Mastering the Art of Forcing Rhubarb: A Step-by-Step Guide

Mastering the Art of Forcing Rhubarb: A Step-by-Step Guide

Forcing rhubarb is a technique used by gardeners to speed up the growth of rhubarb plants and obtain an early crop. Although rhubarb is a hardy perennial that grows well outside, forcing it can produce tender, pink stalks much earlier in the year.

One of the popular methods of forcing rhubarb involves covering the crowns with large, dark buckets or barrels to exclude light and create a warm, dark environment. This technique is commonly practiced in the Leeds area of England and has been passed down through generations of gardeners.

When it comes to choosing the right plants for forcing, it’s important to select strong, well-established crowns. Older, more mature plants tend to yield a better crop. Forcing rhubarb can be done either indoors or outdoors, but it is typically easier to control the temperature and light conditions indoors.

To begin the forcing process, start by preparing the rhubarb plants in autumn. Cut back the foliage and cover the crowns with a layer of straw or leaves to protect them from winter frost. Wait until the plants are dormant before moving them into a warm, dark area.

Forcing rhubarb requires patience, as it can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks for the stalks to fully develop. During this time, it’s important to regularly check on the plants and remove any weak or rotting stalks. It’s also crucial to provide the plants with adequate moisture and ventilation to prevent diseases.

When the forced rhubarb is ready to be harvested, gently pull the stalks from the crowns, making sure to twist and pull at the base to avoid damaging the plant. The forced rhubarb stalks will be long, tender, and a beautiful pink color. They can be used in a variety of dishes, from desserts to savory dishes.

Forcing rhubarb is a fascinating process that allows gardeners to enjoy this delicious crop earlier than usual. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a beginner, forcing rhubarb is a rewarding technique that can provide a bounty of tasty stalks.

Forcing Rhubarb In Winter

Growing rhubarb in winter requires specific conditions and techniques to force the plant to produce early tender stalks. Rhubarb crowns, like many other plants, need a period of dormancy and cold temperatures to thrive. By forcing rhubarb, you can start the growing season earlier and enjoy a crop of delicious rhubarb before anyone else.

So, what makes forcing rhubarb easier? Well, the process involves adding something warm against the dormant rhubarb crowns to stimulate growth. Many gardeners place a layer of compost or well-rotted manure around the crown of the plant. This helps to insulate and warm the area, providing the necessary conditions for growth.

When forcing rhubarb, you need to create an environment that mimics the outdoors. The crowns require darkness for several weeks to initiate growth. To achieve this, you can cover the entire plant with a large pot or place a rhubarb forcer over it. These forcers are specially designed to block out light and trap heat, providing the perfect conditions for forcing rhubarb.

Once you have covered the crowns, you need to add something to create heat. This can be achieved by placing the rhubarb forcer in a garage or heated greenhouse, or you can place some compost or straw around the edge of the forcer. The trapped heat will help the rhubarb grow in the dark, resulting in tender, early stalks.

Forcing rhubarb can yield a crop in as little as 8-10 weeks. The forced rhubarb can then be harvested by gently pulling the stalks from the crown. It’s important to only harvest what you need and leave some stalks for the plant to continue growing. Forcing rhubarb is a great way to get an early start with this deliciously tart vegetable and enjoy its unique silver cultivation.

If you’re new to growing rhubarb or need more information on forcing and cultivation, there are plenty of resources available online. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, forcing rhubarb can be a rewarding experience and allow you to enjoy this versatile crop even earlier in the year.

If you want to know more about forcing rhubarb or have any other gardening questions, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for expert advice, tips, and answers to your gardening queries. Happy forcing!

How is Rhubarb Forced Indoors

Forcing rhubarb is a technique used to produce early tender stalks by tricking the plant into thinking it’s spring. Traditionally, rhubarb is forced outdoors by covering the crowns with an upturned bucket or a rhubarb forcer. However, rhubarb can also be forced indoors using a layer of straw or compost.

To force rhubarb indoors, start by selecting a suitable container, such as a large pot or a wooden box. Place the rhubarb crown in the container, making sure it is positioned at an angle. This will encourage the stalks to grow towards the light. It’s important to choose a dark and cool place, such as a cellar or a garage, to simulate winter conditions.

Next, cover the rhubarb crown with horticultural fleece or another covering to block out the light. This will help the plant grow taller and force the stalks to become more tender. Keep the cover in place for about 3 weeks, until the stalks start to grow. Make sure to check on the plant regularly to monitor its progress.

While forcing rhubarb, it’s important to know that the first crop may be smaller than normal. The yield will gradually increase in subsequent years as the plant gets stronger. Forced rhubarb typically has long, thin stalks with a bright pink or silver color. It is known for its sweeter taste compared to rhubarb grown outdoors.

If you’re unsure about how to force rhubarb or have any other questions about its cultivation, you can find more information from gardening books, online resources, or by subscribing to gardening magazines. The correct method may vary depending on where you live and the specific conditions of your area, so be sure to do your research before attempting to force rhubarb.

In conclusion, forcing rhubarb indoors is a great way to enjoy an early crop of tender stalks. By providing the correct conditions and cover, you can successfully grow and harvest rhubarb throughout winter, while the outdoor plants are still dormant. So if you’re looking to add something different to your winter garden, give rhubarb forcing a try!

