Rhubarb Time!

When it’s rhubarb (Rhubarb x cultorum) season, I know spring is here. Rhubarb isn’t a fruit even though it’s used in pies and cobblers; it’s a vegetable that’s grown for its petioles, the stalk that connects a leaf to the main stem of the plant. The petioles are very sour so I wonder who first started to eat them? I also wonder, who learned that the stalks are edible since the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I’m glad that someone started eating rhubarb.

Rhubarb Plants

If you’re a rhubarb lover, the good news is that this is an easy plant to grow. Once it’s established, all it needs is regular fertilizing to keep it growing for decades. The only thing that can be a little challenging is getting the plant established.

Rhubarb is usually started from root divisions. For a number of years I tried to grow rhubarb. I ordered root divisions from various seed companies but what always arrived was a tiny piece of root-stock that was usually shriveled and dry. I had no luck getting these to grow.

Then I found the answer to my problem. Instead of using bare rooted divisions, I found a local greenhouse that sold rhubarb that was growing in pots. I purchased two of these and they took off right away. Since that time I’ve noticed that other businesses sell rhubarb growing in pots; maybe I’m not the only one who had trouble getting it to grow from dormant roots.

Rhubarb Petioles (stalks)

Rhubarb needs a sunny spot with good moisture where it can grow undisturbed. You can’t harvest any rhubarb the first year and only a little the second year – this allows the plant to get established. From the third year on you can harvest for about 2 months or until the new stalks that emerge start to become slender. To harvest, just grasp a petiole and pull – it usually pops right off of the plant.

I fertilize once a year with a balanced fertilizer. When the plant is growing you’ll sometimes see large flower stalks that tower above the leaves. These should be pulled off since you don’t want the plant to waste energy producing seeds. Fertilizing and removing flowers stalks is all I do to keep the rhubarb growing. I’ve never had a disease or insect  problem. I may have to divide the plants if they become crowded but even that’s many years in the future. Like I said, it’s an easy plant to grow.

I know it’s spring when the rhubarb is ready. The leaves might be poisonous, the petioles might be sour but I love this easy to grow plant.


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