Growing Sweet Potatoes

November 22, 2010

Although most often thought of as a food for the holidays, sweet potatoes are becoming more and more popular as a garden crop. And why not? This warm season crop is easy-to-grow, contains a high amount of vitamins and a relatively low amount of calories, and tastes delicious!


A Sweet Potato is Not a Yam

Some confusion exists over the difference between sweet potatoes and yams because the terms are often used interchangeably (this tends to come up a lot during the holidays). Related to the morning glory, the sweet potato is a tender tropical vine. The part that we eat (the potato) is actually a root and not a tuber (as with white potatoes). There are two basic types of sweet potatoes. One has a light-colored flesh, which is dry, mealy and less sweet tasting (like white potatoes). The other type has a dark orange, moist and sweet-tasting flesh.

All of the so-called "yams" grown in the United States are actually sweet potatoes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now requires labels with the term "yam" to be accompanied by the term "sweet potato", if they are in fact really sweet potatoes. True yams are much harder to find in many U.S. grocery stores. Although they look similar to some sweet potato varieties, they are in no way related and belong to an entirely different plant family. Yams are grown in tropical areas like South America and the Caribbean. Their outer skin is typically rougher and their flesh sweeter than sweet potatoes.

Not Just for Southern Gardens

Sweet potatoes typically need a long, warm growing season of at least 100 to 120 days to reach maturity. Although usually thought of as a southern crop, many northern gardeners (north of Zone 6) have achieved success by starting slips indoors, and growing cultivars like "Georgia Jet", "Beauregard", or "Centennial", which can mature in as early as 90 days. If you garden in the north, you might also try warming up spring soil temperatures by covering your garden with black plastic for a few weeks before planting.

Getting Started With Starts

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips (rooted shoots) or sprouted cuttings. They are not grown from seeds or by using grocery store sweet potatoes. Slips can be purchased from mail-order suppliers or found at local nurseries. If you have a sweet potatoes from your garden (or a neighbor's) that has survived winter indoors, you can start your own slips. About 12 weeks before your last expected frost date, submerge the bottom third of the potato into a jar filled with water (Use toothpicks to support the potato on the rim of the jar). Place the jar in a sunny spot. In a few weeks sprouts will start to form on the potato. Once these reach 5-6 inches long, carefully remove them from the potato and stick them in damp sand to root. When garden soil temperatures warm to 55-65 degrees F, harden off the seedlings and transplant them into the garden.

General Growing Requirements

Site: Full sun. Plant them where sweet potatoes have not been grown for at least 2 years.

Soil: Not too fussy. Loose, nutrient-rich soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal. Once established, plants are drought tolerant. The "Centennial" variety is said to be tolerant of clay soils.

Spacing: Mounds 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart.Mulch: Use black plastic or mulch around plants to keep soil warm and suppress weeds.

Number of plants: 2 to 4 plants per person.

Additional Tips:

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4 More Solutions

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You can grow sweet potatoes in a wooden barrel. Cut off your sprouts, leaving a medium amount of potato on the sprout. Get your wooden barrel and place some small size rocks in the bottom of your barrel.

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

March 27, 2012

I have never planted sweet potatoes, hints?

By Steve J.


March 29, 20120 found this helpful

Plant sweet potatoes in a slightly acid soil, pH between 5.0 and 6.5. If you feed sweet potatoes, they will only produce foliage, so plant in soil with lots of organic matter in it, and don't feed again. 3 to 4 weeks prior to harvesting, don't wanter the plants or the tubers will split.

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April 1, 20120 found this helpful

Hi Steve I live in Queensland Australia which is a hot and dry place, not sure where you are but if its a hot place. I buy some small sweet potato from the shops and leave them in my shed to sprout, it takes a while but it will send out shoots. Bury them leaves and all just under the surface or cover them with soil so you can't see them. You will notice in a few weeks the vines start to come through.

I wait a year and then starting in one corner follow the vine with your hand, when you reach a join in the vine; that's where you will find a sweet potato. then just bury the vine again don't dig them all up. sweet potato for ever. you can chop up the vines that grow too long out of the garden beds and give them to your friends. Good luck from gail

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September 21, 2006

Sweet potato plant, beautiful and easy to grow.

Sweet Potato Vine Bloom

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ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

November 22, 2010

I know the potatoes should of been in already. Someone just gave me some sweet potatoes. Do you plant them just like the other potatoes, or is there a certain way of planting them.

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