Plant Sweet Potatoes from Slips, Vines, or Roots
If you live in a good climate for growing them, you should plant sweet potatoes every year. They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow.
Here’s how I plant my sweet potatoes.
Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!
This isn’t hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell “slips,” which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.
You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden… or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.
Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It’s perfect.
I’ve done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root easily at every node. Water them for a couple of weeks and they’ll take off.
Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn’t matter that they’re small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate, so there’s not a problem with “selecting” for tiny roots.
No room for sweet potatoes? Check this out: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces
Step 2: Prep Your Bed
You don’t have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great… but they’ll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.
The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.
We grew this particular round of sweet potatoes in a bed where we planted white potatoes the year before. You don’t have to worry about sweet potatoes and white potatoes sharing diseases – they aren’t even remotely related species.
That said, after pulling white potatoes the year before, I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.
Here’s what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:
Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keep it “alive” between plantings.
I dug three trenches about 4′ apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4′ apart down the trenches.
Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.
We get plenty of sweet potatoes from our gardens each year, and we wouldn’t want to be without them.
Infographic: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato
Step 3: Water Well… and Stand Back!
Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them… and the areas around the garden… and some areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20′ from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.
This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.
If you haven’t planted your sweet potatoes yet, it’s time to get going as soon as the danger of frost has passed. If you have a long enough warm season, you can start one bed then use it to start a second, as I do in this video:
As a final note – sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they’ll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground… the bigger the roots tend to get.
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!
David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.
I’ve planted sweet potatoes in the south, but all I ever get are vines. I don’t get large tubers. Additionally, I hear lots about how to plant and when to plant a variety of crops, but never how or when to harvest. Especially root vegetables. Above ground crops are easy to figure out, but potatoes, onions, carrots, etc . . . There’s no instruction for when they’re actually ready to harvest.
I wait on harvesting sweet potatoes until the very last minute before frost kills all the above-ground growth. They’re a perennial, so waiting is fine. It gives you much bigger roots.
If you’re getting lots of beautiful foliage and no tubers, then they may have been fertilized! Don’t ever fertilize sweet potatoes or plant them after a nitrogen fixing crop, such as legumes.
Sweet potatoes that receive fertilizer will put all of their energy into producing foliage but will never produce the tubers. I have sweet potatoes growing right in the middle of my compost heap, only on the Sandy side, never wear the hay is deposited from where I clean out my chicken houses. It does make for great slips for trading though!
If you have Earth boxes that have been harvested from the year before, use the existing soil, the fertilizer will have been spent, simply break up the contents of the earth box and plant your slips directly in there, don’t bother covering them with the provided cover… I have to Earth boxes that I have cut 3-foot Runners from, layered them in the spent soil in the Earth boxes, used a little bit of sand to make sure it holds the runners in place and I have already cut 70 slips from each box which are now plants of Their Own
How about a pot in my balcony planter with a half of a morning’s sun? I’ve only grown some herbs.
Hi, I grew some in a container, but had to move before I could harvest. The little babies were adorable and it’s a beautiful plant, too.
They’ll grow in a pot and look a lot like ivy; unfortunately, half-sun will probably keep them from making much in the way of roots. Try anyway, though – it’s a cheap experiment! And good luck.
I would like to get some SPs going, but haven’t found slips. Can I start with a SP from the grocery store? What would be fastest way to get sprouts? Should I plant the sprouts with part of the potato attached (as with white potatoes)? Is it too late to start in SE Texas for this year?
Yes – I started most of my original sweet potatoes from store-bought roots. Just plant the sprouts when they hit 6″ long or so, no piece of root required.
Some store Sweet Potatoes’ are treated so they wont sprout, But yes it is worth the try also look at some seed companies will sell slips online and ship to you when it is warm in your area. Then for next year save two or three smaller potatoes to start your own slips. I have not paid for slips for five years now and buying seed or plants can get expensive and gardening is about saving money, Hope this helps, If you are in a cooler part of the country they wont have slips yet call local green houses and ask if there getting some and expected date
My uncles use to grow hundreds of acres of sweet potatoes. My job as a little boy was to drop the vines on top of the rows and someone would follow behind with a notched stick and push them in the ground. I made a whole 10 cents an hour for doing this but was glad to get it.
I have grown SP in my garden and had great results even though we have a clay soil. The past several years the rabbits had a field day eating my plants.
I love sweet potatoes cooked most any way but baked is still the best.
I’ve started them successfully from grocery store sweet potatoes, but it takes a while – we stick the sweet potato in a jar of water (half full), and wait for the shoots to grow, then break off the shoots and put them in a clean jar with ~1/2 inch of water until roots develop. Then we plant them. That whole process takes a few months (if we kept our house warmer, it might go more quickly).
