For a few years now, everbearing rhubarb varieties have been causing a sensation. At most, they take a short break in the summer, but then continue to grow happily in late summer and autumn, constantly producing new stalks. The best known variety is certainly the everbearing rhubarb Livingstone(S), which we at Lubera Edibles also offer as a young plant.
Is everbearing rhubarb day-neutral?
It is often the case that berry fruit specialists, who probably think of strawberries, say that these varieties are day-neutral rhubarb – in analogy to the everbearing and day-neutral strawberries, which always differentiate and form flowers regardless of the day length. However, this analogy is not correct: the day-neutral strawberries ultimately deal with a generative property that is controlled or not controlled by the day length, while with the rhubarb it has to do with a purely vegetative property, namely the formation of new shoots and buds even in the summer and autumn. The conclusion is this: everbearing rhubarb plants are probably not really day-neutral (this would imply that other rhubarb would be strongly influenced by the length of the day), but simply very vigorous and very persistent in growth. But where does this characteristic come from?
Picture: everbearing rhubarb in snow
The history of the everbearing rhubarb
is already much older than one would generally think, if one has read about this “novelty” in the last few years. Obviously, everbearing rhubarb originates from southern countries, especially Australia. Of course they wanted to emulate the British in their homeland and also grow rhubarb...Through sowing and continuous selection, varieties were developed that could survive without or with very little winter coldness – and they would continue to grow even in the summer heat. Towards the end of the 19th century, the world-famous fruit grower Luther Burbank ordered such varieties from Australia to California (he had his experimental facilities in Santa Rosa) and in turn selected an eternal, everbearing, ”perpetual” rhubarb from the material, which he immediately put into circulation with a lot of marketing. If one could produce rhubarb year-round – so he thought – it would be a true agricultural vein of gold. Well, his perpetual rhubarb was not that successful, but some plants came from the United States to England as well – and so the assumption is obvious that today's new everbearing rhubarb varieties can also be traced back to this source. Otherwise, the breeding of the everbearing rhubarb was a very simple way of understanding what the Australians did: namely, they selected varieties that need little winter coldness, can withstand heat and grow very strongly...
Picture: difference between normal rhubarb (left) and everbearing rhubarb (right)
What to bear in mind when growing everbearing rhubarb varieties
This whole background (little need for coldness, extremely vigorous growth, high heat resistance) also has consequences when growing finished plants and should be taken into account. We and our sister company Lubera® have about eight years of experience with everbearing rhubarb varieties and recommend considering the following special characteristics and measures:
- Strong growth
Micropropagated young plants grow stronger than rhizomes, and everbearing rhubarb is even stronger than conventional varieties. The everbearing rhubarb Livingstone(S) virtually explodes after potting. We therefore recommend placing the plants at a distance (chessboard pattern) so that they do not crush each other.
- An early start
Everbearing rhubarb varieties have a lesser need for coldness and they start growing immediately when it is several degrees above 0°C. Although very cold frosts are needed to really cause damage, this growth regarding the sales period and winter protection should be taken into account. The good side is this: Livingstone(S) and other everbearing varieties can be sold very early because they also start growing very early.
- A finer root system, good root penetration, late rhizome formation
Micropropagated rhubarb varieties with an everbearing tendency tend to form an even finer root system than conventional varieties. This accelerates root penetration, but also means that such plants should be fertilised again in the second year, before spring sales, in order to grow well and not be hungry at the point of sale and then at the customer. Here is the reason: a larger rhizome, and thus a reserve organ, does not fully develop until the second year.
Picture: roots of a pot-growing rhubarb plant, left: everbearing; right: normal rhubarb
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