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How to Grow a Yam Plant

By Joshua Duvauchelle ; Updated September 21, 2017
Grow yams in your backyard to harvest a bounty of the plant's sweet roots.
sweet potato image by luda berlinerblau from Fotolia.com

Several types of Dioscoreaceae plants are known as the "yam." In North American grocery stores, some types of sweet potatoes are also known as yams. Whether it's a true yam or a sweet potato, both types of plants have similar needs and can be grown for a bounty of sweet-tasting, starchy root vegetables. Create a mounded garden in your backyard to make harvesting the yams easier once it's time to reap the rewards of your labor.

Prepare the soil. Clear away all surface vegetation and debris like sticks and large rocks. Use a spade--or a mechanical tiller if you're creating a large yam garden--and breakup the soil to a depth of 10 to 15 inches.

Mix in 3 to 4 inches of garden compost to amend the soil. Alternatively, you can use standard vegetable garden fertilizer applied according to the fertilizer's label since potency varies by brand and product.

Create a mound of soil. The mound should be approximately 10 inches tall and 24 inches to 36 inches across. If you're making more than one mound, space each mound apart by 2 to 3 feet.

Plant the yam tuber. Bury the tuber in the center of each mound, approximately 2 inches below the surface of the soil.

Water the mounds to a depth of 12 inches--you can check the depth of moisture by inserting a stick, rod or pencil in into the mound--twice a day. The buried tuber will sprout and break the surface of the mound within a few weeks.

Fertilize the yam plant every three to four weeks to encourage healthy root production. Add a liquid or granular fertilizer with a low level of nitrogen--nitrogen promotes foliage growth, which is not what you want with this root vegetable--and a high amount of phosphorous. Example nutrient ratios include 6-24-24 and 8-24-24 fertilizers. Apply according to the product's label.

Harvest the yams within three to four months of the plant sprouting. Use your hands and flatten the mound to expose the yam plant's underground tubers. Alternatively, insert a pitchfork at the bottom of the mound and lift upward to uproot and reveal the yams.


Things You Will Need

  • Spade
  • Compost
  • Garden fertilizer
  • Yam tubers
  • Water
  • Pitchfork (optional)


  • Yams are typically ready to harvest within 130 to 150 days of planting.


  • Be careful when harvesting to avoid breaking the underground yams.

About the Author


Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.