How to force rhubarb and the best early varieties

Rhubarb crops growing with forcers

Forced rhubarb provides you with early, sweet-tasting crops
Image: Shutterstock

Forced rhubarb is an early spring treat at a time when there’s little in the garden that’s ready to pick. It’s also an easy and enjoyable process which, when done correctly, won’t cause your rhubarb any lasting harm. Here’s how to force rhubarb, with a quick look at some of the best early varieties to try.

In the meantime, browse our entire range of rhubarb crowns for traditional favourites and flavoursome new varieties.

What is forced rhubarb?

Early forced rhubarb in bowl

Holding an RHS Award of Garden Merit, Rhubarb ‘Timperley Early’ from T&M is a good forcing variety
Copyright: Garden Photo Library

Rhubarb crowns begin to bud during the late winter and sprout and grow in spring. Under normal conditions they will be ready for harvest from spring to mid-summer, depending on the varieties you choose. ‘Forcing’ is the process of plunging the plant into darkness while at the same time keeping it warm. Being warmer, it begins to sprout earlier, and being in the dark, the stems will grow quickly in search of light.

Why is forced rhubarb so highly prized?

Freshly cut rhubarb next to leaves

Rhubarb ‘Champagne’ is particularly reliable and easy to grow
Image: Rhubarb ‘Champagne’ from T&M

Forced rhubarb is ready to pick during the early spring when there’s not much else about. Its pale pink stems have a lovely delicate texture and taste delicious. Sweeter than regular rhubarb, they require less sugar to counter their astringency. If it’s a spring treat you’re after, forced rhubarb makes a superb crumble, salsa, or compote.

How do I force my rhubarb plant?

Rhubarb growing in pot with big leaves

Rhubarb ‘Terrifically Tasty’ is the earliest rhubarb we’ve ever found
Image: Rhubarb ‘Terrifically Tasty’ from T&M

To force rhubarb successfully, you need:

  • A strong plant
  • A large bucket, dustbin, or terracotta forcer
  • Some straw, carpet or bubble wrap for insulation

Before placing your container over the rhubarb crown, first give the area surrounding it a thorough weed and apply a layer of compost mulch to provide the plant with all the nutrients it needs to produce strong stems.

Place your container over the crown, making sure there are no holes, gaps or chinks through which light can penetrate. You can place straw around the plant itself or bank it up around the outside of the container. Alternatively, cover the cloche or dustbin with old carpet or bubble wrap to help create a warm microclimate for your forced rhubarb to grow in.

If you have a greenhouse or shed, you may wish to consider lifting your rhubarb crown, potting it in a container of sufficient size and moving it inside for even earlier forcing. If you do this, make sure you do so when your rhubarb is dormant to reduce stress on the plant. Forced rhubarb is usually ready in about 6 – 8 weeks at which point the stems will be around a foot long.

Tips for forcing rhubarb

Forcing rhubarb takes a lot out of the plant so make sure you only force strong, established plants and do give them ample time to recover before picking from them again. Grow at least two rhubarb crowns so that you can force a different plant each year, leaving the other to fully regain its strength before repeating the process.

Which varieties of rhubarb are best for forcing?

Harvested rhubarb stems on ground

Rhubarb ‘Victoria’ quickly matures to produce a heavy crop, year after year
Image: Rhubarb ‘Victoria’ from T&M

You can force any rhubarb but some varieties are better than others. Ideally, you want a plant bred specifically for early cropping. Examples of early-cropping rhubarb include:

Forcing rhubarb is a great way to bring on an early crop of delicious stems ready for eating when there’s little else available in the garden. For more information, head over to our helpful rhubarb hub page for more information and advice.

Published at Fri, 18 Nov 2022 05:44:56 -0500

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