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Also called pieplant, rhubarb is a favorite dessert vegetable that is often chopped and cooked with sugar. Beloved for its ruby red and green fibrous stalks, rhubarb is a large garden plant. Once established, one plant can provide enough rhubarb for a small family, but multiple plants are frequently grown. This hardy perennial features bold foliage and easy-growing ways. Rhubarb often declines in late summer and fall; the stems become tough and the leaves take on a bedraggled appearance. Enjoy rhubarb in spring and early summer when it is most tender.
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Rhubarb is a common pass-along plant—gardeners often dig up a clump and share it with a friend or neighbor. You can also purchase plants at the nursery and from mail-order sources. There are many varieties of rhubarb on the market, and they have varying levels of sourness and fibrousness. Rhubarb varies in stem color from almost pure green to nearly ruby red. Color does not impart any specific flavors, although red is more attractive for pies.
Rhubarb grows best in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Augment the soil by spreading a 2-inch-thick layer of compost over the root zone annually in spring. Full sun is essential for healthy rhubarb. Choose a planting site that receives at least 8 hours of bright sunlight a day. Rhubarb is a large plant; when selecting a planting site, choose a space that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet to allow the plant to expand.
Rhubarb can be started from seed or from transplants purchased at a nursery or received from a friend. Note that rhubarb started from seed will be ready for harvest about 4 years after sowing. Rhubarb started from transplants can be harvested 2 years after planting. Plant rhubarb in early spring. Water plants well after planting and continue watering regularly during the first growing season, about 1 inch of water per week.
Remove weeds regularly to prevent them from using up valuable nutrients. Rhubarb is easy to divide, and the best time is in early spring when new green shoots just begin to emerge. Use a sharp spade to cut the plant in half or in thirds. Move the divisions to newly prepared planting sites and water well.
Begin harvesting rhubarb stalks 2 to 4 years after planting. Pick stalks by pulling them firmly at their base as soon as the stalk has reached full length—which might be 12 to 24 inches long depending on the variety. Remove any flower stalks as soon as they are noticed to promote the formation of more leaf stalks.