Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
There are two forms of sweet potatoes: vining and bush varieties. Both are easy to grow and thrive in hot weather. Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, which is easily converted by the body into vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes require full sun and a warm climate. They must be planted in a well-drained, fine sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH 5 to 7.5. This allows the sweet potato to grow easily but not remain in a moist environment that encourages rot and disease.
They are not started by seeds, but by slips. Slips are shoots that form on the outside of a mature sweet potato. You can buy them or use shoots from a sweet potato in your kitchen. To produce slips, buy healthy, disease-free sweet potatoes from a local market. Scrub them clean and then cut them in half. Suspend each half over a jar of water by inserting toothpicks so that half is submerged in the water. Place the sweet potato near a window for warmth and sunlight. Over the next few weeks, shoots will form on top.
Keep the beds weed free until the vines have covered the soil fully. Maintaining a weed-free area, especially in the first 40 days after planting, will improve yield quantity and quality at harvest.
Plant in full sun with about three to four feet between rows. Using a hand shovel dig a hole 4” to 5” deep and 3” wide. Place one slip in each hole, about 12” to 18” apart.
When harvesting, carefully dig around the outside of the plant to loosen the soil. The sweet potato root has a delicate skin that is easily bruised at harvest. Take care not to bruise the roots with a hoe, shovel, or other harvesting tool. Even dropping the potatoes into a harvest bucket will injure the skin.
For home gardeners, the best time to harvest sweet potatoes is immediately before or just after the first fall frost. When the sweet potato leaves turn yellow, growth has stopped and the roots have matured.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.