Rhubarb when to pick

Growing rhubarb

About rhubarb

For a first-time vegetable grower, there isn’t an easier place to start than with rhubarb. It will flourish without too much attention and will provide you with tasty stalks at a time when little else is ready for harvest in the garden. Cultivated for its delicious, pink stems, rhubarb is a very hardy, frost-resistant vegetable – in fact it requires a period of frost in the winter in order to produce the best stalks.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • All varieties develop a deep root system and grow best in a fertile, partially shaded, free-draining soil.
  • Start digging over your soil four weeks before planting, removing any stones you find and adding as much organic matter as possible.

How to plant

  • Rhubarb can be grown from seed or as plants purchased from your local garden centre. Rhubarb grown from seed will take a year longer to produce stalks, and even then, the plants aren’t guaranteed to be true to type. We recommend buying one-year-old plants, known as ‘crowns’, that have been divided from strong, disease-free plants.
  • Choose the right variety for your patch, prepare the soil, then plant your rhubarb in late autumn to early winter. Keep in mind that many varieties grow to be very large plants, and require a lot of space. Before planting, dig a hole with a trowel a little bit wider than the plant.
  • The depth should be such that the top of the plant is at, or just below the soil surface. Gently firm the surrounding soil and water well. Spacing between plants should be about 75cm (30in) for smaller varieties, and up to 120cm (48in) for larger varieties.
  • After the leaves have died down, spread a new layer of compost around the plant to conserve water and suppress weeds. Dead-head flowers immediately after they appear in the early spring, as allowing flowers to set seed will weaken the plant.

Dividing

  • In order to keep the plants healthy, rhubarb should be divided every five or six years during winter, when dormant. Each plant can be split into three or four separate crowns with a spade. Make sure each crown has an ‘eye’, or a large bud that will provide next year’s shoots.
  • Dig out a hole slightly larger than the divided plants and place the crown in the hole with its roots facing downwards. The top of the crown should be 2.5cm (1in) below the soil surface. Mark where the crown has been planted with a cane or stones until new shoots appear above the soil surface in late February or March.

Forcing

  • This simple process provides an earlier harvest of sweeter stems that don’t need peeling. For forcing outdoors, cover plants with a container or large pot to exclude the light. Place the cover over the rhubarb as soon as it begins to show signs of growth.
  • For forcing indoors, lift whole crowns in November and place them on the soil surface to be chilled for two weeks in order to break their period of dormancy.
  • Pot each crown up with compost and bring into a cool greenhouse. It’s important to completely exclude any light by placing forcing pots or black polythene over crowns.
  • The lack of light and the heating effect of the cover will quickly cause the rhubarb to ripen and it will be ready to eat within four weeks.

Harvesting and storage

  • Allow rhubarb to establish for one year before taking your first harvest. Select three of the largest stalks, waiting for the leaves to fully open before pulling from May to August.
  • Stalks are harvested by gently twisting the stems and pulling from the base of the plant. Leaves shouldn’t be eaten as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.

Growing tips

  • Rhubarb suffers from few diseases. Crown rot is the main threat, particularly if soil conditions are wet. The fungal infection occurs at the base of the stalks where crowns turn brown and soften.
  • Plants suffering from rot should be dug up and destroyed immediately. To avoid crown rot, make sure rhubarb is planted in fertile, well-drained, weed-free soil.

Five to try

  • Rhubarb ‘Ace of hearts’ – a good choice for a smaller garden
  • ‘Prince Albert’ – an early variety with good long stalks
  • ‘Timperley early’ – lovely flavour, good for forcing
  • ‘Victoria’ – a classic allotment favourite, good for forcing
  • ‘Mammoth red’ – grows up to 1.5m (5ft) high

Quick Guide to Growing Rhubarb

  • Plant rhubarb during the cool days of early spring, once the ground thaws.
  • Rhubarb produces a harvest for up to 8 years, so grow it in a sunny area where it will go undisturbed for a long time.
  • Give rhubarb room to spread out by planting them 4 to 6 feet apart.
  • Improve your native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • When hot weather arrives, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch to keep soil moist and help block weeds.
  • Check soil moisture regularly and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Feed rhubarb regularly with a continuous-release plant food.
  • Start regular harvesting in year 3 when stalks are 12 to 18 inches long and reach their ideal red color.

Soil, Planting, and Care

A true perennial, rhubarb plants can yield harvests 5 to 8 years or longer. Once plants are established, they don’t transplant easily, so choose your planting site carefully. It will also help to start with the best plants you can get. Young Bonnie Plants® rhubarb plants are strong and vigorous, so you’re already ahead of the game when you plant. Rhubarb thrives in full sun but will yield to light shade. Select a location that gives plants ample room; individual rhubarb plants can measure up to four feet wide and tall.

Plant crowns in spring as soon as soil is workable. Tuck plants into slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter; blend in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost, or improve the soil with aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. Rhubarb crowns require shallow planting (around 4 inches deep), but because plants are such heavy feeders, you should dig planting holes at least a foot deep. If your soil is heavy clay, you may want to consider planting rhubarb in raised beds filled with soil designed especially for that kind of growing environment, such as organic Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil.

Water newly planted crowns, and keep soil moist throughout the growing season. As summer heat arrives, mulch plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of organic mulch, such as compost, straw, or shredded bark. Replenish mulch throughout the growing season as needed to maintain 2-inch thickness. Best growth comes from using plant food that works in concert with the soil to provide just the right nutrition for your rhubarb plants. Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition feeds plants continuously for up to 6 weeks, plus also feeds the beneficial microbes in the soil that help make nutrients available to your plants.

