By Jennifer Poindexter
Chicory is a classic herb that has been carried with people everywhere they’ve moved for generations. This is why you can find chicory in most parts of the world.
This plant is known for its beautiful, daisy-like blooms which are an eye-catching blue color. Yet, this herb isn’t considered a main plant for the flower garden because (unless in bloom), the stems and foliage aren’t impressive on their own.
But this plant is still wonderful when incorporated into the herb garden and is even utilized as a coffee substitute. Whether you want to grow a little piece of history around your home or utilize chicory for its various purposes, it’s vital that you understand what the plant needs.
Here’s what you should know when learning how to grow chicory (Cichorium intybus):
Growing Conditions for Chicory
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a perennial herb that remains hardy in planting zones three through ten. This plant has a variety of names such as coffee weed, wild endive, Italian dandelion, and blue cornflower.
It’s also a member of the aster family which makes it a close relative of the dandelion. As we discussed earlier, it’s also used as a substitute for coffee. Hence, the way this plant received some of its names.
You should expect chicory to produce fuzzy, straight stems that stand approximately three feet tall. It also has foliage that’s spontaneously spaced all over the plant and has larger leaves towards the bottom of the stem.
The flowers are what make this plant stand out. They have a bright blue hue to them and get darker with the more sunlight the plant receives.
Expect to see these blooms between early summer and early fall. Keep in mind, the flower heads change based upon the location of the sun.
Therefore, they’ll open before the sun comes up and close by the middle of the afternoon. This is the reason many gardeners incorporate this plant into a mixture of other plants as they’re beautiful when blooming but there’s a small window to see this plant in action each day.
Blooms that open are usually spent within a day or two but should be replaced with a new bloom. As the growing season goes on, the blooms should be pollinated and produce a fruit that reseeds when it falls to the ground.
This gives you a better picture of the life cycle of the chicory plant, so how do we get the party started? Simple!
Pick a growing location with full to partial sunlight. Ensure the area also has well-draining soil that’s nutrient-dense.
It’s wise to amend the soil with sand prior to planting as this will encourage even better drainage. This is all chicory needs in a growing location. Provide these ingredients, and your plants should do well in your selected area.
How to Plant Chicory
Chicory is an easy plant to get along with. It’s not fussy and has an easy growing process. The best way to grow chicory is to sow the seeds directly into the growing location in early spring.
Till up the earth in the growing location and prepare the soil to receive seed. This is your time to amend it as well.
Sprinkle the seeds over the soil at approximately a ¼ inch depth. Cover them and lightly water the area to keep the soil evenly damp until the seeds sprout.
Again, it’s vital that the area drains well because if not, it may become oversaturated which encourages the seeds to rot.
It should take two to three weeks for chicory seeds to germinate. These seeds aren’t particular about the temperatures for germination to occur, so they should do well in any planting zone where they’re hardy.
Once they sprout, thin the seeds to where there’s at least one foot of space between each plant. Continue to supply water to the plants to encourage greater growth.
If you’d prefer to grow chicory seeds indoors, be sure to start your seeds six weeks before the final frost.
Fill a tray with seed starting mix and plant two seeds per cell in the tray. Keep the soil evenly damp and warm until the seeds sprout.
Then place the tray in a warm growing location where the seedlings receive bright, indirect light. If both seeds germinated in each cell, pick the stronger plant and cut the other off at soil-level.
Continue to care for the plants until they can be hardened off and moved outdoors for transplant.
When ready, move the plants outdoors. Dig a hole that can support the root system of the seedling, place the plant in the hole, backfill it, and water the seedlings.
You may also plant chicory seeds again in the middle of summer as long as you don’t live in an extremely warm climate. Direct sowing them is the method commonly used, but you could start them indoors again if that’s your preference.
These seeds do well for a second planting where the temperatures are 85-degrees Fahrenheit and below. They do best when growing in areas with temperatures 75-degrees Fahrenheit and lower.
You now have multiple ways to grow chicory. Keep these tips in mind when adding chicory to your herb garden.
Caring for Chicory
When I tell you that chicory is low-maintenance, it’s truly low-maintenance. You only need to water these plants and fertilize them in certain circumstances.
I’ve told you that chicory has many uses for humans, but did you know it makes an excellent fodder for livestock as well?
This is valuable information if you’re caring for animals because this could help you feed your animals a nutritious diet while saving on store-bought feed.
If you’re growing chicory for fodder, be sure to fertilize the plants with nitrogen. This will encourage more leafy growth which is ideal for fodder.
