- When To Harvest Rhubarb And How To Harvest Rhubarb
- When to Harvest Rhubarb
- How to Harvest Rhubarb
- When to Pick Rhubarb
- How to Pick Rhubarb
- Over Wintering Rhubarb: Tips For Protecting Rhubarb In Winter
- Rhubarb Growing Conditions
- Rhubarb Winter Care in the Warm Zones
- How to Winter Over Rhubarb Crowns
- Dividing Rhubarb
- Rhubarb in winter
- Rhubarb Plant Care
- How to Care for Rhubarb
- Mulching Rhubarb
- Renewing old rhubarb plants
When To Harvest Rhubarb And How To Harvest Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a plant grown by braver gardeners who know the wonderful flavor of this unusual and often difficult to find plant. But, a new rhubarb grower may have questions like, “How to tell when rhubarb is ripe?” and “When to harvest rhubarb?” Keep reading to learn more about harvesting rhubarb.
When to Harvest Rhubarb
How to tell when rhubarb is ripe is as easy as walking out to the plant. To be honest, rhubarb is “ripe” all spring and summer. But for the health of the plant, there are certain times that you should make your rhubarb harvest.
The best time when to harvest rhubarb is when the stalks of the leaves reach at least 10 inches long. This will ensure that the plant has established itself well enough for the year to be able to tolerate being harvested. You can take some of the rhubarb stalks earlier than this, but limit your rhubarb harvest to just a few stalks so that you do not kill the plant.
Knowing when to harvest rhubarb also means knowing when the season is over. While technically, you can keep harvesting rhubarb until fall, keep in mind that your rhubarb plant needs to store energy for the winter. Significantly slow or stop your rhubarb harvest in late June or early July so that your rhubarb plant can build up energy stores to make it through the winter. Again, it can be picked until the frost, but do so sparingly or you risk killing the plant.
Also, if your rhubarb is newly planted, you will want to wait two years before taking a full rhubarb harvest from the plant. This will ensure the plant is sufficiently established.
How to Harvest Rhubarb
Harvesting rhubarb isn’t difficult either. There are two ways how to harvest rhubarb. One is to use a sharp knife or shears to cut off stalks that are at least 10 inches or longer. The second is to gently pull the stalk while gently leaning it to one side until the stalk breaks off from the plant. Never harvest all the stalks off your rhubarb plant.
After you cut the stalks from the plant, cut the leaves from the stalk and throw them in the compost bin. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous and should never be eaten.
That is all there is to harvesting rhubarb. Now that you know when and how to harvest rhubarb, you can enjoy these tasty stalks in a wide variety of recipes.
Not sure whether your rhubarb is ready to be picked? Here are some helpful tips for how and when to harvest rhubarb!
When to Pick Rhubarb
PLEASE don’t wait for your rhubarb to turn “all red”. Colour is not an indication of ripeness when it comes to rhubarb – it is just an indication of variety. All three types of rhubarb below are ripe – based on size not color.
Just like you wouldn’t wait for a Granny Smith apple to turn red – don’t wait for your rhubarb to turn red! Instead, rely on the size of the rhubarb stalks.
Stalks should be about 7-15 inches (20-40 cm) long when they are ready to harvest.
How to Pick Rhubarb
Once it’s ready to harvest, here’s what to do:
- Start with the bigger stalks on the outside of the plant and work your way towards the centre. Leave the smaller stalks for another day.
- Slide your hand to the bottom of the stalk and pull. The stalk should come out nice and easy.
- If you find you’re pulling out roots or you can’t reach all the way, you can also cut the stalks as close to the ground as possible. Pulling the stalks allows the plant to recover a little more quickly as compared to cutting stalks, but cutting is not detrimental to the plant. Rhubarb is tough, it’ll bounce back!
- Leave at least 1/3 of the stalks on the plant in spring time to ensure it continues to grow and thrive throughout the summer.
- Trim the leaves and put them in the compost. (Yes, the leaves are poisonous, but they won’t hurt anything in your compost bin.)
- Harvest whenever more stalks are ripe, always leaving at least 1/3 of the plant.
- Once the plant starts to flower, the stalks will get a little tougher. To extend the season, cut off the flower stalks.
