Sweet potato vine potatoes

Unless you are very fast or very lucky, you’re not going to see the beetle that’s making the holes in this plant and others like it (morning glory, moonflower and that pest, field bindweed. It’s a shame we can’t train it just to eat that!).

This is a very interesting beetle. I’ve actually only seen it a few times back in my retail gardening days when we had so many of these plants that the beetles came in droves.

They looked like small golden ladybugs. They were beautiful–but of course very destructive. And, of course, that’s only part of the story because this is a very interesting beetle.

This beetle changes color under stress–for example, when we touch it. And of course, when it dies. So what I saw in my retail gardening days as a beautiful golden beetle becomes a red beetle.

Here’s a little bit more information–with some photos–about this interesting beetle from HGTV.

If you do a search for “what’s eating my sweet potato vine,” you’re likely to come upon all sorts of things out there. Take a good look at the photo in the my post. This is damage from the golden tortoise beetle. If your damage doesn’t look like that, it’s possible something else is eating your plant. After all, there are all sorts of insects and critters in our gardens, and we don’t all garden in the same place.

Q: Each spring I buy potted ornamental sweet potato plants and put them in my planter. The foliage is pretty, decorative.

This fall upon digging them out, the potatoes were quite large. My question, are the potatoes from these decorative plants edible?

—Ruth Kistler, New Ringold

A: Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) is most commonly used as a cascading plant in containers. It grows quickly and creates a graceful foliage drape. The vine prefers bright sunlight but grows well in part shade. Although drought-tolerant, sweet potato vine grows best with moderately moist soil and will wilt quickly when dry.

Decorative sweet potato vines are basically the same plant as the ones regularly sold for food. The difference is that these plants are bred for their colorful leaves not palatability. While they can be eaten, there are a few things to consider:

•The taste can be quite bitter, the texture very fibrous.

•The plants you buy may have been treated with fertilizers or pesticides that are not used for food crops.

•You may have used fertilizers or pesticides that are also not acceptable for food crops.

•You can keep the tubers in a cool, frost-free area over the winter and repot them next spring or grow them as houseplants and use the new growth for cuttings in the spring.

Christmas trees

When I was young, my family set up the tree on Christmas Eve and kept it up until the day after the Orthodox Christmas. Now people often set them up well before Christmas. Yes, I know the precut trees won’t get any fresher by waiting until closer to Christmas, but they are quite a bit better off if left outside until closer to the holiday.

We’ve had trees toppled by playful cats, toddlers and exuberant guests, so a stable base, a straight trunk and anchoring are essential.

I have discovered that certain trees can trigger severe allergic reactions. I’m fine with a Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) but a tree we cut one year that was sold as a Spanish pine drove me crazy. So if someone in your family has allergies or asthma, select your tree carefully.

Watering is a problem for many. While my knee replacements are wonderful, kneeling is quite painful so watering is problematic. There are several watering systems available and this year I’m trying one invented and marketed by Pittsburgh entrepreneur Marc Rasschaert (www.LandMarcProductss.com). Called the Tree Nanny, it combines a funnel placed at a comfortable height, a connecting water tube and a sensor placed in the tree base. The device plays “Jingle Bells” when the water gets low, chimes before you overfill the base, and has a light sensor to avoid middle-of-the-night alerts.

A fresh-cut tree should have pliable green needles and only minor needle drop when shaken or moved. A burlap or potted tree should be healthy and green with a good soil ball and root system.

If you are using a root-balled or potted tree and plan to plant it after the holidays, pre-dig your hole and store the soil covered and preferably in a place where it won’t freeze. A wheelbarrow, covered or stored in the garage will work well.

Don’t keep the tree indoors for more than a few days, allowing it to acclimate to the temperature change gradually. Move it from outdoors to an unheated indoor location and then to the house over a period of several days. Reverse the process when returning the tree to the outdoors. Remember that a newly planted tree will require regular watering or rainfall until the ground has frozen.

To keep fresh-cut Christmas trees beautiful and green for as long as possible, take a few simple steps:

•Recut the base of the tree just before putting it in the stand. The fresh cut will allow the tree to more efficiently take up water and keep hydrated.

•Position trees away from heat sources—candles, fireplaces, air vents, heaters and such. Warm, dry air will shorten the tree’s life. Excessive heat can cause a fire.

•Keep the base of the trunk immersed in water. If possible, stand the tree up, in the base or a bucket of water, a day or two before you plan to decorate. This allows the plant to not only rehydrate but also to return to a more natural shape as the branches recover from their tight bindings.

•Five to seven days is about the maximum time that a natural tree should be kept indoors. After that, it begins to dry out, dropping needles and becoming a potential fire hazard.

Other considerations:

•If you have an artificial tree, make sure that the manufacturer certifies it as flame retardant.

•Use only non-flammable decorations, lights designed for decorating and UL tested for safety. Check all lights for damaged or frayed wiring and replace damaged strings.

•Don’t position the tree where it blocks an exit.

•Don’t leave lighted trees unattended.

