Potato leaves turning yellow


Yellow Sweet Potato Leaves: Why Do Sweet Potato Leaves Turn Yellow

We’ve been hearing a lot about “super foods” of late, those purported to be high in certain vitamins and minerals, often with antioxidant properties. Among these “super foods” the sweet potatoes have found a niche, and with good reason. Sweet potatoes are incredibly high in vitamin A, are a great source of beta carotene and antioxidants. Even so, this “super food” has its share of growing problems such as yellow leaves on sweet potatoes. Read on to learn why sweet potato leaves turn yellow.

Why Sweet Potato Leaves Turn Yellow

This vining, herbaceous perennial, of the family Convolvulaceae, is usually grown as an annual and harvested at the end of its first growing season. The plant is cultivated for its delicious nutritious edible tubers, which may be red, brown, yellow, white or even purple in color. The spectacular vines are dotted with lobed, heart-shaped leaves that may reach up to 13 feet in length.

Yellow sweet potato leaves may be caused by several factors. If you see that your sweet potato leaves are turning yellow, you need to identify the source and act immediately, lest the problem spreads to the entire garden.

This is especially true if you suspect the yellow leaves on your sweet potatoes might be caused by an infection, usually a fungal infection.

  • Wilt diseases – Sweet potatoes with yellow leaves might be the result of verticillium or fusarium, two of the most common sweet potato diseases. In either infection, the plant begins to yellow at the base and works its way up the plant. These fungal diseases can be spread by infected transplants. Practice excellent garden sanitation, crop rotation, use cut transplants rather than slips, and treat root seed with fungicide before planting.
  • Black root – Black root is another fungal disease that stunts and wilts plants, yellows leaves, rots tubers and eventually kills off the plant. Unfortunately, if the plant is afflicted, the tubers, even if they look fine, will become increasingly affected by rot in storage. Use disease free seed, practice crop rotation (allow 3-4 years between sweet potato crops) and treat the seed with fungicide prior to planting.
  • Alternaria – Alternaria leaf spot and leaf stem blight are fungal diseases that cause brown lesions on older leaves surrounded by a yellow halo. Stems and petioles become afflicted with large lesions that my result in defoliation of the plant. Again, plant disease resistant or tolerant seed that is certified disease free. Destroy all sweet potato detritus once harvesting is completed as well.
  • Leaf and stem scab – Leaf and stem scab causes small brown lesions on the leaf veins, resulting in both curling and raised lesions with a purple-brown center. This disease is one of the most severe in areas of frequent fog, rain or dew. Water from the base of the plants, rotate crops, use disease free seed, destroy residual sweet potato crop detritus and apply fungicide to aid in control of the disease.

Other Reasons for Sweet Potatoes with Yellow Leaves

Nutritional deficiencies may also contribute to sweet potato leaves turning yellow.

  • The most common deficiency is lack of nitrogen, which can be treated with a nitrogen rich fertilizer.
  • A magnesium deficiency will also show as yellowing leaves since magnesium is used by the plant to make chlorophyll. Use an all-around fertilizer to treat a magnesium deficiency.

The best way to avoid yellowing leaves on sweet potatoes is to start them out correctly.

  • Use disease free seed tubers and amend the soil with compost.
  • Water from the base of the plants to avoid spreading disease, and keep the area around the plants free from weeds and plant detritus.
  • Rotate your sweet potato crops every 3-4 years, practice good garden sanitation, and immediately treat with the appropriate fungicide at the first signs of fungal infection.

Ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) makes an excellent addition to any garden. They do well in traditional flowerbeds, in landscaping and are wonderful container plants.

They can also be kept as house plants. In this article, we will share some smart tips and information to help you grow these lively, colorful plants successfully in any setting. Read on to learn more.

Ornamental Versus Edible Sweet Potato Vine

Both ornamental and traditional food crop sweet potatoes are edible; however, the tubers of the ornamental plant are small, tough and not at all tasty. Another difference is that ornamental sweet potatoes bear abundant foliage in an array of dazzling colors; whereas the foliage of the food plant is attractive and abundant but only comes in bright green.

