Rhubarb Growing Hints

We were forced to plant rhubarb roots in planters this spring. Besides the ‘unfriendly’ soil we’ve been trying to grow the plants in, the grey fox(s) like to dig the newly planted roots up and have their way with them. We chose a plastic, half whiskey barrel design that holds 2 forty pound bags of a good top soil over a 4 inch rock layer for drainage. Hopefully we’ll have plenty of stalks to harvest in a couple of years.

Here are some things to consider in planting, growing and harvesting rhubarb.

  • Plant in fertile, well-drained soil with a low compost percentage. Avoid high levels of fresh manure on the soil where roots are to be planted. On rhubarb roots that have been cut or divided, the open wounds can decay very easily if there are high levels of compost organisms in the soil
  • Rhubarb prefers moist, cool (daytime temperatures not exceeding 90 degrees F.) growing conditions.
  • Winter temperatures below 40 degrees F. are needed for the roots to break dormancy and to stimulate spring growth.
  • Planting should be done in the early spring in rows 5 to 6 feet apart, with plants being 3 feet apart within the rows.
  • The crown of the root must be slightly above the soil surface with at least 1/4 to 1/3 of the bud surface above the ground. In other words, leave the black crown with the white buds above the soil level or the crown will surely die.
  • Starting the third season of growth, harvest no more than 4 weeks to ensure the roots are well fed for future years of production. Starting the fourth season of growth you may harvest for about 8 to 10 weeks.
  • Do not harvest more than half of the well-developed stalks from any plant at the same time.
  • A sign that your rhubarb plants are overcrowded are crowded, skinny stalks. These plants need to be divided.
  • You may divide the plants in the fall after growth has stopped or in the spring before growth begins.
  • To divide, scrape the soil from around the crown. Using a sharp knife or shovel, cut cleanly through the crown. Before slicing off pieces the size of a fist, be sure each piece will have at least one active bud. Dig up and replant the pieces sliced off. Be sure to leave about one-third of the original plant in place and fill in around the plant with additional fertile, well-drained soil.
  • Spindly stalks could also be caused by a lack of nutrition. Side dress with a balanced fertilizer if this is the cause of spindly stalks.

Keep your fork


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