How to transplant rhubarb?

 Transplanting Rhubarb

How to Transplant, Divide or Propagate
Rhubarb Plants

Transplanting Rhubarb is done to increase the size of your rhubarb garden by propagating your rhubarb plants.

Rhubarb may also need to be divided to keep the plants healthy as they become older.

Here is information about WHEN and HOW to divide rhubarb plants.

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Rhubarb Transplanting to Increase your Rhubarb Garden Size:

The propagation of rhubarb plants to increase the size of your rhubarb garden involves the division of the crown and root system and the subsequent rhubarb transplanting. This can be done by propagating from 4 to 5 year old crowns.

Although transplanting rhubarb can be performed in the spring or fall, I recommend early spring as the best time to transplant rhubarb.

Some gardeners prefer the autumn for transplanting because the plants are dormant.

Either time of year that you choose, the actual propagation method for transplanting rhubarb is the same.

In early spring, just when plants begin to come out of dormancy is the ideal time to divide them.

At this time early growth is just beginning on the rhubarb plants, so you can easily see where best to divide the root mass.

In June of the preceding year, when plants are growing vigorously, decide which plants you wish to use for propagation and transplanting the following spring.

Choose plants which are healthy, and disease and pest free.

Transplanting Rhubarb is Easy

The rhubarb plants that are to be divided, should be dug up in early spring, (or fall), and the clumps divided into sections by cutting them with a spade, (be careful not to damage the crown), so that each section has a portion of both the root and crown of the original plant.

★ For Simple, Step-By-Step Instructions with PICTURES for How to Divide Rhubarb,

GO to How to Divide Rhubarb Crowns in Easy Steps

Each section should contain at least 2 or 3 buds, or “eyes”, and a good section of root.

The larger the size of the crown, the quicker the new planting will become established.

After digging up and dividing the crown and root clumps, dig a hole, slightly larger than the divided plant ready for transplanting, and place the crown in the hole, (filled with water), with its roots facing downwards.

The top of the crown should be about 1 1/2 – 2 inches below the soil surface.

Water regularly so that the root pieces do not dry out, and protect from any possible freezing conditions.

Dividing Rhubarb Plants to keep your Rhubarb Garden Healthy and Vigorous:

Eventually, rhubarb clumps become too large and the buds become crowded. This results in smaller leaf stalks and indicates that it is time to divide your rhubarb plants to keep your rhubarb garden healthy and provide you with the best quality and amount of rhubarb harvest.

Although rhubarb patches of 15 years or more will often still produce a good rhubarb harvest, the best rhubarb yield will come from patches that are about 10 years or younger.

To keep rhubarb healthy it is best to divide the plants about every 5 to 6 years in early spring, when the plant is just coming out of dormancy.

It is advisable to divide only a few rhubarb plants a season, so as to maintain an adequate rhubarb harvest with the remaining established plants.

Divide the plants as above, and transplant the rhubarb with the cut sections, or discarding excess cuttings.

Use the links below for helpful information about growing rhubarb in the home garden (or use the navigation bars in the left hand column, or scroll down for mobile).

GROWING Rhubarb

FORCING Rhubarb

Rhubarb PLANT CARE

Rhubarb VARIETIES

ORNAMENTAL Rhubarb

PLANTING Rhubarb

Rhubarb COMPANION Gardening

More COMPANION Plant Ideas

HARVESTING Rhubarb

Rhubarb SEEDS

Rhubarb FLOWERS

Rhubarb LEAVES

Rhubarb PESTS

Rhubarb DISEASES

ORGANIC Rhubarb

LINKS RELATED TO RHUBARB GARDENING

ORGANIC PESTICIDE RECIPES and Information

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 Transplanting Rhubarb
HOME to Rhubarb Information

How to Transplant Rhubarb Plants

Whether it is because you started growing your rhubarb in a container, your plant needs a change in sunlight or soil type, or another reason, you may run into a need to transplant it. Fortunately, this is one of the easier tasks that you will carry out in maintaining your garden. Just follow the steps below and settle your rhubarb comfortably into its new home.

Step 1 – Plan Your Timing

Ideally, you want to transplant rhubarb in the spring. Moving it before the leaves sprout is best, after the last frost of the year.