In fall, when stems die back, remove all plant debris. Mulch plants after the ground freezes, covering crowns with 2 to 4 inches of compost or leaves.

The ultimate rhubarb guide to growing, harvesting, preserving and cooking with rhubarb. Lots of tips and recipe ideas for both sweet and savory dishes.

This rhubarb guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking – both fresh and preserving – a specific fruit or vegetable. See more fruit and vegetable guides here.

Rhubarb is one of those edible plants that’s considered a vegetable, but used like a fruit – in fact a US court decided in the 40s that it was a fruit for import regulations because that’s how it’s often used (source). It’s probably considered a bit unusual or old-fashioned, but it has some great qualities and lends itself to some fantastic recipes, so I really recommend growing it!

Rhubarb is a perennial plant and if you can get it established in a place that it likes, it’s pretty carefree, coming back year after year with minimal care. So it needs a permanent place – a rhubarb patch – where it can happily live and provide you with some of the first fruits of the gardening season.

Rhubarb is such a versatile plant to cook with and preserve – it can become a chutney for savory foods, ice cream sauce, pie & cake filling, jam, drink and more – and yet is still a mystery to some. I often get questions asking what to make with rhubarb or how to grow it, so I’m putting all the rhubarb growing information and recipes that I’ve collected into one ultimate rhubarb guide so you’ll have one place to come for rhubarb answers.

First, did you know that rhubarb is a member of the buckwheat family? So weird, right? It also has good amounts of vitamins C, K, and the mineral magnesium as well as some fiber and protein.

Most people are aware that the large leaves are poisonous (I always feel sorry for the people who discovered stuff like this, don’t you?), but I didn’t know until we moved into a new house with established rhubarb that not all rhubarb varieties have red stalks. Some produce mostly green stalks with barely a hint of red. I’ve learned that the green-stalk variety is hardier and easier to grow than the more popular red colored plants, so if you’re having problems getting rhubarb established, switching your variety may be the way to go.

Rhubarb Guide

How to Grow Rhubarb

  1. Rhubarb is most typically planted as one-year-old crowns, either bare root in very early spring, or in pots in later spring.
  2. Plant in the spring (as early as you can) in full sun and amend the soil a bit with compost before planting rhubarb crowns about an inch below the surface. Note: in warmer climates, rhubarb may do better in partial shade, though the stems will not grow as thick.
  3. If planting more than one plant, set them at least 3 feet apart – a well established plant can grow huge!
  4. Water well and consistently throughout the growing season, especially in the plant’s first two years. After that, I’ve found them to be fairly drought-resistent – they will die back if not watered, but will produce again the next spring. Of course that’s not the way to get the best, biggest stalks, but if you can’t provide water throughout the entire season once it’s established, it should be okay.
  5. The only fertilizer it needs is a yearly topping of compost. Keeping the ground mulched with a layer of the compost, grass clippings or straw is a way to keep the ground moist as well. Just keep any mulch away from the crown of the plant, which can encourage rot.
  6. To prepare your plant for winter, after the first hard frost, cut back any remaining stalks and dress with a light 2 inch layer of compost, leaves, or hay to protect the roots through the winter.
  7. Do not harvest the stalks at all the first year after planting to allow the plant time to grow with it’s full energy (although if it looks really healthy, it probably wouldn’t hurt to harvest 2 or 3 stalks to make some muffins with!).
  8. The only other thing to remember is to remove any flowering stalks that may appear (some varieties form more of these than others), as they take away the plant’s energy we want to go to root and stalk formation.
  9. Established clumps should be trimmed or divided every 4 to 5 years – when the stalks get small and spindly or when the crown is visibly crowded. This will help the plant keep growing nice thick stems. You can dig around the edges and trim the crown down to 4 or 5 buds or you can dig most of the plant up and gift somebody with a rhubarb plant.

I’m including a picture of my other rhubarb plant to illustrate what was mentioned in #1 above – rhubarb grown in more shady conditions will have thinner stalks and the plant and leaves won’t be as large. If at all possible, move to a sunnier spot unless the shade is allowing your plant to grow in warmer climates.

Although rhubarb isn’t known for growing well in the hotter southern United States, providing shade and water (and choosing the greener variety) may allow you to grow it successfully – the top growth will probably die back at temperatures consistently above 90 degrees, causing the plant to appear dormant, but as temperatures lower in later summer the leaves should start to grow again then or the next spring.

If all you can grow is rhubarb with thinner stalks, I’d vote for growing them! If you live in an area where rhubarb isn’t sold that you know of, the easiest way to make sure you can have some each season is to find a way to grow it.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

  • To harvest individual stalks: the easiest way to gather the stalks is to pull up from the base of the plant, twisting slightly as you pull. Most will come out pretty quickly this way, but if some don’t, you can use a knife to cut a stalk off at the base, you just have to be careful not to cut anything you don’t plan on harvesting – which is why I prefer the pull-and-twist method. Cut off the leaves and compost them.
  • When & how much to harvest: I’ve read various, sometimes conflicting, methods for when and how much to harvest your rhubarb – from only picking 1/3 of the plant during a season to cutting all the stems at once for a one-time harvest, and only spring harvesting to an all-season harvest. I aim for the middle, harvesting only the fattest stalks for about a two-month period, or until most of the new stalks are really looking thin. Every once in awhile, some stalks will look good again in the fall and I’ll harvest a few, but my main harvest is in the spring.
  • To Freeze: trim and slice and pack raw into freezer bags, removing as much air as possible (I use the straw trick). You can blanch the rhubarb first, but I don’t (are you surprised after this and this?) and it seems to come out the same for me – either way it’s a much softer end-product, but still works fine for sauces or making jam or other canned items and sometimes even muffins if the slices are diced and added still slightly frozen.

