If you are planning to grow rhubarb this year or want some tips to grow it better, this article is for YOU!
Companion planting is a common method used to maximize space and improve the health of your plants. A little planning can go a long way.
Rhubarb has a lot of companion plants (friends), but also some enemies! In this article we’ll break down which plants benefit from being planted next to your rhubarb and which ones should be avoided.
Ready? Let’s go!
What is a Companion Plant?
A companion plant is a pair of plants that benefit each other when they are planted in close proximity. These benefits can range from deterring pests and attracting beneficial insects, to improving nutrients in the soil and stimulating growth.
Benefits of a Companion Plant
Repel harmful pests
Some plants actively repel harmful insects due to their aromatic properties such as rosemary, eucalyptus, clove, thyme and mint. Marigolds are one of the most well-known deterrents due to their ability to mask the smell of the surrounding plants. This results in the insects flying on by without realizing there’s a tasty treat nearby (Parker, 2013).
Hide from harmful pests
Having a diverse spread of plants together can be beneficial in that harmful pests simply have trouble picking out their favorite plants to devour (Parker, 2013). It is much harder to identify 1 plant in a sea of 20 than a grouping of all of the same plants together. Make your susceptible plants hard to find!
Another strategy is to physically hide your susceptible plants by blocking them with larger ones. This will block some sunlight, but if pests typically destroy your crops then the benefit will definitely outweigh the reduction in sunlight! Some examples of plants to use in this manner would be sunflowers, dill, corn, sorghum and sesame.
Attract beneficial insects
While it may seem that there are a lot of harmful insects out there, only about 1% of insects present are actually labeled as agricultural pests. Therefore, we have a lot of friends in the insect world that can benefit our garden if we can attract them in!
Certain insects such as ladybugs, lace wings, predatory stink bugs, soldier beetles, and many more can serve as predators to the harmful ones. How do we encourage them to come? Plant yarrow, sunflowers, dill, cosmos, coneflower or black-eyed susans.
Using companion plants to attract pollinators to your garden is another huge benefit to incorporating this strategy. Certain plants are very attractive to pollinators and will drive them in to happily pollinate your vegetables, resulting in increased yields!
A 2020 study evaluated this effect and found that strawberries surrounded by a companion plant of borage resulted in an average of 35% more fruit!
While some plants can compete for nutrients if planted next to each other, others can actually have the opposite effect!
Beans are well-known for their ability to put nitrogen back into the soil instead of depleting it. Therefore, a common practice is to use beans as a companion plant with vegetables that have high nitrogen needs such as beets, broccoli, potatoes or spinach.
Why You Should Grow Rhubarb with Companion Plants
You are short on space
If you have a small garden space, then you should definitely consider companion planting! Carefully selecting companion plants allows you to space your plants closer together without compromising their growth. In fact, their growth, health and yields are improved if they are planted snug with their friends.
You have heavy pest presence
This is the most common reason that gardeners use companion planting. Pests chewing away at your prized vegetables is such a nightmare! Therefore, utilizing plants that deter them away is an excellent, natural way to guard your plants without using chemicals.
You have compacted or heavy-clay soil
Many of rhubarb’s companion plants are prized for their ability to establish deep roots. This results in aeration of the soil; breaking up any heavy or compacted sections to allow your vegetables to grow larger and stronger. If you have heavy, clay soil then you’ll definitely want to plant some of these!
Top 10 Rhubarb Companion Plants
Onions are an excellent companion plant to rhubarb because they deter leaf beetles and weevils. These insects can cause damage to the tender rhubarb stalks, affecting your harvest. Onions also have fungicidal properties, which is great if you live in a humid climate.
Beets are a great benefit to rhubarb in that they can prevent the stalks from getting too “woody” while also boosting its flavor! Rhubarb also benefits beets by providing some shade during the heat of the summer. Lastly, they look super cute planted next to each other with their beautiful, bright colors.
This companion plant pairing is close to my heart because it’s the one that I’ve personally been using for years! I like that they are both perennials (come back each year) and seem to thrive together. The chives appreciate the shade during the hot summer months while also attracting pollinators with their bright flowers.
Oooo the brassicas – my favorite family! This includes broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. Brassicas are often destroyed by pests. Therefore, planting these next to rhubarb can help deter pests (like the white fly) away from your harvest.
Smaller brassicas like kohlrabi or baby kale also benefit from the shade that rhubarb provides during the hot summer months. They love cool temperatures!
Beans and rhubarb both benefit each other in different ways. Beans put nitrogen back into the soil, which rhubarb is very grateful for because it is a heavy feeder (needs a lot of nutrients). Rhubarb also gives back to the beans by repelling black fly aphids, which is a common pest for beans. What a good team!
