- Rhubarb Growing In Hot Climates – Tips On Planting Rhubarb In The South
- Rhubarb Growing in Hot Climates
- How to Grow Rhubarb in Warm Regions
- Rhubarb: Easy as pie to grow? Gardener says no
- Farmers Markets: Rhubarb worth stalking in early spring
- Rhubarb—Rheum rhabarbarum L.1
- You Can Grow Rhubarb Just About Anywhere!
- Where to Grow Rhubarb -In Which Climate ConditionsCan you Grow Rhubarb Successfully?
- Can you Grow Rhubarb in the South?
Rhubarb Growing In Hot Climates – Tips On Planting Rhubarb In The South
You know how some people are cat people and some are dog people? The same seems to be true with cake vs. pie lovers and I fall into the cake lover category with one exception — strawberry rhubarb pie. If some of you southern pie lovers would like to sample this culinary delight, perhaps you are wondering about growing rhubarb in warm regions. Up here in the North, we grow rhubarb as a perennial, but what about planting rhubarb in the South?
Rhubarb Growing in Hot Climates
Since I’m from one of the northern states, I just assumed that growing rhubarb in warm climates, such as most of the southern regions of the nation, was out of the question. Good news! I’m wrong!
Before we dive into just how growing rhubarb in warm regions is possible, read on for some fascinating facts regarding this vegetable; yes, it’s a vegetable. It is also a cousin to buckwheat and garden sorrel and is native to China where it dates back to 2,700 BC. Up until the 1700’s, rhubarb was used solely for medicinal purposes and, by 1800, found its way into the northern gardens of the United States. In these northern gardens, rhubarb is grown as a perennial with harvest time from late spring
through the summer.
Southern gardeners have tended to meet with failure when trying to grow rhubarb. They usually purchase dormant root plants to plant as a perennial. The combination of scorching summer heat combined with fungal rot is usually the coup de grace. Okay, but I did say that rhubarb growing in hot climates was possible. How do you go about planting rhubarb in the South?
How to Grow Rhubarb in Warm Regions
The key to growing rhubarb in warm climates is to change your thinking; you will not be growing rhubarb as a perennial.
In the southern regions, you can grow rhubarb either from crowns (dormant root plants) or from seed. If you are using crowns, purchase them as early as possible in the spring so their dormancy has been broken, or in the late summer. If you get them in the late summer, you need to cold storage the plants for six weeks. Plant the crowns in the late fall to early winter.
If you’re going to start your rhubarb from seed, soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours and then plant them in 4-inch pots filled with potting mix, two seeds per pot. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch soil and keep them inside at room temp, moist but not wet, until they emerge. At a week old, start fertilizing the seedlings with a dilute liquid plant food as you water them, and move them into a bright window location.
Once the seedlings are 4 inches tall or have three to five leaves, you can plant them in the garden. It’s helpful to incorporate several inches of compost into the soil and to plant in raised beds to aid in draining. If your weather is still hot, create a make-shift shelter to protect them until they have acclimated. Keep the plants moist, but not wet, as rhubarb is susceptible to fungal rot. Fertilize them monthly from September through April.
Even though rhubarb is a cool weather vegetable, a hard freeze will damage the ground leaves and petioles, so give the plant some protection if a cold snap is forecast. By spring, the plant should be ready for harvest. In some areas, rhubarb will be greener than red due to the warmer climate or genetic variability. It may not be as vibrant but if you mix in some strawberries (which in many warmer regions mature at the same time), you will still have a lovely red hued, absolutely sublime strawberry rhubarb pie.
Many gardeners are familiar with growing rhubarb from divisions or crowns, but if you want to start a large rhubarb patch quickly, without spending a lot, growing rhubarb from seed is the answer. The stems of rhubarb grown from seed will not all have that intense red color you might be used to. Some stems will be red, some green, and some in between. But they will all taste the same, perfect for your home-cooked pie. If you want all red stalks, get divisions from a friend or neighbor or buy crowns from your local nursery.
When starting your seeds, remember that rhubarb is a cool-weather crop.
- In climate zones 6 and cooler, it’s an easy-to-grow perennial (traditionally planted where there used to be an outdoor privy). The stalks and leaves die back with first frost in the fall, but the plants will come right back in early spring.
- In zones 7 to 8, growing rhubarb is tricky. but it can be grown as a short lived perennial. You will need to be careful to shelter your rhubarb plants from extreme summer heat. Choose a location with afternoon shade in the summer. The north side of a grape arbor, raspberry patch, or asparagus ferns would work well.
- In areas with very hot summers, where winters are mild (zones 9 to 10), rhubarb can be grown from seed as a winter annual. ECHO (“Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization”) in Florida has had good luck with planting rhubarb seed in August and harvesting in March-May. The variety Victoria is noted as a productive late summer/early fall started annual from almost subtropical Florida to semi-arid northeast Texas. Read how to do this in “Growing Rhubarb from Seed as an Annual” below.
