Growing and Saving the Seed of Rhubarb
Latin name Rheum rhabarbarum, rhubarb is often considered a fruit because of its popularity in sweets, but it is really a perennial vegetable. The crisp, tart stalks are a perfect complement to strawberries, which, like rhubarb, ripen in late spring. Rhubarb leaves are mildly poisonous. Never eat them!
There are several species of rhubarb; one type is believed to have originated in Siberia while the other originated in China. Rhubarb’s medicinal use as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory can be traced back to 270 BC and the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, or “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica,” one of the foundational texts of traditional Chinese medicine. It refers to rhubarb as Tahuang.
- Start seeds indoors 4-8 weeks before the last frost date, or direct seed in the garden 2-3 weeks before last frost.
Seeds benefit from soaking for 1-2 hours before planting.
Plant seeds ½ to 1 inch deep.
Seeds germinate in 7-21 days.
- Rhubarb is a perennial plant that loves cool weather. For those in northern climates, a rhubarb patch will do just fine in a sunny location with plenty of manure. Southern growers will want to choose a place with afternoon shade.
- Set transplants out at about 4 feet apart after the danger of frost has passed.
- Keep plants consistently moist, but not soaked. It can help to mulch the plant with straw, but be careful not to mulch too close to the plants; otherwise the crowns will rot.
- After a few years of growth, the plants will begin to crowd. At that point you’ll need to dig up and divide plants.
- Pests are not usually a problem for rhubarb. The leaves are not edible, so a bit of insect damage will not hinder the plant.
- Slugs can be a problem in very weedy rhubarb patches. This is easily remedied by keeping plants weed free.
- Rhubarb will send up flower stalks.
- The flowers will yield papery seeds that you can pick as they dry on the plant.
- Allow seeds to dry in a cool place, then store in an airtight container.
- Rhubarb seeds will remain viable for 2 to 3 years.