Growing Jerusalem artichokes

Growing Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke is a close relative of the sunflower. Here are some tips on Jerusalem artichoke care from planting, watering to harvesting.

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. It was brought to Europe on the ships of the colonizers from South America. At first, the brown tuber, which (although unrelated) resembles the artichoke in taste a little, was reserved for the rich and aristocratic. Later, however, it spread increasingly among the common people as well. At one point in history (during the Thirty Years’ War in Central Europe, for example), the Jerusalem artichoke became the most important staple food in Europe. However, once people started to rely on the potato more heavily, the Jerusalem artichoke fell into oblivion. In recent years, this fibre-rich tuber has been enjoying some newfound popularity. In many languages, such as French, German or Russian, the Jerusalem artichoke is referred to as ‘tominabur’. Other English common names include the sunroot or earth apple. In this article, we will explain how to plant and grow the Jerusalem artichoke in the comfort of your own garden.

When is the best time to plant Jerusalem artichokes?

The brown tubers of Jerusalem artichoke are usually planted between mid-April and mid-May. Alternatively, you can choose a planting date from late September into November. In such a case, the plants will then sprout next spring but somewhat earlier than the tubers planted in April/May. Unlike potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes are hardy so their planting schedule is more flexible.

Location and care requirements

The right location

Regarding location, the Jerusalem artichoke is not that picky. The best soil to plant the tuber in are light and sandy. Avoid waterlogged soils, tough, as they can impede the growth of the Jerusalem artichoke. The yellow flowering plant thrives best in sunlit places but it can do well in semi-shade too.

Preparing the garden bed

Jerusalem artichoke is not demanding when it comes to soil conditions but you can boost the plant a little by giving it a good start to growth by loosening the soil and removing stones. On nutrient-poor sites (very sandy) or very heavy soils, some compost should be incorporated before planting the tuber. Adding compost can lead to the accumulation of humus and thus improve the nutrient balance in the long term. While sandy soils develop a better water retention capacity with increasing humus content, heavy soils can be loosened up by enriching humus. The humus improved physical properties of the soil are responsible for the improved nutrient balance.

The tubers should be planted at a distance of 30 to 40 cm at a depth of about 10 to 15 cm. After putting the Jerusalem artichoke into the soil, press the soil down slightly. Once the first shoots form, the soil can be heaped around them. The heaped soil warms up quicker which helps new tubers to form. Additionally, it gives the plant more space to develop more tubers.

Summary of location and care requirements:

  • Choose a sunny location
  • The soil should be loose and airy
  • Improve the soil with compost 
  • Place the tubers at a distance of 30 – 40 cm at a depth of approx. 15 cm
  • Press the soil lightly
  • After the plants sprout, heap the soil around them

Growing Jerusalem artichokes in a pot

If you don’t have your own garden, but have a sunny balcony, you can also plant Jerusalem artichoke in a flower pot. Make sure that the tub is large enough not to impair the harvest capacity of the tubers. Simply place a tuber in a tub filled with compost and, after budding, heap some soil around the first shoots. For Jerusalem artichokes in pots, the following applies in particular: do not water them too much and avoid stagnant moisture!

Watering and fertilising Jerusalem artichokes

Taking care of Jerusalem artichoke plants is relatively simple. In order to avoid waterlogging, water the plants growing on very light soils regularly but not too frequently. During the main growth phase in summer, however, it is most beneficial for the tubers to keep the soil slightly moist at all times. While fertilising on nutrient-rich soils is not necessary, lighter soils should be enhanced with compost (right when the Jerusalem artichokes are planted to boost the nutrients in the soil).

Tip: Removing flowers can lead to more abundant yields. The energy gained during photosynthesis and the nutrients absorbed through the soil will be used to develop the tubers instead of forming seeds. Similarly, thin out the above-ground green parts of the plant, so that the plant’s energy is conserved.

Buying new plants vs. multiplying Jerusalem artichokes yourself

Reproducing Jerusalem artichokes is amazingly easy. Once the growing tuber has been planted, it multiplies by itself via subterranean runners or rhizomes. If you don’t want the Jerusalem artichoke to spread throughout the entire garden, place a rhizome barrier around the area where it is planted.

Conclusion: Once you acquire your very first Jerusalem artichoke (either from the store or from a neighbour), propagation is no longer an issue. The plant multiplies easily through runners or rhizomes.

Harvesting Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke can be harvested all year round. If you want to harvest large tubers, dig in autumn (September/October) because, at this point, the period of the greatest growth is over. The best way to dig the tubers out is to use a standard fork. The use of a spade or a shovel can also do but the risk of damaging the tubers when digging for them is increased. Jerusalem artichokes are hardy, and as long as the soil is not frozen, the tasty tubers can be harvested all year round.

harvesting jerusalem artichoke
One distinct advantage of growing Jerusalem artichokes is that the tubers can be harvested all year round [ iMarzi]

A regular harvest is recommended because it allows the gardener to better control the spread of the tubers. Jerusalem artichoke is very vigorous and spreads underground mainly via rhizomes. If you don’t harvest the tubers regularly, you run the risk that your garden will be swarmed with the sun-yellow flowers.

Storing and preserving Jerusalem artichokes

As mentioned before, Jerusalem artichoke can be harvested all year round. The best way to have fresh Jerusalem artichoke ready at any time of the year is to dig it out when needed.

Good news for all those who find this too exhausting: the shelf life of Jerusalem artichoke in dark, cool and dry conditions is similar to that of potatoes. Experience has shown that cellars without solar radiation are perfect for storing Jerusalem artichokes.

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