Rhubarb (Vegetable Gardening)

Common names: rhubarb, pie plant
Botanical name: Rheum
rhaponticum Origin: southern Siberia


Canada Red; MacDonald; Valentine; Victoria (green stalks).


A hardy perennial, rhubarb grows two to four feet tall, with large, attractive leaves on strong stalks. The leaf stalks are red or green and grow up from a rhizome or underground stem, and the flowers are small and grow on top of a flower stalk. Don’t allow the plant to reach the flowering stage; remove the flower stalk when it first appears. You eat only the rhubarb stalks; the leaves contain a toxic substance and are not for eating.

Where and when to grow

Rhubarb is very hardy and prefers cool weather. In areas where the weather is warm or hot, the leaf stalks are thin and spindly. Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but the plants will not grow “true” — which means they won’t be the same variety as the parent plant. Crow from the divisions that grow up from the parent stems for a close or exact copy of the parent plant. Buy divisions or divide your own plants in spring, about four to six weeks before the average date of last frost. The timing is not crucial, because you won’t harvest rhubarb the first year. Refer to “Planting Your Garden” in Part 1 for information on dividing plants.

How to plant

Rhubarb likes rich, well-worked soil that is high in organic matter and drains well. Give it a place in full sun or light shade. When you’re preparing the soil for planting, work in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
you’re ready to use them; in very cold areas, mulch them heavily. Store rutabagas in a cold, moist place for two to four months; do not refrigerate. They can also be frozen. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Part 3.

Serving suggestions

Peel rutabagas and steam or boil until tender; then mash them for use in puddings and pancakes. They can also be served sliced or diced. Add rutabagas to vegetable soups and stews. Saute them in butter with apples and brown sugar. Rutabaga is very good with lots of butter or sour cream; low-calorie alternatives are yogurt or low-fat cream cheese.

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