Growing Sweet Potato Vines For Beauty and Dinner

A newly planted sweet potato vine grows with a scented geranium in this full-sun hanging basket.

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Do you ever buy ornamental sweet potato vines for your hanging baskets or pots?  These have become more popular in recent years, and several beautiful varieties with variegated or purple leaves have come on the market.   I  planted a few in our large planters on the front patio a few years ago.  They looked gorgeous… until the deer snuck into the garden and had one for a midnight snack!

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A variegated sweet potato vine grows in a mixed container with summer annuals (2015).

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But no worries, these are prolific growers.  The vine grew back in just a few weeks.  That’s not to say that it didn’t get grazed again from time to time!  As it turns out, sweet potato vines are both delicious and highly nutritious!  We know that sweet potato tubers are packed with vitamins and minerals.  Turns out, their leaves are, as well!  The deer were onto something!

But the real surprise came in the fall, when I lifted the summer annuals out of their pots to re-plant hardy ornamentals for winter.  My ‘ornamental’ sweet potato vines had quietly gone about their business of making huge, lovely tubers!  Their tuberous roots are edible, no matter how fancy the leaves might be.

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July 2015

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I never bought any sweet potato vines at the garden center this spring.  But I noticed a sweet potato in our pantry sprouting vines a few weeks ago.  I moved it into a shallow tray of potting soil, in the light, and let those vines continue to grow.

Like you, I’ve wrestled a sweet potato suspended in a Mason jar of water a time or two.  They are very entertaining for the little ones, who love to watch how fast they grow.  This works great for a while, until the potato inevitably begins to rot.  But placing a potato in a pot of moist sand or soil is a more reliable way to encourage it to sprout.   The long, sinuous vines quickly fill a window sill with beautiful heart shaped leaves.

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If you’ve contemplated their leaves, you probably noticed how much the leaves and vines remind you of morning glory vines.  Turns out, the plants are related!  A sweet potato’s botanical name is Ipomoea batatas.  Most of the morning glory, moonflower, or bindweed species belong to the genus Ipomoea.  If your ornamental sweet potato vines have bloomed, you probably noticed that their flower is very like a morning glory.  There are over 500 species in the Ipomoea genus!

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Moonflower, Ipomoea alba

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I decided to let my sprouting potato grow in order to transplant those beautiful vines into hanging baskets on our deck.  It is probably a little late in the season to plant with potatoes in mind, but I knew we could enjoy the vines.

I waited for a wet and cloudy day, and then simply twisted and pulled each stem away from the potato, and planted it into a little drill made into the wet soil in the basket.   What could be easier than poking one’s finger into the dirt, planting the vine, and firming it up?  That is all there is to it!

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Sweet potato vines serve as a host plants and nectar plants for some species of butterflies and moths.

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If you don’t have a wet and cloudy day in the forecast, some gardeners twist the vines from the potato and then leave the vines in a glass of water for a week while roots begin to grow, before transplanting the vine into a pot, bed or basket.

This is the way all vegetable gardeners start off their sweet potato patch each spring!  Some may mail-order their slips, or starter vines, to procure a particular variety of sweet potato.  If you’re not choosy, then buy your starter potato at the grocery store and start your own slips.

Sweet potatoes, also known as ‘yams,’ want a light, sandy, quick draining soil in the garden; if you’re growing them for a fall harvest of sweet potatoes.   If your main interest is their beautiful vines, you’ll plant into any good potting soil already in your containers.

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To make a long story longer, I bought a few fresh sweet potatoes at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago.  I’d left them in their plastic bag on the kitchen counter.  I hadn’t gotten around to cooking them, when I noticed their little purple leafy stems pushing against the bag.  It doesn’t take long this time of year for things to get growing, does it?

Since I have plenty of vines myself now, I’m sending these newbies to my daughter.  It was humid enough in the plastic bag that these vines have even started sprouting roots along the base of their shoots!

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I’ve wrapped the bits of potato I trimmed away, still supporting their shoots, in a moist towel and sealed them into a zip-lock to prepare them for their journey through the US Mail.  She can twist each stem loose and plant it in a pot.   And, I finally cooked those potatoes today!

If you live in an area where you don’t have the 4-6 months of warm weather required to raise sweet potatoes in your garden, you might consider growing them in pots for their leaves.

The leaves can be steamed or sauteed.  I bet they would be good dipped in a tempura batter and fried, too!

This is a prolific ‘cut and come again’ veggie treat.  It is an edible that can be grown in a very small space, even on a windowsill or balcony, by someone who wants a steady supply of fresh greens.

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For the cost of a single potato, you can fill several pots or baskets with beauty and a delicious crop that will produce indefinitely.  The sweet potato is a tender perennial, and so will continue to grow so long as you protect it from frost.

The vining stems will sprout roots at every leaf node, and so stem cuttings will root easily in water or moist soil.  Plant vines into window boxes, tubs, or large pots to grow a crop of sweet potatoes on your porch or in your sunroom.

We get so accustomed by buying our veggies at the market that we sometimes forget how easily and affordably we can grow our own food.   It’s always comforting to have a trick or two tucked up our sleeves, and a ready source of food we grow for ourselves at home.

What could be easier than starting a sweet potato vine?

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Just a “Split Second…”

Is it a peony?  Not in October, and not growing on a delicate vine with heart shaped leaves.  This is a morning glory, believe it or not.  Park Seed introduced this Ipomoea nil “Split Second”, just a few years ago.  I found it while browsing their spring catalog this past winter.  It was an impulse … Continue reading

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