WHY I’LL NEVER GROW SWEET POTATOES THIS WAY AGAIN.

For years I’ve been teaching you how to grow sweet potatoes.  Actually, for years I’ve been teaching you everything I know about sweet potatoes.  How to produce slips, how to plant them, how to keep them pest free, when to up and down swear at them and when to just give them a sideways glance.  I even taught you how to make Guaranteed Crispy Sweet Potato Fries with them even though some people in the comments of that post claim they didn’t work for them, but they aren’t regular readers who know how to follow basic instructions.  They’re you know … Pinterest people.  And they don’t count.

When I first started learning about growing them there really wasn’t a lot of information out there on the big, bad Internet about how to grow Sweet Potatoes.  At that time, which was just 10 years or so ago, growing sweet potato slips was a closely guarded secret in the farming community.  It was a mystical, mysterious process much like how to do a card trick.   Or apply liquid eyeliner.

But I read little bits here and there, emailed a few loose lipped Sweet Potato growers with my questions and before I knew it my slip was showing.

 

THE OLD WAY

Growing Sweet Potato Slips the Old Way

1. Early spring take sweet potatoes out of storage
2. Insert toothpicks around top of sweet potato
3. Rest in jar of water and wait for it to root / produce slips in 2 weeks – 2 months.

 

This is how I’ve grown my Sweet Potato slips for the past 10 years.  Around this time every year I bring a couple of sweet potatoes out of storage, stick a few toothpicks around the top of them and rest them over jars of water.  Depending on the mood of the sweet potato, slips will start growing out of it in anywhere from a week to two months. Slips are those vines growing out of the sweet potato by the way.  They’re what you plant in the ground to produce sweet potato plants.

As you can imagine, this whole maybe I’ll sprout today, maybe I’ll sprout when it’s way too late to plant me, attitude of the sweet potato got old fast.  You never know when sweet potatoes are going to actually agree to sprout so you have to start them WAY in advance of when you actually need the slips to be developed on the off chance they’re going to go the “meh …. maybe in 2 months” route.

They are much like Luffah Sponges in that way.

Which got me to thinking.  Maybe the trick I used to get my Luffa seeds to sprout consistently and early would work for the sweet potatoes.

And it did.  But I had to change one other thing up too.

This year instead of starting my sweet potatoes in jars of water like I normally do, I tried something new.  I planted them in a pan of soil.  Nothing fancy, just an aluminium roasting pan from the dollar store that I poked holes in the bottom of for drainage.  Then I sat it on a seedling heat pad and waited.

THE NEW WAY

Growing Sweet Potato Slips the New Way

1. Place whole sweet potato(s) lengthwise in a pan of soil so the soil comes halfway up the side of potato.
2. Place the pan on a seedling heating mat.
3. Make sure the soil stays moist and wait for it to produce roots / slips in 2 weeks or less.

A few weeks later the sweet potatoes had rooted and produced enough sweet potato slips for my entire garden.

It’s the magic of the heat pad.  And also the magic of growing in soil (mixed with compost) that has actual nutrients in it.  The slips grown in just water look positively anaemic compared to the soil grown ones.  This is also an example of the magic of always, always evolving and trying new things.

Sure I’d already had success growing sweet potatoes slips and I could have stuck with that forever and ever.  But I tried something new and my slips are better, stronger and have a way more predicable growing timeline.

If you want to continue growing your slips in water that’s fine. It won’t make one iota of difference in terms of the quality of sweet potatoes you get at the end of the summer.  Your plants will be the same size by August and so will your sweet potatoes.  Growing in soil on a heating pad just gives you slightly stronger slips (less likely to croak on transplant) and a better guarantee of growing within a few weeks as opposed to a few months.

All the Sweet Potato Information You Need

How to Grow Sweet Potato Slips in Water

How and When to Plant Sweet Potato Slips

Protecting your Sweet Potatoes from Voles and Mice

How to Cure Your Sweet Potatoes so they’re SWEET.  (info is near end of this post)

How to Make Guaranteed CRISPY Sweet Potato Fries

Seedling Heating Pad on Amazon ($16.99)

It ain’t that hard.  Any of it.

