Jute (like hemp) has long been used for food and fiber. The plant prefers warm climates and plenty of rainfall, making it at home throughout Florida and the American south. Jute is considered a ‘coarse’ fiber – it is great for rope and burlap bags, but is not suited for making clothes or other finer uses. Jute’s leaves are a nutritious delicacy, and the plant has a number of medicinal uses.
Growing jute is easy.
Seeds are small, and should be barely covered with a dusting of soil. Water the container with seeds from the bottom, or mist gently to avoid washing the seeds away or clumping them up. If conditions are right, the seeds should show some sign of sprouting within a week. As the seedlings grow, they can be transplanted to cups or small pots to get established for planting in the garden.
When they go into the ground, individual plants don’t need much space, as little as 1’x1′ or 2’x2′ is enough. Rows with 1 foot spacing between plants and 5 or 6 feet between plants make for good access if the plant is being grown for edible leaves and a person needs to get in to harvest. When the plant is grown for fiber, plants are packed in, and the jute field may be an impenetrable thicket until it is harvested.
The plants need as much sunlight as possible – full sun all day is ideal, but anything over half of the day in sun will work.
If you want the plants to bush out, cut off the top growing buds once the plant is about 2 feet tall. This makes harvesting the tender leaves easier – no need to get a ladder.
If your soil is sandy (and much of Florida is just an old sand dune), water and nutrients could be in short supply. In my experience, the young plants should not be allowed to dry out more than a day or two, but once the plants are established and have grown a bit, they are fairly resistant to drought. Any type of mulch will improve the water holding capacity of a sandy soil, though it may take a season or two for fresh mulch to break down and get incorporated in the soil by earthworms and insects.
A light frost will damage the above ground portion of the jute plant, and a stronger frost or freeze will kill the plant entirely.
Jute might need some soil amendments to get the plants to grow beyond runt size. Nitrogen is needed to form new leaves and biomass, and if the leaves are light green or yellow, the plant is probably malnourished and not growing at its capacity. Compost, manure, or fertilizer might be needed to bring up the levels of nitrogen and other nutrients. Several small applications are better than one large one; this reduces the risk of the manure burning the plant, and it also reduces run-off of nutrients into nearby waterways.
If you are growing the plant to maturity for seed or fiber, it will usually take 100 to 120 days, depending on conditions. If growing for vegetable greens, even a 2 month window can work.
If jute grows a full season under optimum conditions, some varieties can grow to 12 or 14 feet tall. Others may level out at a lower height. When I grew it, it didn’t get to more than 5 or 6 feet (but I topped the plants to make them
Photo By Amada44 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47909276