When to pick rhubarb?

qcmike30(z5 Iowa)April 28, 2004

I live in Davenport, and am wondering when I should start picking rhubarb. I bought a house a few years ago and inherited a rhubarb bed with it, so quite established plants. Thanks in advance for your advice.

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As soon as it pokes out of the ground! Just remember not to use the leaves for anything - they are poisionous. I cut my rhubarb, but many recommend pulling it. The thinner stalks are less stringy and less acidic.

Oh! You can make stepping stones from the leaves - wait until they are quite large, but don't let them get too many bug holes. Try this - you will love the results!

Here is a link that might be useful: Rhubarb Stepping Stone tutorial

    Bookmark   April 29, 2004 at 8:42AM
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qcmike30(z5 Iowa)

Thanks a lot, GardenGirl. I guess I should have also asked when do you STOP picking them too...? ;)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2004 at 12:00AM
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Well, that is a good question! If you keep it picked, watered, and don't let it go to seed you could probably pick all summer. I usually treat it as a spring treat though.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2004 at 10:23AM
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I pop in here on once and a while as I live just over the river in southwest Wisconsin. My rhubarb is hugh this year, and it's only its second year. Tonight after work, I had to pull out at least 10 seed heads. Could not believe that it was going to seed so early in the year!
Mary Lu

    Bookmark   May 1, 2004 at 12:49AM
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hi qcmike, i am in davenport too :)
was just informed that my grandma has some ready to go rhubarb so i'll be a'picken too.
what do u make with it??? i have a fabulous recipe for rhubarb crumble, its a big hit every year.
might even try a jam this year.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2004 at 9:03AM
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qcmike30(z5 Iowa)

I picked some, but most of it is green already. I'm not sure what is even made from rhubarb- I give it all to my mom and grandma, lol! :) I had to cut off lots of seed heads as well.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2004 at 10:31PM
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If anyone wants some good recipes for rhubarb let me know. Just email me and I will be glad to send them to you. I have some tried and true "family" recipes from pie to crisp and also several cake types.
Mary Lu

    Bookmark   May 9, 2004 at 1:53AM
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At the risk of sounding like a dummy here (sorry I am a newbie to gardening!), why can you not pick it after it goes to seed?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2004 at 4:26PM
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Luke_Trash(z5 IA)

This is just what I heard through the grapevine:
Once it goes to seed, the taste gets bad. The nutrients are sent up the seed chute instead of out to the leaves..
Also I have heard that if you pick it after June, you run the risk of killing it off. But I don't know if that's true, being that Rhubarb and cockroaches will be the only two things left after a nuclear holocaust.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2004 at 9:15AM
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LOL! Thanks for the info Luke! Ya know there may be some truth to it not coming back. Last year I planted some rhubarb on the back of our lot. We live in a new neighborhood with lots of empty lots. The builder sends a guy out to mow all of the vacants with a big tractor. He ran over about half of the rhubarb with the mower and it didn't come back this year. So I am back to planting AGAIN, this time further from the lot line!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2004 at 10:30AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Once Rhubarb produces seed, it stops growing ( nothing about the taste....the strength of the plant goes to the seeds).
As long as it is fed and watered and you don't remove more than 1/4th of the stalks at one time....you can pick rhubarb all summer.
Rhubarb should be pulled, not cut.
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 29, 2004 at 2:31PM
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So sorry I did not get the recipes emailed to anyone. Just so darn busy....poor excuse I know. For the past two weeks have been picking strawberries. About an ice cream pail a night. Made 72 half pints of freezer jam on Saturday.
Here's one good recipe...Hope this makes up a little bit?

Rhubarb Crumble:
1 c sifted flour
3/4 c oatmeal
1 c melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c brown sugar
4 c diced rhubarb
2 T cornstarch
1 c sugar
1 c water
1 tsp vanilla
Mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Put 1/2 of this crumb mixture in a 9 inch pan. Cover with the rhubarb. Combine cornstarch, sugar, water and vanilla. Cook until thick and clear. Pour over the rhubarb. Top with remaining crumbs. Bake until done at 350 about 30 minutes.

This is the receipe that I use the most. I love it.

