ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GROWING RHUBARB
There’s so many ways to prepare rhubarb (basically, you have not lived if you have never tried a warm, fragrant home-made rhubarb pie) yet despite its good qualities and nuanced flavor, not too many people actually come to the point where they decide to grow it. It might be some strange misconception circulating around the topic of rhubarb planting but actually you will see that, apart from the planting process, there is nothing much else you are supposed to do.
Rhubarbs become dormant during cold or very hot weather plus they are not needy at all which means that you will be able to sleep tight knowing that your rhubarbs are self-sufficiently producing those delicious, juicy stems that can later be turned into great dessert or used as supplement to some other foods.
THE PROCESS OF PLANTING
Seeds. vs. crowns? Planting rhubarbs does not differ much from planting any other crop and, once you have made the decision to carry on with planting rhubarbs, you have only two options. First one is growing from the seed but keep in mind that in that case you will have to wait for significantly longer period of time until you will be able to harvest all the precious rhubarbs you have grown. Second option is to plant so called ‘crowns’ or ‘budded pieces’. Planting these does not require too much of a gardening skills or experience and it is not that easy to mess the whole process up. You will be able to manage it even if you’re still a novice in the world of gardening. If you go for the second option, the crop will be produced in the harvest season that follows after the planting. Now, after learning the difference between the two methods, it is not that hard to make a guess which one is more popular and more advisable to be picked. But as always, you can follow your personal preferences since you are the only ruler of your garden kingdom.
When to grow?
As soon as spring has arrived and ground is not hard anymore, you can start planting your rhubarbs. The best period to do this is between January and March. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to harvest any stems during the first growing year.
How to plant?
The planting process itself is not complicated at all. Simply tuck rhubarb plants into soil which is a bit acidic and contains organic matter and compost. You do not need to plant too deep, 4 inches will be perfectly fine. Keep the plants watered and make sure the soil is constantly moist during the entire growing season. Once the rhubarb flowers appear in the spring, you can cut those so that the plant would utilize more energy in making stems not flowering.
Where to plant?
Speaking of location, you should seek a partially shaded spot. In full sun, your rhubarbs will thrive but only in shade will they yield properly. Also keep in mind that rhubarbs will occupy quite a lot of space, so do not squeeze them in with some other important plants, give them plenty of space.
You should see first pink rhubarb stems appearing around April but they can be harvested only during the second year. Of course, it will be tough for you to resist and not to try the first of the stems but remember that only the second year crops are those delicious ones and you don’t run the risk of killing off the plant. The period of harvest is quite long – from April to June and it is easy to tell when the rhubarbs are ready. Basically there are two indicators that will tell you whether your rhubarbs are ready to be harvested or not, namely: leaves and stems. The leaves should be completely unfurled and the stems should have stretched in length to around 12″ but this depends on the variety so read the description first to know how long and thick, and in what sort of colour ready stems should be. When picking the rhubarb, it is easier if you pull it from the base of the stem and simply quickly twist it. But do not harvest all of your stems if you want the crown to stay fruitful through next seasons as well. Take no more than half of the ready rhubarb stems.
For propagating purposes you will have to dig up the crowns every 4 to 5 years as you will need to either trim them down or to divide to create more plants. Select those pieces where the buds are visible as these ones have a higher chance of being successfully propagated. You should be doing this in the period between November and March while the plant is still dormant. By doing everything correctly it should be possible to make up to 6 plants from one crown. Of course there is never a 100% chance that your buds will successfully grow but it definitely is a great achievement and pride for every gardener to manage to propagate your own rhubarb plants.
You might think that all the rhubarbs probably taste the same but upon trying different varieties you will surely notice the difference not only in the taste but also in relation to other qualities such as texture, structure, color, smell, sourness/sweetness etc. Here are some of the rhubarb varieties that one should surely grow in the U.K. when thinking of enriching your garden with some of this gorgeous vegetable:
Livingstone. Rhubarb variety which is usually sold as autumn-cropping rhubarb and it keeps producing new shoots in summer. Ready to be harvested from September.
Raspberry Red. This rhubarb variety can be harvested early in the season, without the need for forcing. Produces particularly thick and red stems.
Timperley Early. Regarded as the earliest maturing variety, suitable for forcing to provide tender pink sticks as early as February,
Giant Grooveless Crimson. This variety will produce tall, fully colored, bright red stems with less acidic flavor.
Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise. Produces vivid red stems with a well-balanced acidity.