Growing Rhubarb:
How to Grow Rhubarb Organically

Growing rhubarb from seed requires patience, as it is not ready for harvest until the second or third year after its initial planting. The quicker way to go is to plant pre-grown root divisions. Either way, with care and fertile, well-drained soil, rhubarb can produce for up to fifteen years.

Growing Rhubarb: Plant Snapshot (Rheum rhaponticum)

Growing Rhubarb
  • Family: Polygonaceae (Rheum rhaponticum)
  • Annual or Perennial? Perennial
  • Recommended varieties: Valentine, Victoria, Macdonald Strain, Glaskin’s Perpetual
  • Cold tolerance: Hardy - Will survive hard frosts and can be planted 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring.
  • Required Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: n/a (perennial)
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Cabbage, broccoli, garlic, onions, asparagus
    • Avoid: Potatoes, turnips, carrots
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Growing Rhubarb: Planting & Transplanting Rhubarb

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Rhubarb seed exists, but it takes a long time to grow plants from seed and the seedlings are not always true to size and color. However, there are some types of rhubarb seeds that are labeled “easy to grow” that you may want to give a shot. To plant rhubarb seeds, soak in water for several hours, and then plant in a good soil mixture, two seeds per pot.

The easier growing method is to plant root divisions (part of the root of a mature rhubarb plant) a few weeks before the first frost.

Snapshot: Planting Rhubarb

  • Planting depth: about 1 inch (2.54 cm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 18 to 24 inches (45.72 to 61 cm)
  • Germination soil temperature: 45 to 65 degrees F (7.2 to 18.3 degrees C)
  • Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
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Growing Rhubarb: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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Once rhubarb seeds have been planted, you can expect quick germination.

Prepare the soil bed for rhubarb carefully, as this will be the plant’s home for ten years or more. Loosen the soil at least ten inches deep and add three to four inches of compost and a good handful of an organic garden fertilizer that is high in phosphorus and potassium.

Be sure to keep your rhubarb plants’ soil moist. Mulch is a good idea, for it will help to smother garden weeds and retain moisture.

As any flower shoots emerge, snip them off quickly so that moisture and nutrients aren’t wasted.

Snapshot: Growing Rhubarb

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 5.5 to 6.8
  • Growing soil temperature: 45 to 75 degrees F (7.2 to 23.4 degrees C)
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Growing Rhubarb: Harvesting Time

Rhubarb is usually harvested once the roots of the plant have established themselves, about two to three years for crowns (root divisions) and three to four years from seeds. However, most gardeners can anticipate a light harvest of one or two stalks the first year.

Cut the stalks of rhubarb at their base when the plant has reached about three feet (91 cm) in diameter and the stalks are around two feet (61 cm) tall and one half to one inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) in diameter.

Do not consume the leaves, as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.

Snapshot: Harvesting Rhubarb

  • Time to harvest: About two to three years after planting
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Storing Rhubarb and Freezing Rhubarb

To store freshly harvested rhubarb, cut into desired lengths and store in perforated plastic vegetable bags in the crisper section of your refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Rhubarb can also be frozen. To prepare for freezing, clean the stalks and cut them into one inch (2.5 cm) pieces and then water blanch for one minute. Cool, drain well, and place into freezer bags or containers, making sure to leave some headroom at the top of each.

Rhubarb seed is viable for up to 4 years.

Snapshot: Storing Rhubarb & Freezing Rhubarb

  • Storage temperature: 32 to 40 degrees F (0 to 4.44 degrees C)
  • Humidity: 90 to 95% relative humidity
  • Storage life (unfrozen in above conditions): up to 3 weeks
  • Storage life (frozen): up to 9 months
  • Seed longevity: About 4 years
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Growing Rhubarb: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Rhubarb. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Aphids
  • Black bean aphid
  • Flea beetles
  • Potato bugs
  • Potato stem borer
  • Tarnished plant bug
  • Slugs
  • Snails

Diseases

  • Arabis mosaic
  • Ascochyta fungus
  • Cherry leaf roll virus
  • Ramularia leaf spots
  • Root and crown rot
  • Turnip mosaic virus
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