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Rhubarb: Caution: Rhubarb leaves are toxic. When to plant: Plant the crowns, or roots, in late winter or early spring; if growing rhubarb as an annual, plant it in fall. Years to maturity: If you're growing it as a perennial, you may be able to begin harvesting after two years; by four years, the crop should be substantial. Light requirement: Full sun Water requirement: Regular Favorites: Chipman, Canada Red, Cherry Red, Crimson, GermanWine, Macdonald, Raspberry Red, Riverside Giant, Strawberry, Sunrise, Valentine, Victoria Planting and care: Before setting out crowns, add plenty of compost to the planting area and create a low mound (for more than one plant, space every 4 feet). Set the crowns an inch below the soil. Water so the area is continually moist and mulch to keep the ground cool; rhubarbs do not like it hot and dry. Feed the soil with a high-nitrogen complete fertilizer in spring when stalks first emerge and then again after harvest. In mild-winter climates, remove the flowers when they appear, as they will diminish production. Divide the plant if it becomes too large. Rhubarb is relatively pest free, though you may run into aphids, beetles and leafhoppers. Harvest: It’s best to wait until the second year to harvest unless you’re growing rhubarb as an annual. Harvest it in spring and into the summer by pulling or cutting off the thickest stalks at the base once they’ve reached a foot or so in length. Don’t take more than about one-third of the available stalks at any one time, and ease off harvesting as the stalks become thinner. If stalk production increases, you can harvest some stalks again in fall.
Rhubarb is one of the few perennials of the vegetable garden, and if you’re willing to wait the few years it takes for it to get up to speed, you'll be rewarded with the wonderful pies, appetizers, sauces and ice cream you can create from its stalks. Rhubarb is most glorious in cold-winter climates and does best with at least a couple of months of cold weather, though it can be grown as an annual where winters stay warm. It also does double duty as a wonderful specimen plant in any landscape, with huge leaves (which you should not eat) and, at least in colder climates, giant white or greenish flower plumes. More: How to grow cool-season vegetables