Sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy and are very easy to grow in the home vegetable garden. The plant is pretty and I’ve seen people grow sweet potatoes as low border in flower beds around their home as part of their edible landscaping.
The first time I grew sweet potatoes, friend bought some slips from the feed store and gave them to me. I later found out that they were $9…ouch. Unlike other vegetables, sweet potatoes are grown by slips not seeds.
Sweet potato slips are simply the sprouts that grow on the ends of a very mature sweet potato. If you wan to try your hand at growing your own slips, I highly recommend it. There are several ways to grow sweet potato slips and pros and cons of each way.
The first year we harvested, we didn’t do a very good job of digging them up, the soil where they were planted had a lot of clay and it was compacted down. The next spring when we tilled in some sand and compost into the area, the leftover sweet potatoes went flying!
In a few weeks we had a lot of sweet potato sprouts coming up in that area. Sweet potatoes are pretty hardy and as long as your ground doesn’t freeze you can expect any leftover sweet potato tubers to sprout the next year. I wouldn’t intentionally leave them in the ground, just be mindful to double check the area in the spring before you plant that area with something else.
How to plant sweet potatoes
- Sweet potatoes love heat. So for our zone they are some of the last things we plant. Planting season is April 15-May 15th
- Sweet potatoes need at least 100 frost free days (northern climates can cover the ground with clear plastic to help warm up the soil)
- Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams and they’re different than regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are actually related to the morning glory
- Plant sweet potatoes in loose, well drained soil (not clay like we did the first year, or you’ll have trouble harvesting them)
- Once established you only need to water if you notice the vine wilting
- Plant slips 12-18″ apart and to a depth of about half its length
- If you live in a warm climate that doesn’t freeze (zones 10-11) you might be able to grow them year round. As the vine grows you can bury it every 12″ or so and it will re-root and begin a new tuber.
If you need help figuring out how much to plant to feed your family, you can have some printable worksheets emailed to you by filling out the form below.
Pest and problems with growing sweet potatoes
- Wireworms and grubs can be a problem for any root crop
- We had a problem with pill bugs eating the potatoes. We’re using diatomaceous earth to help.
- Nematodes may be a problem and you can add beneficial nematodes if you have poorly colored or deformed potatoes
- Sweet potatoes have very few pest and problems. In fact, Teri from Homestead Honey likes to grow sweet potatoes for a winter storage crop instead of winter squash for this very reason.
Harvesting and Storing Sweet Potatoes
- Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes vines won’t die back when they’re ready to be harvested. They will die when the first frost hits.
- Anytime between 100-120 days your potatoes will be ready. When you’re ready to harvest, just pull up the vines and use a digging fork to dig them up. Kids love this job!
- Harvest before first frost (although some of ours have gone through our mild winter in the ground just fine)
- Sweet potatoes need to be cured before storage. They need to held at 85-90°F and 80-90% humidity for 5-7 days. This will help them not dry out.
- To store they need to be kept at 55°F or higher. They’ll begin to rot if its lower.
Using Sweet Potatoes
Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potato leaves are edible (regular potato leaves are toxic so don’t eat those!) and very tasty. I like to saute them with carrots and onions just like I do broccoli and cauliflower leaves. Using the secondary harvest of the leaves helps us eat well between the seasons.
We also like to mash them or bake them just like regular potatoes. We only add butter, salt and pepper – no sweetener to them. Another favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes is in sweet potato pie.
We’re pretty “plain Jane” eaters in our home but if you like to experiment with sweet potatoes here’s a list of 50 different recipes!
You can find information about other fruits and veggies by searching clicking on the In The Garden tab up top or in The Gardening Notebook. Any other tips? Feel free to share in the comments.