Both types of sweet potato plant produce trumpet-shaped lavender or pink flowers; however, these are not large or showy. On the ornamental variety of plant they may be entirely obscured by the large, colorful leaves.

If your Ipomoea batatas plants are doing especially well, you may see a few flowers in the late summer or in the early autumn. Generally speaking, the real attraction of ornamental sweet potatoes is in the leaf coloring and shape.

Ornamental sweet potato vines are also excellent climbers. Their stems are vine-like and can grow like potato ivy or philodendron. The are a fast-growing vine, robust and tolerate drought exceptionally well.

These qualities make them a good choice as landscaping groundcover, pergola plants, and attractive plants on a trellis, in a container or hanging basket plants.

It’s Easy to Grow Ornamental Sweet Potatoes!

Here’s how to grow a sweet potato vine.

You don’t need to buy sweet potato seeds. Instead, you can propagate your own plants from cuttings or from the tubers. You are probably already familiar with the tuber method as it is a traditional preschool gardening exercise.

To grow ornamental sweet potatoes from tubers, you simply use toothpicks to prop up your section of tuber in a glass of water leaving the top third of it exposed to air. Place it in an area with bright, indirect light and you will soon see roots and shoots beginning to grow.

To grow from sweet potato slips, simply place the cuttings in a container of water in an area with bright, indirect sunlight. Roots will start growing soon and the plant will begin to thrive.

For either propagation method, be sure to change the water every couple of days to prevent fungal and bacterial growth. It’s best to use room temperature water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours. This ensures chemicals will have dissipated.

Once roots are established by either the tuber method or the cutting method, you can use pot soil or plant your burgeoning charges.

Whether you plant them in containers or outdoors in the ground, be sure to use a light, airy and well-drained soil.

If you plant in pots, it goes without saying that the pots must be well-equipped with good drainage holes.

Brighten Your Home

If you keep these hardy, colorful plants indoors year-round, you can take care of them just as you would ivy or any other vining houseplants. Here’s how:

  • Keep your indoor sweet potato plants near a window that faces west or south. The plant should not be too close to the window as it may get too cold.
  • In addition to bright, indirect natural light you should supplement with fluorescent lighting placed about one foot above your plants for 12 – 18 hours daily.
  • Keep the temperature in the room between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Protect your plants from drafts and extremes of temperature.
  • Keep the air humid through use of a humidifier or by placing a humidity tray below the plants.
  • Water deeply once a week (or when the plant begins to wilt) using water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours. Morning watering is best.
  • Use a balanced houseplant liquid fertilizer twice a month from early spring to mid-autumn.
  • Pinch off dead growth and prune diligently to encourage attractive, bushy growth.
  • Mist occasionally and wipe down the leaves with a soft cloth to remove dust.
  • Separate and repot your plants when they become root-bound. Every couple of years is probably fine, but keep a close eye on your plants. If they seem crowded, go ahead and repot. This is best done in late winter.
  • Be sure to used peat-based, well-drained potting soil.

Taking Care Of Your Ornamental Sweet Potato Plants In Containers

Container planting can be especially attractive on your patio or deck because ornamental sweet potato is such a lively grower that it spills over the sides of containers and hanging baskets with great abandon. Its wide variety of colors and enthusiastic growth can provide interest and even shade to your outdoor container garden settings.

Follow these steps to planting and raising these hardy, cheerful specimens successfully in containers. Here are some organic sweet potato vine care tips:

