How to Grow Sweet Potatoes
Your Slip is Showing!

I have to preface this post by saying I have not, ever, in my life … grown a sweet potato.  Have never even thought about doing it actually.

Which, according to the rules of the Internet, makes me the perfect person to tell you how to do it.

I normally don’t show/do/present/teach you things that I haven’t done myself many, many times before.  In fact, it kind of drives me nuts when people say things like  “Such and such does this“. Or “Such and such will remove that stain“.  Really?  Are ya sure?  Have you ever tried such and such?  No?  OH!  I see.  You heard about it on the Internet.  Well.  It must be true then.  Now that you mention it why wouldn’t cat crap remove water marks from a wood table?  I feel so stupid.

So.  As I was saying.  I normally test things out to make sure they absolutely work before I show you them.  (If you’re having trouble with the sweet potato fries, I swear you’re not following the instructions *exactly*)

However, a few days ago I decided I wanted to grow sweet potatoes in my brand new, as of yet unbuilt front yard vegetable garden.   And if you live in a similar climate (Zone 5 – 6) you have a limited number of days left to get your sweet potatoes ready to plant.

So.  I bring to you, hat in hand, a plan to plant sweet potatoes that may … or may not work.  I’m pretty sure it’ll work but I can’t seal it with the old Art of Doing Stuff stamp of approval as of yet.

Who cares though.  WE’RE (probably) GOING TO GROW SWEET POTATOES!!!!!

And here’s how we’re going to do it.

Sweet potatoes grow from something called “slips”.  They’re the green vines that grow out of a sweet potato when it sprouts.



I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking.  Wow.  That’s a really great photograph.  But the truth is, it isn’t a photograph.  It’s a picture I drew.  Because, as I may have mentioned, I have never grown a sweet potato before therefore I don’t have a photograph to show you. Chances are you wouldn’t have noticed it was a “drawing”, but I like to be up front at all times.

So, how does one get a sweet potato slip?  Seed stores, sometimes garden centres, and mail order garden shop will sometimes have sweet potato slips for you to buy.  However, most people grow their own.  All you need is a sweet potato that hasn’t been treated to stop sprouting.  How do you know if it’s been treated?  You don’t.  You go to the grocery store, buy your sweet potato and hope for the best.  Organic is your best bet for an untreated sweet potato.

Once you get your pretty, pretty, sweet potato home …

(hopefully one that doesn’t look like a penis)

penis potato


… you set it in a glass of water.  You want the bottom half of the sweet potato in water.  The skinniest half of the potato goes into the water.  A sweet potato is not a tuber like a regular potato, but actually a root.  Who knew?  You can stick some toothpicks around the edge to make sure it doesn’t fall in. Put it in a sunny window and wait.


In Water

The sweet potato will  begin to grow roots.  In about a month, it will produce “slips”. You want them to be about 20 cm. long.  That’s  perfect for planting.  Each one of these slips will grow 8 – 12 sweet potatoes.  When you’re ready to plant them, you just “slip” the vines off the potato and stick in in the dirt.  More on that later, once my slips actually grow.

I shall continue this saga throughout the coming weeks and keep you updated as to how they’re doing.

Tune in tomorrow for another exciting post.  “How to Perform Dental Surgery! Step by step lessons from someone who’s never done it.  But she’s read about it!”.  On the Internet.



  1. Greene says:

    I had real trouble finding a sweet tater in the grocery store that would start. Two obstacles to growing starts in the north: first, most taters are sprayed with something to stop them from budding, and second, if they’ve been refrigerated for several days (really normal for transportation to a northern state), it kills the budding anyway.

    I had to buy my starts online, and they’re growing like weeds in a (very large) pot in the back of my greenhouse in western WA. Incredibly beautiful vines, and I expect a good harvest!

  2. hui ying says:

    Nice! I will try this weekend!
    Do you know that the leaf is eatable.
    Sweet potato leaf fried with chili is one of the Chinese and Malay fave. dish.

