Sweet potatoes are tropical vining plants cultivated for their deliciously tasty tubers. They’re fun to grow and simple to care for as long as you provide the proper growing conditions. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to plant sweet potato slips and learn to care for your sweet potatoes from planting to harvest.
Although they’re perennials in hot climates, most gardeners grow sweet potatoes as annuals because of their warm temperature needs. They have a relatively long growing season and require between 100 and 150 days of warm weather above 65℉.
Sweet potato slips are the shoots that sprout from a mature sweet potato. Planting sweet potato slips is simpler than it may seem at first.
Some growers prefer starting them in water, while others plant them directly in potting soil. Read on to find out about planting sweet potatoes from slips.
Best Tips and Tricks for Planting Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes, or Ipomoea batatas, are in the morning glory plant family with moonflowers and water spinach. However, they’re not related to regular potatoes or yams. You can grow yam varieties in a similar way to sweet potatoes.
In most northern growing climates, it’s helpful to plant sweet potatoes indoors six weeks before the usual last frost date in the spring. In warmer regions, plant sweet potatoes anytime the soil temperature is above 60℉.
Plant sweet potatoes in full sun, meaning six or more hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. They grow best in nutrient-rich soil that’s well-draining and free from obstructions like rocks and tree roots.
Although growing sweet potatoes purchased from the supermarket is possible, you run the risk of unintentionally introducing plant diseases into your garden. For the best results, purchase certified disease-free sweet potato slips from a reputable supplier.
Most commercially grown sweet potatoes are orange. However, different varieties also produce purple, yellow, and white tubers. Here are several of the best sweet potato varieties for growing at home.
How to Plant Sweet Potato Slips
Sweet potatoes don’t grow from seeds but “slips” or sprouts growing from a mature tuber. To ensure that your sweet potato slips are disease-free and grow true to the variety, purchase them from a reputable source.
To try propagating your own sweet potato slips, look for healthy, organic sweet potato tubers at the farmer’s market or grocery store. When propagating slips, start growing sweet potatoes in water by placing the entire sweet potato in a half-full jar of water.
If necessary, use toothpicks to suspend the tuber. Alternatively, fill a wide tray with at least three inches of nutrient-rich potting soil and plant the sweet potato a few inches deep.
Place the container in a warm location while the sweet potato begins sprouting, ideally at least 80℉. If using soil, be sure to maintain steady moisture levels. The bottom part of the tuber develops roots, while the top part grows the leafy new plants.
After about four to six weeks, your sweet potato slips should be ready for transplanting. Once they’re between six and 12 inches long, carefully remove the slips with their roots intact. Grasp the stem where it meets the tuber and gently twist to detach it.
Plant the slips directly into your garden bed, or keep them in a glass of water or pots filled with sandy soil until the weather warms enough for transplanting. Bury the slips up to the bottom set of leaves.
In most northern climates, it’s best to wait a week or two after the usual last frost date so the tender young plants don’t get damaged by a late spring freeze. The soil temperature should be 65-70℉, and nighttime temperatures above 55℉.
Warm your garden soil a week or two ahead of transplanting by covering the beds with a thick layer of organic compost, dark-colored mulch, or a sheet of black plastic.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes require plenty of sunshine and heat. For the best possible results, choose a full sun location with loose soil rich in organic matter. To take advantage of mutually beneficial properties, grow sweet potato companion plants nearby.
Raised beds are perfect for growing sweet potatoes because it’s easier to keep your soil from becoming compacted. They also make harvest time easier.
Sweet potatoes are somewhat drought-tolerant once established. However, to minimize transplant shock, keep the soil evenly moist for the first week or two after planting sweet potatoes. After that, give them approximately one inch of water per week.
Sweet potatoes don’t usually require supplemental fertilizer if planted in nutrient-rich soil amended with organic compost. Or, mix slow-release fertilizer into the soil before transplanting.
How Far Apart to Plant Sweet Potato Slips
Sweet potato plant spacing is crucial for growing a successful crop. Allow one square foot of space per plant. Overcrowding results in stunted growth and a diminished yield.
Create raised mounds of earth about six to eight inches tall and 12 inches wide. Plant two or three sweet potato slips per hill.
This method keeps the soil warmer and provides better drainage away from the plant’s main stem. Spacing between mounds or rows should be three or four feet.
Sweet potato vines put down roots wherever they touch the soil, which eventually develop edible tubers. Allow the vines to spread laterally for maximum yield.
Planting Sweet Potato Slips in Containers
Growing sweet potatoes in containers is a great solution for gardeners with limited space. Select a large to medium size pot that’s at least 12 inches deep and wide. Ensure your container has several drainage holes at the bottom to prevent problems with rot and fungal disease.
Fill it with nutrient-rich potting soil up to one inch below the rim. Plant sweet potato slips following the instructions above, and thoroughly water them.
Container-grown plants use up water and nutrients faster than in-ground specimens. Maintain consistent moisture levels and fertilize every four to six weeks.
Harvesting and Storing Sweet Potatoes
To harvest baby sweet potatoes, dig them up a few weeks before they reach full maturity. Otherwise, wait until the vines begin turning yellow in late summer or early fall, and be sure to harvest your sweet potato crop before the first frost.
Carefully loosen the soil with a gardening fork. Dig up the sweet potato tubers starting at the plant’s main crown.
Sweet potato leaves are also edible and highly nutritious. Pick them as needed throughout the growing season, and prepare them like spinach or turnip greens.
After harvesting, cure sweet potatoes for about a month to toughen the skin and bring out the best flavor. Spread them in the sun to dry for several hours.
Move your sweet potatoes to a warm, dry place and set them in a ventilated container for ten days. Relocate your homegrown sweet potatoes to a storage area that stays between 55-60℉ and cure them for three or four more weeks.
The freezer is one storage option, whether you puree or cube the potatoes first. It’s easy to use frozen sweet potatoes in a recipe.
Planting sweet potato slips is a fun and rewarding DIY project. The best way to plant sweet potatoes depends on your growing climate and available garden space.
Sweet potato plants are incredibly versatile and grow well in mounds and raised beds. It’s even possible to grow sweet potato vines in containers on your deck or patio.
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