•Don’t string together more than three strings of incandescent light strings or 50 large screw-in bulbs. Check LED light packaging for information on the maximum number of strings that can be safely connected.

•Make sure all trees are stable. Consider extra measures such as anchoring or tying the tree in place, particularly if pets or young children will be in the area.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

This Week in the Garden

•Seasonal:

•Use cut greens, roping and potted evergreens for outdoor decorations.

•Pot up paperwhites for indoor display; chill pots of garden daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs. They can be brought indoors in late winter for an early taste of spring Purchase gifts and gift cards for gardeners on your lists. Order catalogs or mark online sites for January browsing.

•Sow seeds that need a cold period for germination, poppies, for example.

•Mulch tender plants after the ground freezes. Do not mulch up to the stem or trunk.

•Collect garden chemicals and store safely indoors. Check effective dates and properly discard old ones.

•Protect plants from damage when installing holiday lighting. Use only outdoor approved lights in outdoor displays.

•Mark the edges of beds and locations of plants to avoid unintentional damage when installing holiday decorations, deicing products, piles of snow or ill-aimed snow plows.

•Start amaryllis bulbs about 8 to 10 weeks before you want them to flower. Make sure to allow bulbs that summered outside to rest in a dark area without watering before initiating bloom.

•Consider using a humidifier, humidity tray or other means to increase the humidity around indoor plants.

Contents

Are Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Edible – Should You Be Eating Ornamental Sweet Potatoes

Over the course of the last decade or so, ornamental sweet potatoes have become almost a staple in many hanging baskets or decorative containers. As with many good things, the plants time comes to an end and is invariably jerked out of the container to be tossed in the compost. But wait, what about the ornamental sweet potato tubers? Can you eat ornamental sweet potatoes?

Are Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Edible?

Yes, ornamental sweet potatoes are edible! Ornamental sweet potato tubers are, indeed, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). That said, ornamental sweet potato tubers are planted for their lovely chartreuse, purple or variegated trailing foliage that serves as the perfect counterpoint to offset annual blooms.

What that means regarding eating ornamental sweet potatoes is that, yes, while you can eat ornamental sweet potatoes, they are not necessarily the tastiest of sweet potatoes and are, in fact, much more bitter. It may take a heavy hand on the brown sugar and butter to make them palatable. Also, you may want to think again about eating ornamental sweet potatoes if they have been sprayed with pesticides not suitable for use on vegetables.

So, when fall arrives and it’s time to tidy up the garden, don’t just throw the ornamental potato vines out. There are two better options. You can either try eating the ornamental sweet potatoes or dig them up and store them in a cool, dry area and then use them in the spring to propagate new ornamental potato vines.

Your garden will be thankful for sweet potato vines

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Sweet potatoes aren’t limited to Thanksgiving. In fact, sweet potato vines make great ground covers in the garden.

Ground covers, which consists of low-growing plants, can serve as an alternative lawn, gab-fillers between pavers and weed suppressants. Plus, many only require periodic weeding and trimming.

Ornamental sweet potatoes have been around since at least the 1990s and come in a variety of colors. When planted in containers or hanging baskets, they cascade over the top, creating a tropical look. They can be damaged by frost or freezes, but the roots won’t die and will produce new foliage again. These vines grow to a height of 6 to 12 inches and look great in front of shrubs. If you have a location that receives full sun or partial shade, then you have a spot for sweet potato vines.

There are number of attractive ornamental sweet potato vines to choose from, including Blackie, Margarita and Tricolor. In 1999, the Florida Nurserymen & Growers Association picked Blackie and Margarita as a Plant of the Year.

Blackie, which has deep purple-red foliage, produces dense mounds that stay low if planted in rich, moist soil. It prefers a little shade but will do well in full sun if exposed to a constant water supply. The Margarita sweet potato has chartreuse-green foliage. Light shade is best, but plants that get plenty of water can take full sun. Tricolor produces attractive variegated pink, white and gray-green foliage, and is sometimes marketed as Pink Frost. This one grows slower than the other two cultivars.

There is a fourth cultivar named Black Beauty that has rounded black leaves. All of these plants produce edible sweet potato roots with greenish-yellow flesh, a firm texture and a mild flavor, although they won’t be like the traditional veggies we eat at Thanksgiving.

If you’d like to grow traditional sweet potatoes, planting time runs from February through June here in Central Florida. Check your local garden center for sweet potato slips, which are rooted cuttings, or you can order them online. Recommended varieties for Florida include Centennial, Beauregard, Vardaman, and Boniato. I have Vardaman sweet potatoes and they produce sturdy, tropical looking vines with deep green leaves with purplish stems.

To start your own slips, buy a sweet potato from the grocery store and set it in a jar or vase. Keep one-third of the end covered with water and wait for growth to start on top. When shoots get to at least 6 inches long, watch for roots to form and then they can be snapped from the tuber for planting. Another option is to cut those long shoots off the tuber. Then, take the cutting and make a new cut just underneath the bottom leaf. Next, trim off the bottom two to three leaves so that the stem is clean. Place the clean stems into a jar of water to root. You will have to add more water to the jar over the course of the few weeks, at least, that it takes the cutting to produce a nice root system. Be sure to keep the cuttings inside and out of the hot sun. I keep my cuttings on my windowsills, which only receive morning sunlight.

