Planting sweet potatoes plants

Sweet Potato Container Crops – Tips For Growing Sweet Potatoes In Containers

A perennial in its native environment, growing sweet potatoes in containers is actually an easy endeavor but the plant is usually grown as an annual this way.

Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and come in two different varieties — dry flesh types and moist flesh types. The moist fleshed types convert more starch to sugars when cooked, thus becoming softer and sweeter than their dry kin and are more often referred to as yams, although true yams can only be cultivated in tropical climes. Either variety has roots variously hued from white to orange to red, depending on the cultivar.

A trailing vine, the sweet potato has a root system that trails down into the soil along this vine. When harvesting sweet potatoes in pots or in the garden, some of these roots swell and form the storage root, which is the part of the plant we harvest and eat.

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in a Container – Producing Slips

Whether grown in the garden or as container grown sweet potatoes, these vegetables prefer warm days and nights and are planted from slips or transplants. Slips or transplants for growing sweet potatoes in a container may be purchased from the local nursery or grown yourself.

Be sure to select bush varieties, which produce shorter vines when growing a potted sweet potato plant. Likely varieties for sweet potato container crops are Puerto Rico and Vardaman. Avoid grocery store purchased sweet potatoes, as there is no way of knowing what variety they are, what climate they are most suited to or if they harbor disease.

To grow your own slips for sweet potato container crops, select an unblemished, smooth root of about 1 ½ inches in diameter from the last year’s harvest. Each root produces several slips. Put the selected root in clean sand and cover with an additional 2 inches. Water thoroughly and regularly while keeping the temperature between 75-80 F. (24-27 C.) when rooting.

Slips are ready in six weeks or when six to 10 leaves have sprouted, whereupon you will then gently separate the slips from the seed root. You are now ready to plant your container grown sweet potatoes.

Planting Sweet Potato Container Crops

When growing a potted sweet potato plant, the first thing to consider is the choice of a suitable container. Avoid plastic or metal containers, but clay is great and a whiskey barrel makes a fine choice. Be sure the pot has four or more holes for drainage.

Potted sweet potatoes prefer well-draining, sandy soil to which you should add compost. Plant your yam slips 12 inches apart. Keep the potted sweet potato start indoors for 12 weeks before moving it outside, at least four weeks after the last frost.

Water the potted sweet potato once a week or as needed depending on rainfall. Do not overwater!

Harvesting Container Grown Sweet Potatoes

Container grown sweet potatoes should be ready for harvest after 150 days and certainly just after a vine killing frost.

Gently dig up with a garden fork and allow drying and curing for 10 days, ideally in an area with a temperature of 80-85 F. (27-29 C.) (near a furnace?) and with high relative humidity. To increase the humidity, place the sweet potatoes in boxes or crates and cover them with paper or cloth, or pack in perforated plastic bags.

Store in a cool, dry place between 55-60 F. (13-16 C.). You may also freeze or can the resulting container grown sweet potatoes if desired.

By John Moody

As a kid, I always enjoyed tinkering with toys and other things. Many didn’t survive my escapades of disassembly. As a homesteader, both urban and rural, I have continued in that train. Worm compost in the basement of our apartment building. IBC totes turned into animal transporters inside our mini-van. Container growing on the corners I could convince landlords to let me use.

Often, people say you can’t grow certain things certain ways. So, when last summer I decided to leave a single leftover sweet potato that I was using to create slips for field planting in the starting tote, I knew I was going against the grain. The tote was about half full already with a mixture of our homemade compost, coir, and worm castings – a nice, rich, water retentive mixture that we use as our go to for seed starting and other such purposes.

I filled the tote about a quarter of the way more, gave it water every few days, and at the end of the season, this is what I found!

Can you believe this all came from one sweet potato? How’s that for a harvest?

So, how did we stumble into such success?

It All Started With Some Free Mineral Tubs

In rural areas, farms with large animals use a fair number of these each month, especially if the farm operation is large and has lots of animals. Instead of a one-way trip to the landfill, we collect them and use them for all sorts of farm projects – storage, worm composting, soil block mixing, and container growing, among many other options.

