How and When to Harvest Rhubarb

Learn how and when to harvest rhubarb to make the most of your rhubarb patch this year.

rhubarb in basket

Also read:  How to Freeze Rhubarb, Frequently Asked Questions about Rhubarb, Rhubarb eCookbook

Watch When to Harvest Rhubarb & How Much to Pick

Here’s a quick video to show you everything you need to know.

When to Pick Rhubarb

PLEASE don’t wait for your rhubarb to turn “all red”.  Colour is not an indication of ripeness when it comes to rhubarb – it is just an indication of variety. All three types of rhubarb below are ripe – based on size not color.

rhubarb varieties Just like you wouldn’t wait for a Granny Smith apple to turn red – don’t wait for your rhubarb to turn red!  Instead, rely on the size of the rhubarb stalks.

Stalks should be about 7 inches (20 cm) long or longer when they are ready to harvest.

basket of rhubarb with leaves

Here in the Canadian prairies we can usually start picking rhubarb late May, early June.

How to Pick Rhubarb

pulling rhubarb
Slide hand down stalk and gently but firmly twist and pull. Pulling is better than cutting, but if you must, cutting is okay too, it will just take a little longer to recover and may leave the plant vulnerable at the cut – but let’s face it, rhubarb is tough!

Once it’s ready to harvest, here’s what to do:

  • Start with the bigger stalks on the outside of the plant and work your way towards the centre.  Leave the smaller stalks for another day.
  • Slide your hand to the bottom of the stalk and pull.  The stalk should come out nice and easy.
  • If you find you’re pulling out roots or you can’t reach all the way, you can also cut the stalks as close to the ground as possible. Technically, pulling is preferred because it allows the plant to recover a little more quickly, but cutting won’t kill the plant, it’ll just take longer to bounce back.
  • Leave at least 1/3 of the stalks on the plant in spring time to ensure it continues to grow and thrive throughout the summer.
  • Trim the leaves and put them in the compost. The leaves are toxic, so don’t cook or eat them. They are safe to add to your compost bin.
  • Harvest whenever more stalks are ripe, always leaving at least 1/3 of the plant.
  • Once the plant starts to flower, the stalks will get a little tougher.  To extend the season, cut off the flower stalks as soon as you see them.
  • In early July, give the plant a chance to gain some strength over the summer.  Add a little compost around the roots and let it be. It’s okay to let it flower at this point too.
  • Rhubarb doesn’t like the heat and won’t grow much during the summer. In a particularly hot, dry summer, you won’t want to harvest much rhubarb at all.
  • In the fall, as things cool you may get some more stalks to harvest.  At this time of year, be sure to leave 2/3 of the stalks on the plant so it can store enough energy to survive the winter. Do not harvest if your plant is young, small or has not filled out after the hot summer months.
  • If you just planted your rhubarb, it is best to wait 2 to 3 years before harvesting any rhubarb. This will ensure the plant gets really well established with a solid root network. The more stalks you cut at this time, the slower the plant will grow and the less hardy it will be in the long run.

Watch How to Harvest Rhubarb

Here’s a quick video showing you how:

Concerned that your neighbour’s rhubarb plant is bigger than yours?   To get a big luscious rhubarb plant think about moisture, drainage, compost and sun. These are the elements that will make a rhubarb plant thrive.

For more rhubarb information and for my favorite rhubarb recipes check out my Rhubarb eCookbook.

Here’s some pictures of rhubarb plants to help you see the different stages.

Just coming out of the ground. baby rhubarb

Growing
young rhubarb

Growing. Sure you could grab a few stalks now, but if you wait just a few more days, you’ll get enough for a pie or two!rhubarb plant growing

Ready to harvest! It will start to flower soon, best time to harvest is right now.big rhubarb plant

When harvesting, leave 1/3 of the stalks behind during spring time (2/3 of stalks in fall) so the plant can continue to grow and thrive. You’ll have a few more stalks now and then.

harvested rhubarb plant

Of course, if you have too much rhubarb, don’t like rhubarb or know of anyone who isn’t picking their rhubarb – call a friend, neighbour or a fruit rescuing organization like Fruit Share.  They have  volunteers eager to pick your rhubarb and share it with local food charities or community organizations.
Enjoy!