Sweet potatoes grow in any well-drained, organically amended soil. Space the plants 12 to 14 inches apart in a mass planting for the landscape or 4 feet apart in the vegetable garden. Mulch the plants and then water them well twice a week. Give the plants low amounts of organic nitrogen fertilizer where the first number is lower than the second number (i.e. 5-10-10, 2-12-12). Organic fertilizers are a food source for the soil microbes that slowly make the nitrogen available. That can protect the Indian River Lagoon from nitrogen leaching through our sandy soils!

You can begin harvesting the sweet potatoes from your garden in about 120 days, but remember, you don’t have to destroy the vine in the harvesting process. You’ll know the sweet potatoes are ready for harvest when the ground cracks around the base of the vine. The cracks indicate that the roots have swollen to edible size. Dig up a few, cut the vines, press them into the soil and leave them so they can root and continue to grow. Sweet potatoes will develop underground everywhere the plant roots.

Now all you need to decide is if you’d like to add sweet potatoes to your landscape for a little color or plant some next spring for a delicious meal!

Sally Scalera is an urban horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences.

Start your own sweet potato cuttings

1. Buy a sweet potato from the grocery store and set it in a jar or vase.

2. Keep one-third of the end covered with water and wait for growth to start on top.

3. When shoots get to at least 6 inches long, watch for roots to form and then they can be snapped from the tuber for planting or cut those long shoots off the tuber.

4. Then, take the cutting and make a new cut just underneath the bottom leaf.

5. Next, trim off the bottom two to three leaves so that the stem is clean.

6. Place the clean stems into a jar of water to root. You will have to add more water to the jar over the course of the few weeks, at least, that it takes the cutting to produce a nice root system.

By Julie Christensen

If you’re looking for a vigorous, fast-growing vine for trailing in pots or in beds, sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) just might be the ticket. Sweet potato vines are tropical plants that thrive in rich, moist soil. They tolerate a variety of soil Ph levels and grow in both full sun and partial shade. Best of all, sweet potato vines produce large, exotic leaves that come in a variety of colors, from neon green to black to pink or purple.

Sweet potato vines are tropical plants that are evergreen in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 11, depending on variety. In cold climates, they shrivel up and turn mushy at the first hint of frost. Most northern gardeners grow them as annuals, although overwintering plants indoors is also an option for the ambitious gardener.

Propagating Sweet Potato Vine

To grow sweet potato vines, you have several options. The simplest, of course, is to buy nursery plants in the spring and plant them outdoors after the last frost.

You can also plant sweet potato vine from seed. Fill a seed-starting tray with a light, soil-less starting mix. Sprinkle the seeds over the tray, spacing them 3 inches apart and cover them with a light dusting of starting mix. Spray the mix with water from a spray bottle and cover the tray with plastic wrap. Store the tray in a warm place, watering it as needed to keep the starting mix evenly moist. Once the seedlings emerge, remove the plastic wrap and move the tray to a sunny window or place it under grow lights. Transplant the seedlings when they stand 4 inches high. Note: the seeds are highly toxic.

Sweet potato vines, as you might suspect, grow tuberous roots under the ground. You can use these roots to propagate more plants. Dig up the plant in the fall before the first frost. Brush any soil off the roots and place the roots in a warm, dry location for 2 weeks. This process removes moisture from the roots and dries the skin slightly. After 2 weeks, store the roots in straw or sawdust in a cool, dark location, such as a basement closet, over the winter. Plant the roots outside in the spring after the last expected frost. Keep the soil moist. New plants will emerge from the tuber. Cut the plants when they stand at least 4 inches high and plant them in moist, rich soil. They will grow roots and start to grow. Leave the tuber to grow more plants.

Another way to propagate sweet potato vines is through cuttings. Simply snip a few healthy pieces from the plant in the fall. The pieces should be at least 4 inches long. Remove the bottom leaves and place the cuttings in water. Store the cuttings in a sunny room but keep them away from cold windows, which will kill them. Change the water once per week. Transplant the cuttings outdoors in the spring.

Growing Sweet Potato Vine

Provided warmth and moisture, sweet potato vine is a low-maintenance, vigorous plant. In fact, the most common challenge gardeners experience with this plant is controlling its rampant growth. In containers, it spills over the sides, making a beautiful trailing plant, but it can overtake other plants growing in the container. Cut sweet potato vine back as needed to control its growth. To grow sweet potato vine in the ground, amend the soil with compost or manure to ensure good drainage. Plant the vines 1 foot apart in full sun or partial shade. You probably won’t need to provide additional fertilizer for sweet potato vines, unless growth slows and the leaves appear pale in color. Then offer an all-purpose fertilizer, according to package directions.

Sweet potato vine suffers few insect or disease pests, although it is susceptible to rust and wilt. Make sure the soil drains well and avoid getting the leaves wet. Remove any diseased portions and discard.

