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Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite things to grow in the garden. Once planted, they are low maintenance until it’s time to harvest them. Their vines and flowers are beautiful! But there is a trick to having more than just beautiful vines and flowers.
Basic Sweet Potato Requirements:
- loamy, well-drained soil
- a long growing season, anywhere from 90-170 days depending on the variety
- hot weather, but cool soil
- does not like frosts, be sure to dig before a frost or you will end up with mushy sweet potatoes
You can start sweet potatoes with slips that you can purchase, or you can start your own at home. My friend Amber from My Homestead Life has a great post about sweet potatoes on how to start your own slips.
You can meet their soil requirements and water them faithfully only to have small, finger like sweet potatoes. While tiny sweet potatoes are still good, they just don’t cut it when you’re expecting a nice, big sweet potato!
When we lived in Colorado, I tried every trick that I knew, but unfortunately couldn’t grow decent sweet potatoes. The vines looked beautiful, but harvest time was very disappointing. The growing season was short in Colorado, which was probably part of it.
When we moved to Missouri, a long time gardener generously shared a simple trick that changed how my sweet potato harvest looked.
What’s the trick?
It’s all about the vines! Those sweet potato vines want to root back into the soil every where they touch. If allowed to do that, the plant will put all of it’s energy on creating many undersized tubers at each rooted area rather than ripening the main crop at the base of the plant.
To prevent this from happening, all you need is something to prevent the vines from rooting! I use leftover paper feed sacks, but newspaper or cardboard will do. After planting your sweet potatoes, mulch them with the feed sacks or newspapers. Then cover all of that paper with a thick layer of straw. The straw helps keep the paper in place and looks much better than seeing a garden bed covered in paper. As the vines grow, they will not be in contact with the soil, and therefore, will not root! Some have used just straw as a mulch with success. I have had my sweet potato vines root through the straw, which is why I now use an extra layer.
That’s it! An easy trick to growing large, beautiful sweet potatoes!