How to Grow Sweet Potatoes

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Growing Sweet Potatoes

Whether baked, mashed or made into pies, growing sweet potatoes at home yields delicious sweet potatoes you can store and enjoy for up to a year after harvesting. Sweet potatoes originally hail from Central and South America. In the United States, people often use the terms "yam" and "sweet potato" interchangeably, but the two actually refer to different plants and different tubers (the proper name for the part of the sweet potato that grows underground, and forms the part we eat.) Yams actually hail from Africa. You can grow sweet potatoes in many of the 50 United States, as long as you choose a variety suited to your area.

Sweet potatoes have firm, red to orange flesh. They are related to the morning glory plant and are of the genus Ipomoea. Although only distantly related to the white baking potato you're probably familiar with, the two plants share a similar name. Their planting, care, and storage are quite different, however.

I don't know about where you live, but where I live in southern Virginia, prices for sweet potatoes have gone through the roof, and organic sweet potatoes were ridiculously priced. Yet last year, I grew 79 pounds of sweet potatoes for a $16 investment in sweet potato slips or starter plants. Learning how to grow sweet potatoes is both an investment and an adventure. If you have full sun and decent garden soil, you can grow sweet potatoes.

My wheelbarrow full of home grown sweet potatoes.
My wheelbarrow full of home grown sweet potatoes. | Source

Harvest and Storing Sweet Potatoes

Keep track of when you planted your sweet potatoes, and the approximate time to maturation. That's the time when they should be ready to harvest. This is the tricky part of the whole process. Growing sweet potatoes is fairly easy - nature takes care of the hard work of providing sunlight and water (for the most part). But harvest is something you'll need to do at the proper time.

I use a hand trowel or spade in my backyard garden. This has some drawbacks. First, if you nick the skin, it will leave a dent, and the dent tends to rot. The best method in a small backyard garden is to use a hand trowel and gently dig into the soil to find the sweet potatoes. Then, using the trowel and your hands (wear sturdy gloves), dig up the sweet potatoes. Discard the greens into the compost pile.

Once you've dug up your sweet potatoes, they need to "cure" so they store properly. In the southern United States, farmers talk about curing houses or small sheds or shacks on farms specifically for the purpose of preserving sweet potatoes, but few people have access to such facilities. Instead, you'll need to provide hot, moist conditions for a week to dry off the sweet potatoes, then store them in dry conditions at around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here's what I did. After digging up my sweet potatoes, I placed them in single rows in cardboard boxes. Then I left the boxes in my garage with the window cracked open to let the moist, hot summer air enter. After a week of this, I moved the boxes down to my basement, which stays around 60 degrees. That worked well here in southern Virginia. Again, your cooperative extension office can advise you on what to do in YOUR part of the country.

My sweet potatoes stored for over a year, and we are still enjoying them. As long as they are kept cool, they should last for a while. Any that seem questionable should be composted or discarded.

Growing your own sweet potatoes is enormously rewarding, both financially and personally. As I mentioned, I spent $16 on sweet potato "slips", and not counting the cost of building my raised bed garden (which is actually amortized over several years), I grew 79 pounds of sweet potatoes from that $16 investment. I actually weighed all those cardboard boxes on the scale and this is a picture of my sweet potatoes! Yes, you can grow them yourself. Just try a few next spring and see what happens. Happy gardening!

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Comments 20 comments

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Wow, 79 pounds of homegrown sweet potatoes! These tasty and nutritious potatoes are fabulous food.

Have you ever seen an alternative method of growing sweet potatoes, similar to growing white potatoes in a barrel or hay bale?


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK

I've never tried growing sweet potatoes, so I might give it a try come the spring - if I can find any sweet potato slips. I don't even know what the Spanish word for sweet potatoes is either! (I live in Spain but am not Spanish).


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

I thoroughly enjoyed your hub. I learned a lot from your firsthand experience. I love sweet potatoes and will try growing them in the spring.


