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How to Plant Bare-Root Rhubarb

by Stark Bro's on 11/20/2013
Rhubarb Plants via Andrea Meyers

Rhubarb is commonly known as a pie ingredient and it’s gaining popularity in other tasty recipes like salads, sauces, and juice. The rhubarb we eat is actually the green to reddish stalks of an attractive perennial garden plant with large, tropical-looking (inedible) leaves.

When you receive rhubarb plants from Stark Bro’s* they will be bare-root, consisting of dormant crowns with root systems. We ship them this way to reduce the risk of transplant shock and so that rhubarb can be planted both in the fall and in the spring in most areas.

*Plants may also arrive dusted in a lime powder to avoid molding

Planting Bare-Root Rhubarb Plants

Planting bare-root rhubarb is easy. The most challenging part may be figuring out which end is up!

1. Rhubarb Pkg2 2. Rhubarb Roots

3. Dormant Rhubarb Bud 4. Rhubarb Bud-End Up

Here’s what you need:

Preparation

  1. Choose a sunny planting location free of weeds. Rhubarb matures into a large and leafy plant that loves light, so a spot that allows for at least 6 hours of daily sun will suffice. Its large glossy leaves may cause shading issues with other plants, so be sure to allow at least 3 feet of space between each rhubarb plant and other plants.
  2. Test your garden soil for nutrients and proper pH before planting. Rhubarb plants thrive in a fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. If you’re not familiar with your chosen planting site, you can send in a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office to get an analysis done for a small fee. You can also test for moisture and soil pH yourself with our handy Digital Soil Meters.

Planting

  1. Take your hand trowel and dig a planting hole 12″ wide and 12″ deep, making sure to break up the sides and bottom of the hole so that roots can spread and become established. This is especially important in clay-type soils.
  2. Mix in any soil additives you’re using, like well-rotted/dehydrated manure and compost, in combination with the top soil that was removed from the planting hole. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time, especially in the fall. Back-fill the soil mixture into the planting hole and position your bare-root rhubarb plant so that the crown (top part of the plant, opposite of the root end) ends up 2-3″ below the soil surface.
  3. Lightly tamp the soil over the newly planted rhubarb to remove any air pockets and water thoroughly.

Rhubarb Planting Hole  Bare-root Rhubarb in Planting Hole

Jim T. Rhubarb PatchRhubarb plants are highly productive once established. After the second year in the ground, you will be able to start lightly harvesting the larger stalks and enjoying as you please. Be sure not to consume any other part of the plant, since only the stalks (not leaves) are safe to eat.

If your rhubarb roots arrive and you are not prepared or able to plant them immediately, don’t worry! You can delay planting by following the steps mentioned in our article, What To Do if You Can’t Plant When Your Order Arrives.

Looking for more information on growing and caring for your rhubarb plants? Check out Stark Bro’s Growing Guide: Plant Manuals for Vegetable Plants.

Shop All Rhubarb Plants »

Update:

Rhubarb 8 Months After Planting

9 July 2014: The same bare-root rhubarb plant after 8 months in the ground (and after the harsh winter of 2013 and fickle spring of 2014).

Keeping this rhubarb plant well-fed with nitrogen or nutrient-rich organic material during the growing season will help to ensure a happy, healthy, and productive rhubarb plant — ready for harvest of the tangy red stalks in another year or so!

Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips

8 comments on “How to Plant Bare-Root Rhubarb

  1. Herb Fogelberg on said:

    How often and what exactly, should I be fertilizing the Rhubarb with once it is established?

    • Sarah on said:

      Good question, Herb! In spring, fertilize emerging rhubarb plants with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer or a shovel or two of well-rotted manure. Established rhubarb plants are vigorous growers and can be nutrient hogs, so you may need to fertilize about 3 times during the growing season (starting in spring when new growth emerges and stopping around July) as needed.

      Apply fertilizer in a circle around the plant so that it works its way down to the roots — making sure to avoid applying fertilizer directly to the crown of the rhubarb plant (where growth emerges).

