How to Grow Rhubarb: A Q&A Guide for Gardeners

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Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable plant that belongs to the same family as celery and strawberries. It’s hardy, easy to grow, and needs little care, but it does require patience. This how-to guide will give you all of the information on how to grow rhubarb from seedlings or plants so you can enjoy this delicious fruit in your own garden year after year.

Fresh rhubarb isolated on white background

Where did rhubarb orginate?

Rhubarb originated in Asia but was cultivated and used as food for centuries before it became popular in Europe.

Europeans were the first to eat rhubarb, spreading from Italy to Poland and then France.

The first mention of how to grow rhubarb comes from this time period when a gardener in England shared his methods for cultivating it in 1597.


How to plant rhubarb from seed.

Plant rhubarb seeds in rich soil that drains well.

You should plant the seed about three feet apart so they have enough room to grow properly. Keep the plant moist and shaded until it has established itself, or else it may die due to lack of water or sun exposure.

It is important not to plant rhubarb where it will have trouble thriving, including very shady areas or locations with poor drainage.

You can also start your rhubarb seeds indoors in a pot or cell pack. Seeds take 10-15 days to germinate.

When growing rhubarb indoors, we recommend starting plants inside 4 weeks before planting outdoors around mid-April and keeping them at 60 degrees Fahrenheit until they are ready for transplanting outside after frost danger has passed.


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How to plant rhubarb from a slip.

You can start rhubarb from a root cutting or slip.

Plant after the last frost day for your zone. Dig a hole for each plant and loosen up the soil first to avoid big clumps.

Plant the slip in the hole with its roots down and space it from other plants by at least three feet. Water each plant well after planting to settle the soil around the root ball.


What are the best varieties of Rhubarb?

There are several types of rhubarb that grow exceptionally well in the North. Here are a few varieties that often win the rhubarb popularity contests:

  • Cherry Red
  • Canada Red
  • Crimson Red
  • German Wine

How much sun does rhubarb require?

Rhubarb prefers full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade.


How much water does Rhubarb need?

Water rhubarb deeply as often as necessary to keep the soil evenly moist. If you are unsure how much water is needed, dig down into the soil with your fingers until they get wet or use a moisture meter to determine how deep and frequently it needs watering.


Rhubarb is a perennial plant so how long does it live?

Rhubarb lives for many years. It can be dug up and divided every three to five years (or as soon as the plants look crowded). This will result in one or two new rhubarb crowns that you can plant again or give away.

Fun Tip: Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, not a fruit!

 

Growing rhubarb in home garden

How do you pick rhubarb?

The best time to harvest rhubarb is in the spring. Just before flowering, when they are about 12-18 inches high and plump-looking, cut them off with a sharp knife or spade close to the ground.

Rhubarb should be eaten fresh within just a few days of picking because it does not keep well for long periods of time.

The leaves of a rhubarb plant are not edible and are toxic in high doses to humans.


How do you preserve rhubarb?

You can freeze rhubarb by cutting it into chunks (about an inch thick) and freezing it on trays lined with parchment paper. Once they are frozen solid, transfer them into containers or bags for storage. The more airtight your container is, the better quality it will stay instead of letting out all its natural juices.

You can also make jams like strawberry rhubarb or rhubarb to store for up to a year.


a jar of sugar-free rhubarb jam against a rustic wooden background.

can you eat rhubarb raw?

You can eat rhubarb fresh, but it is not recommended. It can cause stomach upset if eaten raw.


How do you know the age of a rhubarb plant?

You can guess at the age of a rhubarb plant by how large it is. For example, if the leaves are more than 18 inches tall and the stems have grown to about two feet long, the plant is likely over 3 years old.


What Companion Plants Grow Well With Rhubarb?

The best companion plants for rhubarb are strawberries. Strawberries and rhubarb share similar preferences to growing conditions making them perfect companion plats.

But there are many more plants that you can grow side by side with rhubarb that help with soil aeration or pest management. We have a whole blog post dedicated to rhubarb companion planting you may find helpful.

Check out this Post: Rhubarb Companion Plants


Freshly picked rhubarb and strawberries on a table witha  bowl of slice rhubarb.

lets get planting!

We have all the tips you need to grow rhubarb for the first time successfully! From planting seeds and caring for them until they’re ready to harvest. So get outside this springtime and start planting your rhubarb patch.

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