Rhubarb’s Best Friends: Top Companion Plants Revealed!

As I gaze out over my garden on a sunny spring morning, I anticipate the growing season ahead. The rhubarb is emerging, its crimson stalks bursting from the awakening soil. This hardy perennial has been a staple in my Wisconsin garden for over 15 years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping it thriving year after year.

The secret lies in paying attention to rhubarb’s companions. Every plant needs friends in the garden. By strategically interplanting, we can create symbiotic relationships between plants that deter pests, enhance flavors, and mutually benefit each other. Rhubarb is no exception.

Understanding Rhubarb: A Unique Vegetable

While often used as a fruit, rhubarb is technically a vegetable. It’s a cool-weather crop that thrives best in Wisconsin’s climate extremes of freezing winters and warm summers. I keep my rhubarb patches in full sun and nurture the soil with rich organic matter. As the crimson stalks emerge from the hardy crown, the large rhubarb leaves unfurl to form a lush green canopy.

Benefits of companion planting rhubarb

Both the stems and roots have been used – the bitter leaves are toxic. The tart, vibrant stalks shine in pies, jams, chutneys and more. The roots have medicinal properties, though dosage is vital due to the oxalic acid content. Once established, rhubarb will continue production for 10-15 years or more before it needs to be divided. Now, look at ideal companion plants to grow these longevity spans even further.

The Benefits of Companion Planting

Creating plant combinations for mutual benefit is at the heart of companion planting. Beyond visual appeal and interest, thoughtfully chosen botanical neighbors can:

  • Enhance growth and yields
  • Deter common garden pests
  • Improve nearby soil health
  • Attract beneficial pollinators
  • Create microclimates to buffer plants from temperature extremes

When paired with the proper companions, rhubarb benefits from increased access to sunlight, moisture retention, nutrient cycling, and pest control. And it gives back in kind. Let’s explore some winning combinations!

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How to companion plant rhubarb

Floral Friends Provide Protection

Marigolds – The Pest-Repelling Blooms

Marigolds always have a starring role in my garden schemes. These cheery annuals bloom vibrant oranges and yellows throughout our growing season here in Wisconsin. Their strong scent repels insects seeking tender rhubarb leaves to devour. Plant them around your rhubarb patch to keep invading pests at bay without pesticides. As a bonus, marigolds attract ladybugs, a gardener’s best friend!

Camomile – The Aromatic Ally

Delicate camomile blossoms weave a floral carpet at your feet as this perennial ground cover spreads. Don’t let their small stature fool you – camomile packs some potent pest-fighting power! Their fragrant aroma repels flying pests like aphids. Brew camomile blossom tea to create natural anti-fungal sprays to prevent diseases. Interplant camomile with rhubarb for protection. Together, they till the soil and retain moisture while deterring common garden pests the organic way.

Rhubarb as a culinary herb

Vegetable Companions Provide Underground Assistance

Onion Kin – Alliums Against Pests

You can’t go wrong planting onions, garlic, leeks, and chives as rhubarb’s loyal caretakers. This botanical family shares rhubarb’s preference for rich soil and cool weather. As you harvest bulbing onions, their roots stay firmly planted, maintaining structure. Garlic’s potent scent masks rhubarb’s appealing aroma for pests while repelling insects. Win-win! The vertical leaves of leeks and chives don’t compete for resources while protecting their soil-mate.

Leafy Greens – A Neighborly Bunch

Cool-weather and leafy greens feel right at home alongside rhubarb’s broad leaves. Lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, and arugula thrive in part shade under the rhubarb canopy. Shallow roots don’t compete for nutrition while deterring weeds. In turn, these low-growing leaves retain moisture and filter sunlight. Together, both plants benefit from the symbiosis! For convenient harvest timing, choose quick-growing varieties as rhubarb wakes from winter dormancy.

Herbs Offer Flavor and Function

No garden is complete without herbs! Tuck these metabolic powerhouse plants in with rhubarb to spice up your harvest.

Rhubarb as a medicinal plant

Sage Advice – Savory Symbiosis

Garden sage protecting its rhubarb neighbor makes good sense! Sage’s soft, velvety leaves draw pesky insects away from rhubarb’s tender foliage. Sage repels cabbage moths, ants, and flea beetles. Its savory scent and nectar-rich blossoms entice bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Harvest sage to add warm, earthy flavor to sweet-tart rhubarb and berry pies or preserves.