For more great rhubarb and other fruit recipes and preserving ideas, pick up a copy of the Rhubarb eCookbook!  Or check out some of these recipes:

Rhubarb Cinnamon Buns

Stewed Rhubarb

How to Freeze Rhubarb

How to Dehydrate Rhubarb

 What will you make with your rhubarb besides pie, cobbler and crisp?

Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas.  She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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15 Comments

  1. I feel very fortunate that my rhubarb rarely bolts during the season, which I think is extremely rare in WI. Inherited a big, beautiful patch when I moved. My kids love when I make rhubarb sauce (like applesauce). They find it a fun and tasty alternative!

    1. Hi Fran,
      Yes, rhubarb that doesn’t bolt is rare. Younger plants don’t typically bolt for the first 3 or 4 years, but it sounds like you’ve been enjoying rhubarb sauce for a while, so it must be the variety of rhubarb you have. Lucky you guys! Keep enjoying it.

      All the best,
      Getty

  2. Why does my rhubarb go to seed as soon as it starts to grow in the spring, I have seen other’s rhubarb only go to seed at the end of the season, where mine start in the beginning of the season & goes all the way thru the season. What can I do?

    1. Hi Diane,
      Sounds like your rhubarb is very keen on doing its job of reproducing. Even though you’re rhubarb is producing seed stalks, the other stems are still safe to eat. I would cut the seed stalks close to the bottom as soon as you see them. As to why this is happening. There are a few reasons why yours might be going to seed (bolting) so early on.
      1. Mature rhubarb goes to seed more quickly than young rhubarb.
      2. Some varieties bolt more quickly than others eg. Victoria and Red Crimson.
      3. Too much heat, rhubarb grows best in cool temp.
      4. Stress on the plant that triggers it to put all its energy into seed production (sort of like a survival instinct). Stress on rhubarb plants may be caused by too much or not enough nutrients or water, pests or over-harvesting.

      What to do depends on the reason why your rhubarb is bolting.
      1. Split mature rhubarb to “reset” it.
      2. Consider a newer, slow bolting variety.
      3. If it’s too hot for rhubarb, a thick layer of mulch around the base may help to keep roots cool.
      4. Manage stress by watering and fertilizing, treating any pests and being careful not to harvest too much rhubarb at any one time, especially in the fall when at least 2/3 of the plant should remain in tact. A good layer of compost or mulch in the fall is always a good bet. Ask at a garden center about the best fertilizer for rhubarb – I’ve always relied on garden compost, so not sure what to recommend.

      Hope this provides some insight into your predicament.

      Getty

  3. The best rhuberb is grown up in iran contry and special in Neyshabour city.
    Harvesting Season is April.

    1. I’m sure it’s good, but I’d say the best rhubarb is the rhubarb in your backyard – wherever your backyard may happen to be! Enjoy.
      Getty

  4. Pingback: When To Pick Rhubarb And How It’s Good For You | High Five Wellness
  5. I planted rhubarb for the first time and it grew without incident. I picked some though and it has no tart flavor. Will that develop with time?

    1. That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard! Rhubarb with no tart flavor?! When did you plant the rhubarb and when did you pick it? Perhaps it’s an end of summer phenomenon and you’ll have better luck next spring?!

  6. I am confused by the conflicting information on some sites as to whether one should leave the remaining stalks on apart from removing the leaves at the end of the fruiting season or should the stalks also be removed albeit a bit later

    1. Hi Colin,
      In the spring and early summer you can harvest more than in late summer and fall. In the spring leave 1/3 of the stalks and leaves to grow. In late summer and fall pick less and leave 2/3 of the stalks and leaves in tact so that the plant has enough resources to last throughout harsh conditions.

      (Corrected response).
      Getty

      1. I actually took it as leave 1/3 in spring and 2/3 for Winter lol I guess I got it wrong

        1. No, Anita! You had it right. Pick lots in the spring leaving 1/3 of the plant to keep growing. In the fall only pick a little and leave 2/3 of the plant in tact so it can easily survive the winter.

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