How to plant rhubarb


Planting rhubarb. Needs cool moist summers, and winters cold enough to freeze the ground several inches. Rhubarb does fairly well in some southern regions of higher elevation, but most southern growth is not very good, disease is bothersome, and plantings live more briefly than in the North. But where rhubarb thrives it should certainly be planted. It will grow in any good garden soil that is deep, well drained, and fertile but requires more organic matter than most other vegetables and should have rotted manure, leaf mould, or leaves spaded in to a depth of 12 to 16 inches.

Space the rows about 3 feet 6 inches apart, with the same distance between each plant in the row. Cover the roots to a depth of 4 inches. A 100-foot row takes 30 plants. Rhubarb is rarely grown from seed, but seedlings vary from the parent plant. It is best to take pieces of the crown of an old plant and set them in prepared hills. Top dress the planting with a heavy application of manure early in the spring or late in the fall. Fresh horse manure applied in the early spring forces the plant. Seed-bearing weakens the plant, so remove seedstalks as soon as they are formed.

Do not harvest rhubarb within a year of transplanting, however, and take only a few leaf stems per plant the second year. The plants should have undisturbed growth during the summer, so harvesting should be confined to early spring. Divide and reset the large crowns after 7 or 8 years, lest the hills become too thick and produce only slender stems. Victoria and Linnaeus are old, established varieties.

Ruby, MacDonald and Cherry are newer varieties, with attractively coloured stalks. Pull sideways to remove leafstalks from the crown. Only the leafstalks are edible. Do not eat the leaves. They contain such harmful substances as oxalic acid and have been known to cause death when eaten.

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