Growing Sweet Potatoes

The Prudent Garden
by The Prudent Garden
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow anywhere that there's a 90 day growing season. Use these tips to grow your own bountiful crop.
Timing Is Everything

Even in the south, if we plant sweet potatoes in cool soil or if they are exposed to frosty temperatures shortly after planting, the plants will be compromised. This is not the crop to take that sort of chance with (I’ve learned the hard way). Always wait until a couple of weeks after your average last frost date, and even then you should be sure the soil has warmed to at least 65 degrees before planting.

In areas with late frosts and short growing seasons, cover the bed with black plastic for two or three weeks to help it warm up faster. When planting time comes, just cut holes in the plastic and plant right through it: it will help maintain a good hot soil temperature, retain moisture and block weeds.
Preparing The Soil

Sweet potatoes don’t require nutrient rich soil. They do need good drainage, with consistent moisture. The best way to achieve this on both heavy and sandy soils is by adding copious amounts of organic matter. Incorporate a two to three inch layer of manure or compost and about a pound of organic starter fertilizer (like Espoma’s BioTone or E.B. Stone’s Sure Start) per fifty square feet. Shape the bed into a ridge that is 6-10 inches high with a flat top that is about a foot wide. Space the ridges according to the growth habit of your chosen sweet potato variety: bush types may be spaced 4 feet on center, vining types require six feet or more.

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips. Slips are the shoots that grow from the potatoes themselves, similar to the eyes of “Irish” potatoes. The difference is that with sweet potatoes, the slips are removed from the seed potato and planted individually (whereas chunks of “Irish” seed potatoes are planted with multiple eyes that develop into the potato plants). Typically gardeners purchase sweet potato slips, not the seed potatoes. Slips may be purchased “bare root” or as potted plants. Both options work quite well.
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