Backyard Sugarcane in the Panhandle

Backyard Sugarcane in the Panhandle

Do you want to add a little something different to your landscape? How about something edible, as well as a focal point in your garden? Backyard sugarcane may be just what you are looking for.

Sugarcane, genus Saccharum, is a tropical perennial grass that thrives in humid environments across the southern United States. Based on physical and chemical characteristics, there are 3 types of sugarcane. Chewing canes (Yellow Gal, Georgia Red varieties) are soft, with fibers that stick together when chewed. Many of these canes are also used for syrup production. Crystal canes, used mainly for commercial purposes, contain a high percentage of sucrose. This is the molecule that crystalizes into granular sugar. Syrup canes (Louisiana Ribbon, Green German varieties) contain less sucrose, therefore less crystallization, making for a more fluid product. Some varieties of each type are interchangeable. For example, some crystal canes are satisfactory for chewing cane.

Figure 1: Sugarcane Harvest. Credit: UF/IFAS Communications.



How does one plant sugarcane? Sugarcane is propagated by “seed cane”. Mature cane stalks have nodes, about every 6 inches, that produce buds. The stalks are cut into 2-3 foot segments and then planted. After the following harvest, the sugarcane sprouts from the buds of the old stalks, through a process known as “ratooning”. Be patient when growing sugarcane. It takes approximately 12-14 months for the original planting (seed cane) to produce mature cane, while another year to produce cane from the ratoon.

Seed cane should be planted from mid-August through November. Growth will occur in the spring. Sugarcane can be planted, 4 -10 feet apart, as a single row or multiple rows. A 3-7-inch furrow depth is optimum. Common practice regarding fertilizer is to apply 1 pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per 10 feet of furrow. Plan ahead, as this crop makes a great windbreak for your vegetable garden.

Avoid planting sugarcane in areas of high traffic. The leaves of the cane are very sharp and some sugarcane varieties can fall and obstruct areas. Well drained soils in a sunny area is the perfect environment. Times of stress, such as lower temperatures for long periods of time, poor soil fertility and pH extremes (best range 5.5-6.5) will cause lower yields. Heavy watering with poor drainage conditions of newly planted seed cane can also disrupt bud germination.

Overtime, many varieties will succumb to disease and other environmental factors. To manage sugarcane against weeds, hand weeding and mulching are the best options. Soil inhabiting worms and grubs, stalk borers, termites and aphids are the biggest threats regarding insect pests. Sugarcane is rapidly growing plant and can tolerate most insect infestations and be productive.

Sugarcane is unique as many of the heirloom varieties are still available. So, where does one find seed cane? The classified ads section of the “Market Bulletin” published by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a good start:

The Panhandle provides a favorable growing environment for this delightful backyard gardening focal point plant. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Information for this article is from the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: Backyard Sugarcane” by L. Baucum, R.W. Rice, and L. Muralles.


UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Sugar Cane: Plant Now for a Sweeter Summer

Sugar Cane: Plant Now for a Sweeter Summer

Row of sugar cane. Image Credit: Les Harrison

Row of sugar cane. Image Credit: Les Harrison

By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director

October has ushered in the fall gardening season. Turnips, mustard, radishes, carrots and a variety of other cool season crops have emerged and are growing.

Another once common crop ready to be planted in October is sugar cane.  Cane for processing is harvested, and select stalks with the most desirable traits are planted in October and November.

Planting is accomplished by digging a shallow furrow and laying the canes end-to-end. The cane is then covered with the soil removed from the furrows.  Sugar cane may also be planted in north Florida during March.

In the days before mass market sweeteners, almost every farm had a patch of sugar cane.  Some varieties were planted for processing into cane syrup, molasses and raw sugar, and some for chewing by the young and those with a sweet tooth. 

When not pulling a plow or wagon, mules spent their days walking in a circle to drive a cane mill. Enterprising growers frequently sold their excess production as a means of generating another revenue stream to support the family farm.

Roadside sales of homemade cane syrup were a common sight in the rural south for many years.  Sampling was a quality assurance courtesy offered to the potential buyer confirming the syrup had not been scorched while cooking.

The sugar cane plant is a form of grass with high sucrose content.  It originated in south Asia where it has been cultivated for several millennia.

Over the centuries, sugar cane production followed the trade routes west.  Christopher Columbus brought it to the New World on his second voyage west.

South Florida has long had a large commercial cane sugar industry with thousands of acres committed to growing and processing the sweetener on the outskirts of the Everglades.  Louisiana is the other big sugar cane state, but Brazil is the global production champion.

The perennial nature of sugar cane allows growers to harvest the cane, and then grow the following years’ crop off the existing roots.  Ratooning, as it is termed, is a widely used practice which has application for growing in panhandle Florida.

From a nutritional standpoint, sugar cane based products are a source of carbohydrates in the diet.  Generally speaking, the reason for addition of sugar to a recipe is an issue of taste and flavor.

The sugar cane currently growing in the UF/IFAS Wakulla County demonstration garden was planted in November 2012.  Tours of the garden are available during normal business hours.

To learn more about growing sugar cane in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website or call 850-926-3931. And “Like” us on Facebook.