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How to Grow Sunchoke

Jerusalem artichokes also called Sunchokes can be planted in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. The tubers are best planted in soil that has warmed to 50°F.

Sunchokes also called Jerusalem artichokesThe sunchoke, also called Jerusalem artichoke, is a variety of perennial sunflowers grown for its edible low-starch tuber which looks much like a small potato but tastes like a water chestnut. Sunchoke tubers can be planted in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. They are best planted in soil that has warmed to 50°F (10°C). In warm-winter regions, sunchokes can be planted in winter. Sunchokes require 110 to 150 days to reach harvest.

Description. The sunchoke is a hardy perennial that grows from 5 to 10 feet tall. The plant has rough-textured leaves 4 to 8 inches (10-20cm) long and is topped with small yellow flowers 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) across. Sunchokes will survive a hard freeze if protected by a layer of soil or mulch. Tubers rapidly spread and divide but can be controlled by root barriers.

The name Jerusalem artichoke is a misnomer: the plant is not related to the artichoke, though the sunchoke’s flavor may be reminiscent of the artichoke. The plant is not from Jerusalem: the name is probably derived from the Italian name for sunflower, girasole, which means turning to the sun.

Yield. Plant 5 to 10 sunchokes for each household member.

Young sunchoke plants
Young sunchokes: Jerusalem artichokes also called Sunchokes can be planted in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. The tubers are best planted in soil that has warmed to 50°F (10°C).

Planting Sunchokes

Site. Plant sunchokes in full sun. The sunchoke prefers loose, well-drained soil but will grow almost anywhere. Add aged compost or sand to planting beds before planting; loose soil will make tuber harvesting easier. The sunchoke prefers a soil pH from 5.8 to 6.2. It is best to set sunchokes in a dedicated bed; once established they will spread rapidly and may require some effort to remove. The sunchoke can be planted densely to form a screen or windbreak.

Planting time. Sunchoke tubers can be planted in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. They are best planted in soil that has warmed to 50°F (10°C). In warm-winter regions, sunchokes can be planted in winter. Sunchokes require 110 to 150 days to reach harvest. Sunchokes grow best in temperatures ranging from 65° to 90°F (18-32°C).

More at Jerusalem Artichoke Plant Starting Tips.

Planting and spacing. Plant sunchoke tubers 2 to 6 inches (5-15cm) deep, 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) apart. Space rows 36 inches (91cm) apart.

Container growing. Sunchokes can be grown in containers but will quickly fill a small container. Choose a container at least 18 inches across for one plant.

Companion plants. Corn, rhubarb, peanuts. Avoid planting sunchokes with tomatoes.d

Sunchoke plants in late summer
Sunchoke plants in late summer

Caring for Sunchokes

Water and feeding. Sunchokes grow best with an even, regular supply of water but can survive long periods of drought once established. Sunchokes require no extra feeding; they grow best in soil rich in organic matter.

Care. Sunchoke tubers grow, divide, and easily spread. To contain sunchokes install wood, plastic, metal, or masonry barriers at least 24 inches (61cm) deep in the soil. Avoid deep cultivation near sunchokes; they are shallow-rooted and spread to 18 inches (45cm) away from the main stem.

Pests. Aphids may attack sunchokes. Pinch out infested foliage or hose the aphids off the plants.

Diseases. Sunchoke tubers can rot in wet soil but are generally disease-free. Plant in well-drained soil and quickly remove diseased plants.

Sunchokes in kitchenHarvesting and Storing Sunchokes

Harvest. Sunchoke tubers will be ready for harvest is 120 to 150 days after planting. Cut off flower stalks as soon as they appear to encourage tuber, not seed, production. Plants also can be “lodged” once flowers appear; step on stems at soil level and bend them to the side diverting energy to the tubers. Sunchokes harvested after a light frost will be sweeter tasting. Sunchokes are ready for harvest when leaves die back; lift tubers with a spading fork. Tubers left in the ground will regrow the following season.

More at How to Harvest and Store Jerusalem Artichokes.

Storing and preserving. Sunchokes will keep in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days, or set them in a cold moist place for 2 to 5 months. Sunchokes can be frozen or left in the ground until needed; protect over-wintered sunchokes with a layer of mulch.

