The edible part of this tropical American plant is actually an enlarged taproot; it develops underground like a beet and tastes something like a sweet water chestnut. This makes a very attractive vine, twining to 14 ft. high or more; has luxuriant deep green foliage and upright spikes of pretty, sweet pea–shaped purple or violet flowers in summer. Leaves have three leaflets.
Cultivate jicama for its edible root in Hawaii and along the Gulf Coast, and as an ornamental elsewhere. Plants produce poor quality roots in Southern California, and you’ll usually get only foliage and flowers in Northern California.
Grow on a trellis or on the ground as a trailing mound. Plant in spring, after the danger of frost is past. Sow seeds 2 in. deep and 4 in. apart; thin seedlings to 8–12 in. apart. Needs a long, warm growing season and rich soil. Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer monthly. Flowers should be pinched off for maximum root production (each vine yields one edible root weighing from 1 to 6 lbs.), but you can allow seed for next year’s crop to form on one or two plants.
Roots enlarge in fall as days begin to grow shorter, but weather must stay warm to produce a good crop; harvest them before the first frost in regions where frosts are likely (if you’re fortunate enough to get a crop). In frost-free areas, you can leave them in the ground until they’re needed. Peel off the rough brown skin and eat the white flesh raw or cooked.
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