You can often get these empty mineral tubs for free from local cattle farming operations, where they go through a lot of them.

All you need to do to make use of these totes (also known as mineral tubs) for growing is ensure they drain properly. A drill with a small-diameter bit (¼-inch or slightly larger) will allow you to put 20 or so holes in the bottom, providing adequate drainage and air exchange. Don’t make the holes too large – the growing medium will fall out the bottom. It is good to layer the bottom two or so inches of the totes with rotted wood chips or similar compaction-resistant material to ensure that the holes don’t become clogged.

You don’t have to use mineral totes. I dislike purchasing new plastic, especially when so much used material is already around. So feel free to repurpose almost any sort of plastic tote or container. I do recommend that you go with a tote with at least 2 cubic feet of volume or a bit more for any root crop. I like the mineral totes because the surface area to depth ratio is about perfect for sweet potatoes (about 18 inches deep). Much deeper and you are spending money filling space that probably won’t improve your yields much. Too shallow and your yields will suffer from insufficient space.

Also note, depending on how long and where you place these, first the grass underneath will die. But, not only did I find a tote full of sweet potatoes, I found another 15 or so underneath the tote to boot! Second, you could use this setup to grow on a patio, deck, or similar structure, but you would need to be careful about excess water causing damage. You don’t have to worry about the roots – they will air prune or otherwise die back in most situations. You can also create a self-watering type design of two totes nested together where the bottom serves as a water reservoir for the top tote.

I found another 15 or so more sweet potatoes underneath the tote!

The Big Two For Sweet Potato Success – Fertility and Water

Unlike field growing, containers present two unique challenges. First, they need supplemental water, especially for a water hungry crop like sweet potatoes. Now, when the plants are small, the totes don’t need nearly as much water as they will use in late July and August, when you are dealing with a dozen or more square feet of leaves all needing liquid to convert that sunlight into sweet potatoes.

It was not uncommon for us to water the totes two times per day, and when temperatures reached into the high 90s or low 100s, on full sun end of summer days, three times. Note, sweet potatoes don’t like to be waterlogged, though. So ensure the growing mix is moist, but don’t water to the point you are getting leakage from the bottom if possible (that leakage is also possibly washing out valuable nutrients, another reason to water more often more lightly if possible). If it happens on occasion, nothing overly disastrous will happen. But if the mix is always overly moist, rot and other problems will assault your sweets.

In the future, if I do sweets in totes again, I will use some sort of semi-automated or automated approach to watering the totes, especially if I do a number of them. This will make the task less messy and less time consuming, especially for multiple totes.

Second, we provided some supplemental fertility in the form of organic approved fish emulsion, a spoonful or so about every four weeks diluted in a few gallons of water and then poured into the bin. If you think about how much nutrition is in 30-40 pounds of sweet potatoes, you can see why such an approach was necessary. I like fish emulsion, since it comes with a wide range of trace minerals along with a solid NPK profile. The cost was miniscule – probably fifty cents to a dollar per tote is my guess.

Here’s what the tubs look like when the sweet potatoes are growing.

A few other things are worth mentioning. First, the sweet potato foliage will spread far beyond the container. You can use this for amazing landscaping effect – sweet potatoes vines and flowers are beautiful (and the leaves are edible!). If you have a raised deck, fence, wall, or similar spot, the vines would serve as a lovely seasonal decoration as they spread and grow. Second, sweet potatoes need harvested before frost!

Second, don’t overfill the totes. I left about two inches of space between the lip and the growing medium. This helps ensure that the medium doesn’t spill out and over as the sweet potatoes expand. When it comes time to harvest, choose a spot you don’t mind dumping out the exhausted medium. I like recharging the material by running it back through one of my IBC tote sized worm bins.

Last, realize that once full, these are fairly heavy, especially when the soil is moist. So try to make sure you won’t’ have to move them. If you have a number of them up on a deck or similar structure, make sure it can take the extra weight.

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I love to grow sweet potatoes! And they are fairly easy to grow once you have the right information. I can tell you once you’ve had the taste of fresh, homegrown, sweet potatoes…you’ll never want anything else.