Varieties

‘Margarita’ has chartreuse-green leaves that appear paler in shade. It grows 6 to 12 inches high and spreads 1 to 3 feet. ‘Margarita’ is among the most heat-tolerant of the sweet potato vines, but needs consistent moisture.

‘Blackie’ has large, heart-shaped leaves that come in purple to almost black. Grow ‘Blackie’ in full sun and provide consistently moist soil.

‘Pink Frost’ is an extraordinary plant. The leaves are variegated white and green and edged in pink. The plant is especially fast growing and spreads up to 6 feet in one season. It tolerates partial shade.

Common Questions and Answers

by Erin Marissa Russell

Can I eat sweet potato vines?

Yes, the leaves of your sweet potato vine are edible, but only if your plant is an edible and not an ornamental variety. Although the leaves of sweet potato vines are not poisonous to humans like they are to dogs and cats, consumption is not particularly enjoyable or recommended if your plant is an ornamental. The young leaves of edible varieties of sweet potato vine are a delicacy high in antioxidants, but ornamental varieties have been bred for their looks instead of for their taste. Even the tubers of ornamentals are smaller than edible potatoes, and they have a bitter flavor.

The leaves of edible sweet potato plants are best eaten raw when they’re young and fresh, though more mature leaves can be enjoyed if prepared properly. You can chop the tender young leaves and use them in salads. More developed leaves can be sauteed with garlic in olive oil or butter or used in a stir-fry. Truly mature leaves can be utilized wherever you’d normally use spinach—in dishes like palak paneer or cheesy creamed spinach.

To keep your plant healthy, only remove 20 or 30 percent of its leaves, and wait 80 days after planting to begin harvesting. Alternatively, you can do succession planting and start a few new plants once a week. Then you can harvest the whole vine, trimming back to just a few inches, once it has grown to three feet long.

Can I grow sweet potatoes on a trellis?

Yes, you can plant sweet potato vines using a trellis. Space plants two feet apart (instead of the three-foot spacing they require without trellis). Using trellis will make it easier for you to weed your garden as well as simplifying harvesting the greens, if you plan to eat them.

Can I plant store bought potatoes?

Store-bought potatoes have often been sprayed to prevent sprouting, so if you choose to plant an edible potato instead of opting for an ornamental sweet potato vine, choose organic potatoes to start with. Use toothpicks to balance the potato in a container of water with the pointy end down and the top third sticking out of the water. Keep it in a sunny windowsill or other bright spot, and refresh with clean water every few days. Within one to eight weeks, your potato will begin sprouting. For best results, use firm potatoes, and opt for ones without any mushy bad spots on them.

Can I root sweet potato vine?

Yes, sweet potato vines root easily from existing plants. You can break off a piece of sweet potato vine and root it in a container full of water (kept indoors in a sunny spot like a windowsill), or plant it directly in the soil.

Can you divide sweet potato vine?

Divide sweet potato vines in the spring when shoots are an inch or two tall. First dig up the tuber at the base of the vine and cut it into sections, making sure each has at least one eye (which are where the vines come from). Each section can be planted and will grow into a new sweet potato vine. Use clean tools to prevent spreading disease.

Can you eat potatoes from a sweet potato vine?

Yes, sweet potato vines grown from edible sweet potato varieties will produce edible sweet potatoes. To turn your vines into a crop of tasty tubers, plant them outside in May, and you can dig up the sweet potatoes from underground in late fall, when they’ll be ready to eat. Unfortunately, if your vine is from an ornamental sweet potato variety, it won’t make very tasty potatoes. However, the potatoes produced by an ornamental sweet potato vine are likely to be bitter or very bland, unlike the sweet potatoes we farm for food or pick up at the grocery store.

Can you grow a sweet potato vine from a sweet potato?

Yes, sweet potato vines can be grown from sweet potatoes. Place a sweet potato in a container full of water with the pointy end down. Use toothpicks stuck into the potato balanced on the rim of the container to keep the top third sticking up out of the water. Keep the container full of fresh, clean water, changing it every couple of days, and your sweet potato will begin to sprout vines in between one and eight weeks.

It’s best to use firm potatoes without mushy or bad spots that have never been refrigerated. Potatoes that are not organic will have been sprayed to prevent sprouting, so organic is best to use if possible. Especially large potatoes may need to be cut into pieces before you sprout them.

Do sweet potato vines bloom?

Yes, sweet potato vines do produce occasional flowers late in the season that resemble morning glories. The exact hue depends on the foliage color, but blossoms come in a range of shades from pink to lavender.

Do sweet potato vines climb?

You can encourage ornamental sweet potato vines to climb by planting them spaced two feet apart on a trellis. However, they also trail and do beautifully as a groundcover or when allowed to spill from window boxes, containers, and hanging baskets.

Do sweet potato vines produce sweet potatoes?

Yes, if your sweet potato vine is from an edible variety of sweet potato, it will produce edible potatoes if you plant it outdoors in May. By fall, you’ll be able to dig up the edible tuber. Vines that are ornamental varieties won’t produce tubers you’ll want to eat, though—the potatoes they make will be bitter or tasteless. Despite not being especially delicious, the potatoes an ornamental vine produces are entirely edible, however.

