Learn how to grow rhubarb for your very own supply of this tart perennial.
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If you only grow one vegetable this year, it should be rhubarb. Why? It’s so easy to grow, because there’s so little you need to do! Once rhubarb is established in your garden or landscape, the plants come back for years. They need very little maintenance, and best of all? Every spring will begin with a fresh crop of rhubarb to use in dozens of sweet and savory rhubarb recipes.
Many folks think of rhubarb as a fruit (likely because it’s so often sweetened and paired with fruits). It’s actually a perennial vegetable in growing zones 3-8.
Where to Find Rhubarb Plants
They could be right next door! Neighbors or friends with large, established rhubarb patches will be happy to share some with you. Rhubarb plants are easy to dig up, divide and replant. Divide the crown of a plant using a sharp shovel, and take a portion with at least two stems.
No luck with your neighbors? Your local garden center will have young plants available in the spring as the gardening season kicks off. Sellers like Burpee are also a good bet. They will send bare roots (in other words, a root with no soil around it) that you can plant in the spring.
Where to Plant Rhubarb
Keep two things in mind when choosing the location for your rhubarb plant. First, because rhubarb is a perennial, it will grow back and grow larger in its location for years. Ideally, the spot you choose should be a permanent one. (Though you can always divide the plants if they get too big.) Second, rhubarb likes a lot of light, so look for a spot that gets full sun. Because rhubarb is a tall and attractive plant, you can also incorporate it into your landscape to have more location options.
The plants will spread between 3 to 4 feet wide, so space them accordingly. Dig a deep hole for rhubarb, and plant it with soil amended with compost. Be sure the soil around the rhubarb gets consistent moisture, but no standing water that could cause root rot.
One of the great things about rhubarb is that it’s low-maintenance plant, and will return every spring without any help at all. Give your new or divided rhubarb plants a year to get established (we know, the wait will be tough!). Be sure the soil around the plants stays moist, but not soggy. After the first year, your rhubarb will be strong enough that you can harvest the stems.
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, from bare roots like those available from online stores, or as plants from nurseries or that are dug up and divided. Whichever route you take, your rhubarb will need time to get established before you can harvest the stalks—and this is longer when you grow from seed. For plants and bare roots, harvest stalks sparingly after the first full year of growth, and more heavily in subsequent seasons. Plants started from seed will need two to three years to establish and grow before any harvesting can happen.
Why is my rhubarb not red?
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When rhubarb stalks don’t turn red, many gardeners worry that they’re unripe, or that something is wrong with the plant. The color of the stalks is actually determined by the variety of rhubarb you’re growing: For example, Canada Red is a type of red rhubarb and Riverside Giant is a variety of green rhubarb. The good news is that it doesn’t matter whether you have green or red rhubarb stalks; they’ll both be flavorful and delicious in your recipes.
Should I let my rhubarb flower?
Tall flower stalks emerging from rhubarb are normal for mature plants, although they can also appear during hot weather (this is called bolting) or when rhubarb is stressed from insufficient watering or plant damage. The best approach is to cut and remove the flower stalks so the plant can recover and put its growing energy into the stems.
When is rhubarb ready to harvest?
The rhubarb stalks are ready to harvest when they’re 7 to 15 inches long. As we said, the color isn’t an indicator of ripeness, so don’t worry whether they’re red enough or not. You can harvest rhubarb from spring until mid-summer. It’s then best to stop harvesting: The plants will recuperate and store up energy to survive the winter.
Remember that only the stalks of rhubarb are edible. The leaves should be discarded, as they contain oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.
How to Use Rhubarb
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Rhubarb stems are edible the moment you pick them. Feel free to snack on a raw stalk—though you will find it has a mouth-puckering sourness! That’s why rhubarb is so often used in baked goods and desserts where that sour tang can be tempered with sugar.
To store rhubarb, place the stalks in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks. To freeze rhubarb, cut the stems into small pieces, and freeze them in a single layer in a sealed freezer bag. Rhubarb will keep in the freezer for up to one year.
