What summer picnic would be complete without the tang of rhubarb pie?
While purists may enjoy their rhubarb raw, dipped lightly in sugar, many of us prefer rhubarb pie with luscious strawberries. However you eat rhubarb, it is a sturdy perennial that can provide shape, color, and food in a garden or landscape for decades. These plants can get pretty big, making rhubarb excellent anchor plants in a foodscape.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is generally a cool season plant. It needs temperatures below 40ºF in the winter and prefers temperatures below 75ºF in the summer. That being said, I have had excellent success with rhubarb in the Bay Area, where our peak summer heat can reach above 100°F..
You may be surprised to learn that rhubarb is related to buckwheat. It is believed to have started in Asia, some 5,000 years ago. Marco Polo is cited as the one who brought it to Europe and Benjamin Franklin carried rhubarb to North America, way back in the 1700s!
How to grow rhubarb
When selecting a site for rhubarb, keep the plant’s mature size in mind. Rhubarb plants can reach 3’ in height and 4’ in diameter. Rhubarb generally prefers full sunlight, but mine (pictured) are under a small apricot tree (which probably protects the rhubarb from our summer heat). In temperate regions, the rhubarb harvest begins in April and continues until September.
Individual plants will be productive for 8-20 years, but, since they grow from rhizomes, the plants will replace themselves over time. [Side note: my mother purchased a 200-year old farm house in Upstate New York many years ago and decided to plant rhubarb along the southern side of an outbuilding. Apparently, the original owners felt the same way because, come spring, not only did the new plants come up, but so did the offspring of the original plants! Needless to say, Mom had plenty of rhubarb!]
Rhubarb can be grown in large containers, as long as there is enough room for a season’s growth. Rhubarb will do much better in the ground. Follow these steps to get your rhubarb patch started:
Rhubarb leaves are toxic, so do not eat them or feed to chickens or pets. While rhubarb’s green or red stalks are a tangy treat, the leaves contain oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can cause kidney failure.
One easy way to keep weeds down in a rhubarb patch is to simply take a few of the large rhubarb leaves and lay them on the ground. The oxalic acid in the leaves prevents weeds from growing! As they break down, they will also add organic matter to the soil.
Get your rhubarb crowns in today for a lifetime of red-stalked deliciousness!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!