The Rhubarb Patch.
Splitting Rhubarb


 
 
Like most people, I acquired a rhubarb patch when I moved into this house.  Which is how most people get their rhubarb.   It’s like a little vegetative amenity; right up there with heated floors and a walk out deck.

 

house-listing

 

In fact, there is absolutely no scientific proof that anyone anywhere has ever *planted* rhubarb.   So where did it originally come from?  It all started at the beginning of time when that great being in the sky, the Rhubarb Fairy, tapped her rhubarb baton on a select few houses around the world and blessed them with a rhubarb patch.

So.  You either have it or you don’t. And sometimes, sometimes … if conditions are exactly right and there’s a certain magic in the air … you will move into a house THAT HAS A RHUBARB FAIRY PATCH.

Or you can find someone that needs to split theirs.  I pretty much made up that whole Rhubarb Fairy thing.  But I bet it’s true.

The time to split rhubarb is the same as the time to split hostas, peonies or anything else that can be split.  You want to do it in the spring or fall. It’s also best to do it on an overcast day or early in the morning or later at night.  It’s just less of a shock to the plant that way.

I knew rhubarb could be split, what I didn’t know what that it HAS to be split.  For the past couple of years my rhubarb has been sad and spindly.  I blamed it on the rhubarb having some sort of anger issues towards me.

Turns out that isn’t the case.  It just needed to  be split.  If you notice your rhubarb isn’t as thick or lush as it used to be, chances are you can revive it by splitting it.

 

Title
 
Old Rhubarb
 
As you can see, my rhubarb patch had become a scraggly mess.  I managed to eek out a couple of rhubarb crisps from it this season and some jam last year, but it was a struggle.  The stalks were teeny tiny and there just weren’t very many of them.  So I decided to split it.

And this … is how you do it.

 

Rhubarb 2
 
Dig your entire rhubarb plant out being careful to get as many of the roots and tubers as possible.  Dig far and dig deep.  Set the plant aside.
 
Hole With Compost

 

Fill the hole you just created by adding tons of compost.
 
Splitting Rhubarb
 
Go back to your rhubarb plant and split it into sections.  When you look at the root system, it’ll tell you where to split it.  There are certain rules about leaving a certain amount of tuber and a certain number of buds, etc., but I just hack at it.  Which is also how I divide peonies and hostas.  If you’d like to be more precise about it, that’s fine.  I’m just not the person to tell you how to do that I’m afraid.
 
Planting Rhubarb
 
Once you’ve split the rhubarb you can either replant all of it in your own yard (each plant needs to be around 2-3 feet apart) or you can keep one plant, and give the rest away.  I chose to keep one and give the rest away.

Plant the rhubarb to the level it was at before.

 

If you’re splitting it in the fall, like I am, you should then break off any of the leaves that are remaining on the plant so the plant doesn’t need to worry about losing energy trying to keep those stalks and leaves alive.

 

If you’re splitting in the spring, you probably won’t have leaves and stems to worry about.
 
Clipping Rhubarb
 
Now all you have to do is water it well. Watering helps the plant get over the shock of being transplanted. The same way lots of people get drunk when they’re transplated to a new home.

I made that up.

But I bet it’s true.

 

54 Comments

  1. Laura Bee` says:

    Dear Rhubarb Fairy: Please make my rhubarb grow.

    I got a lump of root from a guy at work last year. Got about three sad stalks this summer.
    Think I’ll mention this info to my two neighbours who have big rhubarb patches….the fairy missed my yard.

    • Kimberly says:

      After splitting, you aren’t suppose to pick for a couple years. (I may or may not have followed this rule…) So, your new plant may not have been ready to produce a bunch. My rhubarb was also much happier with more sun. I really hope your little patch grows like crazy next year!

    • Rhubarb Fairy says:

      It sounds like your rhubarb is doing just fine! Rhubarb takes time to get big – it will be a few years before you have a lot of rhubarb from a planting. So don’t expect huge bunches of leaves and do not harvest any rhubarb the first year or two. Keep it watered of course, but just leave it alone. At first it does have only a few spindly stalks, but those leaves provide for the roots to develop – that’s just how rhubarb is. In place, it will keep growing and producing wonderful stalks for many years before you need to divide it.

