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Dividing rhubarb

February 23, 2010

I have that gardeners affliction that is often undiagnosed.  I like to move plants around.  After moving one variety of rhubarb several years ago, I decided again that I wasn’t happy with the location.    A friend wanted some starts  too – this was the perfect opportunity to divide and conquer, literally.

Rhubarb needs dividing every three or four years, otherwise it starts to run down.  I have two varieties, the original greenish pink variety that was always here, and a newer commercial type, finger staining, dark red one.  Each has different growth habits, the original puts on a heavy first picking and then continues through the summer with a continuous, although light supply of rhubarb.  The dark red puts on one heavy crop uniform crop and then is pretty much done for the summer.

Both are expressing their displeasure at being crowded.  The commercial red  sends up short stalks when it needs dividing, and the old time green sends up tall, thin stalks.

I try to practice mise en place with my garden projects too.  Being organized and having all your materials ready isn’t just for the scratch kitchen.  I needed a sharp shovel and some compost for amending the soil where I wanted to lengthen my rhubarb row.

We compost our animal manures, and have piles in many different stages.  This is 3 years old and is almost to the soil stage.

To remove the sod, I just sliced a rectangle the size that I wanted the bed addition to be.  After the initial shape was sliced in, I  sliced more squares until the sod looked like a tic-tac-toe board.

The smaller squares made it easy to slip the shovel under each square and slice the grass roots.  I needed this sod to fill in where I was moving the rhubarb from.  That area is going back to grass.

A nice square of sod ready for transplanting.

After removing the sod, I loosened the soil to prepare it for the new rhubarb divisions.

After the soil was loosened, I added compost and mixed the bed well.

The yellow is part of a rhubarb root.  As you can see it gets quite woody.

This clump could easily be divided in three, but I only have room for two more plants.

So I will just divide it in half.  I know the shovel looks gruesome, but the only delicate parts of the rhubarb are the eyes.  Being careful not to disturb the new emerging buds, I just position the shovel in between and slice downwards.  Now I have two newly invigorated clumps of rhubarb.  I won’t harvest these too hard this year, but by next spring they will be in full swing.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010 7:19 am

    Okay, I have to admit I’m more than a little jealous. After a day and night of rain, I still can’t see grass in my yard. I love snow, but I know what my yard is going to be like when I finally can see it again and it won’t be that nice tilth you’re playing in there. Plus, after moving into a new home, I planted rhubarb last spring only to have it dug up by some critter. Repeatedly. Pulled apart with bits left in the yard. What kind of critter steals rhubarb? Sheesh. So no more rhubarb going in here until I get my kid to rig me up a RPD (rhubarb protection device).

    • February 23, 2010 10:57 am

      Maggie, it has been unusually dry here for a week or so. Otherwise, I would be dealing with wet, sticky soil.

      That is weird about the rhubarb disappearing…I have no idea who would dig it up, our dogs usually play too hard and disturb ours – they have already been burying rutabagas and dead moles in my new spot! Bums.

  2. Susan permalink
    February 23, 2010 7:21 am

    Perfect timing! I have to divide up my rhubarb for the first time this spring and only had the faintest clue how to do it! Of course, our spring in upstate NY comes MUCH later than yours! Thanks for the great info.

    • February 23, 2010 10:58 am

      Susan, if you don’t want to move it, you can just dig some out and leave the rest. It is actually pretty hard to kill – don’t ask me how I know that 😉

  3. Hailey permalink
    February 23, 2010 8:03 am

    I’ll have to agree with Maggie, I am way more jealous as the ground is still frozen here in Western Montana. I can’t wait to see my rhubarb come up! LOVE your blog!!

    • February 23, 2010 11:00 am

      Hailey, the weather this past month has been amazing, although the sun and dry looking soil can be deceiving. Even though it is warm during the day, it is still in the 20’s at night and way too soon to plant any garden 😦

  4. February 23, 2010 9:04 am

    Ground isn’t frozen here, in fact it’s muddy. However it IS covered with a foot of snow. I’m jealous of your spring AND your rhubarb. I LOVE rhubarb. It’s one of the things I’ve been looking forward to here – enough time and space to have a nice bed of it.

    **********dreaming of spring***********

    • February 23, 2010 11:03 am

      Hayden, patience my dear – spring will get here soon enough. Easy for me to say, since we haven’t had much of the white stuff this year, just the liquid form. I am liking the longer days, and doing chores in my leather shoes!

