Growing rhubarb in Oklahoma

countrysmiths(7)April 9, 2007

Does anyone grow rhubarb successfully here in Oklahoma? I tried it here about 5 years ago after I moved from Colorado, I miss it and would like to try again. Does anyone have some suggestions or tips.



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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Some years I have success with it, and some years I lose it during the heat of the summer. So, I grow it as an annual, which I know violates all the rules for most parts of the country, but you do what you have to do in our climate.

Right now I have nine Rhubard plants on my screened-in porch that I need to get into the ground tomorrow. I intended to plant them last week, but held off due to weather concerns. I know well-established rhubard can handle the cold but I wasn't sure about new plants' hardiness.

I have had the best success with Rhubarb that gets shade during the hottest part of the day during the hot summer months. My most successful plantings get sun until 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and from then on they get pretty heavy shade. I have enriched their soil with tons of peat moss and compost so it will hold moisture. I mulch the plants heavily to cool the soil and retain moisture. I give them tons and tons of water. I harvest them once they are large enough to survive the cutting of some of the stalks, and....if the plant is really struggling with the heat and I think it is about to die, I harvest and freeze all I can for future use.

Some years it comes back for me the following spring, and some years it doesn't. It is a struggle to raise it here, but DH likes rhubard, so I do my best to grow it for him.

I've had the best results from the varieties MacDonald and Canada Red.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2007 at 6:53PM
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Dawn, thanks for the help. I am going to try again this year. Where do you get your plants and how big are they? Have you ever heard of trying to grow them in large containers and then bringing them in during the hot part of the summer?



    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 8:45AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Mark,

I am always happy to help a fellow gardener.

I usually pick up a couple of bags of rhubard roots at Wal-Mart as soon as they arrive in the store. If the bags sit in the store for too long, the heat causes the roots to start rotting in the bags. Down here in far southcentral Oklahoma, I guess those roots usually arrive in the store in late January or early February? They come in at the same time that you see the earliest bagged plants/roots/tubers in the stores, like seed potatoes, onion sets, gladiolus, etc. Usually these bagged products arrive even before the seed racks are set out.

In addition to the ones I got at Wal-Mart, I also ordered some roots on line. I think the others this year were from Victory Seeds and The Cook's Garden, but I'm not positive because one or two places I ordered from were already out of stock, so I had to re-order and then I forgot what I had coming (and from whom) until it arrived.

The roots I got online were large and had little tiny leaf buds on them when they arrived. The roots I got from Wal-Mart were smaller, but were just as healthy and sent up leaves about 2 weeks after I potted them up into 4" pots of potting soil. They all have several large leaves on them now and need to be planted ASAP.

I haven't tried it in containers but I have thought about it. I think the containers would have to be pretty large for it to work. I have a huge garden and am outside pretty much all day every day in the spring/summer, so I am worried that any plant I bring inside might be forgotten and neglected. lol

Another thing I have thought about was putting it in very large containers, and moving it into the underground tornado shelter once the July heat arrives. I was thinking that if I opened the shelter doors every morning and closed them every night, the rhubard might get enough sunlight to stay alive through the heat and then I could move it back outside in the fall. It is always a pleasant temperature in the tornado shelter in the summer time, and we don't have to go get into the shelter all that often, most years. Maybe I'll try that with one plant and see if it works.

Good luck with your rhubarb. I hope you have success this year.

If you have a bumper crop this year and want some new ideas for how to prepare it, let me know when the time comes and I'll post a few recipes. I have a new (to me) Rhubarb Cookbook I got this winter and it has a huge variety of Rhubard recipes, more than a 100 different ones I'd guess.


I don't know if you can find any in stores now. If so, I would open the bag and make sure the roots haven't rotted before driving out of the parking lot.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 9:46AM
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Thanks for all of your advice. I liked your idea about the cellar, but my cellar has a entrance from a covered porch so there would not be enough light. I wonder if you could force it into dormacy during the heat by picking the leaves and putting it in the dark cellar then bringing it back out in the fall?

As far as a bumper crop-I only bought one plant, which is all I needed in Colorado as it produced very well in that climate. I would be satisfied with just a cobbler or two here.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 10:38AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I have wondered about forcing it into dormancy in the tornado shelter too. I think it is just one of those things that you'd have to try as an experiment.

As far as not having enough light in your cellar.....if you ran an extension cord you could hang a shop light in there and try it that way. I have thought of trying to grow tomatoes in my cellar in the winter time, using shop lights for a light source, and opening the cellar on warm days to let in real sunlight.

I have no idea if it would work, but it might be fun to try.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2007 at 3:38PM
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The late Louise Riotte, who gardened in SE OK, tells how in the Astrological Gardening book. I ordered ten roots for $9.95 from Vernon Barnes & Sons, and they are coming along fine. They are on an east-facing slope so maybe the hottest sun will be a little mitigated by the time July rolls around. If they begin to wilt, I think I would try shading them with burlap or shade cloth to the West, or even drag out the electric fan for the hottest part of the day. I must love rhubarb!

