Growing Sweet Potatoes

If you plan to grow sweet potatoes in your vegetable garden, there are a few things you

Growing Sweet Potato Slips

need to know. You do not plant them the same as regular potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are different in that they grow “slips” from the potato. Slips are grown by placing a sweet potato in an area where they will get diffused sunlight. Keep them out of the direct sun. We place ours on a bed of moist sand or soil to prevent them from drying out. They will start growing sprouts. These sprouts are called slips. One potato will grow many slips over a period of several weeks.

When the slips are 4 to 6 inches long they can be removed carefully by twisting at the base where it grew from the potato until it separates from the potato. The base of the slip is then placed in a container of water like a cut flower and left for a week or so until it grows roots. The slips grow roots quickly. The slip can then be planted in your vegetable garden. You can also buy slips ready for planting at many nurseries and feed stores as well as ordering them from seed companies.

Sweet potatoes prefer a relatively warm soil temperature of 70 degrees or so. They do best in loose soil to make their tubers, and they need moisture on a regular basis (especially when first planted and roots are developing).

I prepare the soil by first digging a trench 12 inches or so deep and lining the bottom with old hay (the older the better). I make the layer of hay 6 to 8 inches deep to provide a bed for the tubers to form and grow. Then, I cover the hay with 4 inches or so of soil.

I also mulch heavily around the base of the plants. This helps retard the growth of undesirable weeds and helps keep the soil moist allowing the plants to thrive. Sweet potato plants will grow vines which will also help shade the ground and preserve moisture.

Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest in the fall when the plant dies back. They are harvested by digging up the roots (tubers) from the layer of hay. Spread the potatoes out in the shade on a dry tarp or cloth to allow them to dry thoroughly before storing them in a cool, dry, and dark place.

They will keep all winter in this manner if kept on a layer of hay and covered with a little hay. They need to be kept dry and from freezing. You can store them in other mediums (dry sand, for instance) if you wish. I just grow my own hay and have it available.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and do not require a lot of care. You just need to insure they get enough moisture throughout the season and pull any weeds that happen to get through your mulch. They are a hearty plant and will thrive with just minimal care. You will be rewarded with delicious sweet potatoes that you can enjoy all winter. Be sure to save several to grow your slips for the next spring’s planting.

Besides sweet potatoes, this is also an excellent method for growing any other kind of potatoes in your vegetable garden except they aren’t all grown from slips. We grow all our potatoes this way with excellent results.

To learn about harvesting and storing your sweet potatoes check out this article; Harvesting Sweet Potatoes .

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14 thoughts on “Growing Sweet Potatoes

  1. Can you use any sweet potatoes from the grocery store or do you have to get special seeds?

  2. A wonderful post! And thank you for saying Sweet Potatoes, and not Yams. I grow mine pretty much the same, except without the hay- perhaps I will try tha this year. Doesn’t it sprout?

  3. I haven’t ever had a problem with it sprouting, but I use old hay. It may still have some seeds in it though. I let the hay lay out exposed to the weather for the winter and use it in the spring. It isn’t quite what I would call compost but it is in a stage of decay.

  4. That is a good question as some store potatoes are irradiated to retard sprouting. I recommend getting your starting potatoes from someone that grows them or from a nursery. You will never know which stores sell the irradiated ones and which stores do not. Farm Supply, Feed Stores and others also sometimes carry the sprouting potatoes. Once you have a crop, save several of your own to sprout the next spring.

  5. you didnt mention the spacing you use when planting the slips. also we dont have hay here. can you think of a good substitute? maybe mulch? thanks!

  6. Spacing has never been that much of an issue to me, bit I plant them about 12 inches apart. Hay is convenient but many other things will work also. I am using leaves I scooped up from the woodland floor in one bed. I scooped up the leaf litter and included a little of the top inch of soil. This gives me also the decomposed leaves from previous seasons. If you use mulch, use the most decomposed mulch you can find. This decomposing material under the soil not only provides a bed for the sweet potatoes to grow in but it also holds moisture for those dry times and provides nutrients (for this reason I avoid cedar which doesn’t decompose for years).
    Jim

  7. I have a sweet potato that has started growing sprouts, but it’s not the right time of year to plant outside, right? Is there any way I can keep it alive indoors through the winter? Thanks!

  8. Hi Shelly’
    You’re right; it isn’t the right time of the year to plant sweet potatoes outside unless you live far enough south that it will not freeze there. However, you can keep them indoors just like any other potted plant through the winter and plant in Spring outside. They will grow a vine similar to ivy and make attractive indoor plants.

  9. You can also put a trellis around the potatoes and they will grow up the trellis instead of spreading along the ground.

  10. I use grass clippings as a mulch. As I cut the grass in the yard, i just drop the cuttings in the garden. They help protect against weeds and keep the soil moist longer. The other good thing about grass is that it decomposes into the ground.

  11. Straw will work just fine. I just happen to have hay so that is what I use. The purpose is to provide a softer layer that will hold some moisture and provide nutrients as it decomposes. Any organic material that will accomplish that will work just fine. Jim

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