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Mint – The Vigorous Protector

Once established, mint is an enthusiastic spreader that stays put under rhubarb’s broad leaves with little need for maintenance. Mint’s superpower is its speedy growth, crowds out weeds competing with rhubarb for space, nutrients, and moisture. The bright aroma, toxic to insects, keeps many pests away, too. Try Mathilde Greca or orange mint for delicious summer beverage combos with ruby rhubarb!

Rhubarb as a natural pest control

Plants to Avoid with Rhubarb

While many plants flourish as rhubarb’s companions, a few botanical bullies stress this perennial. Steer clear of planting rhubarb near:

  • Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant – These nightshade family members may harbor diseases detrimental to rhubarb.
  • Vining Crops like Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash – Sprawling vines block sunlight and overwhelm nearby plants.
  • Corn and Beans – Tall corn and vine beans easily outcompete rhubarb.
  • Radishes and Other Quick Crops – Fast-growing annuals rush through life cycles before rhubarb is established.

Providing ample space allows rhubarb and companion plants to thrive without competing. Next, we will examine ideal planting schemes for these friendly follicles.

Growing Guidelines for Rhubarb Companions

Getting the timing and layout right makes all the difference when interplanting perennial rhubarb with annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Here are my top tips after years of experimentation:

Rhubarb as a pollinator attractor

Planting Timeline

  • Spring: Once the threat of frost has passed, choose a sunny spot to transplant rhubarb crown divisions in early spring. Give the transplants about four weeks to establish before planting annuals.
  • Early Summer – Start harvesting yearly stalks at least 10 inches long.
  • Summer – Tuck warm-season annuals like marigolds, basil, beans, and radishes around established rhubarb.
  • In the fall, divide congested rhubarb patches by cutting crowns into pieces with buds. Compost spent foliage and mulch for winter.

Spatial Arrangements

  • Rows – Plant rhubarb in rows spaced 2-4 feet apart. Interplant flowers or herbs between rows.
  • Alternating Beds – Group rhubarb plants together in beds alternating with beds of companion plants.
  • Polyculture Plot – Design a diverse botanical matrix with rhubarb as a focal point underplanted with lower-growing support species.
Rhubarb as a source of nutrients

Soil Considerations

  • Drainage – Improve drainage with compost to please rhubarb’s deep roots and shallow companions.
  • Fertility – Top-dress annually with aged manure and compost to feed this heavy-feeding vegetable.
  • pH Level – Test soil pH, amending it to maintain the ideal slightly acidic level of around 6.5.

Your rhubarb will thrive with suitable companions in the right place and time! Now, let’s protect our prize plant from common pests and diseases.

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Mitigating Pests and Problems

Even in the best conditions, rhubarb occasionally contends with insects, animals, and diseases. Here are some typical troubles and tactics:

Aphids: Check leaf undersides for clusters of these tiny sap-sucking insects. Before infestations swell, knock them off stems with water spray or use insecticidal soap sprays.

Rhubarb as a source of shade

Slugs and Snails – Plump slugs and snails chew tender leaves and stalks, especially during cool, damp weather. To control them, build copper barriers around beds, set out beer traps, or remove them by hand.

Caterpillars – Imported cabbageworm caterpillars are the most notorious leaf and stalk eaters. Monitor for white butterflies laying yellow eggs and hand-pick pests to protect plants before damage spreads.

Rhubarb curly leaf virus: This virus causes distorted foliage and stunted plants. Destroy infected plants immediately! Avoid harvesting from affected patches, and only replant with certified disease-free crowns.

Harvesting for Healthy Plants

Here in Wisconsin, I harvest rhubarb stalks when they reach about 10 inches long, typically by mid-spring. Careful cutting leaves the crown intact for many years of ongoing stalk production. I always use a sharp knife to avoid tearing the plants. I also remove any flower stalks to keep the plant’s energy focused on juicy stem growth instead of seeds.

Interplanted flowers and veggies mature on similar timelines as the rhubarb wakes up. Successive planting spreads out harvests from both. Keeping plants picked clean discourages pests, too. By year’s end, frost kills off annual companions while the rhubarb leaves die back for winter hibernation underground.

Rhubarb as an edible perennial

Enrich Your Garden Community

My experiences with companion planting with rhubarb inspire you to enrich your garden! Remember that rhubarb itself has benefits and drawbacks as a companion plant. It involves complex interactions with many species in the park, and there’s still lots more for me to discover!

What combinations have you tried with rhubarb in your gardens? Please share your own companion planting success stories and lessons learned! Together, we can build an enriched and supportive community, helping our gardens and each other grow stronger yearly.