- In early July, give the plant a chance to gain some strength over the summer. Add a little compost around the roots and let it be.
- Rhubarb doesn’t like the heat and won’t do much during the summer, but you may get some more stalks in the cool fall season. At this time of year, be sure to leave 2/3 of the stalks on the plant so it can store enough energy to survive the winter. Do not harvest if your plant is young, small or has not filled out after the hot summer months.
Concerned that your neighbour’s rhubarb plant is bigger than yours? To get a big luscious rhubarb plant think about moisture, drainage, compost and sun. These are the elements that will make a rhubarb plant thrive. But, luckily, even if conditions aren’t ideal, rhubarb is a very tolerant plant and you’re bound to get a pie or two.
For more rhubarb information and for my favorite rhubarb recipes check out my Rhubarb eCookbook.
Here’s some pictures of rhubarb plants to help you see the different stages.
Just coming out of the ground.
Growing. Sure you could grab a few stalks now, but if you wait just a few more days, you’ll get enough for a pie or two!
Ready to harvest! It will start to flower soon, best time to harvest is right now.
When harvesting, leave 1/3 of the stalks behind during spring time (2/3 of stalks in fall) so the plant can continue to grow and thrive. You’ll have a few more stalks now and then.
Of course, if you have too much rhubarb, don’t like rhubarb or know of anyone who isn’t picking their rhubarb – call a friend, neighbour or a fruit rescuing organization like Fruit Share. They have volunteers eager to pick your rhubarb and share it with local food charities or community organizations. Enjoy!
For more great rhubarb and other fruit recipes and preserving ideas, pick up a copy of the Rhubarb eCookbook! Or check out some of these recipes:
Rhubarb Cinnamon Buns
How to Freeze Rhubarb
How to Dehydrate Rhubarb
What will you make with your rhubarb besides pie, cobbler and crisp?
Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.
Over Wintering Rhubarb: Tips For Protecting Rhubarb In Winter
The bright colorful stalks of rhubarb make an excellent pie, compote or jam. This perennial has huge leaves and a tangle of rhizomes that persist year after year. The crown requires cool temperatures to “rest” before the plant regenerates in spring and produces the tangy stems. The growing zone you live in will dictate the type of rhubarb winter care necessary to keep the plant producing annually.
Rhubarb Growing Conditions
Rhubarb does well in most zones of the United States, with the exception of areas where the winter average is not above 40 F. (4 C.). In these areas, the plant is an annual and produces sporadically.
In temperate climates, rhubarb grows like a weed in spring and continues to produce leaves all summer into fall. Over-wintering rhubarb in these zones simply requires a layer of mulch prior to the first freezes. Use 4 to 6 inches of organic compost to enrich the soil for the next season and provide crown protection. Protecting rhubarb in winter with a layer of mulch preserves the crown from excessive cold, while allowing the necessary chill to force new spring growth.
Rhubarb Winter Care in the Warm Zones
Rhubarb plants in warmer regions will not experience the cold temperature necessary for the crown to produce spring stems. Florida and other tropical to semi-tropical zones must plant crowns that have winterized in northern climates annually.
Over-wintering rhubarb in these zones will require removing the crowns from the ground and providing a chilling period. They literally need to be frozen for at least six weeks and then gradually let the temperature increase before planting.
Using this method to winter over rhubarb is cumbersome and fills up your freezer. Warm season gardeners would do better to purchase new crowns or start rhubarb from seed.
How to Winter Over Rhubarb Crowns
As long as the soil is well drained, the crowns will survive even hard freezes with a layer of mulch. Rhubarb plants require a cold period to grow. This means that you can fool a plant into producing stems even out of season.
Dig up the crowns in late fall and put them in a pot. Let them stay outside during at least two freeze periods. Then move the crowns inside where the crown will warm up.
Put the pots in a dark area and cover the crowns with peat or sawdust. Keep them moist and harvest the stems when they are 12 to 18 inches high. The forced stems will produce for about one month.
Protecting rhubarb in winter will ensure healthy crowns that will produce a lifetime. Divide the crowns every four to five years. Pull away the mulch in early spring and dig up the roots. Cut the crown into at least four pieces, making sure each one has several “eyes” or growth nodes.