Here is a link that might be useful: Louise Riotte page

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 10:45AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Nik!

I love Louise Riotte's books and simply devoured all of them that I could find after we moved here, about 30 miles south of Ardmore, in 1999.

My rhubard is on an east-facing slope also, and gets afternoon shade. I think that since I have so many plants this year, I will try to force a couple of them into dormancy in the heat of the summer and see how it goes.

I know that I bought Louise Riotte's books "Roses Love Garlic", "Carrots Love Tomatoes" and "Sleeping With A Sunflower" and also her book on ponds, "Catfish Ponds and Lily Pads" after I moved here. I think I may have read the Astrological book too, but don't remember.

I also read somewhere....maybe on the cover of one of her books...that she was the founder of The Cook's Garden seed company. If that info is true, I don't know why it isn't more widely known. I think she is one of the most underappreciated garden writers in America. Of course, her books were full of practical ideas and not real flashy and fancy, so maybe that is why.

Every now and then while in Ardmore we pass a commercial business with the Riotte name. I always think of her when we drive by there and wonder if that business belongs to some of her family members.

I think if I tried to put a fan on the rhubarb in the summertime, my DH would have a fit....even though I am growing the rhubard for him. lol

Have a lovely day.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 11:10AM
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Hi Dawn -
I would only put the fan for a few hours in the worst part of the heat - hey, it could save the crop! And I might just sit out there myself, sippin iced herbal tea and congratulating myself on being so clever -

    Bookmark   April 11, 2007 at 11:14AM
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My rhubarb has lived in MI/5, MD/6-7 and now KY/6-7. In MI, the plants were in full sun-and harvest was usually three months. When I moved it to MD, I planted it on the SE corner that was shielded from the sun by noon. It thrived and I was able to harvest into late summer and sometimes into the fall. Currently, I have 2 plants on the east side of the house and one on the SE corner. The eastern site thrives (similar to MD) due to reduced sun and wind. The SE plant struggled and will be moved to the East site this spring. We LOVE rhubarb.

When we traveled through lovely OK, we noted similar windy conditions-hope you do not mind an interloper.

I have never read about planting rhubarb in any site except full sun. I now wish our house had the long side facing east, as the currants have to compete with the rhubarb.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 10:42AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Blueberrier1! You're not "an interloper" but, rather, a guest and we are always happy to have or in person!

Many plants that require or at least tolerate full sun in other places cannot tolerate the combination of full sun, high summer temperatures (day and night) and persistent hot southerly winds that plague Oklahoma in the summer time.

Rhubarb "does not grow" in Oklahoma or Texas, if you listen to the "experts". To a degree, they are right. Our summer high termperatures are EXTREMELY hard on it and the combination of extremely hot days, hot nights, full sun and strong southerly winds just suck the life out of it. Sometimes we begin hitting the mid-90s in mid-June and are into the 100s by July, with no real cooling until September. The nights often stay in the 80s from mid-July on in southern Oklahoma (I can't speak for the rest of the state). Often, during the last few days of July and first couple of weeks of August, the high temps here in southern Oklahoma exceed 105 degrees and often hit the 110-115 range. It is like living in an oven. Here, if you can keep the rhubarb alive through the summer, that alone is a huge accomplishment. So, by growing it in afternoon shade and siting it where it has some protection from the persistent, southerly winds, we give it an increased chance of survival.

My poor DH dearly loves rhubarb because he grew it in Pennsylvania where it flourished in their milder summers. I keep trying to grow it for him, but have to treat it mostly as an annual and harvest all I can before the heat makes it "melt away".

Another "full sun" plant that I intentionally site in afternoon shade is peppers....all kinds of peppers--hot, ornamental, sweet, etc. They can grow in full sun but I get better production and fewer fruits with sunscald if I site them where they are shaded from mid-afternoon on.

Hope you'll drop in and visit with us more often. We enjoy sharing gardening ideas.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 1:30PM
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Will rhubarb grow on the north side of a house? I've failed miserably in growing rhubarb in Oklahoma. I might have planted the wrong variety and will try MacDonald this year. Last try...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 12:59AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Well, it might, as long as it gets some sun.

You have not "failed miserably". The rhubarb has failed.

I don't even necessarily think that variety matters all that much here in our climate.

The truth is that Oklahoma really is too hot for rhubarb to do well reliably here. Those of us who insist upon trying to grow it here (and I'm grinning as I say that 'cause I do keep trying to grow it) just have to remember that we really are pushing the plant to grow in a summer climate for which it really is NOT well-suited.

I don't even like the way rhubard tastes. I don't believe I'd ever eaten it until I was in my early 30s. My "problem" (smiling as I say that) is that I married a man who grew up in Pennsylvania and he thinks rhubarb is wonderful. So, I keep trying to grow it for him. In the years that we harvest some, he makes a rhubarb pie or cobbler or something and is delighted to have it. (No one else will eat the stuff although we all tried it.)

