Rhubarb is an interesting perennial vegetable that offers an ornamental appeal with its bright red stalks and huge elephant ear sized leaves.
While it doesn’t win many popularity contests when it comes to eating or preparing this vegetable, I always grow a plant or two in the garden.
Preparing the Soil for Growing Rhubarb
I frequently receive comments from gardeners experiencing difficulty growing rhubarb in their vegetable gardens. I don’t do anything special and my rhubarb flourishes with very little attention so I would guess that any trouble raising this perennial vegetable has to do with the soil quality and preparation prior to planting.
Rhubarb enjoys a rich, fertile soil with good drainage and high levels of organic matter. It will also benefit from annual applications or side dressings of compost and well aged manures. If you’re growing rhubarb in a poor quality soil then begin by enriching the area where you intend to plant the rhubarb plants or root divisions.
Dig a hole that is three feet deep and about three square feet wide. Fill the area with a rich mixture of good quality topsoil, compost, and aged manures. Your rhubarb plants or root divisions can then be planted right in the center of this enriched growing area.
Planting and Harvesting Rhubarb
Start rhubarb from root cuttings or obtain plants in the spring from your local greenhouse or garden center. It’s best to plant them in a perennial herb bed with other perennial vegetables like asparagus and sea kale.
Rhubarb can also be planted in the vegetable garden at the end of a raised bed where it will not be disturbed. Just be sure to give it plenty of room as the plants can cover an area of four or five square feet.
New rhubarb plants shouldn’t be harvested at all during the first year and only sparingly during the second growing season. The leaves are not edible; it’s the thick stalks that are included in a variety of recipes and desserts. Harvest the stalks by carefully twisting them off from the base of the plant.
Limit your harvest to a few stalks at a time to ensure that the plant has enough leaves left to build reserves to the root system. After six or seven years of growth the roots may need to be divided in order to maintain good productivity.
Rhubarb Varieties and Culinary Uses
Rhubarb plants will produce either red or green stalks, with the red varieties being much more ornamental in the garden. Popular rhubarb varieties include: Canada Red (one of my favorites), Ruby, Victoria, Mammoth Red, Prince Albert, Macdonald, Crimson Cherry, Sutton’s, and Riverside Giant.
While rhubarb is classified as a vegetable most of its uses are as an ingredient for making desserts. It provides a very tart flavor that blends well with sweeter fruits and ingredients. Rhubarb stalks are commonly included in recipes for pies, cakes, sauces, jams, cobblers, tarts, and breads.
With just a little care in enriching and maintaining a fertile soil, rhubarb will provide you with years of trouble free growth and large, ornamental plants that will decorate the garden’s beds even if you never harvest a single stalk for use in the kitchen.
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