When I think of sweet potatoes, I think of Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s – getting seconds and thirds of her sweet potato casserole. I love sweet potatoes. And I love that these potatoes, unlike Irish potatoes, can be grown during warm seasons – I’m talking humid, hot Florida summers. A time of year when very few vegetables grow in Florida. If you’re interested in growing sweet potatoes yourself, keep reading to learn how to grow sweet potatoes from slips.
Despite the name, sweet potatoes aren’t related to Irish potatoes at all. And they’re not yams either. They’re actually part of the vining morning glory family.
Sweet potatoes rank high in nutritional value when compared to other vegetables – they rich in complex carbs, fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and magnesium.
Sweet Potato Slips
Most vegetables can be started from seeds. Sweet potatoes are an exception. To start growing sweet potatoes you should start with slips. I suppose you could also throw the whole potato in the ground, too. But you can grow many slips (20+) from a single potato and then plant those all over your garden!
If you’re new to gardening you might be wondering what a slip is. A slip is essentially a rooted cutting. Sweet potatoes will get little green shoots under the right conditions. The potato below has a few shoots already.
If you want to grow sweet potatoes from slips, make sure you figure out when you want to plant them outside, and then count back 6 weeks. It will take about 6 weeks to get your slips ready to plant outside. Sweet potatoes don’t like the cold. If I plan to plant my potatoes outside in April here in Florida, then I need to get the slips started in February. Sweet potatoes are extremely frost-sensitive. I recommend planting them about 3 weeks after your last frost so that the soil has some time to warm up.
How to Grow Sweet Potato Slips
To grow shoots you have a couple of options. First, you want to buy an organic sweet potato from the store. You’re more likely to get growth from an organic sweet potato than from a conventional sweet potato. You can then get a tray and fill it with about an inch of water and set your potato in it. Leave it near a window where it will get indirect sunlight (I recommend a south-facing window). You can also stick your sweet potato in a jar or glass on its end with an inch or two of water. Either way, you go you should start to see sprouts after a couple of weeks. You’ll want to wait until the shoots are 3-6 inches long, which will take a few weeks. Make sure to change out the water every couple of days so that it stays fresh.
A third option is forgetting that you bought sweet potatoes and have them start growing on your counter without any additional help! It happens. This method will take longer. 🙂
Once your shoots are 3-6 inches, you’ll want to gently pull them off at the base where they’re attached to the mother potato. Get a jar, and fill it with an inch or two of water (you only want part of your shoots to be in the water). Again, you’ll want to keep these near a window where they get some indirect sunlight. They will then start to grow roots, and you’ll probably notice the leaves getting bigger. Getting roots from your shoots should only take about a week. Once you have your rooted shoots you’ll be ready to grow sweet potatoes from slips! These are how mine looked when I was ready to plant them outside.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes from Slips
Now that you have your slips, you can plant them outside and start growing sweet potatoes from slips!
Sweet potatoes like loose, well-drained soil. If your soil has a lot of clay, I recommend getting a big pot or using raised beds. Dig a little hole and plant your seedling so that the roots are covered in dirt and the leaves are above ground. Lightly add the soil around your slips since sweet potatoes tend to bruise easily. Place your slips at least a foot from each other. They’ll like the space. You’ll want to immediately water your sweet potato plants once they’re planted, and keep them well-watered for the next week or two while they get acclimated to their surroundings and develop stronger roots.
They’re a little slow to start as their roots develop, but soon you’ll have a vine. Let the vine touch the soil and it will start to get more roots every so many inches. The more roots you have, the more potatoes you can get! 🙂
These are how mine started to look after being planted outside for about a month. Typical sweet potatoes have leaves that look similar to hearts. The ones here are actually Japanese sweet potatoes, so they have more of a star shape.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes take about 120 days (4 months) from planting your slips to maturity. You can lightly dig around and see the size of your potatoes growing. If you’d like them to grow a bit more, you can cover them back up. Once the leaves start to turn yellow, your potatoes should be ready to harvest. You can keep them growing longer if you would like. Just make sure to dig them up a couple of weeks before there’s a chance of frost in your area.
When you dig up your potatoes, brush off any dirt that you can, but do not wash your potatoes or get them wet. Once you harvest your potatoes you’ll want to let them cure, which is a process of preserving and enhancing the flavor. Curing is what gives your potatoes their sweet flavor. It also allows a second skin to form over your potatoes where any bruises might be.
To cure sweet potatoes, let them sit outside in a warm, humid, shady area. This isn’t too hard to find during the summer months in Florida. Make sure your potatoes aren’t touching. Do this for about two weeks. I bring mine in at night. After curing, your potatoes will be ready for eating or storing until you’re ready to eat them!
I hope after reading this article you’re ready to grow sweet potatoes from slips!