growing rhubarb in pots fi

All You Need to Know About Growing Rhubarb in Pots

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Rhubarb is a seriously easy plant to grow.  Rhubarb is actually a vegetable rather than a fruit, although it tends to be used in desserts as many fruits are.  The rhubarb plant is a perennial, which means it grows for several years and its both straightforward to grow and very hardy.  You can expect a good healthy rhubarb plant to last for about 10 years and while rhubarb grows well directly in soil, we prefer growing rhubarb in pots to manage the space it takes.

Why grow rhubarb?

The vegetable rhubarb really is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, despite the fact that most people associate it as a fruit!  It’s very hardy, likes cold weather and is perennial, so you don’t have to reinvest year after year.  In fact, your rhubarb plant should keep producing for 10 years or more!  Rhubarb works well in pies, desserts and jams, it can also be eaten raw! Read more about other perennial vegetables in our guide here.

growing rhubarb leaves

Which variety of rhubarb should you grow?

You’ll find a whole host of rhubarb varieties to grow.  You first rhubarb plant is like to be a cutting from someone else, but if not and if you get the choice, then here’s a primer on our five favourite varieties of rhubarb.

  • Champagne Rhubarb: this is easy to grow and reliable, colours a glorious deep red if left, and takes on a pink stalk if forced
  • Delight Rhubarb: this variety has dark green and red stems with a long harvesting season. Delight rhubarb is particularly disease resistant.
  • Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise Rhubarb this variety of rhubarb was voted best flavour in RHS Wisley trials and has vivid red stems
  • Glaskins Perpetual Rhubarb – this variety is easy to grow and is one of the varieties that can be harvested, albeit lightly in its first year if you started it inside during winter
  • Raspberry Red Rhubarb – this variety is a favourite because it can be harvested early without the need for forcing. It has a very sweet flavour and has deep red thick stalks. Buy Now

Different ways to grow rhubarb

You can grow rhubarb from seed, from crowns or from what’s called a division.  Beginner gardeners might find it easier to grow from a crown or division.  A Rhubarb crown is a plant that is at least one year old.  You can crop from these plants in the first harvesting season after planting.  If you’re growing rhubarb from seed, then you shouldn’t harvest until the second year.  A division is just that, a part of a rhubarb crown.  You can harvest from them in the second year after planting.

So, for ease, and quicker harvesting, go for a rhubarb crown. > Buy one Now

What is forcing rhubarb?

The term forcing rhubarb means forcing it to produce an earlier harvest.  The way to do this is to cover the rhubarb plant to stop light from getting to it.  You can buy specific forcing pots to do this – these are large, usually terracotta, pots that cover the entire plant.   You can also use a dustbin or a bucket over the top of the whole rhubarb.

Put the forcing pot over the top of the rhubarb at the first sign of growth.  If you ensure that no light gets to it, that and the heating that’s provided by the cover quickly makes your rhubarb ripen.  It can be ready to eat within 3-4 weeks.  You’ll know that the rhubarb is ready when the stems have reached the top of the container.  It’s best not to try and force rhubarb for two consecutive years – if you’re going to want early rhubarb each year, then grow a few plants and rotate the rhubarb forcing between them. Read about the health benefits of rhubarb here.

When should you plant rhubarb?

Crowns of rhubarb and rhubarb divisions are best planted in spring or autumn.  You’ll want the soil to be warm and moist.  If you’ve started rhubarb from seed in a pot, then you can plant it out at any time, provided that the soil isn’t either completely dry, waterlogged or frozen.

growing rhubarb in pots

Where to grow rhubarb

The primary thing to remember about rhubarb is that it doesn’t like moving.  So you’re best to try and find it a permanent home from the start.   Rhubarb grows well in sunny locations but will also thrive in semi-shade.  You’ll need to make sure that its planted in well-drained, but moist soil.

