Growing Sweet Potatoes

Growing Sweet Potatoes - Easy Or Difficult?

Depending upon who you talk to, growing sweet potatoes can be described as being an easy task or a very difficult one. There's little doubt that growing regular potatoes is probably easier, but growing sweet potatoes isn't really all that much more difficult than properly growing many other types of vegetables.

The main requirement for growing sweet potatoes successfully is a long and warm growing season, which is why most of those grown are grown along the southern tier of states in the U.S. However, certain types have been grown as far North as Montana and the Dakotas, though not as large commercial enterprises.

More Like A Morning Glory - Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, as the two vegetables admittedly look and taste somewhat alike. Yams however, are tropical plants, where as the sweet potato is not, despite its needing warm weather to fully produce. In truth, neither yams nor sweet potatoes are even remotely related to the potato family. The sweet potato is related to morning glory family, and is a vine. In areas where it is not feasible to grow sweet potatoes for food, the vines are often grown for decoration, being especially popular in hanging baskets. If you aren't having luck in growing sweet potatoes for harvesting, it's always possible to cut your losses and just focus on growing the attractive vines.

Growing sweet potatoes as vines is familiar to many as a school science project, where three toothpicks are embedded in a sweet potato, allowing it to be placed on a water glass with one end immersed in the water. Over time, roots will appear, and as the vine starts to grow, the tuber will shrivel. The vine can then be transplanted to a permanent location once the roots are well established.

How The Plant Does Its Thing - If a sweet potato tuber is planted in the garden, with a harvest of sweet potatoes the objective, the plant will start as a vine, creeping along the ground. At intervals, the vine will set roots in the ground, and where it does, tubers will start to grow. The sweet potatoes that are produced do not have to be harvested all at once. If the growing season is long enough, they can be harvested a few tubers at a time.

Slips And Planting - Just as regular potatoes are grown from the piece of a tuber that contains at least one "eye", sweet potatoes are grown from "slips", pieces of tuber which have roots. Just slicing a sweet potato in half and placing the slices in dirt will yield slips in just a few days, and plants ready for transplanting in about 6 weeks. Sweet potatoes purchased at the supermarket may not always be satisfactory, as sometimes the vegetable has been treated, and roots may not sprout, but it is worth a try. Otherwise purchase the potatoes from a reputable seed company.

Vine cuttings taken from slips can also be used to begin new slips. Just place a vine, a few inches long, in water, and roots will soon develop. Transplanted sweet potatoes will do best when the soil has warmed up, and for this reason are often planted in raised beds or planted in soil covered with black plastic. Fertilizing is not necessary unless all you want is luxurious foliage. A soil rich in organic matter however will get the plants off to a good start. If you have good luck and plan to plant another crop the next year, it's best to choose a slightly different location, as nematodes  and wire worms are the major problems gardeners face, and are most likely to be present when sweet potatoes are planted in the same location year after year.