I have a few tips that will help you grow sweet potatoes at home and have the best harvests ever!

Tip #1 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Some Like it Hot

Unlike traditional tubers that prefer cool weather, your sweet potatoes like it HOT! This is a great summer crop. You’ll want to hold off planting them until you’ll past any springtime frost. Here in Phoenix, I can start putting mine out in late March or early April; but we get warm early here.

Tip #2 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Slips

What is a sweet potato slip? A sweet potato slip is simply the green plant growth that sprouts from mature sweet potatoes, and are used for planting.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t grow sweet potato slips for years and still had wonderful hauls of potatoes at every harvest. But I got more when I took the time to grow slips or buy slips locally.

How To Grow Slips – to grow your slips you’ll need either sweet potato seeds or some organic sweet potatoes from the farmer’s market (grocery store potatoes are often treated so they will not sprout).

Each of your “seed potatoes” should grow 40 – 50 slips. You’ll want to wash your potatoes, then cut them in half. Take each half, and place the potato in water; you only want the bottom cut portion in the water. You can toothpicks to keep them from falling in the water. Keep them in a sunny, warm spot. It will take a couple of weeks for you to get good-sized slips.

Tip #3 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Root Your Slips

Once you have grown your slips you’ll need to root them. Take your slips off your seed potatoes, careful not to break them. You’ll want to put them in a container where the ends (about 1/2 way up) are in water and leaves out. I usually use a quart-sized mason jar for this task. After just a few days you’ll see roots sprouting from the ends of each slip. Change the water every few days to keep the plants healthy.

Tip #4 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Good Soil

For growing sweet potatoes, you’ll want a loamy soil (loose and able to drain well). Hard, clay filled soil will make it hard for your tubers to grow big! That is the best soil for good growth; but let me tell you, they’ll grow just about anywhere. The first year I grew sweet potatoes in my raised bed garden…I found jumpers all over the place. As long as you have the warmth, they’ll grow.

I like to prepare the soil with some fresh compost mixed in or use my soil mix.

Tip #5 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Location

You’ll want to grow sweet potatoes in a warm sunny location in your garden. I use raised beds and fabric pots to grow my tubers. The fabric pots will keep your tubers from becoming root bound; especially bad for potatoes.

Tip #6 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Planting

If you decide to skip slips you’ll plant your sweet potatoes much like traditional potatoes; adding soil as green plants show above. But for the best results, you’ll want to plant those slips!

If you’re planting slips then you’ll want to dig a hole about 4 inches deep and place the slip in so that it is covered about 1/2 way; leaving the upper 1/2 out. Be gentle with your slips, so they aren’t bruised or broken in the process.

You’ll want your slips to be about 12 inches apart and each row about 12 – 18 inches apart. But in a fabric container I haven’t paid that much mind and will do 2 or 3 slips in one 20 – 25 gallon container.

Give the soil a good soaking after you plant your slips.

Tip #7 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Watering

For the first week or two I water the slips daily. The general rule is to water them twice a week for the first 4 weeks or so. Then you should be able to only water weekly; unless you live in a climate like mine where the soil dries out much faster. You do not want the soil to dry out so keep a watchful eye on it for the first few weeks to determine how often you’ll need to water.

You don’t want your soil to dry out but you don’t want your tubers to be water-logged either.

Tip #8 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Fertilizer

Every 4 – 6 weeks I like to add a little worm castings to my beds or containers.

Tip #9 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Harvesting

Your sweet potatoes should be ready to harvest at the end of summer or early in the fall, before any frost or freeze. You’ll notice that the foliage will begin to turn yellow and you can start harvesting then. But you can leave your tubers in the ground longer which will produce sweeter flesh and bigger potatoes. You’ll want all of them out before you get a freeze though – if the vines turn black you could be pulling out rotten potatoes.

There are many methods to getting your potatoes out of the ground. You can use a digging fork or your hands, like I do. But they biggest thing to remember is go slow and be careful; you don’t want to damage your tubers which will make storing them long-term impossible.

Don’t wash them! Just brush off the dirt and let them dry out in the sun for a few hours. Then you can bring them in for curing. Curing will not only help you keep your harvest longer, it sweetens them as well.