Mary Lu

    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 12:28AM
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relang7(Z6 SW PA)

Have plants in their second year that are doing great, but I didn't know I could pick it now!! Thanks for the info.
Our favorite reciepe:

Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch
Filling: Mix together and place in a 9x13 glass baking dish
4c chopped Rhubarb
5 c sliced strawberries
2 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
t nutmeg
¾ t cinnamon
(2/3 c chopped pecans)
1 T tapioca

Topping: Mix together and crumble evenly on top
1 c flour
1 c rolled oats
2/3 c brown sugar
½ t nutmeg
½ t cinnamon
2/3 c butter
(1 c sliced almonds)

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, till bubbly.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2005 at 10:20AM
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Hi im a VERY new gardner never could keep even a spider plant alive :( but... i inherited a Rhubabrd plant from the previouse owners when we bought our house so id LOVE to keep it going - thank you for that Rhubarb crumble sounds WONDERFUL!!! I am however a GREAT baker! :)xx cant wait to taste the pies im going to make -- but wondered what does *going to seed* mean? what does it look like and how am i to stop it? :( lol
AND does moving it kill it? :(
Also we have new neighbors moving in and id like to *share the wealth* how do I pick some or cut some safely to give them to plant as well??

Thank you
Any and all help would be greatley appreciated :) xx

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 7:45PM
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we pull and use our rhubarb all season, never noted any taste difference. some say that it becomes poisonous after seeds but as far as I understand that is an old folk lore. We dig into the roots to divide the plants. New plantings will take a couple of years to take off and become productive.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2007 at 12:23AM
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In regards to rhubarb going to seed, just cut off the seed shoot as soon as you see it.It is a shoot with many small white balls instead of a leaf. You can then continue pulling rhubarb most of the summer. Don't pull all at once.About a third at a time is good. New shoots will continue to come.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 4:59PM
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Hi, I'm new here and I know that when you pick rhubarb you should only pick one fourth to one third of the stalks each time but my question is how long should you wait between pickings?



    Bookmark   July 16, 2007 at 9:33AM
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Do Rhubarb stalks need to be pinky red to pick them? I have one plant that has thin pink stalks and they pull out easily the other two plants are green and don't. What is the secret of ripe rhubarb...thanks. If you are looking for a delish recipe for cake...I haven't found a person who doesn't really like this one....give it a try.

Rhubarb Cake

1 ½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups rhubarb, cut into ½" chunks
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Cream Sugar and butter. Add egg, Vanilla and buttermilk. Blend together, then add dry ingredients and beat til smooth. Fold in rhubarb. Pour into greased and floured * 9x13 baking pan.
*I use Wilton Cake Release. This is great stuff....comes out perfectly every time. If allergic to soy..do not use.

Top with
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
½ cup chopped walnuts (OPT)

mixed together.

Bake 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. While still warm, I like to drizzlw with a little podered sugar icing.

2 T butter
1 ½-2 cups powedered sugar
a few tablespoons milk
Mix till smooth.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 7:58AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Rhubarb doesn't get "ripe" when the stalks are big enough they're ready.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 4:46PM
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qcmike30(z5 Iowa)

Wow, this was a blast from the past... :)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 7:34PM
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I'm excited to try these recipes. My rhubarb was guaranteed two years old when I planted it here in Georgia and it has produced large, tender stalks. Some are pinkish and some are green, but they all look good. Have discarded the leaves in a safe place as I'm told they are poisonous. Thanks everyone for your great advice and recipes!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 4:06PM
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Growing up in Iowa & now living in Arizona...I couldn't believe my eyes in seeing rhubarb plants at my local Lowe's. Figured I'd give it a try in the garden...nothing ventured, nothing gained. Surprisingly, since I planted it in March, it is growing like crazy! Here's where I need your help/advice...
The plant I bought was only about 5" tall with about 3 MINI stems--hardly an established rhubarb plant. I now have about a dozen stalks 12-18" long with some red near the base; would have about 2 dozen if the rabbits hadn't eaten it before I put chix wire up; and there are new leaves surfacing every week. I keep reading that you can't pick until the 2nd year. I can't pick these stalks this summer at all???? If so, what is the reason for this?? Will it kill the plant, the rhubarb won't be any good...??
My next question is: any tips on how to grow longer/bigger stalks? Like I said mine are about 12-18" long...but I recall stalks in Iowa as a kid being much bigger than that. Anything to worry about or should I just chalk it up to the fact it's growing in the desert of AZ and not in the rich soil of Iowa?
Thanks in advance for your advice!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2010 at 8:36PM
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my rhubarb went to seed so early this year and i wonder why

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 11:11AM
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Hi Everyone!