    • cheryl says:

      I love it Rubarb fairy ! Well I need a fairy also, my hubby kept mowing it over hence no rubarb ! Dirty stinker …When i finally saw a shoot I said IT’S ALIVE ( sorry it is halloween time)..So i dug it up an put it into a pot for the time being an low an behold i actually got 3 skinny stalks ,made a very small pan of rubarb sauce yum! So now that i know i can divide my next question is can i leave it in pots until the unrully side yard becames a victorian gardan next yr…? thanks lcve you guys

      • Karen says:

        Hi Cheryl – I think it depends on what size your pot is. Rhubarb does well with cold and in fact with freezing, but a tiny little pot may not be its best friend. Your best best would be to get it planted if you can. Even if you just dig up a small portion of your side yard just for the rhubarb. That’s the way I’d do it anyway. 😉 ~ karen!

        • cheryl says:

          Thanks Karen, I do have it in a big pot right now but if the rubarb fairy would get me off my butt I may go an plant in the ground since my hubby won’t be mowing anytime soon, but I may just put some barbed wore around it in case he gets a sudden urge to mow again ! I just love him being the lawn mower man ! Cheryl

        • Marie says:

          Rhubarb in a pot.. I did a test 3 1/2 yrs ago now.. I planted a clump in an 1/2 of a whisky barrel planter.. nothing else just the rhubarb. I never harvested the first or second year. this year it exploded.. I have a full plant with 20+ stalks on it.. So it can survive the cold in a container. I never covered the pot or protected it in any way and we had some severe days here in MN the last couple of years. Just an FYI that I thought you and your followers would like to know since rhubarb is a staple everyone should own a plant.

  2. dana studer says:

    I almost bought a clump at a farmers market last year. The reason I did not is that someone who is not even a gardener told me it is like asparagus & it takes a while before it can produce much. Sadly this house was not tapped by the rhubarb fairy & its 100+ yrs old & 790 sq foot. It wasnt tapped by the square footage fairy either, the garage fairy, the 2 bathroom fairy, or the closet fairy.

  3. Rhonda SmartyPants says:

    Local produce department charges a whopping $2.59/# or more when they even choose to stock rhubarb. Me being a nut about rhubarb, I’ve paid it even though I winced when it was weighed. (I overbuy because I never know when they will carry it again ‘in season’ so the total is close to a mortgage payment.) Now, thank you very much, Karen, I realize it would be cheaper to move in next door to you every few years and just stand next to your rhubarb plants and tell you I’m waiting for the Rhubarb Fairy to arrive, sort of like Linus in the Great Pumpkin story. Not only do I believe every single thing you said about the Rhubarb Fairy, I’ll bet that the produce guy actually brings in rhubarb from his own patch at home and uses the proceeds to pay for his children to go to Yale or Harvard or Cambridge or some place even spendier. Honest, let me know the next time you’re in the ‘splitting rhubarb’ mood and I’ll come by early in the day or late in the afternoon. Drinks are on me so everybody gets over ‘the split’ amicably.

  4. Marti says:

    I love rhubarb. I’ve *always* wanted a rhubarb patch and now I feel completely ready to have one. Why?

    Because based on what you’ve just done to this poor plant, I believe there is almost nothing I can do that will kill mine, when I get it some day.

    I long for rhubarb.

    I AM COMING, Future Marti Rhubarb! I AM ON MY WAY!!!

  5. Robyn says:

    Isn’t it sad that 9 out of 12 people in my department at work don’t even know what rhubarb is?

    • Karen says:

      How … how do you know that Robyn? Did you ask them, LOL? I’d like to have been around for that poll! And really? Shocking results!! ~ karen!

  6. Emily says:

    No video…sad 🙁

  7. Su says:

    I actually am one of those sad souls who did buy a plant and try to grow my own clump…. it’s just the saddest and most pathetic thing…. sigh…
    now I spend my days in May asking random strangers do you have any rhubarb? Psst want to get rid of some rhubarb? Hey you I’m looking for rhubarb….

  8. RosieW says:

    Don’t you want/need more than that, Karen? I sure would

    Can’t grow rhubarb here – it’s too hot for it.

    We had a patch in Basking Ridge, NJ. Son and I went out with knife and salt shaker, proceeded to make pigs of ourselves. First Anthony, then I, got a hellacious dose of gout, which is very painful.

    Grew up on my mother’s rhubarb pie, still my favorite.

    Your soil is beautiful. Writing from heavy, red clay land.

    Rosie

    • Karen says:

      Hi RosieW – Nope that should be enough. 🙂 And about 5 minutes away, where my mother lives, the ground is heavy, hard as a rock … clay. 🙂 Yup. Apparently there’s no getting away from it no matter where you go in the world. ~ karen!

  9. From a few plants in one corner of the garden, my dad has slowly worked his way up to a full row of rhubarb. It seems to be a mission for him… although I don’t know why because that’s a whole heck of a lot of rhubarb. I never realized it actually had to be split though. Could we call rhubarb a herb? I know my basil always grows better when I hack hunks of it off.

