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Your sweet potato questions: Answered!

by Cristina on May 11, 2012

Last week, I asked y’all to share your questions about growing sweet potatoes. And, you did! Thank you! Now, let’s see if I can answer them all for you.

How to grow sweet potatoes

Some of you asked for more details about growing your own sweet potato slips:

Is it easy to find organic sweet potatoes to start growing? The S.P. one finds in the store do they have to be labeled “organic” if they are?

USDA organic label

Look for the USDA organic label when buying your sweet potatoes. This ensures that your “mother” sweet hasn’t been treated with chemicals that may prevent sprouts from forming.

Yes, look for sweet potatoes that are labeled “organic.” Non-organic sweets are often treated with a sprout-supressing chemical, and we want these sweets to sprout! As for ease of finding them, it all depends on where you live and what sort of stores you have. Around here (rural northern Virginia) organic sweets are pretty easy to come by. Most every grocery store sells them.

One thing to keep in mind: Avoid organic sweets that are shrink-wrapped in plastic. Sweet potato roots are alive, and I suspect that plastic wrapping might suffocate them.

I just read another article that said to bury whole sweet potatoes in few inches of soil in containers indoors and wait for them to sprout. I started some in water last night, but I’m just curious whether you’ve tried this method and if one method is better than the other.

I haven’t tried starting sweet potatoes in soil or moist sand, but I know that’s what some people do. The most important thing is to be sure your sprouting sweet potatoes have ready access to moisture.

Is it too late this year to start this? How long until I can harvest?

Depending on where you live, you probably still have time to start some sweet potatoes this year. It takes about 4 weeks to grow your slips. Then, once you transplant them outside, they will want another 100-140 days to produce harvestable tubers. If you wait until right before your first frost, you will guarantee that you harvest the biggest tubers possible.

I got the organic sweet potatoes and did as you said in the blog, however my dish and the 2 halves have started to grow mold. I pulled it out from the direct sunlight but am wondering what I should do differently to grow slips not mold???

I tried this method, but the mother sweet potato turned to mush within 4-5 days. It was a firm sweet potato when I cut it half and put it in the water. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts?

I am so sorry to hear this! I’ve never had trouble starting sweets this way, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work every time for every person. I’m wondering if you may have started with an unhealthy tuber. Sweet potato tubers are alive, which means they need to stay warm and be able to breathe. I know some stores sell their organic sweets in plastic wrap. I wonder if that suffocates the tuber? Also, if the tuber was ever stored below 50°F, that could certainly injure or kill the root. Either way, if you start with a not-alive sweet potato, it definitely won’t grow.

I hope you tried again!

You said container (with cut potatoes) needs to be set near a window….does it need to receive lots of sunshine at this phrase? The window in my kitchen faces east, and I am planning to place the container at a shelf next to the window….would it work? Or do I need to place the container on the bank of the window?

The tubers don’t need sunlight at all. It’s the growing slips that want light. Indirect light will certainly work, but the slips will grow faster and larger if you can give them direct, full light.

I have my cut SPs sitting next to my window right now (day three) in an east facing window which is facing a covered patio so no direct sunlight. I am in the high desert in CA and daytime temps are around 80-90, night temps in the high 40s to low 50s. I have a greenhouse that gets direct sun most of the day and am wondering if I should put them in there to sprout or is that too much sun and heat for them right now?

I’ve always started my sweets at about 70°F, because that’s roughly the temperature of my kitchen (and, somehow, sweet potato slips always end up being a kitchen counter project). So, I’m not totally sure how they’d do with temperatures in the 90s. But, sweet potatoes are a tropical vine, native to Central or South America. That makes me suspect your sweets will do just fine in the greenhouse. Just be sure they stay nice and moist!

How many plants come from a half a sweet potato? 

A single healthy sweet potato will often produce a dozen or more slips. So, a half a potato should give you at least 6 slips, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up with more than that. Healthy sweet potatoes are very enthusiastic about producing slips.

What size container would be good for the slips?

It all depends on how many slips you want. A single sweet potato will generally give you about 12 slips, and will fit nicely in a large bowl. If you want more slips, I’d suggest starting them in a casserole dish. But, really, any watertight container with a flat bottom will work.

Once the slips are ready to be transplanted, you can either plant them directly into the garden (assuming the timing / temperatures are right) or pot them up to a four-inch pot (or larger, if you like). They can’t stay in a four-inch pot for too long, but a few weeks will be fine. Then, just move the outdoors to their forever homes.

Others asked about how to plant the slips into the garden, and what sort of care the growing plants would want:

How many slips do you plant in those bushel baskets?

I’d suggest just one slip per bushel basket. I did plant several baskets with two slips last year, but didn’t notice any real difference in the harvest. So, if you want to maximize your harvest, it seems worth it to plant only one sweet potato in each basket.

Any tips on how to care for them once they’re planted outside? How much water do they need? Should they be planted in a super sunny spot, or part shade? I love this, and want to start some today!

Sweet potatoes want full sun. They will do ok in part-shade, but they will probably produce less than full-sun plants (this is what I noticed in my garden last summer). As for care, sweets are pretty undemanding. They want loose soil that has been amended with compost (so, no different than most garden plants), and then shouldn’t need any more “food” for the rest of the season. Only fertilize if the plants look unhealthy; too much nitrogen can result in beautiful, leafy plants and teeny, tiny tubers. Watering needs follow the same pattern — these are not thirsty plants, and can handle moderate drought. The only times to really worry about water is when you first transplant your slips, and when the plants begin forming tubers (about 60 or so days after you transplant the slips).

Temperature is another story, however. Sweet potatoes won’t tolerate cold. It’s best to resist transplanting them into the garden until after nighttime temperatures are reliably at 50°F or higher. Temperatures below 50°F can chill and damage the plants.

In Hawaii, we have purple sweet potatoes. They’re a beautiful violet color on the inside, and a little dryer than regular sweet potatoes. Have you ever seen one?

Two people asked about purple sweet potatoes and/or purple-leaved sweet potatoes. I’m not familiar with either, but there are an incredible number of sweet potato varieties out there. If you want to try growing a more unusual variety, I suggest looking into nurseries and seed catalogs that specialize in heirloom or rare plants. You will need to start with purchased slips at first, but you can grow your own slips from saved tubers in future years.

[Note: I'm sticking with my store-bought sweets this year, but am hoping to experiment with some heirloom varieties next year. So, if anyone knows of a wonderful and obscure sweet potato variety, please let us know what it is and where you found it. Thank you!]

Do sweet potatoes grow in South Florida?

Any chance these sweet potatoes can make it in the heat of Tucson, AZ???

I live in Western WA (across the Sound from Seattle) and it’s pretty cold here. I think our average temp for summer is in the 60′s. It’s May 3 and it was barely 40 degrees this morning. Should I even bother trying these? We have a short summer and it doesn’t get very hot.

Sweet potatoes love heat, so I imagine Florida and Arizona would both work fine. As for cooler regions, you can still grow sweets, but you may need to help them along. Mother Earth News has a terrific summary of ways to coax along sweet potatoes in cooler regions: Grow Sweet Potatoes — Even in the North. Gardeners in short-summer regions might also want to select sweet potato varieties that mature in 100 days or less, such as Georgia Jet or Beauregard.

Can you train vining sweet potatoes up string /trellis to shade a window?? Double duty is needed on the West side of our home…

Honestly, I’m not sure… Sweet potato vines do not grab onto things like beans or peas or cucumbers do. So, if you grew them on a trellis, you’d need to tie or train them. And, some varieties produce relatively short vines. So, maybe not the best choice for your trellis spot. Why not try some tomatoes or pole beans at the window, and then grow the sweets where they can ramble on the ground?

