Jicama Plant: A Vine With Tasty Tubers
The jicama plant is well-known as a Mexican staple, but it's a delicious addition to anyone's food garden, too! We explore growing this vine.
There are many types of vegetables to grow at home, and there’s one in particular that we think you should consider adding to your garden. The jicama plant has many positive characteristics that make it fun to grow and eat.
Jicama is pronounced “hi-kuh-muh”, and in Mexico, they recognize it as an earth element for the Day of the Dead celebration. This root vegetable has a history dating back to 3000 BC in Peru! It’s a well-loved and important crop within its native environment.
It’s not the most common of vegetables, but this edible tuber that grows from a vine is worth learning about. Jicama is a tropical plant, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out if you don’t live in its ideal climate. There are methods we discuss in this growing guide that will help you be successful.
Good Products At Amazon For Growing Jicama:
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Jicama, Mexican turnip, Mexican yam bean, Mexican potato|
|Scientific Name||Pachyrhizus erosus|
|Days to Harvest||150+|
|Water||Regular, keep the soil moist|
|Soil||Sandy loam soil|
|Pests||Weevils and borers|
|Diseases||Bacterial spot and fungal diseases|
All About Jicama
Jicama is native to Mexico and Central America, thus it thrives in the full sun with warm soil and consistent water. Its botanical name is Pachyrhizus erosus but is commonly known as jicama. It is a member of the bean family (Fabaceae) and requires a long growing season.
The jicama is a herbaceous perennial vine that produces edible underground tubers that resemble a turnip with a flavor compared to water chestnut with a slightly sweet aftertone. Mature jicama vines can grow up to 20 feet tall, though most who grow it will keep it cut back to maintain the size.
The vigorous vine has lateral growing leaves that are toothed, and either ovate or rhomboid-shaped. It produces white or violet flowers that turn into fuzzy pods full of seeds. The tubers have brown skin with white flesh that resembles a turnip or beet. If allowed to grow, a tuber can weigh up to 50 pounds! Though the smaller ones have better flavor and texture.
The tasty root vegetable is the only edible part and has many culinary uses and health benefits. It’s commonly seen in stir-fries, salads, and is great for snacking when it’s hot outside because it contains 85% water. Also, jicama tubers are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and full of fiber. Though the leaves, flowers, and seed pods are poisonous, they contain a natural insecticide that protects the jicama plants from invaders.
Although considered a perennial, it is more of an annual, since the root is the food source. Jicama grows throughout the summer, with a harvest of the jicama root in the fall. You can grow the plants from jicama seeds, but you will need to allow plenty of time for the jicama to mature. We will discuss more about growing jicama in the next section.
Jicama plants are easy to grow, but it requires a long growing season such as in growing zones 7-10. If you live in an area with a short growing season, you have the option of growing it in large containers as long as it receives plenty of sunlight. Jicama grows well from direct sowing or from transplants if you start the seeds early indoors.
Plant jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) seeds or transplants outside in the spring when the danger of frost has passed. You’ll need plenty of space in your garden bed or raised bed for jicama to grow, as well as room for a sturdy trellis for each plant. You can start your jicama a little earlier inside if you are planting it in a container and then move it outdoors once the weather has warmed.
Pick a container that is large enough to support 2-3 tubers and one that can hold a trellis to support the jicama vine. Full sun and well-drained soil rich in potassium is ideal for growing jicama that produce tubers that are healthy.
In this portion, we will explore how to grow and care for jicama plants. All aspects such as light, temperature, water, humidity, and soil are important when growing jicama so you can have healthy plants with high yields.
Sun and Temperature
Direct sunlight (at least 8 hours per day) is required to grow jicama. It does best in USDA growing zones 7-10 because it needs hot weather and doesn’t mind humidity. You can cover your jicama at night to protect it from cooler weather. However, if the temperature consistently drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, your jicama plants will not be happy.
Water and Humidity
Regular watering is required to grow jicama because it is not drought tolerant. Give each plant at least 2 inches of water per week as they increase in size. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. It’s best to water in the mornings near the base of the plant, whether it is from a soaker hose or drip line. In hot, dry weather, you may need to water more frequently compared to areas that are more humid and receive more rainfall.
Plant jicama in sandy loam soil that has good drainage, but will also stay moist. Growing jicama in poor soil is a recipe for failure since this plant needs plenty of nutrition and organic matter for a good start. The best pH to grow jicama is 6.5 to 8.0. If you do not have optimal soil in the ground in your garden, opt to plant it in a raised bed garden or container garden.
Since jicama is a legume, it does not need high nitrogen fertilizer. Over-fertilizing will cause the leaves to grow well, but not the tubers. Fortify your soil with a fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus at least twice during the long growing season.
