By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Gardeners and pie makers often assume that deep red rhubarb is the sweetest. However, the color of rhubarb actually has very little to do with its flavor. If you’re a fan of bright red rhubarb, guess what? Rhubarb actually comes in several colors, including pink and speckled rhubarb varieties. You may even discover that green varieties of rhubarb are surprisingly sweet, and tend to be more productive! Read on to learn more about a few of the many types of rhubarb.
Here are some popular varieties of rhubarb for the garden:
If you prefer red rhubarb varieties, you’ll be delighted with ‘Holstein Bloodred,’ a vigorous plant that produces juicy, deep red stalks.
‘McDonald’s Canadian Red’ is another deep red rhubarb that works well for canning, freezing or rhubarb pies.
‘Canada Red’ is a type of cherry-red rhubarb with a sweet, juicy flavor.
Most rhubarb varieties aren’t pure red inside and out, but ‘Colorado Red’ is an exception. This variety, which produces celery-size stalks, is a favorite for jams and jellies because of its attractive color.
‘Cherry Red’ is a sweet, tender variety with long, thick, cherry red stalks.
Also known as Large Victoria, ‘Victoria’ produces mid-size stalks that are dark raspberry red at the base, turning greener closer to the leaves.
If you’re curious about green rhubarb plant types, ‘Riverside Giant’ is a cold-hardy rhubarb with long, very thick green stalks.
A mild-flavored rhubarb, ‘Turkish’ is green inside and out, except for a blush of red at the base.
If you’re in the market for rhubarb with an unusual appearance, try ‘German Wine,’ a variety that boasts green stems with pink speckles. This is reportedly one of the sweetest rhubarb plant types available.
‘The Sutton’ isn’t always appreciated for its appearance, which is streaked green and red. However, this rhubarb variety is fragrant, tender, and slightly sweet.
With attractive, pink stalks that tend to be thicker than many varieties, ‘Sunrise’ is an all-around variety that works well for freezing, canning, jellies, and pies.
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Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial vegetable hardy enough for Minnesota gardens. It is in the buckwheat family, has a sour flavor and is among the first crops ready for harvest in spring.
Rhubarb is also a "pie-plant," because you can cook, sweeten and use the chopped stalks as a pie filling, usually with strawberries.
You can also incorporate it into breads and cakes, sweet and use it as a sauce, or cook with sugar, strain and drink it as a refreshing juice.
Few people can eat much rhubarb as a raw vegetable. While juicy and crisp, it is very sour.
Soil testing and fertilizer
Gardeners often acquire rhubarb plants from another gardener who is dividing a large plant. Although there is a possibility of receiving a plant infected with a virus, chances are good that the plant is healthy and vigorous, since it is large enough to need dividing.
You can also purchase plants at garden centers and from mail-order catalogs. Nursery-grown plants will be virus-free.
Catalogs also sell rhubarb seed. The reddest varieties are not available as seed, only as plants.
Choosing rhubarb varieties
Rhubarb plants are very large. A single plant usually provides enough for any family. Give each plant a three-foot-by-three-foot area in the garden.
For most gardeners, it is most convenient to position rhubarb at the edge of the garden. It should be in a spot that receives all-day sun. Rhubarb is hardy in USDA Zone 4, and worth trying in Zone 3.
Proper watering will help rhubarb growth. Soak the soil thoroughly when watering, to a depth of at least one inch each week during the growing season.
The rhubarb plant will produce the next year's buds at the outer edges of its crown. With each passing year, the plant will become slightly wider. The center may not produce any new stalks. Like many perennial plants, rhubarb can benefit from division every few years.
As new growth is starting very early in the season, use a clean, sharp shovel to cut the plant in half or in thirds. Move the divisions to newly prepared planting sites, or give them away. You can also dig up the entire plant and divide it using a sharp knife.
Because rhubarb takes so many nutrients from the soil, move the plant to a new site every so often. Rotate another crop into the former rhubarb patch.
There are many different varieties of rhubarb to choose from. Here are some of the best options:
This variety of rhubarb is one of the red options. It contains a lot of juice, which makes it particularly tasty when served with sugar.
If you want red rhubarb to enjoy as a side dish or a dessert, then you might enjoy this classic variety.
As the name suggests, this is another red variety of rhubarb. It’s particularly good for freezing and baking with.
Canada Red is another red option for rhubarb. It boasts a sweet flavor and packs a lot of juice as well.
The Colorado Red variety looks like red celery when it grows. That gives you an idea of the size stalks it can produce.
If you’re looking for a pretty red rhubarb variety to use to make scrumptious jams, then this variety is great for that as well.
Victoria is one of the oldest varieties of rhubarb. The stalks aren’t small, but they aren’t large either. It is a nice mid-size producer.
