How To Grow - Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of the easiest vegetables to grow – it needs little attention and is very hardy, withstanding frost and a lack of water. It’s a perennial which will produce good yields, and the crop of distinctive pink stems are tasty in a range of desserts, from crumbles, pies, trifles, yoghurts, or with a dash of custard. Rhubarb is also grown for its elegant, ornamental qualities.

When and where

Plant out between late autumn and early winter – October is an ideal time. Rhubarb can be grown in a shady area, though avoid any definite frost pockets and ideally choose a position of partial shade. The key to a good location lies in ensuring fertile and relatively free draining soil.

Rhubarb will thrive in slightly acidic soil, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Parts of the garden prone to water logging should be avoided as this will result in the rhubarb crowns rotting. Remember that quite a large area is needed as the spread and height of a fully grown rhubarb plant is around 21 to 40 cm, and a space of 75 cm is needed between plants.

How to plant

Rhubarb will develop an extensive root system, and so it’s worth putting in the effort to dig over the soil four weeks before planting. Remove stones and mix in compost and organic matter. Place your bare root crown in a prepared hole deep enough for the top of the crown just below the soil surface. Then water well and firm down the soil around.

Harvesting

The rhubarb stalks are ‘pulled’ from close to the base of the plant with a gentle twist. If this proves difficult then you can also cut the stalks away. Pull two to three stalks at a time, choosing the thickest. Harvesting should begin once the leaves are fully open. The Rhubarb Timperley Early has a long harvesting period – from February right through to October, compared to the majority of rhubarb varieties which have a harvesting period of May to August. Never eat the leaves as they’re poisonous, containing oxalic acid. It’s best to leave the crowns to grow for a full growing season before the first harvest.

In the early spring, remove flowers when they appear, as blooming and seeding will slow down the growth of the stalks with energy diverted into growing seeds. Fertilizing in the early spring will also increase your rhubarb harvest significantly.

Through the year

When the leaves have died back, put down compost surrounding your rhubarb plants. There are few diseases to watch out for during the year – as long as the soil is well-drained, the crowns should not succumb to rot. If they do you will notice a fungus at the base of the stalks causing them to turn brown and soft. Remove the plant and destroy it straight away. Established rhubarb plants need to be divided or split into three or four separate crowns roughly every five years. This should be done during winter dormancy, using a spade. When doing this, ensure that each new crown has a bud which will shoot in the coming growing season.

Handy tips

The process of ‘forcing’ can allow you to harvest sweeter, earlier stems, and the Timperley Early is an ideal variety for this. To force a rhubarb plant which is growing outdoors, cover it with a container or cloche to block out the light as soon as the plant is growing after its winter dormancy. The heat and lack of light causes a speeded up process of ripening.


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