Rhubarb

Rhubarb also called pieplant, a hardy perennial of the smartweed family (Polygonaceae) native to Asia and grown for its large edible petioles (leafstalks). The stalks are the only edible part of the rhubarb plant. It was brought to Europe in the 1600s and to America not long thereafter. It thrives in areas with a cooler climate, making it popular in northern gardens. Rhubarb is easy to grow, but needs a dormancy period to really thrive and produce an abundance of huge stalks. The botanical name of rhubatb is Rheum rhabarbarum.



Rhubarb produces large clumps of enormous leaves. The leaves are borne on proportionately large petioles and arise from an underground stem. The leaves appear early in the spring. Later in the season a large central flower stalk may appear and bear numerous small greenish white flowers and angular winged fruits containing one seed. The roots withstand cold well, although the tops die back in autumn. The leaves contain toxins, including oxalic acid, and are not eaten. Rhubarb leaves and roots are toxic both to people and pets.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

1 -8 feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

2 - 4 feet


Approximate pH

6.0 - 7.0


Growth Nutrition of Rhubarb


They need a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in spring (all-purpose or chicken manure) and phosphorus-rich fertilizer like blood meal in fall. The phosphorus 'helps establish the root base so it [the rhubarb] can get through the winter'.


Types of Rhubarb


Holstein Bloodred Red Rhubarb


It produces juicy, deep-red stalks. Holstein is a champion grower, and it can produce 5-10 pounds of stalks from one single plant. Each plant can reach four feet tall and five feet wide. As you can imagine, these are large plants that grow a lot of rhubarb. Holstein is an heirloom plant, so it has been around for years. It’s known for being a prolific grower, and it produces well year after year consistently.


Grandad's Favorite



Growing to a height of only about three feet and spreading three feet wide, this rhubarb does well in containers. Besides being attractive, this frost hardy, red-stemmed rhubarb matures in early spring (sooner if forced) and like other varieties can be used in cooking, baking, and beverages. The compact size also makes it suitable as a border plant. The crinkled dark green leaves add visual texture, and if allowed, it produces large floral panicles in the summer (Removing the flowers is recommended if the plant is being harvested for food).


Chipman’s Canadian Red Rhubarb



This rhubarb variety produces cherry-red stalks. The most significant difference with Canadian Red Rhubarb is that the stalks tend to have a sweeter, juicier flavor, and less tartness. When it matures, this variety reaches heights of three to four feet and the same for the width.


It needs to be planted outside in the fall, winter, or early spring. Do so as soon as the ground unthaws. Then, you can expect a harvest from April to June. It’s best to wait for at least one year to harvest once you planed the crown.


Glaskins Perpetual



Glaskins Perpetual is a rhubarb variety that started in Brighton in the U.K. around 1920. It produces long, bright red stems that have a strong flavor with plenty of juice. It works well for late-season harvesting because it has lower levels of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is what gives raw rhubarb that sharp taste. When you cook rhubarb, it removes most of it. This cultivar only reaches two feet tall and wide at maximum maturity. Since it’s smaller, you can grow this rhubarb in containers.


Colorado Red



The one thing that makes rhubarb stand out in the garden is its color. The redness draws people’s eyes, but most aren’t red inside and outside. Colorado Red Rhubarb, often called Hardy Tarty, has that lovely red color throughout the entire stalk. These stalks are about the size of celery, and they work great for jellies and jams because of its color. If you juice a Colorado Red Rhubarb, it leaves behind a red liquid. You can make some impressive jelly with this variety. It grows two to three feet tall and wide at full maturity, and make sure you pick a sunny spot to grow this one.


Cherry Red



Here is another red rhubarb variety. Cherry Red Rhubarb grows tender, sweet stalks that are long and thick. Since it is one of the sweetest types, it’s great for gardeners who are a bit nervous because they’ve heard how bitter rhubarb can be. It can reach heights of three feet tall and three feet wide, so it makes quite a statement in your garden. This variety likes to grow in full sun or partial shade for optimal growth. It can be harvested from April to June.


