Learning the basics of growing sweet potatoes is very rewarding, especially for those who love gardening. This root vegetable that boasts of its deep orange flesh is famous for producing delicious outputs.
Let’s get to know more about sweet potatoes and how to grow them and care for them through this article.
In This Article
Quick Facts About the Sweet Potato Plant (Ipomoea Batatas)
Botanical name: Ipomoea batatas
Common name: Sweet potato
Type of plant: Herbaceous perennial; often grown and cultivated as annual vegetables
Sun exposure: Full sun and partial shade
Type of soil and pH level: Loamy and sandy; neutral and acidic (around 5 to 6.5)
Bloom time: 3 to 4 months after successfully planting the potatoes (usually happens during the summer or months of warm)
Flower color: Purple
Size when mature: 4 to 6 inches average for tubers; 20 feet spread for vines
Hardiness zones: USDA zones 8 to 11
Native areas: South and North Americas
Sweet Potatoes Defined
One thing that can define sweet potatoes is the fact that they are large and naturally sweet root vegetables that fall under the morning glory family. It is a crop that does not require too much for it to have healthy growth and a bountiful harvest. The only things these sweet potatoes need to grow healthily are warm and well-drained soil as well as full sunlight.
Sweet potatoes also have the advantage of being heat-tolerant and drought-resistant, making them quite similar to regular potatoes. Traditionally, sweet potatoes fall under the Southern crop classification but you can also find several short-season versions of it at present that grow in the North. You can even find those in Canada.
To grow sweet potatoes in those areas, you just have to use raised beds mulched using black plastic. Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious crops with their great amounts of beta-carotene and low-calorie content.
Even if you only plant a few potatoes sweet, you can still expect them to give you a bountiful harvest of orange-fleshed vegetables that you can store longer compared to winter squash.
About the Sweet Potato Slips
You can grow sweet potatoes using what is referred to as slips. Slips refer to the green vines growing from a sweet potato upon sprouting. You can take them off then plant them to the ground to produce new sweet potatoes.
One sprouting of these plants can produce a minimum of 15 slips that can also grow 15 potatoes sweet plants, providing you with around 60 sweet potatoes, equivalent to a weight of around 30 lbs. Once you notice that a slip is already several inches, you can pinch it off from the plant then root it in a jar of water. You may also directly cultivate it in the ground.
While you can find sweet potato slips online and in nurseries and seed stores, note that it would still be much more gratifying to grow your own. The only thing you need to take a hold of these slips is to find a sweet potato that did not get treatment to stop sprouting yet.
If you already have a well-established crop, rest assured that you can use them to start producing slips one year to another.
Sweet Potato Varieties that you can Grow
The most rapidly growing sweet potato variety is one with orange fresh. However, you should also pick those that have yellow, white, or purple flesh.
Orange-flesh sweet potatoes tend to be moist when cooked. The yellow and white ones are creamy while the purple varieties are often starchy and dry. Other sweet potato varieties you may want to try growing at home are:
Beauregard – This one originated from Louisiana but expect this to grow and survive in the North. It features dark orange flesh and dark red roots. It also has the advantage of storing well.
Jewel – Also called yellow jewel, this variety features orange flesh and copper-colored skin. It is also disease-resistant plus it tends to store well.
Centennial – It boasts of its carrot-colored structure and impressive storage life. It is an incredible producer for those who grow these potatoes in the North.
Vardaman – This sweet potato is more of a bush type. It is ideal for small gardens and comes with purple or blue foliage. It has reddish-orange flesh and golden skin.
Stokes – The stokes come with a vibrant purple shade. Many gardeners love growing this variety because it is generally good for their health. It also produces incredible cooking results when used in mashes and savory dishes.
Planting Sweet Potatoes from Slips
Once you already cultivated the slips, begin planting them during a warm weather and overcast day. It should be when the temperature of the soil reached 60 degrees F.
Break off the lower part of the sweet potato leaves. Leave only the top.
You should then set the sweet potato slips at the right depth. It should be deep enough that it can cover the roots as well as the stems. Moreover, you have to make sure that they are around 12-inch to 18 inches apart.
Use a liquid fertilizer rich in phosphorus to nourish them. After that, focus on watering them generously for 7 to 10 days. This should support their proper rooting.
