There’s nothing like the anticipation of waiting to harvest rhubarb! This tart vegetable is simple to grow, and when harvested properly, will return year after year. Incorrectly harvesting rhubarb can damage your plant and leave you with less-than-desirable pieces. Here’s what you need to know about how to harvest rhubarb.
When the strawberries and rhubarb are in the markets at the same time, it signals the change from spring to summer and it’s time for a final rhubarb harvest. Ensure your plant will continue to be fruitful and learn how to harvest rhubarb the right way.
Unlike most vegetables, there is a special technique for harvesting rhubarb. Or a special twist, if you will! Harvesting rhubarb the right way ensures your plant stays healthy and continues producing for next year’s harvest.
If this is your first time growing rhubarb, be sure to check out my full guide on how to grow your own rhubarb plant. It is full of care instructions and need-to-know info for rhubarb gardeners.
When to Harvest Rhubarb
Let a new plant grow for two years before harvesting any stalks and only take 1/3 of the plant on year three. After that, you can harvest rhubarb heavily, leaving the smaller stalks behind after a solid 6-8 weeks of pulling off stems for yummy pies, compote, and sorbet!
Your rhubarb is ready for harvest when the stalks are anywhere from 7 to 15 inches long and once the leaves have fully opened. Don’t look at the stem colour for an indication of ripeness as they can be varying levels of red or even green depending on the variety.
Harvest from May to June, but then it is a good idea to let your rhubarb rest. After a good harvest, your rhubarb needs some time to recharge! However, if you see a flower stalk, feel free to cut that away.
Does Picking Rhubarb Encourage Growth?
When properly harvested, rhubarb is likely to live and give you plenty of good stalks for 10 or more years. After your rhubarb plant has established itself, you will want to harvest rhubarb every year to prevent overcrowding.
However, once the stalks become thin, stop harvesting. This means your rhubarb is tired and needs time to recoup!
Always leave a minimum of 2 stalks after harvest and be sure to remove the complete stalk. This will encourage the plant to produce more stalks for the next season.
How to Harvest Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a showy plant that holds its own in the front flower beds even if the critters have a snack here or there. Don’t worry if the leaves get a bit chewed as they get composted regardless.
To harvest, find a stalk that is ready to go. Solidly grasp the stem near the base of the plant, twist to the side, and pull to remove. The stalk should pop right off and come away from the root cleanly.
If it doesn’t come off easily, try twisting the stalk to the other side or grasp lower. If the entire plant begins to come up, pack down the surrounding soil and gently try twisting the stalk off again.
Trim the leaves in a fan pattern for storing in the fridge or trim the tops completely if you plan to use the rhubarb right away.
Be sure not to eat any part of the rhubarb leaves as they are toxic and will make you sick. The thick red stems is what we are going for.
Come fall, be sure to remove all the plant debris and cover the rhubarb area in a thick layer of compost. This will revitalize the soil and give the plant a ton of nutrients for the next season.
Should You Cut or Pull Rhubarb?
You may have been wondering, why not just cut the rhubarb instead? I’m here to tell you, no! Put away those clippers and do. not. cut. the. rhubarb.
Cutting a rhubarb leaves part of the stalk behind. This leftover stalk can then rot and infect the root of the rhubarb plant.
When you pull and twist rhubarb off, it comes off straight from the root. Now the plant will know a whole stalk is gone and set to work replacing it. You will have a higher-yielding harvest as a result!
Does Rhubarb Regrow After Cutting?
A perennial vegetable, rhubarb will come back every year. To ensure your rhubarb comes back next spring with a bountiful harvest, finish harvesting by the end of June. This will give your rhubarb plant enough time to store energy for the next season.
During the summer, the remaining leaves are taking in energy from the sun and bringing it down to the roots to get ready for next spring.
Enjoy Your Rhubarb!
Rhubarb freezes well, so if you have some stalks that can still be harvested but no use for them, chop them up and save them for the future in the freezer.
Whether stalks are red or green doesn’t affect the flavor, but the red stalks are generally preferred to make the beautiful pink color often associated with rhubarb desserts like rhubarb lemonade or this rhubarb sorbet recipe.