Do sweet potatoes grow along the vine?

Unlike cucumbers, melons, or tomatoes, which grow from the vine, sweet potatoes are a root vegetable, so the tubers grow underground. Ornamental sweet potato vines don’t make potatoes that taste very good (although the tubers an ornamental vine grows are completely edible), but ones grown from edible sweet potatoes will grow delicious potatoes underground that you can harvest in the fall if you plant them outside in May.

Does sweet potato vine come back every year?

Sweet potato vines are winter hardy up to USDA zone 8. Gardeners in other zones will need to help the vines survive through winter in colder climates. Some vines produce large tubers that can be dug up and stored in paper bags indoors until spring, such as the ornamental varieties “Margarita” and “Blackie.” If they’re grown in containers, you can simply bring the plants indoors during the cold season. Or they can be cut off, leaving just a few inches, and kept indoors in a container of water. Just keep the container in a bright location, like a sunny windowsill, and refresh the water every few days. Then transplant into the garden when things warm up in the spring.

Does sweet potato vine need a lot of water?

Yes, hydration is vital for healthy sweet potato vines, though they aren’t picky about soil and can even be grown without it in a container of water. Especially in the first 30 or 40 days after planting, it’s imperative that gardeners give sweet potato vines the right amount of water: at least an inch each week.

Does sweet potato vine need full sun?

Sweet potato vines crave sunshine and also perform well in especially hot climates. Give them as much sun as possible to help your sweet potato vine to flourish. That said, sweet potato vines can be grown in partial shade if full sun is not available. However, growing sweet potato vines in a shadier spot will produce duller foliage.

How cold can sweet potato vines tolerate?

Sweet potato vines are best suited for warm climates or growing indoors as a houseplant. Just a few days of temperatures near 40 degrees Fahrenheit is too chilly for sweet potato vines and can kill them. That’s why it’s important not to plant sweet potato vines outdoors until the soil is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

How do you prune sweet potato vine?

Left unchecked, sweet potato vines will grow long and leggy, so prune them to encourage bushier production or keep it within the bounds of your garden plot. Once plants are three to four inches tall, you can clip all the new growth and plant the cuttings elsewhere. This strategy allows you to both control the size of your plant and create new ones in the process. Cuttings can be planted directly in moist soil or rooted in water.

How do you start a sweet potato vine in water?

Insert a few toothpicks into the sweet potato, sticking out of the sides about a third of the way down its length. Place the sweet potato in a jar or glass full of water, using the toothpicks to keep it balanced with the top third coming out of the mouth of the container and the pointy end in the water. Place the container in a bright, sunny location, such as a windowsill. Refresh the water every few days, and your sweet potato vine will start to grow between one and eight weeks from planting.

For best results, start with a firm organic sweet potato that has never been refrigerated and does not have mushy or bad spots. Organic potatoes are more likely to grow vines because other potatoes sold to eat have been sprayed to prevent sprouting. You can cut large sweet potatoes into pieces before sprouting so they fit in your container.

How do you take care of a sweet potato vine?

Sweet potato vines are tolerant of a broad range of soil types, thriving in pH levels from 4.5 to 7.5. That said, they really flourish at a pH level of around 6. (Not sure of your soil’s pH level? Read about how to test soil pH level in this Gardening Channel article.) Any loamy soil type will suit a sweet potato vine, from clay loam to silty loam or sandy loam. Soils particularly heavy in clay should be amended with organic matter. (It’s easy to test your soil type at home if you don’t know it using the mason jar method.)

They also need plenty of water to thrive. For the first 30 or 40 days after they’re planted, provide sweet potato vines with an inch of water per week. Drooping foliage means the plants are thirsty and should be hydrated more heavily.

How do you winter a sweet potato vine?

You can winter sweet potato vines by bringing them indoors. If your sweet potato plants are in containers, simply transport the containers indoors to a sunny location. For sweet potato vines planted in the soil, one way is to break the vine off near the surface of the soil (making sure there are several leaf nodes). Strip the leaves from the bottom few inches of the vine, then place that end in a container of water and keep on a sunny windowsill or in another spot where it will get plenty of sunlight. Keep the water fresh by changing it every few days, and In spring, just remove the vine from the container and plant back in your garden. Some varieties produce large tubers that can be cleaned and kept in paper bags indoors until spring, when the weather is warm enough to transplant them into tthe garden.

How long does it take sweet potato vines to grow?

When growing vines from a sweet potato, it takes between one and eight weeks for the tuber to sprout new growth of vines. If you’re growing sweet potatoes to eat, it takes 100 to 140 days (depending on the variety of plant).

Is a sweet potato vine an annual or perennial?

