GARDENING: Greed is not good when it comes to rhubarb

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GREED is not good when it comes to rhubarb – you need a little patience.

Pot-grown rhubarb can be planted at any time, in an open, sunny site with free-draining soil. With crowns, plant late autumn-early winter. Space plants 75-90cm (30-36in) apart, with 30cm (12in) between rows.

If you can’t wait until April for your first crops, try forcing an established plant. In January, cover the crown with straw and place a large bucket over the top to exclude light.

The pale pink, tender stems can be harvested about eight weeks after covering. Don’t force the same crown for two years in a row, as it weakens the plant.

If you planted new crowns in autumn, don’t harvest during the first year. Remove a few stems the next year, then up to a third or half from then on. It’s best to stop cropping by June (unless you have an autumn-cropping cultivar), or at least only remove a few stalks after then – older varieties ofter go stringy then anyway and the plant needs the sustenance.

Keep rhubarb free of weeds by mulching with composted manure, but avoid burying the crown as it will rot. Give plants 100g per sq m of Growmore in March and water regularly in dry spells. When the top growth dies back in autumn, remove the dead leaves to expose the crown to frost – this will ensure a good crop the following year. A word of warning – only the stems of rhubarb are edible. The leaves contain toxic oxalic acid – cut off the leaves and add them to your compost heap.