Yes, You CAN Grow Sweet Potatoes! They are relatively undemanding, as long as you follow a few basic rules. Only distantly related to the common potato, these guys are powerhouses that are both delicious AND nutritious. Read this article till the end as I show you how to grow epic amounts of sweet potatoes from just store-bought. It’s easy and it’s fun, as long as you have the time and space! So let’s not waste any time and dive into the wonderful world of growing sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes or ipomoea potatoes are year-round vines that are native to Central South America. Both the home gardener and the commercial grower however treat the crop as a typical annual root vegetable.
The leaves are edible raw or cooked, but what we’re after is below the soil. Deliciously sweet, these modified tubers are hyper nutritious and very prolific, which means only a few plants are needed to grow some epic sweet potato bounty.
What is the best temperature to grow?
As undemanding as sweet potatoes are, they do require one thing: heat. Like we mentioned these guys need four months of uninterrupted soil temperatures above 15 degrees Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit and really that’s the absolute minimum.
Remember these guys are tropical and need at least 6-8 hours of full sun/day. Take the number of really really warm days you have in the summer and multiply that by 120.
What type of soil is best for sweet potatoes?
And speaking of soil for the absolute best tubers we’re going to want a certain kind of soil.
Loose, well-drained, fairly rich, but balanced in nutrients, that’s what we’re aiming for. Too compact are clay-filled and the tubers won’t form properly, too sandy and you might get long stringy crops instead.
A little bit of sand however can be a good thing, especially in poorly drained soils.
What size containers are used for growing?
In North America to keep the soil temperatures as high as possible raised beds work the best. Just ensure they’re at least a foot high.
You can grow them in large pots and containers such as fabric grow bags, but really 10 gallons is the minimum size you want to go so keep that in mind.
What nutrients do sweet potatoes need to grow?
This is a big root crop much bigger than say beets, carrots, or even bigger crop than the regular potatoes.
For nutrients, it’s hard to beat simple compost. You’re going to want to avoid animal manures as well as excessive nitrogen. Overfeeding leads itself to produce mass amounts of foliage with relatively little tubers.
A compost heavy blend for initial planting is best but you can also dilute liquid feed you know once a month for equally great results.
Sweet potatoes do tolerate quite dry conditions once they’re established. But try to keep the soil moist.
It’s kind of similar to how we grow our carrots, never soaking wet or standing in water but also never bone dry either.
Where is the best place to grow sweet potatoes?
For the location, these guys need sun and lots of it. Minimum of six to eight hours a day of full sun, more if you can give it.
In a nutshell that’s pretty much the basics of sweet potato growing and care. But where do we begin? How do we start our sweet potato growing adventure?
Well, sweet potatoes are almost always grown from adventitious shoots called slips. These vigorous growing appendages sprout right out of the top one-third of a mature sweet potato tuber.
You can buy sweet potato starter slips in the spring but if you’re like me it’s much more fun to make your own. So with that let’s go through the entire process of growing a sweet potato right to harvest as we condense the last four months down to just a couple of minutes.
Growing Sweet Potatoes: A Demonstration from slips to harvest
Like we mentioned earlier sweet potatoes are grown from slips, little adventitious shoots that grow on the sweet potatoes themselves.
Starter slips are available at certain times of the year but honestly making your own from regular grocery store sweet potatoes is easy and more reliable.
There are two basic ways to start and grow these slips, let me show you how.
- The first way is to cut the top one quarter to one third of the sweet potato off and place it fat end down in a glass of water. Very shortly it’ll begin to send out sprouts which can be picked off and rooted. That’s the method you most often see on the internet but the second way is even easier.
- With this method we simply place a whole sweet potato in a warm dark cupboard and within a few weeks the whole end of the tuber sprouts all on its own. You can see a gaggle of slips. Pinch them off, place them in some water and watch the roots just explode.
Once I confirm a viable slip has rooted I go ahead and plant them into small pots. It doesn’t take long and before you know it you’ve got dozens of sweet potato starter plants.
Now begin this whole process at least six to eight weeks before you want to plant your sweet potatoes out in the garden.
Planting the Sweet potatoes slips
Planting the well-started slips is easy. Like any other starter plant in your garden plant the fledgling sweet potatoes right after the first set of leaves.
Space them a foot or more apart, mulch well, and give a good soaking to complete the planting. Even though sweet potatoes are a vine don’t worry about supporting the branches.
You can trellis them for aesthetics sure no problem there but letting them crawl horizontally of their own volition won’t affect the productivity.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
All right this takes us right up to the harvest. You can harvest these guys at any time at any size but they reach their full potential in both flavor and nutrition when the foliage begins to fail.
Sweet potatoes grow really close to the surface so be careful when digging them up not to damage their skins, as that’s going to affect the storage.
Usually, it’s a minimum of three to four months to grow proper tubers even in really warm climates. If you’re worried that your sweet potatoes aren’t quite ready yet just feel around the outer edges of the rower container and pull out a test tuber. Try to harvest on a dry day to encourage the tubers to immediately begin curing.
I like to cut away all the lines first so I can see what I’m doing. You can start in the middle or on the outside it doesn’t matter. Just begin to loosen the dirt as much as possible.
Clean the sweet potatoes by hand just by brushing off the dirt and not by washing them. Set them aside as you’re done and keep working your way through your crop.
To fully cure the tubers lay them down flat and store them in a warm humid place for about two weeks. If handled carefully, not bruised or marked, and cured for those two weeks sweet potatoes will store at room temperature with medium humidity for up to six months, now that’s amazing!
Sweet potatoes are an amazing plant. A rewarding crop with relatively low maintenance requirements. If you can provide the extended heat that’s necessary to grow the tubers and you got the space sweet potatoes could be your next big crop.
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