Victoria



Victoria, often called Large Victoria Rhubarb, is a unique variety that produces mid-size stalks that start as dark raspberry red at the base of the plant. Then, the stems gradually turn greener as they get closer to the leaves at the top of the plant. Victoria is one of the oldest rhubarb varieties, dating back to around 1837. Ever since then, gardeners have included in their garden beds.


One difference to note about Victoria Rhubarb is that it’s one of the late-maturing varieties. The stalks tend to be ready between May and August, measuring 36-48 inches long. For best results, make sure that you plant this variety in full sun and fertile soil.


MacDonald’s Canadian Red



Here is another red variety of rhubarb that you can freeze, can, or bake with it. MacDonald’s Red produces large stalks, and they grow vigorously. They’re prized for being highly productive and wilt resistant, as well as resistance to root rot. The stalks are a bright crimson color, and the color makes this cultivar excellent for pies and jams. Since the stems are sweet, you need less sugar to make desserts. Make sure to plant this cultivar in fertile, well-draining, loamy soils. You can expect to be able to harvest between April and June.


Crimson Red



It produces bright red stalks that handle the wet weather in Oregon and Washington. You’ll love the sweet-tart flavor of these stalks. Plant the bare root balls throughout the fall or two to four weeks before the last winter frost date. It takes one year before you can harvest from Crimson Red, and when it matures, you can expect it to reach heights of three to four tall and three feet wide. Then, harvest the stalks from April to June.


Riverside Giant


This is a cold-hardy variety that produces long, thick green stalks. It can withstand temperatures as low as -40℉, so it can be hardy up to 2b if you grow it in a cold frame. One of the unique features of Riverside Giant is that it grows taller and broader than other varieties. It can reach as tall as five feet and as wide as four feet. The downside is that it’s also one of the slowest growing rhubarb cultivars, and you have to wait around three years before your first harvest.


Prince Albert



Prince Albert is an heirloom rhubarb variety that has been around for hundreds of years. It produces stalks that are reddish-green that turn to a rose-pink color when cooked. Gardeners love this cultivar as a jam or pie filling. The stalks are larger and juicier than other varieties, with a blend of tartness and sweetness. These plants reach three to four feet tall and wide when grown in the proper conditions.


German Wine



It has a unique appearance with green stems and pink speckles. It’s also believed to be one of the sweetest rhubarb plants on the market. German Wine Rhubarb is a hybrid variety that is great for making wine, as you might have guessed from the name. Those who have made wine from this plant claim that it tastes like a rose wine. Aside from wine, this variety is one of the sweetest ones, so you can make a sauce with it for your ice cream or other desserts.


This cultivar is smaller than other plants, only reaching to feet high and two to three feet wide at full maturity. Due to its smaller size, it does well in containers or smaller garden beds. Plant a root ball or crown division in the spring, and you can have a harvest that first year.


Timperley Early



Gardeners love Timperley Early because it’s an all-around variety that is known for early maturation. These plants can be ready as early as March, depending on the temperatures and where you live. Once established, Timperley resists most diseases and produces stalks that are over 24 inches tall.


Another thing to enjoy about Timperley Early is that you can harvest a small amount in your first year. Not all types of rhubarb should be harvested the first year, but Timperley is an exception. Then, in the second year, you can expect a vigorous harvest, as well as the following ten years.


Sunrise



Sunrise Rhubarb stands out because it has beautiful pink stalks that are thicker than the average rhubarb stalk. It works well for pies, jellies, canning, and freezing, so it’s a fantastic all-around choice for gardeners.


One of the reasons it freezes so well is that it grows sturdy, extra-thick stalks. They don’t turn mushy or gross like other rhubarb plants. That way, you can have fresh stalks of rhubarb in the middle of the winter. Sunrise Rhubarb reaches three feet tall and wide when it reaches full maturity.


