How to Grow Cassava

cassava

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Part of the large Spurge genus, cassava (Manihot esculenta) is a perennial, woody shrub. Sometimes also referred to as yuca in the United States, it is not to be confused with the completely unrelated yucca plant. Although the shrubby, large, green leaves can add some ornamental interest to a garden landscape, these plants are primarily grown to harvest the leaves and tubers. Not all that common in North America, the tuberous root is a popular starchy carbohydrate food source in places like South Africa and Southeast Asia.

You will only be able to grow the cassava plant as a perennial started in spring if you live in a warm region like Florida, where it is most similar to the tropical and subtropical climates it is grown in its native habitats. It can take up to eight months to produce a harvest and is an interesting alternative to some of the more common root vegetables.

Botanical Name  Manihot esculenta
Common Name  Cassava, Manioc, Yuca, Tapioca
Plant Type  Woody shrub, perennial
Mature Size  Up to 14 ft. tall, Up to 10 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type  Sandy, loam, well-drained
Soil pH  Acid, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time  Throughout the year
Flower Color  Whiteish
Hardiness Zones  8-12 (USDA)
Native Area  Brazil
Toxicity  Toxic to people and pets when raw

How to Plant Cassava

In terms of crop rotation, cassava is interchangeable with sweet potatoes and often grown after plantains which are planted after maize or okra. Plant cassava in rows that are around 3-4 feet apart.

Cassava Plant Care

Light

Although cassava plants produce their best harvest if they get extended exposure to sunlight, intense direct sunlight can cause leaf burn. In these instances, a partial shade environment would be better.

Soil

Cassava is highly tolerant of a wide range of soils and pH levels, providing it is well-drained. For best results, however, a sandy, loamy option works well.

Water

Part of the cassavas appeal is its ability to tolerate periods of drought and also heavy summer rains. Some cultivars, however, are more drought-tolerant than others, so you should do your research before planting. Standing water can cause root rot, so if you live in a rainy region, the soil needs to have excellent drainage.

Temperature and Humidity

To ensure that a good crop year-round, cassava needs to be in a primarily frost-free climate. They don't tend to do well in temperatures below 60 or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some enthusiasts who do have colder winters will grow it in containers to be overwintered indoors or in a greenhouse.

Fertilizer

Fertilization isn't necessary if you have planted your cassava in soil that is rich in organic matter. However, appropriate additional feeding can improve the yield you will get.

Their fertilization requirements are similar to those of the sweet potato. The fertilizer should be higher in potassium to prevent elongated, straggly roots. If you want a bumper crop of leaves, a fertilizer with more nitrogen will work better.

cassava foliage
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy
cassava harvest
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy
cassava sliced open
The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Harvesting Cassava

The roots of a cassava plant only take about six to eight months to become fully established. After this, if you have a good crop, you will likely get a biannual harvest. When the leaves begin to turn yellow and drop, this is a good sign that the roots are ready to pull up.

The roots are often boiled or roasted and sometimes turned into flour and the leaves, once boiled, are edible too. The tuber is also used to produce tapioca pearls which are commonly used to make puddings, and this is where another common name—the tapioca plant—comes from.

Pruning

Without pruning, your cassava plant could begin to look rather leggy and straggly. If you are regularly harvesting for the leaves, it will be unlikely it will grow beyond 4 feet tall, but the plants can reach over 10 feet.

Propagating Cassava

It is best to propagate from cuttings rather than seeds to ensure you are not accidentally growing the bitter cassava variety. Stem cuttings from this plant root easily and quickly, and can be planted directly into moist soil if the temperatures are right. You can expect the cutting to be fully established in just a couple of months.

Common Pests/Diseases

If you live in a region prone to termites, this could be an issue for your cassava plant. They can quickly decimate these root crops.