Here Is A Short Guide About Sweet Potato Plants, How To Grow Your Sweet Potatoes, And How To Harvest Them

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Emma Downey

Emma Downey
Gardening Expert

Updated on 12/8/2022

Even a small number of sweet potato plants may result in a bountiful crop of this nutrient-rich, naturally sweet-tasting root vegetable. Although they thrive best in warm climates, which is why most of them are planted in the South, some types may be produced well in northern latitudes. You are welcome to read this article if you would like to learn more about planting, caring for, and harvesting sweet potatoes and what kind you should plant.

About Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Only one kind of sweet potato thrives in tropical climates and is a member of the morning glory family. If you look at the leaves and blossoms of a sweet potato vine and compare them to those of morning glory, you'll find that they are from the same family. They are not related to potatoes in any way, although they have the same name. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family, so they don't have anything in common with this plant. The edible section of a sweet potato is a tuberous root rather than a genuine tuber, which is another distinction between sweet potatoes and potatoes that are considered "normal" (technically modified plant stems).

The flesh of this root vegetable has a dark orange color, while its skin is a coppery color. When prepared for consumption, sweet potatoes are most often mashed or roasted on their whole. You may also use them as the filling for a pie.

This tropical crop requires at least four months of warm weather and soil to grow, but once established, it can withstand heat and drought and suffers from a limited number of diseases and pests. Even though sweet potatoes were more often grown in the South in the past, there are now several types of sweet potatoes with a shorter growing season. When cultivated in sandy soil or raised beds mulched with black plastic to keep the soil warm, they can grow in the Northern hemisphere (even in some regions of Canada!).

Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potatoes are not grown from seed, which is important to remember. Instead, they are developed from slips, which are essentially sprouts that are generated from sweet potatoes that are already in existence. Slips may often be purchased from local garden shops, nurseries, nearby farmers (at events like farmer's markets), or businesses specializing in mail order sales. There is also the option of starting your own (see below for instructions).

To determine if your growing season is long enough to support the growth of sweet potatoes, you need first to determine whether or not you will be placing an order for slips. Most cultivars will reach maturity between 90 and 120 days after planting. Find out when the last frost will occur and how long your growing season is. Also, ensure that you schedule your purchase appropriately, considering when you will be planting!

Planting

Make sure the location you choose for your garden has sufficient sunlight and is well drained. Although they are not too finicky, sweet potatoes fare better when grown in soil with higher sand content. They need a significant amount of air space in the soil so that their roots may grow deeper. Consider growing on raised beds rather than planting directly in the ground if the soil in your yard is heavy, rocky, or compacted.

Compost, perlite, or coconut coir may be added to the growing area to create healthy, loamy soil that extends between 8 and 10 inches. It is best to refrain from adding animal manure, even pelleted chicken manure, since doing so may cause the roots to become spindly or discolored. Also, steer clear of high nitrogen fertilizers since they encourage luxuriant leaf growth at the price of edible root development.

Do Sweet Potatoes Need To Be Planted At Certain Times Of The Year?

  • Generally, slips should be planted in the ground three to four weeks after the last spring frost or when the soil has reached a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). I believe the night temperature should be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). So that they can have enough time to grow and not be harmed by a late spring frost, you must plant them early enough to allow them to have time to develop, enabling them to reach their maximum potential.
  • Because immature sweet potatoes are so delicate, you need to take extra precautions to shield them from late frosts or chilly nights (below 55 degrees Fahrenheit or 13 degrees Celsius). You may either use row covers or cover them with plastic milk jugs and then remove the jugs or covers during the day.
  • Unpack the slips as soon as possible if you purchased them from a source that offered mail-order sales. If you soak the roots in water for a day or two, you'll notice that they get more robust. You are planting them when favorable circumstances should be done as soon as possible.

Instructions On How To Cultivate Your Sweet Potato Slips

You may start your slips rather than purchasing them, but doing so requires more effort. This is the method:

  • Find sweet potatoes that are organic, blemish-free, and smooth from the grocery store or a local farmer's market around eight weeks before your area's final spring frost date. Make it a point to inquire about the variety, and double verify that it is one you want to cultivate.
  • Put the entire sweet potatoes in containers or bins with at least three inches of loose, organic soil draining well. The soil should be light, and you should leave about an inch or two spacing between each sweet potato.
  • Add a few inches of extra dirt to the area, covering it in a thin layer of dirt. Ensure you water the soil immediately and as often as necessary to keep it moist but not muddy.
  • The soil and the environment around the plants should be kept between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit under direct sunlight or artificial lighting. As sweet potatoes thrive in warm temperatures, it is a good idea to use a heating pad, if available.
  • In the coming weeks, the soil will begin to reveal signs of emergence, also known as slips or shoots.
  • After around six to eight weeks, the slips should be between six and twelve inches long, with many leaves and roots. They should also have a healthy number of leaves.
  • Sweet potatoes should have their slips removed, which still have their roots attached. (Remove the slip and set it in water; roots should emerge within one to two weeks.) (If the slip does not have any sources, there is no need to remove it.)
  • During the period between 3 to 4 weeks following the last frost, if you do not want to plant the slips outside, you can keep them wet by placing them in potting mix or sand and standing them upright until it is time to plant them outdoors (3 to 4 weeks following the last frost).
  • Before putting the slips on the ground outside, you should harden them off for one to two weeks by placing them in filtered sunshine throughout the day.

