Shop our Sale Category & Save! Shop now!

Growing Rhubarb

It’s a pleasure to make room in the garden for a crop that only has to be planted once. Rhubarb, grown for its tart-sweet leafstalks, is a perennial plant. Many gardeners know it as pie plant, but pies are just one use for the stalks: rhubarb jams and jellies are delicious, too. In a couple of seasons, it forms an impressive clump, and a good-sized plant will produce an impressive harvest for years to come.

Rhubarb is an extremely cold-tolerant plant, native to Siberia, but probably grown in American gardens since the late 1700s. It thrives in the midwest, where cold winter temperatures promote production of leaf buds. Gardeners may disagree on whether to call it a fruit or a vegetable, but in the midwest, at least, rhubarb has long been considered an essential kitchen-garden plant. Most rhubarb varieties, including ‘MacDonald’, have red stems; the stems of ‘Victoria’ and ‘Canada Red’ are pink and do not lend much color to a pie, although they taste delicious.

A mature rhubarb plant grows to about three feet wide and nearly as tall. It is most often grown from fist-sized roots, which are planted in early spring. The roots should be planted in well-drained soil in plenty of sun. Most experts recommend against harvesting leaf stalks the plant’s first year in the garden, to encourage healthy crown and root growth, and taking only a few stalks the second year. Once plants are established, production is prolific.

The first stems come up in early spring, once temperatures are consistently in the 40s. Harvest as long as plants are producing robust, crisp stems, which is often through the first wave of the strawberry harvest. This explains the popularity of strawberry-rhubarb pie: it’s the end of the rhubarb season, the beginning of strawberry time, and close to the heart of summer.

Read the next Article: Burpee’s Boost Vegetables

Personalize Your Site:

Enter your zip code to:

  • Find your growing zone.
  • See best products for your region.
  • Show accurate product shipping dates.
Clear my Zip Code

Gardening Tip of the Day

  • If you grow fruit trees and find suckers sprouting from the rootstock of the trees, there are two ways to control them.

    It is not uncommon for grafted fruit trees to produce this unwanted and unproductive growth. Several factors increase the occurrence of this problem and include drought stress, nutrient deficiency or damage to the main trunk.

    Root suckers can be removed with a sharp pair of pruners. There is also a chemical control that uses the plant growth regulator NAA (naphthaleneactic acid). Apply following label directions when suckers are less than a foot tall in the spring. The control lasts for several months.