I found this strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe on a box of Quaker Oats about 20 years ago. It's quick and easier to make than pie. It's versatile, too, because you can add strawberries in spring or apples in fall. I usually pop it into the oven shortly before we sit down to eat so it's still warm for dessert! —C.E. Adams, Charlestown, New Hampshire
The rhubarb flavor in this tart balances nicely with the honey and amaretto. The mascarpone cheese makes it rich and creamy. Sometimes I'll even double the rhubarb for really sumptuous tarts. —Ellen Riley, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I remember eating this relish at my grandmother's over 50 years ago. My mother made it for years and now my daughters make it. The relish complements any meat, but I find it a must with meat loaf. —Helen Brooks, Lacombe, Alberta r
My husband and I love pie, but we can't eat a whole 9-inch pie by ourselves. So I make these easy tarts using rhubarb and raspberries picked at home. Sometimes I substitute apples, peaches or our garden blueberries for the rhubarb. —Naomi Olson Hamilton, Michigan
A "fool" is a British dessert that's usually made with custard. This is a modified, quicker version I created. My kids love it because it doesn't taste like rhubarb—so I guess it's well named! —Cheryl Miller, Fort Collins, Colorado
I prepare this easy spring dessert quite often when fresh rhubarb is abundant. I make this rhubarb cake with cake mix and take it to church potlucks. People actually line up for a piece. —Bonnie Krogman, Thompson Falls, Montana
I got this recipe from my niece's son. Since we live in apple country, we have enjoyed apple fritters for many years. This rhubarb treat is a nice change for spring when apples are few and rhubarb is plentiful. —Helen Budinock, Wolcott, New York
These cheesecake bars layer a buttery pecan shortbread crust with a rich and creamy filling and sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb jam. For larger squares, cut into nine bars instead of 16. —Amanda Scarlati, Sandy, Utah
My husband’s grandmother was an excellent cook, but she didn’t always share her secrets. Luckily, we have her rhubarb pie recipe. I added one of my favorite crusts and a never-fail meringue. —Elaine Sampson, Colesburg, Iowa
My family loves rhubarb, and this is such a fun way to enjoy it. It's nice to have in the freezer and bring out when guests drop by. Even people that aren't crazy about rhubarb enjoy it. —Cathie Beard, Philomath, Oregon
It's always fun to serve a meat or poultry dish with a twist. This tangy-sweet chutney is a wonderfully different garnish. With fine chunks of rhubarb and raisins, it has a nice consistency. It's among our favorite condiments. —Jan Paterson, Anchorage, Alaska
Springtime brings back memories of the rhubarb that grew beside my childhood home. When I found ruby red stalks in the store, I created this recipe for them. My family gives this a big thumbs up. —Laurie Hudson, Westville, Florida
This tangy sweet spread is "jam-packed" with lots of cherry flavor, plus a hint of rhubarb. My mother gives jars of it to friends during rhubarb season—it's so delicious on toast and muffins. —Faye Sampson, Radcliffe, Iowa
Slab pie is a pastry baked in a jelly-roll pan and cut into slabs like a bar cookie—or a pie bar, if you will. My grandfather was a professional baker and served pieces of slab pie to his customers back in the day. Here is my spin, featuring rhubarb and gorgeous red raspberries. —Jeanne Ambrose, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
My husband's aunt gave me this recipe, and it's become our family's favorite breakfast topping. Sometimes I'll substitute cherry pie filling (which I put through the blender) for the blueberry pie filling—it's tasty, too! —Rita Wagenmann, Grangeville, Idaho
A dollop of whipped topping adds a nice finishing touch to this satisfying crumble. Sometimes I drizzle a little flavored coffee creamer on top instead of the whipped topping. —Nancy Sousley, Lafayette, Indiana
A neighbor shared this recipe with me, and I created my own variation using garden-fresh rhubarb and strawberries. The shortbread crust and creamy sweet-tart layers went over big at a family party—not a crumb was left! —Sara Zignego, Hartford, Wisconsin
A bumper crop of rhubarb and mint from my garden inspired me to create this thirst-quenching pick-me-up. Raspberries deepen the tea's vibrant red color, making the drinks a pretty addition to your table. —Laurie Bock, Lynden, Washington
I won a blue ribbon at our local fair for these tender cookies. They're so pretty with the ruby-red filling peeking through the dough. Try making these special cookies and watch the smiles appear. —Pauline Bondy, Grand Forks, North Dakota
I’ve baked this cake every spring for many years, and my family loves it! Use your own fresh rhubarb, hit up a farmers market or find a neighbor who will trade stalks for the recipe! —Helen Breman, Mattydale, New York
