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Complete Guide to Growing Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)

Complete guide to growing Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

Don’t be fooled by this hardy perennial vegetable. It’s neither from Jerusalem, nor an artichoke. And even though it looks like a sunflower (which it is), you grow it for the edible tubers underground.

Jerusalem artichokes have so many good things going for them, it’s surprising they’re not grown more often.

The masses of sunflowers draw pollinators to the garden all summer; the tubers are tasty, highly nutritious, and available all winter; and this is as easy as it gets for a food crop—unfussy, adapts to all soils, and comes back year after year.

The plants have just one drawback (for some people, not all), which I’ll get to later.

But overall, Jerusalem artichokes (which you may also know as sunchokes, sunroots, earth apples, wild sunflowers, or topinambour) are a unique food crop you should definitely grow this year.

Jerusalem artichoke tubers laying on soil

What are Jerusalem artichokes?

The knobby tubers are actually the edible roots of a native North American sunflower species, Helianthus tuberosus, and a member of the Asteraceae family, which includes other edible flowers like artichokes and dandelions.

Large patch of Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus, or sunchokes) growing in a garden

Most Jerusalem artichokes are white to tan in color, but a few cultivated varieties are deep pink to burgundy.

The tubers look like a cross between potatoes and ginger root, but with a crisp, jicama-like texture when eaten raw; a rich, starchy texture when cooked; and a flavor that varies slightly among different varieties, from mildly artichoke-ish to nutty to earthy.

Pile of Jerusalem artichokes on a wooden surface

When cooking, the Jerusalem artichoke is treated like a potato: you can roast it, bake it, saute it, mash it, or add it to your soup. It’s a soft, slightly nutty alternative to potatoes, with fewer calories and a lower glycemic index.

As a perennial plant, it thrives in zones 3 to 8. All summer long, it produces loads of cheerful yellow flowers that can grow over 10 feet tall above ground, while forming thick tubers below ground that can be dug and harvested in fall.

Where to get Jerusalem artichoke tubers

You’ve probably seen Jerusalem artichokes in the grocery store and never paid much attention to them. Sometimes they’re sold as individual tubers, and sometimes they’re sold by the pound in plastic bags or cellophane-wrapped packages.

Pile of sunchokes in a basket at the farmers' market

These sunchokes are usually unnamed, and you can simply buy them from the grocery store or farmers’ market and plant them in your garden. Their season is from fall through early spring, so you’re not likely to find them after April.

Related: The Best Way to Transplant Supermarket “Living Herbs”

However, some seed catalogs now carry superior selections of sunchokes that have characteristics unique to that strain. They vary by root shape, skin color, and maturation time.

For example, Stampede is a very prolific, winter-hardy, early-maturing variety with round, crisp tubers weighing 1/2 pound each.

Dwarf Sunray is a more compact variety with smoother, thin-skinned tubers that don’t require peeling. (I chose this variety for my own garden because it produces masses of tubers around a central stem, so I don’t have to dig around so much to find them. This one is a great choice for containers as well as smaller beds where you want to control their spread.)

And if you’re looking to add some color to your meals, Red Fuseau is a stunning cultivar with its large magenta tubers.

Not all of these tubers look the same or taste the same, but the taste is somewhat similar across all varieties, and their flavor sweetens after frost.

Quick tip

When buying tubers to plant, choose varieties that have very short, 3- to 6-inch stolons (runners that the tubers grow on).

Short stolons (such as those on Dwarf Sunray) cluster the tubers close together around the stalk, right at the root ball. This makes harvesting super easy since you can pull up the stalk and collect all the tubers at once.

Other varieties might have stolons that reach a foot or more, so the tubers spread in all directions and you have to go digging for them in the soil, making them easy to miss (and more likely to spread uncontrolled).

Disclosure: All products on this page are independently selected. If you buy from one of my links, I may earn a commission.

Here are a few online sources where you can buy Jerusalem artichokes to plant:

Jerusalem artichokes are popular in permaculture gardens, so you might even be able to get some tubers from a fellow gardener after they harvest.

Hand holding three sunchoke tubers

You don’t need more than a few tubers to get started, since the crop multiplies so easily… Some people might say too easily, as it can take over a garden bed if not harvested every year.