Step 2 – Dig up Plants

Carefully dig up the plants that you would like to move. Make sure that you use the spade carefully because you don’t want to damage the root structure of the rhubarb. You need as much of it as possible to remain intact because ultimately, you will end up with less root structure to fall back on if you have multiple plants to transplant.

Step 3 – Divide Plants

A common reason to transplant rhubarb is to separate and increase the number of spots where the plants are growing. To do that, start dividing the plants you have by separating the root clumps into constituent parts. You want to have at least two good starts in each replant that you perform, so use that as a guide when dividing the roots; you can do it by hand as long as you don’t crush them in the process.

Step 4 – Transplant

Pick out a part of your garden that has soil with plenty of organic matter and a pH of between six and seven. If you are going to place rhubarb plants back into the holes from which you got them, fill this hole before doing the rest of the replant.

Dig holes that are approximately two inches deep and that are at least twice the size of the root bulb. Make all of them at least three feet apart from one another, both in the same row and in between rows. Then, place the plants in and fill in around them gently, patting down with the spade a few times to make the fill permanent.

Step 5 – Mulch

Place a layer of mulch around all of the new plants. This is especially important if you’re replanting them during the fall or spring months.

Step 6 – Water

Water all of the newly transplanted rhubarb immediately. This will help the roots take shape within the new holes and allow the plants to become acclimated to their environment a lot quicker than if they are left alone.

Q. Last year, a neighbour who was dividing her rhubarb clumps gave me some extra pieces she did not need to replant. They are not doing well in my garden. Half of the root pieces I transplanted have yellowed leaves and withered stalks. I’m wondering whether I didn’t prepare the soil properly or I planted at the wrong soil depth.

A. Because rhubarb is a perennial crop that usually occupies a site for five years or more before being lifted, divided and replanted, a thorough preparation of the soil is especially important. That means a deep digging of the planting site, removing weeds and debris, and incorporating composted manure or/and compost deeply into the soil.

You mention planting “root pieces.” Ideally, these should be cut cleanly, with a sharp knife, from around the outside of a lifted plant, where the youngest portions of the plant crowns will be located. The crown is the surface from which top growth proceeds.

There should be at least one growth bud on each piece to be planted, and the crown should end up just beneath the soil surface. October and March are ideal times for dividing and planting rhubarb.

Keep rhubarb plants well watered during dry summer weather. Consider mulching the plants with compost now, after a deep watering, to help build the roots up. A certain amount of leaf yellowing and stalk withering is normal in rhubarb, but if the ailing plants continue to fade away consider lifting and discarding them. Prepare new sites and plant purchased roots in the fall or spring.

Q. Is there anything I can do now to keep my border sedums (the taller types) from flopping over with the weight of the flower heads in late summer?

A. Cutting the stems back will help to produce more compact, sturdy plants. Ideal timing for a severe cutting back, by about a half, is late May to early June. If you feel more comfortable with a less drastic action, trim the stems back by around a third.

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Dividing Rhubarb Plants: How And When To Divide Rhubarb

I’m not a pie girl, but an exception can be made for rhubarb strawberry pie. Actually, anything with rhubarb in it is easily coaxed into my mouth. Maybe because it reminds me of the good old days with my great grandmother who made the flakiest pie crust redolent with butter, filled with scarlet berries and rhubarb. Her stalks seemed to require very little care and came up reliably year after year, but realistically, I’m sure dividing rhubarb plants was one of her garden chores. So the question is, how and when to divide rhubarb?

Why is Rhubarb Plant Division Necessary?

Rhubarb leaf stalks and petioles are used primarily in sweet treats and, are hence, regarded as a fruit. Actually, rhubarb is a vegetable, but due to its high acidity, lends itself nicely to pies, tarts, jams, and other sweets.

Rhubarb is a perennial plant that does indeed require very little care and can be relied upon to return each spring. However, if your plant predates the millennium, it is perhaps time for a little refreshing. Why? The root is old and tough and will foster less than premium stalks. Splitting rhubarb will give new life to the plant. Rhubarb is usually harvested in the cool, early months of spring; however, rhubarb plant division can extend the harvest period into the summer months.