Rhubarb Guide Recipes

Preserving Recipes

Honey Lemon Rhubarb Butter

Spicy Rhubarb Chutney

Easy Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

(Small Batch) Honey Rhubarb-Ginger Jam

Cooking & Baking Recipes

Glazed Orange Rhubarb Muffins

Rhubarb Chutney Salad Dressing

Rhubarb-Honey Crumb Bars

Sources: Organic Gardening, Wikipedia & The Rhubarb Compendium

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Answers to Frequently Asked Rhubarb Questions

Rhubarb is one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. While easy to grow, questions invariably arise. Answers to several frequently asked questions are provided below.

Q. Is rhubarb safe to eat after the plants have been exposed to freezing temperatures?

A. Rhubarb can tolerate springtime temperatures in the upper twenties and low thirties. Gardeners should examine their rhubarb and base their decision on plant appearance. Cold damaged rhubarb leaves will shrivel and turn black. Damaged stalks become soft and mushy. Damaged rhubarb stalks should be pulled and discarded. Any new growth, which emerges later in spring, should be safe to eat. Rhubarb plants showing no sign of damage are fine and can be harvested.

Q. When can I start harvesting my newly planted rhubarb?

A. After planting rhubarb, it’s usually best to wait 2 years (growing seasons) before harvesting any stalks. The two-year establishment period allows the plants to become strong and productive.

Rhubarb can be harvested over a 4-week period in the third year. In the fourth and succeeding years, stalks can be harvested for 8 to 10 weeks.

Q. Can I harvest rhubarb in August?

A. Gardeners should stop harvesting well-established rhubarb plants by mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months weakens the rhubarb plants and reduces the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks do become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous.

Q. When can I transplant rhubarb?

A. Rhubarb can be transplanted in early spring or early fall (mid-September through early October). Rhubarb does best in fertile, well-drained soils and full sun. The best time to transplant rhubarb is in early spring before growth begins. Carefully dig up the plant with a spade. Large plants may be divided into several sections. Each section should have 2 or 3 buds and a portion of the root system. Transplant each section into the garden with the buds 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Space plants 3 feet apart. Rhubarb also can be successfully transplanted in early fall. Fall planted rhubarb should be mulched with several inches of straw. The mulch provides additional time for the rhubarb plants to get reestablished before the ground freezes.

Q. Why is my rhubarb flowering?

A. Drought, infertile soils, and extreme drought may cause a flower stalk formation. Age may be another factor. Old plants tend to flower more than young ones.

Regardless of the reason, flower stalks should be promptly pulled and discarded. Plants will be less productive if allowed to flower and set seeds.

Flower formation can be discouraged with good cultural practices. Water rhubarb plants once a week during dry weather. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around each plant in early spring. Placement of 2 to 3 inches of well-rotted manure around the plants in early spring is an alternative to a commercial fertilizer.

This article originally appeared in the 5/14/2004 issue.

Harvesting Rhubarb

This is where patience, mentioned in the title, comes in. You’ll need it if you want to grow rhubarb, because, unless you’ve managed to purchase a full-grown rhubarb plant, you won’t have any harvest the first year from the divisions usually sown and likely not more than a leaf or two the second. It’s really only when the plant is well-established and growing bountifully that you begin harvesting, and that is usually in year three.

Rhubarb harvesting is easy enough: twist a stalk free, then cut off the leaf blade and put it in the compost. Source: hunterbackyardveggiegrowers.com

From then on, though, you can harvest up to two thirds of the stalks each spring, leaving the smaller ones so the plant can replenish itself. Traditionally, you harvest rhubarb in the spring, when leaves reach their full length. It is better to pull each leaf free with a twisting motion, because by cutting with a knife you risk transmitting diseases.

Of course, that’s the age-old way, but you can in fact harvest rhubarb right through the summer and into fall if you didn’t do it in the spring. That’s how market gardeners manage to supply rhubarb stalks off-season. And in late fall, even if you did do a thorough spring harvest, all those leaves that the plant no longer needs and will soon be turning brown still have edible petioles and that’s kind of a waste, so I suggest combining fall cleanup with a second harvest in September (Northern Hemisphere), while the leaves are still green. True enough, the second harvest may be a bit tougher and bitterer (and require more sugar) if the summer was hot and dry, but will still be very tasty after a cooler, fairly rainy summer.

Forcing Rhubarb

Rhubarb can be blanched by covering it in the spring, here with a traditional rhubarb forcing pot of terra cotta. Source: www.sciencesource.com

In some countries, rhubarb is traditionally blanched, that is, forced under cover so it grows with no light. This gives a slightly earlier harvest of pale growth that is sweeter than regular rhubarb. You simply have to cover the plants with an opaque container early in the spring. In fact, there are even rhubarb forcing pots, traditionally made of terra cotta, you can buy. Put them in place at the end of winter and leave the containers in place for about 6 to 8 weeks, until the leaves, still pale and yellow, start to expand inside, then harvest away!

Growing for weeks without light can be hard on the plant and usually rhubarb plants thus treated are given a year off with no forcing so they can recuperate. Even so, forcing rhubarb is in decline. I suspect gardeners are tired of going through all the extra work … and expense (terra cotta forcing pots are not cheap!)

You can also force rhubarb for a midwinter harvest by potting it up in the fall and growing it under cover. This technique is usually used by market gardeners who want to produce extra-early rhubarb for customers willing to pay a premium for the first rhubarb of spring, but the home gardener can do it too. If so, pot up a mature plant in the fall, but don’t bring it indoors right away: allow it to undergo at least a few degrees of frost outdoors. Then store the pot cool and dark, in a garage or root cellar for example, for at least two months, keeping the soil at least slightly moist at all times. Then expose it to gentle heat (about 15 ° C) and up the leaves will come. The stalks will be ready to harvest in about a month.

