Friday, May 29, 2009

Perennial Vegetable Profile: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is possibly one of the must popular perennial vegetables grown by gardeners, although many may consider it more fruit-like than vegetable. Rhubarb is known for its sweet side: It is delicious in Strawberry Rhubarb pie, rhubarb preserves, and some even make wine out of rhubarb.

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that grows best in cool regions. Most varieties will need temperatures below 40 degrees (F) during the winter in order to grow the following year, and rhubarb will stop growing altogether once daily temperatures exceed 90 degree (F). In the United States, the Northern Pacific Coast (Washington and Oregon states), Midwestern States (Michigan, Illinois) and Northeastern regions like Maine are excellent rhubarb states. Rhubarb also grows well in much of Canada. Southern U.S. gardeners may try growing rhubarb as an annual, but yields will never be spectacular.

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that enjoys a rich soil, full of organic matter, and well drained. When planting perennial vegetables like rhubarb, be sure to amend the soil with a lot of compost, and then top dress the plant with compost in subsequent years. It's almost impossible to feed this plant too much (well aged) compost!

If you are starting a new patch of rhubarb, you should plant your rhubarb roots in early spring. It is advised not to pick any stalks during the first year of growth, to allow the plant to put its energy into developing a good root structure instead. Space the perennial vegetable roots at least two feet apart, and as much as three feet is advised. Remove any flower stalks that form later in the season (again, to promote root development). You should also divide the plant into many separate rhubarb plants after four or five seasons of growth, in order to keep the patch from becoming crowded and thriving.

You should also be aware that only the stalks are edible. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should not be fed to livestock or humans.

For even more tips and advice on growing perennial vegetables like rhubarb, please return to the Perennial Vegetables Home Page.