How to Prepare your Garden?
Once properly rooted, you can get the slips and prepare them for planting. It would be best to put them directly in your garden, instead of individual planters, to ensure that the roots remain intact.
Prepare your garden to receive the slips by doing the following steps:
Pick a suitable garden plot
Note that sweet potatoes mainly grow underground but you can expect their vines to grow over the ground. Every sweet potato vine is capable of growing at least 10 feet long. That said, pick a garden plot with a lot of area and room for the length of the sweet potato vines.
Also, note that sweet potatoes love warm environments. This makes it necessary to pick a garden spot that receives plenty of sunlight. The garden plot has to be well-drained, too.
Start tilling the earth
As a tuber, expect the sweet potato to grow deep down. Your goal is to give the sweet potatoes an easier time during the period of growth and you can achieve that if you till the soil around 12-inch deep. Make the soil light and loose and if needed, add some gardening soil.
Prepare and nourish the soil
Just like when you are planting and growing fruits and vegetables, you need soil rich in nutrients to give you an assurance that you can harvest sweet potatoes bountifully. In this case, incorporate at least a layer of compost or planting soil.
Get rid of all existing large rocks. Make it a point to check the soil’s pH level, too. You can use pH testing kits that you can buy in a grocery store and garden store or centers for this specific purpose.
In case the result of the assessment is that the pH level is not that neutral, make some adjustments to it using wood ash or peat moss. This should help in compensating the alkalinity or acidity until the soil becomes neutral, a process referred to as soil amendment.
Determine the perfect time to plant
Due to the heat-loving nature of sweet potatoes, it is safe to say that what they need to flourish is warm soil. Wait for at least one month after the current frost at the start of the spring to plant the slips.
Pick a mulch
Support the healthy growth of your sweet potatoes by integrating mulch on top of the garden soil. This should help in trapping heat. If your place is cold, use black plastic mulch.
Alternatively, you can use a heat-trapper with the same capacity and put it on top of the sweet potato.
The Actual Steps in Planting Sweet Potatoes
Now that you have already prepared your garden, it is time to begin planting your sweet potatoes. Here are the steps for this:
Step 1 – Dig holes
Sweet potato slips require more space compared to other garden veggies. That said, make it a point to dig holes around 12 inches apart.
As a guide, the holes should have an almost similar depth as the root ball that you can find at the slips’ bottom. It should also be around half an inch above the plant’s base.
Step 2 – Plant the potatoes
Every small potato slip should be placed in the pre-dug holes. Use soil to cover the stems. It should be around ½-inch over the base.
Also, note that the potato plant’s leafy part will start sprawling in vines outward. The roots can also produce tubers that are around 6 to 12 inches deep down in the soil.
Step 3 – Add your chosen mulch
Choose a mulch to put on top of the soil. This should give the sweet potatoes protection against the cold weather. It also works in blocking weeds and preventing excessive sweet potato vine growth that tends to steal energy from the growth of the tuber.
Step 4 – Water your sweet potato plants
Initially, the sweet potato requires plenty of water. You need to lessen the amount of water you provide the plant eventually, though you have to do it slowly until they are already okay with receiving it only around once weekly. Start watering daily until it gets to once per week.
Step 5 – Wait for the development of tubers
One important fact about sweet potatoes is that their fruiting period is quite long. They tend to ripen and become ready to harvest during the early fall, which is why many also associate this plant with Thanksgiving.
Water this plant continuously every week and weed the beds when needed to maintain their excellent health up until the tubers appear.
Growing Sweet Potatoes in Pots
It is also possible to grow your sweet potatoes in pots. You may use small plants that you can buy during the spring or grow them from slips planted in pots. Here’s how you can do this:
Prepare a large container made of any material with quality potting soil – Ensure that this container has plenty of drainage holes.
Create a hole, which is large enough that it can sufficiently cover the slip or the plant’s roots, whichever of the two you decided to use.
Water thoroughly then put the container or pot in a place that receives sufficient sun.
Move the container outdoors after the frost passed.
Once you have successfully planted your sweet potatoes, it is time to give them the best care possible. Here are the areas that you should prioritize to ensure that the sweet potatoes receive sufficient care that will nourish it and make it grow healthily.
