How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
My fellow gardeners in the community garden where I have a plot grow a lot of interesting plants. One of my favorites are the Jerusalem artichokes.
What are Jerusalem Artichokes?
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial plant that is grown for its tuber so it is treated as an annual. It is a member of the sunflower family and it does look a lot like sunflowers. The first time that I saw them, I thought that they were sunflowers.
Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are native to North America. They were grown by Native Americans as a valuable food source. They passed this knowledge on to the European colonists when they arrived. The Europeans, in term, sent the tubers to Europe where they not only became popular but also naturalized throughout Europe. Sunchokes are one of those plants that if you don’t get the entire root out of the ground, the plant will regrow the following year.
Jerusalem artichokes are hardy in zones 3 – 8. Like their sunflower cousins, sunchokes are tall, 5 – 10 feet in height. They have a single stem and leaves that are smaller than sunflower leaves. The flowers are bright yellow and smaller than sunflowers. It’s a good idea to remove the flowers before they go to seed to prevent them from reseeding themselves in your garden. You can also remove the flower buds completely before they open. This encourages your plants to put their energy into making larger tubers.
The tubers look like ginger but have a nutty flavor. They are often used in the place of potatoes in recipes because they have almost no starch.
How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes will grow almost anywhere. They will grow in full sun or partial shade. They aren’t fussy about soil. They prefer fertile, well-drained soils but will also grow in clay soil. The plants prefer a neutral pH of 7.0. Because they are a native plant and adapted to their environment, they do not require watering or fertilizer.
One important thing to remember when deciding where to plant your sunchokes is that they are very tall so they will shade surrounding plants. To avoid this, always plant them on the north side of your garden.
How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes in Containers to Prevent Them From Regrowing
Some gardeners grow their sunchokes in containers which they sink into the ground in their gardens in an effort to prevent them from regrowing after harvest.
You will need large 5 gallon containers filled with soil, one for each tuber that you will be planting. It sounds like a lot but these are large plants. Plant one tuber in each container about 4 inches deep.
Dig holes in your garden for each container. Dig them to a depth that is equal to 2/3 of the height of the container. Place the containers in each hole and water. Make sure that you water them weekly. Containers dry out much faster than your garden. Remove the dead flowers before they produce seed to prevent your plants from reseeding into your garden.
Harvest is simple. Just lift the containers from the soil and dump their contents out. This is a great way to make sure that you are getting all of the tubers and not leaving any to regrow the following year if you are looking to keep your sunchokes under control.
How to Plant Jerusalem Artichokes
You can plant your sunchoke tubers either in the fall or 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost in the spring. Make sure that each tuber has at least one eye. The “eye” looks like the eye on a potato. And just like potatoes, the eyes are where the plants will grow from. Plant your tubers 4 inches deep and 16 inches apart.
Jerusalem artichokes need very little care. Keep the area where they are planted well-weeded when the plants are small. The weeds compete with them for sunlight, water and nutrients. It’s a good idea to mulch around your plants to keep the weed seeds from germinating. 3 – 4 inches of mulch is ideal. Once the plants are taller, they will shade out the weeds.
How to Harvest Jerusalem Artichokes
You can harvest the tubers any time. If you leave them in the ground until after a frost, they will be sweeter. Cut the tall plants down to the ground, then use a garden fork to carefully loosen the soil and avoid damaging the tubers. Feel around in the soil with your hands to locate the tubers.
You can replant any small tubers for a crop next year.
How to Store Jerusalem Artichokes
Brush the soil off of the tubers before storing them. You can store them in your refrigerator for 7 – 10 days or in a root cellar for several months.
© 2020 Caren White