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How to Grow Salsify

Salsify roots
Salsify root

Salsify is a cool-weather root crop. It is grown for its roots. The leaves are also edible.

Sow salsify as early as 2 weeks before the last expected frost in spring when the soil temperature has reached about 40°F (4.4°C). In mild winter regions, sow salsify in early autumn for a winter harvest. Salsify requires 120 to 150 days to reach harvest and is best when it comes to maturity in cool weather.

Scorzonera, also a root crop, is sometimes confused with salsify. The roots look very similar; salsify has a whitish root; scorzonera has a black root. The roots and leaves of scorzonera are edible like salsify.

Salsify. Salsify is a hardy biennial vegetable grown as an annual. Salsify is grown for its long, tapered, carrot-like off-white root (with white interior) which is tender when harvested young. Salsify tastes a bit like oyster and is often referred to as “vegetable oyster” or “oyster plant.” The botanical name of salsify is Tragopogon porrifolius.

Scorzonera. A black rooted vegetable (with white interior)  that resembles salsify is scorzonera. Scorzonera is sometimes called black salsify or Spanish salsify.  The botanical name of scorzonera is Scorzonera hispanica.

Scorzonera and salsify are members of the dandelion tribe of the daisy family and the two are just about as easy to grow as dandelions. Salsify has almost grass-like leaves. Scorzonera has broad lily-of-the-valley-like leaves, The growing requirements of salsify and scorzonera are the same.

Yield. Plant 10 salsify plants per household member.

Salsify plant
Salsify plant. Plant salsify in soil rich in organic matter well-worked to the depth of 8 to 12 inches. Remove all stones and soil lumps from planting beds.

Planting Salsify

Site. Plant salsify in full sun. Sow salsify in soil rich in organic matter well-worked to the depth of 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm). Remove all stones and soil lumps from planting beds; obstacles in the soil can cause roots to fork and split. Salsify prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

Planting time. Salsify is a hardy cool-weather root crop. Sow salsify 2 weeks before the last expected frost in spring when the soil temperature has reached about 40°F (4.4°C). In mild winter regions, sow salsify in early autumn for a winter harvest. Salsify requires 120 to 150 days to reach harvest and is best when it comes to maturity in cool weather. Salsify can be harvested after the first freeze in autumn. Do not allow salsify to sit in the garden after temperatures rise above 85°F (29°C); roots will become stringy and fibrous.

Planting and spacing. Sow salsify seed ½ inch (12mm) deep and ½ inch apart. Thin successful seedlings to stand 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart.

Companion plants. Carrots, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes, sweet potatoes.

Container growing. Salsify, like many long-rooted crops, is not a good choice for container growing.

Scorzonera plant
Scorzonera plant

Caring for Salsify

Water and feeding. Keep salsify evenly moist to prevent the roots from getting stringy. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Side dress salsify with compost at midseason. Manure or too much nitrogen added to the soil before sowing can cause roots to fork and split.

Care. Keep planting beds weed-free. Mulch planting beds with 1 to 2 feet (30-61cm) of straw if the harvest is planned after the onset of freezing weather.

Pests. Salsify has no serious pest problems.

Diseases. Salsify has no serious disease problems.

Harvesting and Storing Salsify

Harvest. Salsify roots 12 inches (30cm) long or longer are ready for harvest. Lift salsify whole by hand or with a spading fork being careful not to break roots. Roots require 120 to 150 days to reach harvest. Salsify can withstand freezing so leave roots in the ground until you want them. The longer salsify is in the ground the less it tastes like oysters.

Storing and preserving. Salsify will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. Remove the tops before refrigerating. Roots can be kept in a cold, moist place for 2 to 4 months.

Salsify root
Scorzonera roots are black on the outside

Salsify Varieties to Grow

Varieties. ‘Giant Russian’, ‘Sandwich Island Mammoth’, ‘Scorzonera’.

Salsify common name. Salsify, oyster plant

Salsify botanical name. Tragopogon porrifolius

Scorzonera common name: Black salsify, Spanish salsify

Scorzonera botanical name: Scorzonera hispanica

Origin. Southern Europe

Grow 80 vegetables: KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

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18 Comments

    • Your salsify is ready for harvest when the foliage dies back. You can deadhead or cut away spent flowers and seed heads. In the meantime, the plant’s green leaves are busy helping to form the plant’s roots–and flavor for harvest. Salsify flavor is improved if the roots are exposed to a few frosts at the end of the season.

    • Start salsify in soil temperatures between 50F and 80F; if the soil is warmer, the seed may not germinate. Good times to plant salsify are January through March and September through November.

  1. I like to leave 1 or 2 plants over the winter. When the flower buds form, pick a few handfuls before they bloom. They are delicious sauteed! The texture is similar to asparagus, but tastes more like okra. I also saved lots of seeds to share, and now (late october) there are self seeded babies coming up all over the place. I’m a big fan of volunteer plants in my garden, as long as they are plants I like to eat!

    • Yes. Salsify is a great source of dietary fiber which is important for treating constipation, and promoting bowel movements, and preventing of gastrointestinal cancer. Salsify is also rich in vitamin C which can help the immune system. Salsify contains potassium which is important in managing blood pressure and is also important for heart health. And salsify contains manganese which is important for many enzymes that control blood sugar, energy metabolism, and thyroid function.

  2. I tested salsify seed so now I have small plants in pots. The soil is workable but temperatures still dip below zero at night – can I plant them out?

    • You can plant the salsify out, but you will need to protect the young seedlings from the cold. Place a cloche, row cover, or plastic tunnel over the seedlings until temperatures moderate–or until the plants are about 8 inches high.

  3. I planted salsify last year my soil is very shallow about half a spades deep till you hits subsoil and rocks and its very limey… I planted them into my compost instead I doubt the roots will be very long …. Considering my lack of fertile soil I have use dlasagna beds that worked OK… But for things like tomatoes and shallow rooting things… I have old wood shredding compost as well and that’s about all I’ve got… And not much at that tbh…everything wants good soil and I don’t have that in spades so I’m wondering is there any way I can manage to grow it for next spring perhaps? I will let some self seed in the compost but I know the roots are running all over the place… If I put compost and then piled up some of my dreadful soil would the roots try to gfow down towards the compost perhaps? Or is there any vegetable that will enjoy clayish and rocky and basically dreadful soil? Nettles are flourishing and bluebells but everything else struggles its so clay and also gets so dry it doesn’t have any organic component really except what little I’ve been able to add but that’s small. Also I don’t drive so I know there’s free things for people who can drive to collect but its 50$ a tonne of compost here and its just rotted old shredding so very carbon rich it has mushrooms in it and nothing seems to thrive in that either. My compost is worm compost but I have only a few liters of that a year and grass clippings that’s it. Thanks. Hope something loves my garden!! Lol! Apart from slugs and nettles!

    • Is it possible for you to construct small raised beds 12 inches (30cm) tall–lift your plants above the poor soil. Alternatively, grow in containers. A commercial organic planting mix or potting soil would be ideal for raised beds or container growing. If getting soil to your garden is difficult, try collecting leaves to add to your grass clipping and place them in a sunny spot, they will decompose in 6 months to a year to create well-decomposed compost–or humus. You can add vegetable scraps to the compost pile as well. The depth of your native soil will be problematic for most root crops; they need deeper soil. Many vegetables will grow in average to even poor soil; but you may have to plant extra seeds to ensure survival of the fittest given the conditions.

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