I am going to try and make jam from my Rhubarb. Some stalks are solid and some (larger ones) hollow. Does it matter? Mine are seeding already also.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 1:22PM
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Thanks, can't find frozen rhubarb, why?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2011 at 9:28PM
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can you only pick the stalks if they are red?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 9:03PM
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I bought some rhubarb from lowes in 2 months ago. They were about 3" tall little plants. They grow like crazy - 18" tall with many red stalks. I cut some stalks and try to cook them. They don't taste good - not sour- nothing close to rhubarb pie I bought from store. What is problem? Is it because they're not mature yet?

Thank you for your advice in advance.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 5:47PM
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Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid - that is why they are poisonous. As the season progress, the stems start to accumulate oxalic acid also. This is why picking and eating rhubarb later in the season potentially is risky.

I stop picking at the end of June. Plus, by then the plant starts to go into a seasonal decline that is associated with hot weather.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 12:50PM
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    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 10:08PM
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I was given a great book from my Daughter-in-law for Christmas called the "Joy of Rhubarb". I LOVE IT. There are great recipes for making jam using pie fillings and rhubarb. I made about 5 different kinds last year. They were a hit with the entire family especially my 6 year old granddaughter. I did freeze the rhubarb and made the jam in late Fall as we do not have air conditioning and husband is hunting so it is a good time to keep the stove going and not have to stop for meals etc.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 12:07PM
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The leaves being poisonous should I -not- put them into my compost?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2012 at 4:41PM
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It is fine to compost rhubarb leaves.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 4:03PM
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I didn't pull any punches on my well established rhubarb this year-- I harvested lots for a month or so and then pulled out all the rest when I was done for the season. Mine seeded early but I just kept cutting them off and it kept producing fine eating stalks.

My confusion is about what it has done since then-- it's October now and there is a whole new crop of stems ready to pick and I'm not sure what to do with them. What is proper rhubarb treatment when winter hits-- do you pull off everything that's present and let it sit bare for the winter months? I'm planning on dividing it before the cold really sets in and I have no idea if I should leave stems on the section I plan to leave in place (working on the theory that it feeds off of itself like asparagus...?)

Totally unsure what to do but love my rhubarb and want to treat it right. :-)

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 3:10PM
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This is an old thread, but thought I would put in my two cents anyways. My Dad was a rhubarb expert of sorts, people from all around always asked him if they could pick some. His secret was fresh cow manure, then put it in a bucket about 1.2 way, add water, mix it, then pour around the rhubarb. One no-no I saw on here you don't ever cut it, you pull it to save the root and regenerate it. Grab along the bottom of the stem and pull gently!! Second you can eat it during the summer, but don't let it go to seed, cut the tops off when it starts to seed. By cutting the seed part off you regenerate the rhubarb and the energy goes to the roots and it grows healthy stems.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 6:58AM
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OOOOH I love rhubarb and I want to pick it whenever I see it...even at empty houses, but I don't cuz my hubby frowns if I talk about how greedily I want to do that! LOL

The trick with rhubarb is to only pick enough to not deplete the rhubarb too much. So I usually pick about a third of it, usually the stems that come out closer to the ground cuz those are the oldest and usually the biggest, doesn't matter how much red is on it, cuz some years there's more red. Water the rhubarb plant well, and pick some more in a week or two when you see more stems coming on.

Here's my favorite recipe for rhubarb: Rhubarb Upside Down Cake! You'll need a yellow cake mix.

Grease a 9 x 13 and set aside. Oven: 350
In a 10C bowl put 5C rhubarb cut in 1/2-3/4" pieces, l large box of strawberry jello (one time I used one small strawberry and one raspberry and it was fine), 1C sugar and 3C mini marshmallows (I usually use closer to 2.5). Mix this together and spread evenly in the bottom of the 9 x 13.

Mix a yellow cake mix according to the box instructions and pour over the rhubarb mix, spread evenly. Bake at least an hour, making sure the center tests done with a toothpick....I think I bake it 65-70 minutes. Let cool 10 min.

