Learn How to Plant Sweet Potatoes at Home in Your Backyard
Moon Valley Nurseries Serves AZ, CA, NV, TX, and FL Customers
Not many vegetables can compete with the versatility of the sweet potato. High in fiber and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes can be baked, fried, boiled, steamed, or eaten raw. The star of many desserts, soups, casseroles, breads, and stir-fries, they’re a tasty addition to any meal. Many enjoy sweet potatoes as a substitute for starchy white potatoes, especially those watching their carb intake to lose weight or regulate their blood sugars. This orange-colored root vegetable is a traditional Southern U.S. favorite, but select varieties can be grown elsewhere. As long as you have plenty of sunlight and warm soil, this drought- and heat-tolerant plant should thrive in your backyard. Moon Valley Nurseries shares tips on how to plant sweet potatoes at home, whether you live in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, or Florida.
Sweet Potato Vines Grow Best in Temperate to Tropical Climates
Sweet potato plants are a warm-weather crop growing best in temperate to tropical climates four months out of the year. However, several short-season varieties can also be grown in raised mulch beds as far north as Canada. You can plant them in a garden, a container, or on a trellis if you’re interested in growing a sweet potato vine. Experts classify sweet potato flesh as being moist or dry. The moist varieties are more commonly referred to as yams at your local grocery store. Technically speaking, true yams are a different – albeit similar – dry tube vegetable hailing primarily from Africa.
Do Sweet Potatoes Grow From Seeds or Other Sweet Potatoes?
You do not plant seeds to grow sweet potatoes. Instead, you plant sprouts from existing sweet potatoes, which are also called slips. While you could grow one using an unblemished sweet potato you’ve purchased from your local farmer’s market, it’s a lot of work to grow them this way. Most sweet potatoes you buy from the market have been waxed to prevent sprouting. You would be better off buying sweet potato slips to grow your sweet potato vine houseplant. Sweet potato slips are sold at most garden centers and nurseries, including Moon Valley Nurseries. If you purchase your slips earlier than you intend to plant them, they should keep inside a container filled with moist potting mix or sand. You can also preserve roots from your current crop using this same method to plant them next year.
When Is the Best Time to Plant Sweet Potatoes in Your Yard?
Whether you wish to grow sweet potatoes from tubers or slips, the ideal planting season for sweet potatoes is about 3-4 weeks after the last spring frost. Depending on your region’s expected frost dates and average growing season length, this is usually around mid-April. Keep in mind that a late spring frost could damage or kill your crops. You don’t want to plant your sweet potato slips until the local nightly temperatures are at least 55 degrees or higher. Sweet potatoes typically take 3-4 months to mature, making the average growing season anywhere from 90 to 170 days.
How Do I Prepare a Sweet Potato Planting Site in My Yard?
Although sweet potatoes are a hardy plant with few growing needs, they prefer sandy soil and ample air space for their roots to reach down without having compacted rocks or clay in their way. You’ll want to give your sweet potato vines at least three feet of space between their rows. Your holes should be at least six inches deep and 12-18 inches apart when planting. For the best results, bury the sweet potato slips firmly up to their top leaves, breaking off their lower leaves. We recommend planting on a warm but overcast day for the best soil conditions.
You’ll need to water often for the first 7-10 days to ensure your sweet potatoes root well in the soil. Adding organic matter or compost can help your soil retain the ideal amount of moisture required by sweet potatoes. However, we do not suggest adding fertilizer or animal manure, as it can stain their roots or make them spindly due to stunted growth. If you live in a northern climate, try planting your sweet potatoes in raised beds with black fabric or plastic mulch to warm the soil. You’ll want to make your mounds 6-8 inches tall and at least 12 inches wide.
Additional Growing Tips to Yield Excellent Results
You’ll need to weed your sweet potato beds every two weeks after planting. Remember to water them frequently, especially during the mid-summer months when temperatures are high, and droughts aren’t uncommon. You shouldn’t need to prune your sweet potato vines. However, when your slips reach 6-9 inches long, you may need to cut them off the root and dispose of their bottom inch, as this is where issues with pests and diseases are most likely to occur. Common pests and diseases that plague sweet potatoes include weevils, flea beetles, whiteflies, stem rot, black rot, white rust, and sweet potato scurf.
Harvesting the Best Sweet Potatoes in Your Backyard
As soon as your sweet potatoes are large enough for a meal, you may dig them up from their soil. Harvesting sweet potatoes usually occurs about 100 days after planting, once their leaves and vines have started to turn yellow. The longer you leave the sweet potatoes in the ground, the higher your vitamin and nutrient content and your overall yield should be. However, the tubers (the edible part of a sweet potato) can rot if you wait too long to harvest the crop. We suggest digging them up on a sunny day when the soil is dry. Sweet potato harvesting should always occur before the first fall frost to avoid damage to your crops.
You’ll want to take care loosening their soil and cutting away their vines, so as not to damage the tubers. Always pull them by their primary crown and handle them carefully, as sweet potatoes tend to bruise easily. You don’t need to wash the roots, but we suggest shaking off any excess dirt before cooking or consuming them. You also don’t need to refrigerate sweet potatoes unless they’ve been cooked. Many people prefer storing their sweet potatoes in a root cellar or basement to cure them for the sweetest taste. Tubers can last up to six months if stored in a dry, cool place.
What Are the Fastest-Growing Varieties of Sweet Potatoes?
Orange-colored sweet potatoes have a faster growing season than white, yellow, or purple varieties. Centennial, Beauregard, Vardaman, Stokes, and Jewel are among the most popular sweet potato varieties we recommend at Moon Valley Nurseries. These sweet potato varieties all have decent storage lives, are ideal for small gardens, are mostly disease-resistant, and cook well in savory dishes.
What Are the Benefits of Growing and Eating Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a leading source of beta-carotene, iron, potassium, fiber, and other nutrients – more than you might find in even broccoli or spinach. Sweet potatoes are also low-fat and low-calorie (as long as you don’t load them up with brown sugar and butter) when compared to other vegetables, making them a popular choice with people watching their waistlines. Sweet potatoes have long been used in many Southern home remedies to treat anything from asthma to diarrhea and night blindness. Gardeners enjoy growing sweet potatoes because they have few pests or diseases, and they can be stored inside longer than many other hearty vegetables, including winter squash. In the fall, sweet potato vines form spectacular foliage not to be missed in any garden or backyard.
Get Additional Tips Before Your Next Backyard Project
Could you benefit from additional tips on your next backyard project? Contact Moon Valley Nurseries to talk to one of our nursery pros in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, or Florida today. In addition to helping you find the best guaranteed plants and trees from our farms, our friendly experts can also assist with professional landscaping design, tree planting, yard maintenance, and so much more.