Rhubarb: plants, care and tips – Floralelle

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The similarity of the two words rhubarb and barbar is no coincidence. In Latin the vegetable jam is called Rheum barbarum – in German “Barbarenwurzel”. The origin of the name can be imagined vividly: The cultivated Romans could probably not do much with the fleshy, sour leaf stems of the rough knotweed plant from Russia, the land of the barbarians, in the beginning and therefore gave it this unflattering name. No wonder, because the culture forms of that time were hardly comparable with today’s fine aromatic garden varieties and could only be eaten with a good portion of sugar.

Today rhubarb is one of the most popular plants in the kitchen garden and is extremely easy to grow. By the way, it is classified as a vegetable, or more precisely as chard is classified as a stalked vegetable. This classification is somewhat unusual, as rhubarb, like domestic fruit, is used almost exclusively for compote, cakes and other desserts. In contrast to vegetables, which are usually cultivated for one year, rhubarb is a so-called permanent crop. This means that the hardy perennial is planted once and can then remain in the same location for around ten years. With good care, it grows in size with every year of use and delivers higher yields from year to year.

Location and soil
Rhubarb has its natural habitat on humus- and nutrient-rich, moist alluvial soils. In the garden he therefore prefers as nutritious a constantly moist location as possible. However, he does not have to stand in the full sun, but is also satisfied with a semi-shade place. On sandy soils, which dry out slightly in summer, he even feels much better here. However, the location must not be too shady, otherwise the stems remain very thin.

Choose a place with a clear view for planting your rhubarb: As already written, it is a perennial vegetable that grows faster in yield if it can develop undisturbed. A square metre of bedding area is the minimum that should be given to the weaker red fleshy varieties such as ‘Holsteiner Blut’. For green fleshy varieties like ‘The Sutton’ it is better to plan 130 x 130 centimetres. Planting in autumn and early spring is recommended, but later planting dates are also possible without problems. Prepare the soil by deep digging and thorough removal of all root weeds, and work plenty of deciduous humus into sandy soils to increase water retention capacity. Water the freshly planted rhubarb bush thoroughly and then work three litres of mature compost per square metre, enriched with three handfuls of horn shavings, flatly into the soil around the plant. Finally, cover the root area with composted bark to protect it from drying out.

Care of rhubarb
The perennials need plenty of water and nutrients during the main growth phase in May and June. Fertilize the plant every spring in March with ripe compost and horn shavings in the dosage mentioned above under “Planting”. After the last harvest at the end of June, administer an organic vegetable fertilizer again. If the weather is dry, you should also water plenty of water, because if there is a lack of water in the decisive months, the rhubarb will only grow slightly throughout the year. As soon as the first flowering starts appear, they are broken out as they weaken vegetative growth. From October, the leaves turn yellow, move in and the herbaceous perennial enters the resting phase. Now she doesn’t need any special care anymore and also no winter protection, because she is extremely frost hardy.

Harvest rhubarb
Newly planted rhubarb should not be harvested before the second year, if possible even in the third year. The wait pays off, because the more leaves the young rhubarb has, the faster it grows into a stately plant and the harvest in the third year is correspondingly larger, as the leaf stems are stronger. When the petioles have reached a certain strength, which, depending on the region, is usually the case from the beginning to the middle of May, the harvest time begins. Important when harvesting rhubarb: Do not cut off the leaves, but pull them out by turning them slightly with a strong jerk at the point of attachment. You should not harvest more than a third to a maximum of half of the leaves per season in order not to weaken the perennial too much. From the end of June the rhubarb is given time to regenerate until the next season. From this point on, the oxalic acid content also increases so strongly that it should no longer be eaten. In the kitchen, only the leaf stalks are used. The leaves themselves are inedible due to their high oxalic acid concentration, but are very suitable for mulching the root area of the perennials. Tip: If you set up a foil or fleece tunnel over the bed in early spring, you can advance the rhubarb and harvest up to four weeks earlier. This is common practice in commercial cultivation, as the first harvests are usually the ones with the highest prices.

Rhubarb can be easily multiplied by division: After the death of the leaves, it is best to use a sharp spade to prick a piece of the underground rhizome, at least the size of a fist, with several leaflets, in the autumn and plant it elsewhere. The sowing of seeds is also possible, but does not play a role in horticultural practice unless new varieties are to be bred.

Diseases and pests
Rhubarb is generally very robust and resistant to diseases and pests. For example, it is largely avoided by snails and voles. In warm and humid years the perennial shrub occasionally has to struggle with various leaf spot fungi. You should remove heavily infested leaves at an early stage and dispose of them with your household waste. Biological net sulfur preparations can be used to prevent further infestation in the following year.

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Video: These tips help in the fight against the boxwood borer

In this video, plant doctor René Wadas reveals MY BEAUTIFUL GARDEN editor Dieke van Dieken what you can do against the boxwood borer.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and editing: Fabian Primsch; Photos: Flora Press/BIOSPHOTO/Joel Heras






Don Burke

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide.  I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

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