Rhubarb is a cool season, perennial plant that is very winter hardy and resistant to drought. Rhubarb is deer resistant and with its lovely dark green leaves and green, pink or red stalks it has a lot of front yard appeal. Following a season of growth the rhubarb crown becomes dormant. Temperatures below 40° F are required to stimulate bud break and subsequent growth.
The first shoots to appear in the spring are edible petioles and leaves. These emerge sequentially as long as temperatures remain cool (below 90° F). The petioles are the tasty part of the plant and are perfect for making crisps, pies, and sauces. Don't eat the leaves since they have high levels of the poison, oxalic acid. As temperatures increase, top growth is suppressed, even appearing dormant in periods of extreme heat.
Let your rhubarb grow unharvested the first year in the ground. The next season you can harvest the plant lightly and only the first two weeks of the season. The third year the plant can tolerate a full 8-10 week harvest. The youngest stalks are the tastiest, harvest as soon as the leaf unfolds. Harvest only one third of the stalks at a time. Stop the harvest when the plant starts to grow slender stalks, that's the plant signaling it is low on reserves.
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