  2. Glenn Callies on said:

    I have planted Rhubarb I brought from my uncle in WI twice,but can’t keep it going. We live on the edge of zone 8 and 9,70 miles south of Jackson,MS Will Rhubarb grow here or is it too hot here.

    • Sarah on said:

      A lot of places can end up being “too hot” for rhubarb. Gardeners in southern climates sometimes end up only being able to grow rhubarb plants as annuals (rather than perennials that come back after dormancy in the winter). Does this sound like your situation? I would suggest asking local experts* to see if anyone else has success growing rhubarb where you are located.

      *like your county Extension office (whose contact information you can find here: Extension for MS ), your local garden centers, etc.

  3. Mark Fairchild on said:

    Does everyone or just me have to keep cutting out blooming stalks from the growing rhubarb plants?

    • Sarah on said:

      It’s not just you, Mark! It’s part of the nature of rhubarb plants to try to flower (a process called “bolting”). Naturally, this is in order to reproduce; however, this has a negative impact on the quality of the stalks we like to harvest, so it’s best to keep cutting them out when they appear.

      Weather can be a stress factor that promotes bolting. Drought, prolonged extreme heat, and things like that can trigger the need to reproduce in the plant and it will try to flower. Nutrient deficiencies and poor quality soil can also encourage bolting. There isn’t much to be done about the weather, but watering during a drought and making sure you apply fertilizer in the spring will help keep your rhubarb plant growing the way you want.

      The older a rhubarb plant gets, the more likely it is to flower, so if you’ve had your rhubarb for several years and haven’t divided it yet, your rhubarb might be ready to be divided. This also helps to counter bolting.

  4. Marcus on said:

    Hi Sarah,
    I last contacted you concerning a ‘dead’ 5 yr old Stark Delicious plum that died over the winter. Just to clarify, YES, it is indeed dead@!

    Now, onto a new subject. I’ve planted a row of 10 ‘Valentine’ rhubarb crowns at least 8 yrs ago. They are in really rich, well-draining soil, which receives plenty of sunshine and leaf protection over the winter. They are watered when I water my ‘Prime Jim’ and ‘Prime Jan’ blackberries, about 1 in/wk. Question: Although they come up faithfully every year, the red stalks are usually only 1/2 in wide, very small to other rhubarb I see around here. The foliage rivals any good philodendron as far as size (I lived in Orlando, FL area for 19 yrs; imagine smaller elephant ear philodendrons), but the prized stalks are always 1/2 in or smaller every year, hardly worth the effort!
    What recos do you have, or is this the way ‘Valentine’ grows?
    Thanks
    Marcus

    • Sarah on said:

      I’ve heard from other growers that the Valentine variety grows fairly sizable stalks, but maybe it doesn’t perform the same in every location. Do you happen to know the varieties that are growing around you that seem larger than yours? I’d recommend asking for a division of a mature plant and giving it a try if possible. It will help you decide if it’s the Valentine variety that is just performing poorly for you there.

      From my experience with rhubarb, they are heavy feeders (especially nitrogen) and they usually produce thin stalks when their food reserves are low. I know you said they’re planted in rich soil, but maybe they need an additional boost of aged manure, compost, fertilizer, or whatever you’re using to feed them.

      Most people don’t harvest the thin stalks from their rhubarb plants and simply harvest the sizable ones. This is to allow the thinner stalks and leaves to bring nutrients from photosynthesis into the plant to keep the nutrient cycle going. If the smaller stalks aren’t worth harvesting, they’re certainly worth leaving behind to support the plant as a whole.

      The only other thing that comes to mind is: have you ever divided your original plants? Rhubarb thrives from being divided and replanted every 5 years or so, and it helps to improve yield size and quality. I bookmarked this handy article for my future rhubarb reference:
      http://sweetdomesticity.com/2013/05/08/how-to-divide-rhubarb/

      I hope something here helps you!

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