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amy simcox
My Rhubarb leaves keep turning yellow, wilting and dying... what is going on?


Like most plants, rhubarb doesn't enjoy moving houses, but in this case it should have been an "upgrade" if it's getting more water. Rhubarb requires a lot of nitrogen so that might be an issue. Rhubarb can be susceptible to crown rot which can result in a sickly plant. The only solution to that is to dig up the plants and start fresh with new virus-free stock from a reputable supplier. One last thing to consider is that even healthy rhubarb needs to be renewed every three to four years by dividing healthy sections from the original crown so that the plants have enough space.

Question details

I've moved the Rhubarb from a dry area to a wet one to see if it makes a difference however, the leaves still wilt, turn yellow and die. Does anyone know why?

Rhubarb likes it cool & moist. As soon as midsummer arrives it looks very sickly, but thats natural.
Dear Glenn, or should that be Dr Rhubarb, as your advice is clear and gives optimism. I have a question which I hope you can answer for me. Yesterday I bought 2 young, spindly bending rhubarb plants, one with a brownish main leaf. what could I do to try to get them to strengthen up a bit, considering its not the usual time for planting rhubarb? many thanks, Declan
Rhubarb likes long, cold winters to rest. Yellow leaves can result from too much water--not enough air around the roots keeps them dying off. Afternoon shade helps in hot summers.
I got some rhubarb roots at Home Depot- now I know there's slim chance of it doing well here in Georgia, but if I could put it in a spot that gets either no sun or some morning sun and afternoon shade, do you think it would survive? We have clay soil, with amendment, I have some with mostly aged compost that is black . . . not sure what will make it happy - should I wait to plant it till it warms up or go for it now?
Hi Rhubarb is a gross feeder. It needs as much compost or manure digging into the soil as you can give it. Down to a depth of 18" or more. The roots will grow very large. When i was younger i planted my rhubarb in fresh smelly cow manure and it did not seem to worry the plant. What it does not like are shallow, sandy dry condtions.  After three or four years it dig up, chop it into pieces [ each piece with a bud ] and replant in freshly manured ground.   Glenn
If you have plenty of rhubarb crowns, now is the time of year to dig one up for forcing. The rhubarb is forced to produce a much sweeter pink coloured stalk, although it still needs a little sugar with it. It is nice just cooked in water or blackcurrant juice with a little sugar to taste, ensuring that the water does not boil, otherwise you just end up with a pan full of mush. I generally dig up a crown about the size of your head with four or more buds visible on the top. I take the crown home and pot it up in a large bucket or dustbin filled with compost. You can put the crown in just about any compost as it will not be growing as such, just taking water out of the compost. I place my dustbin in the old coal shed which is now where the boiler is kept, so there is a little heat to force the rhubarb into growth. It is very dark, which produces the nice drawn pink sticks. A cellar would be a good place to force rhubarb if there is a little heat. I also force some in-situ on the allotment by placing a dustbin over one of the crowns. This will give forced rhubarb just after the indoor crown has finished producing. If you are thinking of growing rhubarb for the first time then soil amendment is crucial. Rhubarb roots can go down 18" so you need to dig loads of compost or manure into the soil to that depth. If you have a maritime climate then rhubarb will grow almost anywhere, but if you get baking hot summers then a north facing aspect would be better suited to keep off the worst of the suns rays. Rhubarb prefers a moist deep cool soil. An area about 20 to 30 miles south of where i live is called the 'Rhubarb Triangle' where rhubarb is forced in large low sheds where they say that you can actually hear the rhubarb growing. This has been done for hundreds of years, although its popularity has been declining.
This is a fascinating sequence, Glenn! On this snowy day I can just imagine how lively your delicate but robust Rhubarb stalks taste! Thank you for the preparation notes ... I admire your sink, by the way - nice design! Three questions: How many crowns do you grow in your allotment? Does your forced crown go back to garden production or to the compost heap? How do you keep your Rhubarb succession going- do you divide from your own garden crown roots? As for the popularity of Rhubarb declining, it sounds like it is time to revisit what Rhubarb contributes to health - besides enjoyment.  :-) I so appreciate your thought links to the garden history England affords with such appealing human components. The turf mazes you mentioned the other day - I tromped around through Google images turf maze photos for a while. And now the 'Rhubarb Triangle.' Forcing Rhubard is an interesting local precursor to the taste people have for foods from other seasons far away - and we need that local ingenuity. Dick Springs, with his wife Melinda the founders of our local Sustainability Center - noted that all the citrusy or lemony varieties of temperate climate herbs serve that taste for distant citrus: Lemon Balm, Orange Mint, Lemon Thyme.
Hi Jessica. I guess i have about a dozen rhubarb crowns on my allotment. They are all due to be dug up and re-planted as they have been in now about five or six years. You can tell when its time to dig them up as the stalks get thin and spindley. I grow two types of rhubarb, Timperley Earlry & Victoria. The stalks on Timperley Earley should be about 1" in diameter whereas the stalks on Victoria can be up to 2" in diameter. Rhubarb really loves to grow in Muck. Old fashioned cow manure, which is something i do not get any more after all the problems with BSE. I will be re-planting mine in well rotted horse manure, [which is something i am still happy to use] at the end of the year. I guess that rhubarb is one of those things that needs the right climate to succeed. If you have a hot dry climate then it may never give of its best.   I sometimes re-plant the crown after it has been forced, but most times it has had it and just goes on the compost heap. Thats why you really need about half a dozen crowns, so you are not worried about digging one up. It is really easy to produce new plants by division. You just need a sharp spade and chop it into pieces with at least one fat bud per piece. The roots are similar to peony roots, quite large and fleshy. With regard to the sink, i installed that myself. Like rhubarb you know when its time to put in a new sink as you get this nagging pain in your ear.  Glenn
Thanks. A root the size of my head sounds like a lot of root. If I get to a climate again where I can grow rhubarb--winters are not long enough here--I will have a row of it so I can dig up a big root each year for early food.Yep, I finally got back to the gardening blog. I've been working on strength training and have found that I like Schuler's books--New Rules for ....
Hi Josephine A root as big as your head is quite normal for rhubarb as it has very large fleshy roots. I,m not sure how much a short winter would affect its growth. I suspect that long hot summers might be more of a problem, unless you had a stream to plant it next to. I think it needs a soil that does not fully dry out.  Glenn
Now is the time of year for harvesting some great forced rhubarb. I,ve just stewed this lot with a little sugar and will have some for tea with a dollop of yogurt on it. Yum i love the acidity combined with a little sweetness.



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