  • Choose a generously sized planting container with holes in the bottom. A clay container will have better air circulation for the roots than a plastic container.
  • Be sure to line the bottom of the pot with some gravel to improve drainage and to prevent soil from falling out through the drainage holes.
  • Use a standard well-drained potting soil rather than garden soil when planting ornamental sweet potatoes in containers. Garden soil is too heavy and will become compacted.
  • Make sure that your plant receives ample sunlight. Ornamental sweet potatoes outdoors in containers enjoy either partial or full sunlight. In areas where the sunlight is punishing (e.g. Texas) full morning sunlight with afternoon shade is preferable.
  • Plants in containers outdoors may dry out more quickly than those in pots indoors or those planted in the ground. Be sure to check your container plants daily by poking your finger into the top inch of the soil. If it feels dry, you need to water. Generally speaking, a deep watering once or twice a week should suffice for outdoor container plants.
  • Fertilizing is really not necessary with these lively and vigorous growers; however, if you want to you can fertilize once a month before watering. Water immediately after so that the fertilizer will be evenly distributed to the roots of the plant. Use a water-soluble, general, multipurpose fertilizer.
  • Prune regularly and enthusiastically to remove dead and dry leaves and to encourage healthy growth.

It’s smart to keep on top of pruning for both indoor and outdoor container plants because doing so will encourage your plants to grow in a bushier and more attractive form. If you neglect pruning, your plants can become overgrown, leggy and unattractive.

When you prune, be sure to keep your cuttings to start new plants for your own use and to share with your fellow gardeners.

Add Color To Your Landscape

Ornamental sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to your summer flower garden. They love hot weather, and you can add them to your garden any time throughout the summer – even in the very hottest months.

To use ornamental sweet potatoes in your garden setting, you have a number of choices. They make excellent groundcover and low growing bedding plants.

Ipomoea batatas are also excellent climbers and can provide quick shade to newly built arbors, trellises and pergolas. Once established, they tend to take off may take over your yard if you’re not careful to prune them regularly.

Sweet Potato vine grown as a “cylinder” at Disney’s Epcot roughly 9 feet tall – Oct 2016

Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Are Attractive, Colorful & Varied

You’ll have lots of choices when you decide to plant this colorful and hardy plant in your garden setting. Here are six of the most popular types of ornamental sweet potatoes that you are likely to encounter:

Blackie is a vigorous grower that has attractively shaped dark leaves that are almost black.

Sweet Caroline Light Green – Sweet Potato Vine Ipomoea – Heat tolerant, works well in containers or annual ground covers. From Proven Winners

Marguerite makes an excellent counterpoint to Blackie with its bright chartreuse, heart-shaped leaf.

The Sweet Carolina purple sweet potato variety has very small tubers and abundant, deep purple foliage. This is a suitable choice for small containers because it’s growth is not quite as rampant as some other varieties.

Illusion Emerald Lace is also a compact choice which boasts bright green leaves and tends to grow more in a mound than to spread out. It grows to approximately 10 inches high and spreads about four feet wide.

Tricolor sweet potato vine is another excellent container choice. It grows less vigorously than Blackie and Marguerite and produces leaves that are small and pointy in variegated shades of white, pink and green.

Another compact choice is Illusion Midnight Lace which grows to a height of 10 inches and a width of four feet. It’s foliage is deep purplish black.

Pay attention when you purchase your specimens. Read the labels and select the growth habits that best suit your situation.

As mentioned, some types (e.g. Marguerite) are not such vigorous growers and will not tend to take over so rapidly; however, if you do have lots of space to cover, you may want a variety that grows very quickly.

Other Ipomoea Varieties:

  • Ipomoea Tricolor – Mexican morning glory
  • Ipomoea batata – Ornamental sweet potato vine
  • Ipomoea alba – Moonflower vine

Be Sure Your Plants Get The Right Amount Of Light, Nutrients & Water

You should also pay close attention to the light requirements of the plants you select. As mentioned, most types of ornamental sweet potato like full or bright partial sun. Marguerite can tolerate more shade than some of the other varieties, so if your setting tends to be shady, this may be the best choice for you!

Note also that partial shade may affect the color of your ornamental sweet potato plants. If these plants have too much shade, their coloring may not be fully vibrant.

Be sure to wait until all danger of frost is passed before planting outdoors. These plants do well in heat, so don’t expect a lot of growth or activity from them until your temperatures are reliably in the 80s.

Plant your sweet potato tubers or young plants 3-6 feet apart in nutrient-rich soil that has been amended with natural compost. Generally speaking, amend the soil as you would for a vegetable garden. You may also wish to apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once a month to enhance growth and performance.