Sweet potatoes are normally grown as an annual when they’re planted in the soil outdoors, but they can be kept as a perennial if you grow them indoors like a houseplant or overwinter an outdoor plant indoors. Keep the container in a sunny spot, like a windowsill, and you can even overwinter the vine just in water, without soil, as long as the water is changed out every few days. Sweet potato vines are also winter hardy for gardeners in zone 8 or farther south. Varieties that produce large tubers can be overwintered by digging up the tubers and storing them in paper bags indoors until spring.

Is ornamental sweet potato vine the same plant that makes edible sweet potatoes?

Yes and no. Both plants are varieties of Ipomoea batatas; the difference is which traits of the plant have been focused on as it’s been bred and cultivated through the years. Edible sweet potato varieties have been bred to produce delicious tubers and to yield a large harvest each year. Ornamental varieties have been bred with a focus on the vine and foliage, with little attention paid to the tubers underground. So while there are edible sweet potatoes growing underneath the ornamental sweet potato vine, those tubers are usually small in size and bitter or bland in flavor—and edible sweet potatoes do have a vine and leaves, but their foliage isn’t as fancy or attractive as that of the ornamental varieties.

Is sweet potato a creeper or a climber?

Ornamental sweet potato vines will climb if you plant them on a trellis (spaced two feet apart). They’re also prone to trailiing, though, and are pretty when planted in hanging baskets, window boxes, or at the edges of large containers. In garden beds, they function as a groundcover.

Is sweet potato vine drought tolerant?

The sweet potato vine needs plenty of water to really flourish, but established plants can tolerate drought because they keep a ration of water in storage roots. But especially within the first 30 to 40 days of planting, hydrate generously—one inch of water per week at minimum.

Is sweet potato vine invasive?

As a relative of the morning glory, most strains of sweet potato vine self-propagate and grow so abundantly that it is considered invasive, especially in warm climates. Bush varieties are not as productive and are recommended if spreading is a concern. Frost will kill the vines instantly, however. That means if it gets cold enough over the winter to freeze, the weather controls the spread of the vines naturally. In warmer locations, though, there’s nothing to prevent the sweet potato vine from growing prolifically if measures aren’t taken to control their expansion.

Is sweet potato vine poisonous to dogs or cats?

Yes, the sweet potato vine is poisonous to dogs and cats—and the tuber at its root is more harmful. Sweet potato vine poisoning results in gastric distress and effects similar to LSD ingestion. Both the plant and the sweet potatoes should be kept out of your pet’s reach. If your pet is displaying symptoms of poisoning, go to the veterinarian, and make sure to bring along part of the vine to help them make a quick diagnosis.

Symptoms of sweet potato vine poisoning include: blisters in the mouth and throat, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, dilated pupils, drooling or excessive salivation, drowsiness, hallucination, increased urination, lethargy, liver and kidney damage, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, nausea, numbness in the extremities, red skin or swelling, seizures, slow heart rate, and vomiting. Washing out your pet’s mouth before leaving for the veterinarian can help relieve the irritation and make them more comfortable. If the ingested sweet potato vine was moldy, severe respiratory problems can also occur.

It can be helpful to tell your veterinarian how much of the plant was ingested and how long ago ingestion occurred. They may perform blood or urine tests to determine how severe the poisoning is, induce vomiting with a hydrogen peroxide solution, or administer intravenous fluids to hydrate your pet. Especially severe cases may require surgical intervention.

Should I trim my sweet potato vine?

If your sweet potato vine is getting too long, you can trim it back and leave just a few inches to encourage it to fill out and grow more bushy. Bonus: The trimmed end of the vine can be planted right in moist soil or rooted in water if you like.

What is eating my sweet potato vine?

Suspects likely responsible for holes in sweet potato vine leaves include golden tortoise beetles, potato flea beetles, sweet potato loopers, and sweet potato whiteflies, or the black-and-rust-colored sweet potato weevil. Keep reading to learn to identify each insect and for remedies to fight them off.

If you see bugs that look like flecks of gold in the leaves of your plant, the golden tortoise beetle might be eating your sweet potato vine. It especially likes the “Margarita” variety. Neem oil is an effective remedy for tortoise beetles—dilute one teaspoon of neem oil and four or five drops of dish soap in a liter of warm water for a homemade spray.

Flea beetles are small black or tan solid-colored or spotted insects that look a lot like fleas, as well as jumping like fleas do. The round holes they make in young leaves leave them with a lacy appearance, and they spread bacterial diseases, too. You can make a spray to defeat them right in your kitchen with five cups of water, two cups of rubbing alcohol, and a tablespoon of liquid soap. Make sure the spray won’t stress your plants by spraying a test leaf and leaving the treatment on overnight.Sweet potato loopers are pale green caterpillars with a fine white horizontal line on their bodies that move like an inchworm. Loopers turn into grayish brown moths later in their life cycle. The sweet potato whitefly is a tiny white and yellow insect you should especially be suspicious of if sticky honeydew is left behind on leaves.Floating row covers can protect against loopers, or removing the caterpillars by hand and dropping into a bucket of soapy water is actually an effective strategy. There are also wasp species that parasitize loopers and whiteflies, so you might try growing flowering plants that attract these pollinator predators. Botanical Bt is an organic biological insecticide that also works against loopers and whiteflies.

