I am very excited that 2023 is the “Year of Sweet Potatoes” for Grow It Eat It, the statewide food gardening program run by University of Maryland Extension (UME) Master Gardener (MG) Volunteers.
This member of the morning glory family is an amazing and nutritious vegetable crop. Plants grow rapidly with minimal care and produce edible new shoots and leaves and delicious roots that can be stored through the fall and winter.
The Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Home Garden webpage has the detailed information you need for success. I’m sharing some tips in this article that I hope will further entice you to join the fun!
- Pick a full-sun location.
- Use a garden fork, spade, or tiller to loosen the top 10-12 inches of soil
- Mix compost into the soil prior to planting
- Space plants 1 foot apart in the row or 2 feet apart in each direction if planting in a wide bed
- Stick a flag or marker in the ground next to each plant so you’ll know where to dig when it’s time to harvest
Varieties and plants (“slips”)
- Georgia Jet, Centennial, O’Henry, Murasaki, Beauregard, and Covington are some recommended varieties. Vardaman, and Bunch (Bush) Puerto Rico have compact vines and take up less space
- Sweet potato plants produce few flowers and little or no viable seed. They are propagated year-to-year by sprouts (baby plants aka “slips”) that grow from stored sweet potatoes
General growing tips
- Water young plants 1-2 times per week if rain is lacking
- Fertilize as needed; soils high in organic matter may not need to be fertilized
- Control weeds the first month after planting. Vines will grow rapidly and shade out weeds
- Vines can be trimmed back 20-30% without significantly reducing the harvest
- Use new leaves and shoots fresh in salads or in soups, stir-fries, omelettes, etc.
- Sweet potatoes have fewer pests and diseases than most other garden crops! Fence out deer and groundhogs and check the enlarging roots for vole (meadow mouse) feeding.
- Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest 85-120 days after planting (depends on variety)
- Storage roots don’t stop growing. Check for size when plants reach their expected harvest date.
- Harvest roots as soon as they reach eating size and before a frost. Roots can crack and become woody when overgrown
- Loosen the soil about 1 foot from the base of the plant. Use your hands to find and lift the roots
- Treat them with tender care. Gently remove excess soil; don’t wash!
Curing and storage tips
- Curing improves the flavor, quality, and longevity of harvested roots. It toughens the skin, heals cuts, bruises and scrapes, and promotes the conversion of starches to sugars
- Commercial sweet potatoes are cured for 7-14 days at 85⁰ F and 90% RH. One week of curing during warm, humid weather in a protected, outdoor location is helpful. Don’t worry if that’s not possible. Your sweet potatoes will still be sweet and tasty
- Store sweet potatoes in a cool, humid location – basements work well
- Use slatted crates, baskets, or cardboard boxes. Fill only 2-3 layers deep
- Check for and remove spoiled roots
Check with your county/city Extension office to learn more about vegetable classes and workshops, and demonstration gardens.
- Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Home Garden (HGIC)
- How to Start and Multiply Sweet Potato Plants Video (HGIC)
- Sweet Potatoes and Yams (USDA)
- The Makings of a Good Sweet Potato (USDA)
- NC Sweet Potato Commission Lesson Plans
By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center. Read more posts by Jon.