How to Grow Rhubarb in Your Garden



In the diverse tapestry of the garden, rhubarb stands out as a stalwart favorite, its robust leafstalks heralding the arrival of spring with a zesty promise. This cool season, hardy perennial vegetable, celebrated for its tangy taste, is a culinary chameleon, effortlessly transforming from the star of a comforting pie to the zing in a refreshing sauce.

Yet, beneath the surface of its culinary versatility lies the heart of a gardener’s challenge: understanding and mastering the art of rhubarb cultivation. As gardeners, we know that a successful harvest begins with the fundamentals. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll peel back the layers of rhubarb’s mystique, walking you through the essential steps of planting, nurturing, and reaping the rewards of your own rhubarb patch.

Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb or a curious newcomer, let’s embark on this journey together, cultivating not just rhubarb, but also the knowledge and joy that come with growing this unique garden gem.

Understanding Rhubarb and Its Growing Conditions

Rhubarb, with its deep roots in history, has been grown for over two millennia, initially prized for its medicinal qualities. Today, it’s the culinary applications that have us eager to cultivate this perennial. To coax rhubarb to its lush splendor, understanding its preferred climate is key. Thriving best in zones where winters bring a blanket of frost, rhubarb requires a chilling period with temperatures consistently dipping below 40 degrees.

This cold snap is crucial for rhubarb to break dormancy and spur growth when warmth returns. Ohio’s climate offers a textbook example of ideal rhubarb conditions, with its cold winters and temperate summers providing a perfect balance for robust growth. The state’s gardeners enjoy the sight of rhubarb’s crimson stalks and large green leaves as a testament to the region’s suitability for this unique vegetable.

For those looking to join the ranks of successful rhubarb growers, aligning with the rhythms of nature’s thermostat is a fundamental step. Embracing the cold, it turns out, is the warmest invitation we can extend to rhubarb, prompting it to grace our gardens year after year.

Choosing the Right Rhubarb Variety

As you delve into the world of rhubarb cultivation, you’ll discover a cornucopia of varieties, each with its own personality and palate. The choice of variety is more than a mere preference; it’s a strategic decision that influences the flavor and texture of your harvest.

For those nestled within USDA hardiness zones 4-7, a bounty of cultivars awaits. MacDonald, with its deep red stalks and sweet notes, is a baker’s delight. Crimson Red, true to its name, offers a vibrant hue and a balance of tartness. Victoria, an heirloom variety, is less about the color and more about the subtle, green-hued flavors.

Canada Red and Valentine both boast a bold red color and a sweeter taste, while Cawood Delight is known for its slender, tender stalks. Glaskin’s Perpetual is unique in its ability to produce multiple harvests in a season. The diversity in sourness and fibrousness among these varieties is not just a matter of taste, but also a consideration for your culinary creations.

Whether you dream of tangy desserts or savory sauces, selecting the right rhubarb variety is akin to choosing the right ingredient for a masterpiece. It’s this thoughtful selection that will ensure your garden yields not just a crop, but a treasure trove of flavor nuances ready to enhance your cooking repertoire.

Preparing the Soil for Rhubarb

When it comes to growing rhubarb, the secret to success lies beneath your feet – in the soil, to be precise. Preparing a bed for your rhubarb plants isn’t just about digging a hole; it’s about creating a nurturing environment where these robust perennials can thrive for years to come.

Start by improving your native soil. how-to-care-for-lavender-plants-2Mix in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter to introduce vital nutrients and enhance the soil structure, ensuring your rhubarb has the best possible start in life. Rhubarb craves a fertile, well-drained foundation, and this careful soil preparation sets the stage for optimal growth.

A suitable planting site is just as crucial as the soil itself. Choose a spot that basks in the sun yet offers some respite from the afternoon heat. Once you’ve found the perfect location, enrich the soil further with a generous helping of compost and a sprinkle of bone meal to provide a slow-release source of phosphorus, promoting strong root development.

These initial steps in soil preparation are an investment in the future of your rhubarb plants, paving the way for lush growth and bountiful harvests. By giving your rhubarb the rich, well-tended soil it desires, you’re ensuring that each tangy stalk harvested from your garden is a testament to the care and attention you’ve sown.

Planting and Spacing Your Rhubarb

As the frost retreats and the soil begins to warm, it’s time to turn our attention to planting rhubarb, a garden favorite that demands a little patience and a lot of space. The cool days of early spring are rhubarb’s preferred debut on the gardening stage. It’s when the ground thaws that you should plant your rhubarb crowns, tucking them into the earth to let their roots take hold before the summer heat intensifies.

While rhubarb is a sociable plant, it’s not one for close quarters. Each crown needs room to spread its wings or, more accurately, its leaves. Planting them 4 to 6 feet apart ensures that each plant has enough room to grow to its full potential without competing for nutrients or sunlight. This spacing also allows for ample air circulation, which can help prevent disease.

Consider rhubarb’s long-term ambitions when you choose its spot in the garden; this is a plant that settles in for the long haul. By giving it the space it needs and planting it at the right time, you’re setting the stage for years of bountiful harvests. Remember, early spring planting is key, as it allows rhubarb the time to establish itself, ensuring that as the seasons turn, your garden will be graced with the bold reds and greens of thriving rhubarb plants.

Caring for Rhubarb Plants

Caring for rhubarb plants is a rewarding endeavor that ensures their vigor and productivity. As the mercury rises and the garden bathes in the warmth of the season, it’s time to mulch. A 2-inch layer of organic mulch applied around your rhubarb will keep the soil’s moisture consistent and ward off the advances of weeds, which can be particularly aggressive in the heat.