Varieties. ‘Stampede’.

Common name. Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Botanical name. Helianthus tuberosus

Origin. North America

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59 Comments

  1. Hi! I was just curious about the term “lodged.” What I am imagining by the description is that you are stepping on the main stem of the plant and bending it back to the ground. Is this correct? When doing this, do you want to avoid breaking the stem, or is that alright? Also, I noticed that it was suggested on the onion article for when they try to flower – is this the same technique?
    I grew some last year, and didn’t get to harvesting them much, so they are now coming up again, which is great! But I am wondering about after this year. Should I dig all of them up, and then re-space the bulbs? If I do this, would they have any chance of just starting up again, or should I take care to do it when it’s fairly cold out? I was just thinking that if I dug them all up, I could dig in some compost before re-spacing them.
    Thank you for this great article!

    • I’ve never ‘lodged’ mine, might try it. As for spreading and ‘re-seeding’, you don’t really need to replant them when you dig them up. You’ll miss enough small tubers they’ll come back year after year. As for when to replant them, any time after the tops die off and before the soil reaches 50°F, that’s when the tubers are triggered into sprouting. If you live where the soil never drops below 50°F, you might want to wrap some in a moist towel or paper sealed in a plastic bag in the frig for close to a month to trigger dormancy. The yield will be a bit better.
      For compost, I use the stalks. I bought an electric chipper/shredder and put the dried tops through it and scatter the chips over the patch. When I spade fork the roots out, I mix in the chips. They break down much faster than trying to compost the entire tops and help to loosen the soil more and more each year.
      I have three varieties, from 5′ tall to 12′ tall, with tubers that are tan/white and knobby, red and slightly knobby and tan/white carrot shaped.
      Anything you can do with any other vegetable, you can do with ‘chokes. Raw, steamed, boiled, mashed, roasted, fried, fermented like kraut or canned like plain potatoes for soups, stews and straight for side dishes like hash browns. Pickled like Bread-n-Butter, Dill or others, or made into relishes, salsa, chow-chow … you name it, ‘chokes can do it. They can be dried and ground into flour for thickening and flat breads too! I’ve even made wine out of tuber broth and the flowers. The tuber broth wine was a bit stout for a drinking wine, but as a cooking wine (!) it adds an earthy flavor that’s great. The flower wine, straight, no citrus or other additives when I made it, is a good drinking wine and mellow enough to mix with other wines to add more earthyness without ruining any but the most delicate flavors. The 5’ variety has flowers tender enough to toss in salads, the others – not so much! When I boiled the flowers for the flower broth wine I found the cooked flowers resembled squash in flavor.
      Called by the Algonquins Kaishúcpenauk, a compound of “sun” and “tubers”, by the Mohawks Ohnennata’ó:we, “original potato”. To those of the Manglish persuasion they’re called Fartichokes due to the effects the Inulin, a very healthy soluble fiber, has on some folks!

    • This is the first time growing these and hearing of lodging them. That may help in the near future. I lodge my comfrey so that it grows lots of mass but fewer flowers while still being able to enjoy some, or the bees can.

  2. Hi Eleanor: The answer to your questions is yes, yes, yes, and yes. Lodging sunchokes and onions is as you describe, stepping on the leafy stems or tops and bending them over; you can also do this with the back of a rake also. Start lodging when the leaves have turned yellow and have started to topple over. Lodging will direct the plants’ energy from the leaves to the tubers or bulbs. You aren’t completly breaking the stem but you are essentially interrupting the flow of water and nutrients to the top of the plant. After harvest you can dig up and re-space your remaining sunchoke tubers or onion bulbs; make sure the tubers or bulbs are free of mold or rot. When the tubers or bulbs are up, that is an excellent time to add compost to the planting bed, as you suggest.

  3. Does anyone know if Sunchokes are resistant to deer? We have a huge deer population and they eat most anything.
    One additional question. Will Sunchokes survive with winter temps that get below zero?
    Regards,
    Mike

    • I live in zone 6 with zone 5 tendencies in regards to average low winter temperatures. My plants came up just fine this spring and I’m currently still waiting for them to die back. We got down to 24 degrees the other night and the still look alive.

