Classified as a perennial plant, Rhubarb is a cool-season crop, which is winter hardy and drought-resistant. The vegetable is developed from crowns made up of buds and rhizomes. When you grow rhubarb, keep in mind that it likes cooler weather. Although they are full sun plants, they do not like very hot climates.
This old-fashioned fruit is making a comeback in today’s culinary world. Easily grown with an interesting growth habit, it adds a distinctive presence in the garden.
Its preferred habitat is a cooler climate as it does not handle heat very well but manages quite heavy frosts.
The earliest references to Rhubarb are from Chinese manuscripts over 2,000 years ago. They use the root for medicinal purposes. The English have been using it since the sixteenth century also for medicinal purposes. There is an old-wives remedy of burying a rhubarb stalk next to cabbages in the garden. It is said to assist in the prevention of clubroot in cabbage plants.
1. Grow Rhubarb From Seeds
The first thing we want to do is to start with a good seed starting mix. The seed starting mix is what we are using for everything as it is a very well-draining soil. In addition, it is also very airy and light. It got good porosity which means it can hold on to just the right amount of water. So it is just like a sponge.
You can pre-moistened it and putting it into larger containers.
You want to start planting rhubarb in a larger container because they grow very fast and don’t like to be root-bound very much. Since they are perennial, they have really fast-growing roots to adapt their root growth to grow super fast.
So once they start seeding, they’re going to be well established by the time winter comes. If you have some of the fastest-growing root systems out there in the garden, you will need to give rhubarb a little bit more space, so they are not stressed out.
What you may consider doing is only to plant about two seeds per cell for your container. You can spin down to one typically with other vegetables. If you start with more than two seeds, it may break the club apart and separate them. For sure, you don’t want this to happen as you don’t want to do any damage to the roots.
So you should only plant about two seeds per square in each cell of your container. You can get a container with many cells that measure a 2″ x 2″ square pot. The benefit you can get with this container is that it will allow you not to waste too much seed, and you will have better results because you don’t need to rip into any of them?
Basically, you want to plant them to be the healthiest one per square and leave them until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. These rhubarb are very fast maturing and fast to sprout. If you’re beginning a gardener, you will be able to see if you are a success or a failure within about 5 to 7 days. So it is a very fast maturing seed.
Here is what the seeds look like. They just got kind of a little three-dimensional shape. They are pretty cool, but each will give you one plant, so you don’t have to worry about multiple seeds.
Certain plants produce multiple seeds in each seed pod. This is just one pod, so they’re easy to hold, and all you need to do is when you first start your seeds, you want to put your holes about no deeper than your first knuckle on your finger. You can go a little bit shallower but no deeper with about half an inch or so.
One of the biggest reasons people have problems when planting their rhubarb is that they either put the seeds too deep or keep them too damp. If the soil is too damp, the roots are actually going to rot. When the roots rot, the plant will go into shock, and it will stop taking water. They don’t like to be drowned, so they don’t like too much water.
I typically leave my soil about damp enough where I could create a ball out of it by crumple it together. It creates a ball but it just kind of crumbles apart. If it’s too dry, you won’t be able to create that ball. If it’s too wet, you will see water coming out from the ball. That’s where you know you have the optimal moisture.
The next thing you want to do is cover the seeds gently with some more seed starting mix. You can give them a little bit of a tamp down with your hand to compact the soil, so they have good contact with the seeds. Then you can water them nicely to settle all that soil around the seeds. You can then put them to bed before they sprout.
2. Grow From Sets
While rhubarb is available to grow from seeds, the plants are mostly acquired from sets. Rhubarb is grown from sets, which means the plant can be divided from a single root. You dig the main root out of the ground and then, with a knife, cut it into the sections that you want.
Make sure there is a bud or growing head on the individual pieces you slice off the root. This is best done in either late winter or early spring Plant your new plants into the well-fertilized and drained site in your garden. The plant will tolerate some shade but does best in a mostly sunny site in the garden. When you first plant Rhubarb in the garden, it is wise to consider giving it a place that you can leave it to grow on for several years.
