Colorado is known for its abundance of sunshine, so it’s no surprise that many people in the area are interested in growing their own rhubarb. Rhubarb is a popular vegetable that grows best in cooler climates or even cold weather. It is relatively easy to grow, and can flourish in the Colorado climate with the right care. If you’re looking for a delicious vegetable to add to your garden this season, consider growing rhubarb! Here is a guide on how to grow rhubarb successfully in Colorado.
How to Grow Rhubarb in Colorado — A Beginner’s Guide
Choosing an Ideal Location
Rhubarb does best when planted in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Sunlight is also important; rhubarb prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day and has good air circulation around it so the plant won’t become too wet or suffer from fungal diseases.
Avoid planting near trees, as their root systems may compete against each other for nutrients and water, causing the rhubarb to struggle. Also, planting your rhubarb too close to other vegetables can lead to cross-pollination—which can lead to hybridization or mutation.
Preparing the Soil
Before planting your rhubarb, prepare your soil by incorporating plenty of organic matter and fertilizers into the soil. This will ensure that your rhubarb has access to all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
It’s also important to make sure that the soil drains well so that excess moisture doesn’t drown your plant roots or cause root rot. You can test this by filling a small container with soil and then pouring water into it; if the water takes more than five minutes to drain away, your soil might not be ideal for rhubarb.
Rhubarb prefers a neutral pH, so test your soil with a pH meter or testing kit before planting and adjust accordingly. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime to raise the pH. On the other hand, if your soil is too alkaline, you can add sulfur to lower the pH. Make sure you buy the right kind of fertilizer for your soil type, and use it sparingly.
Choosing a Variety
When choosing which variety of rhubarb to grow, consider what type of dishes you plan on making with it as some varieties are better suited for different recipes. Most popularly grown in Colorado is Victoria, which produces tender stalks with deep red flesh and sweet flavor. The Victoria variety is excellent for pie fillings, cakes, and other desserts.
But if you want something tartier then consider Crimson Red or Cherry Red varieties as they have a stronger flavor that works well in jams or sauces. Otherwise, Valentine is a great choice for those who like their rhubarb slightly sweeter.
Planting and Caring For Rhubarb
Now that you’ve chosen your variety, it’s time to get planting! The best way to do this is by purchasing dormant roots or rhubarb crowns from your local nursery or garden store. Plant the roots 1-2 inches below the soil line, making sure to space them at least 3 feet apart from each other.
If you opt for growing from rhubarb seeds, make sure to sow them in early spring and keep the soil consistently moist. It can take up to two years for rhubarb plants grown from seed to reach maturity, so be patient! But then, that’s why it’s called a long-term investment.
Once your rhubarb is planted, it’s important to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Water regularly during dry spells—about an inch per week—and supplement any lack of rain with additional watering when needed. Mulching around the plants can help retain moisture in the well-drained soil and suppress weeds.
Also, if you plan on harvesting some of the stalks for eating, try to avoid harvesting the entire plant all at once, since this will put a lot of stress on the plant and can cause it to die. Instead, spread out your harvesting over several weeks or months.
Rhubarb is a hardy, low-maintenance plant and can tolerate cold winters, but it’s best to cover it with a thick layer of mulch during winter to protect it from frost. In addition, fertilize your rhubarb in spring using an all-purpose fertilizer or compost tea to keep it healthy.
With the right care, your rhubarb plants can produce tasty stalks for up to 10 years (yes, it’s a perennial vegetable)—so it’s a great long-term investment for any garden!
Pests and Diseases Control When Growing Rhubarb in Colorado
Rhubarb can be susceptible to a few pests and diseases. Common ones include slugs, aphids, root-knot nematodes, rust, and foliar blight. In Colorado, you should also watch out for various species of leafhoppers and cutworms.
To prevent or treat these issues, start by practicing good garden hygiene—remove any weeds, debris, or plant material around the plants to discourage pests from taking up residence. You can also try using floating row covers to exclude pest insects.
Next, use natural predators to control pests. Ladybugs and lacewings feed on aphids, parasitic nematodes can help reduce root-knot nematode populations, and birds eat slugs and cutworms. If the infestation is particularly bad, you may have to resort to using certain chemical pesticides—but always follow the instructions carefully and take all necessary precautions.
Finally, keep an eye out for any signs of disease or damage and treat them as soon as possible. This could mean pruning off affected leaves or stalks, using a fungicide, or drenching the soil with a copper-based fungicide.
If you’d love to opt for an entirely vegan & eco-friendly approach, you can use neem oil or a mixture of water and baking soda to treat fungal diseases. Water and baking soda mix should be applied weekly until the problem disappears, while neem oil should be applied every three days or when the leaves are dry.
Harvesting and Cooking Rhubarb
The best thing about rhubarb is that it’s super easy to harvest — just make sure to wait until the rhubarb stalks are at least 12 inches long before picking. Avoid harvesting any stalks smaller than this, as they won’t have developed enough flavor yet.
Harvesting time also varies depending on the different varieties — it can range from late spring through early summer. Once you’ve plucked the stalks, simply cut them off at the base with a sharp knife and store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use them.
Once your rhubarb is ready for culinary use, there are plenty of recipes out there for you to explore! From rhubarb pie, muffins, and crumbles to jams, syrups, and compotes—the possibilities are endless. Rhubarb also pairs well with strawberries and makes for a delicious combination when cooked into desserts.
No matter how you decide to use it, rhubarb is sure to add something special to your meal! So why not give it a try and see what delicious creations you can come up with?
Growing rhubarb successfully in Colorado requires a bit of extra care due to its warmer weather and dry air but with proper preparation — like preparing your soil temperatures correctly and selecting an appropriate variety — most gardeners should have no trouble producing enough tasty rhubarb stems for all kinds of delicious recipes! With patience and dedication, soon enough you’ll be enjoying fresh rhubarb from your own vegetable garden!