      • Sunchokes are resilient, but a couple of hard freezes like the one you just had will eventually cause the stalks and leafy growth to die back. Tubers will taste best and have the best texture after the foliage has died down and the ground has just begun to freeze–in late fall or early winter. You can then loosen the soil slightly with a garden fork, grasp the thick stems, and pull the tubers out of the ground. To clean the tubers of surface dirt, soak them in water for five minutes and scrub them with a brush. Rinse and use at once or store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. If you want to store tubers for later use, leave them in the garden and dig them as you need them; mulch heavily to keep the ground and tubers from freezing. Hard freezing will not damage the tubers; but the frozen soil can be hard to dig.

  4. Are Sunchokes deer resistant? Will Sunchokes survive temperatures below zero?
    From direct experience, I can not answer these questions, perhaps some readers can weigh in. However, I am tempted to say Yes to both questions. Here is why: the Sunchoke or Jerusalem Artichoke is native to North America and can be found growing wild in the north central region of the United States along the Canadian border as well as the east coast of the United States. Native American Indians were growing Sunchokes before the first Europeans arrived. The Sunchoke is a perennial–even though today it is commonly grown as an annual crop; that is because the plant’s top growth or stems are killed by frost. Clearly, the tuber survives cold weather. However, for the purpose of preserving the tuber harvest–edible tubers, Sunchokes should not be left in soil that is poorly drained or freezes. The best yield can be had where the growing season is frost-free for 4 to 5 months and where the soil is well-drained sandy loam.

  5. Great write up, Steve!

    I was wondering though what you meant when you wrote “avoid planting sunchokes with tomatoes.” Is there something about sunchokes impede tomato growth? Or are tomatoes only affected if they’re planted in the same soil as the sunchokes?

    I ask because I’m planning on growing these plants in close proximity to each other this year (I can move the artichokes away from the tomatoes since they’re in containers).

    • If you are growing these crops in containers, there’s nothing to worry about. Tomatoes and sunchokes in the garden can compete for the same nutrients and soil moisture.

      • Hi, I recently purchased a sunchoke plant, and I plan to grow it indoors, how much light do sunchokes need, and how often should I water it! Thanks so much! -Angelina

        • Sunchokes want plenty of light–8 hours a day is optimal. You might liken the growth pattern of a sunchoke to a grass–it wants plenty of light, and water, and natural nutrients. Place the plant where if will get full light (sunshine or under a grow lamp).

  6. Hi, I am a beekeeper and I am equally as interested in these plants for the flowers as I am the crop. What will happen if I let the flowers go to seed? Just bird food and yucky tubers? Do I have to cut them back in the fall or can I just harvest what I want and let the rest of the stalks stand for habitat/bird food over the winter? Thank you 😊

    • If you want to avoid seeds dropping and natural re-seeding, you can cut back the stalks to about 3 feet high in autumn. You can leave the tubers in the ground for winter storage and spring harvest. If you leave the stalks and tubers in place through the winter, the birds will help themselves to the seed on the dry flower heads. If you allow the overwintered tubers to re-sprout in the spring, they will use much of their natural sugars in the re-growth process and the tubers won’t be as tasty for you. (But the birds will be happy.)

  7. I read a lot of people worry about how to plant the tubers. My experience in only 4 years of raising Sun Chokes is that as long as the tubers aren’t kept too wet (which will rot them) they will sprout.

    I just moved to a new location and in packing I lost the tubers I brought to my new home. When I found them they were as wrinkled as a apple granny doll. All but the smallest tubers (say 45 out of 50 about) have come back up looking completely healthy this year.

    Add to that my ex-landlord decided to ignore what I had told him about sunchokes and used a rototiller on the bed they were in. Right now he has well over 1000 little plants coming up in a 50′ X 12′ space. I’ve offered to come back this fall and remove all of the tubers I can LOL.

    In my first year I netted 50 pounds (one laundry basket full) out of 9 tubers raised in a square yard of clay/dirt, so if the numbers hold he could have over 2,500 pound of chokes in ground by the end of the year.

    • Thanks very much for sharing your experience with sunchokes. Yes, rototilling sunchokes is not recommended–unless you want plenty of new plants! Thanks for reading Harvest to Table.