Despite rhubarb’s impressive size and its ability to outcompete many garden invaders for sunlight and nutrients, diligent mulching will give your plants the edge they need to maintain their dominance. During the growing season, be vigilant for the emergence of flower stems. These tall, sometimes dramatic spikes might seem like a beautiful addition, but they’re actually a drain on the plant’s resources.

By cutting off these flower stems, you redirect the plant’s energy back to the development of strong roots and robust leaf stalks, the parts we harvest. This simple act of pruning ensures that your rhubarb will continue to flourish, channeling all its power into producing the tart, flavorful stalks that are the hallmark of this perennial favorite.

Harvesting and Maintenance of Rhubarb

As the rhubarb plants unfurl their large leaves and the stalks beneath blush with a reddish hue, it’s a signal that the harvest season has arrived. When stems reach a length of 12 to 18 inches, they are ripe for picking. Gently twist and pull the stalks from the base to avoid damaging the crown.

Harvesting not only rewards you with the fruits of your labor but also encourages the plant to produce new growth. Remember, your rhubarb needs time to establish a strong foundation, so refrain from harvesting until the second season after planting crowns. If you started from seed, extend your patience to the third season to ensure robust growth.

To keep your rhubarb healthy and productive, divide or transplant the plants every 4 or 5 years. This rejuvenation process prevents overcrowding and stimulates new vigor in the plants, ensuring a continuous supply of succulent stalks for your culinary delights. With these simple maintenance steps, your rhubarb will remain a bountiful and beloved feature in your garden for years to come.

Winter Care and Dormancy

When the cold breath of winter whispers through the garden, it’s time to ensure your rhubarb plants are snug and secure for their seasonal slumber. As perennial plants, rhubarb requires a period of dormancy to rest and rejuvenate for the coming spring. This is the time when the above-ground portions die back, and the plant’s energy retreats to the roots.

For gardeners in colder climates, winter care may involve mulching the crown of the plant with a thick layer of straw or leaves to protect it from freeze-thaw cycles that can heave and damage the roots. However, for those in milder regions or for an extra layer of security, consider replanting your rhubarb in a large container.

This allows you to move the plant to a cool, dark area, such as an unheated garage or basement, where it can enjoy its winter rest undisturbed. In spring, as the ground thaws and the days lengthen, your rhubarb will be ready to burst forth with renewed vigor. With proper winter care, these hardy plants can yield harvests for 5 to 8 years or longer.

They are sun lovers at heart but can adapt to light shade, proving their resilience and versatility in the garden. By tending to your rhubarb’s winter needs, you’re not just preserving a plant; you’re nurturing a legacy of flavor and tradition that will return year after year.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Navigating the quirks of rhubarb cultivation can sometimes feel like a delicate dance with nature. One of the most common challenges is timing the harvest to capture the peak of flavor and texture. Ideally, harvest rhubarb in the spring when the temperature is on the cusp of reaching 80 degrees. This is when the stalks are at their most tender and flavorful.

However, be mindful to wrap up your harvesting endeavors by the end of June. Post-June stalks can accumulate higher levels of oxalic acid, which is not only bitter but can also pose health risks if consumed in large quantities. Rhubarb’s aversion to heat extends to its reproductive cycle. Allowing the plant to set seeds during the hot summer months can sap its strength and reduce the vigor of the stalks.

To prevent this, remove any seed stalks as soon as they appear. This redirects the plant’s energy back into producing those succulent stalks for next year’s harvest. By staying attuned to these challenges and adopting timely solutions, gardeners can ensure their rhubarb remains a robust and rewarding part of their garden.

Health Benefits and Culinary Uses

Rhubarb’s appeal extends beyond the garden and into the realm of health and culinary delight. This tart vegetable, often mistaken for a fruit, is a wellspring of benefits, aiding digestion and providing relief from constipation. It’s a natural choice for those seeking a healthy diet, but remember, only the stalks are meant for consumption; rhubarb leaves contain toxic substances and should never make their way into your recipes.

In the kitchen, rhubarb transforms into a variety of delectable dishes. The classic rhubarb crumble, with its sweet and crunchy topping, is a beloved treat that balances the sourness of the stalks. For a twist on tradition, the strawberry rhubarb variety, with its thinner and more tender stems, offers a sweeter experience, perfect for jams, pies, and compotes.

Whether you’re enjoying it raw, stewed, or baked into a dessert, rhubarb’s versatility is only matched by its healthful properties, making it a valuable addition to any meal. So, as you savor the tangy punch of rhubarb in your next dish, take a moment to appreciate the rich history and healthful benefits of this garden treasure.


Embarking on the journey of growing rhubarb in your garden is to embrace a tradition steeped in history, flavor, and health. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the intricacies of rhubarb cultivation, from selecting the right variety to mastering the harvest. The satisfaction of nurturing these hardy plants and the anticipation of their zesty bounty can now be yours.

With the knowledge and care we’ve shared, you have the tools to cultivate a thriving rhubarb patch that will grace your table for years to come. Rhubarb’s culinary versatility and its myriad health benefits underscore its value in any garden. Encouraged by the guidelines laid out, may you find joy in the earthy ritual of growing rhubarb and savor the sweet rewards of your labor.

Remember, each stalk harvested is not just a triumph of gardening but a celebration of nature’s gifts. Happy planting, and here’s to the wonderful world of rhubarb!