How to Grow Yams

Yams are nutritious, tasty, easy to cultivate, and delicious. Learn how to grow yams and add this nutritious food to your garden.

These are vines that twine with hearts-shaped, shiny, purple-tinged leaves. They develop underground from tubers that have rough skin. The flesh is more difficult to peel than the skin of a sweet potato.

They are often confused with sweet potatoes but are two different plants. With the proper planning and forethought, yams can be grown in tropical climates.

They can be planted in areas with a dry season towards the middle of June. They can be grown in full sunlight or semi-shade. However, they require a trellis. The growing season is arid, so they need lots of water.

We have included yams in every holiday feast. I can’t picture a holiday meal without a nice bowl of yams. Yams can also be steamed, mashed, or roasted and make a great side dish to the Sunday dinner.

Read more about the type of yams I like to use here: Jamaican Yellow Yams!

Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

It is common for people to be confused by the two tubers. They have different appearances and tastes. Here are the main variations:

  • Sweet potatoes are sweeter and more flavorful than yams, as their name implies.
  • Yams are more cylindrical-shaped.
  • Sweet potatoes grow to about the same size as other varieties of potato.
  • Yams typically expand from potato size to 5 pounds. They can also grow up to up to 100 pounds.
  • Yams’ maturation ranges from six to twelve months, sweet potatoes: 100-150 days
  • Yams can take more than one year to grow.

A large yam plant seen in a back garden

When to Plant Yams

Yams do not thrive in temperatures that are cold. Planting them in the middle of spring is thought to be optimal.

Yams require a very long growing period, so ensure that you don’t wait too long to plant your garden in the spring or summer months. Plant outdoors after the last frost is gone and the temperature stays over 80 degrees.

In areas with frost-prone zones, it is possible to harvest at the time of the first frost since the cold enhances the flavour and sweetness.

Soil Test

Yams prefer soil that is loose and has adequate drainage. Expert farmers recommend testing the soil prior to planting because sweet potatoes like pH levels between 5.0 and 6.5.

Get rid of plants, debris, and stones from the soil. Include at least 1″ compost, and then dig into the depth at 12 inches.

Yams are among the most productive and easy plant tubers you can cultivate. It is possible to start with your plants or even slips.

Yams don’t come from seeds, as do other vegetables. They develop from slips, which originate from the seeds of adult yams.

Check that the yam you choose is healthy. If you notice discoloration or spots on your skin, your yam might be ill, meaning the sprouts may also be afflicted.

How to Propagate Yam with Slips

  • To make sprouts cut yam into half and then immerse it in water.
  • Place one of the portions into a pot of water.
  • Use toothpicks to insert them at three points near the centre of the yam.
  • Submerge it for a half-hour in a water dish that is cool.
  • The process of growth requires warmth, so put the glass near a warm source. If you are able, put the glass in front of an open window to ensure that the yam sprouting gets sunlight. In other cases, you can place it next to an electric heater to soak up the warmth.
  • Within three weeks after that, the yams will start to grow slips that will grow from the portion of the yam that is not in the water.
  • After the yam’s sprouts become green, it’s time to let them slip away from the root. Make use of fingertips to pull each sprout off the yam’s surface lightly.
  • Place water in a container and then place the sprouts on the stems in the water with the leaves hanging from the edge.
  • After a couple of days, root development starts on the stem’s end when the plants begin to grow.
  • It’s time to get them ready for your garden transplanting when yam roots are long, 1 inch, or in a raised bed a couple of weeks after the last frost.

Planting yams potato sweet plant on dry straw / purple yam plant in farm plantation

Transplantation Into Garden

  • Check that your soil’s drainage is good and lose where you plan to go when planting yams.
  • The light mulching of organic material such as sugarcane, bark chips or pea straws will help keep moisture on the ground.
  • The soil must be tilled at a 10-12 inches depth. The debris needs to be cleared. Manure or compost needs to be spread across the soil, and it must be tilled to the depth of 8 inches in the soil to improve the soil’s structure.
  • Make furrows, leaving a space between rows of 50 centimetres, and plant the yams that have sprouted into the soil to an interval of 1.5 inches.
  • The soil needs to be carefully pressed down to eliminate air pockets.
  • The area has to be raked, and then the water must be sprinkled. After that, it is time to leave the area for two to three days before the plantation.
  • Tubers push through the soil, so mowing them in the soil is essential.
  • After the tuber is placed in the ground, it will continue to develop if not removed from the soil.

How to Grow Yam in a Pot

  • If you live in a place where the autumns are mild and you’d like to cultivate your yam vines as ornamental plants,
  • A small, 3- or 4-inch pot for seedlings should have adequate drainage.
  • Put about 1/3 of the pot with potting mixture, then add soil to the yam.
  • Place a few slips in the hole and compact the soil around them.
  • Be sure that there aren’t any air pockets in the vicinity of the roots.
  • After your plants have flourished inside, they are ready to be transferred into larger containers.
  • Fertilize the crop using an organic fertilizer of 21-0-0 after the first vines emerge from the mounds. Repeat approximately 7 to 9 weeks after.
  • It is important to water regularly when the top 2 inches of soil are dry. Use soaker hoses and hose end bubblers to prevent flooding the foliage.
  • The maturity of yams takes three to six months from the time the plant is placed in its container.
  • Harvest the yams once they are 1 1/2–2 inches in size.

