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How to Grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is an easy to grow perennial, that is just beginning to be re-discovered. Native to Asia, Rhubarb was popular in grandma's garden. It's easy to grow, and is one of the earliest producers in the vegetable garden. Put a few plants in the ground where they won't be disturbed, and they will produce for many years. It will certainly reward you with almost effortless production of stalks to enjoy.

Rhubarb is also called the "pie plant", as it is most popular cooked in pies. The rhubarb plant has a long, thick, edible stem with good flavor, but a tart taste. Rhubarb recipes use sugar to sweeten it.

Through the years, debate has raged as to whether Rhubarb is a vegetable, or a fruit. It is commonly thought of as a fruit, as this is the way it is used. In actuality, Rhubarb is actually a vegetable.

Important: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Cut the stalk at the base of the leaf and discard the leaves.


  • There are two types of Rhubarb. The most common has a reddish stalk, while the second has a white stalk with light pinkish coloring and streaking. Their taste is the same. We suggest you grow a few of each for color.

Did You Know? Rhubarb is one of just two perennial vegetables, that lives for several years. The other is Asparagus.

Garden Tip: Do not confuse Rhubarb with "Rhubarb Swiss Chard". They are not the same.

Sowing Rhubarb Seeds:

While seeds can be planted, rhubarb plants are most often propagated by separating the  roots, or crowns. A piece of root with at least one bud is planted with the rhubarb crown just at soil level. Plant outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked. Rhubarb is hardy, and will survive late spring frosts. If there is a really hard freeze, the leaves and stalk could be damaged, but new ones will soon replace any that are damaged.

Space Rhubarb roots two to three feet apart. They will spread. Rhubarb tolerates a little crowding, but the stalks and leaves will grow bigger and healthier if you allow them plenty of space. A few plants is all you will need for a home garden. If you are planting large quantities, space rows three feet apart.

Days to Maturity:

Rhubarb can be picked in the spring as soon as the stalks are large enough to harvest in sufficient quantity for the recipe you are planning to use. Newly planted Rhubarb will be ready to harvest the following year.

How to Grow Rhubarb Plants:

Before planting, select a location where they will not be disturbed for years, and where they will not be in the way when tilling your garden in future years. Rhubarb can be planted in partial shade, but prefer full sun.

Being easy to grow, Rhubarb will thrive in most garden soils. But, it will reward you when compost and manures or fertilizers are added. Use a general purpose fertilizer, or a high nitrogen mixture, for well established plants, to promote leaf and stalk growth.

Make sure ample water is in the soil during the harvest period. After harvest, don't forget to provide water, to keep your plants healthy all year long. As a rule of thumb, when watering the rest of your garden, water your rhubarb plants, too.

Healthy plants will grow and spread. Separate or thin the plants every five years, or sooner if the plants become crowded.

Also See:

Plant Problems

Soil Temperatures - Ideal germination temperature by vegetable

Ideal Soil pH - by vegetable

Insects and Pests:

Insect infestations are fairly uncommon. For occasional infestations, use an insecticidal soap or mild insecticide.


Rhubarb plants are long lived, and suffer few diseases. On occasion, fungus and crown rot can occur. Fungus problems are more common in wet and humid weather, if the plants are crowded.

Plant Problems - Diagnosis, causes and cures for many common plant problems.


You can harvest the Rhubarb  regardless of size. When harvesting, grasp a stalk firmly close to the ground. Twist and pull the stalk, and it should break free of the plant. While harvesting, pick the largest stalks first. Don't let them get too big. Stalks remain sweet and flavorful, until the warm summer weather begins. Then, the stalks turn bitter.

Did you know? Rhubarb plants can be forced into growing earlier. While the ground is still frozen or covered with snow, cover a couple of plants with a five gallon bucket, preferably black. You can also use a thick layer of straw or leaf mulch. The plants will begin growing earlier, and you can harvest them days or weeks before your neighbors!


Rhubarb plants are as hardy as vegetables come. They begin to grow as soon as the ground begins to thaw. No matter hold cold it gets in late spring, the weather will not kill the plant, although in some cases it may damage the first leaves.

Rhubarb Recipes:

Rhubarb Custard Pie

More of our garden recipes

More Gardening Resources:

National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day


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