    • Karen says:

      Hi! I did know they were edible, but have never eaten them. Fried with fresh chilis? I’ll look up some recipes and give it a try! ~ karen

      • hui ying says:

        I just have a quick Google search:

        here is the recipe –
        (Serves 2-3)
        – 200g sweet potato leaves
        – 1 large red chilli, sliced
        – 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
        – 1 tsp light soy sauce
        – 2 tbsp vegetable/olive oil
        – 1/4 cup water
        – 2 shallots, sliced finely

        (A) For pounding (See step 2)
        – 1 tbsp salted soya beans
        – 3 chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), sliced
        – 3 shallots, finely chopped
        – 1/2 tsp brown sugar
        – 1/2 tbsp shrimp paste (belacan)

        1. Trim the stem ends of the sweet potato leaves, then cut to separate the sweet potato leaves and the stems. Slice the stems to about 2-3cm lengths and set aside.
        2. Pound the ingredients in (A) using a mortar and pestle.
        3. Heat oil in pan, fry the sliced shallots, sliced large chilli and minced garlic till fragrant.
        4. Add the pounded ingredients prepared in step 2 and stir fry for a minute till fragrant (see cooking note 2).
        5. Increase to high heat, add the stems and stir fry for a minute or two.
        6. Add leaves, water and light soy sauce. Stir fry till the leaves have just wilted and cooked.

        What I mean is stir-fried, not fried. Apologize for my typo. =)
        Hope you will like this.

        BTW, I love your blog! ~ very inspiring

        • Karen says:

          Wow! Thank you. I’ll let you know how I do. 🙂 I’ll just have to buy shrimp paste and salted soy beans. ~ karen!

  3. Rita says:

    Will do. Thx!

  4. Rita says:

    Hi Karen, I just went to my veggie basket to get a sweet spud for my stew and it was covered in sprouts! Then I remembered seeing you had an article on growing them so I thought I’d check it out. Looks like I’m well on my way. I have some old tires down along side my garden so I’ll be planting them in those. Thanks for the great idea, Amy. Question, do I cut off a piece of the spud with the root or just break off the root and plant that? Thx.

    • Karen says:

      Rita – You just break off the shoot where it meets the sweet potato when it’s around 9″ long or so. Then you can either just stick it in the dirt (that’s what I’m going to do) or you can then put that sprout in a glass and root it. More importantly the ground has to be WARM. Sweet potatoes are more tropical, than not. Think Southern US. The tires will work really well for keeping the soil in them warm. Make sure you stack up a couple of tires so you have enough depth.

  5. Gail says:

    I have been trying to do this for 3 weeks and have only a few roots. Nothing green… I bought organic heirloom sweet potatoes. They are in a very warm window. Is this right?

    • Karen says:

      Gail – Yes it’s right. Sadly even organic sweet potatoes seem to be the subject to some kind of bud inhibitor the odd time. I’ve had my sweet potatoes out for quite some time now and their tiny buds are *just* starting to grow in the past few days. And really no roots at all to speak of! Give it time and hope for the best. 🙂 Keep them in a nice warm, sunny windowsill. ~ karen

  6. Tami says:

    Funny to see this topic. I have sweet potatoe vines in my window sill for the first time. I am growing them just for the vines to use in my flower window boxes and pots. I always plant sweet potatoe vine and end up with the potatoes in my pots. Have have always just trown them away. This year I saved them, and in March, did the toothpick thing and canning jars. I have some pretty vines starting. I have a couple sweet potatoes from the grocery store I started last week. Hopefully they will sprout.

    • Karen says:

      Tami – That’s a great idea! I’m going to buy ornamental sweet potato vine this year and do the same thing next year! I always end up with potatoes from them too! EXCELLENT tip. ~ karen

  7. Kath Fryia says:

    I love this post, gonna try this. My zone is 4B, so it’ll be trickier, but one of the guys at the farmers market grew them last year, so I know it’s possible. Looking forward to your “sweet potato progess”

    • Karen says:

      Kath – One of the commenters left a note that she planted her slips, then covered the dirt with a black biodegradable plastic to keep the heat in. (cut slits for the sprouts to come out of). Probably a really good idea for you! ~ karen

  8. Holly says:

    It’s definately a penis. Veins and everything. Can you tell me how to grow one of those? My husband is a truck driver and is gone a lot. Thank you.

  9. Jodie says:

    Good luck with that, potato expert!

  10. Liz says:

    Wow! I was sure you’d photo-shopped the veins onto that potato. You must have looked long and hard (no pun intended…well maybe a little) to find one that looked like that! My question is, these vines that grow out of your potato in the glass of water, are they identical to the rather pricey “sweet potato vine” sold as a flower basket filler? If so, I’m starting one right now for just that purpose!

    • Marilyn says:

      I’m growing some just for the flower pots too. Love the vines. Trying 2 varieties & they are just putting out tiny sprouts now. I’ve got them under 24 hour light. The starting idea I had read was take a pot of moist sand and half bury the sweet potato on it’s side. Then cut off the plants & repot as they start to grow. That might be an idea for a mass grow attempt, compared to a lot of water jars. Here’s to a wonderful summer.

