Look for the reddest rhubarb

Rhubarb is a useful perennial, but needs extra care in our climate. Rhubarb is sold as crowns in winter or as punnets of seedlings year-round. Always check the colour of stems if they are present, as red stems stay red, but green stems won't change colour. If you're buying a punnet of seedlings you can choose the reddest plants and discard the rest.

This 'fruit' (technically a vegetable) grows well in a partly shaded position and is quite decorative when well grown. You don't need to confine it to the vegie bed, but could plant it out among flowering annuals as a leafy accent plant. The key thing is that the soil should be rich in organic matter and also very well drained. Rhubarb rots in the summer if rainfall can't get away.

If you have established plants you should lift and divide the crowns now. This can be a heavy job as the roots are chunky and spread well out from the crown, but try to get as much of the root system as you can, while cleanly cutting through any roots that have to go. Wash off soil and inspect the crown - you want to separate off the young buds from the hoary old core. Cut them and their attendant roots away with a large, sharp knife and discard the woody old growth.

Dust the cut surfaces of the crown and roots with powdered sulphur to prevent decay and replant the young divisions in a raised bed into soil you have bolstered with a couple of buckets of well-rotted horse or cow manure. You can add a complete pelleted fertiliser once you see growth starting. Then it's only a matter of watering regularly during spring and giving a dose of high-nitrogen liquid fertiliser whenever you feed your other leafy crops.


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