How to Grow Rhubarb

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Learn how to grow rhubarb for your very own supply of this tart perennial.

If you only grow one vegetable this year, it should be rhubarb. Why? It’s so easy to grow, because there’s so little you need to do! Once rhubarb is established in your garden or landscape, the plants come back for years. They need very little maintenance, and best of all? Every spring will begin with a fresh crop of rhubarb to use in dozens of sweet and savory rhubarb recipes.

Many folks think of rhubarb as a fruit (likely because it’s so often sweetened and paired with fruits). It’s actually a perennial vegetable in growing zones 3-8.

Where to Find Rhubarb Plants

They could be right next door! Neighbors or friends with large, established rhubarb patches will be happy to share some with you. Rhubarb plants are easy to dig up, divide and replant. Divide the crown of a plant using a sharp shovel, and take a portion with at least two stems.

No luck with your neighbors? Your local garden center will have young plants available in the spring as the gardening season kicks off. Sellers like Burpee are also a good bet. They will send bare roots (in other words, a root with no soil around it) that you can plant in the spring.

Where to Plant Rhubarb

Keep two things in mind when choosing the location for your rhubarb plant. First, because rhubarb is a perennial, it will grow back and grow larger in its location for years. Ideally, the spot you choose should be a permanent one. (Though you can always divide the plants if they get too big.) Second, rhubarb likes a lot of light, so look for a spot that gets full sun. Because rhubarb is a tall and attractive plant, you can also incorporate it into your landscape to have more location options.

The plants will spread between 3 to 4 feet wide, so space them accordingly. Dig a deep hole for rhubarb, and plant it with soil amended with compost. Be sure the soil around the rhubarb gets consistent moisture, but no standing water that could cause root rot.

Here are dozens of Grandma-approved rhubarb recipes.

How to Care for Rhubarb Plants

One of the great things about rhubarb is that it’s low-maintenance plant, and will return every spring without any help at all. Give your new or divided rhubarb plants a year to get established (we know, the wait will be tough!). Be sure the soil around the plants stays moist, but not soggy. After the first year, your rhubarb will be strong enough that you can harvest the stems.

Some growers opt for forcing rhubarb. Learn how you can, too.

FAQs About How to Grow Rhubarb

How long does it take to grow rhubarb?

Rhubarb can be grown from seed, from bare roots like those available from online stores, or as plants from nurseries or that are dug up and divided. Whichever route you take, your rhubarb will need time to get established before you can harvest the stalks—and this is longer when you grow from seed. For plants and bare roots, harvest stalks sparingly after the first full year of growth, and more heavily in subsequent seasons. Plants started from seed will need two to three years to establish and grow before any harvesting can happen.

Why is my rhubarb not red?

Stems and leaves of rhubarb on a wooden background.Janna Danilova/Getty Images

When rhubarb stalks don’t turn red, many gardeners worry that they’re unripe, or that something is wrong with the plant. The color of the stalks is actually determined by the variety of rhubarb you’re growing: For example, Canada Red is a type of red rhubarb and Riverside Giant is a variety of green rhubarb. The good news is that it doesn’t matter whether you have green or red rhubarb stalks; they’ll both be flavorful and delicious in your recipes.

Should I let my rhubarb flower?

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)scisettialfio/Getty Images

Tall flower stalks emerging from rhubarb are normal for mature plants, although they can also appear during hot weather (this is called bolting) or when rhubarb is stressed from insufficient watering or plant damage. The best approach is to cut and remove the flower stalks so the plant can recover and put its growing energy into the stems.

When is rhubarb ready to harvest?

The rhubarb stalks are ready to harvest when they’re 7 to 15 inches long. As we said, the color isn’t an indicator of ripeness, so don’t worry whether they’re red enough or not. You can harvest rhubarb from spring until mid-summer. It’s then best to stop harvesting: The plants will recuperate and store up energy to survive the winter.

Remember that only the stalks of rhubarb are edible. The leaves should be discarded, as they contain oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.

How to Use Rhubarb

Rhubarb on sale at vegetables marketSergio Amiti/Getty Images

Rhubarb stems are edible the moment you pick them. Feel free to snack on a raw stalk—though you will find it has a mouth-puckering sourness! That’s why rhubarb is so often used in baked goods and desserts where that sour tang can be tempered with sugar.

Wash and dry rhubarb stems, then slice or dice them to use in dishes like rhubarb crisp or a classic strawberry-rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is also delicious in many savory recipes, like barbecue sauces and salsas.

To store rhubarb, place the stalks in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks. To freeze rhubarb, cut the stems into small pieces, and freeze them in a single layer in a sealed freezer bag. Rhubarb will keep in the freezer for up to one year.

Rhubarb Recipes to Make Now
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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.