Growing rhubarb from seed

If you’re starting to grow rhubarb from seed, then if you soak your rhubarb seeds in warm water for a couple of hours before sowing, then you’ll speed up germination.  This loosens the casing around the seeds.  Start your seeds off indoors about 3 months before the last frost is due.  You can start them in starter seed trays or small pots.  You’ll want to put them about 6 centimetres deep in a hole that you can make with you finger.  Cover them over and water them.  Now you’re going to want to leave them for about 10 days to 2 weeks. Try these to grow rhubarb from seed

At about the 2-week mark, they’ll need to be transplanted into bigger pots.  The less you transplant rhubarb the better, so you could even start them in these bigger pots.   Keep them inside for now, but they’ll need sunshine and good watering, although don’t let them get waterlogged.

Growing rhubarb

When the risk of frost passes and your baby rhubarb plans are about 15 centimetres tall, then you’re ready to move them outside in bigger pots and begin “hardening them off”.  You do this by putting outside in a sunny but protected, area and each day increase the amount of exposure that they get.   If you go from about 2 hours to 8 over the course of a week, then they’ll be ready to live outside in their forever place.

Growing rhubarb from a rhubarb crown

Growing rhubarb from a crown, remember, it’s just the name for a plant that’s at least one year old, is the easiest way to grow rhubarb.  Growing rhubarb from a crow means that you’ll be able to harvest your rhubarb from this plant the first season after you plant it.

Take the rhubarb plant out of the container that you got it in.  Carefully.  Place it in a 15-centimetre deep hole in your new container.  If the rootball is really compacted, then try and gently untangle it.  Backfill the hole with compost (check our recommendations for the best compost for vegetables here).  Just cover the root ball.  There’s no need to cover any of the stalks or leaves with soil.  Your new rhubarb plant will need a good watering and you’ll need to keep the soil moist.  While rhubarb is very hardy, try and find a spot for it which means it’s going to get a few hours of sunshine each day as it establishes itself.

Growing rhubarb from a division

Depending on the size of the division, you’ll want to put it in its “forever pot” or “forever place” as rhubarbs really don’t like being transplanted too much.  Plant each division in a 25 centimetres hole, leave the stalks and leaves uncovered, but make sure that the rootball is covered.  Water thoroughly and find a sunny spot for your new plant!

Taking a cutting from rhubarb

When it comes time to divide a bigger rhubarb plant, perhaps you’re spreading the rhubarb love and giving a division to a friend, then follow these steps to divide.

  1. You’ll need to dig up the root  – be sure to try and pull the root ball out with you hands, so you don’t slice through any root systems
  2. Cut through the tuberous root with a spade or trowel and cut it into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on how big it is.
  3. You want to aim for each division having 1-3 buds. And don’t worry, your plant will survive!
  4. Spring is the best time of year to divide rhubarb plants. If you must do it at another time of year, then go for autumn just before the rhubarb plant goes dormant.

The best way to grow rhubarb for beginners

The best way to grow rhubarb for beginners with either from a crown or a division.  A one-year-old plant means that you can harvest the next season so you don’t have to wait as long.  If you’ve got a division from a friend, then you’ve probably also got some assistance if you run into any trouble with your rhubarb plant! Get a Rhubarb Crown and Start Now!

Growing rhubarb in pots

Planting rhubarb in pots is an excellent way to keep it under control and within the space that you want to allocate to it.  Rhubarb plants have very big root systems – so you’ll need a decent-sized container to grow it in.   If you can get a container that holds 40 litres of compost then you’ll have an excellent spot for the lifetime of your rhubarb and it should produce a pretty decent amount of stems for you.

What other fruit and vegetables can I grow in pots?

Try these other guides to growing in pots and containers

Final words on growing rhubarb in pots

Rhubarb really is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. (for more recommendations on easy vegetables to grow read our guide here)  It is a hardy plant and its likely that you can find someone who will give you a division, which means that you can start growing rhubarb for free!  We recommend growing rhubarb in pots, to ensure you can control the size of the root system, and it lessens the need for transplanting, which isn’t something that rhubarb plants tend to like.  Now all that remains is to plan what you’re going to cook with the results of your rhubarb harvest!

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