  11. Erin says:

    If they’ll grow on the Bruce Peninsula, you can grow them in your neck of Ontario. I grew them here for the first time last summer.

    I planted out rooted slips on June 4th, then we covered the soil with bio-degradeable black plastic to keep the heat in. We dug them October 10th and are still enjoying them. Thanks to your recipe, my kid will now happily eat them.

    About a month ago, I found some smaller “rejects” that I had squirrelled away in the laundry room (why??) They were sprouting, so I planted them in a pot. The vines are big and lush… already.

    • Karen says:

      Good to know Erin! How long did you leave the bio-degradeable plastic on them? Of did you just keep it on all season (with slits for the vines to grow through) And how did you store them? I’m trying to figure out the best way to store some of the crops. ~ karen!

      • Erin says:

        Yeah, we slit the plastic and planted through it. All the soil amending was done before-hand and we watered well. It is tricky to gauge the moisture of the soil through the plastic, I checked obsessively all summer. But I’m like that.

        The nice thing about storing sweet potatoes is that they don’t need cold temps like carrots and potatoes. Ours kept well in the pantry (kind of cool 16-18C) wrapped individually in newspaper inside a bushel basket. I used several blankets on top to block the light.

        The not-so-nice thing about sweet potatoes is the curing process. Being a first timer (and obsessive), I followed the advice to cure them at high temps and high humidity for 10 days. Fortunately, the boiler room at my husband’s work fit the bill. (Since then, I’ve talked to people who just rinse them off and store them, no curing. hmmm.) If you’ve got lots-o-sweets, bread trays are great for hauling them around. A damp towel, re-wetted every day or so keeps the humidity up.

        Um..I’ll stop now. -E

        • Karen says:

          Don’t stop on my account! That’s what we’re all here for. I love hearing advice from people who have experience in something. Sweet Potato and potato storage is one thing I haven’t finished researching. I was planning on going with bushel baskets in my basement with straw instead of wrapping everything individually with newspaper. ~ k!

        • Erin says:

          I think sawdust or sand are good packing materials too. I only did the sweets in paper because the skin is supposed to be fragile. And I read it in a root cellaring book from the 1970s. Those people were serious.

          We really just took a flyer this year on cellar storage and the potatoes and carrots did great. I packed the carrots in damp (hardwood) sawdust inside plastic totes. I just brought our last batch of Kennebecs up from the cellar yesterday. They were in a large beverage cooler with a few layers of paper (paper again!) between each batch of 10-15 spuds. Some potatoes store better than others.

          Any potatoes I had in the pantry got pitched in the compost a couple of weeks ago – all sprouty and alien. The spuds from the cellar have small eyes swelling, but are still firm and tasty. Can’t wait to see an update on your front yard vegetable garden.

  12. Amy Schmucker says:

    oh just a note, the black tires or the black tub makes the ground warmer, if not hot. The pototoes love the heat. Just a thought

    • Karen says:

      I shove stuff up against the hot side of my house to keep em warm and get them going early. Right up against the brick of the house is like a little furnace area for plants. ~ karen

  13. Amy Schmucker says:

    growing sweet pototes in Old tires is what my husband did. you put them the first tire and wait until they grow up and have long vines, add the second tire, more dirt and leave about six inchs of vine at the top. Keep adding tires and dirt (saves tons of ground space don’t you think?) and then when your ready to harvest, you push them over and you just pick up your sweet pototoes. I grow mine in a 40 gallon black tub from the tracker supply store. Otherwise the moles and gophers eat them.

    • Karen says:

      Amy – He did this for sweet potatoes? Not regular potatoes? I know you mound reg. potatoes like that but didn’t think it was necessary for sweet potatoes. Hmm. ~ karen!

  14. shauna says:

    We, meaning my husband while I watch, have started this. It. Totally sprouted great in the water & has since been moved into a special sweet potato planter box. Not sure how they’re doing now though. Fingers are crossed.

  15. Leslie Best says:

    I’m going to try this too! Pretty sure I don’t have a sunny enough spot to plant the “slips” but I’ll figure that part out later. Fun!

    • Karen says:

      Leslie – Meh. Don’t worry about it. Just pull out all your bushes like I did. I’m sure you’ll find a sunny spot then. ~ karen!

  16. Pat says:

    Apparently (according to the local radio gardening show on Saturday morning) if you plant a sweet potato vine (available at most garden centers here in B.C.) and the conditions are right, you can grow sweet potatoes. They are meant to be a basket filler along with your geraniums, etc. People have been surprised when they emptied out their baskets of annuals in the fall and out came a sweet potato. If I remember, the vines have little yellow flowers with a black center; very pretty.

