The Rhubarb Rundown

This week’s blog post was written by long-time Meadow Hill gardener, and Garden Mentor, Debra Taylor-Cragg. Dive in for the Rhubarb Rundown!


If you love rhubarb in crumbles, sweet breads and pies, you already know what a versatile vegetable it is. Full of vitamins, sharp tang, and a sturdy disposition, rhubarb is found all over the world. In Western Montana you can spot the large, triangular leaves and bushy shape in alleyways, garden corners and even abandoned homesteads. 

If rhubarb is a mystery to you, read on to find out how easy it is to grow. Newbies and rhubarb experts alike — it’s easy to add some quick, new ways to incorporate wonderful plant into sauces, beverages, sweet treats and more. (Recipes included!) 

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You’ve probably seen Rhubarb around..

Since it’s a perennial, it comes back year after year, and is one of the first vegetables to get big in the springtime. With distinct, large triangle leaves obscuring stalks that range from green, to pink, to dark red. The top of the plant has the small white flowers (shown here).

Though the leaves are showiest, they are not edible. They contain toxic substances including oxalic acid. The roots (rhizome) may have some medicinal value, however.

The rhubarb stalks are what you’re after. They’re edible, nutritious, and delicious. One cup of cooked rhubarb contains 26 calories, 11g of protein, .2g of fat, 5.5g of carbohydrates, 2.2g of fiber, and 1.3g of sugar. Rhubarb is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and manganese. (

Grow Your Own!

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  • Before planting, eliminate all perennial weeds.

  • Choose a site that is well-drained, fertile, and preferably in full sunlight. Rhubarb does best where the average temperature falls below 40ºF in the winter and below 75ºF in the summer.

  • Plant one-year rhubarb crowns in early spring as soon as the ground is workable, when the roots are still dormant and before growth begins or plants are just beginning to leaf out. 

  • Rhubarb can also be planted in the fall after dormancy has set in.

  • Dig large bushel basket-size holes. Space rhubarb plants about 4 feet apart and plant the roots 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil.

  • Be sure to mix compost, composted manure, or anything high in organic matter in the soil. Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and need this organic matter. Don’t add a chemical fertilizer when planting rhubarb or during the first year of growth. Direct contact with nitrates can kill your rhubarb plants. 


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  • Mulch generously with a heavy layer of straw and cow manure to provide nutrients for the plant, retain moisture, and discourage weeds.

  • Water your plant well. It needs sufficient moisture during the summer.

  • Remove seed stalks as soon as they appear.

  • After the first spring frost, apply a light sprinkling of a high-nitrogen fertilizer (25-3-3 or 10-6-4) when the ground is thawing or has just thawed, so that the fertilizer will go into the ground and not harm the roots.

  • Insects and diseases won’t bother rhubarb plants as long as you keep the plants weed-free.

  • Dig and split rhubarb roots every 3 to 4 years. Divide when plants are dormant in early spring (or fall).


  • Do not harvest any stalks during the first growing season, so that your plants can become established.

  • Harvest the stalks when they are 12 to 18 inches long. Usually after 3 years, the harvest period runs 8 to 10 weeks long. If the stalks become thin, stop harvesting; this means the plant’s food reserves are low.

  • Grab the base of the stalk and pull it away from the plant with a gentle twist. If this doesn’t work, you can cut the stalk at the base. Be sure to discard the leaves!

  • Always leave at least 2 stalks per plant to ensure continued production. You may have a bountiful harvest for up to 20 years without having to replace your rhubarb plants.

  • After harvest time, the stems may die back. Just remove all plant debris. Once your ground freezes, it’s best to cover rhubarb with 2 to 4 inches of mulch, preferably well-rotted compost; by adding nitrogen to the soil, you’re preparing the rhubarb plants for a good spring season.

(from Farmers Almanac


Now, for the good part… make something quick and delicious with rhubarb. And, of course, there’s always pie, coffee cake, savory BBQ sauces, breads,..

Rhubarb Sauce

This sweet sauce is a great topping for pound cake, vanilla ice cream, yogurt, granola, toast, or any other neutral treat! Can be served warm or chilled. Refrigerate leftovers.


  • 1/3 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 2-1/4 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  • Wash and dice stalks into half inch pieces. In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Add rhubarb; cook and stir for 5-10 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and mixture is slightly thickened. 

  • Remove from the heat; stir in lemon peel and nutmeg.


  • Add diced apples along with the rhubarb. After cooking, add a can of diced pineapple with juice or some fresh strawberries or peaches. 


Rhubarb Refresher

  • Wash and dice  5 - 6 stalks of rhubarb into half inch pieces (approximately two cups total) and place in large bowl or mason jar. Add a little bit of sweetener of your choice (brown sugar, honey, stevia, etc); you can always add more later. 

  • Boil 3 - 4 cups of water. Pour over the rhubarb. Stir and cover.

  • Let the mixture sit at room temperature for several hours for the flavors to seep into the water. Taste and adjust sweetener amount and refrigerate, leaving the rhubarb pieces in the liquid. 

  • Serve on ice, or with a bit of lemon, fresh mint leaves, or a splash of fizzy water for a very refreshing drink on a hot summer day. The rhubarb pieces still have a bit of crunch but not the bitter taste.

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Rhubarb Crisp


  • 6 cups rhubarb

  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


  • 3/4 cup rolled oats

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar packed

  • 6 tablespoons flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 6 tablespoons butter

  • 1/3 cup coconut (optional_


  • Preheat oven to 375°F.

  • Wash and rinse rhubarb and cut into 1/2" pieces.

  • Toss rhubarb with flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Place in a lightly oiled 2qt baking dish.

  • In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients with a fork or pastry blender. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture.

  • Bake for 35 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and topping is golden.

  • Cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Top
    In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients with a fork or pastry blender. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture.

  • Bake for 35 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and topping is golden.

  • Cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Top with ice cream or cream.

Recipe Notes