Horticulture Magazine

How (And When) To Harvest Rhubarb

secateurs being used to harvest rhubarb stalks

Rhubarb is a great perennial crop to grow in your garden – it will thrive in a sunny location, with moist yet well-drained soil.

These are generally low-maintenance plants and, when grown in the right spot, will require little attention and care.

The main job each year, once plants are established, will be harvesting your crop.

Imagery and video featured in this article was commissioned by Horticulture.co.uk in collaboration with Organic Gardener Emily Cupit.

Here’s what you need to know about harvesting rhubarb:

  • Don’t harvest the first year after planting, and harvest only a little in the second year.
  • Consider forcing rhubarb for an earlier yield, beginning in winter.
  • Harvest non-forced rhubarb from March – July.
  • Stop harvesting rhubarb before summer.
  • Once mature, you can take up to a third, or even potentially half of the stems each spring.
  • If well cared for, a rhubarb plant can live to provide a harvest for over 20 years.
  • Ideally, you should pull stems from the ground rather than cutting or snapping them off.
  • After harvesting, replenish organic mulch around rhubarb plants to help them recover.

Find more detail on this below.

DifficultyEasy
Equipment RequiredPruners, scissors or secateurs (optional)
When To HarvestMarch – July

When To Start Harvesting Rhubarb

yellow and black secateurs being used to cut stalks of rhubarb growing in a pot

If you have only just planted your rhubarb, you should hold off harvesting entirely for the first year.

This will allow the plants to establish well before they are weakened by harvesting.

In the second year after planting, you can harvest, but should be circumspect in doing so.

secateurs chopping the leaf from a rhubarb stalk

Harvest just a few stems this year, and allow the plants to fully mature before you get into a regular harvesting routine in subsequent years.

The specific time of year when you begin to harvest rhubarb will depend on whether or not you have decided to force your rhubarb plants.

When To Harvest Forced Rhubarb

close up of leaf being cut

Forcing rhubarb simply means covering the rhubarb crown to exclude sunlight.

This encourages earlier growth (typically approximately 3 weeks before rhubarb that was not forced) and generates tall pale stems.

Forcing rhubarb will bring forward your harvest and some argue that it will improve the flavour of the rhubarb stems.

However, it should be noted that forcing rhubarb does affect future growth of the plant to a degree – so this is only something you should consider doing with healthy and mature, fully-established specimens.

visible stalks of rhubarb that are ready to harvest

Also, it is not a good idea to force the same rhubarb plant for successive years, since this may reduce the plant’s vigour too dramatically.

If you have decided to force a rhubarb plant to harvest, you will usually do so in late winter, so that you can harvest in spring.

You can start the process as soon as November/ December, but it is usually done in January/February.

To force rhubarb, around this time, you will simply find something to cover over the growing plant to exclude sunlight.

hand holding secateurs next to potted rhubarb

You might use a special rhubarb forcing jar, a plant pot, an old bin, or another reclaimed container.

After you have excluded light from the growing stems for 8 weeks, you should be able to remove the cover and harvest.

You can harvest the pale long stems when they have grown 20 to 30cm tall, and harvest them earlier than those that have not been forced – perhaps even from as early as January, but typically from early in March.

snipping rhubarb at the base of the stalk

The benefit of this is that the yield arrives during what was historically called the ‘hungry gap’.

This was the period when winter stores began to run low, and spring sown crops were not yet ready to harvest.

When To Start Harvesting Non-Forced Rhubarb

Rhubarb that has not been forced will typically be harvested around 3 weeks to a month later than that which has been forced.

Usually, rhubarb stems growing naturally in your garden will be ready to harvest from late March or early April.

How Long Can You Harvest Rhubarb For?

hand harvesting potted rhubarb with visible carrots growing in a pot in the background

Typically, rhubarb is harvested only over the spring – until July at the latest.

The rhubarb will be perfectly edible and taste good still after this time, but you should generally stop harvesting in July in order to avoid weakening the plant.

Hold off harvesting once summer arrives and you can continue to enjoy harvesting from a healthy plant each spring over a number of years.

If cared for correctly, these plants can live for 20 years.

How Much Can You Harvest From One Rhubarb Plant?

close up of secateurs snipping rhubarb stalks

Once a rhubarb plant is mature, typically from its third year after planting, you can harvest up to a third, or even half of the stems from each plant.

Just make sure that you leave some of the plant to continue on in active growth.

That way, it will continue to provide you with a bountiful yield for a number of years to come.

How To Harvest Rhubarb

black and yellow secateurs shown in front of a large garden

When harvesting, simply take hold of each stalk at its base.

Try to gently ease it out of the ground. Aim to avoid cutting or snapping it off if possible.

Cut off the leaves (which are not edible) and place these into your composting system or use them as a mulch.

old scissors being used as a tool to harvest pot-grown rhubarb plants

You can then take the stems and wash them to use them in your kitchen.

After harvesting from a mature plant, replenish the mulch of some homemade compost or other organic material around the rhubarb plant to give it the nutrients it requires.

Make sure you give it a chance to recover well before the following year’s harvest.

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