How to Grow Rhubarb – Big Healthy Harvest Guide

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Are you eager to learn how to grow rhubarb and enjoy a bounty of tangy stalks straight from your garden? This rhubarb growing guide provides step-by-step instructions and practical tips to cultivate thriving rhubarb patches in your backyard. With this knowledge, you can ensure a steady supply of fresh ingredients for your favorite rhubarb recipes this spring.

Freshly picked rhubarb stalks from a home garden resting on a rustic wooden table.

Are you a rhubarb lover or an aspiring gardener looking for a rewarding venture? Look no further! This article has got you covered. We’ll take you through the ins and outs of growing rhubarb from start to finish so you can cultivate all that tangy goodness and enjoy homemade rhubarb jam all year. You’ll discover how to select the perfect location for planting and care for your rhubarb throughout the growing season.

Getting to Know Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is grown for its large edible leaf stalks. It belongs to the Polygonaceae family and is scientifically known as Rheum rhabarbarum. While the stalks are great for cooking, the leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid, making them unsafe to eat.

Choose Your Variety

Many types of rhubarb are available, each with unique colors, flavors, and growth habits. Popular varieties include ‘Victoria,’ ‘Canada Red,’ and ‘Crimson Cherry’.

  • Victoria rhubarb is known for its bright green stalks tinged with pink or red at the base. It offers a classic rhubarb flavor with a balanced tartness and sweetness.
  • Canada Red presents vibrant red stalks with a slightly sweeter taste and robust growth habits.
  • Crimson Cherry stands out with its deep red stalks reminiscent of ripe cherries. It boasts an intense, sweet flavor ideal for desserts and jams.

While ‘Victoria’ and ‘Canada Red’ showcase strong disease resistance and vigorous growth, ‘Crimson Cherry’ may require a bit more attention but rewards gardeners with its striking appearance and rich flavor.

Young rhubarb plants in a garden off to a healthy start.

Make Sure Your Garden Can Provide The Right Environment For Rhubarb to Flourish

Consider the climate and soil conditions to grow rhubarb successfully. Rhubarb grows best in cooler climates and well-drained, fertile soil. It needs sunlight exposure from full sun to partial shade to produce healthy stalks. Soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is ideal for the plant’s nutrient availability.

How To Get Started Planting Rhubarb

Selecting the Right Location for Planting Rhubarb:

If you plan to plant rhubarb, finding the right location for your patch is essential. Rhubarb requires sunlight, but it also prefers some shade during the hottest parts of the day. So, choose a spot that gets full sun to partial shade.

In addition, make sure that the soil in the selected location drains well to avoid waterlogging, as rhubarb doesn’t like to have its feet soaked.

Consider factors such as the proximity of buildings or trees that can provide shelter or shade and potential obstacles to airflow that could increase humidity levels.

 Preparing the Soil for Rhubarb Cultivation:

Rhubarb is not very selective about soil type but prefers fertile, well-drained soil with a pH level ranging from 5.5 to 6.5.

First, remove any weeds or debris from the soil. Then, enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve its structure. If your soil tends to be heavy or compacted, consider adding sand or perlite to enhance drainage.

The aim is to achieve a loose, crumbly soil texture that allows rhubarb roots to penetrate quickly and access nutrients.

Choosing Healthy Rhubarb Crowns or Seeds:

If you want to start your rhubarb patch, you have two options – planting crowns or seeds. Crowns are pieces of rhubarb root with buds, and they are the more common option due to their faster growth and reliability.

When choosing crowns, look for ones with firm, plump roots and healthy, well-developed buds, and avoid those that seem dry, shriveled, or moldy. Alternatively, you can choose seeds that offer more variety but require more time and patience to establish.

Buy high-quality seeds from a reputable source and follow the recommended planting instructions for the best results. We’ve purchased many rhubarb crows from Vesey’s over the years with excellent results, but many garden centers will sell healthy rhubarb crowns in spring.

A rhubarb crow with healthy rhubarb stalk growth about to be planted in the garden.

Planting Rhubarb

Timing: When to Plant Rhubarb:

Timing is crucial when planting rhubarb, as giving the plants the best possible start is essential. The ideal time to plant rhubarb is in early spring when the soil becomes workable and temperatures warm up.

It is advisable to plant rhubarb before the hot summer weather arrives, allowing the plants to establish themselves before facing the stress of high temperatures. Planting in early spring also provides rhubarb ample time to develop strong roots and prepare for vigorous growth during the growing season.

Tips for Planting Crowns:

Planting rhubarb crowns is the most common and reliable way to establish rhubarb plants. First, prepare the soil in the chosen location by following the steps mentioned in the previous section. Make sure the soil is well-drained and enriched with organic matter.

Dig a hole slightly bigger than the rhubarb crown and loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole to encourage root growth. Place the rhubarb crown in the hole with the buds facing upward and fill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the crown. Keep the crown’s bud tips exposed above the soil surface and water it thoroughly to settle the soil.