Starting Rhubarb Seeds
Rhubarb seeds are encased in a large paper-like shell. To speed germination, soak your seeds in water for 1-2 hours before planting. If you’re starting indoors, plant the seeds in screened compost or other suitable organic planting mixture, 2 seeds per 2 to 3 inch pot. Using peat pots or cow pots makes transplanting easier. For spring plantings a heating cable or mat will speed the germination if the room temperature is below 70°F. Rhubarb seeds germinate quickly when planted in the warmth of late August or early September. Keep your seedlings evenly moist but don’t over-water (the seedlings can die from root rot if the ground is too wet).
Growing Rhubarb from Seed as a Perennial
To start rhubarb in the spring (zones 8 and lower), sow seed in pots or flats under cover 8-10 weeks before your average last frost. Transplant the young plants out into the garden about two weeks before your average last frost, into an area amended with compost or well rotted manure and plenty of organic matter. The plants should be about 4 inches tall. Mulch your seedlings to maintain even soil moisture and keep the roots cool. Harden plants off before transplanting or protect the new transplants with row cover until danger of frost has passed.
Choose a location protected from the heat. The warmer your climate, the more important it is to provide afternoon shade (on the west and south) during the hottest months. A row of tall annual plants (your late summer tomatoes or pole lima beans), shade cloth, or a temporary structure can provide adequate shade that you can remove when the weather cools. Always remember to maintain even moisture. Letting your young rhubarb plants dry out in hot weather is the kiss of death.
Growing Rhubarb from Seed as an Annual
To grow rhubarb as an annual in the fall and winter (zones 9 and higher), start the seeds in a cool location (a bright indoor spot or a shady outdoor place) from late August to early October. Transplant into the garden when the seedlings reach about 4 inches tall. The plants will be ready for harvest in March through early May. Intense summer heat will kill the plants, so harvest all the leaves in late spring. This technique only works where winters are very mild, or if you can protect the plants from damaging frost with a cold frame or row cover.
Harvest rhubarb either by cutting or pulling off the leaf stalks at soil level. When your plants have 10 stalks you can harvest 3 or 4 stems at a time per plant. If you are growing your rhubarb as an annual harvest the entire plant. Harvest stalks only! DO NOT eat the rhubarb leaves as they contain high levels of toxic oxalic acid.
For perennial plantings let some leaves remain on the plants during summer to generate energy and reserves for the following year. We recommend harvesting a few stems at a time, in spring and fall only. It’s best not to stress the plants during the summer, so avoid harvesting at this time. Frost will kill all the leaves, so harvest all the leaves when frost threatens in the fall.
Break off and discard any flowering stalks at ground level. (The flowering stalks don’t make good eating, and breaking them off prevents the plant from putting energy into flowers and seeds.)
It’s best not to harvest during the first year if you are establishing a perennial bed. For annual beds, harvest all remaining stalks when the weather begins to get too hot in the summer.
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open-pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book, “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast,” is available online and at booksellers everywhere.
Rhubarb: Easy as pie to grow? Gardener says no
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Everybody who’s ever listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” and a lot of Americans who haven’t are familiar with rhubarb. Rhubarb was the big-leafed plant that faithfully came up each spring alongside the toolshed or garage, a plant your mother told you was poisonous if you ate the leaves but whose stalks she chopped up for rhubarb pies and added to sauces sweetened with fresh strawberries.
We had those memories of rhubarb as well, but my main rhubarb association was when John and I spent a couple of years on an old farmstead in New Hampshire. Next to the century-old shed was a huge mound of rhubarb that I happily harvested until, reaching down to cut some stalks one day, I saw curled beneath the cooling leaves the largest snake I’d ever seen outside a zoo reptile house. I pulled back, aware that the snake was probably a harmless brown snake, but reluctant nevertheless to continue the rhubarb harvest.
I’ve tried over the years to grow rhubarb – with no success, at least in my San Joaquin County garden. Once again, this year, I’ve planted a rhubarb root (the hardier ‘Victoria’ strain I purchased at the Lodi OSH, which I would suppose wouldn’t sell plants that weren’t expected to do well in the hot, dry Central Valley summers.) We’ll see. Over the years, I’ve planted and watched die so many rhubarb crowns that I could have had all the store-bought rhubarb we wanted to eat. Nevertheless, being a gardener, I am determined to grow my own. And those who garden in the cooler Bay Area should have no trouble growing rhubarb, provided winter temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
Common name/cultivar: Rhubarb/’Victoria’
Genus/species: Rheum rhabarbarum
Description: Cool season perennial, hardy to cold. Mature plant can reach 48 inches in diameter, with large green leaves growing atop thick, smooth-ribbed stalks that change from rosy to pink to green at the tip. Roots and leaves are toxic because of high levels of oxalic acid, but stalks are edible. Rhubarb requires cold (below 40 degrees) to trigger spring growth and will wilt in temperatures over 90 degrees. In the South and hotter parts of California, it can be treated as an annual, planted in the fall for harvest during the winter and spring. Zones 4-9.
Propagation: Best from roots but possible from seed.
Cultivation: Plant roots now, 3 feet apart, in well-drained soil, digging a large hole and working in composted manure and other organic matter. Plant the roots 2 inches deep, tamping dirt around the root but leaving it loose around the bud. Water well at planting. Full sun to partial shade. Likes pH 6.0 to 6.8. Heavy feeder, side dress with high-nitrogen organic food in June and cultivate shallowly to keep weeds down.
