How To Grow and Utilize Your Own Sugarcane

how to grow sugar cane, how to plant sugar cane, survival gardeningIt’s sugar cane harvesting season here at Econopocalypse Ranch. For the last few days, we’ve had pots of juice boiling away on the stove and the air is thick with the sweet grassy aroma of cooking cane. I’ve loved this plant for a long time, ever since a friend brought over a cane to share when I was a boy. It was like magic tasting this big, hunk of bamboo-like grass filled with amazing flavor.

People have this idea that sugarcane is something that requires year-round tropical weather and a big old swamp. Fortunately, that idea is wrong. You can grow sugarcane successfully up through much of the south, swamp or no swamp.

Other than its delicious flavor, sugarcane is also attractive as an ornamental. Depending on the variety, the thick canes can range in color from dark red-browns to yellow-green and have a very similar appearance to bamboo in the landscape. Since it’s a perennial plant, once you plant sugarcane you can look forward to having it for years.

Finding Planting Material

The hardest part about growing sugarcane might be finding the plants in the first place. I’ve never seen it for sale at a plant nursery. Ask for sugarcane and you’re likely to get a blank look and the question “does that even grow here?”

It’s okay that they don’t have any – you really don’t need to buy a potted sugarcane plant. All you need is a good hunk of sugarcane with a couple of intact nodes (those are the joints in the cane). Since sugarcane is usually harvested in the fall, that’s the time you’re likely to see the canes for sale. Most grocery stores don’t carry sugarcane, but some farm stands and ethnic groceries do. I drove down a rural highway a few years ago and bought two different varieties of sugarcane from two different produce vendors located only a few miles apart. Grab a couple of stout canes (they’re usually 5-6’ long with about 8-12 nodes, depending on the cultivar) and you’re well on your way.

Sugar Cane Cultivation

When you get home from your cane-finding expedition, cut your canes into segments with at least 3-4 nodes each, pick a good spot to plant them, then put those pieces on their sides about 4-6” down and cover them up well.

This is the second hardest part about growing sugarcane. Waiting for them to pop up.

All winter, those pieces will sit down there in the ground until the soil warms up in the spring. You’ll think they’re dead… you’ll forget about them… you’ll start building a gazebo in the spot where they were buried… you’ll get married and give up on the gazebo… move away to Los Vegas… start a family… launch an online business… buy a bass boat… sell a bass boat… visit Area 51 and have your camera confiscated after you photograph something interesting… invest in a condo development… file for bankruptcy… discover your spouse is a werewolf… get moved back to your old house in a bizarre failure of the Lycanthropic Witness Protection Program… and then, one day, you’ll be in the backyard, see the sugarcane poking out of the ground amidst the rotted pieces of that gazebo you never finished and be like “What the heck? Is this bamboo?”

Actually, that was a slight exaggeration… it doesn’t take THAT long.

When I plant sugarcane in Florida during November, the plants always pop up for me sometime in March or April. For each cane you bury, you’ll usually get a couple of good shoots emerging from the ground.

If you really don’t want to trust the earth to take care of your little baby sugarcane plants, you can just stick some chunks of cane in pots with a node or two beneath the dirt and keep them someplace that doesn’t freeze, like a sunroom. They’ll grow.

When my baby sugarcane plants appear in the spring – and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to freeze again – I fertilize them with chicken manure. You can also use lawn fertilizer. (They’re a grass – they like lots of nitrogen.) Throughout the summer they’ll get nice and tall and sometime in July or August you’ll really see the canes starting to thicken up, but don’t chop them yet (unless you really can’t stand to wait). Wait until it’s just about time for the first frost of fall or winter, then go cut the canes down – that way you’ll get the largest harvest possible.


how to grow sugar cane, how to plant sugar cane, survival gardening

If you don’t cut them down and you get a freeze, you’re going to lose all the above ground growth and you may even lose the plants. Harvest by cutting the canes down close to the ground, and then put the sugarcane roots to bed for the winter by mulching over them with some rough material. Leaves are good for this, but probably any mulch would work fine. My sugarcane came back even when I barely mulched over the roots.

In its second year, sugarcane will bunch out and give you quite a few more canes than it did the first year, which means you’ll have plenty to use. Which raises the question… how?

Using Sugar Cane

how to grow sugar cane, how to plant sugar cane, survival gardeningMy children’s favorite use for sugar cane is chewing it. They couldn’t care less about other uses; however, there’s only so much you can chew before you’re ready to do something else with it. The main use for the world’s supply of sugar cane is – of course – making sugar. This isn’t all that easy to do at home, however, so most small cane growers use the cane to make cane syrup instead. The very best way to do this is to use a cane press to crush the sugary juice from your harvest. (If anyone figures out how to make a good press at home, let me know.) After extracting the juice, you then boil it down until it thickens, much like making maple syrup. (If you don’t have a way to extract the juice, I created a full write-up on how I make cane syrup without a sugar cane press.

