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Grow a Pie With This Garden Plant

If you’re looking for an edible perennial to add to your vegetable garden, consider pie plant

Glaskins Perpetual rhubarb is a tart cooking rhubarb that's perfect for mixing with sweet strawberries for pies and other desserts. Photo: Territorial Seed Company

If you planted pie plant, what kind of pie would you bake?

If you guessed rhubarb, you’re right. Rhubarb is one of those old-fashioned plants that’s never gone out of style. Commercial growers marketed rhubarb as “pie plant” for many years.

Rhubarb is a cool-season vegetable that’s used more as a fruit for pies, jams, jellies, and sauces. People started growing rhubarb about 200 years ago as a medicinal herb. A member of the buckwheat family, rhubarb is grown for its stems only. The leaves and roots contain a toxic chemical called oxalic acid that can cause health problems when eaten in large servings. So plant where you can keep children and pets from snacking on the leaves.

Plant rhubarb in spring

Spring is the ideal time to plant rhubarb, usually as transplants called crowns, but it can be grown from seed too. Look for the healthiest crowns that have at least one large bud that’s called an “eye.”

Make sure you place plants where they’ll be able to grow over time. Because of its perennial nature, rhubarb needs a reliable spot in the garden. Allow several feet between plants because they’ll grow and return each season.

Fill garden beds or raised beds with a rich, well-draining soil. Dig in compost as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. Rhubarb is a plant that likes a lot of nitrogen, so you may need to add composted manure or another high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Plant the rhubarb crowns so the eyes are about 2 inches below the soil surface; space plants 24 to 48 inches apart and about 36 to 48 inches between rows.

Avoid tamping down the soil around the crowns. Leaving the soil looser around the crown makes it easier for the first leaves to sprout and start growing. Be sure to water in the crowns, but avoid soggy soil.

One reason for the popularity of pie plant is that it’s a hardy plant. Once established in the garden, it will almost grow on its own. Applications of a high-nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season will give it a boost for a more productive harvest. Plants tend to slow when weather is hot and restart when it cools down.

If the weather turns too hot, plants may bolt and produce seed stalks. Remove these stalks and discard.

Give rhubarb time

Some experts recommend waiting a season before harvesting any stalks to help form a strong root system. But if you can’t wait for the first rhubarb pie, harvest a few stalks from each plant, removing at their base.

Wait for stalks to turn red as the signal to harvest. Use rhubarb while it’s fresh, in recipes with sugar or other sweet fruit, like strawberries.

Remember: Only the rhubarb stalks are edible. Do not eat the leaves; remove and discard rhubarb leaves.

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