Perennial Edibles

Perennial crops bear a delectable harvest year after year without replanting.

By Ellen Ecker Ogden

Photography by Rob Cardillo

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Rheum x hybridum
 
A true harbinger of spring, rhubarb provides thick, tart leaf stalks, or petioles, that combine well with strawberries and other fruits in jams, pies, and cakes. A single plant yields enough for a family of four and is highly ornamental, measuring 3 feet tall and wide.
 
It's best to purchase rhubarb crowns, rather than start from seeds, and plant them in early spring or late fall. Rhubarb cultivars vary in the color of their stalks, from red to pink to green. The deep ruby-red color is the more popular, yet the green varieties are often more productive and more tolerant of hot weather in the South and desert Southwest, where rhubarb struggles to survive.
 
Plant rhubarb in rich, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade, placing the crown just below the soil surface. Keep plants watered until established and during dry weather. Nourish the soil around the plants with compost in spring and fall.
 
Allow 2 years for new plants to establish themselves before the first harvest. Harvest by gently tugging and twisting at the base of a stalk. Discard the leaves, which are toxic, into the compost pile. Continue harvesting until the leaf stalks of new growth are slender. Remove seed stalks as soon as they appear.
 
Rhubarb is generally pest-free but can appeal to slugs during rainy spells. Remove the lower leaves if they harbor slugs.
 
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