Replant the pieces and watch them produce new healthy plants. If your zone indicates, either dig up the plant and freeze the crown or cover it with a new layer of organic material. Alternately, plant seeds in flats in September and transplant seedlings outdoors in late October.
Rhubarb in winter
Leave all the stems and leaves to die down naturally then remove them to a compost heap so they don’t provide shelter for slugs over winter. Pile on a mound of well rotted horse manure and/or well rotted garden compost to act as a winter mulch. The worms will work it in over winter and the rhubarb roots will benefit from the extra nutrients.
Come spring, just as the first shoots start to nose their way out of the ground, scatter generously with blood, fish and bone or pelleted chicken manure and a few wildlife friendly slug pellets. Crop the stems till mid July then leave the plants alone to rebuild their vigour for the following year. Repeat as above in autumn and spring.
Once the plants are big enough to cope, you can cover one each spring to force the stems to make those lovely, juicy, tender pink stems. Once harvested you then have to leave the plant to recover and then harvest the other in the usual way. Alternate the one that gets forced each year so they have time to recover.
If your Victoria is really large, you could consider splitting it in autumn and replanting as 2 or 3 clumps. They would need at least one whole season to recover and establish before you could force them.
Rhubarb Plant Care
How to Care for Rhubarb
Composting, Fertilizing, Watering, Weeding, Winter Protection, and Division of Rhubarb
Is rhubarb easy to grow?
Caring for rhubarb plants is very simple and not labour intensive at all!
In fact, I cannot think of any garden vegetable that is easier to grow than rhubarb … and it comes up year after year … vegetable gardening doesn’t get much easier than this!
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All rhubarb varieties develop a deep root system and thrive in fertile, partially shaded, well drained soil.
Here are some tips for rhubarb plant care which will help you to secure the best rhubarb harvest.
Compost and Fertilizer Requirements
Although rhubarb will grow well in almost any soil, working organic matter or compost through the soil will benefit the rhubarb plants.
The ideal pH level for growing rhubarb is about 5.5 to 6.5.
Rhubarb plants require only very little care and are easy to grow
Adding (sheep) manure to the rhubarb garden in early spring
Rhubarb also responds well to fertilizers. The harvested quality and yield is dependent to some extent on the plant care and fertilization the rhubarb received.
We fertilize each plant with about 1/2 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer in early spring and again in the fall. Apply the fertilizer in a circle around the plant. It is best not to fertilize new plants until the second year.
If you are able, use well rotted (not fresh) manure worked in the soil around the plants.
Manure helps to conserve moisture, aids the soil structure, and allows for easy absorption of nutrients to the plants. It is not recommended to manure plants the first year of planting.
Composted leaves can be applied in the late fall and early winter, but do not cover the crowns. Covering the crowns may promote rotting.
Here below are general purpose fertilizers that are available for online purchase at *Amazon.com.
If you are interested in all purpose organic granular fertilizer, see the options below.
Click on the images below for more detailed product information and customer reviews.
Water and Moisture Requirements
Rhubarb plants respond well to moisture and adequate watering, however, most rhubarb plants thrive with minimal or no extra watering.
We rarely water our rhubarb, and have actually only done so on a few occasions, only during a severe dry spell. If your rhubarb is getting too dry, water is well, about an inch every week. Watering needs to be “deep watering” to allow the roots to benefit.
Rhubarb should not be overwatered because it is susceptible to crown rot. If you water your rhubarb, do so early in the day to allow the surface of the soil around the plants to dry out during the rest of the day.
Weed Control and Mulching
Just as in the case of any other gardens, rhubarb gardens may need to be weeded from time to time. This is more necessary when the rhubarb plants are still small. As they grow larger, (past the first year), rhubarb gets very little competition from weeds, especially if you mulch around the plants.
If you have Dock Weed plants in the area of your rhubarb, be sure to eradicate it because these weeds attract the “Rhubarb Curculio” bug, a yellowish bug that bores into rhubarb.
If you wish to you can mulch rhubarb with straw or grass clippings to keep the weeds down, and the soil moist. I prefer not to do so because I believe it will contribute to the possibility of crown rot and fungus on the leaves and stalks.
