Invest in a rhubarb plant and it will produce stems for 20 years in good conditions.
You can plant rhubarb divisions; these are a piece of the fleshy root with a bud. Or you can plant young rhubarb plants in grown pots. Plant in the dormant season, which is autumn through to late winter. Choose a site with well drained, enriched soil. Rhubarb will tolerate acidic conditions. It does not like deep shade. Don’t pick stems of newly planted plants for the first year.
Give established plants a heavy mulch of manure in the autumn but do not cover the crowns. They also benefit from an organic liquid feed in the spring. Rhubarb crowns can count the cold days of winter and will only start to grow vigorously when they have had enough cold days.
Pull the stems gently from the plant, do not cut. You will see how vigorous your crown is and that will allow you to gauge how many stems you can harvest. Take no more than half the stems at one picking. You can keep picking into the summer months but the stems do start to become more acid. Eventually the plant will slow down and the stems start to weaken in summer. This dying down is a natural part of the rhubarbs life cycle.
Forced rhubarb stems are more tender, sweeter and are an attractive pink colour. The process of forcing means the stems are ready a month earlier. You can buy terracotta rhubarb forcers which will look splendid in the garden at any time of year.
The forcer is placed over the rhubarb crown at the first sign of growth, usually in February. The darkness and extra warmth encourages the plant to rapidly grow stems. When the rhubarb has been picked, remove the forcer and leave that rhubarb crown unpicked for the rest of the year. In Patrick’s Patch we don’t force the same crowns two years in a row.
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