It’s very early spring and you walk out to your rhubarb patch for the first time since last Fall and gasp: Your rhubarb has already bolted.
Usually when edible plants go to seed it’s the end of those plants, at least for that season. But when it happens to rhubarb there are three things you should know:
#1 Don’t panic. #2 Don’t throw in the towel on your rhubarb. #3 Everything’s going to be just fine.
In fact, discovering rhubarb seed pods and rhubarb flower stalks is perfectly normal.
What Causes Rhubarb To Bolt?
There are a few reasons why your rhubarb plants may be bolting: Seed pods and flower stalks usually don’t grow on younger rhubarb plants but they are common on more mature plants that are at least 3 years old. Our rhubarb plants have been tended by one home owner after the other for the past 100 years! And we get several flower stalks per rhubarb plant. Dividing the crowns of mature plants every few years resets the maturity clock so to speak and reduces flowering.
Another factor that influences the growth of flower stalks is the variety of rhubarb. Some are more likely to flower than others. Old-fashioned varieties such as Victoria and MacDonald continuously produce seed pods whereas other varieties like Canada Red and Valentine are less likely to bolt. These and other modern varieties are bred to flower less often.
Heat can also cause rhubarb to bolt. Rhubarb does best in cool weather and if you’re having a particularly warm Spring it can cause the rhubarb to bolt. Be sure to give your rhubarb plant adequate water.
Other stressors can also cause rhubarb to bolt, such as insect or animal damage to the leaves or a lack of nutrients.
Still, even when all proper care and precautions are taken, it’s very natural for rhubarb plants to bolt.
What Do I Do When My Rhubarb Has Bolted?
Rhubarb flowers are pretty and it’s almost a shame to cut them down. Do you have to? No, they won’t actually harm the plant. Nor will they affect the flavor of the rhubarb.
But they will greatly limit your harvest.
The simple reason is that it takes a plant a lot of energy to produce flowers and seeds and that is energy is being diverted from producing the actual edible stalks. A rhubarb plant that is allowed to go to seed won’t yield as large of a harvest as it otherwise would have.
Ideally you really want to avoid letting your rhubarb plant even get to the point where there are flower stalks.
Initially these long shoots start off as a seed pod at the base of the plant. As soon as you notice these seed pods remove them.
To remove them use a sharp knife at cut them as close to the base of the plant as possible.
If they’re not removed the seeds pods will grow into a long stalk and flower at the top, diverting even more energy away from the production of edible stalks. Remove these flower stalks by cutting them with a sharp, clean knife as close to the base of the plant as possible. Flower stalks are harder to remove than regular stalks are by twisting and pulling so you’ll most likely need to use a knife to cut them.
I’ve heard the flower stalks are edible but remove and discard the flowers and leaves.
Aren’t those pretty?
Rhubarb flowers last a long time. Try putting them in a vase for a more exotic flower arrangement.
With your seed pods and flower stalks removed your rhubarb plant can now focus its energy and producing a delicious and healthy yield of edible rhubarb stalks. Continue checking your plant frequently for new seeds pods and promptly remove them.
Ready to eat some rhubarb? Check out our yummy recipes!
Rhubarb Buttermilk Streusel Cake
Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
Oat and Buckwheat Waffles with Rhubarb Compote and Vanilla Cream
I transplanted a large rhubarb from the neighbour’s yard into mine last week (late May) and it wilted immediately but has since bounced back nicely and is now sprouting seed pods. I’m wondering if it would be best to leave it alone to help it continue to acclimate to its new spot but greedily want to remove the pods so I can have a bigger harvest. Do you think it would be ok to remove them?
Rita Blount says
you should wait a year or two after moving a rhubarb plant (give the roots time to establish) before harvesting…
Rhubarb likes lots and lots of compost so be really generous with it when planting.
Kay L Kole Leary says
My neighbor’s yard has a rhubarb plant that was huge when I moved here over 35 years ago. That doesn’t compare to some others mentioned in the comments, but still…
Anyway, the part of the yard that the rhubarb has been growing in for all that time is scheduled to be demolished for the construction of a “backyard house” (yay density).
Here it is almost June and the plant has mature stalks and leaves. Can we save it by moving it, or at least parts of it? Or is this just the wrong time of year and we have missed our chance to preserve this long-lived rhubarb (and I don’t mean in jars!)
Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet says
Hi Kay, at this point it certainly won’t hurt to try. Rhubarb is supposed to be transplanted in early spring or fall but I’ve had luck before transplanting it even after growth has begun, though not full maturity. Rhubarb is pretty resilient though so I would definitely give it a shot.
I have transplanted rhubarb in July. Put it into high organic soil, and lots of water, but not soggy soil.