Rhubarb

Red rhubarb stalks and leaves

Although grown as a vegetable, Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum) is mainly used as a fruit. Very easy to grow and a staple of most vegetable plots. Only the stalk is eaten, the leaves are poisonous and should be discarded on the compost heap.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: free-draining, rich, soil with plenty or organic matter added.

Conditions: Full sun.

Ease of Cultivation: Easy.

Type: Stem Vegetable/Fruit.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

When to Plant: Spring.

Harvest Season: Early spring to autumn.

Planting and Growing Rhubarb

Preparation

As rhubarb is grown be in the same place for many years, so choose an open sunny site and prepare the plot with a good depth of rich loamy soil with plenty of organic matter added.

Planting

Rhubarb can be grown from seed but it takes much longer to reach fruiting size. The easiest option is to buy container grown plants or plant bare root crowns in March.

Propagating

Propagate any time between late October and February by digging up an established plant (over five years old) and splitting it into smaller sections, vertically with a spade. Discarding the worn out centre.

Replant the sections around 1in (2.5cm) under the surface, about 3ft (90cm) distance each way.

Taking Care of Rhubarb

Requires very little care and attention except for weeding and feeding. Apply a handful of general purpose fertilizer like fish, blood and bone or growmoor in February, just as new growth appears.

If flower stalks arise, remove them as soon as they appear so the plant can focus its energy on leaf growth.

Once the leaves die down in late autumn, mulch over with spent compost or well rotted manure if you can get it.

Pests and Diseases

Generally trouble-free but it can be susceptible to crown rot and honey fungus. If symptoms are spotted dig up and dispose of the plants (do not compost). Then plant fresh stock in a different area.

Harvesting Rhubarb

Do not harvest any stalks in the first year after planting, to allow the plants to establish a good root system.
Remove a few per plant in the second year, then more stalks each year as it becomes established. Never totally denude the plant, always leaving a few leaves.

When harvesting, do not cut the stalks but simply pull them away from the crown at the base.

Do not eat the leaves as they contain oxalic acid which is poisonous if ingested but are perfectly safe to compost. The leaves can also be shredded and boiled in water for half an hour (500g to 1 litre of water) to make an organic insecticide spray for aphids and spider mites.

Forcing Rhubarb

Forcing produces the most tender and sweetest crop. As soon as first shoots appear place a large tall container over the plant, excluding all light (such a black plastic dustbin). After around four weeks a crop of pale sweet stalks can be harvested. Once forced, leave the plant to recover for at least a year.

How to Cook Rhubarb

Rhubarb is tart and acidic so will required plenty of sweetening to make it palatable. Early forced rhubarb is much sweeter, and requires less sweetener.

Prepare the stalks by cutting off the leaves and the pale root end. Wash and dry. Older stalks may need to be peeled to remove any tough stringy skin.

Cut the stalk into pieces and lightly boil for 6-8 minutes with a little sugar to taste. Alternatively bake the pieces in a pie, tart or a crumble with added sugar to taste.

Rhubarb can also be used to make a good jam.

Popular Varieties of Rhubarb

Different types of rhubarb crop at different times, so by growing a range of varieties you can have fresh rhubarb from early spring, right through to the first frosts.

Rhubarb Apple Delight (new variety) has a sweet fruity flavour. It crops heavily from spring up until the first frosts Good weather resistance. Available from You Garden.

Rhubarb 'Champagne' is a good early variety, ideal for forcing. Reliable and easy to grow. It produces long, slender, pink to red coloured stems. Height to 24in (60cm), spread to 48in (120cm). Available from Van Meuwen.

Rhubarb Glaskin's Perpetual (English heritage variety) a popular all-round variety that produces large, long bright red striped stems, which can be harvested late in the season. If your looking for a variety to grow from seed then Glaskins is a good choice.

Rhubarb Raspberry Red one of the sweetest tasting rhubarbs around. Available from Gardening Direct.

Rhubarb Timperley Early is a high-yielding early cropper, ideal for forcing. Flavoursome bright-pink stems tinged with green. Available from You Garden.

Rhubarb Victoria is a popular late cropping variety. The greenish-pink stems have tender flesh and an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity. Height to 24in (60cm), spread to 48in (120cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

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