Planting Sweet Potatoes

May 26th, 2010

I planted my sweet potatoes the other day, and I’ve got to hand it to Burpee (where I ordered them), they said they’d arrive on the 25th, and they arrived on the 25th.

Sweet Potato Slips
Sweet Potato Slips in a Jar
Sweet Potatoes Planted in a Mound
Wee Little Slips Planted in a Mound
Sweet Potatoes Planting in a Mound
Sweet Potato Slips in Containers

If you’ve never grown sweet potatoes, you probably can, most areas of the US and even southern Canada have a long enough and warm enough growing season. There are also certain varieties that require a shorter hot growing season.

Being in Michigan I ordered one of those varieties, Georgia Jet.

Sweet potatoes are generally sold as slips. You can make your own slips, you basically stick a sweet potato in a vase of water suspended with the aid of some toothpicks. Do this 8 weeks or so before your frost safe date, they take awhile to develop, then when you’re ready you cut them off and plant them.

Or you can order slips, which I did this year (the ones I made for myself in the picture was purely for the benefit of this blog post, the lengths I go to for my readers). When the slips arrive they typically look dead, but that is normal, just put them in cool water if you can’t plant them right away (But strive to plant them right away) and try not to plant them in the glaring sun of the afternoon, but towards sunset. Water well at planting and the next few days and they should perk back up. They are very hardy plants.

Sweet potatoes, like all root crops, prefer a loose light soil so they can grow big roots. In the bed which I planted them I turned the soil significantly with my pitch fork, and I used raised beds so it has no foot compaction, then I mounded up 10 inch high mounds of potting mix (which is as loose and as light of soil as you can find – if not cheap), and planted the potatoes in the mix. This thus creates the loosest lightest possible soil I can think of. Hopefully they do well. And of course next year, I can just reuse the same potting mix, so, it’ll be cheaper. Raised beds are also good because the soil tends to be warmer, and they need warm soil.

Sweet potatoes can also be grown in containers, if you have some big enough. I use those big black plastic containers trees come in from the nursery. If you’re big into gardening and landscaping you probably have a few hanging around. You can recycle them or throw them away but I never do because they’re so useful. For instance when digging a planting hole in an established bed they can be used to hold the soil so it doesn’t get scattered on your mulch, but that is another post. They just so happen to be very good as vegetable containers (regular potatoes too).

In an interesting bit of serendipity, not only are these containers big enough to grow sweet potatoes, but usually made of black plastic, which of course attracts the sun, gets hot, and heats up the soil, just what sweet potatoes like.

When planting sweet potatoes plants should be in hills 12-18 inches apart, with 4 feet between rows. When translating that spacing to our big containers, it basically means you plant 1 slip per container.

Sweet potatoes can be harvested any time throughout the growing season, but the longer you wait the bigger they will be. Towards the end hold on on watering lest they crack like a cabbage after a rain. Once harvested they must cure and dry a little in a fairly hot dry place, then you can store them in a cool dry place. If stored correctly they can keep months, which means your Fall harvest can last until Spring, at which point you can make your own slips from one, thus providing you with perpetual sweet potatoes.

3 Responses to “Planting Sweet Potatoes”

  1. Trevor  Says:

    Hi Chris
    Greetings from a fellow gardener in the southern hemisphere and thanks for your series of great articles.
    My family live in a rented home in the suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand at Latitude 36′south, so our seasons are the reverse of yours. Here in Auckland the weather is generally mild by US standards as the city has a large ocean on each side of it (Tasman Sea & Pacific Ocean). It also means we have 4 seasons in one day of course as the “Roaring Forties” blast overhead on their way into the Pacific Ocean and tropical storms down from Samoa’s way, but generally not much frost to speak of, just very humid & wet.
    My special passion is Raised Bed gardens and my website sets out how a beginner can get started with materials at hand or low cost.
    Send me an email if I can be of help or just for a chat.
    Thanks and Cheers (antipodean greeting),
    Regards
    Trevor
    Auckland, NZ

  2. Bud Ray  Says:

    I live in Michigan and am trying to raise sweet potatoes for the second time. I hope to be successful this time!

  3. destrum  Says:

    I’m planting for the first time. Does anyone know what a slip is. Is it were the leaves come out at or is it just the vine? I started them in side, just stuck a potato in the ground and it has vines now that I want to plant in my garden. I’ve read you plant the slips. I don’t know what a slip is. Anybody know?? Thanks

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