Tips for Starting With Rhubarb Seeds (Optional):

Planting rhubarb seeds is uncommon, allowing gardeners to experiment with different varieties and traits. If you have decided to plant rhubarb seeds, you should start them indoors at least eight weeks before your area’s last expected frost date. You can plant the seeds in trays or pots filled with seed starting mix by pressing them lightly into the soil and covering them with a thin layer.

Keep the soil moist and provide adequate light from sunny windowsills or grow lights. Once the seedlings have developed several true leaves and the threat of frost has passed, you can transplant them into the garden following the steps outlined for planting crowns.

Planting a garden bed with seedlings of rhubarb.

Watering and Fertilizing

Proper Watering Techniques:

Watering rhubarb plants properly is crucial to their overall health and productivity. Although rhubarb can withstand drought once established, it requires consistent moisture, particularly during dry spells. It is vital to water rhubarb deeply but infrequently, providing enough water to thoroughly saturate the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Frequent shallow watering should be avoided as it can encourage shallow root development and make plants more susceptible to stress. Furthermore, be cautious of overwatering, as rhubarb roots can decay in waterlogged soil. Mulching around rhubarb plants helps retain soil moisture and reduce watering frequency.

Understanding Rhubarb’s Fertilization Needs:

Fertilizing rhubarb plants can significantly boost healthy growth and increase yields. In early spring, apply a balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of around 10-10-10. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can result in lush foliage but fewer stalks. Incorporate compost or well-rotted manure annually to replenish nutrients and improve soil structure. Adjust fertilization rates based on soil test results and plant response as the plants mature.

A second year rhubarb crown popping in spring.

Maintenance and Care

Mulching Rhubarb Plants:

Mulching is an essential practice that helps maintain soil moisture, control temperature, and prevent weed growth around rhubarb plants. To mulch around the base of rhubarb plants, apply a good thick layer of organic mulch, like straw, shredded leaves, or compost. Make sure to leave some space between the mulch and the stems.

Mulching helps preserve soil moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering. It also acts as an insulator, protecting the soil from temperature fluctuations. Organic mulch slowly decomposes, enriching the soil with nutrients and enhancing its structure.

Controlling Weeds:

Weeds can remove the essential nutrients, water, and sunlight that rhubarb plants need to grow. This can hurt their growth and reduce yield. Keeping weeds under control by regularly weeding is crucial to ensure a healthy growing environment for rhubarb. Hand-pulling small weeds is effective, especially when the weeds are young and small. You can also suppress weed growth by applying a layer of mulch around rhubarb plants.

Mulching helps to smother weed seeds and prevent them from sprouting. If there are stubborn weeds, consider using a hoe or hand cultivator to loosen and remove them from the soil surface.

Dealing with Pests and Diseases:

Although rhubarb is generally resistant to pests and diseases, it may face occasional issues that require attention. Common pests that may harm rhubarb include aphids, slugs, and snails. You can control pests using natural methods such as hand-picking, insecticidal soap spray, or organic pest deterrents.

Moreover, rhubarb plants may be prone to diseases like crown rot, powdery mildew, and bacterial leaf spot, particularly in humid or poorly ventilated conditions. To prevent disease, ensure proper spacing between plants to promote air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and immediately remove and dispose of any infected plants or plant material.

A rhubarb leaf infested with aphids.

Supporting Rhubarb Growth

Providing Support for Stalks:

When rhubarb stalks grow tall and heavy, they are prone to bending or breaking, especially during windy conditions or when weighed down with foliage. To prevent this, additional support for the stalks is recommended. You can install stakes or trellises near the plants and loosely tie the stalks to the supports using soft twine or garden tape.

Alternatively, you can create a framework of crisscrossed stakes around the rhubarb patch to support multiple plants. Supporting rhubarb stalks helps maintain an upright growth habit, reduces the risk of damage, and makes harvesting easier.

Thinning Rhubarb Plants (If Necessary):

If you have a rhubarb patch, it is essential to ensure the plants are clean. When the plants are overcrowded, they may not grow or develop properly, resulting in reduced yields and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. If you notice that your rhubarb patch is overcrowded or the individual plants compete for space and resources, consider thinning the plants.

To thin the rhubarb plants, carefully dig up the excess plants using a garden fork or shovel, and do not disturb the roots too much. The excess plants can be transplanted to a new location or given to other gardeners to help them thrive.

Protecting Rhubarb from Extreme Weather Conditions:

Rhubarb is a hardy plant, but it can be affected by extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain, strong winds, or prolonged periods of intense heat or cold. To protect your rhubarb from such situations, you can install temporary shelters or row covers during periods of inclement weather, provide shade cloth or structures to protect the plants from excessive sunlight and heat and use frost blankets or cloches to shield them against late spring frosts or early fall freezes.