Cane syrup is basically molasses. It’s a thick, sweet, rich-flavored sweetener that tastes much better than straight white sugar. Try some – you’ll be impressed.

Beyond making sugar or syrup, sugar cane’s second best use is the production of rum. This may or may not be legal where you are, but it’s a pretty easy process provided you have a still of some sort.

1. Get some cane juice

2. Ferment it with yeast

3. Run the resulting alcohol-rich solution through a still

4. Age the resulting liquor in an oak cask for at least a year

Alternately, you can simply age the rum in a glass carboy along with a good helping of oak chips. This adds complexity to the rum’s flavor as well as giving it a nice caramel color.

Finally… whatever you end up doing with your sugar cane crop, I can guarantee you this: you’ll love this plant.

It’s sweet and attractive – what more do you need to know?

For more information on survival gardening, check out this article.



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About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

View all posts by David The Good

20 Responses to “How To Grow and Utilize Your Own Sugarcane”

  1. kent Says:

    sorry but u did forget ONE thing….distilling spirits is considered making moonshine and is illegal in the USA…SO be careful so you don’t get caught


    • David Goodman Says:

      Yes, that’s why I don’t do it here. However, some states have different requirements and it is possible to get a license. The big deal, if I understand the law correctly, is if you sell it. That’s trouble.


    • Éowyn Says:

      Who cares what the gubmint says. It is none of their business what I do with my crops, on my property. They are nothing but a bunch of control freaks.
      BTW, GrainMaker of Stevenville, MT now makes a sorghum/cane press. It is pricey at $1200, but at least it is an option.


    • nom Says:

      Its not illegal in all states. Some states you can make up to a certain amount for personal use. Check your laws in your state to see how much or if its legal.


    • Veta Says:

      Only if you do it for sale of alcohol
      For your own consumption is not.


  2. DT Says:

    I am enjoying your website, nice work! Would a clean (new) mop bucket with a ringer work to get the juice out of the canes? Just an idea.


  3. Harry Says:

    I want to have some sugar cane and I wonder if I can visit any sugar cane farm and have it I live in Tampa. Please advice. This is just for personal/family consumption and not for growing.
    Any help/suggestion is greatly appreciated


  4. Roy Says:

    Hi David,
    Thank you for your article on sugar cane. I am slowly converting every spare space of my front and back yard into garden items for personal use or barter. You are right about difficulty in finding sugar cane. I spent this last weekend near Rupert, GA looking for a sugar cane farm once owned by Dan Schooler. I finally got a feed store manager to give me Dans number and I called him. He said the best thing for me to do was drive around the back roads and look for stands of sugar cane. I did that. Good day of driving and sight seeing but no luck. I also got the name of Duell Stone in Nashville. I have not been able to find a contact number for him yet. I am just looking for a few stalks to plant as a border in my back yard and to use as my sugar content for the year. Any suggestions? Thanks again for your efforts.


    • Mrs. G Says:

      Sometimes you can find it in stores in Thomaston. I have seen it sometimes at local farm stands here in the area, too. Brown’s Produce market in Montezuma or the Farmer’s market in Cordele may be of assistance. I wish I had known last year that I was going to be interested in growing it in January of this year!


  5. Andy Says: has the plant listed as for sale.


  6. Beverly Says:

    I have been looking for a good homemade press,too. I wish it where easier to find an old ringer type washer, I bet you could easily replace the ringers with a more sturdy material, such as grooved metal… I have found a few videos from other countries, where they use an old log buried in the ground on one end, and a square hole chiseled in the center, with another smaller log pushed through that, and they press it….seems like way too much work on my part. But hey, if you find a how to build guide, let me know. I also will be having my first crop of sorghum…need a press for that too!


  7. Zeks Says:

    Hi David, I live in Nigeria. I must say that your write-ups are awesome.
    keep up the good work


  8. Luke Says:

    nice write up on sugar cane. If anyone is looking for heirloom varieties of sugar cane or manual crank sugar cane juicers check out in Florida.


  9. Donald Coffman Says:

    I live in NE Ohio and managed to grow one cane from a piece of commercial sugar cane last year (it got 3 feet tall). I potted it up last fall and over wintered it in my garage. This year so far I have 3 canes coming up from the roots. Maybe one year I might have a clump of sugar cane.


  10. Td Says:

    I just went to the distillary in St. Augustine florida where they make and sell Rum, Vodka, and Bourbon from florida grown sugar cane its a great tour through the plant and tasting of a few drinks at the end of the free tour they tell you all about the proccess I highly suggest the tour and their Rum yum.


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