Rhubarb is one of those old fashioned plants that every woman should have in her kitchen garden or annual vegetable garden. Not only is rhubarb a perennial plant in USDA growing zones 3-9, but it’s actually quite easy to learn how to split rhubarb crowns in the spring!
All you need is a friend or acquaintance who is willing to let you dig up a small portion of their rhubarb and presto! You can start growing your own rhubarb!
Why Split Rhubarb Plants?
There are several wonderful benefits tied to splitting rhubarb crowns! Here are the 3 key reasons you may want to get starts from a local friend (instead of purchasing young crowns).
Rhubarb starts taken from a friend or neighbor will be acclimatized to your garden zone and are more likely to be strong and healthy.
Most gardeners are happy to give their rhubarb crowns away for free. And that’s one less cost you’ll have when creating a cottage or kitchen garden!
- While you can purchase rhubarb crowns at your local garden center or from a seed company, young crowns will take several years to mature, while transplants from established rhubarb will likely give you a harvest that very summer!
How to Split Rhubarb Crowns
Rhubarb is a hardy plant that is difficult to damage. So don’t worry about killing the parent plant! Just follow the directions I share below and parent (likely the transplant too) will produce a full summer crop.
When to Split Rhubarb for Transplanting
When you research the details online, you’ll learn that gardeners divide rhubarb both in early spring and also, in late fall.
If you divide in the spring (as shown in this tutorial), you want to dig a small portion of the parent stalk in early spring, before the leaflets are no more than 8 inches tall.
However, if you divide in the fall, you should wait until the rhubarb’s foliage has died back.
Because I’ve only divided and transplanted rhubarb in the spring, the rest of this tutorial is going to center on a spring transplant!
How to Dig Rhubarb Crowns and Transplant
Before I get into this, just let me reiterate something? Rhubarb is very hardy! I don’t think you could damage the plant if you tried. Not by removing a section of the plant!
And that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Here’s a list of step-by-step direction. Don’t worry! You can’t mess this one up!
- Divide rhubarb in early spring, when leaves are no more than 8 inches tall.
Pull back the small leaves and find your groupings of rhubarb stalks. There are usually several per clump.
Choose a group on the outside edge and insert your garden spade between it and the other stalks.
Dig deeply into the earth all around the group of stalks you want to transplant.
Lift the root wad up and place your prize in a 5 gallon bucket or pail.
- Fill in the hole you made with earth to cover and protect the roots of the parent plant.
Carry your start to a new location, digging a wide hole that is about 2 inches wider and deeper than your root wad.
Set the rhubarb in the hole and fill in with soil.
- Don’t be afraid to heap a bit extra around the rhubarb stalks themselves!
Water well and mulch around the base with old straw or dried out grass clippings.
- Let your rhubarb grow.
Tips to Help You Care for Your Rhubarb Transplant
If you live a dry climate, it doesn’t hurt to water your transplant from time to time during harvest season. But if you live a cooler climate, weekly watering may not be necessary.
During their first year, you should only harvest lightly from your rhubarb. Make sure 8-10 green stalks are always present. And the following year, you should be able to harvest freely without setting the crowns back.
When to Harvest Rhubarb Stalks
Like most edible stalks, rhubarb will become tough if allowed to grow too big. In most climates, your best harvesting window is from late spring-mid summer, when stalks have reached 10-14 inches in length.
The harvest window will vary somewhat, depending on your climate. But by the end of July, you’ll want to stop harvesting and let the plant go wild and do whatever it decides to do (which is usually to produce volumes of fan-shaped leaves).
How to Harvest Rhubarb from Splits
You don’t need a knife to harvest rhubarb. Because the stalks grow from crown, all you have to do is grab an individual rhubarb stalk close the base and twist to the right or left. It will neatly and cleanly break free from the crown. Really. It’s that simple!
But wait. Always remove the big, fan-shaped leaves! Only the rhubarb stalk itself is fit for human consumption. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to humans and they can make animals sick as well. So instead of feeding the greens to your livestock, use them as mulch around the rhubarb plant or toss them into your compost pile.
The Best Ways to Use Rhubarb in the Kitchen
Whenever I think of rhubarb, my little grandma comes to mind. She died when I was 12 years old and she made amazing strawberry rhubarb pie.
Unlike many of us today, the older generation of homemakers and gardeners knew exactly what to do with rhubarb!
Rhubarb makes delicious jam. It make mouth-watering, tangy jelly. Rhubarb pairs well with a wide variety of fruit types (yes, like strawberries) and adds a unique and delicious tang to homemade fruit desserts.
And if you’ve never poured honey sweetened rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream…well! You haven’t really lived.
You should also know that rhubarb freezes beautifully and with so little fuss, it’s hardly believable! I show you how in this blog tutorial!
Rhubarb isn’t as common as it used to be. But for the traditional farming family, it was one of the early harvests of spring. And they found ways to celebrate it in their preserving and home baked goods!
And you can too, now that you know how to split rhubarb crowns. So go ahead. Find someone in your area who will give you a wad of rhubarb roots that you can transplant into your garden!