The ideal time to plant rhubarb is mid-March to early April and our #2 gallon ‘Crimson Cherry’ containers are looking good. We’ve moved them outside to harden off and the weather looks perfect.
Plant rhubarb in a spot with afternoon shade. To prevent crown rot in new plantings add compost and raise the soil level slightly to help with drainage. Rhubarb prefers a pH below 7.0 (neutral to acidic — adding peat moss, compost, coffee grounds and Espoma Holly-Tone organic fertilizer can help acidify soil). Space plants 2-3 feet apart and mulch to hold moisture and suppress weeds. Insects and diseases are rarely a problem for rhubarb, and these hardy perennials can stand the cold winters and dry summers of Kansas.
To establish healthy, long-lasting rhubarb plants skip harvest the first year and only harvest a few stalks the second year. In the third year up to one-third of the plant can be taken, and stalks can be harvested for up to 8 weeks. Break off the largest stalks by pulling them to the side or cutting with a knife at the base of the plant. Only the stalk is edible — leaves are toxic. Refrigerate cut stalks for up to 4 weeks in a refrigerator crisper drawer.
Always remove flower stalks as soon as they begin to form to direct the plant’s energy into stalk production and overall growth.
Fertilize established rhubarb annually in late March. Feed with Espoma Plant-Tone according to label instructions. An additional feeding in late June or July provides a post-harvest boost to guarantee a good harvest next year.
Cook rhubarb in stainless steel or enamel-coated cast-iron pans — the acidity in the stalks reacts to aluminum, copper, and iron causing the pieces to turn brown. If you don’t have time to bake a strawberry-rhubarb pie, try roasting stalks by spreading them on a cookie sheet, sprinkling with powdered sugar, and placing in a 400° oven for 13-15 minutes.