How Poisonous Is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb: the stalk is edible and the leaf blade is poisonous… maybe! Source: www.cookinglight.com

Most gardeners know that you should only eat the stalk of a rhubarb leaf, never the blade, because it’s poisonous. But how poisonous is it really?

In fact, very little is known about the subject. The truth is toxicologists don’t even know what causes the toxicity!

It used to be said that the problem was oxalic acid … and indeed, a lot of sources still make that claim. While in low doses, as in rhubarb stalks, oxalic acid gives the crop a delicious acidulous taste, it becomes toxic when in too great a concentration. (As the saying goes, the poison is in the dose!) However, although rhubarb leaf blades are about twice as rich in oxalic acid as their stalks, they’re still not as rich in oxalic acid as other plants we regularly eat, like spinach or chives. You would need to eat many pounds of rhubarb leaf blades to suffer from oxalic acid poisoning!

There have been very few cases of poisoning due to eating rhubarb leaf blades (I could only find mentions of two) and neither was truly unambiguous. They might have been caused by something else. Some toxicologists suggest that the true cause of rhubarb leaf poisoning, if indeed it exists, might be due to the anthraquinone glycosides it contains. But no one really knows and toxicologists simply don’t go around feeding people potentially poisonous leaves to find out!

As a result, the cause of rhubarb leaf-blade toxicity and even its degree of toxicity remain essentially a mystery. The truth may one day come out, but in the meantime, I say don’t take a chance: eat only the leaf stalks!

You Can Compost Rhubarb Leaves!

One thing is certain: there is no need to worry about putting rhubarb leaf blades into the compost bin, despite the popular belief that because they are poisonous, they’ll harm the compost’s beneficial organisms. In fact, microbes are able to break down almost any natural toxin and besides, seem to absolutely adore rhubarb leaves, which they digest very quickly. You can even add rhubarb leaves to a compost pile that’s maturing a bit slowly in order to give it a boost!

Do Rhubarb Leaves Make a Good Insecticide?

Rhubarb spray is a popular homemade insecticide, but it’s actual usefulness has yet to be confirmed. Source: www.canva.com & crazyforcrafts.wordpress.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Decoctions of rhubarb leaves are a popular homemade insecticide. They’re made by boiling the leaves in water, then pouring the cooled and strained solution into a spray bottle along with a little insecticidal soap for better adhesion. Then you spray it onto insect-infested plants. It’s said to be especially effective against aphids.

Is rhubarb spray effective? Some people claim so, others have less success with it. I don’t think anyone has ever done a bonafide study, one that would, of course, include a control group, to check it out. If the idea of a homemade insecticide pleases you, try it and see.

I use a similar treatment in my garden. I dilute insecticidal soap in water, but skip the the rhubarb leaf decoction, and that works very well!

Varieties

For an atypical vegetable, you’ll find a surprisingly large number rhubarb cultivars, most available only from seed. I have no particular recommendations. Ideally, you’d visit a farmer’s market where you can do a taste test, then choose your favorite.

‘Canada Red’ is one of the most popular varieties. Source: www.westcoastseeds.com

In the past, green-stalked varieties, like ‘Riverside Giant’ or ‘Turkish’, were the most popular, but these days, rhubarb with red stalks, such as ‘Canada Red’, ‘Valentine’ or ‘Macdonald’ have definitely taken over the market. The popular variety ‘Victoria’ is sort of half and half: red at the base, green at the top.

Enjoy growing this charming, easy-to-grow plant and savor your first stewed rhubarb … in about 3 years’ time!

All About Rhubarb

Rhubarb Preparation | Rhubarb Cooking | Freezing Rhubarb | Tips

Rhubarb

A perennial plant that has celery like stalks that are greenish pink to dark red in color. Rhubarb is a vegetable but is generally prepared and served in the same manner as a fruit. It is most often cooked and sweetened with sugar. It is called the “pie plant” because one of its most popular uses is as pie filling. The rhubarb stalk can be eaten raw but its tart flavor deters people from eating it in that manner. The leaves of the rhubarb should not be consumed because they contain oxalic acid, which makes them toxic. There are two types of rhubarb available. Hothouse rhubarb has yellow leaves and pink to light red colored stalks that are milder in taste and not as stringy. Field-grown rhubarb has green leaves and deeper red stalks that have a more intense flavor.

Uses:

Rhubarb can be eaten raw with a little sugar sprinkled over it but it is generally cooked with other ingredients to produce a fruit dish of some type. Rhubarb can be used nicely to enhance the flavor of other fruits, such as pairing it with strawberries in baked sauces or beverages. It makes a delicious pie filling and is also used to make sauce in the same manner as applesauce. Rhubarb can also be used to make jellies, jams, cakes, muffins, and other desserts. It can also be used in savory dishes and is good as a sauce to serve with meats and fish.

How to Buy:

Rhubarb stalks vary from red to pink and they may also appear speckled or green. This color variation has little or no impact on the ripeness of the rhubarb. When selecting, choose stalks that are fresh looking, crisp and blemish free. Mature stalks will range from 1 to 2 inches in diameter but the smaller diameter stalks are younger and generally tenderer. If the stalks have the leaves still on them, look for smaller leaves, which is also an indication of a younger stalk. Avoid limp stalks and stalks with split ends, which are indications that the rhubarb is not fresh or that it has not been stored properly. Rhubarb is also available canned and frozen.

