Rhubarb Plant Starting Tips

Rhubarb early in the season

Rhubarb is a perennial plant grown for its leaf stalks.

Rhubarb grows best in regions where the ground freezes each winter. Winter chill results in rhubarb plants with thick stems and red color. Rhubarb is not productive in areas with very hot summers.

Rhubarb is commonly grown from root divisions called “crowns”, not from seed. Plant rhubarb where it can grow undisturbed for 15 to 20 years. Set crowns in the garden in early spring as soon as the ground is workable.

Let new plants grow for two seasons before beginning to harvest in the third season; this allows the plant to grain the strength and energy to be productive for many years.

Sowing and Planting Tips:

  • Grow rhubarb from root divisions also called crowns.
  • Set crowns in the garden in early spring as soon as the ground is workable or in mild-winter regions plant crowns in autumn after the summer heat has broken.
  • Set crowns 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the soil surface. Place crowns bud side up.
  • Space plant 36 inches (90 cm) apart in rows 60 inches (152 cm) apart.
  • Firmly tamp down the soil and water crowns to prevent dry pockets around the crowns.
  • Grow rhubarb in well-drained soil rich in organic compost. Add sand or gypsum to heavy clay soils before planting.
  • Rhubarb is a heavy feeder; work bone meal and rock phosphate into the root zone at the time of planting.
  • Rhubarb prefers a soil pH or 6.0 to 6.8.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting.
  • Plant in full sun, but rhubarb can grow in partial shade.
  • Plant rhubarb in a dedicated bed; plants will live up to 20 years.
  • Rhubarb grows best in regions where the ground freezes each winter. Winter chill results in thick stems and red color. Rhubarb is not productive in areas with very hot summers.

Interplanting: Plant in a dedicated bed; rhubarb plants can live and be productive for 15 to 20 years. Consider planting rhubarb at the edge of a bed dedicated to asparagus—also a long-lived perennial.

Recommended Planting Calendar:

  • Spring planting: set crowns in the garden in early spring as soon as the ground is workable, usually about 2 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Fall planting: In mild-winter regions plant crowns in autumn after the summer heat has broken.

Recommended varieties: ‘Valentine’ and ‘Strawberry’ are vivid red varieties. ‘Canada Red’ stays red after cooking. ‘Cherry Giant’ can grow where summers are warm. ‘Victoria’ can be grown from seed.

Botanical Name: Rheum rhabarbarum

Rhubarb is a member of the Polygonaceae family; other members of the family include sorrel and buckwheat.