Rhubarb is super easy to grow, comes back every year, and makes fantastic pies, custards, and crisps (so every homestead should have some), but you actually grow it to eat the stalks, and the flower heads need to be cut off.
Here’s all you need to know to grow your own tasty, perennial rhubarb:
Where It’s Grown
Rhubarb can be grown just about anywhere, but prefers full sun and needs a well-drained location. Four years ago I planted some in a protected nook, and those died, so three years ago I put some in one of my sunniest locations, and they’re thriving. I like to tuck in a plant here and there in flower borders too; they can provide some nice foliage contrast.
How to Start It
Rhubarb is grown from corms (root divisions), and in most regions these should be planted in early spring. In mild regions, they can also be planted in the fall. The corms should be planted about 3 or 4 inches deep with the buds a couple of inches below the soil surface. Many seed suppliers carry rhubarb or you can get some from a friends rhubarb patch.
First Year Care
The first year after planting, none of the stalks should be harvested. The plant should be allowed to use all its energy establishing a strong root system. Removing stalks in the first year causes the plant to expend energy for leafy top growth instead. Feed the plants by top dressing with compost in fall and spring.
Harvest can start the second year after planting, but be sure to cut off any flower stalks immediately. The plant will expend a considerable amount of its energy producing flowers, but since we want the stalks, the flowers should be removed. Continue top dressing with compost in spring and fall as rhubarb plants will continue producing for many years (perennial) once established.
Harvest rhubarb by grasping a stalk and twisting sideways to remove the entire stalk. Don’t use a knife to cut rhubarb thereby leaving parts of the stalk still attached to the crown. This may encourage rot, and rot is one of the few serious diseases afflicting rhubarb. Harvest can occur for about six weeks each spring, but no more than a third of the stalks should be harvested at a time. Be sure to leave the plants enough foliage to sustain themselves through the winter. Rhubarb leaves should never be eaten; they are poisonous. Only the stalks should be eaten. After harvesting, besides cooking immediately, the stalks can be cut into pieces and frozen for use later in pies and crisps.
Insects and Diseases
Other than rot, rhubarb is not much affected by disease and insects.
Canada Red, Valentine, and MacDonald are varieties known to be tender and sweet.
So, a plant that comes back year-after-year, makes tasty pies and custards, isn’t affected by diseases or insects, and can be tucked into the landscape just about anywhere – seems like every homestead should be growing a few rhubarb plants!