Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious root vegetables that promote gut health, support healthy vision, boost brain function, and strengthen the immune system.
You can add them as a starchy side to your choice of protein or turn them into a crunchier and healthier version of French fries.
Because of their versatility, it’s no surprise that many homesteaders want to plant a few of these in their vegetable gardens.
To start this process, you’ll want to know when to plant sweet potatoes.
When to plant sweet potatoes? The best time to plant sweet potatoes is in the spring, right after all the danger of frost has come and gone. Check that the soil is over 65 F and nighttime temperatures do not drop below 55 F. In most growing zones, this is around three to four weeks after the last frost.
Planting Sweet Potatoes in Different Climates
Sweet potato plants enjoy hot days and warm nights.
Planted at the right time, they can thrive in regions categorized as having tropical to temperate climates.
Those who live in areas characterized by the USDA of having hardiness levels 9 through 11 have the best chance of growing healthy sweet potato plants.
Usually, these regions are found in the Southern and South-Western United States.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind when growing sweet potatoes in different climates:
Since they are a warm-weather crop, this is the ideal growing condition for sweet potatoes.
They will thrive when provided with full sun and a warm climate.
The problem with areas with dry climates is that the temperature swings can be rather extreme.
As such, it will be quite problematic to grow sweet potatoes, or any other crop for that matter, in these areas.
They also require humid air, which isn’t something you would get in regions with a dry climate.
As long as the temperatures stay above 65 F, sweet potatoes will grow in temperate climates.
You just have to make sure you keep track of the daily changes in temperatures, and you’ll be fine.
To keep them warm during particularly cold days, you can make use of black plastic mulch to protect the plants.
Continental and Polar Climates
Sweet potatoes like warm weather and are extremely sensitive to frost.
If you wish to grow them in these climates, you will have no other choice but to do so in a controlled environment.
In this way, you get to set the right humidity, ventilation, light, and temperature where the plants can grow and thrive.
Choosing Sweet Potato Seeds or Slips
Unlike other crops, you grow sweet potatoes from slips rather than seeds.
These come from a rooted part of an already-existing mature sweet potato.
It’s up to you to decide whether to buy sweet potato slips from a trusted garden center or grow them yourself.
You will find that most sellers offer the most common varieties, such as centennials, Porto Ricos, and Beauregard.
If you’re growing them from slips, you should begin sprouting them around March through April.
The sprouted slips should then be transplanted in the ground by May or June.
How To Plant Sweet Potato Slips
Once you have acquired sweet potato slips, your next steps are learning how to sprout and plant them.
Step 1: Sprout sweet potato slips.
Cut healthy sweet potatoes in half or in smaller portions after washing them well.
Then, stick toothpicks onto the sides of each portion as though they are spokes on a wheel.
Using the sticks for balance, place one portion half in and half out in a jar filled with water, making sure the cut side is submerged in the water.
Do the same with every portion, and position each jar where they will have access to lots of sunlight.
In about two to four weeks, you should see sweet potato leaves sprouting.
Step 2: Get the slips ready.
You’ll know they are ready when the sweet potato is already covered in slips.
Individually twist each one and place them in a shallow bowl with about an inch of water.
Leave them like this for a couple of days until you see that they have formed roots.
Step 3: Prepare the soil.
Each sweet potato vine can grow more than 10 feet long above-ground, so make sure you give them plenty of space.
Pick a space in your garden that gets lots of sunlight and has well-draining soil.
To get ready for planting, till the soil to about a foot deep and use compost or quality potting soil to keep it nutrient-rich.
You may also use wood ash or peat moss to make sure that the pH of the soil reads neutral.
Step 4: Plant the slips.
Dig holes about a foot or two apart and start planting the slips.
Make sure to plant them deep enough to cover the root ball and about half an inch of the plant completely.
Step 5: Water generously.
After planting, you’ll want to give each plant lots of water.
This will encourage the growth of roots and for the vines to grow outwards.
How To Water Sweet Potatoes
Compared to other tubers, sweet potatoes have a longer fruiting period.
As such, you will have to be patient as you wait for them to grow and develop tubers.
For this to happen, you would want to provide them with the hydration they need through watering.
Step 1: Water daily.
Your sweet potato plants will require daily watering in the beginning.
Do this for a week to make sure they are getting enough nutrients for them to grow healthily.
Step 2: Water every other day.
By the second week, your plants will not need to be watered as frequently as the first week.
You will have a better chance of having established sweet potato plants by watering only every other day.
Step 3: Water less and less frequently.
As the weeks go by, your plants should be strong enough to survive receiving moisture only once a week.
Do this gradually, knocking off a day from your watering schedule every week.
How To Grow Sweet Potatoes
To boost their growth and guarantee they are ready for harvest come early fall, you must ensure your plants have the ideal growing environment.
Here are some expert tips to achieve just that:
Tip 1: Add mulch.
If you notice that the daily temperatures are becoming lower and lower, you’ll want to add mulch to protect your plants from the cold.
Doing this will also hinder the growth of weeds and too many vines, which will only take away nutrients needed to grow tubers.
Tip 2: Don’t over-fertilize.
Obviously, you’re growing sweet potato plants for their tubers and not their vines.
For this reason, you wouldn’t want to use fertilizers during the growing season.
Why? That’s because doing so will only boost vine growth.
These vines will then suck up all the nutrients, and your tubers won’t grow as big as you’d like.
If you find that your sweet potatoes are growing too much vines, check that the soil doesn’t have too much nitrogen.
Keep in mind that these plants are not really heavy feeders, so fertilizing isn’t a must if your soil is already nutrient-rich.
Tip 3: Get rid of weeds.
If putting in mulch isn’t enough to stop weeds from growing, you can simply pull them out by hand from time to time.
Make sure you don’t use a rake or a hoe to do this to avoid disturbing the tubers’ delicate roots.
How Long Do Sweet Potatoes Take To Grow?
Again, sweet potato plants like the warmth.
To grow fully, they would need at least four months of warm days.
In around 90 to 170 days from planting, you would have mature sweet potato tubers ready for harvesting.
Another way of knowing that they are ready for harvest is when the leaves start to yellow.
If you can, don’t harvest until the last warm weather before a frost.
In this way, you will have tastier and much larger sweet potatoes to enjoy.
Given the right conditions, you can expect up to eight or more tubers from each plant.
After harvesting, sweet potatoes need to be allowed to cure before you consume them.
This process helps them develop tougher skin and better flavor.
Do this by placing the tubers in an area with around 85% humidity and 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leave them to cure for five to 10 days.
Stored the right way, your household gets to enjoy a steady supply of sweet potatoes for months after harvest.
Delicious and packed with essential nutrients, you shouldn’t be surprised to find sweet potatoes in many home gardens.
They are easier to grow than most other crops and a great side dish to any protein.
In fact, those with limited garden space can even try growing them in containers.
The key is finding the right balance of temperature, sun exposure, humidity, moisture, and healthy soil.
Though slow-growing, you should have enough time to make a fall harvest if you plant them at the right time.