Sweet potato vines work in sun, shade

Sweet potato vines work in sun, shade

Have you seen how wonderfully landscaped hotels and other public spaces are using the sweet potato vine? Traveling through Houston the other day, I saw esplanades, planters and landscaped areas relying on this humble plant. This beauty is adaptable, too; it works in both sun and shady areas of your yard. The colors are deeper and brighter in full sun than shady areas where they will bring drama and more of a green hue.

You can get fancy and call the sweet potato “Ipomoeas.” No surprise to me, the sweet potato vine is related to the lovely morning glory. They love our heat and humidity and will commonly grow up to 3 feet in a week with lots of water, good drainage and sun. Plan on them dying back when it gets super cold but usually popping up again when springtime comes around again.

Sweet potatoes that you eat and ornamental sweet potatoes come from the same ancestry in Southeast Asia. The sweet potatoes that we buy at the grocery store have been selected and bred for hundreds of years to produce those yummy sweetest sweet potatoes that we bake and eat. They have the best starch and sugar content.

The ornamental sweet potato vines will produce edible tubers, but don’t expect them to taste great. Their starch content is high and the sugar content is low. If you want to try them, you better top with brown sugar and butter. The ornamental plant has been bred to produce the best leaves and few tubers. That’s why they have those gorgeous vibrant leaves that transform any outdoor space in no time at all. A Filipino friend of mine says that it is common in the Philippines to use the leaves of the ornamental sweet potato in cooking. They use pesticide-free leaves that they steam, stir-fry and add to soups or salads.

You have options with your sweet potato vine choices. Sweet Carolina Purple has dark purple foliage and smaller tubers. It is a less vigorous grower for containers and smaller areas. Another variety has nearly black foliage with deep cut leaves. Marguerite has the beautiful bold, chartreuse green foliage with heart-shaped leaves. Tricolor is a less vigorous grower with small pointy leaves that are multicolored with shades of green, pink and white.

Remember the classic way your grandma may have started sweet potato vines? Take an eye bud of the tuber from the plant and put it into a glass of water with the top third exposed by securing it in place with toothpicks. You can also place a cutting from the stem into water. Rooting takes place in a few weeks, then you can transplant and put into soil. 

You can also easily find this plant at the local garden centers. Try them. They can brighten up a tiny or expansive area of your outdoor space.


Joette Reger can be reached at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”