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Rheum rhabarbarum is a hardy, herbaceous perennial that grows from rhizomes, from the Polygonaceae family. Commonly known by the names Rhubarb or Garden Rhubarb, amongst others. Rhubarb is an easy to grow, very low maintenance plant, but will produce better crops if given a little care. The bright stems are a colourful addition to any vegetable patch and they can produce a crop for many years. Grow in full sun for the best results, it can also cope with some light shade and typically exceeds 1m in height and spread. Well-draining, moist soil is best and provide plenty of space for Rhubarb to grow. It may struggle on particularly alkaline or acid soils, a neutral pH is best. Originating from Siberia to China, this plant has a long history of cultivation, with both medicinal and culinary uses. Many cultivars now grown for the bright, edible stems have been developed from hybridisation with this wild ancestor. The edible stems may be consumed raw or cooked, often in sweet dishes. The leaves are large, roughly textured, broadly triangular and inedible due to high levels of oxalic acid and anthrone glycosides. Flowers are cream-green pinkish in colour, produced above the foliage in panicle arrangements. If growing for the stems, its best to remove the flowers as they start to form as flowers take energy from other growth, decreasing the potential leaf and stem production.
Common problems with Rhubarb
Rhubarb can be bothered by rhubarb curculio, which is a weevil. Damage will mainly be visible on the leaves and stalks, with feeding holes and egg-laying sites. Rhubarb may also be affected by crown rot which occurs when there is poor soil drainage.
Rhubarb Companion Plants
How to harvest Rhubarb
Harvest once the plant is at least 2 years old and when stalks are about 2,5 cm wide and 30-45 cm tall. Remove stalks with a pull-and-twist action or cut at the base and throw away the leaves. Remove flowers to keep the plant vigorous. If the stalks become thin, stop harvesting.
How to propagate Rhubarb
Sow seeds in spring or autumn, 1 cm deep and 1 m apart.
Plant crowns or budded ‘pieces’ so that the top of the crown is 3 cm deep, with 75-90 cm between plants. Divide every 5-10 years in early spring or autumn.
Special features of Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a heavy feeder and needs nutrients added.
Rhubarb can successfully be planted in containers if they are large enough, at least 60 cm wide and deep.
Buds can be a bright red before they burst.
Other uses of Rhubarb
The long fleshy edible stalks are crisp when raw with a strong, tart taste. The stalks can be cooked with sugar and used in pies, savoury dishes, crumbles, and other desserts or pickled.
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