Be careful not to overwater. Generally speaking, a weekly deep watering should suffice. Of course, you should keep an eye on your plants and adjust your watering schedule if the soil seems excessively dry or if they show signs of distress.

Sweet Potato vine grown as as large hanging baskets at Disney World – Oct 2016

Is The Sweet Potato Vine Perennial or Annual?

In warmer climates, ornamental sweet potatoes are perennial. They grow back from sweet potato vine tubers year after year. If you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, you will not need to take special precautions. Your healthy sweet potato vines will act as perennials in these zones and will simply return every spring with little or no effort from you.

In very cold climates, they can be treated as annuals, and you can simply take cuttings and replant them each year. Another alternative is to keep them in a cold frame outdoors if you live in an area that does not freeze but does experience temperatures of lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overwintering The Sweet Potato Vine

It is also possible to overwinter your plants indoors and place them outdoors again when the weather warms up. Note that overwintering is different from keeping these plants as houseplants. You are not trying to encourage growth in this process. If you choose to do this, here are the steps you should follow:

  • In early autumn when the weather begins to cool, prune your plants back dramatically. You should do this about a month before first frost. Use clean pruning shears to cut your vines away almost completely. Do leave three sets of mature foliage per plant so that the plants can enjoy healthy photosynthesis through the winter.
  • To dig your ornamental sweet potato out of the earth and transplant it into a pot, measure a five-inch radius around the plant’s. Mark this radius and dig down sharply with a trowel to a depth of one foot all the way around.
  • Pry the sweet potato root ball up from the ground and transfer it to a container that is slightly larger than the root ball. Fill in the space around the root ball with a light, airy potting blend consisting of one part perlite, one part peat moss and two parts loam.
  • Place your sweet potato vine in its pot near a window that faces south. Your plant should receive good, indirect light for at least eight hours a day.
  • Turn the pot once weekly so that your plant will get equal sunlight on all sides.
  • Be sure to keep the temperature in the room at a comfortable level. Between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit will keep your plant alive without encouraging excessive growth.
  • Take care to keep your plant shielded from excessive heat or cold in the form of drafts or blasts from heater vents.
  • Water your plants once a week to a one-inch depth. Be sure that the soil is completely dry before re-watering to avoid the growth of bacteria or fungus.


Is Overwintering A Good Idea?

It’s easy to see that overwintering is rather a labor-intensive process. Unless you have a strong, sentimental attachment to your individual plants, you will probably be better off just starting anew with cuttings or tuber segments.

There is a simpler alternate overwintering method you may want to try. Just dig up the tubers and brush off all soil. Place them in a container of dry sand in a cool closet or pantry or in your basement. They should overwinter in a dormant state and be ready to replant in the springtime.

You might also experiment with mulching your outdoor beds heavily through the winter (in addition to keeping some cuttings or tubers as backup).

Your heavily mulched ornamental sweet potatoes might surprise you by making a comeback on their own in the spring. Even if they don’t, you can’t go wrong with mulching.

Sweet Potato Pests

For the most part, ornamental sweet potatoes are resistant to pests; however, occasionally typical potato pests may hone in on your plants. Look out for the sweet potato looper, which is a leaf chewing caterpillar.

If these caterpillars infest your plants, many sources recommend the use of typical poisons and insecticides to deter them; however, you must keep in mind that these types of poisons are bad for the environment in general.

Even though this kind of sweet potato is strictly ornamental, there is no reason to spread poison throughout the environment in its care.

You are far better off to encourage friendly fauna such as birds, terrapins, toads and lizards to help you control caterpillars.

Additionally, you can use natural deterrents such as garlic, sprays of neem oil and herbal concoctions. See our article on Make Your Own Natural Pesticides Easily And Affordably.

Sweet potato whiteflies are another common problem. They look like very tiny moths and congregate on the undersides of leaves and have an effect that is similar to aphid soot on leaves.

They remove sap from plants, creating a sooty mold and honeydew along with spreading disease.

Purple sweet potato vine plants also attracts flea beetles and potato wireworms. Between early May and June, these pests come out of the ground to feed on the foliage.