Chinese Rhubarb



With its brightly colored stalks and large, eye-catching green leaves, it's no wonder that people use rhubarb as an ornamental plant in landscaping and in pots on porches and patios. It originated in China, as its name suggests. For countless centuries, the root has been dried, ground to a powder, and used in traditional Chinese medicine (via The Herbal Resource). In its natural habitat, Chinese Rhubarb grows wild and is sometimes seen as a weed.


Chinese Rhubarb thrives in wet soil. It can grow over eight feet tall with leaves two and a half feet across. Like other rhubarbs, this one flowers in the summer with large panicles and petals of white to pink.


Kangarhu



Kangarhu produces bright crimson stalks in its signature red color, and the stems keep their color once they’re cooked. These stalks are red and tart, a tart treat. The plant reaches three feet tall and wide at maturity. It grows well in part shade or full sun, and you can harvest from Kangarhu from late spring into the early fall.


Frambozen Rood



The Frambozen Rood (meaning "raspberry red" in Dutch) is a popular variety of rhubarb known for its sweetness. This variety is often made into nectar. Rhubarb nectar is a commercially available beverage, but you can also make it at home. While rhubarb is naturally low in sugar, some sugar is added to sweeten the nectar. This is a very productive plant that grows up to 5 feet tall. It can be harvested in both spring and fall, offering a steady supply of nectar for much of the year.


Turkish Rhubarb



Even though red Rhubarb is more common, green Rhubarb can equally produce strong-flavored stalks. Turkish Rhubarb originated from turkey and is a green rhubarb variety with a green inside and outside stalk. The stalk, however, has a red base.


It takes a little longer than most varieties to mature, which means harvest typically lasts longer than the average rhubarb type. The stalks can grow as long as 18 inches, but it is typically is shorter than that. If this plant isn’t harvested on time, holes form in the stalk.


Planting Rhubarb


When to Plant


Rhubarb should be planted in cool early spring temperatures once the ground has thawed and becomes workable.


Selecting a Planting Site


Select a sunny spot in the garden with good soil drainage. Because rhubarb can live for many years, aim to pick a spot where it can grow undisturbed. Make sure no nearby tree or shrub will eventually grow too tall and shade it out. In addition, rhubarb doesn't like competition from weeds, so adding a 2-inch layer of mulch will help to suppress them. Rhubarb also can be grown in containers.


Spacing, Depth, and Support


Rhubarb is usually grown from purchased crowns (root divisions), rather than from seed, to speed up the harvest. Plant crowns around 4 inches deep and 4 to 6 feet apart. If placed too close together, the rhubarb will be smaller and less productive. You can plant in a long trench, much like asparagus, or dig individual holes. Rhubarb plants do not require a support structure.


Growing Rhubarb


How to Grow Rhubarb From Seed


Rhubarb is not commonly grown from seed, as it can take several years to get a good harvest and sometimes seeds can be difficult to find. If you wish to start plants from seed, fill a tray with moistened seed-starting mix. Soak the seeds in warm water for about an hour before planting, and then plant them about an inch deep. Cover the tray with plastic wrap to retain moisture, and place it in bright, indirect light. Ensure that the soil remains moist but not soggy. Seedlings should appear in one to two weeks.


How to Grow Rhubarb in Pots


If you have heavy soil or not enough space for rhubarb in the garden, it can be grown in a container. Rhubarb has a large root system and thus needs a large pot in which to grow. Choose one that’s at least 12 inches in diameter, and make sure it has drainage holes. An unglazed clay container is ideal, as it will allow excess soil moisture to escape through its walls.


Rhubarb Care


Light


Rhubarb tends to produce best when planted in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, plants in the warmer growing zones usually benefit from some afternoon shade, especially during the hottest months of the year. Too much shade, however, can result in thin stems.


Soil


Rhubarb prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. In addition, it likes soil that's high in organic matter, which helps to support its growth. The soil should be moist but well-draining. If you have heavy soil, such as clay, consider planting your rhubarb in raised garden beds to provide the appropriate growing environment.


