A healthy rhubarb plant will last up to 10 years, so it’s an incredibly valuable investment. It is typically the first new season crop of the year, providing bountiful food from March onwards.
Rhubarb will grow in most soils, provided it is reasonably fertile. Choose a site that’s quite sunny – it won’t do well in shade. Choose your site carefully, as the plants will be in situ for up to a decade if you’re lucky. Dig in plenty of well rotted compost or manure in to the planting holes. The plants are incredibly deep-rooting. Three plants is more than enough for most households. Though it can be grown from seed, rhubarb is generally grown by buying young plants or encouraging a fellow gardeners to give you a crown (a piece of the plant’s root with at least one dormant bud on it) from their own healthy plants. This is done by digging up the plant when it has died back in winter and using a sharp spade to slice off a 10cm piece of the root. Crowns are then planted in the soil about 3ft apart, with the buds just above the ground to prevent rotting. Best time to plant them is in winter or very early spring.
Regular mulching with well-rotted manure or compost will help the plants greatly. A heavy dressing of compost each winter will do wonders. If the vigour of the plant starts to decline (poor yields or very thin stalks), then it is a good idea to split the plant the following winter and create a new plant. Replacing your plants gradually over time will help to maintain a steady supply of good rhubarb.
Don’t harvest rhubarb in its first season – you want to concentrate on building vigour in the plant for the first year and then start harvesting in the second year. When harvesting rhubarb, take a hold of the stalk low down and pull it off, rather than cutting.
Rhubarb is a generally healthy plant. Old plants can get viruses where the leaves become yellow and mottled. Honey fungus and crown rot can be problematic. If so, dig up the plants and start on a fresh site.