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How To Grow Thick Rhubarb Stalks Year After Year

How to grow thick rhubarb stalks depends on several factors which we’ll explain in this article.

The following guide will look at the process of growing thick rhubarb stalks which incorporates the following:

  • Preparation for growing your Rhubarb.
  • Planting and growing.
  • Factors that help thick stalk growth.
  • Harvesting and the use of rhubarb stalks.
  • Issues that arise during the growth phase you need to counter.

By the end of the article, you should be well on your way to producing the thick stalks on your rhubarbs you’ve been longing for.

Firstly, the age-old argument about whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. I’ve also considered it a vegetable but many consider it a fruit.

I think many get confused because rhubarb is a constant staple in many desserts such as fruit pies and jams. I will admit I did too.

But technically it’s a vegetable even though it produces a type of fruit that I don’t recommend you try to eat. You’ll regret it because it has a pretty nasty taste.

So with that out of the way, we’ll treat it as a vegetable in this article.

So back to the main question. How to grow thick rhubarb stalks?

I think before knowing how to grow thick rhubarb stalks you need to understand some of the reasons why the stalks remain thin.

6 Reasons Rhubarb Stalks Don’t Thicken

Reasons Rhubarb Stalks Don’t Thicken
There’s nothing worse than thin, spindly rhubarb stalks!

There are several reasons why the stalks of the rhubarb won’t grow thick. A thick-looking rhubarb stalk is very inviting. I don’t know about you but when I see them thick and juicy, I just want to grab it and bite the heck out of it. Excuse me but call it a fetish.

Here are just four causes of rhubarb remaining thin and spindly:

  • Lack of maintenance.
  • Too many plants in the same space all vying for the same soil nutrition.
  • Poor soil quality.
  • Too many weeds compete for the same soil nutrition as the rhubarb.
  • Lack of water.
  • The plant may just be too young and immature.

Rhubarb is a pretty plant that will enhance the look of your garden. Too much green. Plant a variety of rhubarb that produces red stalks.

There are not many varieties that produce red stalks. Three varieties to consider are Victoria Red, Crimson Cherry, and Cherry Red.

Growing up, my mom always had a small patch of rhubarb growing in her main garden and it had red stalks. It always caught my attention because it was an attractive look in the garden.

One thing to keep in mind though is that red stalk varieties of rhubarb are no more tastier or juicier than their green cousins. I just suggesting the red stalks for garden aesthetics.

How To Grow Thick Rhubarb Stalks: Preparing For Planting

How To Grow Thick Rhubarb Stalks- Planting And Growing
Preparation is important before planting your rhubarb.

Preparation is key in making sure you give your garden the best chance of producing the products you’re after.

It’s the same as any endeavor, plan to succeed rather than hope for the best.

I’ve seen too many gardeners see something they want to plant and then be frustrated by the results because they didn’t plan properly. So prepare carefully and improve your chances of getting the rhubarb crop you’re after.

Selecting The Right Rhubarb Variety

Selecting the right type of rhubarb for your yard is crucial before getting ready to cultivate it.

Rhubarb types with thick stems, such as “Cherry Red,” will produce superior results for thick stalks.

Make sure to choose a plant that is renowned for its strength, vigor, and size.

Determining The Best Soil And Sun Conditions

It’s necessary to think about the soil and sunlight conditions your plants will like as you get ready to grow rhubarb.

The greatest soil for rhubarb plants to grow in is one that is full of organic matter and has excellent drainage. Pick soil that has a pH between 5.5 and 7.0 if you want it to be somewhat acidic.

The following are some considerations for soil and solar conditions:

Soil type: The best soil for rhubarb is loamy or well-draining soil.

Sunlight: Full sun is suitable for rhubarb plants, although they can also thrive in moderate shade. Make sure your rhubarb is planted in a sunny area that gets at least six hours of direct sunshine each day.

Make sure to add a lot of compost or well-rotted manure to the soil while preparing your garden for the planting of rhubarb.

By doing this, you may help the soil’s structure and provide your rhubarb plants with the nutrients they need to thrive.

Last but not least, keep in mind that rhubarb plants are perennials, so allow them plenty of room to develop and flourish in the upcoming years.

