Friday, June 17, 2011

Growing Sweet Potatoes

Several of you asked about planting sweet potatoes. I'm in no way an expert. It has actually been several years since I've even grown sweet potatoes. Sweet potato vines take a lot of space that I didn't feel I had the last several years.

Sweet potatoes like warm soil. We usually wait until June to plant them. Often we plant them when we take the peas out as a way to maximize our garden space.

Sweet potatoes are grown from plants. You can purchase plants at a garden center or online. You an also grow your own plants. You will need a firm healthy sweet potato. If the sweet potato is starting to sprout, you have a head start. I assume that most grocery store sweet potatoes are treated with an anti-sprouting chemical. Look for organic sweet potatoes or get from a gardening friend. My sweet potatoes came from my mom and a friend. I don't know what variety they are but both of them had excellent sweet potato crops last year and they kept very well all winter. Sounds like traits I want to encourage!


Place the sweet potato in a jar of water. You want to submerse most of the sweet potato while allowing a couple inches above water. One of my sweet potatoes was so large it couldn't fit well in the jar. Change the water occasionally to keep from molding. Place in sunlight. Soon the sweet potato will send out sprouts, or slips.


When the sprouts are four to five inches long, pull them off the sweet potato. The sweet potato will grow more sprouts.


Place the sprouts in water. You can place a bunch of sprouts in the same jar. They will quickly grow roots.


When the sprout is well rooted, plant on a hill of soil about ten inches high. Keep the plants well watered while the roots are being established. We like to mulch the hill to keep back the weeds as the sweet potato grows.

While sweet potatoes can't be planted too early because they hate cold weather, they also can't be planted too late. My aunt, who has grown sweet potatoes to sell for years, says to plant on July 4 at the very latest in our area of PA. Sweet potatoes need several months of growing time before the first frost to form tubers.

I think I started my sweet potato plants too late. I didn't start them until May. I only have half my row planted now and my other sprouts are still rooting. Some of the ones I've planted seem to be dying and I probably didn't give them enough time to root. Next year I want to start the plants in March or April so they are well rooted by the beginning of June. One more task to add that to my early spring gardening list. Maybe having this written here will help me remember.

My husband just read an article on growing sweet potatoes at Mother Earth News that he found helpful.

Do you have any other hints on growing sweet potatoes?

46 comments :

  1. I just plant a whole sweet potato and don't worry with the slips. Last year I planted 5 or 6 potatoes and got a bushel of sweet potatoes in return. I really don't know if the way I did it was correct or not but it worked well for me. Sherri

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    1. I did the same thing and it's growing find outside.

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    2. I quarter a sweet potato and get 4 nice plants. We LOVE sweet potatoes!!

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    3. Pameele -do you have to chit your sweet potato quarters like regular potatoes or do you just put them straight in the ground?

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  2. Thanks! Saving this one for next year. ~Liz

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  3. Sherri -
    I've always wondered if that would work. Sounds like you had a great return on the investment. One thing I like about sweet potatoes is that you can save a potato from year to year and never need to buy new seed.
    Gina

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  4. Yeh we usually throw our green scraps onto the soil, like compost. One year we put sweet potato skins out and the plant grew up aswell. I do the same for potatoes, ones that havent been used and start eye-ing, I plant and a couple of months later I get wonderful "new" potatoes..

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  5. My "garden counselor", an 89 year old sister in our church, always starts her sweet potatoes on her birthday, March 5th. She is a wealth of garden information even tho she isn't gardening any more.

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  6. What I appreciate the most about this post Gina is that you actually say what to do after they sprouted. I have yet to see one place- even in The Backyard Homestead, whose method I'm trying now, follow the process through to the ground.

    I tried a water method last year that had chunks suspended in water, and the mold was uncontrollable. Probably because they were chunks. I'd be interested to know how many slips total you end up with off those 3 potatoes.

    Great post- Thanks!!

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    Replies
    1. I got 40 sprouts planted off of one organic sweet potato

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  7. Thank you Gina!!
    The post answered a lot of questions! Appreciate the time you took sharing!!
    JoAnn

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  8. Try keeping plants in moist cocopeat;
    I think it is easier than water- No mold

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  9. I am so going to try this indoors very soon.. looks pretty easy and love growing sweet potatoes outdoors. thanks so much for the information you have provided.. I was doing a search to get the specifics and I like that you added photos to show them sprouting..

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  10. What is Cocopeat?

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  11. What a great idea!

    I am trying it this year, and I hope it isn't too late. I actually tried growing them right on the soil from potato seeds, and they did pretty well until someone in my community garden decided to weed wack everything by the end of the season. I lost all of my potatoes.

    Finger crossed :)

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  12. All you need to grow sweet potatoes are the eyes. Not sure if grocery store yams will work or if they've been treated. Just cut the sweet potato so there are eyes in each piece. Plant and tend.

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  13. we used to do this as kids but never planted them...my Mother had them in the house and just let them keep growing...they made wonderful pot plants - you dont need to keepchanging the water - just use a little each day - the plant will soak it all up :)

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    Replies
    1. What a great idea to use sweet potatoes as house plants!
      Gina

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    2. Trader Joe's sells beautiful organic sweet potatoes that work well. Good old' TJ's.

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  14. How long does it take to grow a decent sized sweet potato? We planted a few in the back yard earlier last year. Now we have runners all over the place. They look kind of cool just growing over the lawn. I heard the leaves are edible? And is it true where ever the vine attaches in the ground, that is where a potato should be? Yes I should also mention that we live in the tropics and it never gets cold. So the growing season is year round..

