Our ancestors must have had a bit of Puritanism flowing through their veins, because they firmly believed that it was necessary to cut off rhubarb flower stalks before they exploded into thousands of beautiful white blooms, thus depriving themselves of one of the great joys of gardening: a spectacular rhubarb plant in full flower. But fortunately for garden hedonists like myself, we now know that you can have your rhubarb and eat it too.
Producing flowers does not significantly affect the production of rhubarb in the following years. It’s letting the plant go to seed that will reduce production, at least a bit. So all you have to do is chop off the flower stalk as the last bloom fades and you’ll still have an abundant crop the next year. Stunning bloom and an abundant supply of delicious stalks: what’s wrong with that?
In fact, even if you do let your rhubarb go to seed, that is, you don’t cut the flower stalk back after it blooms, you won’t see much of a difference. A well-established, healthy rhubarb plant about 5 years old or more (rhubarb is slow to start, but will easily live 20 years or more) has enough energy to flower and go to seed annually without appreciably lowering its production of stalks. Is harvesting one or two petioles less per plant each spring really the end of the world?
Down the horticultural Puritanism! Life needs more beauty and less suffering!