I have a container patio. Can I grow them there? What size container? Do they need or would they benefit from a trellis?

I was under the impression that s.p. needed lots of room but if I can grow them in a bushel basket then great! Could you please let me know the size of the basket you are using? How many did you put in there?

Absolutely! I love how sweet potatoes look in containers, and it makes the harvest super easy. Last year, I grew sweet potatoes in bushel baskets, but any large container would work. I think you’d want to allow at least 18 x 18 x 18 inches (or thereabouts) for each plant. So, one plant in a bushel basket. But, several plants in a whiskey barrel.

Do you add additional soil as the vine grows to increase the depth for potato growth? I was successful with fingerling and red potatoes last year using haybale method would this work too for sweets?

Great question! Quick answer: no need to bury the sweets. Sweet potatoes and potato potatoes are not related, and grow differently. Regular potatoes (like your fingerlings) produce roots are each buried leaf node, which is why we cover them as they grow. Sweet potatoes will also produce roots at leaf nodes, but my understanding is that those secondary roots don’t produce large tubers.

As for the haybale method… Did you use haybales to create a raised bed for your potatoes? If that’s the case, then I imagine it would would great for sweets too.

Can they be companion planted near tomatoes? I have a very limited garden space.

My trusty Vegetable Gardener’s Bible says that sweet potatoes are good companions for marigolds, and bad companions for beets, carrots and potatoes. Makes sense, since those plants would be competing for underground growing space. No mention of tomatoes. And, likewise, the tomato entry makes no mention of sweet potatoes. So, perhaps it’s worth a shot?

My only concern would be that you will be harvesting those sweet potatoes by digging up the soil near your tomatoes. Now, that might not be an issue, since sweet potatoes aren’t harvested until right before the first frost. But, it’s something to think about…

Or, you could put a container of sweet potatoes at the base of your tomato plant. No risk of harming the tomatoes when harvest time rolls around, because your sweet potatoes will all be in the container, and not in the ground.

Also, if space is an issue, you might try one of the more compact sweet potato varieties. Bush Porto Rico, for example.

And, a few of you are already thinking ahead to harvest time!

From each plant, how many potatoes can I expect? I am excited to try this and look forward to your responses as well as future posts on the topic!

Last year, my healthiest plant gave me five large tubers and several smaller ones. All the other plants (which were partly shaded in the afternoons) gave me about 3-4 big tubers and several smaller ones. I’m thinking my harvest would have been larger if I’d started the sweets earlier (I didn’t get them going until late June last year, because I was literally creating the garden as I was planting it). So, I think 3-5 tubers from each plant is reasonable, and you might do MUCH better than that.

Do you have to crop the top and let them set for 2 weeks like in a garden and all that jazz?

Sweet potatoes do need to cure before storage, yes. And, although you can eat them right away, they actually taste better after a couple months of storage. So, curing is an important step. Curing is simple: the roots want to be kept at about 80-90 degrees for a few days after you’ve dug them up. This causes the tuber to form a thick skin, which helps ensure the tuber will store nicely for many months.

I haven’t perfected my curing technique yet, so I’d love to hear how others do this. I’ll be experimenting with this when the time comes. In the meantime, if you want to learn more, I suggest checking out the Mother Earth News article, which explains the how and why of curing and storage.

I read somewhere that after the sweet potatoes are harvested, you must store them in a cold cellar for several months. Any comment about this?

Well, yes and no. I’ve read that sweet potatoes become sweeter with storage, and I definitely found that with my sweets last year. But, a root cellar isn’t necessary. In fact, a root cellar might make them pout. These are tropical plants, and they don’t like to be below 50°F, or thereabouts. I just stored mine in an open bin on the kitchen counter. I still have one or two left from last fall’s harvest.

 Finally, here’s some advice that one reader shared:

“…a little trick that is used in planting sweets is to dig a trench and fill with a mixture of sand and potting mix or some compost then mound up the remaining dirt so that there is a ridge and then plant on top and the sweets have a material to expand in. Works great. I have just planted mine, and I live in eastern Kansas.”

Anything else you’d like to know that’s not already here? Just ask! And, please, if you have tips of your own to share, please post them in the comments section. Thank you!

* * *

Update! If you liked this post, you may love the new Sweet Potato Grow Guide. It’s a 45-page ebook that covers everything from starting your sweets in the spring to harvesting them in the fall, with lots of tips about keeping them happy all summer long. You can get your copy here ––> Sweet Potato Grow Guide.

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{ 148 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Sabiston May 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

How do you know when the sweets are ready to harvest?

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Cristina May 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

You don’t. Not really. Sweet potatoes will continue to get bigger and bigger right up until the first frost kills the plants. You can harvest them at any time, but the longer you wait = the bigger your harvest. I try to wait until the day before the first real frost or cold snap (the frost can damage the roots, so you want to pick them *before* the frost, if at all possible). But, if you’re really craving some homegrown sweets, you can pick them earlier. Either way, try to resist until the plants have had at least 100 days of growing.

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Mark Buchbach June 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm

The Hawaiian purple sweet potato’s don’t sprout as readily as the standard orange ones but it can be done. I have found if you paint them with rooting hormone then wrap them in damp paper towels and place them in a seedling greenhouse with a heating pad underneath they send out roots within 24hrs. If you in the subtropics (I live in Brisbane Australia) sweet potatoes grow indefinately and you just feel around for lumps under the ground as opposed to digging up the plant to harvest.

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Alice Warren July 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Christina, thanks for the prompt reply. I would like to offer this tip on harvesting. I live in deep South Georgia and as a child my dad would harvest SP around Thanksgiving every year along with butchering hogs for meat; sweet potatoes smothered in fresh cow butter along with a pork roast made for some almost ‘Gourmet Eating’, yummy. Getting back to the harvesting, he would have a goodly number of dirt/sand mounds ready to house the potatoes and after harvesting the sweets would put a pile of potatoes, then pile the dirt/sand mix over them, then when ready to cook some would only have to get some out of the pile in order to cook. That probably is not a good method for todays cooks but is good when you have acres of tubers to store.
I have a question that I am pretty sure you have already answered, but I am not so clear on one. Q.. When you get the two halves of one potato ready to “SLIP”; is one slip called a plant, OR is the half of one potato called a plant, OR is the whole potato called a plant? Please don’t think i’m dumb, just want to get my thoughts straight. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Alice..

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Vicky July 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

I know that when you plant regular potatoes, you keep adding dirt as they grow. Is this also true of SPs?

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Cristina July 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

No need to pile dirt up on sweet potatoes. In fact, I’m not sure they’d even like that treatment. They’ve got aggressive roots, and don’t need any encouragement (other than hot summertime temperatures) to make lots of tubers.

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Anna@GreenTakl July 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I grew sweet potatoes last year in potato bags and harvested them right before frost. I read somewhere that once you see the leaves flower, it is time to harvest. I actually saw a couple purple dainty flowers.

As for curing. I cured on my counter top using an oven racks so they could get air underneath them. The year before I tried the 80-90 degree with humidity thing and they molded. After a few months, I put them in a cardboard boxes in my pantry. (The ones like bottle waters comes in.) Around February, they started to sprout! Cristina, I hope you don’t mine my linking to my post, but see here on how they sprouts looked. ( http://www.green-talk.com/2012/05/17/sweet-potato-slips-how-to-grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes-from-scratch/.) They were slips! I have produced over 40 of them from four really large potatoes. In the past, I have failed miserably in trying to grow them in the water method. Mother Nature just did it herself. I still have three large ones from last season.

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Cristina July 30, 2012 at 9:29 am

I had the same thing happen with my sweets, Anna. The ones I’d stored from the previous year’s harvest started sprouting late winter. Perfect timing to get those slips started in pots!