You’ll increase your chances of producing thick, mouthwatering rhubarb stalks by choosing the appropriate variety and creating the ideal soil and sunlight conditions.

How To Grow Thick Rhubarb Stalks: Planting And Growing

Planting And Growing Rhubarb
There are several things to consider during the planting stage.

In this section, the following are some simple housekeeping tasks you’ll want to stay on top of before you plant and after you plant your rhubarb.

If you are new to growing this vegetable then I’d suggest making a simple list of the following and putting it up on your fridge.

Remember, when you’ve done this once it will become easy to do it again. With rhubarb, the benefit is that you don’t have to go through the planting process too many times because of the rhubarb plant’s perennial qualities.

Proper Planting Techniques

To grow thick rhubarb stalks, start by planting your rhubarb in rich, organic matter with plenty of compost.

This is an important first step. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation so it will last a long time.

Choose an area with full sun for at least six to eight hours a day. Rhubarb also grows well in partial shade. Make sure the temperature stays below 90°F (32°C).

Space your rhubarb plants about 3-4 feet apart to give them ample room to grow.

Whenever someone asks me what’s the key on how to grow thick rhubarb stalks, I always respond with, ‘Just make sure when you plant them that they are spaced well apart. Overcrowding is a major reason why rhubarb fails to produce thick stalks.

When planting, dig a hole deep enough to cover the entire crown of the rhubarb and cover it with a couple of inches of soil. Make sure the crown is pointing upwards.

Caring For Young Rhubarb Plants

It’s important to avoid picking the stalks during the first year of rhubarb growth. That first year is more of an establishment stage. Patience is required in droves when planning to grow rhubarb that produces the thick, juicy stalks you’re after.

The first year enables the plant to concentrate its energy on developing solid roots. Every four to five years, divide the rhubarb crowns to avoid crowding, which can result in thinner stalks.

Keep an eye out for pests. Maintenance of your young plants is crucial during this stage in ensuring they remain strong and healthy. Correct any problems as soon as they arise. (More on this below).

How To Grow Thick Rhubarb Stalks: Regular Watering And Fertilizing

Rhubarb plants that receive regular watering will generally flourish. Thoroughly water your plants, giving them about an inch of water every week. But watch out you don’t oversaturate the soil; rhubarb plants struggle in soil that is waterlogged.

Apply a balanced fertilizer or organic materials to the soil in the early spring before the plant begins to create new growth. This aids in giving the plant the nutrients it needs to produce thick, wholesome stalks.

To further stimulate growth, you might also think about applying a balanced fertilizer once more in the fall.

Mulching For Moisture And Weed Control

It’s a great idea to use organic mulch around your rhubarb plants. It helps keep the soil moist while keeping weeds at bay.

Around the base of your plants, apply a layer of mulch that is approximately two to three inches thick, keeping it at least an inch away from the stalks.

Shredded leaves, straw, or compost are examples of organic mulches that help retain moisture while also releasing extra nutrients as they decompose.

Mulch is also great when conditions become hot. For example, in the southern states of the United States or northern Australia, heat can be a major obstacle in growing thick rhubarb stalks.

Keep an eye on the weather and revert to the proper planting techniques above for a guide on the heat levels that rhubarb will tolerate.

Your rhubarb plants will be more likely to produce thick, sturdy stalks if you use these planting and growing methods.

Important Factors For Thick Stalk Growth

Thick Stalk Growth
Rhubarb craves consistent sunshine but finds it hard to tolerate temperatures above 90F.

So let’s expand a little more on the factors that lead to growing rhubarb with thick, healthy stalks.

And there are several key factors to consider.

By paying attention to the following factors, you’ll allow your rhubarb to thrive and produce the best harvest possible. And isn’t that what you want?

Maximizing Sunlight Exposure

So we’ve established that sunlight is essential for good, healthy rhubarb plant growth. Six to eight hours is good.

While rhubarb can withstand partial shade, too much shade could result in thin stems and slower growth development.

I’ve seen people grow healthy rhubarb stalks by planting in an area of the garden that is in partial shade.

But there is a period during the day where they will receive full sun so a balance between the two is needed.

Sunshine is the fuel that rhubarb needs and growing it in partial shade only won’t produce the thickness in the stalks you’re looking for.

