Are you interested to know more about the basics of growing water chestnuts? Also called Eleocharis dulcis, the water chestnut plant is native to Asia. This is the reason why it is part of the delicious ingredients of many Asian dishes.
If you have plans of planting it, note that the whole process requires around seven to eight months. It is crucial to give the water chestnuts the care they need during their growth period; you will learn about that through this article.
Quick Facts About the Water Chestnut
- Scientific name: Eleocharis dulcis
- Type of plant: Perennial
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 9 to 12
- Sunlight requirement: Partial shade, full sun
- Bloom time: August
- Bloom color: Yellow-brown
- pH level: 6.5 to 7.2
- Max growth: Around 3 feet or 1 meter
What are Water Chestnuts (Chinese Water Chestnut)?
Also called a Chinese water chestnut, water chestnut is a prized ingredients in a lot of Asian foods and cuisines. They refer to tuberous and aquatic vegetables capable of growing underwater, specifically in ponds, shallow lakes, paddy fields, and marshes.
This Chinese variety is also a grass-like plant, widely distributed in Africa, a few islands in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Northern Australia, and Southeast Asia. While the water chestnut plant looks the same as the actual chestnut, note that you can’t categorize it as a nut.
Instead, you can classify it as a vegetable, which features an inner white flesh and thick brown peel mostly containing water. If you decide to plant water chestnuts, expect it to look the same as other water rushes with around 4 to 6 stems that look like tubes.
You will also notice them poking at around one meter or three to four feet above the water surface. You can cultivate them for their rhizomes that are around one to two inches.
These rhizomes feature crisp white flesh and boast of their nutty and sweet flavors. Another distinctive feature of the tubers is that they look similar to gladiola bulbs. They also have dirty brown exteriors.
Where and How to Grow Water Chestnut Typically?
Typically, you can grow the water chestnut plants in China, a place where you can use complicated irrigation systems in controlling a certain watering schedule. It is also typical for these plants to require a 7-month or so growing period, which limits the commercial cultivation in the country.
If you intend to grow one in China, you can start them in nurseries under wet environments and conditions. This should provide you with around a month’s preparation.
After that, you can plant them in a flooded field. Leave them there for around six months. Upon maturity, you can drain the fields and harvest any mature water chestnut by hand.
Another thing to note about the water chestnut is that it falls under the classification of peculiar plants needing specialized conditions. This is why you can only commercially grow them in China and some parts of Australia.
It is also possible to grow your own water chestnuts on a small scale, which you can do by using containers or by planting them inside. This can help in controlling their growing conditions.
The next sections of this article will teach you how you can grow this plant in the comfort of your home.
Growing Water Chestnuts at Home
For you to grow and cultivate the water chestnut in your own home, the usual requirements are the following:
- Large container
- Seed chestnuts
- Potting soil
It is also important for you to be patient enough and committed to caring for it during its long growing season. In case you are living in a place with more than seven months of warmth, specifically, USDA zones that are 8 and above, it is okay for you to grow the plant outdoors.
However, for shorter growing seasons, ensure that you set aside a plan to take the container indoors during the fall. Once you have prepared all that, you can do the following steps:
Prepare the seed corm
You can start the planting process by using a seed corm. You can buy a freshwater chestnut first. Get this from a specialty store or purchase it online.
Prior to buying the seed corms, take into consideration your growing container’s volume. Take note that for every square meter, one corm will be needed. Expect each corm to spread then multiply at an amount that is significant enough.
Prepare the starter container
Once you notice the water chestnuts growing and the corms are ready, the next thing you should prepare is the starter container. This could be in the form of a 5-gallon bucket, plastic pool, old bathtub, or a large drum (around 20-gallon capacity.
It is also possible for you to plant corms in a pond-like garden area. Alternatively, you can let containers float in a pool. It is quite complicated to grow this plant in the ground, so it would be much better to use your desired container.
Put on the mix
The next thing you should do is to fill your chosen starter container with a soil mix or organic potting mix. A soil, which is heavy in clay, is the one typically used in China. The problem, though, is that it clumps up during those times of drained field.
The best recommendation would be a sandy soil mix as it promotes ease in harvesting the corms by hand. You may also begin the seed corns with one part each of perlite and compost. After that, you can use a looser potting mix once the growing season comes.
Pour the right amount of water
After filling the starter container with your chosen mixture, it is time to fill it with room temperature water. Ensure that it has drainage holes. Open a space, preferably around 4 inches deep, in the middle part of the soil.
This is where you should plant the corm. After that, get the soil medium that you can use in covering it up. Water thoroughly and let the excess water drain out.
Wait for the corm to become more established in your chosen container. One sign that it is already established is when the leaves are already eight inches tall. Ensure that the mix remains moist consistently during that period. However, ensure that it does not also get overly wet; otherwise, it may result in the rotting of the corms.
Transplant to the primary container
Upon noticing the leaves growing fully and the roots becoming well-established, you can transfer the corms into their primary and permanent growing container. This one should not come with any drainage holes.
Use a looser mix to fill up this primary container. This mix should consist of one part each of perlite and builder’s sand and two parts compost. There is no need to worry about the sand being in large amount since the container that you will be using no longer allows the water to drain.
Make sure to flood the container with water. It should be 2-inch water over the surface during the entire growing season. After that, keep the plants heavily saturated with water. Do this for around six to seven months, the time when you can already begin harvesting the corms.
Understanding the Growth Process of Water Chestnuts
Once you have planted the water chestnuts, it is time to monitor their growth. One thing to note about this plant is that it is relatively easy to care for provided you give it the correct conditions.