At this point I get out another 9x13 pan (or a rimmed cookie sheet that's a little larger [but this is harder to cover the leftovers]).

Take a knife and loosen the edges of the hot cake. Put the clean pan on top and carefully turn it over using hot pads or dish towels to protect you from the hot pan. Any gooey bits that remain in the hot pan, I quickly eat, no, no, I mean spread on top of the hot cake, sometimes even repair a little crack here or there.

Love this stuff and it goes well at potlucks!!! Cool Whip is tasty with it too.
You'll find me on perennial forum regularly so let me know if you try this!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 5:24PM
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I'm just north of Davenport , Ia in Clinton, IA. I've been an Iowan for the better part of my 55 yrs and have grown or been around rhubarb for most of those years.
My best rhubarb tips are first, make sure your rhubarb bedding areas are well drained. One thing rhubarb rhizomes and root systems hate is to be drowned. Either plant them in slightly raised, sloping or well draining soil. Mine are somewhat raised in moderate draining soil and I mulch my beds with grass clippings throughout the season. Also plant them where they can receive as much sun as possible. If you don't receive at least an inch of rain per week or so, water them. I cut the round seed pod stems off as soon as they become obvious. Mine are never allowed to go to seed. Another point, if you're planting more than one rhizome, plant them at least 1-1/2 to 2 ft. apart. They'll spread throughout the few years before you dig them up to split and re-bed them. That's the time you either expand your beds or sell/give away part of your rhizomes to someone.
Now they're not really going to be the best stalks for eating or cooking in their first season after you've transplanted the rhizome from it's original bed. You can try it, but I won't guarantee the quality. Always grasp the stalk toward it's base and pull it up from the plant. Only harvest 1/3 of the stalks at a time. This will allow the plant to continue to grow and stay healthy. The rule of thumb is to only only harvest rhubarb in months without an "r" in them. Thus, June-August. I'll admit that I've cheated and harvested as late as mid September in some warmer years. Your 2nd season is when you'll normally see your first seed pod growing. It'll be a thick round stalk growing from near the middle of your plant. I either pull mine out, if I catch it soon enough or cut off as low as possible.
This 2nd season is when you'll see your stalks start to thicken up and really start to grow taller. Don't let them get to big or they'll start to get woody or pulpy and less tart tasting. You'll get to know your plants and when the optimal time to harvest the stalks is. There are many varieties/species of rhubarb, so I'm not going to specify when yours is ready but even the thin stalks can pack a wallop flavor wise and tartness.
I mentioned earlier about digging up your rhizomes and splitting them. My plants start getting pretty thick after about the 4th season. So at the end of the 4th seasons harvest, I'll pull all the stalks by the end of September. This will allow a few more to start appearing by mid October when I'll dig up the parent rhizomes. This gives me the opportunity to renew my bedding area. Adding any additional topsoil and manure mixtures that are needed to raise the beds. I cut my parent rhizomes in half, at least, leaving some immature stalks on both halves and trimming all the roots to only about 4" at the most. Try to remove as much of the root system that you can when digging your rhizomes. I use a spade or garden fork when digging mine rather than a shovel so I'm not cutting the roots when digging.
Now that you've split the rhizomes and have decided whether you're expanding your beds or giving some away, you're ready to re-bed. This is why I've left some immature stalks on the rhizomes. You're going to open your hole only as wide around as your roots and deep enough that the the bottom of the stalks at at their previous depth. Remember to leave them spaced apart. Once they're back in the ground, mulch them and keep them watered as you normally would through the growing season. One the first frost hits, I pull the stalks that have been left on the plants. Now that they've been reestablished in their home beds, next seasons crop should be good as before.
Wrap the rhizomes that you're giving away in newspapers and advise the new owner how to plant them. Get them in the ground as soon as possible, they'll do best if they "winter" in their new beds.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2014 at 4:36PM
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My rhubarb patch is several decades old. I've never done anything but harvest throughout the summer, occasionally transplant a little one to fill in a gap. and throw on some horse manure in the fall. Not much of it ever goes to seed. I also use all the leaves as ground cover. If I do that consistently I have zero weeds except right in among the stalks, where lately I've had to clear out the Creeping Charlie every couple of years. This year I am going to mulch it with a thick layer of wood chips.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2014 at 9:25PM
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