Keep rhubarb free of weeds by covering the ground with a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost, but don’t cover the crown as it will rot.
Feed with a general purpose fertiliser in March, 100g per sq m (4oz per sq yd).
Water regularly in dry spells, so the soil stays moist and the plant continues growing until autumn.
When the top growth dies back in autumn, remove the dead leaves to expose the crown to frost – this will help to break dormancy and ensure a good crop of stalks the following year.
To get an earlier crop, you can 'force' stems. Cover the crown with a traditional forcing jar, large bucket or upturned pot in late winter, to exclude all light. If using a large pot, block any drainage holes. When the new stems reach the top of the container, they’re ready for harvesting. Forced stems are lighter in colour and more tender than those grown in the open, and are generally ready three weeks earlier.
Rhubarb needs an open, sunny site with moist, but free-draining soil, as it dislikes being waterlogged in winter. Avoid planting in sites that are particularly prone to late frosts, as the young stems may be damaged.
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but it’s more common to plant dormant crowns between autumn and spring. You can also buy plants in pots in active growth – these can be planted at any time of year, but it's best to avoid planting in hot dry weather.
Prepare the planting site by digging in two bucketfuls of well-rotted manure per square metre/yard. Then dig a planting hole and position the plant so the tip of the crown is just visible above the soil. If planting more than one, space them 75–90cm (30–36in) apart.
Rhubarb can also be planted in very large pots, at least 50cm (20in) deep and wide.
Crown rot: This is a common problem caused by various soil- or water-borne fungi or bacteria. Plants look sickly, fail to grow and rot at the crown. This can spread to the stems and leaves, causing the plant die.
Remedy: Prompt action may save the plant. Remove affected areas by cutting well back into healthy tissue.
Slugs and snails
These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
More info on Slugs and snails
In the first year after planting, resist the temptation to harvest any stems, as this will reduce the plant’s vigour.
The following year, pick just a few stems, then up to a third or half from then on, leaving some to keep the plant in active growth.
To harvest, hold the stalk at the base and ease it out of the ground – try to avoid snapping it off.
Although rhubarb stems remain edible and tasty through summer, it’s best to stop harvesting by June, or at least only take a few stalks after then, so you don’t over-harvest and weaken the plant.
Nigel Slater's roast rhubarb, which is allowed to brown slightly, creates a delicious mixture of sweet and tart. Best served with vanilla ice cream or frozen yoghurt.
'Giant Grooveless Crimson'
Compact, early cropping, tall, uniform, fully flavoured bright red stems. Perennial plant and less acidic than some other varieties.
'Raspberry Red' AGM
Produces sweet bright red stems without the need for forcing. Heavy cropper from April until late June. Needs a deep, fertile, heavily manured, moisture retentative but well drained soil to do well.
Modern, late season variety. Most popular commercial and forcing variety. Very vigorous when well grown. Gets its name from the arrow shaped young leaves. Yorkshire bred, producing 3 kg of crop per crown.
'Timperley Early' AGM
Thick stems, early, high yield. Bred for forcing; performs very well outside, but even better colour when forced.
Reliable old variety named after Queen Victoria. Needs moist free draining soil in full sun. Heavy, wet soils can rot the crown in Winter.