How to grow sweet Potatoes



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How to Grow Sweet Potatoes

By Linda Paquette


Like white potatoes, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are most easily grown from slips taken from a seed potato. Although you can buy sweet potatoes from nurseries and garden centers, the easiest way to find them is in your grocer?s produce department.

Growing Sweet Potato Vines

It doesn?t take too much of a ?slip? to grow a sweet potato vine. A medium sweet potato has about 50 eyes and each has the potential to sprout into a sweet potato vine. Typically, though, you can depend on 10 to 20 plants from one medium ?seed potato?.

The sweet potato comes from the morning glory family and like its relatives grows into a lovely flowering vine. Because sweet potatoes are so easy to grow, you can cut a slip from one, moisten it and plant it in just about any type of soil. The young sprout gets its nutrients from the flesh of the ?mother root?. As long as you make sure to plant a section with ?eyes? and keep it moist (but not saturated), your sweet potato vine should grow into a very attractive houseplant.

When planting a sweet potato slip, it isn?t necessary to cover the whole ?mother root?. Plant your slips no more than two inches deep and wait for the lovely green vine to begin growing. Also remember that, once planted; ?wet feet? will cause your slip to rot. Keep soil moist, but never saturated. Sweet potatoes grow well in sandy soil, which provides your plant with good drainage as well as a porous medium for good tuber growth. Sweet potato vines either can be left to trail or trained to climb.

Sweet Potato Fun for Young Gardeners

An alternative way to sprout a sweet potato that?s especially fun for young gardeners is to stick a toothpick on each of four ?sides? of a large sweet potato slip. Hang the sweet potato slip over a jar of water so that about half of it is submerged. Keep the jar in a darkened area for ten days or until you see the white roots (sprouts) begin to form. Then place the jar in a sunny spot and wait for the vine to begin growing.

From Vine to Bush (?) to Garden

If you nip the vine of a sweet potato plant, the mother plant becomes more bush like and displays even more attractively as a houseplant or outdoor container plant. You can either plant the nipped vine as a transplant for another houseplant or try to grow sweet potatoes in your garden. One caution when growing sweet potatoes outdoors is that they need warm soil. When growing them outdoors, be sure to wait until the soil temperature reaches about 70F. In addition, like the Morning Glory, the sweet potato vine grows best in full sun.

As garden plants, sweet potatoes are most often grown in warmer zones. The most common problems in garden-grown sweet potatoes are pests like white grubs, sweet potato weevils, and wireworms. Generally, sweet potatoes are quite disease resistant and most other problems arise from poor gardening practices like poor drainage, too much shade, and over fertilization.

An ideal sweet potato transplant is 12-14 inches long, has five or six leaves, and a strong stem. Cut the vine about 2 inches above the mother plant. Although your cuttings won?t have roots, they will develop quickly once planted in warm soil and watered. These transplants should be planted about four inches deep. Take care to leave the terminal buds above the ground.

Garden grown sweet potatoes should be planted in high rows to help with drainage. When cultivating, like white potatoes, soil should be mounded or hilled around individual plants. An early harvest is 90 to 120 days after transplanting; however, they realize their true growth potential two to three weeks later. The longer they are left in the soil, the bigger your potatoes will be.

Sweet Potato Harvest

The real work in growing sweet potatoes begins with the harvest. To harvest garden-grown sweet potatoes, first moisten dry soil to help digging and reduce skinning. Sort and save the smaller potatoes as seed for next year?s crop. Cover dug potatoes with vines to keep them from the sun.

Sweet potatoes continue to develop texture and flavor after harvest. Generally, you will need to store them for six to eight weeks before use. However, before storing sweet potatoes, it?s best to ?cure? them to makes sure that any cuts and bruises are healed and help keep harvest damage from turning into decay. Ideally, to cure sweet potatoes, you?ll need to provide them with a week to ten days of high temperatures (80 to 90F) and a humidity to match (80 to 90%). Although this is difficult for most gardeners to achieve, the closer you can come, the better your crop of sweet potatoes will be.


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