GO to Natural Weed Control Tips
In the fall, if you live in an area that gets prolonged excessive cold spells, you may want to protect the rhubarb plants after they have been killed by frost. The crowns can be covered with about 8 – 12 inches of straw.
I prefer not to cover my rhubarb with any winter protection. I have never lost any of my rhubarb plants from cold spells, and in Ontario we receive a lot of them!
Do you need to remove the leaves and stalks of the rhubarb plants before winter?
Rhubarb can be harvested all season, right up until the first frost.
Any growth of leaves and stalks that are present after the first frost can no longer be harvested. These left-over stalks and leaves will naturally die off and separate themselves from the crown. I like to remove them to keep the rhubarb patch “neat” and keep away any rotting material. At the same time I also remove the weeds from the patch, and turn over the soil — to help ensure a great start for the rhubarb in the Spring!
The following Spring only new growth will be sprouting from the rhubarb crowns/roots.
Division of Plants
In order to maintain quality rhubarb and a good yield, it is advisable, to divide your rhubarb plants from time to time.
GO to Transplanting/Dividing Rhubarb
Rhubarb plant care takes very little effort – these hearty plants thrive very well with little care!
Use the links below (or the navigation bars in the left hand column) for links to helpful information about growing rhubarb in the home garden:
Rhubarb COMPANION Gardening
More COMPANION Plant Ideas
LINKS RELATED TO RHUBARB GARDENING
NATURAL PESTICIDE RECIPES and Information
The EASIEST Vegetable to Grow
CONTAINER GARDENING – Can Rhubarb be Grown in Containers/Pots?
WEED CONTROL Tips
WHERE to Grow Rhubarb
How to GET RID OF SLUGS
Yorkshire FORCED RHUBARB
TOP of Rhubarb Plant Care
HOME to Rhubarb-Central.com’s Homepage
Mulching rhubarb is done in a specific way for best results. Mulching around the rhubarb plants can add to the amount of work you have to do in the garden, but it is also a task that helps your rhubarb plants in many ways.
One of the most important aspects of mulching rhubarb is to suppress weeds in your garden. Rhubarb plants are vulnerable to weed infestations which make them grow poorly when in competition with them. However, weed suppression isn’t the only benefit from mulching rhubarb.
Different types of soils have the ability to drain in different ways. When you mulch rhubarb, what you are essentially doing is assisting the soil drainage process. The mulch will capture some of the water and feed it to the plant, allowing for saturation to occur at a higher level of watering. Essentially, mulching allows you to water heavily one day and then leave the rhubarb alone for several days because of the water captured and stored in the soil and the mulch.
Rhubarb can tolerate a little shade and appreciates afternoon shade in summer, but thrives best in rich soil. Picture: Tricia Hogbin Tricia shares tips for living better with less at littleecofootprints.com and on Instagram (TriciaEco). RHUBARB is one worthwhile garden plant. It’s beautiful, hardy, low-maintenance and delicious. I especially love that you plant it once and, if you care for your patch properly, you can be harvesting rhubarb indefinitely. Right now – late winter and into early spring – is a good time to plant rhubarb. It’s typically planted as crowns. You can raid a friend’s garden and divide crowns from an existing plant, or you can buy crowns or potted plants from a nursery. Much of the literature regarding growing rhubarb talks about it going dormant in winter. But not all varieties do this. Numerous beautiful red winter rhubarb varieties were developed in Australia in the 1930s. These rhubarbs not only survive year round, they are actually at their best in winter – a time perfectly suited to warm stewed or baked rhubarb. I suspect I’m growing Sydney Crimson – a winter rhubarb variety that was very popular with market gardeners in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s been in my family for more than 60years. I call it Gran’s Red. Gran called it Sydney Red. She was very proud of her super red rhubarb. I’ve maintained a pot or patch of this rhubarb for the past 20years and so have many of my relatives. Other year-round varieties of rhubarb available in Australia include Wandin Red, Ever Red and Next Generation. Choose a sunny to partially shaded spot for your rhubarb. It can tolerate a little shade and appreciates afternoon shade in summer. Rhubarb thrives best in rich soil with good drainage. Improve your soil with plenty of aged manure or compost. Plant the crowns at least 50centimetres apart. The growing surface of crowns should sit at or just below the surface. Water well and mulch. Give your plants plenty of time to establish and don’t harvest any stems for