The trick with flowering and harvest timing actually applies to regular potatoes. Supposedly, once the plants start flowering, you can start harvesting baby potatoes. But, for the main harvest, you wait until the plant has died and dried up. Not pretty, but maximizes the harvest. With sweets, it’s best to just let them grow until right before the first frost date. I usually harvest mine mid- to late-October, since that’s when the frosts begin to hit in northern Virginia.

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Anna@GreenTalk July 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Cristina, I thought so too with sweet potatoes but was told by old southern sweet potato farmers that once it flowers, it is time to harvest. I wait right before frost too. I just happen to see a few flowers before the frost. They are a beautiful purple flower. Do ever see the flowers?

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Cristina July 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Interesting, Anna. I’ve always heard to leave them until just before the first frost, but I’m not one to discount hard-earned farmers’ wisdom. I wonder if the equation is different in the deep south, where the growing season is so long? This clearly calls for more research…

My sweets have been flowering for over a month now. Love those flowers!

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Anna@GreenTalk July 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Have you tried eating the leaves? Flowers? I heard they taste like spinach. I found them to be a little spicy. Let me know if the flower issue is folklore!

Lyda August 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm

HI There! I live in South Florida and started growing oriental sweet potatoes last year. My first harvest after 5 months was plentiful. I grew my slips by putting a sp just under the surface of the ground and watering. Then I took the slips and buried most of it under ground. Excited with my first attempt I planted some more slips from the original patch. This time we were attacked by white flies which I could not get rid of using any organic methods. Finally after 5-6 months I decided to harvest. I found very few sp and no large potatoes like the first time. The plants did struggle along with the white flies but I also added home compost to the soil before planting the new slips. Our compost has some chicken manure in it and I’m wondering which factor might have played a role in not having a good harvest this time. Any thoughts?

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Cristina August 13, 2012 at 8:47 am

Hmm… Not sure, Lyda. Is it possible that chicken manure added too much nitrogen? That’s the only thing I can think of. Sweets don’t need a lot of nutrients, and nitrogen would direct a lot of energy to leaf production, with less energy for root production. It’s just a guess, however.

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Alexander August 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Hi Cristina, first I would like to thank you for this wonderful blog. I’ve been reading, learning and gathering thoughts and ideas about growing sweet potatoes.

Let me share my experience with you. I was told to place a sweet potato in water and that it would grow slips then when I had ten or so to part them and plant them.

Well it sounded simple enough but my sweet potato rotted and smelled terrible. I threw it out and tried again with the same results, another rotten potato.

I gave up trying and just bought a bunch of sweet potatoes. I save them in my refrigerator and take them out as need them. Well I left one out on my table figuring that I’ll use it soon enough. Well I noticed that it started growing shoots or slips on it’s own. I figured that God saw I needed help and did me a favor. I then put it in water and collected 15 slips of one sweet potato.

I now have some growing in my garden and some in pots.
So, with that I want to say you can still grow them if refrigerated below 50° F.

Unless that too was Gods doing… I how I an able to harvest since I planted them one month ago, which means that they won’t be ready until Dec. One last thought, if you east the leaves won’t that slow down the tubular growth?

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Cristina August 28, 2012 at 8:29 am

It’s good to know that refrigerated tubers will sometimes still sprout. As for the leaves… Yes, I suspect eating the leaves would slow the tuber growth. How much? No idea. It’s something I’ve been meaning to try all summer, and haven’t yet.

Good luck with your sweets!

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Marissa M September 28, 2014 at 8:22 pm

I ‘ve read that 20 % of the leaves can be harvested without compromising tuner production. I also harvest young leaves before digging the tuners. Double harvest. We like the leaves sauteed with olive oil, sea salt and garlic. They need to be steamed for a bit until tender.

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Wendy Werb September 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I live in South Florida and my back yard has a berm running all around the boundary that slopes down about 6 feet. It has eastern exposure with mostly full sun but some areas of partial shade. I want something that will grow fast and give good coverage. I don’t have good irrigation there. My sister suggested sweet potato vine but I haven’t read anything that suggests it would do well as a ground cover. What do you think about using sweet potato vine as a ground cover? Thanks.

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Cristina September 3, 2012 at 8:54 am

I love sweet potato as a ground cover — attractive, hardy, grows fast. But, it’s only seasonal. Although, that may be less of an issue in southern Florida (I’m in Virginia, Zone 7). Some varieties of sweets are bred to have shorter vines than others. If you do try growing sweets as a ground cover, you’ll probably want to go for one or more of the vining types. This is a great source for sweets: Sand Hill Preservation Center.

Have you thought about growing Aloe as a ground cover? I don’t know how quickly it grows, but I saw some being grown as a ground cover at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami recently. Looked fantastic! Here’s a link to a photo I took (on the Outlaw Garden Facebook page): Aloe as a ground cover. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the Aloe essentially looked like thick, coarse, spiky grass. I can’t grow Aloe outdoors here. But, if I could, I’d definitely do this. Beautiful!

Good luck with whatever you choose! And, if you do try the sweet potatoes, please check back and let me know how it worked.

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Wendy September 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

Thanks so much. Yes the aloe looks very cool and I have seen it alot around the neighbor so I know it does well here. Never would have thought of it for ground cover!

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Cristina September 4, 2012 at 9:03 am

Absolutely, Wendy! And, if you do try growing aloe as a ground cover, please check back sometime to share some photos!

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Wendy September 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Thanks, will do!

sinteria September 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm

My grandmother has been growing her sweet potatoe since march of this year and there has been growth, but the potatoes are babies and she wants to know what did she do wrong.. She isnt growing them in the ground she is growing them in store bought soil, could that be the reason? I told her i would look into it for because im not a gardener

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Cristina September 4, 2012 at 9:01 am

Many possibilities here, Sinteria, and your grandmother may have done nothing wrong. It could be that her sweet potatoes are in too small of a container. Or, perhaps they are a slow-maturing variety, or a variety that produces only small tubers (there is a lot of variation between sweet potato varieties). Also, it could just be that they need a little longer. Sweet potatoes mature fastest in hot regions, and more slowly in cooler regions. If your grandmother is in a cooler region, it could just be that the plants need a bit longer to grow. I generally let my sweets grow right up until the very first frost, which is mid-October around here.

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fran September 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm

My dad has sweet potatoes in his garden. I noticed some of them have burst open. What do I do about this?

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Cristina September 10, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Bummer! Have you had a lot of rain lately? Significantly more than you had been getting? A big dump of rain can cause many developing crops to split, including tomatoes, melons and others. I’ve never heard of this with sweet potatoes, but I’m guessing that’s what is happening with your dad’s crop. There’s unfortunately nothing you can do about excess water, except harvest the sweets now. In the future, you may want to advise that he try growing his sweet potatoes somewhere with better drainage, so the risk of splitting is reduced. That’s assuming, of course, that the problem really is caused by too much rain.

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Ellen Quirk September 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm

I have sweet potatoes growing since May 1,2012…My questions are as follows, I Live in Newport News , Virginia and would like to know:
1) When do I harvest my Sweet Potatoes ?
2) Is it alright to take the Sweet Potato vines that are growing all over my bushes and place them back on top of the ground where my potatoes are growing ?

Would you PLEASE send me an apply ASAP ?

Thank You !
Ellen B. Quirk

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Cristina September 12, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Hi Ellen -

I usually harvest my sweet potatoes right before the first frost. Around here, that’s generally mid-October. However, since your season starts earlier than mine, you may be able to harvest earlier as well. You might try digging around beneath one of your plants, just to see what you can find. And, as for moving the vines, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t do that.

Good luck, and enjoy your harvest!

