Learn how to grow rhubarb at home for crumbles, pies and jams with Willy Newlands' advice


The rhubarb plant is almost indestructible and even better, it’s easy to grow in a kitchen garden. Here’s my advice on rejuvenating rhubarb you may already have, how to recognise old rhubarb in your garden and everything else you will need to know about. (Read our recipe for chocolate rhubarb brownies.)

rhubarb plant

Rhubarb has scientifically proven medicinal qualities

How to grow rhubarb at home.

Once upon a time, 90% of the world’s commercial crop of rhubarb was picked by candlelight in wooden sheds in Yorkshire. Every night between Christmas and Easter a train left Ardsley station for the London markets with 200 tons of the pale-pink stems. (Read more on the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle here.)

Now there is no reason why you can’t grow it at home yourself or revive rhubarb plants that are around in your beds. The typical plants of a long-abandoned garden are fruit bushes and rhubarb. The blackcurrants and gooseberries fight a long, losing battle with bugs and blights but the big, poisonous leaves of the “pie plant” flourish, free of disease and untouched by rabbits or sheep.

Where rhubarb comes from

The home of wild rhubarb is Central Asia and you can grow rhubarb almost anywhere. Curiously, it needs cold more than warmth and is nudged into life in the spring only if it has had a few weeks of near-freezing weather to set its biological clock.

Dividing rhubarb crowns

Dividing old rhubarb

Divide old rhubarb plants in February

Now is the time to break into that ancient clump of rhubarb beside the compost heap and create some useful, productive plants. The woody core may be immovable with hand tools, so carve out the next generation of rhubarb with the help of a narrow spade and an old breadknife. Cut off slices, each with a bud on top and a solid chunk of root below.

With many garden plants, one of the problems with rescuing old specimens is the fact that today’s varieties of fruit and veg are much more productive than the old ones, which have wonderful names but thin crops. Rhubarb, by contrast, has been pretty much the same since Victorian times. To grow rhubarb, your bud-topped slices, planted so that the red bud can see the light, will thrive if given some farmyard manure and a place in the sun or semi-shade. Give them time to establish and expect a modest harvest of stems from their second year onwards. The flower stems are spectacular, rising 5ft or more, but should be removed to encourage faster development of the roots.

Replanting rhubarb

Replanting rhubarb

Early fruits

When you grow rhubarb at home, the earliest fruit is cultivated by establishing smallish plants in the kitchen garden, bringing them into a dark and slightly warmer shed in midwinter, potted in compost, and harvesting stems after four to six weeks for your rhubarb crumble. (Read our recipe for rhubarb crumble here.)

Even if you forget all about your rhubarb – “Oh, damn! I meant to cover those up…” – you can still pick the young stems right through until summer. It couldn’t be easier to grow rhubarb at home.

The Field has a delicious selection of rhubarb recipes

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.