Watering

The watering of plants needs to be done a lot. The plants that have been planted from scratch must be watered regularly for the first week and on alternate days during the following week.

The amount of watering can be decreased depending on the increase. Be careful when you’re hydrating them.

Also, ensure that you do not overwater them, which can cause the water to collect. They can thrive in sunlight. If you observe that your soil is dry, alter the watering frequency according to your needs.

Fertilizer

The plants need to be fertilized. Use fertilizer during the growing season to assist in the growth of production.

Purchase a fertilizer with less nitrogen in it as it is a chemical that can cause harm to the growth of roots and has a high quantity of phosphorus. It is considered optimal to fertilize your plants every two weeks or four weeks.

Support Using Bamboo Canes

The yam vines aren’t strong enough and will require some form of support to ensure an acceptable yield.

Keep an eye on the plants and ensure that you stake mounds every four weeks following the appearance of the plants for the very first time. Use bamboo canes to support the vines that will grow to 10 feet.

Huge leaves of giant yam plant in central america jungle

Plant Hardiness

These plants are highly susceptible to frost or freezing. Yams require an entire year free of frost and warmth. They can only be grown in subtropical and tropical areas. 

Yams may take up 3 months to mature. They must be harvested when the top of the plant begins to change color and wilt. The harvesting process usually occurs around the beginning of autumn.

Yams need to be removed. Use pitchforks or other tools used for gardening to dig into the soil with a gentle touch and then take out the tubers beneath the soil’s surface. It is possible to begin digging at a safe distance from the working point.

Curing Yams

You should ensure that you’re not thinking of washing your yams at the end of the harvest. Instead, you can separate your yams into baskets or boxes for curing before storage.

Curing can be completed in around two weeks. The yams must be kept in a dark and warm place with some ventilation and then left completely.

This will allow the cuts and bruises that appear on the yams to heal and seal off the bacteria that cause infection with rot.

Yam Storage

After the yams have been harvested, you can store them for a few months. The yams need to be kept in a dry and cool place, like a cupboard in the kitchen.

Yam Plant Size

Yams are an incredibly herbaceous vine that can climb over anything. Some vines can grow as tall as 8 inches per day!

The tubers can reach enormous – up to six feet tall and 150 pounds; however, most are manageable in their size.

The most appealing aspect of yams is that they need very little effort once you have planted them. You’ll get a huge and delicious harvest.

Types of Yams

There are over 600 varieties of plants found throughout the tropical zones. There are a few common varieties of yams ranging from 3 to 4, which are used during cold and summertime.

Make sure to talk with the nursery in your area regarding the most suitable varieties to grow in your region.

American Yam

American yams are those that are often found at the table during Thanksgiving. However, it’s sweet potato. They’re mentioned as you don’t want to get an American yam if you’re looking for a real yam.

Chinese Yam

Chinese yam is cold-tolerant, but it still needs warm temperatures. These are the most widely used kind of yam to cook traditional recipes for yams. Treat it as white potatoes and bake, roast in a casserole, or mix it into stews.

Filipino Purple Yam

They range from white mottles with a purple hue to deep, lavender- colored flesh. Its skin can be thick as well as dark brown.

Golden Yam

This sweet potato, which is also from South America comes under the umbrella of a yam. It is a popular food in American homes.

Guinea Yams 

Make sure that the yam you select is healthy. Guinea Yams come in both yellow and white flesh varieties. They are huge yams.

Pile of purple and white yams for sale at a market

Yam Diseases

The plants are afflicted with the same blights and mildew issues that tomatoes suffer from. Fungicides can help fight fungus-related illnesses. If the plant gets too large, the air circulation could be affected and increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Don’t hesitate to trim the plant to improve the circulation of air.

The Yam Mosaic Disease. Aphids cause it. This problem causes discoloration of light green and yellow in the leaves. Maintaining the area free of weeds and applying disease-free slips to stop this from happening. If you find plants with the disease, eliminate them as soon as possible.

Dry rot is a disease. This disease causes mild yellow spots on the outer skin before turning the entire yam dark. Use slips with no disease to prevent dry rot. If your yams are affected by this disease, soak them in warm water for an hour following harvest to minimize the effect.

Yam Pests

Mealybugs. This insect resembles an oval shape that resembles cotton in colour. Mealybugs may hinder the growth of plants and also draw insects. Get rid of mealy bugs by eliminating the plants infected and then applying insecticide sprays for massive infestations.

The plants are vulnerable to many insects. The most frequent are potato grubs and yams.

Garden Insects – Identify the common insect pests and how to deal with them.

Insects with white scales. These insects form tiny white scales on the surface of yams, and they may slow the growth of yams. Treatment of plants that are infected is by using insecticidal soap.

Plant Profile

BOTANICAL Yam Name:              Dioscorea alata

Common Yam Names:                 Chinese & White Yam;

FAMILY:                                            Dioscoreaceae

Origin:                                               Tropical Africa

Ideal pH of soil:                              5.5 – 6.5.

Plant Maturity period:                 Yams 6 to 12 months.

The Plant Health Problem Common plant disease issues.

Other gardening articles:

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  3. How To Keep Basil Alive
  4. How To Grow Green Onion
  5. Easy Fruits And Vegetables To Grow
  6. How To Grow Lettuce
  7. How To Grow Kale

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