Friends and enemies: Rhubarb has few insect enemies, with the exception of rhubarb curculio (a type of beetle) and potato stem borer. Beneficial insects should keep mites away. Companions are brassicas, onions, garlic and roses.
Harvest: Remove flower stalks but don’t harvest the first season, as the plant needs the leaves to build the root structure. Harvest sparingly the second season, cutting stalks at ground level.
Availability: Roots available at local nurseries; seeds from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds at www.kitchengardenseeds.com.
Preparation: A vegetable that’s eaten as a fruit, rhubarb stalks are cut crosswise to break up the strings. Cooked quickly with a little water, a dash of lemon juice and a handful of strawberries, and sweetened to taste, rhubarb makes a tart but tantalizing sauce.
Sources: “The Rhubarb Compendium,” www.rhubarbinfo.com.
Besides putting up all those holiday decorations and doing that frenzied shopping, carve out some time to plant a few bare root edibles. They will bring you tasty gifts for many years to come.
Bare root plants are plants that go dormant during the winter and can be dug up and stripped clean of all soil, leaving their roots completely bare. They can then easily be propagated and transplanted.
Many vegetables and berries do best when planted during the winter. Those include artichokes, asparagus, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb. Fruit trees, including apples, apricots, cherries, figs, pears, nectarines, peaches and plums also do very well when planted in their bare root form.
The best time to plant is from late December through February.
I grew up in the Midwest where rhubarb seemed to grow wild around every corner. It came up every year around our chicken coop, along side of the garage, and even, much to my Mom’s chagrin, throughout most of our flowerbeds.
There is truly nothing better than a homemade rhubarb pie, so I am going to give growing rhubarb a go this year.
Rhubarb grows best where winter temperatures drop below 40 degrees, and if recent temperatures are an indicator, this is my year.
Local favorites include Victoria, Crimson Cherry, Glaskin’s Perpetual and MacDonald.
Mature plants can reach 4 feet in diameter; roots and leaves are toxic, so be sure to find a space out of reach of pets that love to chomp on plants. Plant rhubarb at 3 to 4 feet apart in an area that gets morning sun or partial shade.
Dig a large hole, place roots about 2 inches deep and tamp the soil down around roots. Keep it loose around the bud, however. Soil should be well-draining and amended with organic matter such as composted manure.
Don’t harvest the first year, but do remove the flowering stalks in order to push energy to the roots. You can harvest sparingly in the spring of the second year and cut stalks to ground level.
Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so apply a high-nitrogen organic food such as worm castings, blood meal or grass clippings in June and keep the weeds away year-round.
I am also going to do my first-ever asparagus trial this year. Asparagus, once established, can keep on giving for up to 20 years. Avoid varieties that have been bred for the hot and humid summers and extremely cold winters of the East Coast such as Mary Washington and Jersey Giant.
UC Davis has developed several hybrids that work well in our mild climate: UC 157 F1, Atlas F1, Apollo, Grande and Purple Passion.
Asparagus needs full sun and well-draining soil that has been conditioned with peat moss, straw, green manures or leaf mold. Growing in raised areas or hillsides works great.
Overly wet areas will encourage disease and root rot. When planting, dig a trench 8 to 12 inches deep, mix fertilizer into the bottom and cover with 2 inches of soil. Plant asparagus crowns with the bud ends up, about 12 to 18 inches apart and cover with another 2 inches of soil. Gradually add more soil as the plants grow. Space rows 4 to 5 feet apart.
It is best to wait until the second year before harvesting. By the fourth year, plants should be in full production.
Rebecca Jepsen is a Santa Clara County Master Gardener.
Farmers Markets: Rhubarb worth stalking in early spring
Rhubarb is one of the great joys of spring, with its rosy color, earthy tang and old-fashioned allure, and the story of its local rise and fall is as intriguing as its flavor. Just a generation or two ago, it was widely cultivated in Southern California, but now local rhubarb is available almost exclusively at farmers markets, and just from a handful of vendors.
Rhubarb is native to central and northern Asia, where its roots were harvested for millenniums for their medicinal properties. In Britain, a mania for the edible stems began in the early 19th century, encouraged by the widespread availability of sugar and the discovery of techniques for forcing rapid stalk growth in dark hothouses, to produce an early harvest. Rhubarb’s great appeal was one of the few fresh fruits available in winter and spring.
In the United States, rhubarb was mostly grown in the Northern states, where it was naturally acclimatized. In New England around 1865, there was even a craze for wine made from rhubarb, which was promoted as the “great American wineplant,” but making rhubarb wine required lots of sugar, and the fad quickly fizzled.
In the 1890s, the renowned plant breeder Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa crossed established varieties with rhubarb from New Zealand or Australia and introduced new varieties, such as Crimson Winter, that were better adapted to winter and year-round cultivation in California’s mild climate. Immigrants from Northern states craved rhubarb, and plantings in California boomed. Farmers harvested rhubarb in winter and spring in coastal Southern California on close to 1,000 acres in the early 1920s; spring and summer was the season in the great rhubarb belt in San Leandro, in Alameda County. California’s rhubarb plantings reached 1,323 acres in the 1930 census.