3. Grow Rhubarb in Pots or Containers
Grow Rhubarb in containers; they are convenient on a balcony or deck if you do not have a garden. Growing rhubarb in pots allows you to stand the containers in a little shade if you need to protect them from strong winds. The large leaves of the plant mean it is susceptible to being blown over by the wind.
In containers, you can move the rhubarb into the sun if you feel like it. Water rhubarb frequently, whether it is in the garden or pots. Give all plants a liquid fertilizer or nitrogen-based granular fertilizer every four to six weeks for the best results. Do this during the main growing season.
Picking the stalks is done correctly if you twist and peel the stalk from the bottom of the plant, not unlike silver beet. This leaves the new growth to grow from the center of the plant. To prepare the stalks for cooking, you must remove the leaves from the stalk.
Avoid using soft stalks or the leaves of them drooping or not in a healthy state. The leaves are poisonous to human beings, but it is all right to compost them. Keep the prepared stalks in the fridge until you need them, as they store well. The color of the stalks is immaterial and does not affect the taste.
Best Time for Planting Rhubarb
Planting rhubarb from seeds will take a while to realize a harvest, so many people plant them from stems that produce roots or seedlings purchased at nurseries. The best time to plant these seedlings or roots is early in spring.
Rhubarb will grow to about 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, dependent upon which variety you plant. Rhubarb stalks have a mixture of a sweet and sharp sour taste.
When you grow rhubarb, Spacing is important for the vegetable to reach its full potential. The proper spacing for this vegetable is between 24 – 48 inches. The rows in which they are grown should be separated by 36 inches. Anything less than three feet creates an overcrowded environment and harms the plants.
Soil Conditions For Growing Rhubarb
The soil should be a good rich soil that drains well. If you want to check the pH level, it should be between 6.0 and 6.8. There should be about 3 to 4 feet between plants. The rows should be about 3 feet apart as well.
This will influence the size of the plants. Ones that are planted too close together tend to be smaller and do not produce as much.
The stems should be planted about 2 inches deep and can be planted in a trench. You should water them well after planting, and you should use mulch.
Rhubarb does not like weeds, and placing good compost around them will keep weeds away. Most rhubarb is grown as a perennial and will not produce to the fullest extent until the fourth year.
A growing rhubarb may be harvested starting the second year. Only a small amount can be taken, though. In the third year, you can harvest more, but only for about 30 days.
After this, it can be harvested whenever it is ready. The only part of rhubarb that is harvested for consumption is the stalks.
The leaves are toxic and should be pulled from the plant when it is time to harvest the stalks.
If the rhubarb should become damaged by frost, it is not wise to eat it because the stalks can become poison. Spring is the time for the major harvest of rhubarb. You may pick some during the summer if the weather is not really hot.
Growing Rhubarb Tips
The biggest part of the maintenance for growing rhubarb is the trimming. This only needs to be done every 4 years. The time to take care of this is when you notice the stalks are getting thin. This happens when the plants get overcrowded. Trim the plant to only 4 or 5 buds, and this should take care of the problem.
Rhubarb Disease and Garden Pests
The rhubarb is a reasonably hardy plant but is prone to some of the usual pests in the garden. When growing rhubarb, you can expect a visit from unwanted garden pests. They include potato bugs, beetle, aphid, slug, caterpillars, snail, and broad mites, to name a few.
Your first line of defense is to keep plants healthy. Start with quality soil and composted material, proper sunlight, and water. To eliminate competition for nutrients, keep the area weeded. Of course, you can use organic insecticides if need be.
Although rhubarb does not have many problems, one that is very serious is footrot. This problem is caused by fungus. Because it will spread to other plants, you should destroy any affected plants.
Allowing the area where you planted the rhubarb to dry should cure the problem, but to be on the safe side, you should relocate the planting to another area. Any black spots you notice on the stem are just a part of the rhubarb and are not a cause for concern.
Rhubarb is an acquired taste, and many people do not like the combination of sweet and tart. It is often used for making pies. You may eat it plain just after harvesting. For most, either they love rhubarb, or they hate it. There does not seem to be a median.
Rhubarb is prepared for the table by slicing and dicing the stalks and stewing for dessert or pies. The rhubarb will need sugar to lessen the tart taste, but that is a personal preference. It is a good fruit to use as a ‘crumble dessert.’
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