the first year or so. When harvesting rhubarb, hold the stalk near the base and gently pull it away from the crown. This ensures the whole stem comes away and doesn’t leave a stump, which can cause rot. Harvest the thickest stems and always leave behind plenty of stems or you will exhaust the plant. I have enough plants so that I only harvest a couple of stems from each plant each time. Remove the leaves from the stalks. The leaves are high in oxalic acid and shouldn’t be eaten or fed to poultry or other stock. They can be composted safely. To keep your rhubarb happy, top-dress it with well-rotted manure or compost before and after its peak growing season. For me, this is spring and autumn. Regular liquid fertiliser is also a good idea. It is almost impossible to overfeed rhubarb. Don’t let rhubarb dry out, especially in summer. Keep them well watered and mulch generously. It is best to thoroughly water infrequently rather than give them a little frequently. Adding plenty of high-nitrogen organic matter should discourage flowering. But if flowers do appear, remove them and increase feeding and watering, otherwise your plants will put energy into flowers rather than stems. Healthy, large rhubarb plants can be dug up and divided for replanting. Use a spade and dig the whole clump from the soil. Shake off excess dirt and divide into large pieces using a sharp spade or knife. Ensure each piece has at least three growing points and good roots. My favourite way to enjoy rhubarb is simply stewed with orange juice and a little honey. Tricia shares tips for living better with less at littleecofootprints.com and on Instagram (TriciaEco).
Renewing old rhubarb plants
For many vegetable gardeners, rhubarb has always been one perennial plant that required virtually no care, but gave back generously. In the spring and early summer, pies and cobblers mixed with apples or strawberries appeared on many dinner tables and were the star attraction.
Right now, many people are living with rhubarb plants that are old enough they could have voted for Eisenhower. These usually robust plants are beginning to decline. If rhubarb is still part of your home-grown taste treats, your plants can be revived to brighten desserts another day. Plan your rhubarb revival meeting for next spring.
Garden rhubarb. Photo credit: Bonsak Hammeraas, Bioforsk – Norwegian Institute for Agricultural
and Environmental Research, Bugwood.org
To renew your rhubarb, it will be necessary to divide the root. The root has become too old and tough to grow well. The time to divide the root will be as early in the spring as you can dig it up. Dig up the root, going about 6 inches deep. Try not to cut into the root at this time. Old roots can resemble a gnarled chunk of wood and are almost as dense. Lift the root out of the ground. Split the root into pieces with at least one bud in each piece. The more buds that are left on the root, the bigger the divided plant will be. You will be dividing your root with a sharp knife, hatchet or axe. You need a big tool for this tough job. Pull away any of the brown stems left from last year’s growing season. If you have several small chunks of root with only one bud on them, when replanting, put all the little parts in one hole together.
Your new divisions should be replanted immediately. The more they dry out, the worse the prognosis for the new plants. If this isn’t possible, put the pieces in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for a short time. Before replanting the refrigerated rhubarb, soak the root divisions in room temperature water for several hours or overnight. When planting the roots, cover the top of the root with no more than 1 or 2 inches of soil.
Rhubarb will grow in most soils, but will do best in fertile, well-drained soils that have a good amount of organic matter. Sandy or clay soils can be improved with compost by digging a wide hole and mixing the soil half-and-half with compost. The soil pH should be around 6.5, which is slightly acidic. Choose an area for the rhubarb that has full sun so the plants will produce well. After planting, water the plants well and mulch with 3 inches of straw.
In future years, you can help your rhubarb early in the spring. Rake the straw mulch away from the plant and put down 2 or 3 inches of composted manure around the plant in a ring. Do not cover the crown where the leaves will emerge. Then add the straw to the top. As the manure breaks down during the season, add straw for that magic three inches. Water plants when dry.
Be sure to cut off the seed stalk soon after it emerges from the center of the plant. It will be a long, vertical stalk with a round ball at the top. If the rhubarb makes seeds, it shuts down for the season. But remember, the stalks are edible but the leaves and other parts are poisonous. So just enjoy those tasty stems.