How to Plant and Grow Sugar Cane
Growing sugar cane in your garden will give you sweet rewards.
Published on March 27, 2023
In This Article
In This Article
In warmer climates, you can grow sugar cane (Saccharum spp.) right in your backyard. These grasses can grow 20 feet tall or more, and look quite a bit like their cousins bamboo, but come with the sweet benefit of providing copious amounts of edible raw sugar.
Sugar cane is actually one of the world’s biggest crops, with the vast majority being grown and harvested in Brazil. Along with sugar beets, sugar cane is grown on huge plots of land, harvested, and pressed to release its sweet sap. While sugar beets are typically grown in cooler climates, sugar cane is grown in subtropical and tropical locations around the world.
Although sugar cane requires plenty of space in the garden and a long, hot growing season, it’s a relatively easy-to-grow crop that has some novelty appeal to try growing in your backyard.
Sugar Cane Overview
|Common Name||Sugar Cane|
|Height||10 to 20 feet|
|Width||5 to 10 Feet|
|Flower Color||Green, Pink, White|
|Zones||10, 11, 9|
|Propagation||Seed, Stem Cuttings|
Where to Plant Sugar Cane
Sugar cane plants are large and can take up a sizable portion of a garden. Plant in a location with full sun and plenty of space to grow upwards and outwards. Remember, large plants like sugar cane can block the sun for smaller garden plants and should be planted with this in mind.
Because of its large size, wind damage can occur and plants benefit from being placed in locations with some protection from windbreaks such as fences or dense trees.
How and When to Plant Sugar Cane
Sugar cane is a hardy plant that can survive brief cold spells, but as a tropical/subtropical plant, it requires heat and humidity to thrive. In cooler climates, plant sugar cane outdoors after temperatures have warmed up the soil and the danger of frost in spring has passed. In warmer climates, sugar cane is typically planted in November.
Planting your sugar cane cuttings is exceptionally easy and can be accomplished in just a few steps:
- Cut cane sections into lengths about 6 inches long and contain at least two nodes (raised, ring-like areas around stems).
- Dig a trench at least 5 inches deep. Trenches should be spaced approximately 5 feet apart.
- Set cut cane sections lengthwise along the trench.
- Cover the trench with soil and water thoroughly.
Depending on the soil and air temperatures, it can take upwards of three weeks for canes to begin growing.
Sugar Cane Care Tips
Like most grasses, sugar cane grows quickly and require intense, full sun. Give your sugar cane 8 or more hours a day of direct sunlight.
Soil and Water
Like most edible crops, sugar cane prefers light, loamy soils with good drainage and ample nutrients. Amending the soil with aged manure, compost, and probiotic fertilizers is recommended for best growth–especially in regions with shorter growing seasons.
While plants are actively growing, give them plenty of water. While they can take some drought, a lack of water over long periods of time will hinder growth and sugar production.
Temperature and Humidity
Being a tropical plant, sugar cane requires heat and humidity for good growth. In regions with shorter growing seasons, plant on the south side of a building or fence line to help increase ambient temperatures.
Fast-growing plants usually require large amounts of nutrients and sugar cane is no exception to this rule. Fertilize your sugar cane plants once a week with a high nitrogen fertilizer.
Sugar cane does not generally require pruning. But because of its large size and propensity to fall over in exposed areas or locations without adequate sunlight, some pruning to maintain its shape may be necessary. However, keep in mind that cutting this plant’s growing points can severely reduce harvestable mass later on in the season.
Pests and Problems
Sugar canes are hardy plants and disease detection can be difficult because of their quick growth and large sizes. However, some common pests include spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, and grasshoppers. When infestations are detected, organic pesticides such as pyrethrin and neem oil can help to halt the spread and growth of these pests. Never use systemic pesticides on sugar cane or other edible plants.
How to Propagate Sugar Cane
New hybrids are always being produced for commercial purposes, but home gardeners can propagate their plants by simply cutting selected stalks into 2-node sections and replanting. Note that sugar cane cannot be stored for long periods of time and should be replanted within a few weeks.
In climates where sugar cane is marginally hardy (USDA Zones 7-8), cut plants can be left in the soil and mulched heavily prior to winter with some success, depending on the severity of winter in a given year.
How to Harvest Sugar Cane
In tropical and subtropical climates, sugar cane is planted in November and ready for harvest about 12 months thereafter. When ready, plants will begin to yellow and leaves will begin to dry out along the edges.
Sugar cane sugars are concentrated nearer the base of the plants so stalks should be cut as low as possible. Use a sharp, sterilized machete or shears to create a clean cut and remove stalks one at a time. Cut stalks into smaller sections after all stalks have been cut from the plant.
Types of Sugar Cane
While there are multiple species of sugar cane, including Saccharum officinarum from Papua New Guinea and S. sinense from Southeast Asia, most commercially available plants are complex hybrids of multiple species. Various species are grown based on whether they are meant for chewing, dry sugar, or syrup production.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can sugar cane be grown indoors?
While sugar cane can be started indoors by seed or cut sections of stems called “seed cane,” they require too much space and light for proper growth and must be transplanted outdoors to be grown successfully.
Is “sweet sorghum” the same thing as sugar cane?
While often referred to as sugar cane and grown for its sugar content, sweet sorghum (Sorghum spp. and hybrids) is not the same kind of plant as true sugar cane (Saccharum spp.).
Does sugar cane need to be burned prior to harvest?
In large commercial fields, sugar cane plants are burned prior to harvest to remove leaves and plant stems while leaving the lower portions of the stalks for harvest. This practice is not necessary in the home garden and not recommended.