The bottom line is, sunlight is essential to the general well-being of your rhubarb plants and has a significant impact on the quality of your yield.

Ensuring Adequate Space And Proper Division

Your rhubarb plant needs lots of room to spread out and develop healthily. They can grow to a massive size, almost like a small tree.

Be sure to leave at least three to four feet (91 to 122 cm) between each rhubarb plant when you first plant it.

This gives the plants to develop without being overcrowded.

Because these plants are perennials, some maintenance will be required in the future to limit their size. To avoid overcrowding, you should divide your rhubarb crowns every 4–5 years (source).

By doing this, you can aid in the development of bigger, thicker stalks, promote healthier growth, and stop the plant from vying for nutrients from other plants.

The proper division of plants encourages more robust and vigorous development in addition to assisting in maintaining plant size.

More Overcrowding Prevention Tips

Rhubarb Overcrowding Prevention Tips
Rhubarb doesn’t appreciate overcrowding which can lead to growth issues.

As I’ve mentioned several times in this guide, overcrowding is a “killer” when attempting to get your rhubarb plants to flourish. Thin and spindly stalks are usually the result.

Clean-up of mature plants is another key in how to grow thick rhubarb stalks.

For example, pruning them regularly when they need it is recommended. But only when they need it. Avoid the temptation to prune them unnecessarily.

Remove any dead or dying stalks and leaves to ensure your plant can focus its energy on producing thick, healthy stalks.

Watch for any symptoms of stress on your plants in addition to avoiding overcrowding.

An example is plants subjected to high temperatures above 90°F (32°C). This can make rhubarb susceptible to temperature changes. 

To keep your plants healthy and “fruitful”, keep an eye on the weather.

If you can, when temperatures soar to higher levels, consider makeshift shade and more watering as needed.

So in summary, maximizing sunshine exposure, making sure there is enough space and that it is divided properly, and avoiding overcrowding and pressures can lead to a better-than-average harvest.

Harvesting And Using Rhubarb Stalks

Harvesting And Using Rhubarb Stalks
Avoid wanting to harvest your rhubarb in the first year of growth.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with growing rhubarb is being too eager to harvest it.

They prepare well and provide the plants with all the right maintenance and care that’s needed but become impatient.

Sure, if you don’t intend to care for your plants after year one and want a “one-hit wonder” that’s fine. But nearly everyone I know that grows rhubarb puts it in the ground planning to harvest from it for several years.

So that first year is crucial. It’s like a baby. The first few months to a year is a learning process. The baby is regularly weighed and monitored.

It’s growing and when it reaches the walking stage, it’s on track in its development. From here on, it grows and matures quickly.

A rhubarb plant needs that first year to establish itself. It’s the foundation it needs to flourish after year one and provide you with regular thick rhubarb stalks. If growing from seed, consider leaving it for the first two years. Just show a little patience.

Determining When Thick Rhubarb Stalks Are Ready To Harvest

To enjoy the best flavor and texture of rhubarb, it’s essential to know when it’s ready for harvesting.

Generally, the ideal time to pick rhubarb stalks is when they reach twelve to eighteen inches long and between a half and one inch wide (source).

Keep an eye on the color of the stalks as well; they should be a vibrant red or green, depending on the variety. It is best to harvest rhubarb from early spring until mid-July. (The following short video provides an excellent guide to what the rhubarb should look like when ready to harvest).

Safe Harvesting Techniques For Thick Rhubarb Stalks

Slicing is not recommended when it’s time to harvest your rhubarb. So be sure not to use a sharp knife to cut the stalks.

The key to harvesting is what’s known as the “pull and twist”. Pull and twist the stalks gently from the base, which will help promote healthier growth and prevent the remaining part of the stalk from withering away.

Remember to leave at least two-thirds of the stalks on the plant, allowing it to continue growing throughout the season.

Ways To Utilize Thick Rhubarb Stalks In Recipes

Rhubarb In Recipes
Rhubarb pie is a favorite of just about everyone.

I can honestly say that I haven’t met anyone yet who has eaten rhubarb that doesn’t like it. That’s unusual. I know people who won’t eat anything with onions in it. I know people who won’t eat peas. And amazingly, I know someone who won’t eat tomatoes.

