February is a month of preparation. There is a lot to do and a great deal of anticipation focused on the coming year. In one of last month’s posts, we talked about forcing rhubarb. Well February is the month you can add to your stock of rhubarb by planting new crowns, and maybe try some new varieties. Growing rhubarb is remarkably easy as, once established, it needs little maintenance and will produce a great crop year after year in the same location without too many problems.
You need a moist, but well-drained location – so if drainage is a problem, consider a raised bed, as the crowns will rot if waterlogged. Although rhubarb prefers a sunny location, it will grow quite happily in semi-shade. Rhubarb needs a lot of nutrients to thrive so dig the ground to a depth of 24 inches and work in a lot of well composted manure. Make sure the bed has been cleared of all weeds.
The rhubarb crowns should be planted so that the top is 1 inch below soil level. although, if the soil is heavy and wet, plant them slightly higher, so that the top of the crown sits at ground level. This will help prevent rotting. Rhubarb plants get quite large so allow a spacing of 24 to 30 inches between them. Water well in dry spells.
Do not harvest during the first year after planting as this will reduce overall plant growth. Remove a few stems the next year, then up to half from then on. Always leave some stems to allow the plant to continue growing. Whilst some gardeners advise harvesting by gently removing the stem from the crown, a sharp knife is probably easier. Cut the ripe stem at the base. After you have cut the stems, remove the leaves and toss onto the compost heap. Never eat the leaves as they are poisonous.
Technically, rhubarb can be harvested right up until autumn – but it is better to stop harvesting in July or August to allow the plant to build up its energy for the winter. Allow the foliage to die back naturally in autumn then cut away the old leaves to expose the growing tips to winter cold.