At Their Best:

Field-grown rhubarb’s peak season is April and May and it is available through the early summer. Hot-house rhubarb is generally available January through June.

Storage:

Before storing, remove any leaves from the rhubarb stalks and discard. Rhubarb stalks can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, unwashed and sealed in an air tight plastic bag or tightly wrapped in plastic. It is best to store fresh rhubarb in whole stalks because cut or diced pieces will dry out more quickly. Trim just before using. Rhubarb can be frozen for future use by cutting the stalks into 1-inch lengths and packaging in airtight bags or by stewing first and then freezing. Rhubarb does not need to be sweetened before it is frozen.

Varieties:

Field-Grown Rhubarb

Field-grown rhubarb is grown outdoors and has a more intense flavor and a coarser texture. It generally has darker red stalks with green leaves but there are varieties with green stalks tinted with pink. The green variety produces more rhubarb when harvested than the red variety.

Hothouse-grown Rhubarb

Hothouse-grown rhubarb is grown in a greenhouse and is more tender, with a milder flavor. It is also slightly sweeter than field-grown rhubarb. Hothouse-grown rhubarb has pink colored stalks with yellow leaves.

Rhubarb Preparation

Trim off leaf ends and roots using a sharp knife and discard. Be sure to discard the leaves, which contain toxic levels of oxalic acid.

If the more mature stalks are wider than 1 inch, slice lengthwise in half or thirds.

Check stalks for blemished areas and trim off before using.

When preparing field-grown rhubarb the stems may be too fibrous and will need to have the strings pulled off. At one end of the stalk, cut just under the skin.

Pull the piece down the stalk to remove the strings. Continue until all of the strings are removed. When preparing hothouse-grown rhubarb the stems are tender and should not be stringy.

Wash stalks and slice them into 3/4 inch to 1 inch pieces when preparing for stewing or making sauce. Pies and other recipes may call for the pieces to be cut to a smaller size, such as 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Tip:

Refresh rhubarb stalks by standing them in a pitcher that has been filled partially with cold water. Allow them to stand for a minimum of 1 hour.

Rhubarb Cooking

Stewed Rhubarb | Baked Baked | Rhubarb Jam

Rhubarb can be eaten raw but because of its tartness, it is generally cooked and sweetened first. It can be sweetened with sugar, honey, syrup, or berry preserves. When cooking rhubarb do not use aluminum, iron or copper pans. Rhubarb has high acidity and will react with these types of metals. The reaction will cause the rhubarb to turn a brownish color and can cause the pan to discolor. It is best to use anodized aluminum, non-stick coated aluminum, or enameled cast iron pans. If the rhubarb is being baked, glass bakeware can be used also.

Stewed Rhubarb

Because rhubarb varies in sweetness, it is hard to determine how much sugar is needed. The rhubarb will also sweeten as it cooks. Start out with a small amount of sugar. Once the rhubarb has cooked, more sugar can be added if necessary.

Clean 1 pound of rhubarb and cut into 3/4 to 1 inch pieces. This should produce approximately 3 cups of rhubarb.

Combine 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved.

Add the rhubarb and bring sauce back to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until rhubarb is crisp-tender, approximately 10 minutes.

Taste to see if sauce is the desired sweetness. If it requires additional sugar, add 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and bring sauce back to a boil to be sure sugar dissolves.

Remove from the heat when sauce is at desired sweetness. Serve as a sauce warm or cold. The sauce can be eaten on its own or it can be served as a topping on other food, such as cake, ice cream, pancakes, and waffles.

Baked Rhubarb

Spread 2 pounds of rhubarb, cut into 3/4 to 1 inch pieces, on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Add 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Mix ginger and nutmeg into the sugar until evenly distributed.

Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the rhubarb.

Drizzle with 1/2 cup of orange juice. Pineapple juice can also be used.

Cover baking dish with foil. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350°F oven. Remove rhubarb from the oven and stir mixture. Put back in the oven and bake uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or until rhubarb is tender.

Remove from the oven and serve as a warm sauce on its own or as an accompaniment to other foods, such as meats and fish.

Rubarb Jam

Clean enough rhubarb to produce 5 cups cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Place rhubarb in a large bowl and add 3 cups of sugar.

Stir until the sugar is distributed evenly throughout the rhubarb.

Allow rhubarb to stand for 3 to 5 hours. Stir occasionally.

After the rhubarb and sugar have been allowed to stand for the appropriate amount of time, place them in a large saucepan.

Cook rhubarb to a boil over medium to medium high heat. Once the rhubarb comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and allow to boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and add one 3 ounce package of strawberry gelatin. Stir until gelatin has dissolved.

Make sure canning jars are clean and ready to fill before jam is done. The lids should be placed in a small sauce pan with enough water to cover them and brought to a simmer. Leave lids in hot water until placing on jars. Spoon or pour hot jam into pint canning jars.

Be sure the top edge of the jar is clean and then seal with canning lids and covers. Screw cover on firmly but do not over tighten. Allow jam to cool completely.

Rhubarb jam is great on bread, biscuits, crackers, toast, French toast, pancakes, and waffles.

Freezing Rhubarb

Rhubarb can be frozen so it can be stored for a longer period of time. Rhubarb can be frozen as whole stalks but it is easier to store if it is first cut into pieces and packaged in a freezer container. It can also be made into sauce and then frozen. Frozen rhubarb can be used for making jams and sauces, and it can also be used in pies and desserts.

There are several methods that can be used for freezing rhubarb. Determining which method to use will depend on end use and personal preference. All methods are fairly simple. Before using any of the methods, there are some tips listed below that may help produce a better quality frozen product.

