Gardening is a such an education, isn't it? I've been fascinated by bulbous growths erupting from the middle of the rhubarb plants here. It looks like the plant is giving birth as the outer leaves stretch back to reveal the crown of the seed head. Seeing this for the first time, it's been utterly mesmerising. I wish I'd taken one photo a day for the past week. I find the seed heads to be weirdly beautiful, but let's not linger on that thought because this is the rhubarb flowering before setting seed. I found that out only yesterday which left me with two questions: one, Is my rhubarb about to die? two, What causes this to happen?
The answers happily are that no death is imminent but the plant is putting energy into producing seed rather than tasty stems. This happens when the plant is stressed and deciding to cut its losses by reproducing itself via seeds. The plant can be stressed by lack of nutrients, lack of water or damage from pests. (That will be number two for me, I think.) Flowering is also more usually seen in mature plants especially where the crown has become congested.
I have three rhubarb(s) - one Glaskins' Perpetual grown from seed three years ago and two Red Champagne planted as bare roots last year. (I didn't realise how big they grew and how productive they are. #education.) The Glaskins is planted in a sunny spot, while the Champagnes sit in partial shade. None of them get nearly enough water, particularly in the dry and warm weather we've had recently (don't get me started on the lack of a nearby tap!).
- Cure: cut off the flowering stalk as close to the plant as you can, right at the bottom of the stalk. Use a sharp, clean knife to minimise any damage to the plant that might attract slugs or other pests. You can then eat the remaining stems as normal. Yum yum, rhubarb and custard cake o'clock. (See my Pinterest Eat: Spring kitchen board for links to recipes.)
- Prevention: Enrich the soil around the plant with a few chicken manure pellets, water well and mulch with a good thick layer of compost or well rotted organic matter to prevent the soil from drying out. And by 'thick', I mean a couple of inches of mulch but don't bury the crown as it may rot. Then try and keep the plants well watered from then on.
Right. Time for me to go and find a sharp kitchen knife and a large vase. Apparently the stalks last well as a cut flower - bonus!
PS. I wish I didn't have to cut the flower stalk because, looking at my top photo, they really are extraordinary stems that probably deserve a place in an edible ornamental garden!