He adores rutabagas, too, and I keep saying I'll grow some for him but I haven't yet....maybe this fall. I hate giving up precious garden space for stuff that is "foreign" to me. LOL

I think I might try to grow Rhubarb from seed sown in seed-starting flats in August and set out in the garden in September. If I could get it large enough (before frost hits in the fall) to overwinter, then maybe we'd get a good harvest the following spring.

It is hard to find rhubarb seed locally, but it is available online via Territorial Seed, and I am sure from other seed companies as well.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 9:03AM
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Dawn, My husband is British and loves rhubarb (which grows easily in England). I'm a reluctant convert - it has to be cooked in a pie with LOTS of sugar for me to eat it!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 10:51PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I don't know if there is enough sugar in all of North American to make rhubarb tasty enough for me to eat it. I have a cookbook just full of ways to make rhubarb palatable.....and it is called (and I am NOT making this up) THE JOY OF RHUBARB.

I don't know what is worse--that such a cookbook actually exists OR that I purchased it! LOL (I'm sure it is a fine book with lovely and versatile recipes, it is just that they contain rhubarb!) So, even though I am not a big rhubarb fan, and even though it is hard to grow here, I am trying.....and can prepare our harvest (if we get one) many different ways.

Some of the recipes are: Cinnamon-Rhubarb Muffins, Rhubarb Salsa, Rhubarb Relish, Minted Rhubarb Soup, Rhubarb Meringue Pie, Rhubarb Shortbread, Rhubarb Upside-down Cake, Cornish Hens with Rhubarb Sauce, and Rhubarb Pork Chop Casserole. And, let us not forget the ever-popular Rhubarb Pickles (pickles???) and Rhubarb Wine. Now, doesn't that make you want to run out and plant an extra row of rhubarb just so you'll have enough to try all 200+ recipes?

When we got married 25 years ago, I didn't know that "for better or worse" included rhubarb.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 11:51PM
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LOL, Dawn! My rhubarb rotted in the raised beds last spring during all the rainy weather we had. I managed to save a little, cooked it and was going to put it in the freezer but the grandson ate some of it and thought it was something going bad and threw it out!

Truly, I'm of German descent but I'm not crazy about rhubarb, EXCEPT when mixed half and half with strawberries, the same amount of sugar as fruit, and made into jam. That makes THE BEST jam you will ever have. There's enough pectin in the rhubarb that just the fruit and sugar is enough to get a good gel once you get it to jelly temperature. I read somewhere that rhubarb is good mixed with mulberries in a jam but I've never tried it. DH thinks mulberries are bird food and won't eat them. Without him to eat jam, it's just me and the grandson. I can't get any bigger or I'll have to buy new clothes.

I'm going to try rhubarb again this year, where the house will shade it from the afternoon sun. Probably would just be cheaper to buy it. I do love the way the big leaves look, though.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 5:21PM
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Now I know why my rhubarb plants die each year. The first time I planted them they lasted all year and came up the following Spring. The plants died during the summer. This year I planted some more BUT I think I made a mistake again. I planted them where they get the afternoon sun. Next year I will try to grow them in a pot and so I can move them to the shade. For this year I will have to put some shade over them and see if I get another crop during the fall.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 2:12PM
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My grandmother was of German descent and she made THE best rhubarb pies! I fell in love with it at a very young age.

Are you serious that it can be grown in shade? Most of my yard is partial shade.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 6:33PM
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Mine stayed alive for two years then bit the dust. Then I learned you can buy it in a plastic bag in the frozen food section at Walmart. If I ever decide I want some, I think I will get it that way. LOL

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 9:22PM
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The main key to rhubarb is to keep the roots cool during the hot seasons. Mulch deep with straw or even crowd with other plants that can shade its roots. Also try the greener varieties such as Victoria. They are more heat resistant with lots of vigor. My latest plants already each have leaf sizes that measure about 3 feet across and are crowding out everthing else in the yard (LOL). They are very ornamental and mix well in a flower garden for green backgrounds and such. Make sure you have good drainage too. They don't like wet feet but do require moisture. I plant in raised garden beds with good soil due to the heavy red clay in the yard. This provides good feeding, good moisture, and great drainage to prevent rotting. Mine are in FULL sun. I grew canada red in Minnesota. They also were in full sun but don't do as well here in Oklahoma. As for getting rhubarb in stores. It is hit and miss, lately complete miss. I prefer to have my own source for my pies since I crave it so much. Rhubarb, you either love it or hate it. I love it.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 1:41PM
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oklahomegrownveg(Zone 6A)

We had a great little rhubarb patch back in England.
You've all inspired me to try and grow some on the east side of the house next year. Me and my wife LOVE it !! :-)


    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 1:50PM
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