How To Set The Stage For Growing Sweet Potatoes

  • Make elevated mounds between 6 and 8 inches in height and around 12 inches broad.
  • It is recommended to leave a spacing of three feet between each mound to allow for the growth of vines.
  • It is recommended that the slips be planted on a warm day when the sky is overcast and when the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).
  • Remove the lower leaves, so you are just left with the upper ones.
  • Ensure that the slips are placed at a sufficient depth to cover both the roots and the stem of the leaves. On the nodes, sweet potatoes will begin to develop.
  • To ensure that the plants have healthy roots, water them with a liquid fertilizer rich in phosphorus and then continue to water them abundantly for the next seven to ten days.

Growing

  • Apply a side dressing of 5-10-10 fertilizer to the sweet potato plants around three to four weeks after transplanting. Use a more significant quantity if the soil is sandy.
  • After planting the sweet potatoes, wait two weeks before beginning your normal weeding of the beds.
  • If you are digging with a hoe or any other tool, please avoid damaging the delicate feeder roots by digging too deeply.
  • Always be sure to water, particularly in the middle of the heat. Increasing the depth of your irrigation during hot, dry weather can boost your yields.
  • Sweet potato vines should not have any pruning done since they should be very strong.
  • During the closing stages of the growing season, when the plants are nearing the end of the growing season, it is helpful to reduce the amount of water they are receiving so that the sweet won't crack when it is stored.

Recommended Varieties

Some types of sweet potato with orange flesh grow the quickest, but you may also want to look at varieties with white meat, yellow flesh, or even purple flesh. When cooked, orange-fleshed types become moist, white and, yellow sweet potatoes have a creamy texture, and purple sweet potatoes become dry and starchy.

  • The 'Beauregard' variety, which matures in 90 days, was developed in Louisiana but is also successful in northern climates. It contains dark orange flesh and preserves well, and the roots are a dark crimson.
  • "Bush Porto Rico" (110 days) is an excellent variety for use in baking and small gardens.
  • The 'Centennial' cultivar, which matures in 100 days, is the most popular in the United States. It has a long storage life and a hue similar to carrots. Additionally, it is an excellent producer for farmers in the north.
  • "Georgia Jet" (90 days); red skin covers orange meat that is juicy and rich in color. A kind that grows relatively quickly and is suited to the northern climate.
  • 'Jewel' (also known as 'Yellow Jewel') is a variety of tomato that matures in 120 days and has copper-colored skin and orange meat. It is resistant to disease and keeps well.
  • "Stokes," which matures in 120 days, has a deep purple hue and is loaded with additional health advantages; it cooks nicely in savory meals and mashes.
  • It matures in around 110 days, has distinctive blue-purple leaves, golden skin, and reddish-orange meat, and preserves well. The 'Vardaman' variety is a shrub type and works well in small gardens.
  • "White Yam," a kind that matures in 100 days and is also known as "White Triumph." A white skin covers the white flesh—one of the most traditional types of sweet potato and characterized by compact vines.

Harvesting

  • You may begin digging them up as soon as the roots have grown to a size where they can be eaten.
  • The plant should be harvested when the leaves and ends of the vines have started to turn yellow, which should occur approximately 100 days after planting.
  • To prevent the plant's roots from being damaged, loosen the soil around each plant to a depth of 4 to 6 inches all the way around. Remove some of the vines from the area.
  • The plant's central crown should be pulled off, and then the roots should be dug out by hand. Be very cautious while handling the sweet potatoes since they are easily damaged.
  • Remove any extra dirt by shaking the roots, but do not wash them.
  • Bring in the last crop before the season's first frost.

