How to grow rhubarb in Perth

Growing rhubarb in Perth

I love growing rhubarb in Perth. There is something about them that reminds me of my childhood, eating rhubarb and apple crumble. Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) originates from China and is a member of the Polygonaceae or dock family. Rhubarb is a close relative of swiss chard and beetroot, is grown for its edible stalks.  It is valued for its long, thickened, red stalks, up to 75 cm long, which arise from the crown and carry the large leaves. The stalks are used as a dessert, mostly in, compote, crisp and pies. Rhubarb has an acidic taste and typically is balanced out by adding sugar when cooking, particularly for desserts. They contain useful levels of acids (pH 3.0–3.6), sugars, fibre, protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamin C.

In Western Australia, a small area of rhubarb is grown commercially throughout the year for the domestic market, mainly in the Wanneroo area.

There are a few tricks to successfully growing rhubarb in Perth, Western Australia. You’ll be surprised to know that you just need to plant it once, treat it well and it will continue to produce gorgeous edible stalks for you to use year after year.

When to plant rhubarb in Perth:
Crowns are best planted between September and October. It is most common for rhubarb to be planted from crowns. The reason less people choose to plant from rhubarb from seeds is because the plants take up to 3 years to become established and reach a size that you can harvest.

Planting rhubarb from seed should take 2-3 weeks to sprout and the soil needs to be kept moist right through this time. This means if you are planting from seed you can start from May – August.

Types of rhubarb in Western Australia:
Did you know that there is a green variety of Rhubarb as well as the more common red? There are 100’s of rhubarb varieties so check your local nursery see what is most readily available.

  • Ever Red rhubarb – Produces high yields of sweet red stalks for most of the year, with the heaviest crop being produced in spring and summer.
  • Giant Victoria rhubarb – One of the sweeter varieties that has greener stems than the Ever Red. Vigorous, produces mostly during spring and summer.
  • Lider rhubarb – Lider is superior rhubarb variety that has up to 60% red stems where other varieties will only show 30%. Plant in a sunny position with rich, improved soil.

How to grow rhubarb at home:
Plant crowns during winter or early spring while they are dormant (or at least growing slowly) is best. Seeds and seedlings can be planted between May and August.

  1. Choose a sunny or part-shade spot in your garden, protected from the hot afternoon sun. Loosen soil and enrich with soil improver and plant fertiliser.
  2. Sow seeds direct or plant in trays of seed raising mix and allow seeds to grow 7cm tall before transplanting. If growing from crowns, plant so that the roots are under the soil, but the ‘eye’ (from where the shoots will emerge) is at ground level.
  3. Feed weekly with liquid plant food during the growing season and mulch around the base of the plant with organic mulch like sugar cane or pea straw to retain moisture.
  4. Wait until the second year before harvesting. Harvest by pulling stalks away from the main stem – don’t cut them as exposed stems can cause rot. Continually harvest to promote new growth and remove any flower stalks.

How to grow rhubarb in a pot:

  1. Choose a pot at least 500mm wide and deep. Position in a sunny or part-shade spot in your garden, protected from the hot afternoon sun. Fill with quality potting mix with dynamic lifter.
  2. Fill starter trays with seed raising mix. Sow seeds, lightly cover and water. Keep the soil moist throughout germination. If growing from crowns, plant so the roots are under the potting mix, but the eye of the rhubarb is at ground level.
  3. Once seedlings reach 7cm tall, transplant into chosen pot and water in well.
  4. Feed plants weekly with liquid plant food during the growing season.
  5. Wait until the second year before harvesting. Harvest by pulling stalks away from the main stem – don’t cut them as exposed stems can cause rot. Continually harvest to promote new growth and remove any flower stalks.

When to harvest rhubarb:
Rhubarb can be harvested at any time of the year. However its best to wait until stems are big enough to use. Rhubarb usually produces most abundantly during autumn and winter. If you have planted rhubarb from seed then it will take two years before it is time to harvest. To look after your rhubarb plants you should leave some stems to grow leaves which will feed next year’s crop.  Leave the youngest stalks in the centre of each plant to promote new growth. A rhubarb plant can give you around 15 years of production if it is properly cared for.

Storing rhubarb at home:
Refrigerators provide the cold, but they also dry the air. Wrap your home-grown rhubarb stalks in a damp cloth or paper towel and put them in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator; this will maintain humidity. Cut stems will keep in the refrigerator for two to four weeks when stored properly like this.

If you have a bumper crop you can also freeze rhubarb. It’s a simple and straightforward process. Begin by cutting stalks into 4-5cm pieces; lay them flat on a parchment-lined baking pan. Simply freeze them until they are firm to the touch, which will take a few hours. Then, place them in freezer bags and keep them in your freezer for up to a year.

Rhubarb care and common problems:
The main disease of rhubarb is downy mildew (Peronospora destructor) which appears as brown patches on the leaves, especially after storms from May to October. A fungicide based on copper or mancozeb will help to control this disease.

Snails and slugs can also tend to eat the rhubarb leaves so be sure to keep these under control. But remember to keep any pellets away from the edible stalks of the rhubarb plant.

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to humans and may contain high levels of oxalic acid. Stalks don’t always develop red stems, but green stems are safe to eat and the flavour is just as good. Stems tend to develop stronger red colouring in cooler climates.

Check out our other how to grow in Perth guides:

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