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Katie September 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

I planted sweet potatoes in early June. My husband isn’t quite as patient as me when it comes to gardening and waiting to harvest! I’m sure I am the only person with a husband like this right!? haha

After harvesting an armful of sweets, I noticed there were several very small and some very oddly shaped ones. I realize the small ones just needed more time in the ground. But for the odd shaped potatoes, and I mean very odd, is there any way to avoid these? Did we plant them to close together?

We planted 8 plants in about a 6′x4′ space. A couple of the sweets we already dug up seem to have grown around each other and resemble a crescent moon. Also a few of them are quite fat but then folded in half. Is there any way to fix this for the taters still in the ground, or should we just plan a little better next year?

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Cristina October 7, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Hi Katie – Congrats on your great harvest! As for those bizarre shapes, you can reduce their likelihood of developing by growing the sweets in loose or sandy soil, but you can’t eliminate them entirely. The mature tubers will take the shape of whatever twist or turn their initial root took. The roots should grow straighter if there’s less in their way (thus, the loose / sandy soil), but I don’t think there’s any way to ensure they grow perfectly straight all the time.

I just harvested my sweets yesterday, and pulled out quite a few interesting tubers as well. Just part of the fun of growing your own!

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MaryAnne September 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

My slips have been in the ground for over 100 days. Still no blossoms. Did a trial dig last night and found no potatoes, just some skinny roots. It’s been a hot, dry, weird summer here in mid-Michigan. Is there any hope of getting a harvest? We got 20 slips from Burpee and only 5-6 survived after 1 week in the ground. They look very healthy, but….not producing. Advice?

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Cristina October 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Hi MaryAnne – I’m sorry to hear about the slow growth with your sweets. We also had a hot and very, very dry summer here. I just harvested my sweets, and noticed that the plants I watered the least had the smallest tubers. So, perhaps that’s what’s happening with your plants too? I’d suggest keeping the plants in the ground as long as the weather allows, and hoping for some more development. The good news is that sweet potatoes don’t really ripen, so even if the tubers are small, they should still be tasty.

As for the blossoms, that may be a variety thing. Some varieties just don’t bloom.

Here’s hoping you get a pleasant surprise when you harvest the rest of the plants!

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JJ October 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Dug my sweets the other day, and ,yes, some did quite large! If I have the space in a storage tub, will they sweeten like the rest or are they no good?

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Cristina October 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

Yes! Those big ones should taste just fine, though they may be a bit tougher than the smaller ones. I’ve got some giants in this year’s harvest as well, and am planning to use them diced up in soups, or cut thin for sweet potato fries.

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JJ October 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

Thank you! I thought I would try cooking them down to puree and freeze to put in bread, pie………. I’m glad to hear these monsters will still be usable nutrition.

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Anna@Green Talk October 15, 2012 at 2:39 am

This year was a disaster for my sweet potatoes. First the raccoon tried to dig them up and ripped the leaves out of the soil. I safely put them back. Then the squirrels chewed the vines. (Not the leaves.) I have never seen this before. All I got was pencil thin sweet potatoes. I don’t know whether I should dry them and use them or throw them in the composter. They probably had to start all over from both the squirrels and raccoon. If I had 60 more days of warm weather they would have been okay. Let me know if you think I should toss or use.

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Cristina October 15, 2012 at 8:52 am

What a bummer, Anna. I’ve had deer munch of my sweets, but never racoons or squirrels. Bad luck! Still, I’d suggest hanging on to those roots. Even if they are too small for eating, they may have enough stored energy to produce some slips for next year’s crop.

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Carrie October 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm

I dug up my very first sweet potatoe plant attempt moments ago… To find only 2-3 potatoes wound up in a ball. They are black, hard, cracked, and what I would assume is considered. ‘gone to seed’. Every website I see indicates that it shouldn’t be too late, but are they ok if we peel the exterior off? Not sure what, if anything, went wrong! Help?

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Cristina October 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

Oh, what a shame, Carrie. I’m honestly not sure what went wrong, but suspect either some sort of disease or infection, or maybe frost/freeze damage? Have you had your first frost or freeze yet? If so, I know that damages the plant, and can affect the tubers. If not, well, I’d guess you’re dealing with a disease. Maybe this website will help: http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potato-industry/growing-sweet-potatoes-in-north-carolina/diseases-disorders/.

I hope you give sweet potatoes a try again next year! Like every home garden crop, some years are better than others. Maybe, next year, you’ll harvest a bumper crop of sweets!

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Mari October 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

I had a sweet potato sitting on my counter and I didn’t get to it in time, so it started to sprout. I have never grown them before, but I thought I would treat them like I do a white or red potato. I cut the eyes that were sprouting, let them sit for a day and stuck them in the ground. That was probably in June. This morning I looked in the leaves and the ground was heaving in places. I dug up the hugest potatoes I have ever seen. They filled a five gallon bucket twice! They are so big I can’t get two hands around them. (I live in central Texas). I thought that it would take a long season to get them, but not so. Now it is mid/late October and I have loads of potatoes. It seems that where the vines touch the ground, they sprout and I will be harvesting many more.

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Cristina November 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

Congratulations on your fantastic harvest!

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EDWARD BUZZARD October 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm

can I start my sweet potato now ,and not make plants till spring or should I wait till later.

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Cristina November 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’d suggest waiting until closer to spring. I like to start my slips about six to eight weeks before I’d plant them out in the garden, which I do when the June heat has fully arrived. So, just subtract six to eight weeks (or thereabouts) from the date when warm weather is really settled in for your garden, and that’s about when you should start growing your slips. For me, that works out to April.

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payne November 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Can you use the tubers found on ornamental sweet potato vines for seed?
How do you care for the tubers during the winter months and how do you prepare them for planting in the spring?

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Cristina November 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

Ornamental sweet potatoes are an entirely different species from the type we eat. I’ve read that their tubers are edible, but aren’t exactly tasty. I’d suggest starting with a tuber you know you like the taste of, which is why I like to get my seed tubers from the grocery store or local farmers. During the winter months, you can leave your sweet potatoes in a bin or even on the kitchen counter. They are happiest around 60°, but will winter over at slightly higher or lower temperatures too. Just, please, don’t put them in the refrigerator.

As for starting slips in the spring, check out this post: Grow your own sweet potatoes.

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payne November 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I am wanting to know if the tubers will grow roots like the white potato does and can it be used as a seed potato in the spring for planting….

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Cristina November 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

Despite their similar names, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are not related at all. But, yes, you can start sweet potato plants from a mature sweet potato tuber. You’ll find all the details in this post: Grow your own sweet potatoes

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Deb November 10, 2012 at 3:20 am

I’ve tried twice now to grow sweet potatoes and ended up with the same problem both times. I’ve had no worries growing the slips from the half sweet potatoes and i even grew good roots on the slips. However each time i’ve planted them in a raised box with 400mm deep loose well composted soil they shrivel up, dry out and pretty much die. Do you know what im doing wrong??

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Cristina November 10, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Not really sure, Deb. Do other plants grow well in the raised box? Or, does it simply dry out too quickly? If the soil drains too quickly, maybe your sweets really are just drying out? Might be worth trying a different container or location. Good luck!

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Pat Sabiston November 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm

My sweets were in a raised garden and did really well, but in NW Florida, we had a LOT of rain for a long time this summer.

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Pat November 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Is it necessary to cut the vines when they get long?
I have large vines growing all over the garden!
Will they prevent large sweets by taking away nutrients away
From the tubers?

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Cristina November 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Quite the opposite, Pat. Those leaves provide energy to the roots. The larger your sweet potato plant grows, the larger your eventual harvest should be. You can cut the vines back if they’re getting too invasive, however. Mine often get pruned once or twice a season by the deer, with no obvious problems (the vines grow right back), and some people even harvest sweet potato leaves for eating.

