Don’t Bother Growing Rhubarb in Southern California
Question from Bob:
I am in zone 9B by the USDA Zone map. Rhubarb requires the best results in Zones 3-8. Are you aware of a good root stock the will flourish here in So. Calif?
I have heard of placing ice cubes over the top of the plant locations at night to give them that additional chill, is there any sound meaning to this.
Thank you for your help in this matter.
Answer from Pat:
To put it flatly, do not advocate growing rhubarb in the coastal zones of Southern California, and I do not know any varieties especially adapted to growing here. Rhubarb is best adapted to a cold-winter climate with snowy winters, and there’s no use quibbling about it. In Southern California rhubarb plants don’t go properly dormant and in summer they usually die from root rot.
If you live in an interior zone where winter frosts are a yearly occurrence, (daytime temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit), then you may be able to grow rhubarb and harvest palatable stems in the cool weather of spring and fall. (The pink early-spring growth and red fall stems are always best.) People who live and garden in the mountainous zones of Southern California can usually grow pretty good rhubarb.
In my opinion, green rhubarb stems are unhealthy to ingest due to the high percentage of oxalic acid they contain. Most gardeners are aware that the green leaves of rhubarb are a deadly poison and have killed people who eat them. (During the Second World War there were several sad occasions when hungry people in England who did not know better were killed from eating cooked the leaves of rhubarb.)That should give us a clue that though green rhubarb stems may not kill us they are not good for us. People with a tendency to kidney stones should never eat rhubarb anyway and most likely they should not eat asparagus either since these two vegetables can lead to a serious attack of kidney stones when ingested by people who have that tendency.
There are so many good things we can grow so easily in California that they can’t grow back East, like artichokes for example, and we are so lucky to be able to grow vegetables year-round, why not concentrate on plants that are well adapted here? I’m happy for those folks who put up with snowy winters, that at least they have a few things to crow about. Tell you what: Next time those lovely pink rhubarb stems are for sale in spring, why not splurge and buy a bunch? Bake up a great pie or boil a batch of yummy jam. Devour it with pleasure and be glad you didn’t have to shovel snow all winter!