Amongst the 450 plus questions that came up at the prestigious Harrogate Spring Flower Show for us guys on the Institute of Horticulture stand was the one about rhubarb producing very thin stalks. It will do in two circumstances. Firstly when badly planted and secondly when old plants starts to “run out”. By that I mean the plant becomes overgrown and runs out of energy and lack of food. At this stage it is ready to be replanted. It is a hungry “vegetable” (not a fruit) and benefits from stacks of organic matter and feeding with a general fertilizer.
Prepare a month before planting in December by digging the soil to a depth of two feet incorporating plenty of farm yard manure or similar. The crowns can be lifted with a fork; quite a job but worry little about the damage. Protect the crown buds by discarding the centre of the clump and taking the outer buds with the fresh root, cutting them away with the spade. Plant with the crowns an inch below soil surface in the prepared location; firming them in. Three crowns is plenty for a family, leaving two and a half to three feet between plants. Mulch the crowns with stacks of organic matter leaving the soil over the crown buds exposed. This retains moisture and reduces weed growth. Dress with a couple of handfuls of National Growmore to each crown.
Do not harvest in the first year but allow the roots and crowns to build up resources. Even in the second year do not be too greedy and only take two stems always leaving five; or in subsequent years three or four stalks; leaving three are four stalks always on the plant. The cropping season is May to July. Select the biggest stalks; harvesting by pulling and twisting. Discard the poisonous green leaves to the compost heap. Continue to remove any flower heads as they develop, they use up considerable energy. Water in dry weather and dress with mulch and general fertilizer in February.
Forcing rhubarb needs a little more care for that early crop, ensuring there is a thick layer of mulch around the plant before covering with a dustbin, box or large pot as soon as the crowns start to develop in February. The mulch warming up and the heating affect of the container pulls the plants into growth, producing good pink stems and yellow leaves. When picking has finished or stalks outgrow the container it can be removed to allow the plant to recover and build up for next year. It will die down naturally helped along by the frosts which it needs to produce the best stalks!
The question “What can I put on my Rhubarb” doesn’t go by without someone saying “I usually put custard on mine” is an old chestnut but usually brings a smile to the lips!
Another question related to Eremurus and its failure to flower. This fabulous foxtail lily needs full sun, good drainage and like rhubarb a touch of frost during the winter. The crowns of that plant look like a very large spider and should be planted over a layer of sharp sand with the crown bud above the soil surface. The roots well buried and mulched with bark in winter will produce a fantastic display of strapped leaves and a spike of flower up to 8 or 9 feet in May. Unbelievable!
The Harrogate Autumn Show is not to be missed on the 14th to the 16th of September. This Spring Show’s quality was not dampened by the bad weather and regular visitors from the whole of the UK in their thousands saw an increased quality of show exhibitions. It is becoming an even more family event.
Yorkshire Landscape Gardens