The field will serve as their breeding ground and their eggs will fall just beside the plant. When they hatch, they will dig deep down the soil and come out once they become adults to feed.

You can deal with them by cutting away infested portions of the plant and bagging these immediately in a plastic bag to be placed in your trash, well away from your garden.

A strong blast from the hose to knock off any remaining pests can be followed up with an application of natural pesticide.

Encourage Natural Pest Predators

Remember that keeping a good natural balance in your garden is a great way to deter pests. Be sure to include bird feeders and bird baths to attract avian friends.

It’s also wise to provide a water supply for ground-dwelling critters such as toads and terrapins. Providing habitat for these friendly, beneficial allies in your garden is a great way to minimize pest invasions and enjoy nature.

Beneficial insects and fauna like the predatory praying mantis and green lacewings can help you control your sweet potato whitefly problem (along with a wide variety of other pests).

These, along with aphid-eating lady-bugs, damsel bugs, pirate bugs, and beneficial soldier beetles are often available for purchase from good nurseries and garden centers or online.

Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Add Interest To Any Setting

It’s easy to see that these rugged, fast growing, colorful plants have something wonderful to offer in most settings.

As a houseplant, in containers, as a ground cover or as a provider of privacy and shade for your trellis or an outdoor pergola, these versatile plants can fulfill a wide variety of gardening needs beautifully.

Image: source


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It seems like my family nearly lives off of sweet potatoes.

In a clean eating household these root tubers are like dessert, even without the added brown sugar. And if we go more than a few days without including them in a meal, we notice.

So, if you’re looking for a garden crop that’s nutritious and indulgent, sweet potatoes are the answer.

At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this easily stored warm-season edible is delicious and versatile.

And although it requires a good amount of space in the garden, it’s a relatively easy crop to grow.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Last May, I purchased six slips, popped them in a raised bed, and admittedly paid little attention to them.

Come September, I had more than 30 medium-sized root tubers. I will definitely be growing these delicious beauties again this year.

To get even better results, keep reading. I’ve dug into the details about what it takes to grow this amazing root crop for the best harvest possible. Here’s what’s in store:

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes

  • What They Aren’t
  • Getting Started
  • Ideal Growing Conditions
  • Pests and Diseases to Know About
  • Minimal Effort, Large Reward

What They Aren’t

It’s important to realize that sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas) aren’t related to regular potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) or yams (Dioscorea sp).

They are a tropical plant, hardy only in zones 9 through 11, and are actually a relative of the morning glory.

Ornamental varieties are sold nationwide for their attractive, colorful leaves.

The edible part of the plant is an enlarged storage organ that forms on the root, referred to as a root tuber. Irish potatoes, on the other hand, are stem tubers.

This is why methods for growing sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes are very different.

For Irish potatoes, you encourage the stems to develop through a method such as hilling. But with sweet potatoes, it’s all about encouraging root growth.

Getting Started

Sweet potatoes rarely flower outside of their native range so they are generally propagated from slips, or new growth that sprouts from the ends of the root tubers.

If this is your first attempt, it’s best to order slips from a nursery or trusted purveyor, since they are less likely to carry diseases.

In subsequent years, you can use your own parent plants to start new slips. To avoid diseases, think about purchasing new slips every three years or so.

There are a ton of tutorials out there on starting slips, but I’ll just share one option with you:

In early spring, move a healthy parent potato to a warm place. Soak the entire tuber in warm water overnight about a month before your area’s last frost date.

Then, find a container large enough to fit the number of potatoes you want to use. I stuck a single potato in a loaf pan and it was the perfect size.

Feel free to get creative with your container. You can use whatever is handy that’s the right size.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

A deep seed tray is fitting if you’re trying to sprout more than one.

Fill the container just an inch or two with a mixture of potting soil and sand.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Place the sweet potato into the container horizontally and cover it with soil. It’s okay if it peeks through the soil a bit.