Jerusalem artichoke is a very enthusiastic perennializer if you don’t keep up with it, to the point of being almost invasive.

Don’t let that scare you off though. Just go for varieties with short stolons, give the plants plenty of space, remove the flower heads before they go to seed, and make sure you harvest as many tubers as possible to keep growth in check. (If you’ve ever grown potatoes, you know how it goes.)

For my family of four, I planted five tubers and that’s plenty to go around with enough to share.

Planting Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes can grow almost anywhere, but they’ll do best in full sun and well-drained soil with a lot of organic matter.

New plants can be started anytime in late winter to early spring (as long as the soil is workable) for a fall harvest. Optimal soil temperature for planting is between 50°F and 60°F and they need an 18- to 20-week frost-free growing period to produce a good-size crop.

You can also plant tubers in fall and let them overwinter (they’ll start growing in spring). If you live in a warmer region, it’s even possible to plant tubers in fall for a spring harvest.

Read more: Know When to Grow: A Planting Calendar For Your Garden

You can grow Jerusalem artichokes from whole or partial tubers, as long as each tuber or section has at least two to three eyes (growing nodes) per piece. They lose moisture quickly when they’re not in the ground, so don’t let the pieces dry out before planting.

The tubers can be planted in any direction, but if yours has already started sprouting, plant them with the sprouts pointing up. Be gentle and try not to break them off as you plant them in the ground.

Hand holding a sprouted sunchoke tuber
  1. Create a trench 4 to 6 inches deep in well-amended soil. (I recommend adding compost and kelp meal to the soil before planting.)
  2. Plant the tubers 12 to 18 inches apart.
  3. Backfill the trench with soil and keep the soil evenly moist until the tubers sprout.
  4. Mulch the bed with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter.
  5. Tubers should sprout in 7 to 14 days, as long as the soil temperature is between 65°F and 90°F.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers spaced out in a garden bed, ready for planting
Jerusalem artichoke tubers being spaced apart properly before planting
Jerusalem artichoke tuber planted in a garden bed
Jerusalem artichoke tuber planted 4 to 6 inches deep in a garden bed

The most important thing to remember is that Jerusalem artichokes need space. While the plants above ground don’t spread that wide, they do grow very tall (anywhere from 6 to 10 feet) and can shade neighboring plants. On the flip side, their towering height can act as a natural windbreak for sensitive plants.

You also need room to maneuver a garden fork and dig up the tubers in fall/winter, so if you can’t give these plants their own dedicated bed, keep them at least 3 feet away from other perennials.

(My own Jerusalem artichokes grow next to the rhubarb patch in the same bed, which works very well since both types of plants need ample space.)

What to do once the plants sprout

Jerusalem artichokes don’t like to be in waterlogged soil, so keep the moisture level moderate and consistent as they grow.

The plants are late bloomers, with flowers that open in August and September. It’s not unusual for some plants to bloom irregularly or not at all. But even without flowers, they’ll still produce delicious tubers.

Bright yellow sunchoke flowers

While the tall stalks usually stay fairly upright on their own, adding stakes or other supports is a good idea if you live in a windy area.

Jerusalem artichoke stalk full of leaves

Or, try growing pole beans on the sunny side of your sunchokes. The vines will climb the sturdy stalks like a living trellis (similar to beans trained on corn stalks in a Three Sisters Garden).

You can harvest the flowers for cut flower arrangements before they go to seed. A benefit of this (besides making beautiful bouquets) is that without flowers, the plant can focus all of its energy into developing more and larger tubers.

Fertilize your sunchoke plants throughout the growing season, as needed, with an organic granular vegetable fertilizer or all-purpose fertilizer.

Harvesting Jerusalem artichokes

The flowers and stalks die back in fall, and I recommend cutting them down at soil level and spreading the old foliage across the bed as mulch.

Wait until the stalks are fully dried and harvest your Jerusalem artichokes after a few frosts, when the tubers are at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter. (A good winter chill actually improves the flavor by concentrating the sugars in the tubers.)

This is usually November in the northern hemisphere, but will depend on how severe your climate is. (Milder regions should aim to harvest in mid-winter.)

Generally anytime between late autumn and late winter, you can dig up the tubers to eat. Use a garden fork or shovel to lift the tubers, taking care not to damage them.