Rhubarb production decreased during World War II because of shortages of sugar, fuel and labor but recovered somewhat in the 1950s.
Cleugh’s Rhubarb Co. of Buena Park was the nation’s largest grower, with 400 acres, in the early 1950s. Joel Cleugh, who was 92 when I interviewed him in 2004, said that he and his brother started growing rhubarb in 1932, first around Norwalk and Downey, and then in Los Alamitos, Chino, Rosemead and Bonsall. He produced the Cherry variety, with large, red stalks. The harvest ran from November to May, peaking in March and April. Much of the crop went to local buyers, including Knott’s Berry Farm, but he also shipped across the country.
In the 1960s, rhubarb consumption and production began a long decline. Frozen fruits offered consumers alternatives in winter and spring; imports of contra-seasonal fresh fruits increased greatly, and demand dwindled for fruits that required the inconvenience of cooking. Annual per capita consumption of rhubarb is now a pitiful 0.1 pound, down 88% from its heyday in the interwar years.
In California, where the demand for development and for strawberry cultivation pushed up the cost of suitable land, rhubarb farming almost disappeared. ABC Rhubarb, which started growing rhubarb in 1965 and farmed 80 acres in Compton, Paramount and South Gate in 1972, later switched to growing herbs and then gave up rhubarb completely about eight years ago. The last commercial rhubarb grower in California, Michael Horwath, sold his 60-acre planting in Valley Center in the early 1990s, when he got a lucrative offer for his land. As of the 2007 census, the latest count, only 4 acres of rhubarb remained in California. Domestic rhubarb production, which covers about 1,200 acres, is clustered in Washington, Oregon and Michigan.
It’s still possible, however, to find fresh rhubarb at Southern California farmers markets, from about half a dozen small-scale growers. Some harvest year-round, but the peak in quality and quantity is in early spring.
Laney Villalobos of Valley Center brings top-quality Cherry rhubarb to the downtown Santa Monica farmers market on Saturdays, from November to June. Trevino Farms of Lompoc offers an abundance of Strawberry rhubarb at the Santa Monica markets on Wednesdays downtown and in Virginia Park on Saturdays and at the Studio City market.
Stehly Farms of Valley Center sells rhubarb at the Torrance (Tuesday and Saturday), Irvine (Saturday) and Palos Verdes markets from February to August. Carol Thys of Fallbrook offers rhubarb every other week at the Torrance markets. Darold McCrary of Ventura has Victoria rhubarb, a speckled pink and green variety, crisp and tender, that originated around 1837; he’s at the Hollywood market year-round.
Patricia Davenport brings Crimson rhubarb from her Long Beach backyard to the Long Beach Southeast market, from February to April. Another home garden grower, Rose Wisuri, offers rhubarb from her seven plants at the Camarillo market.
Choose fresh stalks that are firm and crisp, not limp. There are some good varieties that are always green, but for a given variety, redder stalks are sweeter and richer. Size is no indication of tenderness.
To use rhubarb, cut off any remaining leaves, which contain toxic amounts of oxalic acid. The simplest preparation is to cut the stalks into 3/4-inch pieces, add a little water to a pot and stew over medium or low heat for about 10 minutes, until tender. Use more water for California rhubarb than for Northwestern stalks.
The question often arises whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable, because it shares characteristics of both. Botanically it’s clearly not a fruit, defined as the flesh surrounding or adjacent to a plant’s seeds; the edible part of rhubarb, as for celery, is the petiole, the leafstalk. Horticulturally, in farm manuals and agricultural statistics, rhubarb is considered a vegetable.
But the U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo in 1947 classified rhubarb as a fruit (which at the time made it subject to lower import duties), since that is primarily how it is used. Its tart flavor is fruitlike, and one would most likely find it in the fruit section of a supermarket or cookbook. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “fruit” concurs: “As denoting an article of food, the word is popularly extended to include certain vegetable products that resemble ‘fruits’ in their qualities, e.g. the stalks of rhubarb.”
Rhubarb—Rheum rhabarbarum L.1
James M. Stephens2
Rhubarb is a perennial plant that forms large fleshy rhizomes and large leaves. The thick succulent leafstalks (petioles) having attractive red color are the edible parts. The rhizomes and crown persist for many years in areas where rhubarb can be grown. Leaf blades are up to 1 foot or more in width and length. Petioles are up to 18 inches long, 1–2 inches in diameter, and generally somewhat hemispherical in cross section.
Blue Goose Inc.
Rhubarb, the “pie plant,” is a very successfully grown and popular perennial vegetable in many parts of the country, but is not well adapted to Florida. It does not thrive and is rarely grown where the summer mean temperature is much above 75°F and the winter mean is much above 40°F. Thus, Florida gardeners should not expect much luck with this crop as a perennial, as both our summers and winters are warmer than this.
In Florida, we have no periods cool enough to send the crowns into rest period; therefore, the plant continues to grow through the winter to a certain extent. Upon the arrival of spring when we would expect an abundant flourish of leafstalks, we find only a continuance of the old growth.