How is Rhubarb Forced Outdoors

Forcing rhubarb outdoors is a traditional method of yielding an early crop of rhubarb. It involves a process of preparing the plants in order to stimulate early growth.

To force rhubarb outdoors, first you need to take established rhubarb crowns. These crowns should be at least three years old, as younger plants may not have enough energy to produce a good yield. If you are starting from scratch, you can plant rhubarb crowns in the fall.

In late winter or early spring, when your rhubarb is still dormant, you can start the forcing process. The first step is to uncover the rhubarb crowns, and remove any yellow or decaying leaves. You will also need to prune any thick or woody roots to allow for new growth.

Next, you will need to prepare a layer of horticultural fleece or a thick layer of compost around the crowns. This will help to insulate the crowns and promote faster growth. Some people also use straw or wood chips as a mulch to retain moisture and insulate the plants.

After preparing the rhubarb crowns, you can cover the entire area with a large plastic sheet or a cloche. This covering will help to create a warmer microclimate, which will encourage the rhubarb to grow faster. It will also protect the plants from frost and keep them from rotting.

During the forcing process, you need to keep an eye on the rhubarb plants. If they start to grow too vigorously, you may need to prop up the covering to allow excess heat to escape. This will prevent the plants from becoming weak and leggy.

Once the rhubarb stalks have reached a good size, you can start harvesting them. To harvest, simply pull the stalks from the base and avoid cutting them with a knife. This will help to avoid damage to the crown and encourage regrowth.

Forced rhubarb is known for its tender, pale pink stalks. This method of cultivation forces the rhubarb to grow in the absence of light, which results in the unique color and delicate flavor. Forced rhubarb is often sweeter and less tart than outdoor grown rhubarb.

Now that you know how to force rhubarb outdoors, you can enjoy an early crop of this delicious and versatile plant. Whether you use it in pies, tarts, or cookies, the tender stalks of forced rhubarb are a true delight.

How to Force Rhubarb

Forcing rhubarb is a technique used to produce early, tender stalks that are perfect for pies, jams, and other delicious treats. In this guide, we will take you through the steps to force rhubarb successfully.

Step 1: Prepare the Rhubarb

  • Choose a rhubarb plant that is at least two years old.
  • In late winter or early spring, cut away the old leaves and stems.
  • Take the rhubarb crown, which is the thick root part, and place it in a dark and cool place for a few weeks. This can be in a garage, cellar, or a similar location.

Step 2: Begin Forcing

  • After the rhubarb has been in darkness for several weeks, it’s time to start forcing it.
  • Choose a large container, such as a bucket or a barrel, with drainage holes at the bottom.
  • Add some well-rotted compost mixed with horticultural sand or soil, creating a good growing medium for the rhubarb.
  • Place the rhubarb crown on top of the compost and add more compost around it, leaving the top bud exposed.
  • Water the rhubarb thoroughly.
  • Cover the container with a large, opaque container that will exclude light. This can be a black plastic bin or a specially designed rhubarb forcer.

Step 3: Provide the Right Conditions

  • Place the container in a warm, dark place where the temperature remains around 60-70°F (15-21°C).
  • Check the moisture level regularly and water if necessary.
  • Wait patiently for the rhubarb to grow. It can take about 6-8 weeks before the stalks are ready to be harvested.

Step 4: Harvesting Rhubarb

  • Once the stalks are about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) long and look to be strong and healthy, it’s time to harvest.
  • Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the stalks off at the base.
  • Avoid harvesting all the stalks at once. Leave at least half of them to continue growing.
  • Harvesting should be done in the morning when the stalks are at their juiciest.

By forcing rhubarb, you can enjoy this delightful crop earlier in the season. Remember to subscribe to our RSS feed for more helpful gardening tips and tricks!


To start harvesting forced rhubarb, you need to wait until the crowns, which are the thick roots that rhubarb grows from, are dormant. Dormant crowns are usually easy to identify as they will have white or pale pink color above the ground.

Once you’ve identified the dormant crowns, it’s time to prepare for forcing. First, you’ll need to remove any mulch or compost that is covering the crowns. This will allow the crowns to be exposed to the cold winter temperatures, which they need in order to produce a good yield.

Colin, a gardener from Leeds, suggests that being correct at this step is very important for forcing. “You need to make sure that there is something above the crowns to help trap the cold and keep them in darkness,” Colin explains. “I usually add a layer of thick leaves or a stack of buckets on top of the crowns to create this effect.”

Once the crowns are covered, it’s time to add a layer of strong plastic on top to keep the crowns uniformly warm during the winter. This plastic layer will also help to avoid any damage from frost. Just make sure that the plastic is securely fastened down, so it doesn’t blow away in strong winds.

The forced rhubarb should be ready to harvest about 8 to 12 weeks after the crowns have been covered. To harvest, simply remove the plastic cover and gently pull the stalks from the crowns. It’s important not to cut the stalks, as this can lead to rotting.

If you want to force rhubarb again in future years, be sure to let the plants recover and grow outdoors during the summer. Rhubarb needs plenty of sunlight and nutrients to replenish its energy reserves.

That’s all you need to know about harvesting forced rhubarb. Now you can enjoy your delicious rhubarb stalks and start making rhubarb pies or cookies!

✿ Read More: Gardening Tips and Advice.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.