Growing rhubarb in the UK provides a delightful harvest that home gardeners eagerly anticipate each year. As a perennial vegetable, it requires attention not only when picking the stems but also in recognizing the right time to cease harvesting to ensure the plant’s longevity and productivity for the following season.

rhubarb plant, garden, rhubarb

Timing this correctly is crucial as it allows the plant to build up energy reserves to survive the winter and produce a robust yield the next year.

💥 Quick Answer

I stop picking rhubarb typically by late June or early July, allowing the plants time to rejuvenate before the onset of winter.

During the harvest season, which usually starts in March, I carefully select up to a third or even half of the rhubarb stems to ensure I do not overharvest. Pulling the stems from the ground rather than cutting them helps to prevent damage to the plant.

Come late summer, around July or August, the appearance of thinner stalks signifies that it’s time to halt the harvest. By doing so, I enable my rhubarb plants to channel their energy into sustaining their roots and crowns, essential for their survival and next year’s growth.

Cultivating Your Rhubarb Plant

To ensure a healthy rhubarb plant and an abundant harvest, understanding the right variety, planting techniques, and the growth cycles is paramount.

Selecting the Right Variety

In my experience, choosing the correct rhubarb variety is crucial for both flavor and growth in the UK climate. I find ‘Timperley Early’ to be particularly resilient, maturing from late March. Another variety I recommend is ‘Victoria’, noted for its sweet stalks and vigorous growth.

Planting and Care

For planting rhubarb, I always look for a sunny location in the garden with free-draining soil. I enrich the planting hole with plenty of compost to encourage strong root development. After planting, I apply a thick layer of mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. It’s essential to water the plants during dry spells, especially in the first year.

Understanding Rhubarb Growth Cycles

Rhubarb plants have a specific growth cycle that requires attention. In spring, when leaves expand, photosynthesis starts, giving the plant energy. Around June, rhubarb enters a rest phase. I avoid harvesting then to allow the plant to store energy for the following year. By summer’s end, the leaves decline and the plant prepares for dormancy.

⚠️ A Warning

Never harvest all the rhubarb stalks from the plant; always leave a few to ensure the plant remains healthy and productive for the next season.

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Care

With the right techniques, harvesting rhubarb can yield a bountiful crop while ensuring the plant stays healthy for future growth. Post-harvest care is crucial for the longevity of the plant.

When and How to Harvest Rhubarb

Rhubarb is best harvested in the UK from March to July. I ensure stalks are between 12 to 18 inches long before picking. When harvesting, I prefer pulling the stalks at the base rather than cutting, to encourage healthy regrowth. I harvest only up to a third of the plant’s total stalks to avoid over-cropping.

Key Harvesting Steps:
  • Wait for stalks to reach 12-18 inches in length.
  • Pull, don’t cut, for plant health.
  • Harvest up to a third of stalks to prevent over-cropping.


Maintaining Your Rhubarb After Harvesting

After the final harvest, I treat my rhubarb plants to post-harvest care. This includes removing any remaining old or diseased leaves and adding a layer of compost around the plant. This compost acts as a nutrient boost and insulates the crowns during colder months. Ensure no compost is placed directly on the crown to prevent rot.

💥 Post-Harvest Care:

  • Remove old or diseased leaves to maintain health.
  • Add compost to nourish and protect the plant.

I refrain from harvesting too late in the season to allow the plant to store energy for the next year. A well-maintained rhubarb plant can reliably produce for up to 20 years. Therefore, it’s imperative to give them the care they deserve after harvesting.

Utilizing Rhubarb in the Kitchen

With its tangy flavor, rhubarb provides a unique taste suitable for various culinary applications, from jams to desserts. Below, find how to prepare rhubarb for cooking and some delightful recipes you can try at home.

Preparing Rhubarb for Cooking

Before diving into the savory world of rhubarb recipes, it’s essential to understand how to properly prepare this vegetable for cooking. Ensure it’s edible and bring out the best of its flavor.

Clean the rhubarb stalks by washing them under cold water and removing any dirt or debris. Using a sharp knife, trim the ends and discard any tough, fibrous parts. Remember, rhubarb leaves are not safe to eat due to their oxalic acid content, so always remove and discard them. Cut the stalks into pieces of the desired size, typically about half an inch for most recipes.


Rhubarb can be used fresh, though it’s also suitable to freeze for later use. To freeze, spread the cut rhubarb on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, and then transfer to freezer bags. This allows for rhubarb to be readily available for impromptu cooking or baking sessions throughout the year.

Delicious Rhubarb Recipes

Rhubarb’s versatility in the kitchen is boundless; its tartness pairs exceptionally well with sweetness in desserts and can also add a unique flavor to savory dishes.

💥 Rhubarb Crumble:

Combine chopped rhubarb with sugar, a touch of orange zest, and a splash of water, cooking until the rhubarb is just tender. Top it with a crumbly mixture of flour, butter, and sugar, then bake until golden brown. Serve warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a comforting dessert.

Rhubarb also stars in delightful jams that can be made by simmering rhubarb pieces with sugar and a bit of water until it reaches a jammy consistency. Spices like ginger or vanilla enhance the flavor profile, making for a jam that’s a welcome addition to any breakfast or tea time spread.

For those who enjoy a more savory approach, consider adding rhubarb to sauces or compotes to accompany meats, its tangy essence offsetting the richness beautifully. Rhubarb can certainly transcend the sweet realm and incorporate itself into main courses, demonstrating its impressive culinary range.

Advanced Techniques

Engaging with advanced techniques ensures that I cultivate rhubarb plants for an optimal harvest and tackle challenges effectively. These refined practices not only enable an earlier harvest but also maintain the health of the plants throughout the season.

Forcing Rhubarb for Early Harvest

Forcing rhubarb allows me to enjoy ripe stems earlier in the season. By covering my rhubarb plants with a forcing pot in early winter, I create a dark and warm environment that stimulates the plants to grow. I prefer to use opaque pots to exclude light, prompting the plant to produce tender and sweeter stems as it searches for light. Early varieties of rhubarb are best suited for forcing, providing a harvest up to a month before unforced plants.

Dealing with Common Rhubarb Pests and Diseases

As a gardener, I always keep an eye out for flower stalks, a signal that a rhubarb plant might be investing more energy into reproduction than into producing the long stems I desire. Removing these stalks as soon as they appear directs the plant’s resources back to stem production.

⚠️ A Warning

In late summer, particularly by August, I stop harvesting to allow the plants to store energy for the next season, minimizing the risk of oxalic acid accumulation, which can make the plant parts toxic if ingested.

Rate this post