It’s hard to believe, but the sweet potato plant is a cousin of the morning glory. Go figure! These big bright green vining leaves are what many gardeners are after. Whether you choose to use this savory beauty as an ornamental or as a crop is your choice.
Sweet potatoes are thought to be from Central or South America originally. In Peru, remnants of the sweet potato dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found, according to Wikipedia. It is thought that this plant is usually spread by vine cuttings as opposed to seed. The Polynesian area of the Cook Islands has a carbon-dated sweet potato from 1000 AD, probably spread to this part of the world through cuttings.
Sweet potatoes need plenty of water and sun to grow. They do not tolerate frost. Their favorite temperature is 75 degrees with warm nights. Favorite cultivars for ornamental sweet potato plants are Blackie, Ace of Spades and ‘Margarita. Remember that a sweet potato and a yam are not the same thing. It is not even in the yam family. It isn’t even closely related to the potato.
Ornamental sweet potatoes grow into long cascades of giant leafy green beauty. Use them in containers to fall over the sides or garden beds. Look for them in the bright chartreuse or deep purple colors. You will find tubers on your sweet potato vines at the beginning of fall. You can store the tubers in a box or mesh bag to use next year.
To grow a sweet potato, you can buy a plant, take a vine cutting from a friend or use a real sweet potato. The sweet potato vine in the photo is a descendant of great gardener Karleen Golias’s wonderful plant. She got the plant cutting from the great gardener Anne Golias and shared it with her friends.
Grow sweet potatoes? What a fun project to do with a child! It’s really a fun project to do for an adult” too. Hide a sweet potato under a bed of sand and keep it moist. In about 6 weeks you will see sprouts about 6 inches tall and a few leaves. Gently twist off the new shoots from the potato. Wait 2-3 days then plant these “slips” about 4 inches deep and 12 inches apart in a mound of good soil. Keep moist, weed and wait. Let the vines spread over the area to save some weeding until about a week prior to harvesting the potatoes. Dig the potatoes up with a spading fork and store until you want to eat them. Finding them is fun, just like a treasure hunt.
Joette is an avid gardener and prides herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.