Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb is generally known as a fruit due to its suitability as an ingredient in lots of desserts like crumble, fools and pies. It’s a perennial crop and with a little TLC you can be harvesting lovely succulent stems on plants that have not got out of control.
Rhubarbs are best planted as ‘crowns’. These are sections of mature roots that once planted are primed to develop over the winter underground and come into growth the following spring.
Choose a sunny, open site and incorporate a generous layer of bulky compost into the soil. Dig a hole so that the crowns sit with the buds just below the surface of the soil.
One rhubarb plant should be enough for an area of about 1 square metre (square yard), so if you are planting more than one, be sure to plant at metre spacing in all directions.
Leave the crop to grow and develop in the first year without harvesting.
Incorporate bulky compost into the soil before planting.
Feed plants in summer with a general fertiliser- one high in nitrogen is beneficial, as the harvestable crop is the growing stems rather than flowers and fruits, which should be removed as soon as you see them.
Water well during dry spells. Adding a mulch in its first February or March will conserve moisture in the soil.
Rhubarb does not favour very wet and waterlogged soils so either avoid planting in such soils or improve the drainage of the soil through adding grit and manure to improve soil texture or installing drainage pipes, soakaways etc.
Rhubarb does not require much in the way of formal pruning or training. Just remove flowers as soon as they appear, and keep well-watered in dry spells.
Harvesting and storing Rhubarb
Harvest stems in the plants second April. You can pull rhubarb stems up with your hand, close to the base of the plant and twisting slightly as you pull. Leave at least 3-5 stems per harvest. And cease harvesting by July.
Rhubarb does freeze well too.
You can selectively ‘force’ some rhubarb stems for sweeter paler stems. Just place an upturned dustbin over the plant to plummet it into darkness. In a month and a half the stems should be harvestable. This is only advisable to do every now and again and a rhubarb plant should not be forced any more frequently than once every two years.
Pests and Diseases of Rhubarb - Crown rot, Honey fungus