When to Divide Rhubarb

To renew your rhubarb plant, you will want to dig up the root and divide it. Dividing rhubarb plants should be accomplished in the early spring as soon as the soil warms up enough to work it and prior to the emergence of the tender new shoots.

How to Divide Rhubarb

Splitting your rhubarb plants isn’t rocket science. Simply dig around the root clump (6 inches deep) and lift the whole plant from the ground. Divide the root ball into sections containing at least one bud and up to two to three buds with plenty of roots by cutting down through the crown between the buds. Very old plants will have roots that are as dense as wood, so you may need the assistance of a hatchet. Fear not, this is the only hard part of splitting the plant.

Keep in mind that the more buds, the bigger the divided plant will be. You can achieve a larger plant by replanting small root divisions with one bud on them in the same hole. Plant the new divisions ASAP; otherwise, they begin to dry out, lessening the likelihood of healthy transplants. If, however, you don’t have time to finish the job immediately, put the root pieces into a plastic bag and store them in the fridge. Prior to transplanting, soak the refrigerated sections in room temperature water over night.

Select a planting site that is in full sun with a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.5. If your soil is particularly dense, form a 4- to 6-inch raised bed to increase drainage prior to planting the new crowns. Amend the soil with 1-2 pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer per 100 square foot of bedding area, along with compost and a handful of rock phosphate or bone meal per planting hole. Set the plants 2-3 feet apart in rows 3-5 feet apart. Plant the new crowns 6 inches deep so the buds are just beneath the surface. Tamp around the crowns, water in well and mulch around the plants with 3 inches of straw.

In the following spring, rake the straw away from the plants and lay down 2-3 inches of composted manure around the plants; do not cover the crown. Add a layer of straw atop the manure. Add another 3 inches of straw as the manure breaks down.

Lastly, if you want to further extend the harvesting season for your rhubarb, be sure to cut the seed stalk from the plant. The making of seeds signals the plant that it’s all done for the season. Cutting the seeds will trick the plant into continuing to produce delicious ruby red stalks, thereby extending the delectable season for rhubarb strawberry pie.

Can I plant rhubarb roots in mid July, in Michigan?

Since you did get the roots, their best chance of survival will be planting them in the ground, and trying to get them as far along as possible by winter. Ideally, spring or fall planting is best. Rhubarb roots do not have extremely large energy reserves, so storing your root until fall may not work well.

Here are some good points to note when planting bareroot rhubarb in summer:

  • Do not let full sun reach the soil or newly emerged plants. Try to mimic spring conditions as far as possible, so try not to let it get hot. Use some kind of shade to protect the soil and the plant.

  • Keep the soil very moist. Do not let it dry out, even for a short time. This is critical to success.

  • Do not put manure or fertilizer in the planting hole. This can burn the roots. Finished compost is okay, and slow release fertilizer on top of the soil is okay. Rhubarb likes a very rich soil to start with, so fertilizing isn’t usually needed during the first season.

If you plant them now, they will come up this year, and (hopefully) become partly established before winter. I wouldn’t start them inside, mostly because that will mean either another transplant before the year’s end, or trying to overwinter the rhubarb indoors.

Here are some of the conditions that will help your rhubarb plants succeed:

  • They like very deep and very rich soil, high in organic matter and nitrogen

  • They don’t like drying out, and in the ideal rhubarb soil, this won’t be a problem, especially if you mulch.

  • Established plants need as much sun as possible, even in summer in your area. The more photosynthesis occurs in the plant, the better it will grow.

  • An organic mulch helps conserve moisture, and keeps down weeds, while slowly building the soil. I use a shredded mix of lawn clippings and mushroom soil, because a plain straw or wood chip mulch will pull nitrogen from the soil while decomposing (although they release it again once decomposition is complete).

When is the Best Time to Move Rhubarb Plants?

Rhubarb is most successfully transplanted early in the spring before any growth has started. The plants can also be transplanted at other times but it will be more difficult. The next best time is in the early fall, followed by summer being the most difficult.

