Just as many Northerners have never tried black-eyed peas, many Southerners have never partaken of rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum). There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, the plant grows best where winters are long and colda condition met only in the Upper South (USDA 6) and high elevations of the Middle South (USDA 7). Second, most garden centers here don't carry rhubarb, so Southerners usually have to start with divisions ordered through the mail.
Rhubarb bears big, crinkled leaves borne on thick, typically reddish stalks. Leaves are toxic if eaten, but the stalks have a delicious, sweet-tart flavor and are used for sauces, pies, and preserves (strawberry-rhubarb pie is a real treat). Flowers are insignificant, held in spikelike clusters. Preferred selections include 'Canada Red', 'Cherry Red', 'Crimson Red', 'MacDonald', 'Strawberry', and 'Valentine', all producing red stalks; and 'Victoria', which produces green stalks.
Plant divisions (each containing at least one bud) in late winter or early spring. Loosen the soil to a depth of 1 ft. and work in lots of organic matter. Set the divisions 12 in. deep and 34 ft. apart. After the plants come up, sprinkle cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer around each plant and water it in. Keep plants well watered and mulch them to keep the soil cool.
Let plants grow for two full seasons before you begin har- vesting stalks. After that, harvest stalks for four to five weeks in spring; older, huskier plants can be harvested for up to eight weeks. To harvest stalks, grasp them near the base of the plant and pull sideways and then outward; do not cut stalks, as this leaves a stub that will decay. Never remove all the leaves from a single plant; stop harvesting when slender stalks appear. After the final harvest, feed and water freely. Cut out any blossom stalks that appear.
In the Lower South (USDA 8), treat rhubarb as an annual. Set out divisions in fall for winter-to-spring harvest. 'Victoria' is the recommended selection for this treatment.