  8. My first planting of sunchokes, and I’m noticing some of the stems/stalks coming out of the soil look to be multiple sprouts from the same chunk of tuber I planted. Can I divide these young plants before they get very big?

    • You can divide sunchokes much as you would a sweet potato or potato. Division of tubers is best done during the dormant time of the season. You can lift tubers, divide them–leaving two or three eyes per division, allow the tuber cuts to heal or dry for a few days before replanting. You can try division now, but to hedge your bet, don’t divide all of the tubers just some. That way in case rot sets in on the newly divided tubers, you will not lose your entire crop.

  9. We live in the mountains in Arizona and planted our sunchokes in two containers that were in a garden but we put the pots in the greenhouse for winter. how often should I water them in the pots over winter?
    It does get cold here and can get into single digits.

    • If the sunchokes continue to grow through the winter and do not lose their leaves or die back then keep the soil just moist–not wet. Make sure each container drains well so that moisture does not collect at the bottom of the container. Once the tops die back, stop watering. Sunchokes are typically ready for harvest 90 days after spring planting; if you planted in the fall they will grow more slowing though the winter and should be ready for harvest late next summer or early fall.

  10. Hi there. I planted my sunchokes several weeks ago (late winter/early spring here in GA) and they still have not sprouted. I’m worried that perhaps they were too old when I planted them. How long do they normally take to sprout?

    • If the soil is in the mid-60sF and the sunchoke tubers each had one or two “eyes” and they were planted at about 4 to 6 inches deep, they should send up new growth in 2 to 3 weeks. If you are worried they might have been old or not planted in warm soil at the right depth, then replant. You have a long season ahead, so there is still time to plant.

  11. Hi, thanks for this info! I have a happy plot of tall sunchokes, and my question is about storage. I live in seattle where winters are cool and wet. I’d rather not dig them in winter, but wonder if I could dig them up in Fall, and store some in cool dry dirt, in a root cellar style box outside the back door. Is that a thing?

    Thanks!

    • Yes, you can store them in a root cellar; you can store them like potatoes in a cool, dry shed or garage. Use a slatted storage rack and keep them away from sunlight.

  12. Hi…we live in So. Arizona high desert where the temperature gets over 100 during the summer. My son just sent me some tubers to plant. If I keep them watered, could I plant them now? He told me they are a natural insulin and can lower blood sugars. Thank you.

    • The soil temperature is likely in the high 80s or 90s if your air temperature is averaging greater than 100F. The best time to plant sunchokes is in early spring; the second-best time to plant is in early autumn for harvest next year. If you plant now, the tubers may survive but may not grow this season.

  13. Hi, I live in the North eastern state, My neighbor gave me some sunchoke tubers last fall and I planted them in a pot and left it inside the house. The year before I left the outside and the tubers rotted. They grew about 3 feet insides the house and when spring came I planted them in the ground. When I planted, there were no tubes at the bottom, just the roots. I planted them anyway. During the planting process, the stems got lodged but the top is growing. My question is, will I have any sunchokes to harvest this fall or should I wait until spring of 2021? Thanks in advance.

    • If your sunchokes are growing–they will grow to the height of a tall sunflower–then you will be able to harvest tubers in early autumn.

  14. Just my 2 cents…We planted sunchokes 2 years ago. We didn’t harvest because it didn’t look like there would be very much, so we just left them alone. You definitely want a fence around them if you want them to seed, the deer/elk will eat them down as far as they can reach. We have yet to get any flowers because of the deer/elk. I live in Idaho where the soil is poor, so we planted them in something called “premium garden soil” from Diamond Recycling. They haven’t spread very much in the 2 years that they’ve been in the bed (we have a dedicated bed because I heard they were invasive). I’m wondering if the tubers may be spread out further than we can see. Are there tubers where there’s no actual stalks? If not, I’m probably going to wait another growing season to harvest, to make sure there’s plenty left over for the following harvest season. I love sunchokes, but you can’t hardly find them around here, and the price at the grocery store is prohibitive. High as $7.89 a pound. Very expensive for something that’s considered an invasive weed.