PrettySunflower profile image

PrettySunflower 4 years ago from Malaysia

I grow them too. But gotta wait for another 2 more months or so before I can start enjoying them. I have 4 varieties which I am growing. Thanks for sharing.


aquaponics4you profile image

aquaponics4you 4 years ago from India

great article, ireally enjoyed it


DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

Awesome hub! I can't wait until next year to try these, and I'm so glad I live in the same geographic region as you so I know I'll have good results. I just hope I have half the harvest you had, Jeanne. I love the simple way you presented this, and I'm going to use it as a summer extension project for our son. Thanks for sharing!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

I have been thinking for a while about growing sweet potatoes, this is just the information and advice I need.

I hope I have the success you have, thank you for sharing. Best wishes MM


Ehnaira05 profile image

Ehnaira05 4 years ago from Charlotte, Florida

I love potatoes, and this post really gives great ideas. Thanks! keep it up.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 4 years ago from UK

I've enjoyed reading this hub, it is very helpful as I too would like to grow sweet potatoes :) Rated up!


richaloe profile image

richaloe 4 years ago from Oxford UK

I tried to grow sweet potatoes here in the UK and the result was: no potatoes.

I assume that it was too cool a summer. Has anybody else tried to grown them in the UK?


Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

Hi Rich,

That's a good assessment. Sweet potatoes need both a long growing season and hot weather, which is why in the United States they are typically grown in the southeastern portion, Georgia being one of the areas known for excellent sweet potato production. Did you try a variety bred for the UK climate? I don't know if there is such a thing, but that would be my route - look for a plant hybridized for your climate and growing conditions, if there is such a thing. Another trick to help boost the heat near the sweet potato beds is to put down black grower's plastic over the ground with holes for the vines to grow up and out. The black absorbs the sun's rays and acts like a natural solar warming. Not sure this would work, but you might want to experiment a bit.


richaloe profile image

richaloe 4 years ago from Oxford UK

Thank you for getting back to me.

I planted the vines in a poly tunnel tunnel and watered them four times a week. The vines I bought were from a UK company being sold to grow in the Uk; so they should of worked.

I used to live in Uganda and them every year there with success, but I have not heard of anybody going them in the UK.

Thanks

Richaloe.


Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

Interesting. If you try your experiment again, I'd love to hear how it went. Sometimes gardens are like that. We've had years when one thing grows great and the next year -nothing!


Jojosi profile image

Jojosi 4 years ago from Complicated

Hey presto! In about four to five months you have a crop of the most delicious sweet potatoes and you also have an excellent ground cover and protection for your soil. You can eat the sweet potato leaves as well-full of vitamin A among other things.


Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

I've never heard of eating the leaves - I'd caution folks not to unless they are SURE it is okay. Thanks for your post!


Kim 4 years ago

Where do GET the sweet potato starts, I've had a hard time finding them. Also how do you plant them? Like regular potatoes?


Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

I order the starts from gardening catalogs. They're planted differently than regular potatoes. If you're in the USA, contact your local County Cooperative Extension for info - they should have instructions they can give you. I plant mine on a little hill, about a foot apart. That way the vines grow down into the trench.


furniturez profile image

furniturez 4 years ago from Washington

My grand kids love my sweet potatoes! Few things in here that I had no idea about, thanks for bringing it to my attention!


Obscurama profile image

Obscurama 12 months ago

I've been growing sweet potatoes in the UK for years now. I wish mine looked like yours! But considering they are a tropical plant, I am still pleased with my efforts from a cool temperate climate. There are a few cultivars that are suppose to grow well in cooler climates, but it's all an uphill battle here.

They generally come out about the size of carrots. But they are still tasty! I grow them just for fun.


Obscurama profile image

Obscurama 12 months ago

@richaloe

I have grown sweet potatoes here in the UK (my first hub is about them). They never get bigger than carrots, but it's possible, even outdoors in a good year. First thing I do is add a black sheet to the ground for several weeks before planting out to warm the ground up. I also use cloches. Even then, some years it won't happen at all, like this year! it's been unusually cold and mine are looking very unhappy.

Best results for UK grown sweet potatoes is a greenhouse or polytunnel Also it's very important to start as early as possible making use of warm sunny spots in the house or a heated greenhouse. I starts my 'slips' in Feb and pot on, planting out around late June.

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