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Can You Grow Rhubarb in a Container?

Rhubarb in a bucket

Rhubarb in a bucket

Yes… but…

There are some limits.

Several years ago, when Jim’s mom’s house was being readied for sale, Jim dug up a good-sized rhubarb plant to transplant to our garden. We knew we wanted to plant it alongside the barn, but we also knew that repair or replacement for the barn was going to be scheduled in the not-too-distant future. There was no point in planting the rhubarb in some “temporary” bed and then transplanting it in the future; rhubarb is hearty, that is, stubborn. Once rhubarb is planted in a particular spot, it’s hard to discourage rhubarb from appearing in the spot again and again. We feared, however, that if we planted the rhubarb plant where we wanted it, the plants would be trampled to death, heartiness aside, in the renovations.

So we put the rhubarb in a container liner for a whiskey barrel planter. The rhubarb lived just fine. Thin stalks with small leaves grew up every spring. We made a point of keeping the container rhubarb watered. In the winter, we put the whole rhubarb container into the barn for the winter to prolong the life of the container liner. The plant grew somewhat but the rhubarb did not thrive. We certainly didn’t get enough stalks to harvest any.

After the new barn was finished, we divided and planted the rhubarb in four spots along the south side of the barn, where the plants get lots of room and lots of sun. We didn’t harvest any stalks the first year, mostly because we didn’t get around to it.

This year, however, our rhubarb harvest has been impressive. We’ve gotten enough stalks to make a variety of desserts (recipes to follow) and to freeze some prepared rhubarb for desserts to come. Our rhubarb is very happy in its comfy new bed.

Can you plant rhubarb in containers? Well, yes. Rhubarb can live and grow in containers, even for several years, but rhubarb will not thrive in a container. If you want to grow rhubarb to harvest and eat, you’ll need to grow “container rhubarb” temporarily until you find a perfect home in the garden for your rhubarb. Then watch out—rhubarb is a hearty thriver who will need aggressive attention over the years – harvesting, dividing and perhaps even thinning– to stay corralled in the bed you’ve given your rhubarb.

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