Guide to Growing Rhubarb
Guide to Growing Rhubarb
Rhubarb – Rheum rhaponticum
A native of China, its history can be traced back to several thousand years B.C. Various species have taken part in the production of rhubarb as we know it today and through the course of time, the plant has been gradually improved.
An easy plant to grow, it will remain productive for many years. It is a pity that rhubarb is often grown in positions which are badly drained or where theis poor.
Deeply move the soil, since the plants make thick branching roots. If stable and farmyard manure and compost are worked in they will provide feeding material over a long period. Bone meal and wood ashes are also useful. for earliest outdoor rhubarb, a fairly sheltered position is required.
Plant from autumn to spring when the soil is workable. Allow 90cm between the crowns for they increase in size and need ample room. Spread the roots fully, planting firmly, covering the crowns with 50 mm of soil. Do not pull any stalks the first season and in subsequent years always leave some stalks on each plant.
It is best not to pull much after mid-summer excepting in the case of stalks needed for jam or wine making. Rhubarb should not be cut but gripped at the base of the stem and pulled with a jerking movement. Flower heads should always be removed. To keep the plants productive, give a dressing of manure annually. Inverted pots or boxes placed over some of the plants will provide outdoor pullings.
While it is usual to force three year old plants, rather younger specimens can be used, provided they are strong and healthy. Plants to be forced should not be pulled during the summer. This means that the energy of the plants will have been directed entirely to building up strong crowns for producing good crop when forced.
The simplest way to force rhubarb is under the heated greenhouse staging. If sacks or hessian are draped in front of the staging this will provide the necessary darkness. Should hot water pipes be under the staging, it is best to stand a sheet of asbestos or some boards in front, so that dry heat does not directly reach the rhubarb.
Timing is important
If the aim is to produce sticks for Christmas, forcing should commence a few weeks previously. To maintain a succession, batches of crowns must be brought in at fourteen day intervals. Make sure that the soil is nicely moist before planting.
Pack the crowns closely together, filling in the spaces between them with sandy loam, fine peat or leaf mould so that there are no air pockets. Once planted, the crowns should be given a good soaking with water. To begin with, a temperature of 8°C is adequate, but a week later it should be raised to 10°C and after a further eight to ten days to 15 to l8°C.
Varieties include: Prince Albert, Linnaeus and Victoria. If one or more of these are grown it will provide a natural succession of sticks for pulling from April onwards. For forcing, Champagne and Dawes Champion are good, whilst the Sutton is also reliable. It is possible to raise rhubarb from seed and Glaskin’s Perpetual is one of the best for this purpose and matures quickly.