Water


Rhubarb likes consistent moisture. While mature plants can be somewhat tolerant to drought, rhubarb in its first two years of growing needs regular watering. However, don't overwater rhubarb, as the crowns can rot in wet soil. A good rule is to water the plant when the top inch of soil dries out.


Temperature and Humidity


Rhubarb likes climates in which the average temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and below 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. It can be grown as an annual in warmer areas; however, too much heat can cause it to have thin stalks and leaves. Dry climates will make it difficult to maintain the level of moisture rhubarb craves, though a layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture can help.


Fertilizer


Rhubarb needs lots of organic matter, such as compost, in the soil to grow well. Don’t use any chemical fertilizer on a young rhubarb plant, as the nitrates can kill it. You can add an organic fertilizer around your plant at the start of its second growing season, but make sure it’s safe if you intend to eat your rhubarb.


Pollination


Rhubarb is a self-pollinating plant.


Harvesting Rhubarb


Do not harvest any stalks during the first growing season. Harvest sparingly in the second year. This allows your plants to become properly established.

  • After a plant’s third year, the harvest period runs 8 to 10 weeks long, lasting through mid-summer.

  • Harvest stalks when they are 12 to 18 inches long and at least 3/4-inch in diameter. If the stalks become thin, stop harvesting; this means the plant’s food reserves are low.

  • Grab the base of the stalk and pull it away from the plant with a gentle twist. If this doesn’t work, you can cut the stalk at the base with a sharp knife. To prevent the spread of disease, be sure to sanitize the knife before cutting. Discard the leaves.

  • Always leave at least 2 stalks per plant to ensure continued production. You may have a bountiful harvest for up to 20 years without having to replace your rhubarb plants.

  • It was once believed that the entire rhubarb plant becomes toxic as summer temperatures rose. This isn’t true, although summer-harvested stalks usually have a tougher texture than those picked in the spring. Nevertheless, after mid-summer, it’s best to leave stalks on the plant to allow them to gather energy for next year’s growth.


How to Store Rhubarb


Cut the rhubarb stalks and refrigerate in a covered container. Or, tightly wrap stalks in plastic or aluminum foil and refrigerate. Rhubarb can be kept fresh in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.


Cut rhubarb stalks in pieces and place in a covered container or zip-type plastic bag, and put in freezer. Frozen rhubarb will last about a year.


Pruning and Propagating Rhubarb


Pruning


Remove any flower stalks, which are taller than leaf stalks, as soon as they appear. If rhubarb is allowed to mature and flower, the leaf stalks will be thinner.

Propagating Rhubarb


Rhubarb is best propagated by division. You can do this in the early spring or fall, though it’s easier in spring when the plant is coming out of dormancy and growing new roots. Dividing rhubarb plants roughly every five years is ideal to keep them healthy and vigorous. You’ll know it’s time to divide when the plant starts to produce thin stalks. Here’s how:

  1. Dig up the plant, keeping its roots as intact as possible.

  2. Gently split the crown into pieces around 2 inches across with roots attached to each section.

  3. Replant the sections at least 4 feet apart (or in entirely different locations). Water well.


Potting and Repotting Rhubarb


A well-draining potting mix made for vegetables is typically good for rhubarb. Plant the crown around 4 inches deep in the pot just like you would in the ground, and water after planting to evenly moisten the soil. Plan to repot once you see roots growing out the bottom of the container and up above the soil line. You’ll likely have to do this roughly every three years, depending on your container size. You can either divide the plant into separate containers or repot the whole plant into a larger container. Wait one growing season before harvesting from a repotted rhubarb plant.


Overwintering


Rhubarb stems will die back in the fall. At that time, cut the depreciated foliage to the ground. Then, cover the plants with 2 to 4 inches of mulch once the ground freezes to protect the roots and keep them from drying out over the winter.

Pests and Plant Diseases


Pests

  • Rhubarb commonly has no serious pest problems.