Garlic utilizes its high sulfur content to deter leaf beetles and weevils. These insects can cause damage to the tender rhubarb stalks, affecting your harvest. Garlic can also repel ants; another common pest for rhubarb.
Both asparagus and rhubarb are perennials (come back every year), so they are excellent “set it and forget it” companions in an established garden corner. Asparagus has deep roots, which helps break up compacted soil and absorbs excess moisture. This helps your rhubarb grow strong and reduce the risk of root rot.
My favorite variety: Mary Washington from True Leaf Market.
You thought strawberries and rhubarb only went together in pies and jam? They are wonderful friends in the garden, too! Strawberries provide a nice ground cover around rhubarb plants, which serves as an excellent weed control strategy without competing for nutrients. They are also harvested around the same time, simplifying the process!
My favorite variety: Berries Galore Hybrid Pink from True Leaf Market.
Growing sage nearby your rhubarb plant will provide 3 different benefits! First, sage attracts beneficial, predatory insects that will knock down any infestations. Second, the sage blooms attract pollinators. Third, sage has deep roots that serve as an excellent aerator of heavy and compact soil.
Dill has deep roots that help to break up and loosen the soil surrounding the rhubarb plant. This allows rhubarb’s roots to spread and become stronger. Dill is also a great pest-repellent while attracting pollinators; a true friend to any veggie in the garden!
Top 5 Plants to Avoid Planting With Rhubarb
Dock is a large plant that is often used in herbal medicine, however, it can attract a pest called the rhubarb curculio. This insect bores into the rhubarb stalks, ruining your harvest. Keep dock out of your rhubarb patch!
Corn is a very tall plant and does best when planted in a group. This results in a significant shade block to whatever is growing below it. This strategy can work in your favor if you are trying to “hide” your prey plant from predators, but this is often a last resort option. Try to keep corn isolated in it’s own area where it won’t steal the sunlight from your other vegetable plants.
#3 Melons & Pumpkins
Melon and pumpkins should be avoided as companion plants due to the same reason as the corn. They are not tall plants, but they tend to sprawl and create a web of vines and leaves that can choke out surrounding plants.
Cucumbers are a heavy feeder and can compete for nutrients with your rhubarb plant. It’s best to leave cucumbers to a different section of your garden.
Tomatoes are a definite pest attraction! They also can be quite tall and broad, resulting in lots of shade to any surrounding plants as well. I prefer to keep my tomato plants off to the side of my garden, if possible!
How to Grow Rhubarb (Besides Companion Planting, of Course!)
Rhubarb is a classic in the garden and provides many different tasty treats. The best part is that rhubarb is a perennial that will keep coming back year after year; even in our harsh climates of Minnesota. My rhubarb plant is actually over 100 years old and was brought to the United States via boat by my great grandparents when they immigrated from Sweden. Cool, huh?
Rhubarb is one of the few vegetables that is not grown from seed. Rhubarb is purchased as a smaller division from a mother plant. You can find these divisions from nurseries, or from a friend! Rhubarb continues to grow year after year and actually benefits from divisions every 5-10 years. Therefore, if you have a friend who gardens, there’s a good chance they’d be happy to give you a chunk of their plant. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Pick a location that has rich, slightly acidic and fertile soil. You can test your soil to determine its characteristics by taking a soil sample. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder, so it appreciates the extra nutrients! It prefers full sun or light shade.
Plant in early spring with your divisions spaced 18-24″ apart. Place the buds about 2″ below the soil surface. Rhubarb sends up flower shoots in the summer; make sure to snap them off so that the rhubarb plant keeps its energy going into the stalks. In the late fall, mulch with compost to rebuild nutrients for the following growing season.
How to Harvest Rhubarb
STOP! Rhubarb needs a couple of years to establish itself, so don’t harvest from it right away! A good rule of thumb is to avoid harvesting any stalks the first year, and only a few stalks the second year. Starting the third year, you can harvest as much as you want!
To harvest rhubarb, grab the stalk near the base and give it swift “twist and pull” motion. It should release and pop out cleanly, rather than breaking the stem.
How to Store Rhubarb
Trim off the large leaves and discard in your compost bin (these leaves are toxic – please don’t eat them!). Once trimmed, it’s important to wrap your rhubarb stalks so that they don’t go limp and dry within a few days. The best way to wrap them is using a dense cloth or loosely wrapped tinfoil, and store in the fridge. The goal is for the rhubarb to be able to breathe while also not drying out too quickly.
Other Articles You’ll Love
Growing rhubarb is such a rewarding experience and utilizing rhubarb companion plants can really up your growing game!
Companion plants are essential for reducing pest presence, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, and even improving the soil quality for the surrounding plants.
Achieve Your Best Harvest Yet!
I’ve been using my Garden Growing Guide for years and I know that you’ll love it, too. It’s fully customizable to your growing zone and can be printed or used digitally. Happy Gardening!