Put your slips into a glass or bowl of water with the roots submerged and leaves kept above the glass edge. New roots will emerge from each slip within a few days. When the roots are about an inch long, they are ready to plant! Be sure to refresh the water every few days to keep your slips healthy.
When your slips are ready to plant, prepare a large container with potting soil. Plant each slip 10 to 12 inches apart. One slip can produce six to eight potatoes! Container-friendly varieties are Puerto Rico and Vardaman. Both have compact vining habits. Side note: It is hard to tell what variety of sweet potato you have if it was bought from the grocery store.
Pictured above is a great choice for a container: an EarthBox. EarthBoxes are self-watering planters that make gardening easy! Check out the Collier Greens page on our website for more information on EarthBoxes.
Sweet potatoes have a three to six month growing season. You can begin to harvest your potatoes by checking the soil at the three-month mark. Gently dig around your garden bed or container to see if your vines produced any potatoes. You’ll begin to find smaller potatoes during this time.
Once harvested, sweet potatoes need to cure for 10 days in a warm location before eating. Do not wash your potato prior to curing. Curing helps the potato convert its starches into tasty sugars. You can also eat sweet potato greens! Cook them up as you would spinach or collard greens.
Notes about sweet potatoes
Unlike most vegetables, sweet potatoes don’t start from a seed! They grow from slips which are the sprouts or shoots grown from a mature sweet potato.
Every spring, Garden staff order slips online to cover crop our vegetable beds during the summer. Cover cropping is planting something that will grow for a long period of time and will protect your beds from harsh, seasonal conditions. It is tough to grow most vegetables in our summer heat; sweet potatoes are one of a handful of veggies that do well in our sultry summers (collard greens, southern peas, okra, and eggplant are others). Once sweet potatoes begin to vine after planting, their leaves cover the soil’s surface protecting it from the harsh summer sun. This helps manage the soil’s temperature thus helping provide an ideal environment for beneficial microbes to thrive and feed our soil. If left bare, the heat of the sun would “cook” the soil killing all live microorganisms—the good and bad—therefore leaving a sterile soil that would be tough to grow in later.
Another benefit of cover cropping is the practice helps keep weeds at bay during our wet season. The leaves of the vines create a barrier to prevent weed seeds from planting themselves in the garden bed. Cover crops also feed our soil. They help replenish essential nutrients the soil might be lacking from the previous growing season. Plants take up nutrients as they grow, and some give back. Beans are a great example of this. They are called nitrogen fixers. They take nitrogen from the atmosphere and “fix” it into a nitrogen compound that can be taken up by the plant through the soil. Nitrogen is one part of the NPK ratio in fertilizers. NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
And, lastly, the best benefit of growing your own sweet potatoes? You get to eat them! Every November, the Garden hosts Family Planting Day, where visitors get the chance to harvest their own sweet potatoes to bring home for the holidays. Visit the Garden’s website for more information on this event.