When to Plant and Harvest Rhubarb

With a tangy and irreplaceable flavor, rhubarb brightens up pies, jams, and other kitchen treats. The perennial plant is easy to grow at home once you understand some care basics. In this article, gardener Briana Yablonski will explain when to plant and harvest this sour plant.

plant harvest rhubarb. Close-up of a woman's hand holding freshly picked rhubarb stalks in a sunny garden against the backdrop of the garden and blue sky. Rhubarb stalks boast vibrant, elongated stems of reddish-pink color. At the tips of these stems there are large, heart-shaped leaves of a dark green color with wavy edges.


While we wait until summer to enjoy juicy peaches and plump blueberries, rhubarb plants help us fulfill our spring cravings for homegrown fruits. This leafy green is technically a vegetable, but its tart flavor is at home in pies and jams, where it pairs wonderfully with just-picked strawberries.

Since rhubarb returns year after year and requires little maintenance, many people consider it an easy addition to their gardens. If you want to add this interesting plant to your homestead or garden, learning when to plant it is key. Knowing when to harvest will give you the best-tasting stalks and allow the plant to return the following year.

Where Can You Grow Rhubarb?

Close-up of Rhubarb plants growing in a bed in a sunny garden. The Rhubarb plant features robust, deep red to pale green stalks rising from a cluster of large, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves possess a slightly fuzzy texture and a glossy sheen, providing a striking contrast against the colorful stems.
Check your climate zone before planting rhubarb for success.

Before you plant rhubarb in your garden, make sure you live in an area that supports its growth! This leafy green not only thrives in cool climates but actually requires an extended period of temperatures below 40°F (4°C) to stimulate growth. The plants also prefer summer temperatures below 75°F (24°C) but can tolerate warmer periods.

Considering this information, you should only grow rhubarb if you live in zones 3-7.

When to Plant Rhubarb

You have three choices for planting rhubarb: seeds, crowns, and transplants.


Close-up of sprouted rhubarb seeds in a square plastic tray with soil on a windowsill illuminated by sunlight. These seedlings have short, pale green stems and a pair of oval, smooth, green cotyledons.
Start rhubarb seeds indoors two months before the last frost for best results.

Growing from seed is the best option if you want to save money, plant a large number of plants, and harvest a ton of rhubarb. However, since rhubarb seeds don’t breed true, plants grown from seed often produce red, green, and white stalks. Although these stalks look different, they have the same tart rhubarb flavor.

If you’re growing rhubarb as a perennial, aim to start seeds indoors about two months before your predicted last spring frost date. The seeds germinate within a week if you plant them in warm soil and keep them around 70°F (21°C).

Once the seeds sprout, place them under bright grow lights and keep the seedlings somewhere between 60-75°F (16-24°C). After six to eight weeks, the seedlings should be about four inches tall. Begin moving them outdoors for a few hours each day to help them acclimate to their new outdoor home. Gradually increase the amount of time they spend outdoors until the potted plants stay outdoors for an entire day and night. At this point, you can plant them in your garden!

The ideal time to transplant rhubarb seedlings into your garden is one to two weeks before the last spring frost. This will protect them from intensely cold temperatures but allow them to acclimate to their new environment before the summer heat arrives.


Close-up of a young rhubarb crown emerging in the soil in a sunny garden. The young crown is a deep pink-red color with a strong red stem. A young, wrinkled, green leaf grows on the stem.
Plant crowns in early spring or fall for success.

Crowns, also known as bare-root rhubarb plants, are a popular option if you aren’t super concerned about cost and only want to plant a few rhubarb plants. The crown is a piece of a mature rhubarb plant that contains both roots and buds. This means it is “true to type” and will grow identically to the mother plant cultivar, which is typically labeled on the crown box. When the dormant crown is planted in the right environment, it will resume growth and send out healthy stalks.

Early spring is the best time to plant rhubarb crowns. Whether you purchase a crown online or receive one from a neighbor, aim to plant it while it’s still dormant. If you notice the plants putting on new growth, get them in the ground ASAP. You shouldn’t plant the crowns into frozen ground, but you can plant them before the last spring frost arrives.

Another option is to plant rhubarb crowns in the fall. If you choose this option, make sure to wait until the crowns go dormant. Your goal is to get the plants in the ground so they have enough time to establish roots before the ground freezes but late enough to avoid warm temperatures that promote leaf growth. In most areas, mid-September to mid-October is ideal.