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gofind76 December 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Thanks for the wonderful blog! Do you sell sweet potato tubers? Please write to me your available varieties and pricing if you do, I would love to buy some. Thanks!

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Cristina December 26, 2012 at 11:51 pm

I don’t sell sweet potatoes, but many gardening catalogs do. Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are two of my favorite suppliers, and both sell sweet potatoes.

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Mary January 24, 2013 at 11:49 am

Regarding: I read somewhere that after the sweet potatoes are harvested, you must store them in a cold cellar for several months. Any comment about this?

I saved my first harvested sweet potatoes in a plastic basket on the porch for 4 months before Thanksgiving (South Fla). They kept great! I think they do better being stored in a warm humid setting than cool. THey had good air circulation around them.

And I cut tips off the plant vines when I harvested the potatoes, replanted and harvested again in about another 4 months. Did the same thing after the second harvest, revamped the soil and replanted some of the same vine tips. They are doing great. This will be my 3rd harvests from one set of $3 sweet potato slips. If I can keep them alive, I may never have to buy sweet potatos OR slips again!

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Cristina January 25, 2013 at 7:57 am

Hi Mary – You are absolutely right; sweet potatoes really don’t like being chilly at all. They do taste best after a couple months’ storage (does something to the sugars), but that storage should be at temperatures above 55 degrees. I have mine stored in a spare closet that probably averaged 65 degrees, and they are still in great shape!

I like your idea with starting new plants from the tips! I may try that this summer, just so I can bring a sweet potato plant inside for some winter greenery. Thanks for the tip!

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Alice W. January 25, 2013 at 12:23 am

Cristina, I read Marys post and am wondering what she meant by saying she cut the tips off the plant vines and planted them, did she plant the tips or vines, or both? I am of the opinion (but probably am wrong) that when the potato started to fruit or mature the vine would die down or out. I also have some what we call mud buckets and wonder if I could plant some S/P in them same as garden baskets like you use? I could punch holes in them for drainage. A lot of folks around me are using them to plant “Upside down tomatoes” in and I tried once but the stem rot and worms got them, only got one tomato and it was not any good. Let me know what you think and “Happy 2013 Outlaw Gardening”…

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Cristina January 25, 2013 at 7:54 am

Hi Alice -

I’m guessing Mary meant that she cut the tips off of her vines, and then replanted the tips. This makes sense to me; sweet potatoes will readily grow roots wherever a leaf node touches the ground, so a cutting would likely root and grow rapidly.

Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes do not die back when their tubers are ready for harvest. The plant will keep on growing until frost or cold kills it.

Those mud bucket may work, but you would want to be sure the drainage is sufficient. Sweet potatoes don’t like sitting in damp or wet soil. That’s one reason why the bushel baskets work so well — they drain quickly. Why not try a couple sweets in those mud buckets, and a couple elsewhere? Then, you can compare your results at the end of the season.

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Aja March 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I am so eager to get growing, the days are starting to get warm here in NC. I’m in the south and I know I can grow sweet potatoes here! I went to a local produce stand and asked if theirs were treated with the root killer and the man basically talked me out of buying from him for my intended purpose. He claimed that the plant would ‘wear out’ and that the harvested roots would not taste as good or grow as well as from a ‘new plant’ and told me I should go to the local farm and seed place and get my slips there. I’m thinking this is totally false, because how else would we still be growing sp’s?! Any advice??

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Rumjana March 30, 2013 at 9:38 am

How to keep the plants healthy? What kind of parasites they may have and what to do if they get them?

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michele April 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I’m in SDakota. Is there a number of days they have to be in ground to harvest? Right now we have snow in April! So I may not get them in until May! I did not know if there was a Harvest Time in days? so I would know if I should even attempt this! Thanks! I had been looking for “how to grow Sweet Potatoes” as we love them!!!!! But had never seen them grown around here in SD!

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Cristina April 23, 2013 at 6:39 am

Here in Virginia, I don’t plant my sweets in the garden until June. You want to wait until the soil is really warm, and nighttime temperatures are staying above 50°F. Of course, you could put them out earlier if you protected the plants with plastic covering or some other protection from the cold.

In general, most sweet potatoes need 90-110 days in the ground. With your shorter growing season, you may have better luck with one of the faster maturing varieties of sweets. Beauregard is a popular variety for short season areas. Here’s one source, though you are sure to find others with an internet search: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-7124-beauregard.aspx.

Also, check out this blog post for tips on starting your own sweets, if you want to go that route: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes/

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millie April 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

hi,
I started the vines indoors— some of the leaves have bumpy, clear(translucent) not really white bumps covering the whole leave—what could this possible be?
Do you think I should try to grow them?

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yvonne June 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Mine have the same exact thing on some of the leaves. Hoping you got an answer!

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Cristina June 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Oh gosh. Looks like I never did reply to this question. Sorry about that! The little bumps are probably just a result of too much water. From what I understand, some plants store extra water in their leaf cells. If this is what it is, the bumps should go away once the overwatering stops. You may see some brownish spots left in their wake. Completely harmless, and no reason to not grow that plant. Good luck!

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Fred Reeve May 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm

what about cutting the sweet potato into chunks with an eye in each and sprouting them and burying chunk and all like regular potatoes?

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Cristina May 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Not sure, Fred. I think that would work in theory. The trick with starting slips indoors, however, is that sweets need a loooong growing season, and most of us need to start them indoors in order to get a decent harvest. Sweet potatoes are entirely different from regular potatoes, and don’t like the cold at all. Still… If you’re in a super warm zone, this may work. If you try it, please report back!

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Aja May 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm

I planted my whole sp end. The roots were coming out of the flesh while is was growing slips, so I planted the whole thing. Has been fine so far, I’ll know more at harvest time. I live I. NC

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Aja May 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I planted my whole sp end. The roots were coming out of the flesh while is was growing slips, so I planted the whole thing. Has been fine so far, I’ll know more at harvest time. I live in NC

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Michellealeta May 14, 2013 at 5:27 am

I started a large, long sweet potato in water which quickly grew many slips, but without leaves. What could be reason for this? Not sure if it means its a good or bad potato and worth putting in soil to produce more or not. Please advise. Thanks much

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Cristina May 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hmm… Are you sure those ‘slips’ aren’t roots? The slips should be thick (not quite as thick as a pencil, usually) and upright. Roots, will be thin, and will spread out through the water. The roots won’t grow leaves, but are a good sign that your sweet potato will eventually put out some slips.

If these are definitely slips, then I’d guess they just haven’t started producing leaves yet. Try giving them a bit more light and heat to get things going.

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Linda May 16, 2013 at 11:26 am

Thank you for all this great info. I’m a bit confused about how to put the slips in the ground. I did the potato in the glass of water thing and now I have several slips and tons of roots growing. The biggest slip is over 2 feet long!!
Do I cut some of the top off, or plant it the way it is?
I hope this isn’t a stupid question, but this is my first foray into growing these amazing things!!
Thanks in advance for your help.
Linda

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Cristina May 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Not a stupid question at all! Luckily, the answer is pretty easy. You want to break the slips off just where they are sprouting from the potato. If they have roots, those should break off with the slip (so called because you ‘slip’ them from the plant). You can then treat those slips just like any other seedling in the garden.

There’s more information here, which may be helpful: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes/

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Linda May 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Cristina.
Thanks for answering my first question about sweet potatoes.
Potato in water has sprouted hundreds of roots! The largest slip is not over 3 feet tall. My problem is that I have to bring it 2 hours by car up to my country home. A friend told me to cut it in pieces. I’m not sure that’s what I should do.
And…do I plant it up right and stake it, or let it sprawl?

Thanks again for all your help.
Linda

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margaret June 25, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I planted sweets for the first time this year, and they are training nicely up tomato trellises. So far so good… the vines have reached the top and it looks like they will easily be turned around to go right back down where they came from. First time though, so we’ll have to see how it all turns out.