Follow these steps to transplant rhubarb:

  1. Dig up the entire plant. Try to get as much of the root system as possible.
  2. Divide large plants into several sections. Ensure 2-3 buds and a good root section on each section.
  3. Replant the original plant back at the same height as it was when you started.
  4. If the new section must be stored for a day or two, be sure to keep it moist. Do not allow roots to dry out.
  5. Plant the new rhubarb section in a sunny location with fertile, well-drained soil. The section should be planted at the original height or place the buds 1.5″ – 2″ below the soil surface. Water with a mixture containing a root stimulant like Earl May Plant Start. Adding a good layer of shredded bark will help retain moisture during the summer months.
  6. For best results, new plants should not be harvested until the third season. In the third season, harvest for 4 – 6 weeks until mid-June.

Visit your local Earl May Garden Center for more information on Rhubarb.

Rheum rhabarbarum

I have faint memories of a neighbor woman down the street from our house in Northern California sharing great bundles of homegrown rhubarb with our family when I was quite wee.

That was approximately 300 years ago, and I don’t think I’ve heard much about rhubarb since.

I suppose smarter people than I have expounded on why this sour vegetable has fallen out of favor, but if I were to hazard a guess, I might lay the demise of its popularity at the feet of our sweet-obsessed culture.

Rhubarb, whose edible stalks sort of look like rosy celery, is tart. Extraordinarily tart. Think Granny Smith apple times 100.

This vegetable/fruit (hang on – we’ll explain in a minute) is almost never eaten raw. It’s often baked into a pie or cobbler with something close to five pounds of sugar.

Photo by Gretchen Heber.

Okay, just kidding, but you get the point.

The truth is, those who aren’t in the known about this stalky homegrown treat are missing out. And you, too, can grow it in your own garden.

Let’s take a look at the best methods to grow it, and some delicious culinary suggestions for getting the most out of your harvest.

Here’s what’s to come:

But first, back to that fruit or vegetable thing…

Fruit, Vegetable, Fregetable?

Botanically a vegetable, rhubarb is often referred to as a fruit because, culinarily, that’s how we use it.

Apparently, the US Customs Office even legally declared rhubarb a fruit in the 1940s — something to do with import taxes and that’s basically how it was used in cooking anyway. But again, technically it’s a vegetable.

Whatever you call it, here’s an important factoid we want to get out there before we get too far into this guide:

This plant’s leaves are poisonous. Way poisonous. So don’t eat them.

As soon as you harvest the stalks, cut the leaves off and throw them away where neither human nor beast can get to them.

The root and rhizome of the plant are okay to ingest, however, and have been used as a medicinal plant in Asia — where it is native — for around 5,000 years, if not longer.

In fact, modern natural-medicine adherents around the world sometimes use rhubarb to address digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn. Rhubarb is also used by some to treat cold sores.

Plant a Pie

Hardy and treated as a perennial in zones 3-8, gardeners in southern zones sometimes have luck growing R. rhabarbarum as an annual, though our brutal heat can make it tough to get a harvest in before the plants burn up.

Rhubarb, aka “pie plant,” also needs extended temperatures below 40°F during the cold season, which some Southern zones just don’t get.

Though it won’t typically survive multiple seasons in southern climes, it can be grown as a winter annual in the south. Be sure to give plants extra protection from the summer sun in these areas, and plant in an section of the garden with afternoon shade.

This plant grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and spreads 3 to 4 feet. On up to 5-foot stalks, the plant produces flowers that, in their nascent stage, resemble pink-tinged cauliflower. They gradually unfurl into great clouds of white.

While it is generally recommended to cut off flower buds to increase stalk production, some gardeners opt to allow the flowers to bloom, for beauty’s sake or to eat, as the flowers are edible, too.

Plants or Heirloom Seeds (And Where to Buy)

If you want to add R. rhabarbarum to your garden, your best bet is to “borrow” a crown from a neighbor, or purchase a small plant.

Since plant division is typically not an option in hotter regions where rhubarb cannot be grown as a perennial, it must be grown from seed in these USDA Hardiness Zones.

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Photo by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Growers Solution, Mountain Valley Seed Company, Nature Hills Nursery, and Bonide. Uncredited photos: . Originally published by Mike Quinn on September 29th, 2014. Last updated on May 4th, 2018 with additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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