Rhubarb plants need well-drained, fertile soil and the ground has to be worked quite deeply. But rather than having to dig a row or trench, you need only make a hole for planting each crown.

     Dig the holes two feet deep and two feet wide, and space them three feet apart in all directions. Fill the bottom of each with a six-inch layer of compost or manure and add 1/3 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Fill the hole with the mixture to the depth of one foot.

     In early spring place one Rhubarb crown in each hole so that the top, where the plant buds are located, sits three to four inches below the soil surface. Tamp the soil firmly around the roots, and fill each hole with the compost and topsoil mixture until level with the surrounding soil.

     When the first growth appears, and every succeeding spring as well, spread 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer around the shoots and scratch it into the soil with a hand cultivator. Maintain a permanent mulch around each plant to help keep the soil moist and to prevent winter frost from setting in too hard around the roots. Remove the mulch before fertilizing and afterward, push it back in place.

      Rhubarb plants produce seed stalks which, if allowed to flower, will reduce production of edible stalks. So, cut off seed stalks as soon as you see them.

     After several years, rhubarb plants tend to become crowded and the stalks grow noticeably thinner. At this point, dig up the plants and divide their roots. Do this in the spring when the new shoots are just beginning to emerge, or in the early fall. Cut the roots into several parts,each of which should have one to three buds. Treat these sections as though they were new crowns, and plant them in another part of your garden. If you plant the crowns in the fall, mulch heavily.

     Rhubarb stalks grow to 18 inches or taller. If your plants are of mature size, harvest a few stalks in spring the second year after planting. Beginning the third year, harvest about half the stalks, leaving the thinner ones, which will grow and help nourish the roots. Harvest rhubarb by holding the stalk near the base and twisting it off. Do not eat the tops; they are mildly poisonous.

Forcing Rhubarb In Winter

If you would like to enjoy rhubarb in winter, try this easy forcing method: In the fall, after the tops have died down, dig up a whole plant and place it in a tub 18 inches in diameter, which you have filled with topsoil, compost and manure. Leave the tub outside for several weeks of freezing weather, and then move it to a dark, cool place. Keep the soil moist. About a month before you plan to harvest, move the tub into a warm area (60 degrees F is best), still in the dark, if possible. The dormant roots will begin to emerge, and you can harvest when the stalks are about 18 inches tall.

What Can Go Wrong?

Rhubarb is relatively free from pests or diseases. The rhubarb curculio, a short, yellow, juice-sucking beetle, thrives in weedy patches, however. Keep the land weed free; pick any curculios off plants.

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