Most of you know that rhubarb is a fantastic, subarctic hardy perennial. Often surviving well into zone 2, it’s a tasty and easy to grow perpetual plant for us northerners. Let’s discuss some things you might not know!
Rhubarb is actually a rhizome, which is an ancient Greek word that translates to “mass of roots.” Underneath that innocuous rhubarb plant is a massive, red colored block of roots that might look something like a gigantic ill-shapen potato. Depending on the size of the plant, that root mass could be literally feet across in their dimension.
Rhubarb can be easily propagated through the process called dividing. This is basically where you “cleave” off part of that root structure and plant it elsewhere. The cleaved root should have 2-3 “buds” on it, which will help the rhubarb establish itself. We’ve done it with a well planned shovel, sometimes it can take a bit of work! A large rhubarb plant can often be divided many times without affecting the health of the plant.
In fact, the process of dividing your plant is actually extremely beneficial for the health of the plant. Within a couple of years of that rhizome division, your plant will come back and look better than it ever has! It could almost be considered essential for the benefit of rhubarb production, just for the plant’s benefit. If you’re gunning for rhubarb production, dividing the plant every 4-5 years is a generally good target.
It’s often suggested to divide the plant in the fall, when the plant is dormant. But, for most of us extreme northerners, that suggested time frame actually means winter. We’ve successfully done our dividing in the very early spring (and even around now) with great success, so we’d estimate there’s not a ton of sensitivity to it. When you do it in the spring, the plant tends to not do well its first year, but it’ll come back just fine in following years.
We just made a nice candied bread with some of our rhubarb, kind of like a breakfast pastry. It’s a flexible plant that can serve everything from desserts to side dishes to alcohol fermentation and beyond. This photo is of a rhubarb division we did two seasons ago and it’s definitely finding its place in the world!