  17. Thera says:

    Oh wow, I am sooo tempted to try this, but not sure if I will have time as my “hubby”, that I have been with for 19 years, and I are tying the knot, officially, on the 20th. Maybe I can sneak this in, as I am also in Ontario and hence a short season.

    • Karen says:

      Congratulations. What better way to tie the knot than with an exchange of home grown produce? Maybe not. ~ karen

  18. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I did this as a kid just for the mom loved indoor plants..She taught me to use just half of the potato though and sit it in a dish of still worked and grew some beautiful vines..Good luck Karen!!

  19. Paulina J! says:

    Sweet potatoes are actually something that we were able to grow. If we could do it, you definitely can too. Trust me! We got ours at our local co-op store. They grew beautifully and the hardest thing was keeping the deer away. They would kick the ground until they unearthed the potatoes. We got enough to distribute to family and friends. We were so proud we even made a labels and gifted them in cute little bushel baskets.

    It didn’t hurt that we lived close to the Sweet Potato Capital of the World (Vardaman, Mississippi). There’s this great shop Sweet Potato Sweets. Here is the link:
    Think of all the yummy things you can make with your sweet potatoes. Sweet poatato pie, pound cake, butter, marmalade… Now I’m hungry!

    • Mary Werner says:

      Marmalade – never heard of this before. Please give more details or Karen, please do this and let us know as it sounds wonderful.

  20. Jillian says:

    It will only work with organic sweet potatoes. Commercial they spray a bud inhibitor for long shelf life. If organic is shipped next to non-organic it will pick up some of the bud inhibitor. It will still grow but much more slowly. Maybe Canada doesnt use as many chemicals but here in the states we make sure it is pretty much saturated.

  21. Lisa says:

    That vein engorged sweet tater has kept me laughing for several minutes. You find THE best vegetables to photograph. You could do a whole post on dink-like veggies.

  22. Mary Kay says:

    I am going to try this. I have finally convinced the family that sweet potatoes are yummy. Going to store tonight since we need grociers anyways. This will be a new addition to our garden as well.

  23. Mary Werner says:

    I have done this for years and you are right on target. You get so many vines that the extras make great plants to stick in watering cans that you never use but looked too cute to pass up. Sweet potatoes are among the healthiest plants you can grow and for diabetics – a true gift! Don’t cover them in marshmallows or sugar or anything. They taste wonderful just baked or fried in disks in butter (I know don’t tell me it bad!) but several nations live off them almost completely – at least I heard that on the internet.

  24. pumpkin says:

    You got it right! I’ve been doing it nearly every year for 20 yrs. I start in Jan. or Feb. just to get in the mood for spring. When they newbies get about 6″ tall (or less) I break them off and put them in another jar of water on the window sill. Fun project and therapy for my SAD affliction.

    • Karen says:

      I’m afraid I have have started too late. I plan to put them out May 20th or later to avoid frost. Hopefully they’ll be big enough and hopefully the growing season will be long enough. Must find a hot side of the house to plant them on. ~ karen!

      • pumpkin says:

        Never tried it, but don’t know why they couldn’t be planted in a LARGE flower pot just for one hill of them. The pot could be brought indoors to finish growing.

  25. Eddie says:

    I’ve grown them like this before,just for fun. You’ll get a nice follage plant.

  26. Kim says:

    What the crap? Where did you find such a veiny. perverted-looking sweet potato. Did you photoshop that for effect?

  27. Debbie from Illinois says:

    I am 52 years old, my Mom did this when I was a kid and the sweet potato would sprout like crazy. I have tried this a couple times and nothing, nada, zilch, a big fat zero.

    Your potato “penis” is a little scary!

  28. jojo says:

    Ha! I am the other kind of gardener… one who plant things, and then says “hey that looks like a sweet potato – I wonder what it tastes like?!?”.

    I plant annuals in my leaky old canoe, and use whatever “filler plants” are being sold, and I usually get one or two without the little name-tag thingys. Last year, I planted some vines for filler, and, at the end of the season, I came across some really large root things that looked like sweet potatoes. Not afraid at all, we baked 2 of them that night and ate ’em.

    Had I planted sweet potato vines? Possibly, I suppose… When in doubt, eat it!

  29. Rose says:

    Wow! The sweet potatoes that I get only ever look like “turds” (so my 5 yr old says). I guess I have to go to an ‘adult’ store for those?

