Rhubarb is native to eastern Asia. In the U.S. it is a popular herbaceous, very hardy perennial which is grown in nearly all home gardens. Like Asparagus it must be located in the garden plot so that normal annual garden work does not disturb the plant. A few plants, 5-10, at the side of the garden will supply all that a family can use fresh, canned or frozen.
Rhubarb thrives best in regions having cool, moist summers and winters cold enough to freeze the ground to a depth of several inches. It is not adapted to most sections of the South.
‘Victoria’ is a vigorous-growing variety that produces very large stalks of a somewhat green color. ‘MacDonald’ and ‘Valentine’ are generally preferred because of the deep red color to the stalks. Other names listed by seeds men include ‘Ruby’ and ‘Strawberry’, both of which have red stalks but are generally less vigorous. ‘Linneas’ is also an old standard variety.
Rhubarb Soil Preparation
Any deep, well-drained, fertile soil is suitable for Rhubarb. The method of soil preparation outlined for Asparagus is suitable for Rhubarb.
The use of a good application of manure, however, is even more important for Rhubarb than is the case for Asparagus. Rhubarb has a deeper, fleshier root system than Asparagus.
Rhubarb Planting and Season Care
A piece of root containing a strong bud, under favorable conditions, will produce a strong plant in 1 year. Old plants may be divided in the fall or early spring into 4-8 parts for use in starting a new bed. Spring planting is preferred.
The root “steckling” or a single section of a divided clump is placed at the bottom of a trench 8-10 in. deep and covered with soil to a depth of 3-4 in. As soon as the young stalks appear the soil is again pulled in to fill the trench or hill.
Rhubarb is sometimes grown in the cellar for winter use. After the first year top dress each plant in the spring with a forkful of manure. If manure is not available apply 1 lb. of a complete fertilizer (5-8-7 or 5-10-5) around each hill. Rhubarb is a gross feeder and is not readily over-fertilized.
Remove seed stalks as soon as they appear. No stem should be harvested until the second year. From the third year on the leaf stalks maybe pulled when they reach a proper size for approximately 4 weeks. Use only the leaf stalk, not the leaf itself.
Dig up a few plants in the fall, place in a protected spot where they will not dry out but where they will freeze. After freezing for several weeks, place the roots in a box in the cellar cover the crowns with several inches of soil or sand and apply just enough water to keep the soil or sand moist. A temperature of 50-65° F. is ideal. Light is not necessary and actually stalks develop more color in the dark.
Roots that have been forced should not be reset into the garden. Rhubarb is not generally injured by insects or diseases. The leaves of this common garden food plant are poisonous. The leafstalks or petioles only are commonly eaten, but the leaves, when eaten by humans, have caused severe poisoning.