Seeds are easier to obtain then crowns, but plants arising from seeds show a great deal of variation in color and form. However, it is possible to sow seeds in a seedbed or seed flat and select the most uniform and desirable plants to set in the garden. It is questionable whether or not sufficient growth can be obtained in 1 year following planting for this method to be practical.
Rhubarb should be grown in Florida as an annual, either from seed or from crowns. If from crowns, three methods are possible:
crowns may be purchased from northern seed companies as early in the spring as is possible to obtain crowns whose rest periods have been broken;
crowns may be obtained from the north in late summer, placed in cold storage (freeze them solid for 6 weeks) to fulfill rest requirements, and planted in the fall or early winter; and
winter forcing is another method using crowns. This method is a common commercial practice in the north, and may be of some value to home gardeners in Florida.
Roots that are 2–3 years old and have had a rest period are placed under more or less artificial conditions where they will sprout and produce stalks.
In South Florida, where temperatures seldom drop below 32°F (rhubarb will withstand temperatures down to this), seed might be planted in September in a seed flat and transplanted in the garden in October. Harvest could begin by about February. In a trial at Zellwood, on muck soil, seeds planted December 12 produced marketable petioles by May 26.
‘Victoria’ is an old variety that produces large but poorly colored stalks. Burgess ‘Colossal’ is large but produces pale green stalks. Popular red-stalked varieties are ‘Canada Red,’ ‘MacDonald,’ and ‘Ruby,’ but their adaptability to Florida is uncertain.
This document is HS657, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 1994. Revised September 2015. Reviewed October 2018. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
James M. Stephens, professor emeritus, Horticultural Sciences Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.
You Can Grow Rhubarb Just About Anywhere!
Q. We love rhubarb, but many years ago our huge patch died and we were told there was a disease in the soil. Since, then I have tried many times to start new crowns in other spots. The roots go in a deep rich hole and the shoots come up beautiful, but the leaves start to go brown and brittle when they are about 5 inches in size. Soon, the plant withers and dies—but amazingly, comes back the next spring. Can you help? I’m dreaming of rhubarb pie and jam!
- —Bob in Springfield, Ohio
A. I have always been fascinated by the oddities of rhubarb: ‘the only vegetable we use as a fruit’; and the only garden crop whose leaves are toxic, but whose stalks are safe to eat. (Unless you’re highly sensitive to oxalates, as there are low levels of those crystalline-like structures in the stalks as well. Oxalate-sensitive individuals must also avoid spinach and some other foods.) Anyway, we devoted a lot of ink to this popular plant during my time as Editor of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine; and here’s a condensation and compilation of our best growing advice:
Rhubarb can be planted Spring or Fall. Unless you’re sharing someone else’s root divisions, the plant will arrive in the form of a crown with eye-like shoots on top. Dig a deep hole—about the size of a bushel basket—and then mostly fill it back up with rich organic matter—compost, well-aged manure—and some sand or soil-free mix, if your soil is heavy. Place the crown in the center of this richness, so that the buds are a few inches below the soil line, cover with more manure and compost and then mulch over top with compost, manure, shredded leaves or straw.
rhubarb grows best in climates with lots of rain, and has what’s known as a ‘chilling requirement’; it needs a certain number of nights in the 40’s and below to produce well. In naturally cold climates, plant rhubarb in full sun. If you’re trying to get it to do well in the South or Hot West, make sure it gets afternoon shade and lots of water.
Although good drainage is essential, rhubarb requires a lot of water. New plantings must be kept moist if rain is scarce; and even established plants need to be watered at least an inch a week anytime it doesn’t rain during the growing season.
Most sources say not to harvest any stalks the first year and to only harvest lightly the second year—otherwise the crown will peter out prematurely. When harvesting, try and twist the stalks away from the plant rather than cut them. And, of course, remove and discard every tiny bit of the poisonous leaves.
To produce their best, the plants will need to be dug up and divided every five years or so—ideally in very early Spring, before the new growth begins.
Most sources also agree that rhubarb suffers few to no pest or disease problems. So, my diagnostic guesses for the failure in Ohio are: poorly draining soil, lack of watering attention during dry times, lack of sun and/or not enough food. Rhubarb is a HEAVY feeder that wants to be top dressed with lots of compost and aged manure every season.
And it’s no surprise that ‘dead plants’ came back in Ohio. Although you can stress it, rhubarb is hard to kill in cool climes. In fact, it likes to grow so much that real enthusiasts can sometimes harvest a patch all summer long (not just in Spring) by providing shade in hot times, lots of food and water, and harvesting the stalks promptly.
Q. Do you think I’m too far south for rhubarb to do well? My “USDA Zone” is supposed to be 7, but sometimes I see it listed as 8. (I must be just on the line.)
- —Delma in Coastal NC
Can rhubarb be grown here in Central Texas? (We’re about 20 miles west of Waco; Zone 8.) We are transplants from South Dakota and really miss fresh rhubarb.