  • Be sure to use only fresh, good quality rhubarb. They should be fresh looking, crisp and blemish free. If the stalks are fibrous, be sure to remove the stringy fibers.
  • Clean the rhubarb thoroughly and cut into the size pieces you desire for the end product.
  • Be sure to use airtight freezer safe containers. If using freezer bags, be sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing.
  • Allow enough headspace in the freezing containers or bags before sealing to allow for expansion when the rhubarb freezes. Allow approximately 1/2 inch for pint size containers and 3/4 to 1 inch for quart size containers.
  • Place the rhubarb in the coldest part of the freezer so that they will freeze as quickly as possible. Store for up to 9 months.

Selecting a Freezer Container

Before starting the freezing process you should consider what type of freezer container will be best for the method you are using. The container must be freezer proof so that it will not crack or break when the content freezes. It must also have an airtight seal to prevent moisture loss and leakage, and to keep rhubarb from absorbing unwanted odors. When freezing rhubarb, there are two types of packaging that can be used, rigid containers or sealable bags.

Rigid Containers – Rigid containers are probably best used for freezing rhubarb when there is a fair amount of liquid added, such as water, juice or syrup, or for freezing sauce. Freezer-safe plastic containers with tight fitting lids or waxed cardboard cartons, such as milk cartons, work well. Be sure the waxed cartons are sealed tightly.

Square or rectangular shaped rigid containers are better than round for using freezer space efficiently. Using the same size and shape containers will also help use freezer space more efficiently. Be sure to leave the proper amount of headspace to allow for the contents to expand when it freezes but do not leave to much empty space in the container because it will expose the contents to too much air.

Sealable Freezer Bags – Sealable bags work well for rhubarb where there is minimal liquid involved. The flexibility of the bag makes it more difficult to fill without spilling when the rhubarb being frozen contains a lot of liquid.

Be sure the plastic bags are sealed completely and that all the air has been pressed out. Place freezer bags of rhubarb flat on a solid surface to freeze, such as a baking sheet. Do not place in freezer baskets while they are first freezing because they will form around the wire and be hard to get out or the bag may get punctured as it expands while freezing. Once the packages have completely frozen, they can be taken off the baking sheet and stacked neatly in one of the baskets.

Either type of freezer containers can be used for any of the freezing methods but some will be more suitable than others for different methods.

Blanching Rhubarb Before Freezing

Before freezing the rhubarb, it can be blanched to help preserve its color and flavor but the rhubarb can be frozen without blanching also. Blanching of the rhubarb is shown below.

Clean rhubarb, pull any fibrous strings from the stalks, and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces.

Add rhubarb to boiling water and allow to boil for 1 minute.

Remove from boiling water and plunge immediately into ice water to stop the cooking process.

Remove from ice water and spread rhubarb out on paper towels to drain well.

Freezing Methods

Some common methods for freezing rhubarb are dry pack – individual tray freezing, dry pack – unsweetened, and syrup packed. Each method is described below.

Dry Pack – Individual Tray Freezing

Clean rhubarb, pull any fibrous strings from the stalks, and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces.

If desired, blanch rhubarb as shown above. Spread raw or blanched rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place baking sheet in the freezer.

The rhubarb should freeze within 2 hours. When the rhubarb has frozen solid, remove it from the baking sheet and place in an airtight freezer container or freezer bag. Fill the bag, leaving the appropriate headspace.

Leave at least 1/2 inch headspace when packaging and be sure to remove excess air from bags before sealing.

Be sure to mark the container or bag with contents, quantity and date. Return the bagged rhubarb to the freezer as soon as possible.

Since the rhubarb was frozen individually before placed in the bag, it will be easy to remove just the amount needed from the bag and return the remainder to the freezer to use at a later date.

Dry Pack

Clean rhubarb, pull any fibrous strings from the stalks, and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. If desired, blanch rhubarb as shown above.

Pack blanched or raw rhubarb in freezer container or bag, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. If you are freezing the rhubarb to be used in specific quantities, fill each container with a premeasured amount.

If using bags, be sure to remove excess air in bags before sealing.

Mark the container or bag with contents, quantity and date.

Place the rhubarb in the coldest part of the freezer.

Note: The rhubarb can also be sweetened before it is dry packed if desired. Before placing the rhubarb in the freezer container, mix 4 cups of rhubarb with 1 cup of sugar and stir until sugar is well distributed. Then follow the directions as shown above for dry packing without sweetening.

Syrup Packed

Syrup should be chilled before using so it is a good idea to prepare the syrup the day ahead of freezing the rhubarb. Refrigerate overnight.

Combine 3 cups of sugar with 4 cups of water in a saucepan. For lighter syrup use only 2 cups of sugar.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.

Clean rhubarb, pull any fibrous strings from the stalks, and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Place in the freezer containers or bags. Because syrup that is going to be added, a container would be a better choice for this method.

Add syrup so that it covers the rhubarb. It should take 1/2 cup or less of syrup if working with pints and 2/3 to 1 cup for quarts.

Leave 1/2 inch headspace for pints and 1 inch for quarts.

Make sure the freezer container is sealed tightly along all edges to prevent leakage of syrup and to prevent the rhubarb from being exposed to excess air.

Mark the container or bag with contents, quantity and date. Place the rhubarb in the coldest part of the freezer.

Rhubarb Tips

  • One pound of rhubarb will equal approximately 3 cups of chopped and 2 cups cooked. A 12 oz. package of frozen rhubarb equal approximately 1 1/2 cups.
  • Rhubarb can be substituted in most recipes that call for cranberries.
  • Combining rhubarb with sweet fruit, such as apples, oranges or strawberries, will help reduce the amount of sugar needed to sweeten the rhubarb.
  • Rhubarb can also be sweetened with honey, corn syrup or maple syrup.