Close-up of a Rhubarb plant growing in a bed in a sunny garden. The Rhubarb plant is characterized by large, broad leaves with long, thick stems. The leaves are dark green and have a textured surface, with prominent veins. The stems, which are the edible part of the plant, are a vibrant red color.
Divide plants in early spring for new growth opportunities.

If you have rhubarb growing in your garden (or know a friend who does), you can divide mature plants in the early spring right before they break dormancy. This provides you with new rhubarb plants to harvest and prevents mature plants from becoming overcrowded and unproductive.

So, when do you know you can divide a plant? Most gardeners find they need to divide their rhubarb plants about once every five to ten years. If you’re not sure how old your plant is, you can look for signs of slowed growth. Overcrowded plants often produce few or small stalks in the center of the plant.

To divide a rhubarb plant, dig up the entire root ball. Then, use your hands to remove any excess soil. Once you have a better view of the plant, it’s time to divide it into multiple sections. Each division should contain at least one bud and a healthy section of roots.

It’s best to plant your rhubarb divisions as soon as possible after dividing. If you need to wait a few days before planting, place the divisions in a plastic bag or container and store them somewhere cool.

When to Harvest Rhubarb

Close-up of a male gardener harvesting rhubarb in the garden. The Rhubarb plant large features, vibrant green leaves with long, thick, crimson stalks. The leaves are large, heart-shaped, and deeply lobed.
Harvest rhubarb in spring when stalks are at least a foot long.

When determining when to harvest rhubarb, consider the plant’s age, the size of the stalks, and the time of year.

Since rhubarb takes a few years to reach maturity, you should avoid harvesting the same year you added the plant to your garden. If you planted rhubarb from crowns or seedlings, the plants should be large enough to harvest during their second year in your garden. However, if you grew rhubarb from seed, you should wait until the third year.

Once your plants are old enough to stand up to harvesting, wait until the right time of year. Rhubarb leaves and stems die back each winter and regrow the following spring. Since the stalks are sweeter and more tender when they’re young, the spring and early summer are the best times to harvest. Additionally, letting the plants keep their stalks throughout the summer allows them to conserve energy for the following year.

When spring arrives, keep an eye on your rhubarb plants. You’ll use the size of the stalks to determine when they’re ready for harvest. Stalk size varies between varieties, so it’s helpful to know which variety you’re growing. If you’re not sure, wait until the stalks are at least a foot long before harvesting.

The morning is the best time to harvest since the stalks will be full of water and cool from the previous night. However, you can also pick the stalks in the evening. 

When you harvest rhubarb, remember that the leaves and roots are toxic! Make sure to trim off any leaves and roots before consuming. Another helpful hint is to harvest the large outer stalks and leave the inner stalks. These smaller stalks will keep growing and allow you to harvest continually.

Final Thoughts

Early spring is generally the best time to plant rhubarb, but you can also plant this tangy plant in the fall. Regardless of when you plant, plan to harvest the stalks in the spring and early summer. Stop harvesting by June to allow the plant to store the energy needed to continue growing the following year.

A dedicated farmer arranges the just-picked green treasures, such as broccoli, parsley, Chinese cabbage, sweet potatoes, and carrots, neatly into a weathered wooden crate. The arrangement highlights the wholesome goodness of the harvest.


27 Unusual and Rare Vegetables to Grow This Season

If you want to spice up your culinary adventures or break the routine of a regular crop rotation, these unique and unconventional veggies will satisfy your craving for novelty. Former organic farmer Logan Hailey will guide you through 27 of the strangest vegetables from all over the world!

shade vegetables


27 Different Vegetables You Can Grow in the Shade

Thinking of adding some vegetables to your garden where there's some shade? There are actually many different types of vegetables that can grow quite well in partial sun, or even full shade. In this article, gardening expert and suburban homesteader Merideth Corhs looks at her favorite vegetables that you can grow in the shade!

Perennial Vegetables Grown in Cool Hardiness Zone


41 Perennial Vegetables to Grow by Hardiness Zone

Are you going to add some perennial vegetables to your garden this growing season? Most perennials can be grown relatively easily, and can be a great project for gardeners both novice and advanced. In this article, we look at 41 of our favorite perennial vegetables, and organize them by the hardiness zone that they will grow the quickest in.

Swiss Chard Varieties


Swiss Chard Varieties: 12 Types of Chard Cultivars You’ll Love

Swiss chard is often a favorite crop amongst amateur gardeners. But finding the perfect Swiss chard variety for your garden can be a challenge, due to each of them being slightly different! In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines 12 different types of Swiss chard, and what you can expect from each of them.