- —The Rev. Tom; St. Paul Lutheran Church; Crawford, TX
A. The farther South you get, the more rhubarb needs afternoon shade and lots and lots of water. The varieties known as ‘cherry’ and ‘cherry red’ are said to have the best chance of perennializing in the South; but in really hot climes, rhubarb must be grown as an annual crop, planted fresh each year. Hot-weather rhubarb fiends start their seeds indoors (just like tomatoes) in August, transplant the starts outdoors at eight weeks of age into fertile, well-drained soil and harvest stalks December through April—after which the poor plants just burn up in the heat.
Q. My Rhubarb, two years old and growing beautifully, has just developed what look like flowers forming on the top. Should I cut them off to let all the energy go into the fruit stalks (of which I have about 7)?
- —Tony, just outside Philadelphia on the Main Line.
A. Yes, cut ’em off. Flowers draw needed energy from the crown and should be removed promptly. (They’re also not very pretty, and any seeds they produce probably would not grow usable rhubarb.)
Q. Hi Mike! Love your show and thought you might like this short video on growing rhubarb indoors here in the UK. Enjoy!
- —Marc in London
A. Thank you, Marc—the video is wonderful, and it looks like folks who live just about anywhere could utilize this amazingly simple technique to grow premium rhubarb. All you need is a cellar! Check it out.
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Where to Grow Rhubarb -In Which Climate ConditionsCan you Grow Rhubarb Successfully?
Can you Grow Rhubarb in the South?
Wondering if your location is where to Grow Rhubarb?
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Many people ask whether or not it is possible to grow rhubarb “in the South”.
“Is it possible to grow rhubarb in Florida? Or in Texas?”
Where on earth DO you grow rhubarb successfully?
Others, from Texas and other Southern United States, would like to know where they can buy rhubarb, (frozen rhubarb) to be able to make a favourite rhubarb recipe.
What are the climate conditions required to grow rhubarb? Where is the best geographical location where to grow rhubarb?
Rhubarb is a perennial plant that requires cool temperatures for dormancy, and moderate spring and summer temperatures for stimulating vigorous growth.
Ideal temperatures for growing rhubarb is below 40 ° F, (5° c), in winter, and temperatures averaging less than 75° F (24° C) in the summer.
Climatic conditions in the Northern United States and in Canada are ideal for growing rhubarb.
In the United States rhubarb generally, will grow quite successfully between from Maine to Illinois, and west to Washington.
Most of the commercial rhubarb grown in the United States is grown in Washington, Oregon and Michigan.
If you live in the Southern States of the United States, rhubarb will not thrive in your garden.
How, dry weather is not conducive to rhubarb plantings.
The large leaves of the rhubarb plant will quickly wilt under extreme heat.
If you live in the Southern United States, and you love rhubarb, or you have never experienced the awesome flavour of rhubarb, you can still enjoy this versatile vegetable by purchasing it in the form of delectable rhubarb jam or jelly.
Many website visitors, (who live in an area of the world where they cannot successfully grow rhubarb themselves), contact me to ask for advice as to where they can purchase frozen rhubarb.
From time to time I notice that local grocery stores sell bags of frozen rhubarb.
Which stores, where in the country, and at what season of the year frozen rhubarb is sold seems to be very inconsistent.
Another option is to purchase frozen rhubarb online at *Amazon.com.
You can then use the frozen rhubarb, and make a rhubarb cobbler, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pie, rhubarb cake, rhubarb muffins or another favourite rhubarb dessert recipe. Or perhaps you crave scrumptiously scrumptious rhubarb sauce.
Click the image of the frozen rhubarb below for additional product information and customer product reviews.
Here (below) are quotes from people who live in South Carolina and Florida who cannot grow rhubarb, but have enjoyed their rhubarb purchase online:
“… Amazon notified me that the rhubarb was now available and we immediately ordered. We received the rhubarb in about two days – packed in dry ice. The rhubarb was still hard frozen. We separated the rhubarb in to about one pound packages and put them in the freezer. It was small stems and all individual small pieces. Had some for dinner and the rhubarb is delicious!! Then we had a pie for Sunday dinner – have not had a rhubarb pie for about 18 years. I can not grow rhubarb in South Carolina. We will order again when we start to get low.”
“… I make jams and my top seller is strawberry rhubarb. Being here in Florida, rhubarb is very hard to find. I found the rhubarb on Amazon from the Willamette Valley Fruit Company and took a chance. I am so glad I did. The rhubarb came several days after I ordered it and it was still frozen, even coming to Florida from Oregon. Once defrosted, we ate some and it had a fabulous taste. I made many jars of jam and my customers are still excited about the rhubarb. I was very excited to tell them it came all the way from Oregon to Florida, and it tasted like we just picked it ourselves.”
Surprise your family and friends with a recipe made with rhubarb, or include a jar of rhubarb jam in a gift basket for someone special. Or make your very own rhubarb pie with the rhubarb pie filling (below).
Here follow some Rhubarb Food Ideas that you can purchase on-line at *Amazon.com, and in most cases, have delivered right to your (or the lucky recipients), door.
BE SURE to check out the Rhubarb and Custard Stick Candy! (Last image on the right, below).
Click on the images (below) for additional product information and customer reviews.
