Yard and Garden: Properly Planting and Harvesting Rhubarb

May 18, 2016, 4:39 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa - Rhubarb is a widely-grown plant that can make an excellent addition to a number of dishes and meals. Late spring to early summer is prime time for rhubarb harvest and consumption.

When growing rhubarb at home, take care to ensure prime production. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help handle these issues. 

My rhubarb is blooming. What should I do?

Flower development is natural for rhubarb and most other plants. Drought, extreme heat and infertile soils may encourage flowering. Age is another factor. Older plants tend to flower more than younger ones.  

Regardless of the reason, flower stalks should be promptly pulled and discarded. Plants will be less productive if allowed to flower and set seeds.  

Flower formation can be discouraged with good cultural practices. Water rhubarb plants every seven to 10 days during dry weather. Sprinkle ½ cup of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around each plant in early spring. Control weeds by shallow hoeing, hand pulling or mulching.


When can I start harvesting newly planted rhubarb?

After planting rhubarb, it’s best to wait two years (growing seasons) before harvesting any stalks. The two-year establishment period allows the plants to become strong and productive.  

Rhubarb can be harvested over a four-week period in the third year. In the fourth and succeeding years, stalks can be harvested for eight to 10 weeks.

What is the proper way to harvest rhubarb?

Harvest rhubarb by grabbing the base of the stalks and pulling up and slightly to one side. Rhubarb also can be harvested by cutting the stalks at the soil surface with a sharp knife. Do not remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time. After harvest, trim off and discard the leaves. Fresh rhubarb stalks can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two to four weeks. 

When should I stop harvesting rhubarb?

Well-established rhubarb plants can be harvested for eight to 10 weeks. In Iowa, the last harvest is typically mid-June. If harvested over a longer period, the rhubarb plants will be weakened and less productive the following year.  

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