  10. nicole d says:

    well then, the next house i purchase, it’ll have to be in my “must have’s” list… and it should definitely be specified on the listing on MLS or whatever… haha. also, MUST have a nice sunny southernly face to plant my veggie garden. 🙂

  11. Ev says:

    When my daughter & son-in-law bought their house they did indeed get a rhubarb plant with it. It is huge and flourishing. When I was a kid we had one too. Unfortunately, I was made to eat rhubarb. Maybe my mom didn’t prepare it right, but I would have to be on the point of starving to eat it now! You are an awesome gardener and I hope your plant does great! But rhubarb, noooooo!

  12. Kerry H. says:

    I’m looking to expand my Rhubarb Patch. I have discovered the joys of Wineberry picking (tasty, tasty invasive eradication!) and have a kick-butt Rhubarb Wineberry Ginger Jam recipe that has created a greater appreciation of my Rhubarb legacy. Does any one know of a source at this time of year?

  13. Tigersmom says:

    So now you’re telling me I need to split my peonies? How often does that need to happen and do I need to remove the stems and leaves so it can concentrate on hibernating over the winter? Please keep in mind that I am in Texas which, I guess, just this once, would make it ok for you to say you don’t know.

    I am such a novice and naïve gardener. The only reason I have peonies is because someone else put them in the ground. I went out to weed and hand trim dead parts off plants in my front beds thinking I’d be out there about 45 minutes. Nearly 3 hours later and with aching muscles that damn near immobilized me for three days, I was finished. And its not even that big of an area. We’ll see how soon THAT happens again.

  14. Pat says:

    I was given a rhubarb plant years ago and it grew lushly in my back yard, producing lovely stocks a plenty. I moved and took the plant with me, replanted and same results. It was getting huge and taking over the area in my back yard so I decided to move it to my very sunny, dry front yard. BAD MOVE! My rhubarb is sooooo unhappy that I can hardly find a green slip out there. Now I want to move it back to the back yard if I can even find any semblance of it. Waaah! No rhubarb in the freezer for winter. Let this be a lesson to all of you. Don’t try to fix what ain’t broke. Do I need to make sacrifices to the rhubarb gods? or…….. just had a thought…..maybe I can get a split rhubarb plant from a friend. Or do I leave that little slip of green out there and see if it will adjust and grow next year? My gut tells me the front yard environment is too hot and dry for it.

  15. Forget the rhubarb patch. I want the house with the colored chimney stacks and the toadstool roofs. Any faerie will do. 😀

  16. Hope says:

    A bit of trivia…when reading books about settlers heading west the women often had a root of pie plant tied in a piece of cloth. I can’t remember if this was in Laura Inglas Wilder books. Apparently the source I looked it up in claimed this was rhubarb. Finding the right sunny spot and LEAVING it for a couple of years is the trick!
    I love driving past prairie farm yards where the large garden patches are bordered by raspberry canes and a long thick row of rhubarb plants. Those folks are the ones who say…need some rhubarb? Just come and cut yourself some….as nuch as you want. I’ve been that lucky!

  17. Susan Preston says:

    I need some rhubarb……know any fairies?

    • Nancy S says:

      If any of you live in Winnipeg, I think I have one of the original fairy-planted rhubarbs. My dad got it from a neighbour in 1953 and she got it from a friend, who got it from . . .
      When I moved into my house 14 years ago I told my dad to save a chunk when he split it in the spring. (Every 2 years he would split the plant & toss or give away half.) Now that they have finally moved into a seniors apartment I can give them rhubarb.
      I planted it in the sunniest corner of my back yard and ignored it the first year while I made vegetable gardens.
      I have given away pieces three or four times. I always tell the giftee, not to pick it the first year. One recipient even told me she thought it was going to die the first year, but it flourished the second.
      I can’t believe your photos. My root is about the size of a five gallon pail (and just as deep). Splitting it is a real chore but keeps it healthy – that and ripping off the flower stalks.
      Rhubarb has been an enormous success.

  18. Susan says:

    We have over 100 plants and sell it to the local grocery store and some restaurants. Not only splitting and compost (good dirt too!), but our secret is applying horse (or any) manure directly on top of it in the winter. It doesn’t burn because the tops are essentially “dead” and the roots go about 8′ down! They need LOTS of food to do well, and nitrogen in the manure is perfect.

    LOVE rhubarb! I’m gonna make rhubarb scented soap this spring! (I have an Etsy store and do melt and pour soaps. I’m afraid to say the name and inadvertently advertise on your blog.)