While I’m not certain, I don’t think it’s too late yet to start them in SE Texas, but you’d better get a move on. You might want to check with local garden centers to see if they have seedlings for sale – that would get you going a lot quicker.
In the picture, those look like yams, not sweet potatoes?
In the South, sweet potatoes are commonly called “yams,” but they actually are not. Yams originate in Africa and are grown extensively in the tropics- they are brown, rough tubers that can actually grow to over 7 feet long! The sweet potato is yellow to deep orange skinned, and the flavor and texture differ with skin color. The deep orange skinned sweet potato has a darker, moister and sweeter flesh. Lighter colored sweet potatoes tend to be drier and more crumbly in texture, and the flavor is not as sweet. Hope this helps!
Hi Irene – Those are sweet potatoes, sure enough. More info here: What the Hell is a Yam?
I love sweet potatoes. I even like the raw, cut into circles, for a snack. Will they grow in southeast Washington State? We have hot summers but cold winters.
Hi David. I live in the Netherlands (zone 7 rainy climate). I love sweet potatoes … but can I grow them in this climate? Or do I have to grow them indoors?
I can’t imagine the rain being a problem. They like water. But they also like well drained soil. So if yours is not well drained you might add some sand.
someone mind telling me what a slip is
A slip is just the farmer/gardener term for the sprouted root part that you actually plant. The very first picture in this article shows someone holding a “slip” in their hand ready to plant.
There is a sweet potato plant nursery in TN. Their website is: sweetpotatoplant.com. They have ten varieties but I have been successful with beauregard and porto rican. One year, I had an eight pound potatoe. I don’t know if they can ship into other states but doesn’t hurt to ask.
I heard you are supposed to cure sweet potatoes (that you have grown) before you eat them or they will make you sick. Is this true? If so how do you cure them? Thanks!
Yes you need to “cure” the sweet potato and if you don’t it just won’t be as sweet or last as long in storage…but it will NOT make you sick. To cure the potatoes just leave them in a warm shaded area for a couple weeks until the outside toughens up a bit and the sugars ‘cure’ ( and do not wash them but just wipe off the dirt).
I live in the Phoenix area in AZ. Two years ago in Oct. I found a sprouted sweet potato in the pantry so decided to plant it. I used an old cooler filled with potting soil that had previously contained tomato plants. I didn’t know about just using the slips, so I just cut the potato into chunks that each had a sprout & planted them up to the leaves. They were doing great until we had a frost. Even though I covered them, they looked like they had all died. However, I just left them, & lo & behold when it got warmer they came up again. I had no idea when to harvest. I read on the net that after they bloom they’re ready to harvest in about a month. Well, I got ONE beautiful purple flower on ONE of the 6 little vines. Kept waiting & no other flowers. Kept looking for potatoes bumping up the soil…no sign. Before we left on vacation in late June, I decided to just dig them up so our house-sitter wouldn’t have to water them. They were growing vertically – that’s why no bumps! The ones that hit the bottom of the cooler (about 14″ deep) grew in “L” shapes. We left them in the laundry room between newspaper for 2 weeks while we were gone. None were bigger than 1 1/2″ in diameter, but they were delicious! Guess I should’ve left them in the cooler until Fall. Next time I’ll try planting in Feb. & let them grow until Nov 🙂
We bought white sweet potatoes from Natural grocers placed the end without the eyes in water shortly after they rooted, then we pulled the slips off then placed them in water they rooted and are happily planted and growing. We did this also with orange and purple varieties as well. You can do this with other things like planting organic shallots, garlic, regular potatoes (cut into smaller pieces and set aside for a few days to seal them).
I read this article when it first came out and did my best to get some of the tubers to root out or grow out leaves; neither worked. I cannot find any with rootlets at all. How else can one grow them? This is frustrating me no end, as I’ve tried everything I could find to get some to grow. Would just planting the tuber be sufficient?
Hi Riesah – Are you trying to root them out in dirt, water, or something else? They may just need more time. If you’re really struggling, you might consider buying some slips from a seed company or nursery next year and starting that way. Unfortunately it’s probably too late to find anyone selling slips this season…
I had a Japanese sweet potato which was sprouting and had alot of leaves. I took it out of the water I had put it in, and put it into a large planter (just did it, late August) in my front yard.
Is it going to grow more sweet potatoes like that? Will they come back next year from what roots are in the ground??
Hello~ thank you for your article! My question is what do you do with the original sweet potato after growing all the slips you need for the season? Can I wrap it up in paper and store the original sweet potato for the next season? Thanks! Mine just continues to grow slips and it’s overtaking my little sunny area. TIA
Thank you, I enjoyed this article/video. Now I am ready to give Sweet Potatoes a go! 🙂
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