Growing rhubarb – everything you need to know

If you're thinking of growing rhubarb, here's how to get a bumper crop. Rhubarb crumble, anyone?

Growing rhubarb
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once you've mastered growing rhubarb, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. It freezes brilliantly so you can have steady supply of rhubarb crumbles or fruity accompaniments to your roast dinner throughout the year. Our tip? Mix in some homegrown strawberries into your crumble and serve cooled with ice cream for the perfect summer pudding.

The good news is, rhubarb is easy to grow at home but you will need a bit of patience. If you pick the stems during the first year, it'll reduce your crop in future years. Instead, build up how many stems you pick each year, leaving a few in place each time to increase your chances of a bumper harvest the following year. 

One more quick thing to note – never be tempted to eat the rhubarb leaves as they're poisonous to humans.

Here's our step-by-step guide to growing rhubarb, from the perfect conditions, to the common problems and how to avoid them.

Step-by-step guide to growing rhubarb

Method:

1. Start with what’s known as a rhubarb crown, which is basically the root of a rhubarb plant that you can order online or pick up in garden centres. It's best to plant your crown in early spring.

2. Dig a hole in your soil that's larger than the crown and dig in plenty of compost.

3. Sit the plant in the hole with the top of the crown about level with the soil surface. Fill around the roots with soil and firm down gently. If you’re doing more than one plant, then allow plenty of room between them as they like to spread out.

4. Keep your rhubarb well watered, and it’ll also love being given some general–purpose plant fertiliser early in its growth.

5. Remember not to pick any stalks the first year and then to build up the amount you harvest as time goes on.

The best places to buy rhubarb crowns online

The best conditions for growing rhubarb

Rhubarb is a great plant for beginners as it's easy to care for and will produce a large crop after a few years. Choose a sunny spot and keep the ground free from weeds. Cover the area above the roots in a general-purpose fertiliser each March and water regularly.

Come autumn, when the top growth dies back, remove the dead leaves to expose the crown.

You can produce forced rhubarb, which is rhubarb that has been covered by a forcing jar in late winter so that all light is blocked out. When the stems reach the top of the jar, it's ready to harvest. It will normally be ready three weeks earlier than unforced rhubarb.

How long does growing rhubarb take?

As mentioned, you shouldn't pick any rhubarb during its first year to allow the plant to establish and ensure you get a bigger crop in future years. 

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stems are long and dark red, usually between May and July.

Growing rhubarb

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Common problems when growing rhubarb

The main issue when growing rhubarb is crown rot, which, as the name suggests, causes the crown to rot away and the plant to die. If you spot any affected areas, the RHS suggests you cut them off immediately to save the plant. 

Slugs and snails can also feed on the young plant and cause damage, so use natural deterrents, such as sawdust, or, if all else fails, slug pellets.

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