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How to Grow Sunchokes in Your Vegetable Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 8, 2020 • 4 min read

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Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus), also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are root vegetables that are members of the sunflower family. This hardy perennial vegetable is native to eastern North America, where Native Americans cultivated it as a root crop before the Europeans arrived on the continent. Sunchokes grow to be five to 10 feet tall and produce beautiful yellow flowers and edible tubers that have a nutty flavor.

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How to Plant Sunchokes

Sunchokes grow from underground roots called tubers. Popular varieties include Fuseau, Red Fuseau, and Stampede sunchokes.

  • Plant sunchokes in early spring. Generally, plant sunchoke tubers two to three weeks before the last frost. Sunchokes grow best between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the soil temperature should be a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at planting time. In the United States, sunchokes thrive in USDA hardiness zones three through eight. In warmer climates, you can plant sunchokes in early fall for a spring harvest.
  • Choose a sunny location. Sunchokes thrive in a full sun environment.
  • Plant sunchokes in loose, well-drained soil. Sunchoke tubers will tolerate most soil conditions as long as the soil isn't waterlogged. A soil pH level between 5.8 and 6.2 is ideal, and the addition of aged compost can contribute nutrients to the soil. A light, loose soil will make the harvesting process easier.
  • Plant sunchokes in a dedicated bed. Sunchokes have a tendency to quickly spread and take over a flower bed or vegetable garden, so it’s best to plant sunchokes in their own exclusive bed. If you plant your sunchoke patch in a bed with other plants, place them in the corner, and use them to surround wind-sensitive plants; due to their towering height, sunchokes act as a great windbreak.
  • Space sunchoke tubers 12 to 18 inches apart. Plant the tubers four to six inches deep in the soil and make sure their "eyes" are facing upward—sunchoke tubers are similar to potatoes in that their sprouts will emerge from these eyes. Space your rows at least two feet apart.
  • Spread a one-inch layer of mulch over the topsoil. Make sure the soil is moist but not oversaturated. Using an organic mulch, like straw or hay, will help suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and protect the sunchoke roots.

How to Grow and Care for Sunchokes

Caring for sunchoke plants requires minimal effort, as this low maintenance root crop is disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, and can thrive in a wide range of climate zones.

  • Water consistently throughout the growing season. A regular, even watering regimen will help your sunchokes thrive; once a week is sufficient. When your sunchokes establish a root system and show new growth, they become drought-tolerant and you can typically water them less often.
  • Use a root barrier to contain your sunchokes. To prevent your sunchokes from spreading to unwanted areas, construct a barrier around them made out of wood, metal, or plastic. Bury the barrier at least two feet deep.
  • Companion plant your sunchokes. Rhubarb, peanuts, and corn all grow well near sunchokes.
  • Monitor for pests and rot. Aphids may plague sunchokes, but you can control them with insecticidal soap or a strong spray of water. Sunchokes are typically disease-free but can rot in soggy soil, so be careful not to overwater.
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How to Harvest and Eat Sunchokes

Sunchokes take a long time to grow, but the resultant tubers are a versatile and nutritious food that’s worth the wait.

  • When to harvest: Sunchokes reach maturity 120 to 150 days after planting, depending on the growing conditions and the specific sunchoke variety. Ideally, you’ll harvest sunchokes in late fall. They taste their sweetest after the first killing frost causes the leaves to die back.
  • How to harvest: Loosen the soil with a spading fork, grab the stem, and pull the tuber out of the soil. Soak your tubers in water for five minutes and gently scrub with a brush to remove dirt from their outer surface. Rinse with water before you use or store them.
  • How to store: Place sunchoke tubers in a perforated plastic bag and store in your refrigerator for up to 10 days or a root cellar for up to a few months.
  • How to eat: When eaten raw, sunchokes have a texture similar to water chestnuts that goes well in salads. You can also roast, sauté, or pickle sunchokes. You can even combine sunchokes with sweet potatoes to make a delicious soup. Sunchokes are high in a sweet dietary fiber called inulin that acts as a prebiotic, promoting beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.

Remember, any small piece of tuber you leave in your garden after the harvest will grow into another sunchoke plant and produce new tubers the following year.

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