Tip #10 – Grow Sweet Potatoes, Curing and Storing

You’ll want to cure your sweet potatoes in a warm area with some humidity (a challenge in my desert climate). Lay them out in a single layer with butcher paper or newspaper under them. Leave them to rest for about 10 days. After they’ve cured you can store them in a cellar, fridge or closet where they will be kept cool but not freeze.

Now you’re ready to bake those babies up…you may not even need toppings!

If you’re searching for a guide on How to grow potatoes in Arizona this post is for you! Potatoes are cool-season crops that provide various minerals, vitamins, and protein. The best time to plant are early spring, and late fall.

Origin Of The Potato

It’s not really known exactly how potatoes got from Andes to Ireland, but prior to disaster striking the potato was firmly rooted in Irish soil. It as grew and part of culture for centuries.

During 1846 to 1847, Ireland was hit by an unseasonably cool and wet year, with millions of tons of potatoes becoming rotten due to an opportunistic fungus. It also resulted in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of emigrations. This event has become known as the Great Potato Famine, and could be the only drastic human catastrophe named after a plant.

It does not matter how you pronounce ‘potato’, it is likely that the birthplace is considered to be Ireland. However, potatoes actually originated on the other side of the world, in South America’s Andes mountains.

Thousands of years ago, wild potatoes were discovered by early Incan tribes and were considered life-sustaining storehouses for nutrients and energy. Using the environment that had less alkaline and humidity in the soil, similar to that of the Southwest U.S, they were able to domesticate more than 100 varieties.

Potato Nutritional Value

When considering the per unit of land, a potato provides more calories and protein than other grown foods. They are able to store many vital minerals and vitamins as well.

When To Grow Potatoes in Arizona

The potato plant will grow best during late fall or early spring as days are warm, but have cooler nights. While being a cool-season crop, edible sections of the potato are under the ground, while the tops are above ground and unable to handle frost. Therefore, timing the planting of potatoes is important.

You will need to plant them early as possible to obtain the most crop possible before summer heat kicks in, or the winter cold takes the plant.

Within Phoenix, AZ the month of March is an ideal planting time for potatoes, or in late September. However, within Albuquerque, NM or Denver, CO the potatoes should be ordered in, and ready for planting in mid-late April.

Potato Growing Conditions

Soil: Potatoes often do better in loose acidic soil that is well-drained. Because of the alkaline in Southwestern soil, compost should be added to the area to assist with acidifying the soil. Also, soils with heavy alkaline or poor drainage can result in undersized and lower yielding crops.

Fertilizer: The potato plant requires fertilizer during the early stages of growth, therefore, apply the majority of your fertilizer prior to planning. You should ensure the fertilizer is balanced. If pre-planting applications are missed, you should wait to fertilize until after sprouts begin producing leafs.

Light: A minimum of six hours of light is required by the potato plant, full sun.

Water: For the best possible yields, you want to maintain an evenly damp soil, not wet. You want to allow some drying prior to watering again.

Starting: For larger seed potatoes (bigger than a chicken egg), you want to cut them into pieces, roughly 1 inch across. Once being cut, allow the seed potato to heal/cure for several days prior to planting, or it could rot underground.

Each of the pieces need at least one bud (eye) where stems grow. If possible, having two eyes would be better. Potatoes that are egg size or smaller are able to be planted whole.

Selecting: You want to ensure that you buy seed potatoes that are certified disease-free from a trusted online catalog, mail in catalog, or garden market to get the best results. You should avoid planting potatoes bought at the supermarket due to being less vigorous and easier for them to become diseased.

Phoenix Valley Nursery & Gardening

If you want to grow potatoes or any other kind of vegetable in your Phoenix Valley garden A&P Nursery has everything you need to get started. If you already have a garden started you can get more out of it with better soil, fertilizers, and other quality gardening products. We also offer gardening kits to help you get a head start and organize your gardening. With friendly and knowledgeable staff A&P Nursery is your stop for helpful gardening advice for Arizona.

