Forcing rhubarb

Forcing rhubarb results in luscious, pink, juicy stems and is easy to do

by Northern Life

For the first time vegetable grower, growing rhubarb is a fantastic place to start. It requires little attention, is very hardy and is practically frost resistant – in fact, to get the best stalks, rhubarb likes a period of frost. The technique we are going to employ here is called forcing, a term used to describe the process of hastening a plants growth to maturity or bloom. Growing rhubarb is simple to do and there is great pleasure to be had from snapping off a stalk or two for a spontaneous crumble.

Fiona Roberts of Gordon Rigg Garden Centres shared with us her top tips for forcing rhubarb. Forcing rhubarb results in luscious, pink, juicy stems, which will grow at least twice as big as if grown ‘naturally’. It is worth bearing in mind, that forcing rhubarb actually weakens the plant so it’s not recommend to force the same plant two years in a row.

First, planting rhubarb

Preparation is key

To get the best results you should choose a partially shaded spot to start growing rhubarb. Dig over your soil for about four weeks before you start planting removing any stones you find and add as much organic matter as you can.

Fiona recommends buying one-year-old plants, known as ‘crowns’, as these are more likely to be strong and disease free.

Planting is best done around late autumn to early winter. Using a trowel dig a hole slightly wider than the plant and deep enough that the top of the plant is slightly above the surface of the soil, don’t bury the crown. The spacing of your plants should be around 75cm to 120cm depending on the variety of rhubarb. Firm the soil around the plant and water well.

How to force rhubarb

You will need

  • Large dustbin or rhubarb forcer.
  • Straw or bubble wrap
  • Manure
  1. Clear around the base of the rhubarb crown, removing any old leaves and weeds.
  2. Add a mulch of well-rotted manure or homemade garden compost to boost nutrient levels and stimulate growth.
  3. Use a large pot, dustbin or rhubarb forcer to cover the crown.  Then plug any holes to block out the light.
  4. If you are in a particularly cold region insulate the outside of the pot with bubble wrap or a thick layer of straw.
  5. The forced stems should be ready to harvest in eight weeks.  Gently pull the stems from the base of the crown.

Before tucking in, ensure you remove any leaves as they are poisonous. If you get a particularly bad frost you may find that some of the stems have gone soft, discard of these.

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Top tips

  • Only force the stems of established rhubarb plants only as young plants may not have sufficient energy reserves to produce early stems. and subsequent growth may be compromised.
  • Add some calcified seaweed or dolomite lime to the soil, rhubarb likes alkaline conditions.
  • Avoid forcing a single crown of rhubarb for two years in a row

A little about Gordon Rigg Garden Centres…

Gordon Rigg Garden Centre, Todmorden, is one of the largest Garden Centres in the North West, enjoying over 60,000sq. ft. of retail space and was voted best Garden Centre in the North, 2nd best in the UK by Which? Magazine!

You’ll be amazed at the variety and choice of products at both Gordon Rigg Garden Centres, from a huge range of indoor and outdoor plants, garden furniture and wild bird care to garden tools, pet care, floristry, gifts, plus much, much more!

Gordon Rigg Garden Centre Todmorden & Bottoms Mill Shop & Cafe Rochdale Road (A6033), Walsden, Todmorden, OL14 7T. To book now, call 01706 813374.
Rochdale Garden Centres & Gordon’s Bistro Moss Bridge Road, Kingsway (A664), Rochdale, OL16 4UX. To book now, call 01706 356089.

View their huge range of products online at