Fresh rhubarb is the first crop of the season on our urban homestead. This tart, ornamental vegetable is most popularly used to make pies and cobblers, though it can also be turned into sauce, jams, or even eaten raw. Because of the way it’s cooked, many consumers regard the rhubarb as a fruit, with some even calling it “pie fruit.” In actuality, the rhubarb is most closely related to garden sorrel, making it indeed a vegetable.
Rhubarb is a perennial plant, which returns year after year without a whole lot of effort. And even though it does require sun to grow, in cold northern climates the rhubarb starts to bud out at least six weeks ahead deciduous trees and bushes. This interesting characteristic makes it ideal for growing in areas that might see shade in the summer, but are in full sun during the winter and early spring. By the time the leaves return on the trees, the rhubarb is ready for harvest.
Finding a rhubarb plant to transplant
Potted rhubarb plants can be found in most nurseries, and are usually priced at about $8.99 for a one quart plant. A cheaper and probably more popular alternative is just to take a piece of root from a neighbor. This method of propagation is a simple way of generating up to four new plants from a single rhubarb plant.
Since rhubarb plants are best split while they are dormant (late fall or very early spring), your neighbor will have to keep track which of her rhubarb plants are mature enough to handle a root split. For best results, the plant itself should be at least 2-3 feet in height and diameter.
Dividing the roots
The only supplies needed to split a rhubarb root are a sharp, pointed shovel since the new transplants can go directly from the neighbor’s back yard to yours.
1. Determine where you’ll be planting the rhubarb plants in your yard first. Each individual plant should be planted at least three feet apart.
2. Prepare the soil by gently turning it over with a shovel, and stirring some composted manure into the area. Create a planting hole about 6 inches deep and 12″ in diameter for each rhubarb transplant that will be going into the ground. Once the ground is prepared, head on over to the neighbor’s rhubarb patch.
3. Taking care to not damage the emerging buds of the rhubarb plant, gently press the tip of the shovel blade in the center of the root crown. Carefully stomp down on the shovel to split the root crown.
4. Remove the halved root crown, and split again to create two more transplants. Leave the other half of the crown in the ground or remove and split in half again, if additional starts are wanted.
5. Bring the transplants to your garden, and plant as quickly as possible. Loosely pack the soil around the roots but leaving the crown exposed. Water thoroughly, and add Vitamin B1 or root stimulant.
6. Don’t expect much out of the rhubarb plant the first year, since most of its growth will be in establishing a new root system. By the following spring however, your family can expect a bumper crop of this tasty “pie fruit”.