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casie June 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Why do sweet potatoes have vines?

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Cristina July 3, 2013 at 9:07 am

Haha. Not sure Casie. That’s just the way they grow. They’re relatives of morning glories and moon flowers, which also vine.

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Candy July 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I live in west central Ohio and was wondering if it is too late now to start sweet potatoes for this year??

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Carm August 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

We have a beautiful crop of sweet potatoes grown in large barrel. When is the best time to pull them?

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Cristina August 16, 2013 at 10:43 am

That depends on where you live, Carm. Sweets do best when they have a full 100-120 days of growth. For those of us in mid- and northerly-zones, this means we harvest our sweets right before the very first frost (this is what I do, and I’m in Zone 7a). For folks further south, where frosts are later or rarer, you can start harvesting sweets at around 100-120 days after planting them. Either way, sweet potatoes don’t “ripen” like many vegetables. They just get larger (to a point). So, if you harvest a bit early or late, you won’t ruin your crop.

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linda August 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

i just started growing sweet potatoes last year. another gardener came to my plot and showed me how to plant them. he made a huge mound (sort of like a cone shape) and at the top of the mound he made it circular and then he pushed the handle of a rake into the center of the top. he then placed the plant in it and filled in the hole around the pant. about 1 1/2″ inches of the plant still showed. the top of the mound was sort of shaped like a funnel so that when i watered the plant the water would go right to the plant. he said that there were reason for planting in a mound. first it is easier to harvest, and second in case of a lot of rain your plant doesn’t sit in water for any length of time. well let me tell you i had a ton a sweet potatoes last year. not only under the mound but i also found a lot under the mound in the dirt that grew underground as well. i got a lot of potatoes from each plant. i gave most of mine to the food pantry but the ones i did keep and later ate where sooooooooo good.

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Cristina August 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

That sounds like a great way to grow sweets in the ground! Thanks for sharing the tip, and congrats on your harvest!

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carol August 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm

this is the 2nd year of raising s p but in different locations, last year they looked long like store bought . this year they were snakey and twisted was it because the ground wasnt worked enough or too hard?

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Cristina August 16, 2013 at 10:38 am

You may be right, Carol. I’ve heard that too-hard soil can cause sweets to develop long and skinny roots. Next year, you may want to work a bit of sand into the soil, which may help encourage plumper roots. In the meantime, you can definitely still eat those skinny roots!

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Karen August 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Will sweet potatoes continue to grow if all the vines have been cut off?

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Cristina August 19, 2013 at 7:45 am

I think they would, Karen. But, the energy for that growth would come from the edible root that you’d want to harvest. So, the plant will survive (I’m guessing), but the harvest might be reduced.

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Ivonne September 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I just grew se sweet potatoes! Yay for me, but they are shaped weird. Is that ok???

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Cristina September 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Congrats on your harvest! And, yeah, sometimes they take on some pretty strange shapes. Doesn’t affect the taste or health of the crop at all. Enjoy!

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Isara September 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Hello … and thank you … last year when I harvested my sweets they were TOO big … tasted just fine … but so hard to deal with … bigger than my head. So I started digging them up earlier this year, some are perfect sizes … some are obviously not ready. Can I take 1 or 2 ready ones off the bunch and let the others grow? Or am I wasting my time? Thanks, in advance …

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Cristina September 4, 2013 at 5:04 pm

You know, I’m not sure. In theory, you should be able to sneak a couple of the larger roots while leaving the smaller ones behind. But, in practice, I wonder if that might disturb the plant too much, putting it into a pout? If you do try this, please check back and let me know how it works. Thanks!

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DannyMc September 8, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Hey, I’m in zone 9b (Orlando) and my sweet potato slips are almost ready to take from the mother sweets. Three questions: (1) I can only use containers. Can I really plant slips in containers? I have 3 gallon, 7 gallon, and 15 gallon Geopots and 3 gallon, 5 gallon and 7 gallon plastic Gro-Pots. I also have some plain, nice, thick stryofoam coolers in which frozen food was transported commercially. (2) How many slips can I/should I plant in one Geopot or cooler? (3) Should I also plant the sweet potato from which I took the slips?

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Cristina September 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

Hi Danny — Yes, containers work great for sweet potatoes. The 3-gallon container may be a little small (though you could always give it a shot), but the 7- and 15-gallon containers should be great. You can probably even fit two or three plants in the 15-gallon. Those styros may work, but be sure to poke lots of drainage holes; sweets hate sitting in wet soil.

Also, sure, go ahead and plant the mother sweet potato too. Chances are good it’ll put out some new growth for you.

Good luck!

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DannyMc September 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thanks!!
DannyMc

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Nora Lebron September 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I planted(from slip) in a plastic container, it is growing really great but I’m worried that it isn’t deep enough can I transplant it to a garden area at this point and not affect the growth of the SP?

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Cristina September 11, 2013 at 7:21 am

You can try to transplant, Nora, but it’s likely too late in the season for that. Sweet potatoes transplant great as young plants, but once they are mature and producing tubers, they don’t like to have their roots disturbed. I doubt transplanting would kill the plant, but it might set the growth back by a bit.

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Janie Manus September 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I’m wondering if SPs can be grown inside in containers during the winter? I have one from the store that was neglected & is now growing big shoots! It’s Sept. in northern IL, which means it’s too late to plant them outside.

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Cristina September 13, 2013 at 7:39 am

I’m not sure, Janie, but it’s always worth a try! I’d think you would want to be sure the plant gets plenty of light and heat. Perhaps keep it in a warm part of the house and shine a full-spectrum bulb on it? If you decide to do this, please check back and report how the plant does! Good luck!

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Anna@Green Talk September 13, 2013 at 8:16 am

When my sweet potatoes started providing slips, I would just break them off and put them in water. I waited until I could plant them and just kept them well watered. She could plant it in a container and let it grow.

Whiteflies by the way like sweet potato leaves. Keep on the out look for them if you grow the leaves inside.

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Cynthia M September 14, 2013 at 12:26 am

Cristina, thanks for such a wonderful website for us gardeners!! I have a SP question I was hoping you could help with…My husband and I planted our first ever sweet potatoes June 10th in Smart Pots, and the info we’ve read says our organic Bush Puerto Rico sweet potatoes should be ready to harvest at 90-110 days.

We live near Dallas, TX and often don’t get an actual freeze (or the last few years, any real cold for that matter!) until mid-late December, so don’t think we will wait that long to harvest them, lol! Since we’re close to the amount of days when they should be ready to harvest, I was wondering: Do we stop watering the SPs and let the soil dry out some prior to harvesting (as you do with regular potatoes), or is this not done with SPs? I’ve heard both “yes you should” and “no you shouldn’t”, so just wanted to see what you do for your sweet ‘taters. ;)
Thanks a bunches!!
Cynthia

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Cristina September 17, 2013 at 7:09 am

One of the things I like about sweet potatoes is the fact that the plants tend to look awesome right up until harvest time. Unlike regular potatoes, you don’t wait for the plant to die off. Since the sweet potato plant is still living and growing, there are no advantages to stopping with the watering (with regular potatoes, eliminating watering can help kickstart the curing process). So… No need to change your watering routine for the sake of the plant. That said, I usually stop watering a couple days before I intend to harvest, just because it makes the harvesting easier on me. :)

Good luck with your harvest!

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Helen Carmichael September 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

Hi. Our sweet pots didn’t flower. Will we get any roots to eat?
Cheers, Ali.

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Cristina September 17, 2013 at 7:05 am

No need to worry about the lack of flowers; flowering isn’t linked to tuber creation at all. In fact, some sweet potato varieties don’t flower, or only rarely flower. As long as the plants seem healthy, you should be in good shape.