  • A species of weevil called rhubarb curculio can attack rhubarb. Rhubarb is a host to this pest as is dock, sunflower, and thistle. The adult sucks sap from leaves. A sign that curculio is feeding is oozing sap. Handpick and destroy these weevils.


Diseases

  • Rhubarb generally has no serious disease problems.

  • Old clumps may develop crown rot if they sit in wet soil or if they are not divided every 4 to 5 years.

  • Make sure the soil is compost-rich and well-drained to avoid crown rot.

  • Plants with crown rot should be removed from the garden and placed in the trash.

  • Ramularia leaf spot can attack rhubarb. This disease is characterized by circular, brown lesions on both the upper and lower surfaces of leaves. Spray plant with compost tea or a fungicide to control leaf spots.


Benefits of Rhubarb


Rhubarb is an excellent source of vitamin K, which is an essential vitamin for bone health and blood clotting. The vitamin A in rhubarb may also help to fight free radicals that cause skin damage and premature aging, keeping your skin looking healthy and youthful. It’s also high in antioxidants, and many other important vitamins and minerals that provide a variety of health benefits.


Improve Bone Health


The vitamin K content of rhubarb helps you maintain strong, healthy bones. Vitamin K is important for bone formation and it can help prevent osteoporosis.


Protect Heart Health


Rhubarb is an excellent source of fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol. Studies show that rhubarb helps lower your bad cholesterol levels as well as your total cholesterol. Lower cholesterol levels reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack. The vitamin K in rhubarb may also aid in preventing the calcification of blood vessels. The antioxidants in the vegetable also provide anti-inflammatory effects, which can further help to protect your heart health.


Aid Digestion


The fiber in rhubarb helps keep things moving through your digestive tract, preventing problems such as constipation. It also contains compounds called sennosides, which act as natural laxatives. The tannins in rhubarb also provide anti-diarrheal effects.


Prevent Cancer


The antioxidants in rhubarb help fight free radicals in the body, which may help to protect against oxidative stress and cell damage. The free radical-fighting properties of antioxidants may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer.


Reduce Inflammation


The antioxidant compounds in rhubarb help to fight inflammation. These properties may be helpful to people with systemic inflammatory reaction syndrome. Another study found that the anti-inflammatory properties of rhubarb extract can help improve wound healing.


Boosts Brain Health


The vitamin K in rhubarb limits neuronal damage to the brain – and this can happen to the point of preventing Alzheimer’s. As per a study, rhubarb can help in the treatment of inflammation in the brain. This makes it a preventative measure against Alzheimer’s, stroke, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).


Aids Weight Loss


Rhubarb was found to reduce bad cholesterol, and since it is a low-calorie food choice, it sure can be a great addition to a weight loss diet. It also contains catechins, the same compounds in green tea that give it its beneficial properties. Catechins are known to boost metabolism, and this also helps burn body fat and aid weight loss. Rhubarb is also a good source of fiber, another nutrient important for weight loss. Because of its laxative properties, rhubarb is a prominent ingredient in certain weight loss formations

Delays Skin Aging


Rhubarb is a storehouse of vitamin A. This natural antioxidant helps in neutralizing free radicals and delays the symptoms of aging (like wrinkles and fine lines). Thus, rhubarb keeps your skin youthful and glowing by preventing the cell damage by free radicals. Rhubarb is a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent and helps protect your skin from various infections. Raw rhubarb, in the form of a paste, had been advocated by alternative medicine practitioners as a topical application for various skin infections.


Works As A Natural Hair Coloring Agent


Rhubarb root contains a good dose of oxalic acid that is known to render a light brown or blonde hue to the hair. The presence of oxalic acid makes the hair color last longer and does not harm the scalp.


Uses

  • The rhubarb petioles can be eaten fresh or cooked, usually with sugar to balance the sharp flavor of the plant.

  • Rhubarb stalks are used in deserts, pies, tarts, crumbles and they pair well with strawberries.

  • Rhubarb can also be used to make alcoholic drinks, such as fruit wines or Finnish Rhubarb sima (mead). It is also used to make Kompot.

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