Keep the soil moist and warm, and wait for slips to form. This will likely take a few weeks, and you can expect to get at least 6 per tuber.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Once the newly formed slips are at least 4 inches long, carefully break them off.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

One of the benefits of sprouting sweet potatoes in soil rather than water is that slips tend to have pretty well formed roots from the start.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

If you don’t find this to be the case, however, you can root them in water. Fill a glass with just a couple of inches of clean and, ideally, chlorine free water.

The bottom inch or two of the slip’s stem should be submerged, while the leaves stick out of the top.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Within a week, they will develop roots and be ready to plant out in the garden, given that all chance of frost has passed and the soil temperature is around 70°F.

You’ll want to get them out in the garden as soon as possible because, depending on the variety, plants will require 90 to 120 days to mature.

Without a long growing season, chances are you’ll be disappointed with your harvest. If you’re desperate for more time at the end of the season, try using floating row covers.

Ideal Growing Conditions

Sweet potatoes are pretty tough. The one thing they won’t tolerate, however, is cool weather. Even the slightest frost will take them out.

But they handle heat and drought really well.

Still, the better the growing conditions, the better the harvest.

Being a root crop, soil health makes a big difference. Slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is ideal.

Sandy loam that’s well draining but nutrient dense will make this sun-loving tropical vine happiest.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Raised beds are a great option too, since they warm up quickly and are typically filled with a loamy soil mixture. Loose soil will allow roots to grow freely.

Add fresh organic compost a week or two before planting, for added nutrients and organic matter.

If you prefer chemical fertilizers and don’t want to have your soil tested, stick with an N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio of 5-10-10.

Keep in mind that too much nitrogen will result in vigorous vines, but a small harvest.

Photo by Amber Shidler.

Space plants at least 24 inches apart to give vines adequate room to sprawl. Keep them well watered until they become established.

Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as pine bark or grass clippings, which will help to retain soil moisture and temperature, as well as reduce weeds.

Once vines start taking off, you can assume they’re established.

Containers work well, too, but don’t try to cram a small area with too many slips. If you do, you’ll dramatically decrease the number of tubers that develop per plant.

Instead, plants with enough room to grow produce a much larger harvest.

In the absence of rain, water regularly. Even though plants will tolerate drought, your harvest will be larger if they aren’t subject to water-related stress.

If allowed to wilt, root development will likely suffer.

About three weeks or so before harvesting, stop watering. Overwatering at the end of the season can cause tubers to split.

Once vines fill in, weeds will have a harder time becoming established. Avoid cutting vines back if possible.

If space is an issue, consider growing a more compact bush variety.

If you live in an area that has mild summers, try laying heavy-weight garden fabric over the soil to increase temperature.

Raised beds warm up faster and are especially appropriate if cooler temperatures are common.

You can also consider laying black plastic over the area in spring to get soil temperatures up.

Pests and Diseases to Know About

Underground pests might be the worst of them all because you often don’t know they’re a problem until harvest time.

What a disappointment when you go to harvest, only to find your crop has already been a meal for underground dwellers.

If growing plants in an area that was recently growing grass, wireworms (the larvae of click beetles) and root knot nematodes might already be present. Both of these critters like to munch on the tubers.

Keep an eye out for any vines that are stunted or yellowing. It may be worth digging a bit to do some investigating if you suspect underground pests.

Crop rotation, cover crops, and planting in raised beds where soil material is more controlled can help to prevent infestation by soil-dwelling pests.

Tiny holes in the leaves may be the work of flea beetles. If vines are healthy and vigorous, they should be able to handle some damage.

Sweet potato scurf is a somewhat common disease, resulting in black spots on the skin of tubers. Although it might be unsightly, it doesn’t really affect the quality of the crop. Remove the affected skin and eat them just the same.

Choose disease resistant varieties and healthy slips from the start, and provide adequate growing conditions, and you likely won’t experience any disease issues at all.

Minimal Effort, Large Reward

Overall, sweet potatoes are a forgiving crop to grow.

And, even if you only get a small harvest your first season, you can save one or two tubers as parent plants for next season.

In this way, you’ll need to spend very little money while honing your sweet potato growing skills.

Learn more about harvesting and storing your sweet potatoes here.