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Cheri September 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

I just harvested my sweet potatoes. Why did I have giant sp instead of 4-5 smaller ones?

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Cristina September 18, 2013 at 7:21 am

I’m honestly not sure, Cheri. I’ve had some plants produce one or two BIG roots, and other plants produce a good amount of smaller roots. All grown in the same conditions, from the same original potato. So, I think that some of this is just natural variability. However, if ALL of your plants produced only big, single roots, then I would begin to suspect that the issue might be the variety of sweet potato you’re growing, and/or your growing conditions. Perhaps try a different variety next year, just to see?

Either way, that jumbo root is just as edible as smaller roots would be. Enjoy your harvest!

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Charity September 25, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Hi, I live in Maryland and started digging up my sweet potatoes. They are really large. I have about 6 per main vine, but nothing but small ones on the outer vines. My question is today I dug up several and they broke in half. Should I still cure them for several days before we eat them so they are sweet or do they need to be cooked right away?

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Cristina September 25, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Pretty sure you can still cure them, which will definitely increase their sweetness. Curing actually “heals” nicks and cuts on the sweets. Congrats on your harvest! Six big tubers per plant is a nice haul.

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Michael September 26, 2013 at 5:45 am

I harvested my sweet potatoes in two batches this year. One about 10 days ago before the first frost and one yesterday. The plants were put under row cover. I’m in southern Vermont. Now that the tubers are out of the ground, I’m trying to cure them. I’ve two boxes of about 15-20 pounds each from a total of 14 slips. They are in a cardboard box lined with newspaper. They are in a hoop house which gets toasty warm in the sun but cools at night. Is this a good place to cure them? Can they be exposed to sunlight?

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Cristina September 26, 2013 at 7:02 am

Hi Michael — I’m not 100% sure, but I think you may want to bring your sweets indoors. I’ve read that sunlight can shorten their storage life (though I haven’t tested this myself). More than that, however, I worry about your cool nights. If temperatures are dipping below 50°F, that’s really too chilly for sweets. You may start to see some cold damage on your tubers over time.

For curing/storing, I have had very good success storing my sweets in a spare closet. Nothing special. Just divided them between a few boxes and left them there. Temperature was approximately 65°F, which seemed to work just fine. Lasted well through the winter.

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Michael September 27, 2013 at 5:17 am

Thank you for the information about curing sweet potatoes. We have an extra bathroom now that we’re empty nesters. I’ve move the 15 pound and 23 pound boxes of sweets to that tub and covered with a towel. That room should be more than 65 degrees. It’s dropped to the low 40′s outside but the hoop house is a little warmer. From another source I’ve learned that the cure time does two things. First it toughens the skins. Second it makes the tubers convert starches to sugars given them their sweetness. So much to learn, so little time.

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Jackie September 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Read many of your questions and answers but may have missed this one. What is the minimum size sweet that is worth curing and storing? Have about 150 potatoes from 18 plants with a wide range in size. Some look like large carrots and these are the ones I am not sure will taste good.

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Cristina September 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Honestly, Jackie, I’m not sure. I don’t believe sweet potatoes develop more flavor as they get larger, just more bulk. But, I’m not 100% certain about that. Maybe try curing and cooking a few of the smaller ones, just to see? Or, set those little ones aside, and use them to start your own slips next spring!

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ann marie October 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

This is my first time in growing sweet potatoes. And they are doing great, but I have one question. They say, after you dig them up you need to let them cure to sweeten. That process is to keep them in a dark area at temps of 85 to 90 degrees, with 90% humidity, what do you do if you don’t have a place that warm to keep them in until the curing time is up. It is not quite mid October here now so I don’t have any heat on, but the highs are in the 70′s but night time temps in the 40′s. What do I do.

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Cristina October 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

Curing can be a challenge for those of us who aren’t in the hottest zones. I’ve read that some will cure their sweets in a spare closet, leaving the light on to generate heat. I haven’t tried that yet, but have had reasonable success storing roots without the initial curing process. Simply store your harvest in a box or two, and keep it somewhere dark, dry and warm (55-65°F is ideal). I kept last year’s harvest in a closet, and the roots stored very well.

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Christopher October 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi I know I’m a bit late to this question session but I grew sweets in Appalachia this year including a purple variety. I planted far more than I can eat before they go bad. I’ve looked into freezing them but I prefer keeping them uncooked till I go to eat a meal or bake a cake. Now I have a cave (old coal mine) that stays around 57 degrees year round. Although its quite damp I was thinking of wrapping the potatoes up in news paper then putting them in cardboard boxes and storing them this way. I hope the forest critters don’t find my stash! haha I’m testing it with a couple potatoes and see how they age. Any thoughts on this method? Thank you!

Christopher

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Cristina October 14, 2013 at 8:59 am

Hi Christopher — The temperature sounds ok, but I’m not sure about the dampness. Sweet potatoes prefer to be stored in dry conditions, at about 55-70°F. I’ve had sweet potatoes last the entire winter in a spare closet. I’ve even had good success keeping them on the kitchen counter. They basically like the same conditions we do — warm and not too damp.

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Janine October 15, 2013 at 5:31 am

Hi, I read through most of these FAQ but I may have missed an answer for my question. I’ve read on other sites that SPs should be cured at 85 degrees for several weeks. I do not have a greenhouse or a space even close to 85 degrees for curing. Are there alternatives?

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Cristina October 16, 2013 at 8:07 am

Hi Janine — I’ve had good luck simply skipping the “curing” stage and jumping directly into “storing.” I keep my sweets in a spare closet, divided between a few boxes. They seem to last just fine through the winter despite the lack of curing.

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Karen October 20, 2013 at 8:56 am

Hi. I live in Galveston and have had my sweet potatoes in the ground since June. They have been popping up to the surface for about a month. I have already found 4 -5 and I haven’t even dug yet! My question is, do I need to dig all of them up before a certain time/temperature or can I leave them in the ground for awhile longer? Thanks Karen

I also want to try growing little red potatoes. Are they done in the same way?

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Cristina October 21, 2013 at 7:09 am

Hi Karen —

Sweet potatoes need to be harvested before the first frost, which I’m guessing isn’t a big concern for you. In your case (and anyone else living in warmer regions), you’ll want to harvest your sweets after they’ve been in the ground 100-120 days. They can certainly be left longer, but the tubers will continue to grow larger and may eventually get too big to easily use.

Red potatoes (and all *real* potatoes) are grown differently than sweet potatoes. Regular potatoes want cooler temperatures and moister conditions. They are a spring crop here in Virginia and may be a winter crop for you, although I’m just guessing at that. You might want to ask at a local gardening center, or try an internet search for more information on growing potatoes in your region.

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keri November 10, 2013 at 11:42 am

Last year I planted sweet potatoes and I had a pretty good crop. I planted again this year, but in a different area in my yard. I had beautiful vines, but when I dug them up all I had were really long, tube roots. What went wrong?

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Cristina November 11, 2013 at 8:47 am

Could be one of several things, Keri. Since you planted in a new location, it’s possible the soil was different. Dense soil (eg. clay) will encourage long skinny roots (if this is the trouble, add sand when planting sweets). Overly fertile soil (especially soil high in nitrogen) may encourage sweets to devote their energies to leaves rather than roots. Other than the soil, you may have been dealing with different growing conditions. Here in Virginia, we had a cooler and wetter start to the summer than normal, which set everything behind. My sweet potato harvest was decidedly reduced, and —— based on comments from readers —— I am not alone. Finally, it may be that you plants just didn’t have enough time to grow the big, sweet roots we crave. Some varieties can mature in 90 days, but most require 100-120 days. Cooler temperatures may also lengthen the necessary growing time.