Your sweet potatoes should be planted and cultivated in a place that gives them full sun. Partial shade will do, too. Yes, they find full sunlight more favorable but they can also appreciate having afternoon shade when they are in dry and warm areas.
Sweet potatoes love well-drained soil that is also rich in organic matter. They also prefer sandier soil compared to clay soil that is quite dense.
After ensuring that the plants are already well-established, you also have an assurance that your sweet potatoes will start tolerating dry soil. Despite that ability, you still have to keep the soil as evenly moist as possible by supplying it with one inch of water once weekly.
Avoid watering them on the last 3-4 weeks before they are fully ready to harvest, though, so the mature tubers will not split. During dry spells, you should focus on keeping the plants as moist as possible.
Humidity and Temperature
Avoid planting your sweet potatoes outdoors until the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees F. The reason is the soil growing temperatures that are ideal for them are usually around 60 to 85 degrees F. They also need an air temperature of around 65 to 95 degrees F.
Despite not being heavy feeders, it is still crucial to provide sweet potatoes with balanced nutrition, usually together with the proper preparation of soil. Avoid overfeeding as it may only cause the foliage to grow, instead of the tubers.
One effective way to nourish the area where it grows is using compost. Just add your chosen compost to the garden or raised beds before you plant sweet potatoes. Another approach is applying a high-quality organic liquid fertilizer into the garden soil before the planting season.
How to Propagate?
When it comes to sweet potato propagation, you have two options for replanting – the saved tubers and the slips. It is possible to propagate these plants with the help of the tubers you have saved over the winter if such a season lasts longer than two months or so.
You can then plant these tubers the next spring. If you are in a location that only has short winters, then start new slips using whole potatoes and vine cuttings.
Using Saved Tubers
To propagate using saved tubers, here are the steps:
With the help of a shovel, dig up the tubers gently and carefully – It is important for you to do this before the fall season’s first frost. Prepare the tubers for storage by brushing off the soil gently from them.
Store the dug tubers over the whole winter season – The best place to store them is a solid and strong cardboard box full of sand, vermiculite, peat, or any other dry material.
Be careful when arranging the tubers inside the box – Ensure that they do not touch each other.
Put this box in a dry and cool place, like the root cellar or basement – The storage place should also have no lighting. Provide warmth to the tubers inside the box by putting a blanket over it, thereby preventing the contents from freezing.
Observe the tubers as they will begin sprouting during the spring – In that case, begin dividing the saved tubers into pieces. Ensure that each piece contains one eye, at the very least.
Put these tubers in your garden after the frost – Also, ensure that the temperature of the soil when doing so is 60 degrees F above.
Using Slips from Vines
You may also create slips from vines and use them for propagation with the aid of these steps:
With the help of a sharp and sterile cutting tool, get the cuttings from the healthy vines – You can do that by snipping off around six inches from their tips prior to the first frost.
Put the cuttings inside a jar containing water at room temperature.
Wait for the cuttings to develop roots – Once they do, put them in pots containing quality potting soil.
Put this pot in a sunny spot until the time when planting them outdoors is already possible.
Using the Slips Created from Whole Sweet Potatoes
Make sure that the slips are taken from full-grown sweet potatoes when planning to use them for propagation. Here are the steps:
Cut one full sweet potato using a sharp and sterile knife – Cut it in half lengthwise.
Prepare a deep tray and put a bed of potting soil in it – Ensure that the soil is damp. After that, put each cut half of the sweet potato in the bed.
Cover these cut pieces using several inches of soil – Make sure that the pieces remain warm and moist. Expect small roots to develop after just a few days that will then be followed by the leaves.
Lift and plant them in containers – They are ready for lifting and planting in pots or containers once they are already around four to eight inches tall (around six weeks). Put the plants in a sunny spot until they are ready to be planted in bigger containers or outdoors.
How to Harvest Sweet Potatoes?
Giving your sweet potatoes as much care and nourishment as possible will give you a bountiful harvest at its growing season. Generally, you will have to wait around 3-4 months (90-120 days) after planting to find tubers that are already ready for harvest.
You may start digging up the tubers once you notice that the foliage is beginning to yellow, which indicates that you can already start to harvest them. In case frost hits the foliage, you do not have to worry too much as there is a chance that the tubers are still fine. Avoid letting the tubers sit in the ground for an extremely long time, though, once the tops die back; or else, they may begin to rot.
