There’s something comforting about rhubarb. Having a plant or two in the backyard means all is right with the world. And it’s a link to our pioneer ancestors for whom rhubarb was a must-have on their homesteads.
I treasure our own red-stalked plants that were passed along through three generations, first planted by my grandmother 90 years ago on their farm between Alice and Fingal, North Dakota. My mom dug, divided, and moved plants from the farm to their own home in Lisbon, ND. After I married and had a home of our own, my wife Mary and I dug, divided, and moved the rhubarb to our garden in Fargo.
When is the best time to move rhubarb? It re-locates very successfully in spring, as new sprouts are just beginning to barely peek through the soil. Move rhubarb when new growth is very small. As spring progresses and leaves and stems become larger, it’s more stressful on the plant, and chances of something going wrong increase.
A second successful time to move rhubarb is in September, at the end of the growing season, after foliage has been lightly frosted.
Knowing the best time to dig rhubarb is important for several reasons. It might need to be moved. Or we might want to divide a clump to make more plants for ourselves or for others. Lastly, if rhubarb has become old, digging and dividing might be needed for rejuvenation.
How often does rhubarb need to be dug and divided? It can remain in place for many years. Let the vigor of the plant be the guide. As long as it remains productive, there’s no reason to divide the clumps. But if production is lessening, and the center of the plant becomes bare with good stalks only at the perimeter, division will help.
Once the plant is lifted out of the soil, divide with a sharp knife, saw, or shovel. Replant at the same level, no deeper. Rhubarb is adversely affected by too-deep planting. The “eyes” or buds that are located between the above-ground stems and the roots should be covered with no more than one to two inches of soil. Water well after planting.
Newly planted rhubarb should be allowed to grow for two growing seasons before harvesting the third year. This is important for giving the plant time to develop its energy before plucking off its stems. By keeping several plants in a rotation of digging/dividing, you’re never without harvestable plants.
Let’s all keep the rhubarb tradition going! Happy Gardening.