Even though you cannot grow rhubarb in the far South, you can still enjoy the taste of this desirable vegetable!
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Mention growing rhubarb around a Texas gardener and youll probably get a look something like either whats that? or where are you from? Most southerners only experience with rhubarb has been out of a can of pie filling or perhaps in one of Garrison Keillors tall tales from Lake Wobegon.
Would you like to grow something no one else is likely to have in their gardens? Or perhaps you are a transplanted Texas immigrant from northern climes who longs for that glorious culinary delight, strawberry rhubarb pie. I have read more that once that you cant grow rhubarb down here because it is too hot! Well folks that just aint true. You can grow rhubarb in Texas. It wont be foolproof, but it is very do-able.
First for those gardeners who are not at all familiar with rhubarb, lets get to know this new-to-us vegetable. Rhubarb is a cousin of buckwheat and garden sorrel. It is native to China where historical records dating back to about 2700 B.C. detail its use as a medicinal herb for various ailments. Marco Polo brought it to fame in the West as a medicinal plant. For a period of time in the late 1700s through early 1800s, as a result of political conflicts, Chinese emperors forbade its export to the west.
It is not until the late 1700s that we find reference to rhubarb as a food plant. By about the 1800s, it had made its way to America where it began to become a popular vegetable in northern gardens. Most rhubarb production now is centered in the states of Washington, Oregon and Michigan, although it is a popular home garden vegetable across the northern tiers of states.
In these northern gardens, it is grown as a perennial and harvested from late spring through summer, depending on the location. Southern gardeners who have purchased plants (dormant roots) or otherwise tried to grow this vegetable as a perennial have failed dismally as the infernal heat of summer combines with fungal rot organisms to deal it a fatal blow.
The key is to rethink the plants traditional culture and to grow it as an annual. What we call winter here in most of Texas, rhubarb calls sporadic cold snaps. It can be grown in most of the state from August to May and then discarded to make room for a heat-loving vegetable. You can also purchase roots and plant them as soon as the companies will dig and ship them, but this is much more expensive as they still will be only annual plants for us. So here are the basics of how to grow rhubarb from seed in our southern climate.
In mid- to late August plant seeds of rhubarb indoors. Most rhubarb varieties are vegetatively propagated and sold as dormant roots, but one called Victoria is readily available from seed. I have also grown a variety called Glaskins Perpetual but found Victoria to be just as good or perhaps a little better. Soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours prior to planting. Then fill 4-inch pots with a good potting or seed starting mix. Place two seeds in each pot (to hedge your bet) and cover them about 1/4 inch deep with the mix and moisten. Keep them indoors at room temperature until they sprout, when they will then need to be placed in a very bright window.
Once the seedlings are up and on their way they can be moved to a bright shady outdoor location. Keep the soil moist but take care not to keep them soggy wet. When they are a week old, start fertilizing with a dilute liquid solution each time you water them. Soon afterward move them to a brighter location with some morning sun.
Prepare the garden soil well prior to setting the transplants out into the garden. Rhubarb is fairly tolerant of a wide soil pH range. I have seen it do well in the acid sands of East Texas and the high pH clays of Central Texas. It is beneficial, however, to mix several inches of compost into the soil and to plant in raised beds to facilitate drainage.
The plants respond well to fertilization, so select a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio product (such as 8-2-4 or 15-5-10) and mix in 2 to 4 cups (depending on strength of the product) per 100 square feet of garden bed area prior to planting.
After the young plants are about 4 inches tall or have three to five leaves you can plant them out into the garden. This will be in about late September or early October. If the weather is still hot, a makeshift shade structure over them will help a lot to get them through the transition.
One easy technique is to cut a bamboo shoot or a small juniper branch with leaves attached and stick it into the ground on the west side of the plant, leaning over it a bit, to provide filtered shade. Within a few weeks as the heat begins to ease up a bit, the plants will be acclimated better and ready to take off on their own.
During this transition time watering is critical. The plants need to stay fairly moist, but not soggy wet. Rhubarb is susceptible to several fungal rots and if you overwater the plants, they will quickly succumb to stem and crown rots, and die.
As the weather moves into the mild days of fall, rhubarb plants will slowly start to take off. Fertilize them monthly from September through April with 1 cup of the same product used prior to planting per 100 square feet.
While the plants can take considerable cold, a hard freeze will damage the aboveground leaves and petioles. For this reason some protection on very cold nights is worthwhile. Milk jugs for small plants or clear plastic tunnels for larger plants in rows can protect the above ground parts and give you a head start on the spring season.
By late winter to spring the plants will resume rapid growth. This is the time when harvest may begin. In Texas, rhubarb reaches a respectable size by about March or April and can be harvested on through May. The edible portions of the plant are the elongated and thickened leaf stalks. Grasp a leaf stalk and pull sideways. They break off easily. Or if you wish, you can cut them off. Immediately trim off the leaves leaving just the stalk. Then take the stalks inside to wash and refrigerate them. I prefer to harvest in the morning as the leaves wilt rapidly in the heat of the day.
