Rhubarb grows in warm climates – Tips for planting rhubarb in the South

Did you know that some people are cat people and some are dog people? The same seems to be true for cake and pie lovers and I fall into the category of cake lovers, with one exception: strawberry rhubarb cake. If some of you cake lovers from the South want to taste this culinary delight, you may be wondering if it is possible to grow rhubarb in warm regions. Here in the north we grow rhubarb as a perennial, but what about rhubarb in the south?

Rhubarb grows in warm climates

Coming from one of the northern states, I thought that growing rhubarb in hot climates, like most of the southern parts of the country, was not possible. Good news! I am wrong!

Before we delve into the possibility of growing rhubarb in warm regions, read on to learn some fascinating facts about this vegetable; yes, it is a vegetable. It is also a cousin of buckwheat and garden sorrel and is native to China, where it dates back to 2700 BC. Until the 1700s, rhubarb was used only for medicinal purposes, and in 1800 it was introduced to gardens in the northern United States. In these northern gardens, rhubarb is grown as a perennial plant that is harvested in late spring

during the summer.

Southern gardeners tended to fail when they tried to grow rhubarb. They usually buy plants with dormant roots to plant them as perennials. The combination of the scorching summer heat and fungal decay is usually the final blow. Okay, but I said that rhubarb that grows in hot climates is possible. How do I plant rhubarb in the south?

How to grow rhubarb in hot regions

The key to growing rhubarb in hot climates is to change your way of thinking; you will not grow rhubarb as a perennial plant.

In southern regions, rhubarb can be grown either from crowns (plants with dormant roots) or from seeds. If you use crowns, buy them as early as possible in the spring to break their dormancy, or in late summer. If you get them at the end of summer, you must keep them cold for six weeks. Plant crowns from late fall to early winter.

If you start your rhubarb from a seed, soak the seeds in hot water for a few hours, then plant them in 4 cm pots filled with potting soil, two seeds per pot. Cover the seeds with ¼ cm soil and keep them inside at room temperature, moist but not wet, until they emerge. At one week of age, start fertilizing the seedlings with diluted liquid plant food while watering them, and move them to a well-lit area.

Once the seedlings are 4 cm high or have three to five leaves, you can plant them in the garden. It is useful to incorporate several cm of compost into the soil and plant in raised beds for easy drainage. If the weather is still warm, create a makeshift shelter to protect them until they have acclimatized. Keep plants moist but not wet, as rhubarb is susceptible to fungal decay. Fertilize every month from September to April.

Although rhubarb is a cool climate plant, a severe frost will damage the leaves and petioles of the soil, so give the plant some protection if a cold snap is expected. By spring, the plant should be ready to be harvested. In some areas rhubarb will be greener than red due to warmer weather or genetic variability. It may not be as vibrant, but if you add strawberries (which in many warm regions ripen at the same time), you’ll still get a delicious red strawberry rhubarb tart that’s absolutely sublime.

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