    • The tubers for each plant will be within a couple of feet of the stalk. If tubers spread, they will produce new stalks, but again the stalks and tubers will be in close proximity. If you do not harvest sunchokes on a regular basis, they will spread–but not so fast that you can’t control them with regular attention.

  15. Hi there. We are first time growers and accidentally bent the stalks of sunchokes early July. Should I leave them ‘lodged’ for the rest of the summer and the tubers will continue to grow and be ready for harvesting late fall, or do I cut the stalks and give up for this growth season?

    • Cut off any top growth that dies and turns brown; leave any green growth below in place. The plant may send out suckers–new stalks–and try to recover. When the plant totally dies back, harvest the tubers.

      • Thanks very much, Steve. The stalks are bent, but are still green, so I will leave them there for now, and only cut them down if they turn brown.. Lets see if The bent ones continue to thrive!

  16. Can I make cuttings of sunchokes? I’m not asking about dividing tubers. I’m wondering, rather, if I can make cuttings from the tiny stems which have branched off from the main stem.

    • You can give it a try; that is not the usual way to propagate sunchokes. Take a 4 to 6-inch cutting; dip the cut end in a rooting hormone and set it in a seed starting medium.

  17. Hi. I need some help. We planted some sunchokes in spring in raised bed using pieces of purchased tubers cut with “eyes” like you would potatoes. They grew up big beautiful plants with the yellow flowers. I’m in Texas and it’s end of September and several of them have died back completely. I pulled up a couple of dead ones and big roots but no tuber at all. I had understood that frost would cause them to die back and then I could start to harvest. Since it seems it’s too early for them to have tubers developed, I don’t understand why they’re dying back. Any idea what’s going on?

    • The top of the plant will naturally die back as days grow shorter and night temperatures grow cooler. Frost will enhance the flavor of sunchokes as it concentrates the sugars in the roots. As for there being not tubers, the soil may have been too rich in nitrogen.

  18. This is my first year growing sunchokes. I started them in 5 gallon buckets last spring. The stalks are over 5 feet. The stalks of one bucket are a lighter green than the others and may already show signs of dying back. None of them have flowered yet. Based on what I’ve learned so far, harvesting is recommended after a period of frost. I’m in zone 7b.

    Question: Is the absence of flowers common? If not, what might this indicate?

    • Commonly sunchokes will flower. If the soil is too rich in nitrogen, flowering might not occur. The leafy stalks will die back as days grow shorter and nights chilly. Shortly after the first frost, you can lift the plants to see if they produced tubers. (Of course, you can do this sooner, if you like; frost enhances the flavor of tubers.)

  19. I live in central SC where the ground rarely freezes and usually not more than more than 1/2 inch depth if it does (zone 8). I plan to plant sunchokes in a large raised bed container next week but after reading your article and the Q&A, I wonder if I should wait? Of course, I can’t really store the tubers over winter, though. Help!

    • If the tubers have been harvested, be sure they were well-cured in a warm, dry location. Curing can take 2 to 3 weeks. If the tubers are still in the ground, make sure the soil is well-drained. You can sprinkle an organic fungicide around the plants. Severely infected tubers should be removed; you can solarize the soil if you plan to plant sunchokes there again next season; however, rotating the crop out of that spot for three years is the best course.

  20. One thing I would add to this well-done article is getting the right variety. I see Stampede is listed on this article and that is a good variety. I bought another no-name variety on Amazon and while they are ok, the roots have a lot of points and they are harder to clean. The Stampede tubers are larger and easier to clean. I like the red tubers in the photo at the top of this article. My Stampede is not red so I assume that is another variety. I have not found a good source for getting different varieties of the Sun Chokes. Does anyone know where to get the red ones?

    • Sunchoke tubers will generally take care of themselves. However, if you have a small sunchoke patch with few plants and your winter is wet, you can take them up and store them in a cool, dry, dark place–just as you would potatoes.

  21. Hi! To clarify, is it recommended to stop watering them after the leaves start to turn yellow in preparation for harvest or keep watering them right up to and through harvesting?

    • When leaves turn yellow you can stop watering. The plants will enter a dormant time if you do not harvest the tubers. Allow the plants to rest until spring.

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