Thinking about a Rhubarb Garden? 

Pictures of My Rhubarb Patch
During the Rhubarb Growing Season

Thinking of starting a Rhubarb Garden?

Here, (scroll down), are pictures of my rhubarb plants during the growing season from early Spring to the first harvest.

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*FTC Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying
purchases with no extra cost to you

My rhubarb patch consists of mostly the Victoria variety of rhubarb as well as a few plants of other varieties.

Rhubarb is so easy to grow, in fact I believe it is the easiest vegetable to grow !

Since rhubarb is a perennial, the rhubarb plants come up year after year, and require very little maintenance.

Rhubarb is harvested two to three times a season and gives a very large yield that can be used fresh, and the excess rhubarb can very easily be frozen or canned.

In addition to being the easiest vegetable to grow, I believe that rhubarb is also the most versatile vegetable to grow.

My Rhubarb Garden 🙂

There are also recipes for including rhubarb in dinner menus to accompany beef, pork, lamb, chicken and fish.

Take a look at the navigation bars to the left of this page (or scroll down for mobile view), and I am sure you will be amazed at all the possibilities rhubarb recipes have to offer!

Below are rhubarb plants available for online purchase at *Amazon.com.

Click on the images below for more detailed product information and customer reviews.

So, if you are, up until now, not sure if YOU should grow rhubarb, let me assure you, that I believe you would be very happy with your decision!

Growing Rhubarb is FUN, EASY and FRUGAL!

You won’t be disappointed!

GO to How to Grow Rhubarb

Here are Pictures of My Rhubarb Garden
During Growing Season

Rhubarb peeking out of the Earth in Early Spring

This picture (above) is of my rhubarb patch in early Spring.

You can see the rhubarb starting to “peek” out from the ground.

In this picture (above) you can see that the rhubarb plants are growing nicely in Spring.

Healthy Growing Rhubarb Plants

The rhubarb plants are close to being ready for harvesting.

Rhubarb Plants are Ready to Harvest!

It is now mid-May and the rhubarb is ready to be harvested/picked.

Note that there are some stalks and leaves that are just emerging.

The very young stalks will be picked after they have matured – at the time of the next harvest.

Not all the leaves and stalks need to be harvested at once, I usually pick the rhubarb patch two or three times a year.

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Rhubarb Flowers: What To Do When Rhubarb Goes To Seed

For those who have experienced the joy of a fresh rhubarb and strawberry pie, growing rhubarb in the garden seems like a no brainer. Many people are familiar with the large green and red leaves on a rhubarb, but when the plant produces a rhubarb flower, this can give a gardener pause. The first question is ,”Why is my rhubarb flowering?” and the next question is “Should I let my rhubarb flower?”

What Causes Flowering Rhubarb?

When a rhubarb flowers, this is called bolting or going to seed. When rhubarb goes to seed, this is perfectly normal. The rhubarb plant is doing what plants are supposed to do and that is to reproduce, but there are some factors that can influence how often you get a flowering rhubarb.

  • Variety – Some varieties of rhubarb flower more than others. Heirloom varieties tend to flower more than modern cultivars. Victoria rhubarb, MacDonald rhubarb and Red Crimson rhubarb are some examples of rhubarb varieties that will flower more often.
  • Maturity – Plants need to reach a certain maturity in order to reproduce through seed. For a rhubarb plant, that maturity comes a few years after it is planted. The older a rhubarb plant is, the more the rhubarb goes to seed.
  • Heat – Rhubarb plants grow best in cooler temperatures. If you have an unusually warm spring, this can cause a rhubarb to start flowering.
  • Stress – Stress can also force a rhubarb to flower. Stress can come in the form of a lack of water, pests, lack of nutrients or animal damage. Anything that makes the plant feel threatened can cause it to start flowering.

How to Keep Rhubarb from Going to Seed

In order to keep rhubarb from bolting, you need to decide why it is flowering.

If it is flowering due to variety, you can consider getting a more modern variety that has been bred to flower less often. But, keep in mind that flowering rhubarb is really more of an annoyance and does not ruin the plant.

If you have an established rhubarb clump that is several years old, you can consider dividing the clump. This essentially turns back the clock on the plant’s maturity and will help reduce rhubarb flowering.

If you are expecting a warm spell, consider mulching around the plant to help keep the roots cool.

Also, make sure that your rhubarb is as stress free as possible. Watering during dry spells, regular fertilizing and keeping an eye out for and quickly treating pests and disease will greatly reduce the amount of flowering.

Should I Let My Rhubarb Flower?

There is no harm in letting your rhubarb flower, but keep in mind that energy the rhubarb plant puts towards making a flower and growing seeds is energy that will not being directed towards growing leaves. Since rhubarb is grown for the stems, most gardeners choose to remove the flowers as soon as they appear so the plant can focus its energy on leaf growth. Rhubarb flowers can simply be cut from the plant as soon as you see it appear.

If your rhubarb produces a flower, this does not affect the stems and leaves. The stems can still be used in cooking (though the leaves are still poisonous).

A flowering rhubarb can cause a bit of alarm for a gardener, but now that you know more about why rhubarbs bolt and how to prevent or fix it when it happens, there’s nothing to worry about. You can still enjoy the wonderful taste of rhubarb grown fresh in your garden.

 Harvesting Rhubarb When and How To Harvest (Pick) Rhubarb Stalks

Harvesting, or picking rhubarb is a very simple process.

Rhubarb is harvested by hand, and ONLY the stalks are edible.