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    1. Here is takes about four months - but since your climate is so different then mine, I won't even be able to guess! I never knew the leaves were edible. we have found that it is best to keep the plants trimmed back. We usually plant the sweet potatoes at the side of the garden and mow off anything that grows into the yard. That way the strength of the plant goes into growing sweet potatoes and not just vines!

      Happy Gardening!
      Gina

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    2. Sweet potatoes leaves can be eaten, we Chinese (in the tropics) use to fry them with shrimp paste together with chilli for taste... it's a nutritious dish...

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    3. I am waiting for the Asian store here in South Carolina to sell sweet potato tops which we cook as stir fry with garlic. In the Philippines we plant the stem direct in the soil and it easy to grow and have roots after several months. I would love to plant also here in US just to have sweet potato tops because it's late to have roots.

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  15. Hi! I'm new here-love your site-glad I found you.
    This is my 3rd year growing sweets. Last year was awful (maybe due to drought here in TX) but because of that I had a LOT of underdeveloped, small, spindly roots in my harvest. Since I abhor waste, I saved them over the winter.
    I never did come up w/ a good use for them...and there I was, in May of this year when lo and behold these seemingly useless 'thickened roots' had begun to sprout. What to do?
    Since I couldn't bear to see them go to waste...I planted them.

    It's been 60 days and I just checked a couple...these cuties have healthy leaves, multiple runners and the tubers have begun to enlarge. YAY!

    OK I'm sure there MUST be some perfectly sound and reasonable reasons why I have not been able to find anyone else who has reported on this practice...maybe diseases? pests? Who knows?-anyone else here ever heard of or tried it this way? I can't wait to see what the results may be.

    Thanks. Have a great day and enjoy the Summer.

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    1. Hi,
      I had the same problem here in NW Indiana. LOTS of little roots, very few of any decent size. And many were twisted into grotesque shapes. I've seen elsewhere that planting a whole potato will produce lots of vines, but not much more.

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  16. The leaves of the sweet potato can also be eaten as a vegetable . It can be stir fried .

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  17. Brilliant, didnt think it was gona be so simple

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  18. What I need to know is when to harvest them every article I have read tells how to plant but never how to tell when they are ready! I planted mine in June and lots off leaves but don't know when to pick!!!!!!!!! please help!

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    1. Janet -
      I don't know how it is in your area or climate, but here in PA, sweet potatoes will grow as long as the leaves are green. As soon as there is even a light frost, the leaves will turn black. We like to dig the sweet potatoes right before our first frost, or if we miss it, then as soon as we can after the frost. Once the leaves die, the sweet potatoes will start to spoil if they are not removed from the ground. So we like to get them out as soon as we can.
      Gina

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  19. Do the potato's need Full sun?

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    1. Yes, they need full sun.
      Gina

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    2. If you are growing for ornamental use the sweet potato vines really like afternoon shade.

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  20. Do you suppose these could be planted in a raised bed in the house, or would they get enough light?

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    1. Sweet potatoes do need a lot of sun. And they grow huge vines. The vine would grow in the house but I'm not sure they would produce potatoes. I guess you could try it!
      Gina

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  21. hello gina
    how long the whole process of sweet potato shoots up?
    thanks :)

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    1. It really depends upon how warm and how much light the sweet potatoes get. It is hard to give a time but plan on a few weeks.
      Gina

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  22. Just wanted to add in that once the potatoes are vining, you can break off shoots and put them back into water with a bit of Roottone and they will root too. This is good if you were a bit early starting them and gives you more plants for the garden. I usually break them off around the knuckles by the leaf connections and give it an inch or two of stem.

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  23. How much growing space do they require outdoor..per slip...i heard some crazyness about needing like 10sq ft of bedspace to yield a single pound...that seems like quite a bit...last year we tried and failed to grow 5 or so in a 4sq ft space

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    1. Sweet potatoes do take a lot of space. I don't know what the recommendations are but ten square feet (which would be a bed 2 feet by 5 feet) does not sound unreasonable. Sweet potatoes grow large vines and need space to spread out. If your space is very limited, sweet potatoes might not be a good option.
      Gina

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  24. If you don't have a lot of ground space to dedicate to sweet potatos, then try a potato tower. There are ton's of ideas on pinterest and I think I've seen a few on Home Joys. I know of a couple of people who have had great success with sweet potato towers.

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  25. What do u mean by plant in a dirt mound? I am in central Florida do u think its ok to plant them year round?

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    1. Usually sweet potatoes are planted in a hill of soil to give the roots soft soil to grow their tubers. I don't know anything about the Florida growing season. Maybe your local extension office can help.
      Gina

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  26. Any more information on. The sweet potatoe towers? I live in an apartment so can't plant into the ground, but would absolutely love it of I could grow a plant or two.

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  27. Love sweet potatoes and we planted a few slips in the spring. They did well for us and we will do it again in 2015. I read your blog and follow it on facebook. Very informative. Thank you.
    I have recently started a blog about homesteading at:
    http://southernurbanhomesteader.wordpress.com
    I hope you can take a break and check it out.
    Thanks,
    Brenda at Southern Urban Homesteader

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  28. I would like to keep my potato in a big hanging basket, as an ornamental plant. Can I plant the whole potato, or only the shoots??

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    1. I would plant the shoots because eventually the potato itself will rot and become stinky. The young shoots will grow for a long time.
      Gina

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