It prefers tropical climates and can mature after around 7 to 8 months in such warm weather or climate. In China, this plant can grow in thoroughly irrigated paddies at the start of its growing season.
Water chestnuts also love to grow in waterlogged soil, which makes them ideal choices when you plan to fill in a water garden or pond’s border. The plant will also grow healthy when in a bucket containing soil, provided you continue submerging the plant’s root in water.
It is also highly likely that the corms will develop under photoperiods composed of around 12 hours daily. This makes it necessary for you to put the plant in an area with plenty of sun.
As for the plant’s rushes, you have an assurance that they are less prone to acquiring diseases, provided you grow them in either neutral or slightly alkaline soil.
Tips in Caring for your Water Chestnuts
To ensure that your water chestnuts grow as healthily as possible, keep in mind these basic yet useful tips:
- Put it in a sunny spot – It should receive full or partial sunlight.
- Check the depth of the water regularly – Ensure that it sticks to the required depth, which is usually around 4 inches or so.
- Get rid of algae or green moss that develops on the water surface – There should not be any pests and signs of disease on the leaves, too. Get rid of any part of the plant that is already decayed or dead.
- Know the perfect time for harvest – The right time to begin harvesting is when the leaves of the plant already change in color after around 7 to 8 months. The yellowing of the leaves is an indication that it is almost time to have the corms harvested.
How to Harvest?
Once it is already time to start harvesting the corms, do so by hand. You can do it by removing the standing water first. After that, allow the plant to sit for around one month in wet soil or until you notice the shoots getting dry.
Using your hand, sort through the topmost part – around its first four inches. This is to prevent damaging corms and collecting only those you intend to harvest. In case your location falls under zones 9 to 12, you have the option to let any corms you have no plans of harvesting stay in your pond or container.
You should then make it a regular routine to take out the plant’s dead leaves. Wait for the early spring to come and watch out for the plant starting to shoot up once more.
In case you are not part of the mentioned zones, it is advisable to harvest every corm if it would be impossible for you to transfer its containers indoors. You can refrigerate the corms and keep them in a cool and dark spot before you decide to replant them the next spring.
Potential Problems to Watch Out for
To guarantee the continuous and proper growth of your water chestnuts, the following potential problem areas are among those you should watch out for:
The most common requirement of water chestnut is specific and exact irrigation. You have to provide it with a growing medium that you need to flood for 7 to 8 months – the entire growing duration.
In this case, you have to be extra careful to avoid making the soil get oversaturated with water as the corms are still growing. The reason is that the oversaturation may lead to the rotting of its roots.
In addition, ensure that the water level sticks to around 2 inches on top of the soil as it is still in its growing season.
Acidity of the Soil
Too much acidity in the soil where you have planted the water chestnuts can also pose a problem so you have to watch out for it. The acidity may result in fungal growth development on the plant’s stems. One fungal disease that may develop because of that is stem blight, which causes the appearance of watery and dark lesions.
You can prevent this fungal disease by ensuring that you are using the right soil – one that is not too acidic for your water chestnuts. A wise advice is to use limey soil or bagged potting mix. You may also amend the acidity using dolomite.
You also have to watch out for mosquito infestation, because the growth process of water chestnuts may lead to having standing water for a few months as it requires flooding the container.
You can avoid potential infestation by planting and growing lemongrass around it. Introducing frogs into the garden is also an effective green solution for fighting mosquito infestation.
Aside from mosquitos, water chestnuts also attract pests, like mole crickets, grasshoppers, and weevils. Fortunately, these pests do not have major damaging effects on the plant, but it would still be best to avoid making them come near as much as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I grow water chestnuts at home?
Yes. Even if it is quite hard to encourage commercial growth for water chestnuts in the states, growing them at home is possible and even easy. The only things that you would have to prepare are soil mix, a large container, and a starter corm.
Make sure that you are also fully prepared to go through a long growing season. The reason is that it will take around seven to eight months for you to finally enjoy crisp and fresh water chestnuts.
Why are water chestnuts a problem?
One problem associated with growing water chestnuts is the need for specific irrigation. They need very controlled irrigation, which can be quite inconvenient to do. There is also a risk of mosquito infestation if you decide to grow the Chinese water chestnuts.
The reason is that you will have to flood the container, causing you to leave water for a few months. This can make mosquitos thrive.
Are invasive water chestnuts edible?
Most invasive water chestnuts are not edible. This is why officials in North America, the place where water chestnuts are considered extremely invasive, want to eradicate the plant.
How do water chestnuts grow in Canada?
For water chestnuts to grow in various places, like Canada, you need to provide them with controlled irrigation. Ensure that they also receive around 220 days that are frost-free so they can reach maturity.
Where else can you use water chestnuts aside from stir-fries?
Water chestnuts are among the most widely used ingredients in Asian and cultural cuisines. You can’t only use them in stir-fries that require the crunchy texture provided by the tubers’ hemicellulose.
You can also use them in syrups and sweet drinks. In addition, you can use water chestnuts as part of the ingredients when making chop suey, salads, and curries. You can also find them in Asian culture as they are used for health and medicinal purposes.
Water chestnut plants may require time and effort to grow but you will be rewarded once you get the chance to have them harvested 7 to 8 months later. You will surely enjoy making it a part of Asian cooking as a nutritious and delicious delicacy and ingredient.
You will surely like the ability of its edible corns to provide your Asian and Chinese dishes with a nice and crispy texture even after cooking or reheating them.