Weevils feed on the underside of leaves and can also cause yellowing of vines, but sometimes they go unchecked until the sweet potatoes are harvested. Fight back against them with pheromone traps or the predatory nematodes Steinernema and Heterorhabditis, which are more effective than insecticides at taking weevils out.

What is the botanical name for sweet potato vine?

The botanical name for sweet potato vine is Ipomoea batatas.

What is the difference between potatoes from an edible sweet potato vine and an ornamental sweet potato vine?

The difference is all in the flavor of the potatoes, much like the difference in the foliage comes down to how attractive the leaves are. In short, edible varieties of sweet potato have been bred to produce large harvests of the flavorful sweet potatoes we like to eat. On the other hand, ornamental sweet potato vines have been bred to produce attractive foliage, with no attention paid to the tubers other than how well they support the vine. The result is that ornamental varieties usually have bitter or flavorless potatoes, which may be puny in size compared to the tubers produced by edible varieties. But just like you can sprout a vine from an edible sweet potato, you can dig up and eat the tubers of an ornamental sweet potato vine—you’re just likely to need lots of seasoning to make a palatable dish.

Why is my sweet potato vine dying?

Make sure your plants are getting enough water. For the first 30 to 40 days after they’re planted, sweet potato vines require at least an inch of water per week. A layer of mulch around the base of your sweet potato vines can help lock in moisture. Drooping foliage is a signal that your sweet potato vines need more moisture.

The pH level of your soil could be outside the range a sweet potato vine can tolerate (4.5 to 7.5, with an optimal level of 6). Or it could be short on potassium, which you can resolve by using a bagged kelp meal fertilizer or compost that includes banana peels. For a simpler way to add potassium, dust the surface of your soil with wood ash, but don’t go overboard—make sure you can still see your soil under the wood ash.

Will sweet potato vine survive winter?

Sweet potato vines are winter hardy as far north as zone 8. Frost will instantly kill sweet potato vines that are left in the ground for the winter, as will a few days at temperatures hovering near 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you can overwinter the plant indoors. It doesn’t even require potting soil to happily thrive through the winter on a sunny windowsill. Simply break the vine off at the vase and keep. Make sure to strip the leaves from the part of the vine that will be submerged in water, and replace the water in the container every few days. Come spring, you can transplant your vine back into the garden. Some varieties make large underground tubers, which you can clean off and keep in a paper bag indoors until transplanting in the spring.

Why are my sweet potato vines turning yellow?

The foliage on your sweet potato vine might turn yellow due to a fungal infection or nutrient deficiency. Fungal infections are the most common reason behind yellowing leaves, especially if the yellowing works up from the base of the plant. The culprit is usually verticillium or fusarium. Make sure to water from the base of the plant to prevent fungal diseases. This Gardening Channel article can help you address fungal infections in your garden. Yellowing due to nutrient deficiency most often points to a lack of nitrogen or magnesium. Add nitrogen with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and a good quality of balanced fertilizer should address magnesium needs.

Want to learn more about growing Sweet Potato Vines?

Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers from Fine Gardening

Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ (Sweet potato vine) from Fine Gardening

Learn about how Sweet Potato Vine makes a great container plant on YouTube.

The Farmer’s Almanac covers Flea Beetles

Extension.org covers Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

Better Homes & Gardens covers Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines in Containers

Better Homes & Gardens covers Sweet Potato Vine

Bonnie Plants covers Growing Sweet Potatoes

Central Texas Gardener covers Sweet Potato Vine

Chickens in the Road covers Growing a Sweet Potato Vine

Costa Farms covers Sweet Potato Vine

Dave’s Garden covers Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

Den Garden covers Golden Tortoise Beetles

Empress of Dirt covers How to Grow Sweet Potato Vine from Cuttings

Epic Gardening covers Sweet Potato Vine

Florida Today covers Sweet Potato Vines

Garden Design covers Growing Sweet Potato Vine

Gardening Channel covers Growing Potatoes from Store Bought Potatoes

Gardens Alive covers Grow Your Own Sweet Potato Vines

Garden Guides covers Yellow Leaves on Sweet Potatoes

Gardening Know How covers Are Sweet Potato Leaves Edible

Gardening Know How covers Dividing Sweet Potato Vines

Gardening Know How covers Sweet Potato Plant

Gardening Know How covers Winterizing Sweet Potato Vines

Get Busy Gardening covers Overwinter Sweet Potato Vine

Green and Vibrant covers Sweet Potato Vine

Growing Produce covers Prevent Sweet Potato Weevil

Health Houseplants covers How to Grow Sweet Potato Vine Indoors

When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which include perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.

Can I Eat Sweet Potatoes From Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines That I Had in Containers?

Ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), grown primarily for its purple, chartreuse, or variegated foliage, is a true sweet potato. As such, the tubers it forms are edible. Popular varieties like ‘Marguerite’ have small, round tubers, while varieties like ‘Blackie’ have longer, narrower tubers.

