The best time to plant rhubarb in your garden is late Winter or early Spring. It’s a low maintenance plant that is easy to grow, and if it is given the right conditions you will harvest the stems for many years.
Rhubarb will tolerate some shading as it grows. You will get the best results if you can find a spot that has some afternoon shade in the heat of the summer, and full sun in winter. It grows best in a rich soil that is well drained, so prepare your soil by adding a good quantity of aged manure and adjust the pH level to be between 6.2 and 6.8.
You can start your patch off by buying some new crowns or dividing and transplanting your existing ones. I have had my rhubarb growing in the same spot for five years and recently, it was time to dig them up and relocate them to a better position. It’s not a difficult job, and this is how I divided and transplanted them.
Dividing your crowns:
Before any digging, remove all of the old stems and leaves by pulling them away from the crowns. Leave any very young (2-5 cm) shoots attached to the crowns. Expose the crowns by removing any mulch and loose soil so that you can easily see all the crowns. There should be multiple crowns visible if the rhubarb has been in the same spot for a number of seasons.
Push a sharp spade 25 cm into the soil about 5-10 cm away from the crowns. Repeat this process so that you have circled the crowns. Reinsert your spade into the cut and gently pull the handle back to loosen the crowns. Do this in 3 or 4 spots around the crowns and it should be loose. Insert your spade under the crowns and lift it out of the hole. If it is too big for you to lift, slice it with your sharp spade directly between some crowns and divide into 2 or 3 manageable chunks of rhubarb.
Once you have the crowns out of the ground, you will want to divide the crowns further to get multiple plants. Aim to have 2 or 3 crowns on each piece that you are going to transplant. Start by inserting your spade between two healthy crowns and slicing through the soil and roots. Don’t be shy as you do this, it may seem brutal but it is the best way to divide the crowns. Each piece you separate will need to have the loose soil removed and it will be ready to replant into the new spot.
Planting your crowns:
Plant them into the soil so that the top of the crown is just below or just on the surface. Space them 50 cm apart so that the new rhubarb plant has plenty of room to grow. Water in well, then cover the soil with your favourite type of mulch. This planting process is the same if you transplant your own rhizomes or buy some from elsewhere. If you have any surplus pants, put them in some pots to give away to your friends.
Give your plants plenty of time to establish themselves in the new location. I do not harvest any stems during the first year at all. When you do harvest hold the stalk near the base and gently pull it away . You want to avoid leaving a part of the old stump behind. Remove the leaves and put them into the compost, they are not edible for you or your pets.
As the plant grows make sure you top dress with well rotted manure in Spring and Autumn. You should replace the mulch as it rots away. They love their food, so regular liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season is a must. Keep them moist but not too wet, particularly in the hot months.
Many varieties will go completely dormant in winter, but in Australia there are many varieties that grow throughout the winter. I grow 2 varieties that produce their best stems in the winter months. Silvan Giant is a vigorous growing plant that produces solid green stems with a hint of red on one end. The second type is Wandin Red which has stems that are much redder, however they are smaller in size than Silvan Giant.
Rhubarb is a ‘must have’ plant in any veggie patch and with little effort you can enjoy harvesting them for many years to come. Do yourself a favour and plant some real soon.