The Rhubarb Patch. Splitting Rhubarb

 If you have a rhubarb patch that’s not growing well you might be able to invigorate it by splitting it. Here’s exactly how and when to split your 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.

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 early spring or late 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.


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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 …

  4. 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!

  5. Shauna says:

    oh pooh, the Amazon links are gone again:(

  6. ~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..

  7. Nancy Blue Moon says:

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

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. Forget the rhubarb patch. I want the house with the colored chimney stacks and the toadstool roofs. Any faerie will do. :-D

  12. 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.

  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. 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?

    • Ruthann Kowalski says:

      We use the Wineberries in Rhubarb pie. Much the same as Rhubarb Strawberry pie.
      Love it! Freeze both for delicious pie in the winter.

  15. 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!

  16. 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. :)

  17. 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.

  18. 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.


    • 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!

  19. 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….

  20. Emily says:

    No video…sad :-(

  21. Robyn says:

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

  22. 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!!!

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

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