April 14, 2004 at 6:11 p.m.
Several years ago we bought a potted rhubarb plant from a nursery and made the mistake of planting next to an electric pole. It did nothing for several years so I dug it up and transplanted it. I felt I had nothing to lose so I took an axe and chopped it up into eight pieces. I planted the pieces in a sunny, well drained area where it would not be disturbed by normal garden work. I didn’t harvest any stalks for two years until it was well established and I have a very productive patch each year.
Rhubarb is native to the colder portions of Asia. It grows best in regions that have cool moist summers and winters cold enough to freeze the ground to a depth of several inches. It is a member of the buckwheat family. The three commonly grown varieties are MacDonald, Chipman’s Canada Red and Valentine.
Rhubarb will grow well in any deep, well-drained fertile soil. Before planting, spade the soil to a depth of 12-16 inches and mix in rotted manure, compost, or other forms of organic matter. Also, add a complete fertilizer such as 5-20-20, at a rate of one pound per ten feet of row.
It grows well in soil having a pH between 5-6.8. If the soil pH is too low, ground limestone should be incorporated into the soil before planting.
Liming requirements should be based on a soil test.
Planting should be done in early spring before growth starts. Plants for a new planting may be purchased or they may be obtained by dividing established crowns of old plants. To divide a plant, lift it from the soil and cut the root into pieces, each with one or more large vigorous buds.
Plant the root divisions 4-6 inches below the soil level. Be sure the root divisions are placed upright when they are replanted.
As a rhubarb plant gets older, the leafstalks usually become smaller each year. For best results, a new planting should be started in a new location every 6-8 years.
Rhubarb should not be harvested until the third year after planting. However, a limited number of leafstalks may be pulled in the second year. To harvest, pull the leafstalk upward and to the side, do not cut them. Always remove and discard the leaf blade portion. Do not eat rhubarb leaf blades as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous. The stalks are the only part to be eaten. They contain harmless malic and citric acids and are not poisonous.
Rhubarb plants will sometimes bolt, which means that they send up tall stems that produce flowers and then seeds. Bolting does not affect the stems edibility, so you can continue to harvest and eat it. If it does start to bolt, cut (don’t pull) the flower stalk off at the base before it starts to expand. Bolting seems to be a trait of rhubarb. Plants grown from seed may be more prone to annual bolting than named cultivars. This is because cultivars are propagated by crown divisions, although some cultivars bolt also.
When I first started writing news articles I included a recipe on rhubarb that received some favorable comments.
6 cups of cut up rhubarb pieces in a 9x 13" pan (use a glass dish if the dessert will be in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the reasoning is due to the acidity, the dessert will take on pan taste).
Mix in 1 cup of sugar and cinnamon to taste. If you have green rhubarb rather than red, you might add more sugar.
Sprinkle one white cake mix (dry) over mixture.
Drizzle 1 cup melted butter or margarine (1 stick) over mixture.
Sprinkle 1 cup nuts or 1 cup oatmeal over mixture.
Bake for one hour at 350 degrees and serve (if glass container bake 50 minutes as it tends to burn). Goes great with ice-cream.
During the growing season I cut up excess rhubarb and freeze raw in zip-lock freezer bags (quart size) that way I can fool people all winter long with my “cherry and strawberry” recipes.
The Isanti County Master Gardeners will be presenting 'Burst into Spring' Saturday, April 17, from 9 a.m.-noon, at Christ the King Parish Hall, in Cambridge. You can view the brochure at www.extension.edu/ county/isanti or call the Isanti office at 763-689-1810 for more details.
You can leave your gardening questions on the Master Gardener voice mail at 651-237-3080 or if you have internet access you might find your answers at the following sites.
www.extension.umn.edu/county/chisago Check out the “Hot Topics” box in the middle of the page for current Chisago County Master Gardener news and events.
You can also click on “Ask a Master Gardener” next to the cute little flower on the right hand side of the page. Here you can search 1000’s of answers from Master Gardeners around the state. If you don’t find your answer you can submit a question online or search for University publications, Bell Museum of Natural History. For information about snakes, skunks, raccoons or other wildlife around your yard, call the wildlife information line at (612) 624-1374 or www.bellmuseum.org
Horticultural Program Assistant