Rhubarb isn’t a fussy plant. It likes a lot of food and water but dislikes weeds. Growing rhubarb is an old homesteading tradition in New England. It’s one of the first foods to break dormancy in the spring, and while it doesn’t like to be neglected it will grow on its own for years before it gives up. Choose a spot in full sun with sandy loam that drains well but doesn’t dry out quickly. Before you transplant rhubarb be sure you’ve chosen a place you want it to grow for years because rhubarb is a perennial.
Victoria rhubarb, my favorite. I plunked this into the garden while transplanting old plants.
I knew it was time to divide and transplant rhubarb because the stalks were small and dense, but there was a hole in the center of the clump. The root was woody and rotting. I sliced away at the plant with my spade, broke a lot of the rotting root off, and transplanted the pieces into a new row.
- Rip grass out by its roots or rhizomes if you have to follow them all the way to China, or the edge of the garden, whichever comes first, before it establishes itself in commodity crop proportions. That goes for all other weeds, too.
- Keep the soil healthy with compost, dead fish, and straw that will break down to feed the microherd.
- Separate the plants before the roots are woody and rotting. Bonus: rhubarb plants to share.
Transplanting in general is best done on an overcast or at least cool day. Heat, high wind and intense sun can be hard on young plants. We can’t always choose our schedule by the weather but if you can, do so. You can see the results of sun and heat on these plants. They’ve wilted. I’d rather use plants that aren’t showing signs of growth yet but that doesn’t usually happen in my garden. Do what you need to do and make the best of it. I’ve either purchased or been given plants that are already growing, or like this instance, dividing the plant was long overdue. The stalks that don’t bounce back will be trimmed off and tucked under the straw to break down.
I dig a hole the size of basketball for each plant. Place the holes four feet apart to accommodate spreading. That sounds like a lot but it’s only two feet per plant in each direction. Pull all weeds, especially perennial weeds. Do it now no matter how small a weed might be. No weeds.
Our pond is over run with brown bullhead (hornpout) so we fish out the bigger fish and bait trap the small fish. I kill them and put them at the bottom of the holes, about a quart of fish per hole. Fish guts after a great day fishing work well. No picture needed, right? No fish? Use a half-gallon of compost. Rhubarb can’t be put on a diet; feed it well starting the day you plant.
- If you use fish you should mix a shovel full of soil with the fish then add two or three inches of soil on top.
- If you’re using compost you can mix the soil and compost together.
- You should have two or three inches of space left. Place a root in each hole and loosely cover with soil. You should have two to four inches of soil over the roots. The roots will spread out and down as they grow.
Water well as soon as you’ve covered the roots. The soil over the roots will settle down to the recommended one to two inches needed.
This step is optional. I do it to slow down weeds. Add a layer of cardboard around and in between the plants. I leave an opening eight to ten inches around the roots to give the plants room to grow. The cardboard will break down by the following spring. Water the cardboard until it’s soaked.
Apply a six inch layer of straw around the plants to block weeds, conserve water, and slowly feed the soil as it breaks down. If the the straw breaks down a lot between spring and fall you should mulch again with two inches of compost and more straw or leaves.
Ten days later:
Water deeply once or twice a week depending on the weather and wind, until the plants are well established. Once they’ve developed a strong root system, and as long as you’ve planted them in good soil, you shouldn’t have to water again except in the height of summer or in cases of drought.