    Love you girl, Susan

  19. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Two words..RHUBARB SAUCE..on ice cream..oh yeah..nuff said..

  20. ~JackieVB says:

    Too hot for rhubarb down here in Virginia Beach but I did try growing Celery this past summer (tried it because of your post about it) it actually did pretty well. I planted it in partial shade and that’s the only reason it survived here, it’s still doing well and I may try to harvest the leaves and freeze them in some olive oil like I do with Basil leaves. But I don’t think any amount of magic – or fairies – could make Rhubarb grow here..

  21. Shauna says:

    oh pooh, the Amazon links are gone again:(

  22. Barbie says:

    Exactly what my Rhubarb needs right now….to be split! and I know my new neighbor will LOVE to have some! I got mine from another neighbor! So we will just keep passing it around. THX Karen!

  23. Heather says:

    My Mum used to make wonderful stewed rhubarb — I absolutely loved it. My mouth is watering at the memory. I’m going to have to get some rhubarb-growing friends since growing garden stuff in my condo apartment is frowned upon.
    By the way, it’s *eke* not *eek*. I know it’s nearly Halloween, but …

  24. Shauna says:

    I know, it’s really weird. And, I’ve tried it on Chrome and Explorer. Maybe it’s some blocking thing here at work – it wouldn’t surprise me. I’ll have to test it at home to be sure.

  25. Grammy says:

    About 65 years ago, I was hauling my little brother around in our wagon. The nice neighbor lady gave us a huge bunch of rhubarb and told us to give to our mother so she could make pie. I looked at it (I was 3 at the time) and determined I was not going to take that stuff to my mother because then she would make us eat celery pie. So I encouraged my brother to toss out stalks of rhubarb all the way home. A few days later, the nice neighbor lady asked my mother how the children enjoyed the pie…

    I don’t eat rhubarb, but since you like it, I hope yours thrives.

  26. Rita says:

    I’ve tried to grow rhubarb here in Kansas, but apparently we have a fungus in our garden soil that causes a beautiful, full plant to become soggy mush in about 24 hours. We can’t get it established. Good thing my family in Manitoba has rhubarb that grows like a weed. They can’t get rid of it! I replenish my stored from them every summer.

  27. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    Tell /tigersmon at #13 that PEONIES DO NOT HAVE TO BE DIVIDED EXCEPT EVERY 100 YEARS. They are fussy about the depth of the “eyes”, next year’s buds. There is a great risk of being sorry if one chooses to divide Peonies. Usually they do fine all alone, with benign neglect. (Unless sun loss occurs from nearby maturing trees, then moving the entire Peony patch may be in order.)

    I have grown Rhubarb for 20 years with great success. I have only divided it twice in that timespan, and then it was simply carving some away from the outside of the root mass with a sharp shovel and sharing it with other gardeners. The center was not disturbed.

    The trick for healthy Rhubarb is to apply a wide, deep “blanket” of finished compost each FALL, make sure the location has at least 6 hours of sun per day, REMOVE any bloomstalks which resemble 4 foot tall pink broccoli (they steal energy from the root system), and wait to harvest until the third year after transplanting.

    One year I offered Rhubarb at a yard sale. From my 6 foot wide, gargantuan heap of a patch, I pulled 72 stalks, 9 bunches of 8, eight being a generous amount to satisfy most recipes. The plant never blinked. This was because I fed it well, delayed initial harvest to allow the root system to gain strength, placed it in full sun, made sure it was watered in times of sparse rainfall and whispered sweet nothings to it at sunset on the Summer Solstice.

    I believe the strength of the roots increases with age, affording more stalks per square foot eventually. Harvest involves “pulling”, not cutting the stalks. Cutting causes a rotting stem base in its wake. Pulling brings a clean break off the crown of the plant. To pull, one needs a firm wide stance. Bend carefully toward the preferred stalk. Press it in all four directions, N S E W, the tug firmly, thus the need for the wide stance. You should be rewarded with a satisfying “crack” as the stalk disengages from the crown.
    ***Rhubarb foliage is poisonous due to oxalic acid, I think. Compost the leaves.***

    Anyone who makes good Crepes might want to try the recipe called Creamy Rhubarb Crepes… surf it up using that title in quotes. It has become my signature recipe. Cinnamon is the secret. I keep the rhubarb sauce in the freezer year round just for this dish. It is KILLER.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Beverly – I just want to clear things up a bit for TigersMom. You’re correct in saying the Peonies don’t HAVE to be split, but huge plants that outgrow their welcome, do indeed need to be split. This is done by cutting away from the outside of the plant in. Those cut away portions can indeed be replanted. You just have to be careful to plant it at the exact same depth it was used to growing in. The 14 year old peony bush in my yard right was acquired that way. My neighbour was splitting hers because it was too big. So I shoved it in the ground at the correct depth and now … i have peonies. And for the most part Rhubarb does indeed need to be split. It doesn’t need it very often, but once the stalks become spindly you know it’s time to split. ~ karen!