My friend Dave always brought two strawberry rhubarb cakes to work to celebrate his birthday. He’d use up rhubarb growing in the yard and treat his co-workers. —Charlene Schwartz, Maple Plain, Minnesota
My grandparents grew a ton of stuff in their garden, including rhubarb and strawberries. We typically baked it into pies and cobblers, but then Mom found this recipe and it became a fresh, new favorite. —LeeAnn McCue, Charlotte, North Carolina
The usual reaction to this casserole is that it’s a nice mix of sweet and tart—and an unusual use of rhubarb! I like rhubarb, but I’m not a dessert person. I always thought pies and cobblers shouldn’t be the only ways to enjoy it. —Jeanie Castor, Decatur, Illinois
Mom's yummy cobbler is a truly wonderful finale to any meal. This family favorite is sweet and tart, chock-full of berries and rhubarb, and the thick crust is so easy to make. —Susan Emery, Everett, Washington
We recently started growing our own rhubarb, and we live in a part of Oregon where strawberries are plentiful. I created this to drizzle over ice cream and filled a crisp with the rest. —Kim Banick, Salem, Oregon
Nothing hides the tangy rhubarb in this lovely pie, which has just the right balance of sweet and tart. Serving this dessert is a nice way to celebrate the end of winter! — Ellen Benninger, Greenville, Pennsylvania
My daughter makes this marmalade every spring when rhubarb's abundant. Our family enjoys her gift…a refreshing departure in flavor from all the berry jams and jellies. —Leo Nerbonne, Delta Juction, Alaska
An attractive dessert, this crisp is also a popular breakfast dish at our house, served with a glass of milk rather than topped with ice cream. Because it calls for lots of rhubarb, it's a great use for the bounty you harvest. —Rachael Vandendool, Barry's Bay, Ontario
I rely on a cake mix to speed the prep for this moist streusel-topped dessert that pairs tart rhubarb with sweet strawberries. It's great all by itself, but feel free to add some frosting or ice cream. —Jackie Heyer, Cushing, Iowa
I received this recipe from a friend about 15 years ago. It's a nice surprise for ketchup lovers, and so easy to prepare. The spicy flavor makes this one of the tastiest ketchups I've ever had! —Faith McLillian, Rawdon, Quebec
I came up with this recipe after hearing a friend fondly recall his grandmother's rhubarb dumplings. My son especially likes rhubarb, and this old-fashioned dessert lets those special stalks star.
-Beverly Shebs, Pinehurst, North Carolina
I like to take treats to my co-workers at the nursery/gift shop where I work. When rhubarb season arrives, I make this rich, sweet baklava so I can share the fruits of my garden. —Sue Bolsinger, Anchorage, Alaska
While growing up on a farm, I often ate rhubarb, so it's natural for me to use it in a pie. I prefer to use lard for the flaky pie crust and thin, red rhubarb stalks for the filling. These two little secrets helped this strawberry rhubarb pie recipe win top honors at the 2013 Iowa State Fair. —Marianne Carlson, Jefferson, Iowa
When I met my English husband and served him just the crumble, he said it was fantastic but really needed a custard sauce over it. We found a terrific sauce recipe from England, and now the pair is perfect together. I wouldn't serve it any other way. —Amy Freeman, Cave Creek, Arizona
I cook in a coffee shop, so I'm always looking for new and unique pies to serve my customers. The combination of blueberries and rhubarb in this recipe caught my eye and it was an instant best-seller. —Karen Dougherty, Freeport, Illinois
Every spring when her rhubarb was ready, my mother-in-law chopped it up for this moist cake. If your rhubarb is too tart for the sauce, just add in some strawberries. —Rena McCalment, Sharpsville, Indiana
My Grandma Dot used to make rhubarb compote and always had some in the freezer when I came to visit. This breakfast is a tribute to her. No two stalks of rhubarb are exactly alike, so make sure to taste the compote before you chill it. It should be tart, but sometimes it needs a little extra sugar. —Michael Hoffman, Brooklyn, New York
This tart and tangy fruit sauce is excellent over pound cake or ice cream. I have served this topping many times and have gotten rave reviews from friends and family. —Judith Wasman, Harkers Island, North Carolina
Spinach salad is excellent with this tangy topping, which really perks it up. A friend shared a similar salad dressing recipe with me and I modified it a bit. The rhubarb adds rosy color and mouthwatering flavor.—Twila Mitchell, Lindsborg, Kansas
At a retreat in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, I sampled a marmalade combining rhubarb and raisins. I loved it so much that I went home and tried to duplicate it. I added the strawberries to make the marmalade even sweeter. —Carmen Tuck, Airdrie, Alberta
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a Taste of Home Community Cook and a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.