When and how to harvest rhubarb, with a warning from Monty Don

There’s a right way to pick rhubarb, and a right time to do it.

Got a hankering for rhubarb crumble? Then you might be eager to harvest the bounty growing in your garden. But did you know that rhubarb should only be picked at certain times of year? It’s also important to know how to harvest rhubarb, as doing it incorrectly could leave your plant susceptible to disease.

Read on to discover the signs that your rhubarb is ready to be harvested, and learn the correct way to do it.

Freshly picked rhubarb at Clumber ParkCredit: National Trust Images/William Shaw
Freshly picked rhubarb at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, home to the National Collection of rhubarb.

When should you start picking rhubarb?

Picking season runs from April to July

Saga Exceptional spoke to Dene Wood, head gardener at the National Trust’s Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. The garden is home to the National Collection of rhubarb, with 131 cultivars, so if anyone knows the right time to pick rhubarb, it’s Wood.

“Unless forcing, you’d be looking to start pulling your rhubarb around the end of April,” says Wood. “Wait until you have a full-looking plant, with at least 6-10 leaves. Some people get excited when they see the first leaves, but harvesting too early will drain the plant.” You can pick forced rhubarb sooner, typically from the start of April – as we explain below.

The season usually lasts until July, but you shouldn’t pick beyond that month – as Monty Don explains in his tips below.

Gardener holding freshly picked rhubarbCredit: National Trust Images/William Shaw
You should only pick rhubarb at certain times of year, and when the plant is mature.

Harvesting forced rhubarb

For an early crop of sweeter, less bitter rhubarb, you can force a well-established crown to produce a harvest by covering it with a forcing pot. This should be done in late winter (early February is ideal), while the plant is still dormant. You should expect stems to be ripe and ready for picking 7-8 weeks later.

What does ripe rhubarb look like?

Be confident that it’s ready to pull

So, what colour should rhubarb be when you pick it? Tom Cole is head of horticulture and landscaping at Capel Manor College – London’s only specialist environmental college. He advises picking rhubarb when it’s a “good dark pink colour” and “between 1.5cm and 2.5cm in diameter”.

He also warns that you should “not pull any stems in the plant’s first year, as it will seriously weaken the plant”.

How to harvest rhubarb

Get it wrong, and you can harm the plant

“Pick leaves from the outside first,” Wood explains. “This is a bit of a skill – grasp the stem near the base, then pull and twist at the same time. Some people cut their rhubarb but it’s easy to leave material behind in the crown this way, which can rot and become mouldy.

“Be sure to discard the leaves, which contain oxalic acid and can cause an upset stomach. Then, get crumbling!”

Monty Don’s top tips for harvesting rhubarb

During a segment of Gardener’s World, first broadcast in March 2022, presenter Monty Don explained how to harvest rhubarb without damaging your plant. “You should feel [the rhubarb] come away with a little bit of the base attached to it, which can be cleaned off before you eat it.”

Don warns that: “if you cut it, there is a risk of die-back and a bit of disease getting in.” Whereas pulling the rhubarb from the base and allowing it to break off naturally will ensure that new green shoots form.

Don reveals that rhubarb can be “harvested regularly throughout spring and early summer” but that you should “stop once you get to July”.

“Let the plant grow, let the leaves get really big and all that goodness that they take through photosynthesis will feed back into the roots and ensure a good harvest the following year.”

A volunteer gardener picking rhubarb in the garden at Clumber ParkCredit: National Trust Images/Chris Lacey
You should always pull rhubarb when harvesting. Cutting it could harm your plant in the long term.

If you’re a big rhubarb fan, you may be interested to know that Clumber will be holding a special rhubarb event on May 12-13 2023, with tasting sessions, top tips on growing your own rhubarb and the opportunity to see the National Collection of rhubarb that grows in the walled kitchen garden.

This event is free, but normal admission charges apply for the venue. Find out more at the Clumber Park events page.

Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her


Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover.

You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life. And she’s a winner of the PPA’s Digital Content Leader of the Year.

Amy’s homes knowledge knows no bounds – but her Mastermind-style specialist subjects include kitchen and bathroom design, and technology. For many years, she was Ideal Home’s Girl About Tech, where she spent her days pitting KitchenAid mixers against Kenwoods, attending washing machine launches (in 10 different countries, no less) and ensuring everyone who would listen knew their RPM from their RAM.

Amy rents out three properties, so is always on hand with advice for tenants and landlords alike, and is renovating her own home – a late-Victorian semi in desperate need of a kitchen extension and upstairs bathroom. When it comes to her interior design approach, she is a big fan of teal, can’t resist a statement wallpaper and loves vintage wooden furniture, whether it’s in the form of an old sleigh or a tatty trunk.

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