Breaking leaves off rhubarb stems

Fact file: rhubarb

Discover all you need to know about this tasty spring crop – perfect for crumbles, jam and other desserts.

Rhubarb is easy to grow and gives you a delicious crop during the ‘hungry gap’ in spring, when there is not much to harvest in the garden. Alternatively, you can force a plant to give you an early crop in late winter or early spring.

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This versatile crop is enjoying renewed popularity in puddings, preserves, jellies and wine, and can even be used as an accompaniment to meat dishes.

Find out how to grow rhubarb, below.

Harvest rhubarb as soon as the stalks are sufficiently large – don't wait for them to turn red. 

Did you know…

Most of Britain’s rhubarb comes from an area known as the ‘Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle’, where damp, loamy soil and high rainfall create optimum growing conditions. Guide tours can be made of the rhubarb barns, where roots are forced in the dark and harvested by candlelight.

Forced rhubarb illuminated by candlelight
Forced rhubarb illuminated by candlelight

Nutrition

Rhubarb is high in potassium, calcium and antioxidants. Only the stems are edible; leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous.

Large rhubarb leaves on their red stems
Large rhubarb leaves on their red stems

Harvest

Harvest rhubarb as soon as the stalks are sufficiently large – don’t wait for them to turn red. Pull and twist rather than cut, as this gives the longest shoots and stimulates new growth. To harvest in late winter and early spring, select a crown to force. Find out how to force rhubarb.

Harvesting rhubarb
Harvesting rhubarb

Store

Freeze raw, cut into chunks, or cooked.

Cooked chunks of rhubarb
Cooked chunks of rhubarb

How to grow

Site in sun or part shade and in fertile, moisture-retentive soil; rhubarb is happy in cold locations. It forms substantial clumps, so allow plenty of space. Plant crowns (chunks of root) when dormant, leave to establish for a year and harvest only a few stalks in the second. Established plants like a mulch of compost or rotted manure in winter, and a general fertiliser in spring. Old, congested clumps should be divided every few years. Discover more about planting rhubarb.

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Mulching rhubarb
Mulching rhubarb

Our choices

‘Livingstone’, a new variety that crops in autumn and spring; ‘Raspberry Red’, a new, very sweet flavour; ‘Timperley Early’, best for forcing.

A large bushy rhubarb plant
A large bushy rhubarb plant

Give forced plants a rest

Don’t force the same plant for two years running – if you like the idea of forcing, grow more than one plant so that the other can recover.

Wooden gardeners' trug