  5. February 23, 2010 9:44 am

    The soil under your sod looks pretty good already- I wonder if you have some volcanic soil in there. I’m on clay, and I hate it. I’m hoping that I haven’t drowned my new fruit trees.

    What do you do with your rhubarb? I remember getting a slice of rhubarb and strawberry pie as a kid and thinking it was a waste of perfectly good strawberries. I’ve been avoiding it since then. But it seems like a good idea, because it’s a perennial and all that…..any suggestions for converting me?

    • February 23, 2010 11:08 am

      Paula, the soil is OK, and most likely volcanic since we live on the flanks of a shield volcano, but it isn’t very deep since we don’t have the East wind here that is so famous for blowing in the soil. It doesn’t take too long to get down to the clay. It never hurts to add some amendments though.

      Last year I juiced it, but mostly pies, or crisps is where most of it ends up. I had the opposite reaction to rhubarb strawberry pie, I thought it was waste of good rhubarb 😀 How about wine? And when you get good and drunk you could make a pie!

  6. February 23, 2010 10:26 am

    We are still cold! Bitter in fact with 8 ” of snow on the ground. I’m tired of this. Loved seeing your green grass, the frog and beautiful friable soil


    • February 23, 2010 11:12 am

      Linda, ooh that is cold – it has been cold enough that frog hasn’t croaked yet, when I hear the first frog making noise, then I’ll believe we are having an early spring. It freezes nearly every night but not as cold as you’re getting. Brrr. Stay warm and hang in there!

      • Alex permalink
        April 19, 2010 9:09 pm

        Hi there,
        I’m interested in various signs that may indicate when it is
        time to start planting. You mention the “frogs” making noise.

        My snow drops have come and gone, my “Bleeding hearts”
        are in full blume. I still have tulips that havent flowered.
        My Forcithia are winding down.

        I think that planting guides should be based on other common
        plants in the yard. I think a very sucessful book could come
        from this concept…

        Do beets go in with snowdrops or lilac blooms?
        How about Brussle sprouts?
        If my “Black-eye Susans are starting to grow does that meen I
        should put in my cherry tomatoes?

        I LOVE! rhubarb. Thanks for the recipes and other ideas.

  7. Karen permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:44 am

    Yippee for spring – you mentioned a while ago that you ordered chicks. Do you have them yet and what kind of chickens did you order?

    • February 24, 2010 9:03 am

      Karen, I won’t get my chicks until the end of April – I want to pasture my meat chickens and I like the weather more settled than what we normally get in early to mid-spring. But I also like to have them butchered and in the freezer before we start haying too. I ordered Cornish X, they are less expensive to raise than the slower growing heritage breeds, and I like their efficiency. At a certain point I have to be thrifty with my dollars – we are eating these and get many meals from one chicken including quarts of broth for cooking, and food for the dogs too. I am the one being marketed to – so I have no qualms about eating an industrial breed chicken that has been raised in a non-industrial way.

  8. February 23, 2010 12:36 pm

    I am also very jealous of the weather you have! I would love to be out digging in the dirt, anywhere, just diggin in ground that is not frozen!

    I am going to divide my rhubard this year too.

  9. February 23, 2010 3:17 pm

    Mmmmm, stewed rhubarb on icecream!

    We are in late summer here and I planted a seedling rhubarb a few months ago. Half the big leaves are wilting and going yuck – I think it has some sort of wilt/fungus going on. And I thought rhubarb was hard to kill too 😉

  10. February 23, 2010 3:39 pm

    I agree with Susan – perfect timing! The property we moved to a year ago has a very crowded rhubarb bed about 20 feet long, and we were wondering when the best time would be to reduce the overcrowding. I wondered last spring why the stalks were all so skinny, and now I know!

    I have been reading your site for a while now, and really appreciate the practical, clear advice you give. We quit our jobs at the end of June and are trying to live a simpler, healthier life, but often it feels like we’re in the middle of a crash course on country living. It’s wonderful to be able to benefit from your experience and wisdom – thank you for being so generous with both! And we have an Aussie (a tricolour named Frankie), so of course I enjoy seeing pictures of your two!

  11. February 23, 2010 6:26 pm

    I need to do that this spring but I’ve got a disease in some of mine and might just have to try something different. I’ve an old variety that has big stalks and is pretty much green but takes half the sugar when I use it. I sure hate to lose it.

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