But the stalks are more of a deep red versus traditional bright red coloring. The red stands out closer to the base of the plant. When you look towards the leaves, you begin to see the stalk turn green.
Not everyone who grows rhubarb wants a red variety. Some people prefer the green variety of rhubarb. If this is you, then you’ll like the riverside giant variety.
Not only are the stalks green, but this variety is also great in cold weather. It’s durable and cold-hardy.
Would you like to grow a green variety of rhubarb that doesn’t have a robust flavor to it? If so, then this could be your variety.
This variety’s flavor is tamer than some. It’s recognizable because it produces a solid green stalk, though there is a hint of red at the base of the plant.
This variety of rhubarb is fun. It doesn’t just produce a plain colored stalk – the stalks are polka-dotted. It’s also known for being the sweetest variety of rhubarb out there.
This is another fun variety of rhubarb to grow. It doesn’t produce a basic colored stalk, either. Instead, it produces green and red striped stalks.
This variety produces a pleasant scent and is known for being tender. Its flavor isn’t overpowering.
The Sunrise variety of rhubarb is another variety that is outside of the box from what you might think of when you think rhubarb. It produces pink stalks.
However, don’t let the lighter color fool you. It is still a great variety to use for canning, freezing, and making jelly too.
This variety is one that produces early, as the name suggests. If the weather is cooperative, it can produce in early spring which is months earlier than most other varieties. You can often even get a small harvest from this variety in the first year.
This variety is known for being more disease resistant.
Our final variety is the Glaskins perpetual. This is another bright, red variety that produces flavorful stalks. This variety is meant to be harvested late in the season.
Rhubarb has oxalic acid in it. This is what gives raw rhubarb such a bold flavor. In most varieties, the later the season the higher the amount of oxalic acid. In this variety, the oxalic acid is low which makes the rhubarb palatable longer.
If you want to grow Rhubarb it is started off from crowns.
These are sold online and the crown you receive should be firm.
When you look at the crown you will see the growth tips and these need to pointed upwards when planting.
You can grow Rhubarb in containers, however the root system is large so you will need a large container.
Rhubarb grows best in temperate climates, in cold zones it will need to be protected over winter.
It is best not to harvest the stems for eating in the first year as this will slow the growth of the plant.
The best time to plant new rhubarb crowns in just after the end of summer. This gives it a chance to establish a good root system before winter.
Rhubarb plant in growth
Rhubarb is a hardy plant and growing it is not difficult, once established rhubarb crowns, or plants will produce crops for many years. In summer it is important to provide adequate water, a lack of moisture can quickly cause the Rhubarb to wilt and collapse.
The seasons for picking rhubarb in Australia are spring and summer, this is generally when the stems are at their best and have not become to old. You can pick stems at other times depending a little on the climate.
Growing conditions to look for are a humus rich moist, but well drained soil in a sunny position. Established clumps of rhubarb plants will benefit from being divided every 3-4 years. Fertilize with a seaweed fertilizer or dynamic lifter.
Rhubarb is a hungry and thirsty plant, so follow this basic care regime for established clumps
Watch out for flower spikes, this is an indication that the clump is overcrowded, or it is stressed from lack of water.
Select the healthiest looking crowns from the clump, gently tease and pull apart retaining as much of the root system as possible and replant in a new position with some well rotted cow manure an compost dug into the soil.
Water in well with a seaweed fertilizer and keep the area weed free.
With so many varieties we have listed our top three :
Remember that Rhubarb leaves and roots are poisonous, only the stem are edible.
Those tall stalks that rise from the centre of the plant, white, green and red are rhubarb flowers, and if you see them, simply cut them off as low down as possible.
As with all plants, when they try to flower and set seed they take energy from the plant and put it into the flower.
This is not what you want with rhubarb, you want new stems so that you can pick and cook them.
And believe us, rhubarb flowers are not that pretty anyway. As for collecting the seeds and using them to grow more rhubarb, remember that you are growing a cutivar, and from the seed you will not get the same plant.
There are many types of rhubarb-varieties to choose from now that you are ready to plant your garden. Rather than buy, you may decide to start your plants from seed, and purchase rhubarb-seeds instead.
Rhubarb started from seed usually takes at least two years to produce enough rhuarb-plants for picking.
As long as you are aware of this, seeds can be purchased from a number of companies.
The seeds are soaked overnight in water first, and then transferred to small pots. Many people prefer to put them into peat pots. This makes it easier to replant later to outdoors as the weather gets warmer in the early spring.
Rhubarb requires sunny conditions, but at this young stage of their lives, the seedlings can be harmed by the direct sunlight. They need to be shielded to some degree.
Your plants should be moderately watered. Not too much! Over-watering will result in rotting of the leaves and stalks.
