Growing Rhubarb: How to Plant, Grow and Harvest Rhubarb Plants

Rhubarb stalks growing in the garden

When it comes to growing rhubarb, it is all about practicing patience for long term results. Because, when properly cultivated, rhubarb will most often bear a productive crop for 8 to 15 years!

Growing Rhubarb: How to prep the soil

Bearing this in mind, it is advisable to prepare the soil for your first planting. The rhubarb will be relying on the nutrients and soil structure for a good long time. So, cultivate the soil to a good depth, between 12 and 24 inches, and mix in a good amount of organic matter such as compost or manure. It’s best to do this about one month before planting to allow the soil to consolidate. If you have heavy clay concentration, replace about half of the soil with sand when adding the organic material. Rhubarb plans need good drainage and for the most prolific harvest, full sun, though it will also grow in partial shade.

Also, remove as many weeds as possible so the rhubarb is not competing for nutrients and so you don’t stress the new growth by digging nearby weeds  before the plants are fully established.

How to Plant Rhubarb

Rhubard is generally planted as a bare root crown. Spring is the best time to plant new crowns and also the best time to divide older plants. For a single rhubarb plant, dig a hole at least 2 feet in diameter and in depth, partially back-filling the hole with a 50/50 mixture of soil and compost or well-rotted manure. If you’re planting multiple plants, dig a trench and do the same, allowing about 3 feet between plants. For each plant, you should mound the soil, spreading the roots down over the sides of the mound and then covering the plants with the remainder of the soil so the buds are 1 to 2 inches below the surface. Tamp the soil and water well. As the new growth emerges, make sure the new plants get at least an inch of water a week.

Growing Rhubarb: When to Harvest

You should refrain from harvesting any rhubarb the first year. It’s hard, but it is critical to establishing productive plants. Clip the flower stalks and remove seed stalks immediately. Seed stalks will normally form later in the summer; they are tall, round and thick and look quite different from the edible leaf stalks. In the second year, in the early spring, you can harvest a few leaf stalks (petioles) as they reach finger thickness, but leave the majority on the plant to enhance root development. From the third year on you can harvest as much as you want.

Rhubarb: Annual or Perennial?

Rhubarb is a hardy perennial in all but the hotter and dryer climates. This means it will come back every year with no effort on your part. Now, if you live in the desert regions like Northern and Western Texas, Southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico: you, too, can grow rhubarb, but as an annual rather than a perennial. If planting in sandy soil, plant the crown a little deeper than normal. You will be planting in the early fall as the nights start to cool and harvesting in the late fall and early winter. You may want to choose a spot with dappled shade or mostly morning and early afternoon sun, but if you have to plant in full sun, you can use a when necessary.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Harvesting rhubarb

To harvest, snap stems off at the ground or gently twist at the base. Trim the leaves off immediately, as they contain oxalic acid, are poisonous and should not be eaten. It’s fine to throw them in the compost bin, though. Then you can store rhubarb whole in the fridge for up to 3 weeks in sealed plastic bags, or you can clean and cut into 1-inch pieces and freeze them for up to 1 year. You can substitute chopped rhubarb for half of the fruit in any dessert recipe; it’s nutritious and adds texture, color and interest. One cup of diced rhubarb has only 26 calories, no cholesterol, low sodium, and very high levels of calcium, dietary fiber, manganese, potassium and vitamin C.

In late fall or early winter, an application of composted manure or leaves is beneficial. However, do not cover the crowns, since it may promote rotting. We don’t recommend using fresh manure when mulching, as it can burn the tender rhubarb plants.

Happy growing.

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  • Reply
    Mary E Donato
    April 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

    The information on rhubarb doesn’t make sense. It says you shouldn’t harvest for the first two years and then says later in the article that it should be grown as an annual in NM.

    • Reply
      April 17, 2021 at 1:18 pm

      Mary, it is a bit confusing! If you’re growing rhubarb as an annual, you would definitely harvest the entire plant (not the leaves, as they are toxic) in that same year. The tips on how to hold off on harvesting your rhubarb for a few years are meant for those who are growing them as a perennial. Hope this helps, happy growing!

  • Reply
    Dawn Hill
    May 11, 2022 at 6:29 pm

    Ours has already survived its first year but we did not use mulch or compost of any kind. We now have 2ft high stalks with big balls (Maybe flowers) on them. What do we do now?

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