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purchases with no extra cost to you

Here are Helpful Tips for Harvesting Rhubarb from your Garden:

In Canada and the United States, the rhubarb season runs from about April to September, although it can also be grown forced.

Rhubarb stalks are approximately 10 – 15 inches long when ready to harvest. The length and the thickness of the stalks varies according to weather conditions and the variety of the rhubarb.

Rhubarb stalks should not be picked during the first year of planting. It is best not to pick these stalks to allow the leaves to nourish the roots for the next year’s growth.

However, if the plant is growing very vigorously the first year, it is okay to pick it “lightly”, but wait until the second, (and subsequent years), to harvest the entire plant.

In Northern U.S. and Canada rhubarb can be harvested about every 4 to 5 weeks, or about 3 times a season. Lack of water, intense heat, and frost are the parts of the season which end, or at least will affect the harvest.

Rhubarb plant Stalks should be firm, when harvested. If they are harvested too late, they become tough.

Stalks should be free of insect damage and disease.

If the leaves are spotted, or have hole in them, or the edges are “eaten” by insects or slugs, that will not affect the stalks, and, since the leaves are discarded, you can use these stalks without any concerns.

When harvesting rhubarb, almost all of the rhubarb stalks may be harvested at one time, or you can harvest selectively over the growing season period.

It is recommended to leave about one-third of the developed stalks when harvesting the entire plant. However, when you make the last rhubarb harvest of the season, remove all of the leaves, to avoid rotting leaves affecting the crown.

See Also: Picture Images of the Best Way to Harvest a Large Rhubarb Patch – Quickly and Efficiently

Rhubarb is not cut out, but rather pulled out. “Open” up the rhubarb plant and wedge your index finger way down inside the stalk, encircle it with your hand, and pull slowly but firmly while twisting the stalk at the “base”, (also referred to as the “crown” or the “rhizome”).

Cut off most of the leaf, leaving about 2 – 3 inches, (this is called a “crowfoot”). Leaving a little bit of the leaf will help to keep moisture in the stalk, so it will stay fresh and crisp longer. This is especially important if you plan to store the rhubarb in your fridge for several days.

If you are planning on freezing or canning your rhubarb, you can chop off the entire leaf of each stalk. The easiest way to chop off the leaves is with a sharp knife striking the leaf diagonally with a quick flick of the wrist.

Do you, or can you, eat rhubarb RAW?
Personally, I don’t like it, however, it appears that many people do!

GO to Can you Eat Rhubarb Raw?

The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, so it is important that, when harvesting rhubarb, you discard the leaves appropriately. Or, better still, make homemade, natural organic pesticide using the leaves! Talk about frugal gardening!

GO to Organic Pesticide and Herbicide Recipes to Make at Home

When harvesting rhubarb for market or commercial use, it is advisable to wear gloves when handling the stalks. This is due to the fact that the oil from your fingers may make purple bruise-like marks on the stalks wherever it is touched. But … this is not a concern for the home gardener!

When harvesting rhubarb, remember that the colour of the rhubarb does not determine when it is ready for harvest. It is the variety of the rhubarb which determines the colour of the stalks. The red or green colour does not affect the flavour, although people prefer the redder varieties.

After harvesting rhubarb it can be wrapped, and kept in your refrigerator for several days, or stored by freezing or canning.

After harvesting my rhubarb, I like to use as much fresh rhubarb as I need for baking or cooking for the week. I like to freeze the rest of the rhubarb … because it’s so very easy!

Freezing rhubarb is a very simple process. I always have a lot of rhubarb in the freezer for making all sorts of delicious baked and cooked recipes all winter long.

If your rhubarb plants have been hit by freezing temperatures they can still be harvested as long as the stalks are still upright and firm. The leaves may show some frost damage, but since they are discarded, this is not a worry.

If the plants have been affected by freezing temperatures and the stems appear to be mushy and soft, do not eat them. Severe cold injury may cause the oxalic acid crystals in the leaves to migrate to the stalks increasing the concern of poisoning by consumption of the stalks. If in doubt about the safety of eating stalks which have been hit by frost, do not eat them.

Fresh or preserved rhubarb makes the most delectable rhubarb pies, tarts, cookies, cakes, breads, muffins, desserts and so much more … it really is the most versatile food to grow!

It can even be baked or stewed, and also makes amazing dinner or supper menus! Use rhubarb with pork, beef chicken, fish or lamb to make scrumptious dinner meals too!

Use the navigation bars of this website for links to over 250 amazing recipes to make with your harvested rhubarb!

It is fun combining rhubarb with different fruits, combining the tart goodness of rhubarb with the sweetness of other fruits! A very common combination is rhubarb and strawberries.

Growing rhubarb takes VERY little effort, and harvesting rhubarb always produces an abundant reward!

Below (or use the navigation bars at the left hand column) are links to additional pages with helpful information about growing rhubarb in the home garden.

GROWING Rhubarb

FORCING Rhubarb

Rhubarb PLANT CARE

Rhubarb VARIETIES

ORNAMENTAL Rhubarb

PLANTING Rhubarb

TRANSPLANTING Rhubarb

Rhubarb COMPANION Gardening

More COMPANION Plant Ideas

Rhubarb SEEDS

Rhubarb FLOWERS

Rhubarb LEAVES

Rhubarb PESTS

Rhubarb DISEASES

ORGANIC Rhubarb

LINKS RELATED TO RHUBARB GARDENING

NATURAL PESTICIDE RECIPES and Information

EASIEST Vegetable to GROW

WEED CONTROL Tips

WHERE to Grow Rhubarb

How to GET RID OF SLUGS

CONTAINER GARDENING – Can Rhubarb be Grown in Containers/Pots?

Yorkshire FORCED RHUBARB

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