Yard and garden: Planting rhubarb in the home garden

Friday, May 1, 2020

The tart stalks of rhubarb are used in pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and punch. Rhubarb is easy to grow and long-lived. For more information on growing rhubarb and other vegetables in your garden, contact horticulture specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. To have additional questions answered, contact the Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

The cultivars Canada Red, Crimson Red, McDonald, and Valentine have attractive red stalks and are good choices for Iowa gardens. Victoria, a green-stalked cultivar, is another reliable performer.

Where should I plant rhubarb?

When planting rhubarb, select a site that receives at least six hours of direct sun each day. Avoid sites near trees and shrubs. Rhubarb will have a difficult time competing for sunlight, water and nutrients when planted near trees and shrubs.

Rhubarb performs best in well-drained, fertile soils that are high in organic matter. Heavy soils can be improved by incorporating organic matter, such as well-rotted barnyard manure or compost. The organic matter improves drainage and reduces the chances of root rot. Work the soil deeply (12-15 inches) and add liberal amounts of manure or compost before planting.

Spring is the best time to plant rhubarb in Iowa. Plants can be purchased at garden centers or from mail-order catalogs. Digging and dividing large existing plants is another source of plants.

Plants growing in pots should be planted at the same depth as they are currently growing in the pot. Bare-root plants should be planted with the buds 1-2 inches below the soil surface. Space plants 3 feet apart.

When should I harvest rhubarb?

Do not harvest rhubarb during the first two years after planting. This allows good crown and root development. During the third season, harvest for a four-week period. In the fourth and following years, rhubarb can be harvested for eight to 10 weeks, ending in mid-June.