I hope you grow sweets again next year, and with better results!

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Isara November 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

Hello! A while back I asked you about “tucking” SP back into the ground if I dug them up and they weren’t quite ready. You asked me to check back to see how it
faired. I’d give it a 75% success rate. Many continued to grow (maybe it was in accordance with how much TLC I tucked them back in with …?) … some stayed at the same size, and a very few rotted. I’d say it is worth it to replant tubers that you have dug up prematurely “to check”. Thanks for all your faithful responses and info. Isara

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Cristina November 13, 2013 at 9:55 am

Good to know! Thanks so much for reporting back on your experience — I’m especially pleased to hear that many continue to grow even after being disturbed. Congrats on your harvest!

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Scott December 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

My sweet potatoes seem to be remaining skinny…I don’t know what happened. Is there anything I can do to fatten them up? They should’ve been ready by now…its been four months plus.
Thank you!

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Cristina December 10, 2013 at 8:07 am

Yours is a fairly common question, Scott. There are several reasons why sweet potatoes stay small, including too short of a growing season (doesn’t seem to be the case here), not enough heat, too much stress on the plants (too wet, too heavily grazed by deer, etc), too heavy of soil (clay, for example), and too fertile of soil (if the soil is rich, sweets direct their growth to their leaves). Some varieties also vary in their root size. I hope that helps!

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Kat December 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I want o be put on this mailing list please

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Cristina December 10, 2013 at 8:00 am

Will do! :)

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Shantelle May 6, 2014 at 4:47 pm

A GREAT website for sweet potato slips (standard, heirloom, and exotic) is http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/pages/sweetpotato_catalog.html

I’d guess that they have AT LEAST 100 varieties (short – long season, bush – vigorous vining, and some exotics like the purple sweets) and are dedicated to preserving the many different varieties of sweet potato in the world. They also have some fantastic information.

Hope that helps!

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Cristina May 7, 2014 at 9:55 am

Thanks, Shantelle! I haven’t ordered from them yet, but have drooled over their variety list more than once. You are absolutely right, their descriptions are fantastic!

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Michael May 7, 2014 at 7:32 pm

I used some of my over-wintered sweet potatoes to start slips in our south facing kitchen window. One piece was started in Feb, and the rest in late March. The early start has a slip on it about a foot long.

How are the slips gotten from the tuber and rooted? How long do they need to be in the ‘rooting’ stage before planting?

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Cristina May 12, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Hi Michael — You might want to check out this post, which walks you through the process of starting and potting your own slips: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes/

Basically, you’ll gently break your slips off right where they meet the tuber. You can plant them right away, or let them soak in water for a few days (promotes root growth). Just don’t move them outside until it’s staying near or above 50°F at night.

Have fun!

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linda May 12, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Hi
I’ve planted sp slips without rooting them directly in the garden and
have great luck with that. It saves me a step. linda

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Michael May 12, 2014 at 8:42 pm

When the sp slip is planted without rooting, is the following method what is done?
Cut the tuber into section leaving one slip per section.
Plant the slip with its piece of potato in the ground?

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kristen June 3, 2014 at 6:31 am

If I try dong a container planter with the sweet potatoes should I fill the soil to the very top since you don’t continue adding soil? Is it the more soil you have the more sweet potatoes will produce?

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Cristina June 5, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Yep! Just go ahead and fill your container as you would if you were planting flowers or any other non-root vegetable. Sweets like to have some space to stretch. If you can give each plant approximately a cubic foot of soil, that would be best. Good luck, and have fun with the sweets!

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Mona July 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

I live in Texas. Is it too late to start sweet potato and white potato seeding and planting.. can hardly wait to try this

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Cristina July 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

Not sure, Mona, but it may be worth a try. The easiest thing to do is to look up your average last frost date, and then calculate whether you still have 100 days between now and then. That’s about how long most sweets need to reach a good harvest size. If you have less time, you can still try but your harvest may be smaller (still tasty, just smaller).

Good luck, and happy gardening!

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Leslie July 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I have 3 1/2 rows of sweet potatoes that looked great until the deer ate the top leaves off the plants. there are still runners with leaves and the roots don’t seem to be disturbed.
What should I do now? Will these still survive? Will new leaves grow or do I give up?
Last year we had super sweet potaoes I harvested about 60 lbs.
I am ready to cry!

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Cristina July 16, 2014 at 7:45 am

Happens to me almost every year, Leslie. Deer really seem to love sweet potato leaves. But, don’t despair — those plants should recover with no trouble at all. I’ve had plants eaten back completely, and they still recover quite well. Repeated heavy deer attacks may reduce the harvest a bit (just guessing here), but one or two light or moderate grazings shouldn’t have much impact at all.

Sixty pounds is a great harvest! Here’s hoping you have similar (or better!) results this year. Good luck, and happy gardening!

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Leslie July 16, 2014 at 10:22 am

Thanks for your answer, I am breathing easier! Will put up a barrier today and hope it works. They sure were pretty, hope they will look that way again soon!

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Patricia September 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Well, since you are still answering questions! Unfortunately voles got almost all my sweet potatoes but a few. When I dug them up they smelled like murphy’s oil soap! Heard anything like that? Do you think I can take these monster’s and take the big areas the voles didn’t chew on and can them? We are totally organic and used a portion of a bed that was around the well area that had been inhabited by day lillies (which are also great to eat, by the way) but had been dug up to fix a well line. Live in Indy and will grow anywhere I can put something! Landlords don’t seem to mind, thankfully.

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Cristina September 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

Interesting, Patricia. I’ve never heard of sweet potatoes having an odor, so I did a Google search. Sounds like some varieties have a “perfume” to them while others don’t. Maybe that’s the thing? As for those voles… Absolutely! Just cut out the damaged areas and eat the rest. Only thing you probably can’t do is roast them whole, because all their sweet goodness will ooze out of the cut areas.

For canning, I think sweet potatoes fall in the low-acid category, which means only pressure canning. But I’m guessing you knew that already if you’re considering canning them. ;)

You might try growing your sweets in containers next year — I’m thinking that would stop the voles. Containers are actually my preference, because it makes the harvest so easy. I especially like halved whiskey barrels, which are big enough for three sweet potato plants.

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Joey September 14, 2014 at 10:14 pm

some type of purple flower grew on my potato. What do I do?

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Cristina September 16, 2014 at 7:17 am

Some sweet potatoes make purple flowers. Are they trumpet-shaped, like morning glory flowers? If so, it’s just the flower of your sweet potato plant. No need to do a thing, it’s perfectly normal. Just enjoy the flowers. :)

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Vickie October 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm

When a sweet potato is cut during harvest for personal consumption should it be discarded, or could I wax the wound and save it? I mean cut in two.

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Cristina October 7, 2014 at 7:25 am

I’m not sure you can store that sweet, but there’s no reason you can’t cook with it now. It won’t be as sweet as if you had stored it, but it is still perfectly edible. In fact, the less-than-normal sweetness might be just perfect in a stew or soup — just cut the sweet into small cubes and use it as you would any other starchy vegetable.

The waxing idea is an interesting one. If you try that instead, I’d love to hear whether it works or not.

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Cristina July 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Haven’t tried them yet. I worry about stealing energy from the developing roots. But, my plants are so huge this year, I think it might be time to experiment. Do you have any recipes to recommend?

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Anna@GreenTalk July 30, 2012 at 11:59 pm

They taste like a spicy spinach. Some people stir fry them in olive oil, soy sauce. (See http://marcsala.blogspot.com/2006/06/unusual-greens-part-3.html) I would probably do soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. I bet they would be great in a smoothie too.

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Cristina July 31, 2012 at 7:13 am

Thanks! Spicy spinach? Sounds potentially delicious. I’ll give this a try soon.

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