This long-season, heat-loving tropical is beautiful and low maintenance. And the delicious, easy to store root tubers are a satisfying reward for minimal effort.

Have you grown sweet potatoes before? Fill us in on your secrets to a guaranteed harvest below!


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Photos by Amber Shidler © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Amber Shidler

Amber Shidler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a dual bachelor’s degree in botany and geography. For four years she worked as a horticulturist, but is now a stay-at-home mom. With experience in landscape design, installation, and maintenance she has set her sights on turning her tenth-of-an-acre lot into a productive oasis. Amber is passionate about all things gardening, especially growing and enjoying organic food.

Sweet potato


Sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is an herbaceous perennial in the family Convolvulaceae grown for its edible storage roots. The sweet potato plant is a branching, creeeping vine with spirally arranged lobed, heart shaped leaves and white or lavender flowers. The plant has enlarged roots called tubers which act as an energy store for the plant. The tubers can be variable in shape and can be red, yellow, brown, white or purple in color. Sweet potato vines can reach 4 m (13 ft) in length and the plant is usually grown as an annual, harvested after one growing season. Sweet potatoes may also be referred to as yams or Spanish potatoes and originate from Central America.
Sweet potato foliage
Sweet potato vine
Harvested sweet potato tubers
Close-up of flower
Sweet potato foliage
Sweet potato harvest ‹ ×


Sweet potato tubers are eaten cooked as a vegetable or may be processed into flour or starch. The leaves can be eaten fresh or after cooking.


Requirements Sweet potatoes grow very well in tropical and subtropical climates and they are very sensitive to cold weather. They grow best at temperatures in excess of 25°C (77°F) in well-draining, loamy soil with a pH of 5.6–6.6. Sweet potatoes should be planted in full sun and require plenty of space as the vines will spread over large areas. ”Slips” Sweet potatoes are grown from plants called slips. Slips are plants which have been grown from a mature sweet potato tuber. Slips can be purchased or grown at home. The easiest way to grow slips is to place a sweet potato in a jar of water using toothpicks to support it, place it in a bright, sunny window and and allow it to sprout. Some of the sprouts will develop roots, others may not. The shoots that have roots can be snapped from the main tuber and planted in individual pots. Those without should be snapped off and placed in a jar of water until they begin to develop roots. Planting Sweet potato slips should be planted outside after all danger of frost has passed, usually about a month after the last frost date in your area. Prepare the planting site beforehand by working in about an inch of compost. Plant the slips in 15 cm (6 in) deep holes spaced 30–45 cm (12–18 in) apart, allowing 0.9 m (3 ft) between rows. General care Weed the plants about two weeks after planting by gently pulling weeds by hand. Weeding is not necessary if using black plastic mulch. Sweet potatoes require watering weekly especially during dry periods and the plants will benefit from a side dressing of fertilizer. Stop watering the plants 3 to 4 weeks before the anticipated harvest. Harvest Sweet potatoes are usually harvested around the time of the first fall frost. Use a garden fork to carefully dig up the roots being careful not to bruise the tubers. If weather permits allow the harvested tubers to dry out for a few hours by leaving them on top of the soil. Cure sweet potatoes for 10 to 14 days prior to use by storing in a warm, dry place. The tubers will keep for about six months in storage.

CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2008). Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato) datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/28783. . Paid subscription required. Collins, W. W. (1995). Sweet potato. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/cropfactsheets/sweetpotato.html. . Free to access. Lerner, B. R. (2001). The sweet potato. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-136.pdf. . Free to access. Wright, S. (2014). Sweet potato. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service & University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Available at: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/NewCrops/introsheets/sweetintro.pdf. . Free to access.

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  • Anthracnose

    Information on Anthracnose, which affects rockmelon, honeydew, tomato, chilli, capsicum, avocado, citrus, mango, cashew, passionfruit, banana and most other tropical crops.

  • Armillaria root rot

    Information about the horticultural disease armillaria root rot, which affects apple, banana, citrus, custard apple, grape, macadamia, pear and stone fruit.