But with rhubarb, it seems everyone likes it.

Rhubarb can be a delicious addition to various recipes once harvested. Here are some ideas to make the most of your fresh rhubarb:

Pies: A classic choice, rhubarb pie filling can be made by combining chopped rhubarb with sugar, flour (or cornstarch), and your preferred pie spices. Mix well and place in a pie crust, then bake according to your recipe’s instructions.

Jams and Preserves: Rhubarb jam is a great way to enjoy its tangy flavor for months to come. Combine equal parts rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan, then simmer until the mixture thickens. Be sure to sterilize your jars before filling them with the hot jam.

Desserts: Rhubarb crisp and rhubarb tart are popular choices for showcasing the unique flavor of this fantastic plant. Create a topping with oats, flour, sugar, butter, and spices for a delicious rhubarb crisp. For a rhubarb tart, combine the chopped stalks with sugar and cornstarch before placing them in a pie crust.

You can have lots of fun experimenting with different ways to use rhubarb in your kitchen.

Just don’t be afraid to try new recipes.

The attraction of rhubarb I feel is the unique taste. It adds a delightful tanginess to many dishes.

Conclusion: Avoiding Common Rhubarb Pests And Diseases

Avoiding Common Rhubarb Pests And Diseases
Aphids are among the most destructive pests that affect cultivated plants.

This final section is all about the maintenance phase. Don’t think you plant your rhubarb and it’s set and forget.

Problems will arise and you need to be on top of them when they do.

To keep your rhubarb healthy and productive, it’s important to monitor and address common pests and diseases.

Crown Rot: Watch for visible signs of rotting at the base of the plant, which usually affects the leaves and stems as well. To prevent this issue, avoid covering the crown with mulch, and ensure the soil has good drainage to discourage root rot.

Oxalic Acid: While rhubarb stalks are edible, avoid eating the leaves, as they contain high levels of oxalic acid, making them poisonous. Proper disposal of leaves protects you and your pets.

Pests: Insect pests, like aphids, may attack your rhubarb plants. Keep an eye on the leaves and take necessary actions, such as introducing friendly insects, like ladybugs, to keep pests at bay.

Managing Thin Or Spindly Stalks

It’s a frustrating aspect of growing rhubarb. You see the pictures in magazines of thick and healthy rhubarb stalks.

You naturally think you can grow the same healthy plants. But a year into your project you begin to worry that it’s not going according to plan.

Thin or spindly stalks can be a common issue for rhubarb growers. I tend to describe it as more of an annoyance. So here’s a final summary of what to do to avoid this problem.

Soil Management: Ensure you have rich, organic soil that is well-draining and full of nutrients, as this helps promote healthy growth.

Select A Suitable Variety: Opt for thick-stemmed varieties like ‘Cherry Red’ to encourage thicker stalks right from the start.

Divide And Conquer: Divide your rhubarb crowns every 4-5 years to prevent overcrowding and encourage thicker, healthier stalks.

Dealing With Flowering And Bolting

One issue we haven’t covered in answer to how to grow thick rhubarb stalks is the issue of flowering.

Not that this is a major problem but it’s worth addressing before we close out this guide.

The natural process of flowering in mature rhubarb plants may lead to reduced stalk production. If this is the case with your rhubarb, here’s how to manage flowering and bolting for better stalk growth:

Remove Flower Stalks: As soon as flower buds appear, promptly remove them to redirect the plant’s energy into stalk growth.

Monitor Environmental Factors: Insufficient rainfall, high temperatures, and poor soil can trigger flowering. Keep an eye on these factors, and take corrective actions, like increasing watering frequency or improving soil conditions.

Forcing Rhubarb: This encourages early growth by covering rhubarb crowns with an upturned pot, which tricks the plant into growing more vigorously.

By using these troubleshooting methods, you may avoid and address a lot of the problems which prevent thick, healthy rhubarb stalks. Keep in mind that it takes time and effort to maintain a flourishing rhubarb patch, but the benefits are well worth it.

Growing up on a farm gave me and my family some huge advantages. One of them was learning to grow our own food. Apart from acres and acres of crops, we had a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden plus, we canned our own food. I’m hoping to pass on some of this expertise and experience to you.

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