17 Apr 2015

Cut It Out! Cure and prevention for flowering rhubarb


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!).

So, solutions?

  • 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! 


22 comments:

  1. They do look pretty in their own right. And they're like pink cauliflower too!

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    1. They're very exotic - and big! I might even be tempted to grow rhubarb just for the flowers!

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  2. An interesting, and informative, post. I have seen flowering rhubarb on untended allotment plots. Flighty xx

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    1. Lucky you! I think they're rather spectacular but only if you don't want heaps of rhubarb.

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  3. Gosh, it is gorgeous isn't it? Glad to hear it shall go into a vase. This is a first for me too, I've never seen rhubabrb flower.....but what a flower!xxx

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    1. I have to confess that I found it too gorgeous to cut, so only removed one flower from another plant, and now this has got even taller and lost that gorgeous deep pink but still a show stopper!

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  4. They are lovely. My rhubarb was given to me by a relative in Ireland and bits of it have followed me through 3 homes now. In the second home, its flower stems were massive. I don't know if the floriferous rhubarb is still in that garden, but the bit I bought to Norfolk with me lives on. This one hasn't flowered at all, which is strange, because I would have thought that it is in a much more stressful situation than the last one. It certainly doesn't look half so happy as its predecessor.

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    1. There are many reasons why plants get stressed but, frankly, there's no room for namby pamby plants in my garden. I left one plant to flower (interested to see what it ultimately looks like!) as I want to see if it does stop producing stems. There may be a follow up post!

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  5. A really interesting post, I've learned something here today. One of mine flowered last year, so if it does again I'll know what to do. Mine is very weedy for some reason. I'm giving it one last season, then maybe I'll take some out and replace them. At the allotment site today I saw a chap with a rhubarb patch about ten feet long, and four feet wide and three or four feet high, it was sensational. I had three very weak little sticks! In fact I saw quite a few excellent patches of rhubarb. Just not mine. I hope you have a lovely weekend Caro. CJ xx

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    1. Gosh what on earth would he do with all that rhubarb! I wonder if he's growing it for sale? I saw at Wisley that rhubarb can take many different shapes so maybe yours is just a wimpy cultivar! Three sticks isn't going to make a very big crumble though! One of my Champagne rhubarbs is also very skinny and hardly producing and yet is the same as the one with the flower - very odd!

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  6. It has such a beautiful flower, so glad you used it in a vase. I've never had a flower form but will be vigilant in the future!

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    1. They're very exotic Pauline and like no flower that I've seen before - what a shame we can't guarantee the plant flowering - would be worth growing for the flowers alone!

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  7. My Rhubarb flowered once a couple of years ago. I sowed some of the seeds, but none of them germinated.

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    1. Oh what a shame - I wonder if the seeds have to be pollinated to make them fertile? I wonder if it's possible to force a rhubarb to flower!

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  8. It's a bit of a dilemma Caro as the flowers are so attractive when it happens. My flowering rhubarb (at least five years ago and the plant still lives) was very much white so I'm wondering which variety produced those fabulous pink flowers. I've got some 'Glaskin Perpetual' seeds to sow this weekend. I hope that crumble is on the menu for you soon :)

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    1. Aha! Good to know your plant survived the flowering, Anna - thanks! The plant that flowered is called 'Red Champagne' - it's one of my £2 plants from Morrisons, so I have to take their word for it. Hope your Glaskins' seeds germinate - my plant is now almost four years since germination and is getting a bit monstrous frankly. It will definitely be divided next winter! Rhubarb compote has indeed been eaten this evening :) x

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  9. Ah the mystery of why rhubarb flowers is solved interesting post Caro

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  10. I glad you captured the beautiful flower and have also enjoyed in the house. We had a rhubarb flowering a few years ago. We did cut the flower off (I don't remember it being as beautiful as yours), but I didn't realise that it had been caused by stress! Thanks for the useful information. Sarah x

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    1. Glad you found this useful, Sarah. This flower is from Red Champagne which, bizarrely has red skin over green stems. Glaskins' Perpetual had the cream coloured flower (not so pretty) and that plant has green stems with pink insides. Totally bizarre.

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  11. I remember all the rhubarb on my old allotment flowering all at once, much to the horror of the old-timers. The flowers are extraordinary aren't they. I am finally allowed to pick my 'Timperley Early' so we are enjoying daily rhubarb at the moment, I love it, but you are right, I really must nurture the plants so that they continue to give me such tasty goodness for years to come, without the flowers.

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    1. This flowering has been a real lesson for me to get on with mulching and watering all my plants - not just rhubarb! I'm usually equally neglectful of my raspberries so they're getting a good feed and some mulch as well. Timperley Early sounds nice … I must do some taste testing sometime.

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