  • Bacterial blight

    Information on Bacterial blight which affects Mango, stone fruit, pear and beans

  • Bacterial canker in vegetables

    Information on Bacterial canker, which affects tomato, capsicum, chilli and capsicum.

  • Bacterial fruit blotch

    Information on Bacterial fruit blotch, which affects watermelon, honeydew, rockmelon; weeds such as wild cucurbits, paddy melon and prickly paddy melon; tomato and eggplant can become infected under

  • Bacterial soft rots

    Information on Black leg X (bacterial soft rots), which affect potato, lettuce, sweetpotato, tomato, capsicum, avocado and banana.

  • Bacterial spot

    Bacterial spot is a serious disease affecting many fruit and vegetable crops and is capable of surviving on weeds and nearby host crops.

  • Basil downy mildew

    Basil downy mildew is a serious disease of basil.

  • Bacterial wilt

    Information on Bacterial wilt, which affects potato, tomato, egg fruit, capsicum and custard apple.

  • Black root rot

    Information on Black root rot, which affects a wide range of crops including lettuce, bean, watermelon, rockmelon, cucumber, tobacco, sweet pea and pansy.

  • Botrytis (grey mould)

    Information on Botrytis (grey mould), which affects tomato, bean, capsicum, cucumber, brassicas, lettuce, onion, grapes, strawberry, mango and macadamia.

  • Cercospora leaf spot

    Cercospora leaf spot affects bean, beetroot, capsicum, okra, silver beet, watercress, carrot, avocado and coffee.

  • Damping off

    Information about damping-off, which is the destruction of seedlings by pathogens. Seedling plants of almost all fruit, vegetable, field and ornamental crops are liable to attack.

  • Downy mildew

    Information on Downy mildew, which affects curcubits, grape, lettuce and onions.

  • Fusarium rot

    Information on Fusarium rot, which affects potato, rockmelon and sweet corn.

  • Fusarium wilt (yellows)

    Information on Fusarium wilt, which affects basil, brassicas, curcubits, lettuce, alliums, pea, potato, snake bean, ginger and tomato.

  • Gummy stem blight

    Information on Gummy stem blight, which affects cucurbits, particularly in tropical and subtropical areas. The disease can cause serious losses in watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew, squash, pumpkin and

  • Lethal yellows

    Information on Lethal yellows, which affects strawberries.

  • Lettuce necrotic yellows

    Information on Lettuce nectrotic yellows, which can cause serious sporadic losses in lettuce crops.

  • Phytophthora fruit disease

    Information on Phytophthora fruit disease, which affects tomato, strawberry, onion, fig, durian and papaya.

  • Phytophthora root rot

    Information on Phytophthora root rot, which is the most destructive and important disease of avocado. It also affects macadamia, pineapple and stone fruit.

  • Potato brown fleck

    Information on Potato brown fleck, a disorder which affects potato.

  • Powdery mildew

    Information on rhizoctonia, which affects almost all cultivated plants.

  • Rhizoctonia

    Information on rhizoctonia, which affects almost all cultivated plants.

  • Sclerotinia rot

    Sclerotinia rot is a disease which affects a wide range of vegetable, fruit and field crops.

  • Sclerotium disease

    Information on Sclerotium disease, which affects a range of vegetable crops including bean, beetroot, capsicum, carrot, cucurbits, sweetpotao, potato and tomato.

  • Spotted wilt and related viruses

    Information on Spotted wilt and related virusesl, which affect over 900 species of weeds, field crops, vegetables and ornamentals.

  • Stem end rot

    Information on stem end rot, which affects mango, avocado, citrus.

  • Sudden wilt

    Sudden wilt affects capsicum, rockmelon and honeydew.

  • Sweetpotato feathery mottle

    Information on Sweetpotato feathery mottle, which occurs in almost all countries where sweetpotato is grown.

  • Tomato yellow leaf curl virus

    Information on tomato yellow leaf curl virus symptoms and damage, how it spreads and how to manage the virus.

  • Transit rot

    Transit rot disease affects mango, tomato, capsicum, rockmelon, stone fruit and sweetpotato.

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