If you aren’t growing chicory for this reason, it shouldn’t need to be fertilized.
The only thing chicory requires across the board, no matter your reason for growing it, is water. Be sure to water the plants deeply to encourage a deeper root system and better health
This should also reduce the amount of time you spend caring for your chicory plants throughout the week. As long as they receive one-inch of water per week, the plants should thrive.
It’s beneficial to keep weeds down in your growing areas as well. Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and also serve as a hiding place for pests and diseases.
Mulching around your chicory may prove helpful as this keeps weeds down and moisture in around your plants.
If you follow these steps in caring for your chicory plants, they should have what they need to thrive for their intended purpose.
Garden Pests and Diseases Which Can Impact Chicory
Chicory doesn’t have many enemies in the garden, but there are a few pests and diseases you should be aware of to keep your plants healthy and safe.
The most common pests which impact these plants are slugs and aphids. Slugs can be treated by hand-picking, sprinkling coffee grounds around the base of the plant, or sprinkling diatomaceous earth on the plant as well.
These granular products create a dangerous terrain for slugs to navigate around your plant. You may also treat slugs and aphids with an insecticide. Pick the method which works best for you.
The most common diseases to impact these plants are blight, rot, and fusarium wilt. Blight can be treated by removing infected parts of the plant and destroying them.
Don’t compost these items as it only further spreads the disease. You should also water plants at their base to avoid soil from splashing onto the foliage of the plant.
Blight may sometimes be treated with a fungicide as well. Rot is frequently caused by planting chicory in growing locations with poor drainage. Ensure your plants are grown in well-draining soil to avoid this issue.
Fusarium wilt is our final disease. This issue lives in the soil and there’s no treatment for it. If your plants are impacted by this disease, you should pull them up and destroy them.
Don’t compost as this only spreads the disease further. Try growing chicory in a different growing location, a raised bed, or a container where you bring the dirt to your growing location to better control this disease.
You may also solarize your soil to kill fusarium wilt and may be able to replant in a previously infected area in future years.
These are the main issues which have a negative impact on chicory. Be alert to these problems and act quickly if you see signs of them to save your chicory harvest.
How to Harvest Chicory
The last step in learning how to grow chicory is to learn how to harvest this plant. Chicory is frequently harvested for its long taproot, leaves, and flowers.
You should harvest from these plants the first year they flower. After the first year, the roots become tough and of lesser quality.
Dig around to ensure you can remove the entire plant, including the taproot, when harvesting. You may harvest the flowers and leaves without digging up the plant, but do so when they’re young.
When you dig up an entire plant and reach the taproot, cut the root away from the rest of the plant. Then clean the taproot and remove the skin as well.
Cut the root into one-inch pieces. Roast the root, let it cool, and then grind it for use as a coffee substitute.
If you’re harvesting leaves and flowers, utilize them immediately as they don’t dry well for later use.
You now know how to grow chicory from seed. We’ve also discussed how to care for and protect your chicory plants. Plus, you know how to harvest this herb.
Whether you’re growing it out of curiosity, for your personal use, or for your animals, we hope this information proves useful to you as you produce chicory around your home.
Chicory Quick Growing Reference Chart
|Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
|Coffee weed, wild endive, Italian dandelion, blue cornflower
|Full to partial sunlight
|Well-draining, nutrient-dense soil with added sand
|Direct sow or start indoors
|Early spring, or mid-summer in cooler climates
|Thin to at least one foot apart
|One inch of water per week, deep watering
|Nitrogen fertilizer if grown for livestock fodder; none otherwise
|Blight, rot, fusarium wilt
|First-year roots, young leaves, and flowers
|Coffee substitute, edible leaves, and flowers, livestock fodder
- Chicory is a hardy perennial herb with beautiful blue flowers, thriving in planting zones 3-10.
- Growing conditions: full to partial sunlight, well-draining nutrient-dense soil, amended with sand for better drainage.
- Planting: Direct sow seeds in early spring or start indoors 6 weeks before the final frost, ensuring proper drainage to avoid seed rot.
- Care: Water deeply to provide one inch of water per week; use nitrogen fertilizer for growing as livestock fodder; mulch to control weeds and retain moisture.
- Pests and diseases: Watch for slugs, aphids, blight, rot, and fusarium wilt; treat accordingly using insecticides, fungicides, or proper planting techniques.
- Harvest: Best harvested in the first year for roots, leaves, and flowers; use leaves and flowers immediately, and roast and grind roots as a coffee substitute.