Yams take a bit of work to cultivate but are well worth the effort. They are delicious and the health benefits are fantastic. You’ll need to plant them in a sub-tropical environment or grow them indoors or in a greenhouse, but if you can meet those requirements you’re good to go. Take a look at these tips on how to grow yams to get started.
Even though sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, they are not even part of the same family of vegetables. While sweet potatoes are sweet as their name implies, yams are starchy and much drier.
WHEN TO GROW
Yams should be grown over the course of long, hot summers. They do not tolerate cold temperatures. Get them started indoors several weeks prior to the last frost in your area and do not transplant them outside until temperatures reach 70° F. Or wait about 3 weeks after the last frost. Yams take several months to mature and won’t be ready for harvest until late fall.
WHERE TO GROW
Yams need to be grown in warm environments or indoors. They are naturally a tropical plant and won’t do well if temperatures are consistently between 70° F and 80° F for the entire growing period, which can be lengthy. They are only recommended in zones 9 – 11 in the United States.
Choose a site in your garden that gets lots of direct sunlight, as much as possible. Do not skimp on the sun, especially if you are trying to grow yams in a less than tropical environment.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING YAMS
Yams need fertile soil. Amend your garden soil with lots of mature compost, organic fertilizer and rotted manure. Be sure the soil drains easily and has a slightly acidic pH (5.5 – 6.5).
Similar to sweet potatoes but unlike regular potatoes, yams grow from rooted sprouts called slips, not pieces of mature tubers. Plan them in fertile, warm soil. For best results, start them indoors in containers filled with high quality potting soil. Sow them about an inch or two deep and keep them spaced 8 inches apart. Be sure the soil is at least 75° F.
WATERING & CARE
Water yams frequently after planting, usually once or twice per day if the weather is dry. Keep the soil moist until they begin to sprout. Continue to water regularly or as soon as the top inch of soil dries out. Water at first sign of wilting leaves. Water at the base of each plant as overhead watering can foster mold and other fungal diseases.
Add a layer of organic mulch. Pine needles work great. They’ll keep the soil moist and warm and add a little acidity.
Give your yams a monthly feeding of liquid fertilizer or compost tea. Avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen. They create beautiful foliage at the expense of good tubers. Phosphorus, however, is great for yams.
Prune vines throughout the growing season. Keep them small and contained. This will allow large tubers to form.
Harvest yam tubers once the cold of the fall begins to kill the foliage. Dig them up carefully without damaging the skin.
TIPS & ADVICE
Yam tubers may be available at your local nursery, grocery store or farmer’s market. If not, you can find them on Amazon.
Grow yams in large containers, mounds or raised beds for best results, particularly if your weather is borderline warm enough.
When using plastic mulch to warm the soil, use clear as opposed to black. It will let in sun and retain the heat. Be sure it is spread taught against the ground to be sure weeds are killed.