    • mothership says:

      OMG! just today (really… like 2 hours ago!) my daughter had some sweet potatoes in the oven… & my (11 year old) son peeked in…. “eeewwww… whose cooking wieners”…. I automatically corrected his language… “Whose wieners are cooking?”… sorry, but true story! she got em at the “regular” grocery store.

  30. linda adams says:

    My grandmother used to grow sweet potatoes just for the vines. She would twine them over the curtains above the sink and maybe another over over the book case. They looked very pretty among her collections of ceramic animals and children. It was amazing just how long those vines would grow! Sooooo, if you don’t end up planting your slips, you can just use them for decorations. 🙂

  31. Kim Merry says:

    Perfect timing! I put a sweet potato in water last week. I have never grown them either but I must be an expert now because I read about them on your site!

  32. White says:

    I have tried it (as a test for somebody else) in B.C. They are a rather attractive plant (like a vine). The real problem is our Canadian short summers.

    I fulfilled my part of the bargain, dedicating part of my garden space to somebody else’s whim (who never bothered to come have a look anyway), and the results were what one might expect with too short a season. I got a few little-finger-sized ones, which was a foregone expectation.

    While your glass-of-water method probably speeds things up to obtain slips, just leaving a mature sweet potato sitting around anywhere long enough will get you a large number of slips, and by ‘long enough’, I mean several/many months… I got more slips than I could shake a stick at, but I found that shaking sticks is an ineffective strategy in the scheme of things.

    By all means, give it a go — they are a handsome plant–but even southern Ontario has too short a season. Also be prepared for the amount of space those crawling vines will attempt to take up… I will be watching for updates!

    • pumpkin says:

      I’m in zone 5. Just had the warmest March in 100+ yrs. but it was freezing last night! dang. I plant my sweeties in a slightly raised bed but don’t let the vines spread. I just wind them up over the top of the hill. The vines try to root down and take energy away from the potatoes. I like energetic potatoes, like the one Karen bought.:D

  33. calliek says:

    I started three of these in Feb and the shoots are many and huge. Not sure what I’ll do with all of them but I stuck some in a bin in the greenhouse at work so maybe I might actually see sweet potatoes out of this!

  34. When I read the title Karen, I actually looked down and checked to see if my slip were showing. That is how much you have embedded yourself into my psyche.

    I’m a bit touchy on that subject though, which is probably why I was quick to check.

    I once had a boss who was quite fastidious. As I was leaving his office with some paperwork one day, he said, very quietly, ‘Also… your slip is showing’.

    I was really embarrassed, and so (for some unknown reason) decided to offer an explanation, rather than just acknowledge what he said. So I said, ‘Oh, it’s really difficult to get slips short enough!’ (which is very true. They only make slips in old lady lengths which come just below the knee. Not flattering).

    He looked at me in all seriousness, and simply said, ‘Or… you could just buy longer dresses’.


  35. Deborah says:

    mmmmmmmm…I just love sweet taters! I will have to try your sweet potato fries as well, I have never tried making my own and will have to ‘slip’ them by hubs as he thinks sweet potato fries are lame, girlie, figure-flattering attempts of the real thing. As for growing them, not too sure if I have enough space for them here at home, I may at the cottage, but that is in Zone 4a, therefore I may not get a chance to get them started in time, but what the heck, I have to hit the store today, so will grab a couple sweet taters and see if I can make their slips show. If this ingenious, off-the-internet fool-proof plan of yours doesn’t work… I shall hunt you down and beat you senseless with my soggy, rotten sweet taters! HA! 😛

  36. Diane says:

    Awesome! I bought a bag of organic sweet potatoes last night, but I’m gonna eat mine. Plus I don’t have a garden or even the room for a garden. I shall live vicariously through you, Karen. 🙂

  37. Alix Bouchard says:

    Where’d you get the veiny potato?

  38. Gayla T says:

    Sorry Chicken Woman, you are on your own on this one. Having once had that sugary marshmallow slime slide down my throat I took the pledge that never shall those ubly ubly red skins pass my lips again. In case you are not familiar with the term ubly, according to no known source other than me, it means butt ugly. Nope, nah, no, no thank ye. Never to touch my lips again and we all know some pretty vile stuff has passed these lips. Just nothing as ubly as a sweet potato.

  39. Carol says:

    You are too funny! I am going to try this little experiment right along with you. Although I’m not so sure I have the space to plant these, I’ll try to “slip” in a few! Good luck to both of us! 🙂

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