Your plants should be approximately a foot high by the end of the season. They will certainly need another full growing season to produce enough to pick. So, leave them there until next year.
Well established rhubarb roots are the quickest way to begin your planting.
Beg, borrow or steal a chunk from a friend or neighbor if you can. Or, you may simply purchase your choice of the many rhubarb varieties of crown roots from a nursery if they have them.
Of the rhubarb-varieties, the two main groups are Hothouse and Field-grown.
Pink to pale red stalks with yellow and green leaves.
Bright red stalks and deep green leaves are what I am most familiar with. These stalks are extremely juicy and have that great combination of a much sweeter and tart taste at the same time.
Popular rhubarb-varieties among growers are:
These varieties are quite colorful and described by color as red, green or speckled with pink. We tend to prefer the red because we think it is sweeter for cooking purposes. This is not always the case. Green stalks are just as good.
A variety I have bought and get get good results. Stalks are short and slender and very red. They are in fact sweet. They just don't produce as many seed stalks.
Have long stalks that are thick and they too are red. They produce quite heartily and are sweet and tender as well.
Have very tall stalks and are brilliant red in color.
The MacDonalds' Rhubarb
Variety is bright red also, very tender, and an excellent producer of stalks.
The Valentine Rhubarb
Dark red in color both raw and cooked. It does not have as much acid and does not produce many seed stocks.
This brand is the speckled kind. The stalks are green, but speckled with pink at the base of the plant.
If you want your rhubarb stalks to be red throughout, look for the "Crimson" variety. They can also be known as Crimson Red Rhubarb, Crimson Wine Rhubarb, or Crimson Cherry Rhubarb.
Generally speaking, these rhubarb-varieties are considered all good eating plants.
If the weather seems to be still a bit frosty outside in the early spring, not to worry. Go ahead and begin to plant. The rhubarb will survive.
The crown should be a few inches below the soil level and have at least one good bud on it. Be sure it is free of rot. Plant 3 feet apart or even more if you have the space. The rows should be well spaced too.
Your plants should also be off to one side of your garden. The foliage can become quite huge and you don't want them interfering with your other flowers or vegetables.
Give your rhubarb enough room to flourish.
And flourish they will. There is no reason not to.
With any one of the rhubarb-varieties you have chosen, they are sure to provide you with years of good produce.
It just takes some time and patience to allow the plants to develop a solid and strong root system and get to the good producing stage. Don't be tempted to pick too early.
Rhubarb is a brilliant plant to have in your vegetable as it keeps popping up every year with a minimum of effort on your part. You can have a look at our ‘growing rhubarb’ article by clicking the link but right now I’m going to tell you a bit about our favourite varieties. We’ve picked 3 of the best to give you a long season from the very early ‘Timperely Early’ to the large ‘Victoria’ though to the late season ‘Glaskins Perpetual’.
You can buy all three varieties in our special mix pack for only £6.45, you can buy our mixed rhubarb pack here.
We are offering these rhubarb crowns for sale on the website now for delivery at the end of October to early November. Now is the perfect time to get your rhubarb in to enjoy the taste of your own fresh rhubarb for years to come.
Without further ado here’s our 3 star performers:
As eagle eyed readers will already have spotted ‘Timperely Early’ is an early variety, you will get a juicy crop from as early as February in some areas depending on the Springtime temperatures. Timperely early is an easy variety to get established and has good disease resistance (not that rhubarb suffers from much). Unusually for rhubarb plants you can harvest small amounts in the first year but I still tend to play safe and leave it alone. This is a very reliable variety which will produce a heavy crop for ten years or more.
Victoria is a tried and tested variety introduced as far back as 1837 and has been one of the most popular choices ever since. Victoria is quite late to produce stalks in the springtime and will produce an impressive crop from May until August. The length of the stalks are large at 36 – 48 inches and are a lovely lavender pink colour. Victoria looks amazing in the garden with it’s large leaves and long pink stalks. A suitable variety for indoor forcing where you will get a crop of early rhubarb from February till March.
We have chosen Glaskins Perpetual as it will produce rhubarb late in the season when other varieties are not good to eat. The stems are striped pink and soft green colour and are sweeter than most other varieties. I personally think this is the best all round rhubarb which though it doesn’t have the big bright pink stems of other varieties it more than makes up for it in flavour and long picking time.
The reason one needs to be careful eating rhubarb at the end of the season is the oxalic acid levels in the plants can become quite high. Oxalic acid is what gives late beetroot an unpleasant sour aftertaste and Glaskins Perpetual is particularly low in this regard. You will be familiar with the taste if you grow leaf beets like Swiss chard or perpetual spinach as the same oxalic acid is found in their leaves.