Additionally, watering your rhubarb plants deeply before expected periods of drought or heat can help mitigate the effects of extreme weather and maintain plant health.

Rhubarb growing in a garden, with a gardener harvesting stalks with a sharp knife.

Tips for Optimal Rhubarb Growth

Regular Monitoring and Inspection of Rhubarb Plants:

It is crucial to closely watch your rhubarb plants to identify and address any issues before they become severe. Regular inspection of the plants is necessary to detect signs of pests, diseases, or nutrient deficiencies, such as yellowing leaves, wilting, or unusual spots or markings. Check the soil moisture levels during hot and dry periods to ensure the plants receive sufficient water.

Additionally, monitor the plants’ growth and development, noting any changes in appearance or behavior that may indicate stress or disease. You can help keep your rhubarb plants healthy and thriving by remaining vigilant and promptly addressing issues.

Pruning Rhubarb for Better Growth:

Pruning is an effective way to enhance the growth and productivity of rhubarb plants. It involves removing old or damaged foliage and promoting new growth. As new shoots emerge in early spring, you can begin pruning by cutting away dead or yellowing leaves.

You should also remove weak or spindly stalks to encourage more robust and healthier growth. While doing so, you should use clean, sharp pruners to make clean cuts at the base of the leaves and stalks. Be careful not to damage the surrounding foliage.

Thining out overcrowded stalks is also recommended for better air circulation and light penetration. This will help reduce the risk of diseases and promote more robust growth.

Encouraging Rhubarb Propagation:

Rhubarb plants can quickly expand or be shared with friends and gardeners by propagating them through division. You can do this in early spring or late fall when the plants are dormant:

  1. Carefully dig up mature rhubarb crowns with a garden fork or shovel while preserving the root system.
  2. Divide the crowns into sections, ensuring each has at least one healthy bud or eye. After that, replant the divided crowns in prepared soil, reserving them at least 3 feet apart for ample growth.
  3. Water the newly divided plants thoroughly and continue to provide care as usual.

Properly dividing and caring for your rhubarb patch can ensure continuous growth and allow you to enjoy plenty of delicious stalks for years.

Expert Tips

Best Rhubarb Growing Tips:

  1. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for planting to ensure optimal growth conditions.
  2. Plant rhubarb crowns in early spring for best results, allowing them to establish before the growing season.
  3. Keep soil moist but not waterlogged to prevent root rot and encourage healthy growth.
  4. Mulch around plants with organic materials like straw or compost to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil quality.
  5. Fertilize rhubarb in spring with a balanced organic fertilizer to provide essential nutrients for vigorous growth.
  6. Monitor plants for pests, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies regularly, addressing issues promptly to maintain plant health.
  7. Prune old or damaged foliage in early spring to promote new growth and improve air circulation around the plant.
  8. Support tall stalks using stakes or trellises to prevent bending or breaking, especially during windy conditions.
  9. Thin overcrowded plants by removing excess stalks to allow remaining plants to thrive and maximize yield.
  10. Divide mature rhubarb crowns every few years to propagate and expand your patch, ensuring continued productivity.

By incorporating these essential tips into your rhubarb-growing routine, you’ll set the stage for healthy plants and abundant harvests year after year.


When is the best time to plant rhubarb?

Rhubarb is best planted in early spring, as soon as the soil is workable. This allows the plants to establish themselves before the growing season begins.

How much sunlight does rhubarb need?

Rhubarb thrives in full sun to partial shade. Aim to provide at least 6 hours of sunlight daily for optimal growth and productivity.

How often should I water my rhubarb plants?

Rhubarb plants require consistent moisture but dislike waterlogged soil. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.

Can I grow rhubarb from seeds, or should I use crowns?

While rhubarb can be grown from seeds, it’s more commonly propagated using crowns for faster and more reliable results. Crowns are pieces of rhubarb root with buds, providing a head start in establishing new plants.

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Final Remarks

Growing rhubarb can be an advantageous and low-maintenance addition to any garden. Following the tips outlined in this guide is essential to cultivating healthy rhubarb plants. These tips include selecting the right location, planting rhubarb crowns or seeds, providing proper care and support, and monitoring throughout the growing season. By following these steps, you’ll be well-equipped to enjoy a plentiful harvest of delicious stalks year after year.

Join The Conversation

Join the conversation and share your experiences or tips for growing rhubarb in the comments below! We’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and success stories. Let’s cultivate a community of rhubarb enthusiasts eager to learn and grow together.

Author: Laura Kennedy

Writer & Owner of Little Yellow Wheelbarrow

Laura is a highly skilled gardener and fervent flower enthusiast. Despite her playful battle with plant spacing guidelines, Laura’s work inspires gardeners to create thriving, beautiful spaces that reflect both creativity and sustainability.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 16, 2021, and was updated on March 12, 2024. The update included additional information, expert tips, and FAQs.

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