When digging, make sure that you do it gently. The reason is that the tubers have the tendency of growing very close to the surface. With that said, there is a high chance that they have tender skins that are prone to bruises and damages if you are not careful when digging.
After harvesting sweet potatoes, it is essential to cure them. Curing is necessary for the development of their flavors as you can’t expect them to have much of this right after digging them. You also have to cure them as it is necessary for growing tougher skin.
To cure, just put the sweet potatoes that are part of your harvest in a spot that has a temperature of around 85 to 95 degrees F. There should also be a humidity of around 80 to 90 percent. Let them stay in that spot for around 5 to 10 days and they will be ready for serving.
If you want, invest in a humidifier or small space heater. Put it in a small room or large closet for the effective curing of the sweet potatoes.
Overwintering Sweet Potatoes
As you may have already known by now, the sweet potato plant, just like regular potatoes, can survive well in tropical and warm climates. This ornamental foliage plant is also frequently utilized as a foil in the case of flowering displays. One thing to note about this heat-loving plant, though, is that it tends to die back in case it gets exposed to hard freezes that are lower than 32 degrees F.
You don’t have to worry too much, though, as there are still ways to save the tubers, and maybe the entire plants, for the next season or so. One way to overwinter the plant is to heel them in areas with temperatures that do not frequently remain chilly. You may also bring them indoors or harvest then store the tubers.
Heeling the Sweet Potato Vines During the Winter
To heel the sweet potato vines, which can contribute to overwintering them, bury the pot or container where there is vine growth in mounded soil. This is necessary especially if your place does not frequently get sustained freezes.
Cut the vine to around a few inches, maybe 5 cm then spread mulch around the pot or container. The layer of mulch should be thick enough that it can serve as a blanket capable of protecting the roots. It is an effective way to winterize the vine.
This tip is usually helpful in ensuring that the plant springs back once the warmer temperature returns. You can expect that provided that the tubers do not freeze. It is possible for the greenery to shrivel but if the tubers do not freeze, you can still save the plant as those are the sources of their stems and leaves.
Also, do not forget to water them occasionally as this is still part of providing winter care to heeled-in ornamental sweet potatoes. Do the watering only one to two times every month during the winter since the plants are still not in the active growth phase.
Dealing with Pests and Diseases
Apart from protecting your sweet potatoes from the harsh winter, it is also crucial to watch out for some pests that may infest the plants or diseases that may develop. Among the severe problems that may affect the sweet potatoes you are presently growing in your home garden are root-knot nematodes and wireworms.
You can lessen the damage created by such problems by rotating your crops annually. It is also possible to avoid most of the diseases that afflict sweet potatoes by picking disease-resistant varieties. It would be much better to use sweet potato slips that are certified disease-free.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is growing sweet potatoes from a sweet potato possible?
The answer is yes. Note that sweet potatoes fall under the root vegetable classification. You can grow these crops from the ground that you can also cultivate directly either from sweet potato or slip that you begin from another sweet potato.
What month do you plant sweet potatoes?
The best months to grow sweet potato include between April and June as well as between August and September. Most gardening enthusiasts living in places with tropical and warm weather also agree that the ideal time for planting sweet potatoes is around one month after the last frost in the spring. It is the time when you can enjoy dependably warm air and soil.
How many sweet potatoes do you get from one plant?
Each plant can provide you with around five to ten sweet potatoes as a means of rewarding your gardening efforts. The amount or harvest will greatly depend on the level of care you offer your plants during their growing season as well as the kinds of potatoes you decide to grow.
What is the best way to grow sweet potatoes?
The most effective way of growing sweet potatoes is planting them from slips. You can grow the slip by putting a sweet potato, one that you just have cut, in water.
After doing that, expect sprouts to develop from the eyes of the sweet potato. Once the sprouts reach around four inches long, you can cut them and put them in soil or water to root properly.
Undeniably, sweet potatoes are among the most rewarding crops you can ever grow and harvest in your garden. Though the process of planting them differs from the traditional potatoes, it is still pretty easy to follow, giving you the opportunity to enjoy a bountiful harvest from your sweet potato plants eventually.