Rhubarb is one of my favourite allotment crops. When we’re slogging our way through February, those pinky crowns, gently pushing up through the soil, arrive just when you really need a little dose of hope.
By March, you’re not far from the first crops of the season, and the early and completely delicious rhubarb harvests are exhilarating, as well as a symbol of spring commencing.
So, it’s important we look after our rhubarb crowns to ensure as good a Spring crop as we can. Plants are very low maintenance, but will always respond better if given some much deserved TLC – and now is the perfect time to do just that.
If you haven’t already, stop harvesting the rhubarb to give the plant sufficient time to recover for next year. Reading around, it is recommended that you leave rhubarb be in August, but I often sneak a final harvest in around now.
If the plant is looking healthy, I will harvest about half of the remaining stems to use in the kitchen or freeze for winter. Rhubarb freezes really well if cut into 2 inch long chunks. I simply chop up and put into the freezer, ready for cooking later on.
Don’t worry if you’re rhubarb isn’t vigorous and strong at this stage. Growth has often stopped by now, especially if we have had a hot, dry summer. Lack of water will hinder late-season growth, leaving what stems you do have thin and floppy.
Let the leaves die off naturally, and then just cut the old stalks down to the ground.
Once you’ve done this, apply a hefty mulch of well-rotted manure (the blacker the better). Rhubarb is a pretty hungry plant, and this will aid recovery no end. I scatter 2-3 spadefuls of manure around the crown, which helps keep the weeds down as well as nourishing the plant.
Try not to completely cover the crown though, as the manure will keep moisture in and may cause rot.
Rhubarb likes to be exposed to some cold during the winter, so make sure you leave any buds poking up above the manure.
If your plant is over five years old, it will need revitalising, and this is done by dividing. One regular-sized crown can be divided into 3 or 4 new plants, so long as each lump has a healthy bud.
Don’t be nervous about dividing your rhubarb, even if the roots are massive. Aside from the wonderful taste, the best thing about rhubarb is the indestructibility of the plant!
I genuinely thought I’d killed my crowns when I massacred the root a couple of years ago, but since then I’ve been inundated with big, healthy stems.