How To Preserve And Keep Sweet Potatoes In Storage

  • Curing sweet potatoes not only gives them their characteristic sweet flavor but also helps a second skin to grow over any cuts or bruises that may have occurred.
  • Take caution while handling sweet potatoes since they bruise quickly.
  • Roots need to be cured by being kept for 10 to 14 days in a warm environment (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity (about 90 percent). A table placed in a shaded area outdoors works very nicely. Place the sweet potatoes in a dish, so they do not touch each other.
  • After the curing process, damaged sweet potatoes should be thrown away, and the remaining ones should be individually wrapped in newspaper.
  • Pack everything carefully in wicker or wooden basket. Ensure that the root cellar, basement, or similar area is kept at a temperature of 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity.
  • The roots should keep in a cool, dry place for around six months.

Wisdom And Creativity

  • The sweet potato is a tuber vegetable with very high nutritional value and several advantages. The following are some of the health benefits of eating sweet potatoes.
  • Traditional medicine was used to cure conditions like asthma, night blindness, and diarrhea.
  • As opposed to sweet potatoes, yams, on the other hand, have a more intimate connection with grasses and flowers. In addition, they are not related to ordinary white potatoes, which are members of the Solanaceae family (the family that also includes morning glories). As was just discussed, the part of the consumed potato is an actual tuber, but sweet potatoes generate tuberous roots.

Pests/Diseases

Insects And Diseases That Affect Sweet Potatoes

The Flea Beetle Or Flea Bug

  • The insect is the kind.
  • Numerous tiny holes might be seen in the leaves as a symptom.
  • Control and prevention include using row coverings, a heavy application of mulch, and adding native plants to entice helpful insects.

Fusarium Wilt (Stem Rot)

  • Type: Fungus
  • Symptoms include leaves that are yellow or puckered, older leaves falling off, withering vines, plants that finally die, and stems below or near the ground that may seem somewhat blue. Incredibly close to the ground, the stem's cross-section exposes brown, purple, and black discoloration.
  • Destruction of sick plants, selection of certified disease-free slips and resistant types, and crop rotation are the primary means of control and prevention.

The Scurf Of Sweet Potato

  • Type: Fungus
  • Symptoms include skin-deep, dark brown or black patches or blotches on root tubers, which may develop while being stored; roots may shrivel; and shorter shelf life.
  • Control/Prevention: Choose plants that have been verified as being free of disease, or use vine cuttings or sprouts that have been cut at least an inch above the soil line. Ensure that all equipment and storage containers are clean, and rotate your crops.

Rust In White

  • Type: Fungus
  • Symptoms include chalk-white blisters, which are most often seen on the undersides of leaves; tiny, yellow-green spots or blisters occasionally arranged in a circular pattern on the upper leaf surfaces; potential deformation or galls; flowers and stems may also be affected.
  • Destroy sick plants; choose resistant types; pull weeds; eliminate crop leftovers; rotate crops. These are the control and prevention methods.

Whiteflies

  • The insect is the kind.
  • Symptoms include sticky "honeydew" (excrement), sooty, black mold; yellow/silver spots on leaves; wilted/stunted plants; deformation; adults will fly if disturbed; certain species are known to spread viruses.
  • Control and prevention include removing infected leaves and plants, removing bugs using a handheld vacuum, and spraying water on the undersides of leaves in the morning and evening to ward off pests. Monitoring adults using yellow sticky traps, spraying with insecticidal detergent, and using native plants to attract beneficial insects and hummingbirds are all effective methods. Weed, and use mulch that reflects light.

Cooking Notes

weet potato pie

weet potato pie

It is important to note that sweet potatoes contain a few other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients besides beta-carotene, such as calcium, iron, vitamins A and C, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Despite their low-calorie content, sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy and keep for a longer time than winter squash.

Preparing sweet potatoes is much simpler than making pie (or sweet potato pie!).

  • They only need to be washed, pricked with a fork in a few places, then baked at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty-five minutes to one hour until they yield slightly when you press them in your palm while protecting them with a pot holder.
  • When cooked on high, a full sweet potato in the microwave should be ready to eat in about four to six minutes. When it is done, it may still have a solid texture; let it remain for approximately five minutes to become more pliable.
  • Sweet potatoes may alternatively be cooked by steaming them whole (after first being washed and left unpeeled) for approximately 40 minutes or until soft, or by cooking them in boiling salted water for about 35 minutes (after first being cleaned and left unpeeled). (Boiling has a significant degrading effect on the taste.)
  • You can avoid the sweet potatoes becoming a darker brown by submerging them under water until you are ready to cook them.

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Since ordinary potatoes and sweet potato plants aren't connected, it's best to avoid making recipes that call for either. Sweet potatoes do not have the same binding properties as regular potatoes, and their robust flavor may easily overpower a formula designed to highlight the more subtle potato flavor. Yams and sweet potatoes are not connected in any way. However, they are a delicious alternative to pumpkin, mainly used in baked goods.


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