Q: “I have several plants that look like weeds, but I'm told they are Jerusalem artichokes and that the tubers are edible. Can you give me some information about this plant?”
A: Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a member of the daisy family and has been given several other names, such as Canada potato, earth-apple, girasole, sunflower artichoke, sunroot, tuberous sunflower and more. The flowers are born on stiff hairy stocks (5 to 9 feet in height) and look like small sunflowers or daisies, which bloom August through September.
This plant likes full sun and rich, moist soil and is considered a perennial/biennial in our area. Instead of roots, the flower makes an edible tuber that grows straight down and can be as long as 50 inches. This makes it hard to control because, if not completely removed, the tuber portion left in the ground will continue to make more tubers and produce an ever-increasing number of new plants every year.
In fact, this plant is considered a weed by many because of its rampant growth and the difficulty of removing the whole tuber. Those who raise pigs say their animals love the tubers and will root them out.
“Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable,” an “Alternative Field Crops Manual” said. “Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes, except the carbohydrates composing 75 to 80 percent of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste.
“Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, or made into flour or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes.” www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/jerusart.html.
Q: “I would like to add new shrubs to my landscape. Is this a good time to do that, or should I wait until spring?
A: Fall is a good time to plant many types of container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock and garden centers in our area are stocking plants that are OK to be planted this time of year.
When planting, prepare a good-sized hole, plant at the same depth it grew in the nursery or in the container, then water thoroughly. If the plant is tall, such as a tree, add a stake and coated wire to support the plant and protect it from strong winter winds.
Wrap tree trunks to protect against frost cracks or animal damage, and add a thick layer of mulch or crunched up leaves to help with fluctuation in soil temperature and to help hold in moisture. You can mix slow-release fertilizer in the soil you add to the planting hole. Remember to water often till the ground freezes, then add mulch.