’ - these are sections of mature roots that, once planted, are primed to develop underground over the winter and come into growth the following spring, although it’s best not to harvest until the second season.
Rhubarb grown from seeds will not be ready until the second harvesting season.
When to plant rhubarb crowns
The best time to plant rhubarb crowns is from October to early December, although they can also be planted in the first three months of the year.
Rhubarb crowns don’t take to being planted in very wet or waterlogged soils.
How to plant rhubarb crowns
- Dig a hole so that the crowns sit just below the surface of the soil, but with the top of the crown still visible. Fill the hole and place plenty of compost around the crown.
- One rhubarb plant should be enough for an area of about 1 sq yard (1 sq metre), so place plants about 3ft (1m) away from each other to allow room to spread in the years ahead.
How to care for rhubarb
How to water rhubarb:
Give rhubarb a good watering after planting in autumn and winter, and then the soil should remain naturally wet through these months. Water well in dry conditions.
How to feed rhubarb:
Feed plants in summer with a general fertiliser, preferably one that’s high in nitrogen. Adding a mulch to the soil, like manure, in the plant’s first February or March will conserve moisture in the soil.
Rhubarb does not need much pruning or training – just remove any flowers as soon as they appear on the plant.
Harvesting and storing rhubarb
Harvest stems in the plant’s second April. You can pull rhubarb stems up with your hand, close to the base of the plant which stays in the soil, by twisting slightly as you pull.
Leave at least three to five stems per harvest and stop harvesting by July, to ensure you get an abundant crop each season.
You can selectively ‘force’ some rhubarb stems for sweeter and paler stems. Put an upturned dustbin (or something similar) over the plant to create darkness and in six weeks the stems should be harvestable.
This is only advisable to do every now and again and a rhubarb plant should not be forced any more frequently than once every two years.