Rhubarb is a leafy herbaceous plant that belongs to Rheum genus and Polygonaceae family. About 60 perennial plants that form a part of this genus, it is the Rheum rhabarbarum species that is most commonly used in cooking. While many consider it to be an ornamental plant due to its bold foliage and colorful stalks, many people consider growing rhubarb due to its culinary uses. The petioles or leaf stems are the only part of the plant that are used for cooking. It is the non-toxic malic acid that provides the sharp flavor to it. It is often used as a flavoring agent for pies or desserts. To add to it, this plant is also known for its medicinal properties. The powder extracted from the root of this plant is used as a purgative. Whether you wish to grow this plant solely for ornamental purposes or culinary uses, make sure that the leaves or parts other than the leaf stem are never ingested by anyone. The presence of poisonous oxalic acid in these can pose certain health risks.
Ideal Conditions Needed for its Growth
If you are a gardening enthusiast, you will know how important it is to provide a plant the ideal conditions it needs for its growth. The soil requirement, time of planting, method of propagation, watering, and fertilization for this plant are mentioned below:
Ideal Planting Time
Rhubarb is a cool season herbaceous plant that does not do well in very hot weather. So, the best time for planting it would be during the late spring or winter season. It is winter hardy, which is why you can safely plant this plant in winter. It grows best when the temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is high it will start wilting. So, select the planting site accordingly.
The soil should be well-drained. Ideally, the soil pH should lie anywhere between 6.0 to 6.8, but it can grow well in acidic soil as well. The soil must also be fertile. Since this plant has a deep root system, you will need to prepare the soil beforehand. You must loosen the soil up to a depth of at least 10 inches. The soil must then be amended with the help of organic matter. Make sure that you remove all the weeds. The planting site must receive partial to full sun.
This plant can be grown from seeds or crowns, but if you are thinking about growing it from seeds, be ready to wait for a couple of years. Seed germination process is not too fast and it might take 1-2 years for the stalks to appear. If you are using seeds, then you will need to soak the seeds in water for a few hours before planting them. Make sure that you use a good planting mix. Once the plants reach a height of 3-4 inches, these can be transplanted. Make sure that you transplant them at a distance of three feet from each other. A better option would be to buy one-year-old rhubarb plants (crowns) from the garden center. These crowns must be planted about 10 centimeters below the surface of the soil, while the crown bud must lie about 2 inches under the surface of the soil.
Watering and Fertilization
Though most of the varieties are drought-resistant, you must water the plant regularly during the growing season. Don't go on a watering spree, as that can cause damage to the roots. Make sure that the top layer of the soil remains moist at all times. Mulching with straw or other mulching materials will help in controlling weeds. It will also help the soil retain moisture. You can also use manure or fertilizers to promote the growth of the plant. Once the plant is well-established, the petioles can be harvested. Those who are using seeds will have to wait for at least three years for harvesting the leaf stalks. Make sure that you pull the largest of the stem. You must gently pull the stem around its base. Make sure that you don't cause damage to the plant while you harvest the petioles. You can also use natural pesticides, if you see any signs of damage due to aphids, slugs, or snails.
Rhubarb is a hardy vegetable that doesn't need a lot of care. Just follow the aforementioned tips, and it will flourish. Not only would the vibrant crimson stalks lend color to your garden, you would also be able to use the stalks for culinary purposes.