Growing Rhubarbs in Your Garden



Rhubarbs are cold weather perennial plants that are very winter hardy and are also drought resistant. They propagate from rhizomes and buds which can be divided (after 4-5 years of growth), and produces crops from its crowns. Temperature below 40 F sets the rhubarb crown to dormancy and stimulates bud break and subsequent growth for the coming season. The first shoots begin to appear in the spring and emerge under temperatures of below 90 F.). There is a period of dormancy for the top growth in periods of extreme heat, which resumes later in summer as temperature decline. Rhubarb remains productive for up to 8 to 15 years.


While rhubarb can survive pretty much is most types of soil, they grow best on fertile, well-drained soils high in organic matter. Like all other vegetation, rhubarbs require a clean planting free from weeds because there are no known herbicides are registered for use on rhubarb. To prepare the site, perennial weeds should be eliminated a year before planting the rhubarbs.

pH and Fertilization

Rhubarb provides gardeners with maximum yield with the soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. They are tolerant to soil pH as low as 5.0 but prefer moderate to slightly acid soils. For the home garden, each plant should be given a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer each spring, which should be applied in a circle around the plant once growth starts. Fertilization should be annually and the soil should be cultivated shallowly to remove weed growth. This is important to ensure that the rhubarb does not need to compete with weeds for nutrients and survival.

Composted manure (not fresh manure) is a great source of organic matter. It helps conserve moisture in the soil as well as its structure, and makes soil nutrients readily available to the plant. Add composted manure on the soil mix used to fill the holes dug when planting rhubarbs, but remember NOT to cover the crowns as this will cause rotting. DO NOT use fresh manure as this will burn the tender rhubarb plants.

declan conlon

declan conlon

Planting and Spacing

Rhubarb grows from rhizomes and should be planted in early spring. Trying to plant from seeds isn\’t recommended because it does that a long time for the plants to establish themselves.

The roots should have a space of 24 to 48 inches apart between plants in rows 3 feet apart. This spacing allows the plants to thrive and not have to compete with one another for nutrients and sunlight. Overcrowding can cause a drop in yield and a risk in spreading diseases.

Planting Rhubarbs

  1. Dig a hole that will let the roots with buds sit about 2 inches below soil surface and large enough for the crown to sit in.
  2. Mix composted manure, peat moss or dairy organic in the soil which are to be placed around the roots.
  3. Pat the soil mixture around the roots but ensure that it is kept loose over the buds.
  4. Water the crowns after planting.
  5. Add a quarter cup of 10-10-10 and work this at the top 10 inches of soil at planting time.

Tip: You can plant rhubarbs in raised beds to provide good garden drainage and prevent rotting of the crowns.



Caring and maintenance

Rhubarbs must be watered well. Do not pick the stalks during the first year of planting as these will be used by the plants to nourish the roots for the coming year\’s growth. You can do one light picking during the following year as long as vigorous growth can be seen, and may harvest the entire plant on the second year.

Cut the stalks with long sheared scissors, or simply pull them out individually, working from the outer crown inwards. Harvesting can be done over a 4-6 week period.

Note: You can coax established rhubarb plants into early outdoor production. This is done by covering the plants before the crown starts to grow with clear plastic (which is in the early spring). Cut 1/4 inch ventilation holes in the plastic once growth begins, and as the leaves get larger, free the leaves by cutting the plastic.

Protecting against Frost

Rhubarbs are cold weather plants but you will want to still protect them against frost. Rhubarbs can still be eaten even if they were inflicted with frost, as long as the stalks are still firm and upright.

Soft and mushy stems should not be eaten and must be removed. This is because severe cold injury may cause the oxalic acid crystals found within the leaves to migrate to the stalks, leading to poisoning problems. Cut off the limp damaged stalks and compost them.

Rhubarbs are very versatile plants that can be used in a myriad of dishes in the kitchen, especially in deserts. They are almost maintenance free, minimal hassle vegetation that provides very rewarding experiences to your palette come harvest time.

More Reading:

The Rhubarb Compendium:

Planting Rhubarb: How to Grow Rhubarb:

Growing Rhubarb – Some Tips on How to Grow Rhubarb: