Rhubarb Flowers: What To Do When Rhubarb Goes To Seed
By: Heather Rhoades
For those who have experienced the joy of a fresh rhubarb and strawberry pie, growing rhubarb in the garden seems like a no brainer. Many people are familiar with the large green and red leaves on a rhubarb, but when the plant produces a rhubarb flower, this can give a gardener pause. The first question is ,”Why is my rhubarb flowering?” and the next question is “Should I let my rhubarb flower?”
What Causes Flowering Rhubarb?
When a rhubarb flowers, this is called bolting or going to seed. When rhubarb goes to seed, this is perfectly normal. The rhubarb plant is doing what plants are supposed to do and that is to reproduce, but there are some factors that can influence how often you get a flowering rhubarb.
- Variety – Some varieties of rhubarb flower more than others. Heirloom varieties tend to flower more than modern cultivars. Victoria rhubarb, MacDonald rhubarb and Red Crimson rhubarb are some examples of rhubarb varieties that will flower more often.
- Maturity – Plants need to reach a certain maturity in order to reproduce through seed. For a rhubarb plant, that maturity comes a few years after it is planted. The older a rhubarb plant is, the more the rhubarb goes to seed.
- Heat – Rhubarb plants grow best in cooler temperatures. If you have an unusually warm spring, this can cause a rhubarb to start flowering.
- Stress – Stress can also force a rhubarb to flower. Stress can come in the form of a lack of water, pests, fungus, lack of nutrients or animal damage. Anything that makes the plant feel threatened can cause it to start flowering.
How to Keep Rhubarb from Going to Seed
In order to keep rhubarb from bolting, you need to decide why it is flowering.
If it is flowering due to variety, you can consider getting a more modern variety that has been bred to flower less often. But, keep in mind that flowering rhubarb is really more of an annoyance and does not ruin the plant.
If you have an established rhubarb clump that is several years old, you can consider dividing the clump. This essentially turns back the clock on the plant’s maturity and will help reduce rhubarb flowering.
If you are expecting a warm spell, consider mulching around the plant to help keep the roots cool.
Also, make sure that your rhubarb is as stress free as possible. Watering during dry spells, regular fertilizing and keeping an eye out for and quickly treating pests and disease will greatly reduce the amount of flowering.
Should I Let My Rhubarb Flower?
There is no harm in letting your rhubarb flower, but keep in mind that energy the rhubarb plant puts towards making a flower and growing seeds is energy that will not being directed towards growing leaves. Since rhubarb is grown for the stems, most gardeners choose to remove the flowers as soon as they appear so the plant can focus its energy on leaf growth. Rhubarb flowers can simply be cut from the plant as soon as you see it appear.
If your rhubarb produces a flower, this does not affect the stems and leaves. The stems can still be used in cooking (though the leaves are still poisonous).
A flowering rhubarb can cause a bit of alarm for a gardener, but now that you know more about why rhubarbs bolt and how to prevent or fix it when it happens, there’s nothing to worry about. You can still enjoy the wonderful taste of rhubarb grown fresh in your garden.
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Rhubarb Flowers or Seedpods
Have you noticed rhubarb flowers, or rhubarb seedpods coming up on stalks from between the leaves of your rhubarb plants this Spring?
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If so, here is important information in answer to the question of what to do with that large flower growing in your rhubarb!
I think that the rhubarb flower stalk or seedpod is a very beautiful sight, and I really dislike the idea of removing it, however it must be cut out.
Scroll down for directions on how to remove the flower stalk.
What Do You Do with the Flower that is Coming up in the Rhubarb?
The flower head that comes up from rhubarb plants should be removed immediately when you first observe it.
This flower or seedpod usually comes up in the springtime.
These flower stalks do not usually grow on younger plants, but are common on more mature plants that are 3 or more years older.
Some varieties are more likely to flower than others.
The plants may produce more than one stalk, so cut them out each time you see a flower develop.
To maintain and ensure the highest quality and maximum yield from your rhubarb garden, it is important that the plants not be allowed to go to seed.
Many people contact me and ask if it is okay to harvest and eat the rhubarb after it has flowered .
The answer to this question is YES, simply remove and discard the flower/seed pod stalk, and pick the remaining rhubarb stalks as you normally would.
The reason for this is, that, if the plant is left to allow the flower to go to seed, the plant devotes its energy to the seed production, and the development of leaf stalks is hindered .
Using pruning shears , cut the flower stalk as close as possible to the main plant at the base, and discard it.
If you do not cut the flower stalk off as low as possible, it may begin to rot and provide a home to slugs and other insects which may in turn damage the rhubarb plants.
Scroll down and see what Helen did with the flower stalks from her rhubarb plant!
Flowering Rhubarb Plants!
Thanks for the photo (above) Gina!
Gorgeous Rhubarb Flower or Seedpod
Thanks for the photo (above) Marcus !
My Beautiful Rhubarb Flowers )
My rhubarb went to seed this year too (above)!
Aren't these simply beautiful?
If you are growing ornamental rhubarb, and not using the rhubarb as a vegetable for the stalks, you may wish to leave the flower and ensuing seedpods among the plants.
The tall flower stalks are actually quite impressive, and you would most likely wish to these beautiful flowers to bloom in this case.
Rhubarb Flowers on Display!
I came across this amazing photograph (above), of gorgeous, cut rhubarb flowers, arranged in vases with rhubarb leaves.
These were not ornamental flowers and leaves . but rather "regular/edible" vegetable garden rhubarb flowers and leaves.
Isn't this beautiful, and striking? I Love It! . Now I just hope that my rhubarb will actually flower next year, and that more than one of my rhubarb plants in the patch will flower!
Thanks Helen, from Design Inspiration , for allowing me to share this amazing, creative arrangement of rhubarb seedpods/flowers!
I believe you have just inspired many site visitors to bring the cut flowers from their rhubarb indoors when cutting them off, and enjoying them! They are an amazing display of God's Creation for sure!
If you have made a flower arrangement using rhubarb flowers or rhubarb seed pods - feel free to send me your pictures for me to share with visitors to Rhubarb-Central.com!
Contact me via my contact form here.
Do you grow rhubarb? Here below (or use the navigation bars at the left column) are links to helpful pages within this website about growing rhubarb at home!
Rhubarb in upstate
We are Iowa transplants (where the soil is black 48" deep) and trying to determine whether we can grow rhubarb here. Any advise? We put out eight plants and have one little fella trying to come through. Thanks for help and suggestions. This is a whole new rodeo for us.
Hi neighbor, did you amend the soil? Fertilize?
We tilled the soil and and added manure to it, along with Miracle Grow potting soil.
I grew it in the Charleston area in a raised bed.
It should do fine in Easley, when did you plant it? If it is a recent acquisition it just hasn't had time to get acclimated this year. If you planted it last fall then I would suggest you have a soil test done at your local extension service to see what's up. Rhubarb is a very early spring crop in SC.
Tranquil, that is amazing that you got it to grow in Ladson. Congratulations, how large did it get? I tried it in Columbia but never got those big fat stems, mine were always wimpy looking and they sort of got smaller each year until they disappeared.
Planted it the first week of April, so probably expecting too much this year. I have planted it next to a shed on the east side. Will that be enough sun here? I wasn't sure how much sun here would be too much. Thanks for any help.
Ardesia, It grew as big as my grandmother's in WI.
That is fantastic Tranquil, it is always nice to hear that pushing zones (backwards in this case, LOL) worked well.
rhsundblad, it is strange but I could not find anything on Clemson's HGIC site about growing rhubarb in SC. Your idea about growing it on the east side of a building is probably a good one.
rhsundblad I'm from Iowa also I have lived in NC about 25 years and I have wanted a Rhubarb pie like my mom used to make forever!. I have tried 3 times over the years to get it to live and they all have dwindled away, I might try it again since I see it is possible!! I have seen a lot about growing it as an annual, but to me thats kind of like "why bother". It wouldn't get big enough as an annual to be any good.. But after seeing people in SC get it to grow I'm in for trying again! good luck to you!
Megano, you're not that far from me in Asheville and I have rhubarb (Victoria) growing like crazy. Planted three years ago, harvested first time this year and the pie was delicious! Have given away some and it's still going strong! Keep trying and remember that you don't harvest the first year it's planted. I do keep mine fertilized and well groomed, meaning I pull away the dead under leaves. If you've not grown rhubarb before, you will need to keep the flower stalks pruned out to keep it from setting seed. Hope this helps.
Hemophobic, What sun exposure do you have your rhubarb in? I've tried 3 different areas filtered sun, all day sun, just morning sun, all failed, but I was also working a lot then and watering and care was very irregular, I'm home all the time now so that will help a lot . I bet that pie tasted good !! Megan O
Oh, it did. I'm ashamed to say I ended up eating the whole thing myself, not at one sitting, mind you, but over the course of several days. It was lovely.
My sun exposure is morning and most of the day sun, with some late afternoon shade. I did water mine regularly the first year it was planted. Now, I don't know if this makes a difference and I don't know if you've tried growing yours from seed or what, but I bought mine at the herb festival here in Asheville back in 2005. It was potted up and looked nice and healthy and it's done beautifully so far. I've been intending to plant more and to plant some asparagus as well, just haven't had time yet. Work does interfere so much with my gardening!
Have you viisted the herb festival? It's always the first weekend in May and it draws HUGE crowds. Runs from Fri. 'til Sun. and I would always go on Friday, early, and still the crowds would beat me there. Lots of good organic seedlings and heirloom plants available there from local growers.
Hemophobic I have not been to the festival, this is the first I've heard of it! sounds like lots of fun, I'm always at the local flea markets trying to find those unusual old varieties. Do to an injury 4 years ago I have not been able to work a normal job, so I started growing mostly perennials and bi annuals, Holly hocks, fox glove, different things, that I sell at the markets, but I often buy more from others than I sell, but I enjoy getting out and talking plants and antiques with everyone, I cant say I have never met a gardener that did not have a good attitude, Megan O
Gardeners are fine people and I think it comes from the nurturing that we do with our plants. Maybe it makes us realize that people need nurturing as well and some are more fragile than others. I know for sure that gardening teaches patience! Although I will say that moderation still eludes me. When I visit a nursery or garden center, I'm like a drug addict: got have that and that and that, never mind where I'm going to put it!
hemophobic, I dont get out much but I keep hearing about Jessie Isreal and Sons in Asheville, is it as good as they say? I keep thinking I will try to get there some day. I like to try and find new and different as well as the old tried and true plants. I have heared that it is a bit on the pricey side, that is one reason I have not gone. Have you been there and what do you think? MeganO
I've purchased some plants from Jesse Israel and have not found them to be that expensive on some things. Asheville is a very expensive place to live, first of all, and all the estimates I've gotten for work on the house have been at least double, if not triple, what I've paid in other parts of the state I've lived in all of my life. So considering that comment, I think it'll be like any other supplier: shop carefully and you'll find some bargains. Reems Creek Nursery is also in Asheville, but I've not purchased anything there. They seemed a little high to me. Jesse Israel has a better selection of plants, though. There's another great little nursery I stumbled on accidentally between Black Mountain and Asheville on Highway 70 called Appalachian Garden Nursery or something like that. I bought Sweet Kate tradescantia and she is quite a charmer. The leaves are a bright gold throughout the season and her blossoms are a brilliant, true blue. Also bought some dahlias that are doing well and a mock orange (Philadelphus Virginicus). A small place but I was quite happy with that find. My car brakes for nurseries and daylilies!
Oh, and my favorite place up here is in Hendersonville, Raymond's Nursery and Garden Supply. They advertise in "Carolina Gardener" if you subscribe to it and I love going there. Always buy something when I go. They have the best selection and I would have to say it's where I go if I have my "druthers."
There’s Nothing Seedy About Sowing Rhubarb
So there you have it, everything you need to know about how to grow rhubarb from seed. It’s actually the preferred method for growing the plant as an annual, because bare roots and even crowns are prone to root rot in warm southern climes.
No matter where you grow your seeds, and no matter how long you wait until harvest, every bite of that delicious pie will be worth it.
Have you ever grown rhubarb from seed? Did it taste even sweeter because you watched it grow from the very beginning of its life?
Let us know in the comments! And if you’re interested in learning more about plant propagation, you’ll need these guides next:
Photos by Laura Melchor © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 3, 2020. Last updated: March 24, 2021 at 18:13 pm. Product photos via Eden Brothers, Juhefa, and MIXC. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.
About Laura Melchor
Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Harvest Every 4-5 Weeks
Your rhubarb will continue growing after you harvest you should wait four to five weeks after harvesting before you pick rhubarb stalks again this will allow you about three crop harvests during the season. You'll want to leave about a third of the developed stalks each time you harvest your plant to keep the plant producing in a healthy way. But at your final harvest, before putting the garden to bed, cut all the stalks back to avoid having rotting leaves on your rhubarb plant, as they may affect the crown of the plant. It's a good idea to divide rhubarb every five years or so, and this can be done most effectively in the fall.
You can still harvest rhubarb stalks after a frost, but only if them stems are still firm. If they seem to be soft or mushy, don't eat them the toxicity from the leaves could possibly migrate to the stalks when they are damaged by the cold. If you have any doubts as to the impact of a frost, it's best not to eat the rhubarb. At that point, cut back the entire plant for the season.