The Q&A Archives: Rhubarb

Question: When and how is the best way to transplant rhubarb. Have tried it with no success!! What am I doing wrong?

Answer: One of the secrets is in choosing the right variet for your growing region. Here are a few suggestions:
Red -
Canada Red (long, thick stalks, extra sweet)
Cherry Red (rich red inside and out)
Crimson Red (tall, plump petioles)
MacDonald (tender skin; brilliant red)
Valentine (petioles 22 by 1-1/2 inches, good flavor)

Green -
Victoria (shaded with red)

Plant or divide rhubarb roots in early spring while the plants are dormant. Plant the roots with the crown bud 2 inches below the surface of the soil. Space the roots 36 to 48 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Good garden drainage is essential in growing rhubarb. Planting on raised beds ensures against rotting of the crown. Working plenty of well-rotted manure or compost into the rhubarb bed before planting greatly increases production.

Old roots may be dug and divided to make new plantings. Cut the roots into four to eight pieces. Each piece must have at least one strong bud. To improve vigor and leaf size, many gardeners divide the old plants and establish a new planting after at least 5 years of full harvest. Plantings older than this tend to begin crowding themselves out. Dig the roots of the most vigorous, healthy plants to establish a new bed the spring before the old planting is to be discarded.

Cultivate shallowly as often as necessary to remove weeds. Apply a complete garden fertilizer before growth begins in the spring and side-dress with a high-nitrogen fertilizer in late June. Except in poorly drained sites, organic mulches help moderate soil temperature and moisture. Irrigate during extended dry periods. An application of manure or compost is beneficial in late fall or early winter. Do not cover the crowns.

Do not harvest rhubarb during the first year of planting. Newly set plants need all their foliage to build a strong root system. Stalks may be harvested for 1 or 2 weeks during the second year and for 8 to 10 weeks (a full harvest season) during the third and subsequent years. Harvest in the fall only when the plants are to be discarded the next season. To harvest, pull the leafstalks from the plant and trim off the leaf blades. The leaf blades contain large amounts of oxalic acid and should not be eaten. To keep the plants healthy, vigorous and producing well, remove only about one-third of the leaves from a plant at any one time.

If seedstalks and flowers develop during the spring and summer, cut them from the base of the plant as soon as they appear and discard them. Vegetatively propagated, named varieties usually have been selected to produce fewer seedstalks than cheaper, seed-produced plants. The petioles (leafstalks) are of the highest quality (maximum color, flavor and tenderness) in early spring. They should be crisp and fairly thick. Yield and quality are highest if petioles that have just reached full size are harvested before any coarse fiber can develop.

Best wishes with your rhubarb!

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