  28. Mine got very spindly too! It actually started to die off but this year it came back in its full glory. I will know this for the next time it happens! Thanks for a great post.

  29. Laura M says:

    I bought 3 tiny rhubarb plants 2 summers ago. Two for our backyard garden at home and one for the cottage garden at Long Point. Anyhoo, the two in our raised bed at home have flourished (yes, I even picked it the summer after I planted it) but the one at the cottage barely survived…2 spindly red stalks and pale leaves. I dug it up and gave it to a coworker who says it is beefing up nicely.
    All 3 plants were in a sunny location…go figure. Also, one of the 2 at home has beautiful ruby red stalks…it’s sister has humungous green stalks, I have no idea why, they were all the same variety of strawberry rhubarb.
    Nature eh?
    Note to self: never plant rhubarb in a 4×4 raised garden bed…they spread out waaaay too much. I should have planted it like a border plant..maybe next spring I’ll relocate them…

  30. Leslie says:

    I wish someone would Rhubarb Punk me … come and plant some at my house and leave a note. A note in the form of a hot Rhubarb Crisp with a recipe attached.

  31. Bonnie Cramond says:

    I moved into a house once that had a rhubarb patch. Never having eaten rhubarb in my life, I proceeded to ask around and search for rhubarb recipes. The only recipe for rhubarb is strawberry rhubarb pie. I don’t understand why you would want to adulterate strawberries in a pie. I also don’t understand a vegetable that only had one use. So, to this day, I have never tasted rhubarb. I sure wouldn’t plant such a limited vegetable, unless, I find that I do love the taste of strawberry rhubarb pie.

    • Karen says:

      Bonnie … you would love strawberry rhubarb pie. And stewed rhubarb. And rhubarb crisp. I LOVE rhubarb, but part of the reason is I’m more a fan of tart than sweet. I’m an even bigger fan of tart with sweet, which is what rhubarb desserts are. Similar to a lemon or lime pie. ~ karen!

    • Carli says:

      The reason one may want to adulerate strawberries in a pie is because you HAVE TOO MANY STRAWBERRIES. The same is true with rhubarb. I have a freezer full of wild Alaska caught salmon that some people pay $20/lb for but I throw it in a salmon pie, or quiche because I HAVE TOO MUCH! 😂 You have to get creative when you’re sick of eating what you have an abundance of!

  32. susan says:

    Love rhubarb! I planted some last spring, and the plant got HUGE this summer! I am hoping I can pick some next year. In the meantime, I was fortunate enough to know people that have rhubarb, but don’t actually eat it themselves.

    One of the things I made that is a new favorite, is from the Ball Canning book, and it is a rhubarb citrus drink concentrate. WOW is it ever good! I had been looking at the recipe for a couple of seasons, and always make the strawberry lemonade on the next page, but the rhubarb is even better!

    Bonnie, there is also rhubarb upside down cake, rhubarb sauce for ice cream or crepes, and I even made some sweet/sour bbq sauce with rhubarb as a base – it is now one of the most requested when I have friends over.

    Thanks for posting about dividing – I didn’t know it needed it, but will be prepared when the plant does need it. Always learning things with you, Karen!

  33. Robin Willcox says:

    Can you clarify for me about the spindly stalks – we have 3 older plants that are doing just fine; and added 2 new ones last year just next to them that are nothing but spindly little stalks. Same bed, same sunshine. Does that mean the newer plants are too young, i.e. just leave them alone for another season or two, or that they need dividing? Thank you!
    ps a note about a post above – I was taught to NOT compost rhubarb leaves – the oxalic acid endures and damages plants the compost is later put on, not sure if that’s in fact true. I just chuck mine into the woods…

    • Kim f says:

      We have always composted ours, doesn’t seem to harm anything. I’m thinking the composting process breaks down any harmful acids in the leaves.

      As far as your young plant, it’s probably just too young yet, it’ll boost in a year or two. I have 10 year old plants that are just fine without splitting, might give some away this fall though since they are huge!!

  34. Carli says:

    Apparently the rhubarb fairy loves Alaska. I finally found someone who doesn’t have a ton already in their yard, so now I have someone to give mine to! It shows up as a tiny red sprout in mid May and by mid June it’s huge! My stalks are a full inch to a inch and half thick and 18 in long!

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