Hands holding a freshly dug harvest of Jerusalem artichoke tubers

They don’t have to be harvested all at once. In fact, if you can’t use them all within a couple weeks, you can leave the rest in the ground, where they’ll keep all winter.

In extremely cold climates, be sure to cover the bed with an organic mulch (like straw, shredded leaves, or wood chips) and/or a low tunnel to keep the tubers from freezing. You can harvest Jerusalem artichokes continually until the weather warms up again and the tubers begin to sprout.

Replanting for the following season

Like potatoes and other tubers, Jerusalem artichokes are persistent and will regrow from any tubers (or parts of tubers) left in the soil. So if you don’t want them coming back the following year, make sure you remove every last tuber when you harvest.

But, these plants are best grown as perennials, so you can replant some of your own tubers that you’ve harvested to get a new crop the following year.

Choose the largest, smoothest tubers from your harvest, those with the fewest knobs and bumps. This will help you get larger and smoother tubers in the next harvest.

Close-up of sunchoke tubers

Plant them in fall right after you cut down the stalks, add a thick layer of mulch to help them overwinter nicely, and wait for the shoots to emerge in spring.

The tubers don’t store well once they’re out of the ground. If you can’t plant them right away, you can just leave them where they are underground, then lift and harvest the tubers in early spring.

How to store and prep

After harvest, Jerusalem artichokes will keep in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to two weeks. If you have a cold basement or unheated garage that stays around 32°F, you can actually store the tubers in a container of damp sand for several months. (This latter method simulates them being outside in the earth.)

Don’t let good food go to waste

Download my Fruit & Vegetable Storage Guide for tips and tricks on maximizing freshness.

But my preferred way to store them is much easier—just use the ground as your own outdoor root cellar! They’re perfectly happy where they are for the whole winter, and can be harvested as needed.

Only wash your sunchokes right before you’re ready to use them, and make sure you give them a good scrub beforehand, as soil likes to hide in all the crevices.

The skin on all sunchokes is edible, but vary in thickness and roughness depending on the variety. So, peeling (or not) is personal preference.

Remove any bumps and nodes that make cleaning or cutting difficult, then slice, dice, or cut into chunks for cooking. You can prepare sunchokes like you’d prepare a potato or parsnip.

Sunchoke tubers piled together in a colander
Jerusalem artichokes, whole and sliced, on a cutting board with a knife in the foreground

These are a few of the ways I like to eat sunchokes: pickled, sliced very thinly for a salad, pureed for soup, diced and added to a hearty stew, or roasted with other root vegetables (you can parboil them first before roasting in the oven, as this gives the sunchokes crispier skin).

When using raw, sprinkle a little lemon juice on the cut slices to keep them from discoloring.

If you have enough sunchokes, you can make a baked gratin with leeks, cream, and cheese. Or, try slicing them thinly and frying them up as chips with your favorite seasonings. Sunchokes also pair well with citrus, balsamic, vinaigrettes, and other sharp, acidic flavors.

Recipes to try:

Do Jerusalem artichokes cause flatulence?

I’m convinced that one of the reasons more people don’t plant (or eat) Jerusalem artichokes is because of its notorious reputation as a fart-inducing food.

Yes, Jerusalem artichokes can make you fart—I certainly wouldn’t recommend serving it with beans if you’re prone to being gassy!

In fact, the tuber has such potent flatulence powers that some gardeners and chefs have even nicknamed it “fartichoke.” (Good one, right?)

This is because Jerusalem artichokes contain very high levels of inulin, a non-digestible carbohydrate that’s fermented by gut bacteria. Eating the tubers raw can exacerbate the problem in people with sensitive stomachs, so try cooking the tubers first to help alleviate gas.

This is partly the reason you should wait until the tubers are fully ripe in late fall before you harvest. The longer they remain in the ground, the less inulin they contain.

The good thing is, you’re not likely to eat so many sunchokes in one sitting to cause excess wind, but this is something to keep in mind. Stick to moderation, and you should be good at any dinner party.

Magenta colored sunchoke tubers

Common questions about Jerusalem artichokes

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

1 Comment

  • catherine
    September 27, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Great post! I appreciate your in-depth coverage!

    Reply

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