Rhubarb is a venerable garden crop in West Virginia, but it is becoming a forgotten vegetable. Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that can produce for more than 10 years. The rhubarb plant has very large leaves with thick leaf stalks. The leaf stalks can be red or green and are typically harvested when they reach a length of 12 to 18 inches in mid- to late spring in West Virginia. While red stalks are slightly sweeter, green stalk varieties yield more.
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but it is more commonly propagated from crowns. Rhubarb crowns can be purchased from nurseries, or sections of crowns from established plantings can be divided in the fall and replanted. Rhubarb prefers soil high in organic matter, so applying compost is beneficial. When planting rhubarb in early spring, it is important to choose a well-drained area that receives primarily morning sun. Rhubarb does well as a container plant. Mulching rhubarb keeps the soil cool and extends the harvest season.
No harvest is done the year of planting, and in many cases, even the following year. But in the third year, the plant is established and ready to harvest. When harvesting, pull and twist the leaf stalks until they break, or they can be cut close to the soil level with a knife or hand pruners. Only remove about half of the stalks and leaves at any harvest. The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, so only the stalks are eaten. Seed stalks can emerge from the rhubarb during warm weather or if the plants get crowded and need to be removed. Rhubarb is an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. Rhubarb stalks are cooked and used for many tasty dishes.
By Lewis Jett, WVU Extension Specialist – Commercial Horticulture