Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Horseradish may not be beautiful, but it's tasty!

Horseradish: One Tough Perennial Herb

Horseradish is one of my most favorite flavorings for meats and it is one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow in the home garden. It is not only a condiment to roast beef, but also a stimulant that is sure to open your sinuses, and it is an excellent source of vitamin C (around 20 mg per ounce).

Once planted, the horseradish plant will thrive there for a lifetime and beyond. My recommendation is to plant in the southwest corner of the garden where it can grow undisturbed. Be forewarned: It can expand into the garden if you're not careful when harvesting the roots and adjoining rootlets. Just a little root section will grow into a new plant that can be thinned out or shared with friends who want to grow their own. It is relatively pest-free, except for the pesky flea beetles that puncture tiny holes in the leaves. But the horseradish doesn't mind at all and continues to provide a taller, three- to four-foot background plant. To grow the most prolific and best-tasting horseradish, choose a site in your garden where the plant receives full sun daily. The soil should be prepared deeply; I like to dig down at least eighteen inches and work in a generous supply of homemade compost.

Sections of horseradish root can be purchased bare-root, or you can also get a root cutting from a gardening friend or community garden plot.

The key to large, straight roots is the depth of the soil and good drainage; that is why it is important to cultivate deeply and amend clay soils with the compost. I've also found it successful to plant a piece of root in an old chimney flue that is buried into the ground so that only an inch or so remains above ground level. This will also keep the horseradish plant in bounds so it won't be so invasive.

As the leaves begin to emerge in the spring, clean up the area around the plant removing old debris and stems that remained over the winter. A light application of compost can be carefully hand-cultivated around the plants. When the leaves are about a foot tall or so, push back the soil from around the crown and check for smaller roots coming out of the main root. These smaller roots should be cut off to encourage larger straight roots. If you want to limit the amount of sprouts and concentrate growth to just a few roots, cut off excessive sprouts emanating from the sides of the crown to limit the number of sprouts to three or four. This also allows for better air circulation and light penetration to the growing leaves.

You can grow a fairly good root to harvest within a year in a deep fertile soil. However, don't be tempted to fertilize horseradish with excessive nitrogen since you want to direct energy to the root and not the top foliage. Horseradish is ready to harvest in the late fall after the frost or in the spring as the crown is just starting to show a bit of green growth. Roots less than an inch in diameter can be left to re-grow, or if you prefer this is the time to make root cuttings and replant or share root sections with fellow gardeners.

Horseradish is one tough herb and is prized for adding that distinctive flavor to meats and other foods.

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