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However, the texture and flavor of tubers from ornamental sweet potato vine will not be as good as varieties developed specifically as a vegetable. If you’re looking for flavor, you’d be better off with the garden types for stocking your kitchen pantry. Also, if you sprayed the ornamental type with pesticides not labeled for vegetables, the tubers should not be used as a food.

If you don’t like the taste of the tubers, you can try out the leaves—they’re edible, too! They are full of vitamins and antioxidants and are also a good source of fiber. Raw sweet potato leaves are fairly bitter like spinach, but lose their sharp flavor when boiled.

Related: How to Cook Spinach

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Sweet Potato Slips

Whether you want to eat them or not, it’s always worth keeping the tubers. You can save them like bulbs and plant them in containers the next spring. You can store them in a box in a cool place throughout the winter.

Related: Guide to Caring for Bulbs

You can make cuttings, also known as sweet potato slips, from store-bought potatoes and ornamental potatoes; however, you may not know which variety you’re growing. Instead, buy your first set of slips from a garden store to ensure you get a type that will grow well in your area, then use a few of those potatoes to make slips for next year. Or, be sure to keep the plant tag from the vines you buy from the nursery so you remember which variety you have in your containers.

To start, set a sweet potato in a jar of water. Leave it in a warm, sunny spot. It will send out roots and leaves within two weeks. Once they’ve had a chance to grow a few inches long, cut off pieces and place these cuttings in another jar of water. Wait another 1-2 weeks for them to root. They’re now ready to be planted!

How to Care For Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vine does best in full sun and warm weather. Some of the older varieties may grace your garden with a few sporadic lavender blooms that look like a slightly more tubular morning glory, and for good reason—sweet potato vine is a close cousin to this common annual vine. Sweet potato vine does extremely well in containers and is a common spiller in a container garden.

  • By Jenny Krane

Are Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines Edible?

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Pretty to look at, safe to eat, but not real tasty! This describes the ornamental sweet potato vine. You may know it as Marguerite, Sweet Caroline, Blackie or one of the other popular cultivars of this plant.

Garden varieties of the edible sweet potato have been selected for their flavor while the ornamental varieties were selected for their colorful foliage and trailing nature.

Like the edible varieties the ornamental sweet potato vine will produce tuberous roots. The purple tuberous roots are edible but gardeners who have tried them, say they’re not tasty.

Some gardeners try saving the tuberous roots overwinter much like dahlias. They store them in a cool dark location. Most gardeners report having limited success and poor growth on the second year plants.

You may want to start new plants from cuttings. Those in cold climates will need to move these in for winter and grow them as houseplants in a sunny window.

A bit more information: Start new plants from 4 to 6 inch cuttings. Remove the lowest leaf and stick the cut end in a container filled with vermiculite or moist well-drained soil. Keep the rooting medium moist. Or just buy new plants each year.

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Harvesting Potatoes from Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines

Many of us are familiar with rooting cuttings of ornamental sweet potatoes to make more vines, but why let the end of summer be the end of your vines? Use this easy method to harvest sweet potatoes (made by your own ornamental vines) to propagate next season’s plants, and save money by turning this annual into a perennial.

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Ornamental sweet potato vines come in many varieties and colors, and they look beautiful as ground covers or for contrasts in pots and hanging baskets. Many people toss these plants out at the end of summer and replace them each spring (at a cost of $3-$5 per pot), but there is an easy method to overwinter them, even in harsh climates.
After the first frost, the leaves on the vines will die, making it easier to handle the plant. Cut away the dead portion of the leaves and vines, leaving just a couple of inches of old growth showing.

With your hands or a small garden shovel, loosen the soil around the base of the vine. Keep digging downward, following the roots on the vine, until you feel the potatoes. Continue to collect these potatoes as you dig downward. I prefer using my hands so that I don’t break portions of the potatoes.

Some plants, such as Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita,’ will usually have large, roundish potatoes, while others, such as Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie,’ will have smaller, slender potatoes. Also of note is that the lime-green ornamentals tend to have potatoes with a reddish skin while the darker purple vines will sometimes have a lighter-colored skin (I’ve found that newer varieties can have either). I use my tags that were buried within the pot to re-tag the potatoes after digging.

After collecting and tagging your potatoes, allow the potatoes to air dry overnight. Next, it’s time to box them up. Choose a box that will easily hold all of the potatoes you intend to keep. Layer the bottom of the box with newspaper, then tear strips of newspaper to form a cushion in the bottom of the box. Place a layer of potatoes, then cover with newspaper strips, then a section of newspaper. Continue to add layers of newspaper and potatoes until your box is full or until you run out of potatoes.

Store your box of potatoes in a cool, dry place over winter. I store mine in the garage. In colder climates you will need to store them where the temperature will be above freezing.
In spring, after the danger of frost has disappeared, replant your potatoes wherever you’d like to have your ornamental vine growing. If your potatoes have already grown eyes and have begun to sprout, you can cut them into sections and plant just as you would a regular potato. Enjoy through summer, then begin the harvest again for next season. No need to buy new plants every spring!
Here are some of my plants in October, just before our first frost.

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