Call or visit one of our 4 locations today

A & P Nursery
40370 N. Gantzel Rd.
Queen Creek, AZ 85240
480-655-5789

A & P Nursery
2645 W. Baseline Rd.
Mesa, Arizona 85202
480-839-5362

A & P Nursery
6129 E. Brown Rd.
Mesa, Arizona 85205
480-396-8800

A & P Nursery &
Lawnmower Shop
2601 E. Baseline Rd.
Gilbert, Arizona 85234
480-892-7939

In the Garden: It’s time to grow sweet potatoes

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If you like sweet potatoes, why not grow a few plants this year? If space is limited, grow a plant in a 5-gallon bucket or a pot of similar size with holes in the bottom for drainage. The beautiful vining plant grows vigorously during the summer months. It’s a wonderful project for the inactive senior gardener who can watch the daily growth.

The sweet potato takes 120 days from planting to digging. If you want to grow your own, that process should begin soon. Otherwise, sprouts or “slips” can be purchased in May for planting.

A big difference in growing white or sweet potatoes from other crops is that the results are not seen until harvest time. The results are underground. While a mystery, for me it is a thrill to uncover each plant and discover homegrown “spuds.”

For sweet potato plants, my preference is varieties that produce well in the north and Midwest. Georgia Jet and Centennial are good choices. But there are other varieties that produce good yields among my gardener friends.

Growing your own transplants

For a home gardener, a few plants can be had from one or two sweet potatoes. Select a medium-sized potato with diameter close to 2 inches. Plant in a container large enough so a potato or two can be positioned horizontally in the soil. Use a good soil mix, sandy mix or soilless mix without fertilizer. Cover the roots with at least 1 inch of soil. Keep soil evenly moist but not wet.

Position pot in a warm location for faster production of sprouts of slips. It may take a month or more to start production. They tend to grow from the stem end.

When sprouts emerge and become 6 to 8 inches tall with four to five leaves, they can be carefully removed from the potato. When removing sprouts, remove the potato from the soil. Each sprout with roots is snapped off the mother potato. Gently twist each sprout with roots from the potato. One potato may produce three to 10 sprouts.

If it is too early for planting outdoors, pot each one in a 4-inch pot as a temporary home. It takes a few days to get settled in the pot as they are barerooted.

For only two to four sprouts or slips, try growing them from a mother potato plant partially submerged in water in a quart glass jar. First, position the potato stem-end-up with two-thirds of the potato below jar top and one-third above the jar opening.

To hold the potato in that position, use three toothpicks. Space toothpicks evenly around the potato and push them into the potato with other end resting on jar rim.

The lower part of the potato is covered with water to stimulate the growth of shoots from the upper end of the potato. When shoots become the right size, carefully pinch them off with roots from the potato. You may want to place them in a pot of soil for a few days to adjust to a soil medium.

Keep the potato jar near a warm window to begin growth. Often this method is used to start a sweet potato houseplant.

Planting in garden

Select a sunny location and form a row in a hill at least 10 to 12 inches high. Work into hill like a light snow an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, 12-12-12 or similar analysis. If necessary, use a rake to reform the hill.

Sweet potato slips should not be planted until the soil warms in late May. Cover the hill with black plastic for warmer soil and weed control. Space plants at 12-inches in the hill and make a slit in plastic along with a hole in the soil for a slip. Water in and firm soil around root system. Ideal soil temperature at planting time is 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The black plastic increases soil temperature and prevents weed growth. Cover the edge of the plastic along the hill to keep in place. Sweet potato leaves are among the first to turn black with a light frost. Dig potatoes before there is danger of frost. If frosted leaves remain on plants, the quality of potatoes is affected.

Or save time and effort by purchasing plants at a greenhouse. Jung Seeds sells 12 plants (one variety) for $14.45 plus shipping.

They offer Georgia Jet and centennial varieties. Call Jung Seeds at 800-297-3123 or visit www.jungseed.com.

Richard Poffenbaugh is a retired biology teacher and active home gardener since 1960. He is a member of the Mansfield Men’s Garden Club and was editor of the club newsletter (The Greenhorn) for 21 years. He resides in Ontario with his wife, Barbara. Reach him at 419-529-2966.

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