Maintenance pruning is the most beneficial when you grow jicama. This means pruning the vine to prevent it from taking over your garden and removing flowers to help the plant send more energy to the roots instead of the growing flowers.
The only way to grow jicama is from seeds. Even though it has tubers, we do not use them like potato tubers to produce a new plant. Once you have your jicama seeds, soak them overnight in warm water to increase germination rates. Even then, it can take up to 20 days for jicama seeds to germinate. The ideal soil temperature to plant jicama is 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. Use a heat mat and a grow light to ensure adequate germination and growth of the seeds during this period. When directly sowing or transplanting the jicama seedlings outdoors, space plants 10 inches apart with at least 4 feet between rows. When direct sowing, place seeds one inch deep in the ground and spaced 6 inches apart. Thin plants to 10 to 12 inches apart once the seeds have germinated.
Harvesting and Storing
After spending the time and effort to grow jicama, it’s important to harvest it correctly and know how to store it so it will stay fresh. Let’s talk about how to harvest and store jicama so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Since the jicama plant can take up to 5 to 9 months to mature, you will want to wait the appropriate amount of time to harvest or you could end up with tubers that are tiny. The average yield is 4 to 5 tubers for one plant, with each one being anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds apiece.
The root vegetable will continue to grow larger if you leave it in the ground and live in a warm climate. However, the larger tubers don’t have as much flavor and can become tough and woody. The best size is those that are 3 to 6 inches in diameter. Those that live in cooler climates will need to plan to harvest just before the first frost or when you notice the vine turning yellow or dying back.
Remember to quit watering the plant 2 weeks before you plan to harvest to allow the tubers to cure, which will also help them store longer. Another option is to allow them to cure after harvest for 1 to 2 weeks in a dry and warm spot (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and then place them in storage.
To dig up the roots, follow the vine to the soil and use a small trowel or shovel and carefully dig up each tuber. Cut off each vine after you have removed the tuber from the soil. Dust off each one to prepare for storage. Make sure you save a few to eat fresh in a stir-fry or sprinkled with chile and lime for a yummy snack!
Once you have completed your harvest, chop up the vines and throw them into the compost. We recommend removing all seed pods and using a hot-compost process to make sure all toxins decompose adequately.
Properly stored jicama will last up to two months. Place the ones you plan to store in a cool, dark place around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not place the whole fresh jicama tuber in the fridge because it is too cold and it will spoil if left there for long periods of time.
Perhaps you don’t have a cool area to store the tubers. There are plenty of other options to store this root long term. You can slice it into chips and dehydrate it, freeze it, or find a simple recipe and pickle the jicama.
Thankfully, jicama doesn’t have many growing problems, pests, or diseases that affect it. This next section highlights what to watch out for and the solutions for each one.
There are a few growing problems that could affect your jicama. The first is related to water. We touched on this in the growing section, but it’s worth mentioning again. Jicama likes plenty of moisture, but over-watering can kill plants. Keep the soil moist, not soggy and plant it in well-draining soil.
Jicama loves warm climates, so naturally, it is not tolerant to the cold and frost. If you are growing it in a cooler climate, modify your growing season or plant it in a container so you can move it to warmer areas when needed (i.e, a greenhouse or sunroom).
Since the plant is a natural insecticide, pest control isn’t a huge concern. However, weevils can be a problem, though you won’t see them often. Weevils are a beetle that can cause damage if left to their own devices. You can spread diatomaceous earth on top of the mulch at the base of the plant to deter them from climbing onto the jicama, and pyrethrin is a natural insecticide made from dried chrysanthemum flowers that kills the adult weevil.
Pyrethrin is also effective against a number of other pests, such as aphids, that are opportunistic. While aphids don’t prefer jicama to other species, they will happily suck sap from it and are a vector for diseases such as mosaic virus.
Root rot is a fungal disease that causes the roots to become sunken and deformed and can even hinder the growth of the vine. To prevent this, do not overwater your jicama and plant your seedlings in soil that drains well.
Aphids spread the mosaic virus, causing the leaves to turn yellow and develop a bluish-green pattern. Over time it can kill plants entirely as leaves drop. The only treatment is preventing its spread. If your plant gets this virus, remove it from the garden and destroy the infected plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take to grow jicama?
A: Jicama takes up to 150 days of growth until you can harvest the tubers. Those who live in a warm climate have the ideal environment. However, you can start jicama seeds in the late winter and plant the jicama seedlings outside in the spring to give them a head start.
Q: Is jicama easy to grow?
A: Growing jicama from seeds is easy, but you need to have plenty of warmth and sunshine to give the tubers time to grow to an adequate size.
Q: Are jicama beans edible?
A: No, the jicama beans aren’t edible. The only edible portion is the root vegetable – the seeds/beans, vines, stems, and flowers of these plants contain a poisonous toxin called rotenone.