Get the most out of your rhubarb plants with these rhubarb growing tips and find out when is the best time to harvest rhubarb.
We started a little rhubarb patch in our vegetable garden a few years ago and it’s doing really well, so I thought it might be fun to talk a little bit about growing rhubarb and since we’re right in the thick of rhubarb season now, answer the big question, ‘When’s the best time to harvest rhubarb?’. Kennedy has always loved rhubarb, or “lubarb” as she used to call it and we used to grow it for her at our old house when she was really little. We tried once before to get some rhubarb going here in this house, but our first attempt was not so pretty! This famous perennial plant with the reddish pink stems is generally considered to be an easy-to-grow beginner plant, but that’s not always the case. This time around we’ve had really good luck though so we’re all set for pies, and crisps, or for just eating it straight out of the garden when it’s ready to harvest!
The Creek Line House – Homemade Rhubarb Bread
Pick a Good Location
With our first attempt, we had just one really tiny plant that we put way out on the far end of our garden. I think what happened is that something came along and ate most of it, so the plant was just too weak and died. This time around, we started off with larger plants from the garden center and we put them on the side of the garden closest to the house, next to the herbs and the asparagus. That, along with this being a well-drained area, seems to be all that was needed to prevent that problem from happening again! As any gardener will tell you, it’s funny what a difference it can make to your growing season when you just move a plant to a slightly different location. We’ve seen so many sad little plants go on to live full, happy, beautiful lives when we’ve moved them just a few feet away from where they originally were.
It’s Rhubarb Time
Since we’re almost into the first part of June now, it’s definitely rhubarb season and it’s time to get harvesting! It can be a little hard to figure out when exactly is the right time to harvest rhubarb if you’re just getting started with growing it, so here are a few tips to remember:
–Rhubarb is always ripe. Technically, when the stalks are healthy and growing, from the time when they’re just little sprouts, until they’re fully developed, they’re ripe. You don’t need to wait until a certain point in the season or until the stalks look a certain way to harvest them. If the stalks are there, they’ve got that full, tart rhubarb flavor you’re looking for. The perfect harvest time for you may be anywhere from early-spring until early-summer, depending on what plant hardiness zone you’re in.
A Little Patience Goes a Long Way
–You want to minimize damage to the plant when you harvest. Since you want your rhubarb plants to come back bigger and stronger every year, you want to harvest without completely destroying the plant. Typically, the best time to harvest rhubarb is between mid-May and mid-July and you want to wait until the stalks are at least 10″ long, not counting the leaf part before you harvest them. Try to leave quite a few stalks on the plant at the end of your harvesting season to allow the plant and foliage to work on storing energy to get through the winter.
–Don’t harvest at all the first year. To help you plants build strength, avoid harvesting anything the first year that you get them into the ground. Leave them untouched right through until the cool season in autumn. You can start harvesting the second year, but try to go a little easy on it. On the third year, you can just go for it!
–The leaves are toxic. While the stalks are tasty and nutritious, the leaves of the rhubarb plant are actually considered toxic because of their high levels of oxalic acid. They’re completely safe for your compost pile though, so just make sure you cut off the entire leaf from each stalk and toss them in there!
How to Harvest Rhubarb
If you’re wondering exactly how to harvest rhubarb from your plant, it’s simple! Find the largest stalks, grip them firmly one at a time, and pull up while twisting slightly to release them from the base of the plant. Use a big sharp knife or your garden clippers to cut the leaves off, rinse off the stalks, and you’re all set for all of your favorite rhubarb recipes, whether that’s strawberry rhubarb pie, rhubarb jam, rhubarb crumble, or just making frozen rhubarb to save for baking projects later on.
We’ve created a little video so you can see our rhubarb growing in our garden this year and a few more tips as well!
Do you have any rhubarb plants in your garden? What tips have you learned over the years for rhubarb success?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.