I should note here that only the stalks are to be eaten, NOT the leaves on the end of the stalks. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid at levels that can be poisonous. However, while the leaves contain high concentrations of this compound, the levels found in the stalks are very low and not considered hazardous. For that matter, oxalic acid is also found in low levels in many other vegetables we eat including spinach, cabbage, beet greens, and to some degree potatoes and peas. Some references indicate that stalks with cold damage (soggy soft areas) or those with significant frost damage to their leaves should also be avoided, but this situation is more common on fall harvested rhubarb in the north and is generally not seen here in Texas during our spring harvest time.
Our Texas-grown rhubarb will generally be more green than red in color. This is partially due to our warm climate, partially because the reddest varieties are not available from seed, and also because our Texas plants are seedlings and therefore have considerable genetic variability. But they are quite productive and the quality is fine.
Rhubarb is not eaten fresh but rather is cooked in pies, tarts and sauces. The most famous dish of course is strawberry rhubarb pie. By a fortuitous coincidence only explained as Divine design our Texas rhubarb season and strawberry season run concurrently. So you can plant a strawberry-rhubarb patch this fall and enjoy a great harvest in spring.
For a wealth of information on using rhubarb in great culinary creations and many wonderful recipe ideas, check out the following Web site: http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/recipe-index.html#TOC46.
If you go overboard and need some help canning or freezing your rhubarb harvest, this Web site will be very helpful: http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/rhubarb-food.html.
So if you are a bit adventurous and like to try new things in the garden consider adding some rhubarb to your fall gardening plans.
by Frank Hyman
Asparagus can be productive for up to 15 years with the right care! Photo by cornucopiaseeds.com.au
I’ve enjoyed the ritual of planting a crop, tending it and then pulling it out at the end of the season. But more than once, I’ve wished that those tomatoes, beans and cukes could somehow come back each year all on their own. Be honest now. Haven’t you wished that at least once yourself?
Well, it’ll probably never happen with tomatoes, beans and cukes, but for many gardeners it can happen with sorrel, rhubarb and ‘chokes. I’m talking about perennial vegetables, some of which you may already be growing: asparagus, artichokes, sunchokes, rhubarb and sorrel just for starters.
What defines a perennial vegetable? For one, we’re not talking about perennials like brambles, fruit trees and grape vines, from which we harvest the fruiting part of the plant. With perennial vegetables, we harvest and eat the flower buds (artichoke), stalks (rhubarb), leaves (sorrel), shoots (asparagus) or roots (sunchokes).
And second, unlike annual vegetables, perennial vegetables come back from winter dormancy to grow, multiply and be harvested each year. Perennial vegetables have more advantages than just the time saved on re-planting beds:
1) They’re generally more drought hardy.
2) They reduce soil erosion.
3) Perennial vegetables can also be mixed in beds of perennial ornamentals in the garden.
4) And for those of us trying to make a living from our fields, many of these plants are high-dollar at the farmer’s markets and better restaurants.
I’ve grown a number of perennial vegetables–here are 5 that I’ve grown on sunny sites that you might want to try.
Asparagus tastes best if you caramelize the sugars with a few minutes on the grill or under the broiler. They can also be lightly steamed or sautéed or eat them raw. Eliminate the chewy bottom end by bending till it snaps off before cooking.
Harvest artichoke flower buds before they open and steam them for 45 minutes. Peel off the scales, dunk them in melted butter and scrape the fleshy inside off with your teeth. The inner scales are almost entirely edible and after you edit out the partially formed petals the heart is entirely edible and scrumptious.
Harvest the roots in fall, winter or early spring and use them as you would carrots or potatoes. Ignore recipes that call for peeling them as it’s hard to do and unnecessary. Just roast them with other root vegetables that have been cut into 1″ chunks, coated in oil, salt and pepper, set at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes (and turned after about 20 minutes) or steam and mash them with potatoes. They are edible raw in salads but can make some people gassy. Forewarned is forearmed. The upside is that the inulin that sweetens them is a boon to diabetics.
Rhubarb leaves and roots are poisonous, so it has few pests. Only the stalks and the flower bud are safe to eat. Traditionally the stalks go with strawberry pies to add some tartness. The stalks are also nice roasted with lamb and other meats.
Sorrel flavors a salad of other milder greens and cooks down to a lovely sauce for fish. I like a few leaves with my lettuce or spinach on meat sandwiches.
There are many other perennial vegetables that could be a good fit for your table, garden and farm: Giant Solomon’s Seal, Ostrich fern, Egyptian walking onion and lovage are a few others I am growing. And sea kale, ramps, potato onions, nopale cactus, saltbush, Good King Henry, skirret, groundnut, native water lotus, bamboo, New Zealand spinach and camass bulbs are a few others I am game to try. Grow a few of these crops and soon you’ll become the local expert on perennial vegetables. Yes, the field is that wide open.
Garden coach Frank Hyman has a BS in Horticulture from NCSU and has been a CFSA member since the mid 80’s. He’s been an organic farmer, an IPM scout and has owned Cottage Garden Landscaping in Durham, NC since 1992.
> Learn more about Frank at frankhyman.com.
This story is condensed from Frank’s article in Hobby Farm Home magazine.
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