44 Comments

  1. TucsonPatty says:

    What a font of Sweet Potato slip information. I don’t grow anything (except brown leaves…) : ( but this makes me want to do the whole Sweet Potato in the glass trick that we had when I was a kid. I remember it on top of the heating stove, and it grew like crazy!! I should have told you the heat trick before! If only I had known what was happening. ; ) I did eat my Sweet Potato Fries tonight, like a good tater fan.

  2. Sheryl says:

    Your blog entry’s are so much fun to read. I read them even when I’m not interested in what you wrote about. And your links to other posts? I think you have set some very effective time traps. I’m thinking of quitting my job just to have time to drift from link to link. I won’t even mention how much I enjoy your photos. Oh wait, I just did.

    • Karen says:

      Sorry Sheryl, don’t mean to send you down a time warp of posts, lol. Well, actually I kind of do, but it sound rude for me to admit that that’s my goal. 🙂 And thanks! ~ karen!

  3. Nicole says:

    I bet these plants from the dirt/heating pad slips grow larger than the water ones and have more sweet potatoes, given how much healthier they are from the starting line! But much like TucsonPatty, my talents do not lie in gardening. I garden vicariously through you. 🙂

  4. Leslie Zuroski says:

    Would this work for me who only wants to grow them for ornamental purposes?

    • Mary W says:

      I just cut up a couple of sweet potatoes and buried them in the ground all over my front yard, hoping to give up mowing since I love ornamental sweet taters, too. It worked like a charm for about 6 months, then they got mowed by my daughter’s new husband that LOVES to mow grass. So sad but they do grow like weeds in Florida. They also have special varieties that produce an over abundance of pretty leaves and fewer potatoes for those of us that love the foliage.

    • Karen says:

      Sure. The sweet potato doesn’t know if you’re growing it to eat or just to look at. 🙂 ~ karen!

  5. With such iffy a timeline, how will I know when to start. How long can you keep them before setting out?

    • Karen says:

      That’s the problem with the initial method Suzanne. I normally start my sweet potato slips in March and everything usually works out fine. This second method with soil and a heating pad has so far been quite reliable for me so now I can start them much later, knowing I won’t be planting them out until June 1st. As long as you can keep them alive in your house they’ll be fine to plant out at any time as long as you properly harden them off. As the sweet potato slips grow you can just break them off (as I show you in the original post), root them in water and plant them in separate pots. The original sweet potatoes that are growing the slips will continue to produce slips indefinitel so you can keep making multiple slips.. ~ karen!

      • Suzanne says:

        Thanks Karen. Looks like I’m in business. All those vines, and a sweet spud bonus. Can’t wait for summer. Glad too, that we got this comment problem sorted.

  6. Maureen Locke says:

    Karen, did you break the internet again??? Your link to the heating pad doesn’t work.. none of them. I tried them all. So, I went to amazon.ca and can’t find a heating pad that’s $16.99 either. Not sure when/if I’ll be growing sweet potatoes but I want to be ready when I do.. lol

  7. Mary W says:

    I have two cat bed warmers for my outside cats. They heat up to “cat temperature” and will work wonderfully to start the slips. Better than storing the beds now that spring is here.

  8. Mary W says:

    Karen, you are always a welcome click to a moment of morning de-stressing. Going to get my cat warmers and hopefully grow several big pots of sweet potato leaves for my porch.

  9. ronda says:

    I would think soil and heat are the winning combo. For any plant! Probably why my rose slip had a couple of beautiful little green leaves one day and dead and dried out leaves the next. Just when I was thinking I should get the bag of top soil out of the garage, they were done for.

  10. Jenifer says:

    Just need the pan and some soil…and a place to put it without the cat thinking it’s her personal play ground (or, god-forbid, a new litter box!)

    Wish me luck!

    • Jennie Lee says:

      You just provided me with the perfect place to leave my comment, Jenifer! We’re both Jen(n)ifers, too- how serendipitous! Sweet potato plants are toxic to both cats and dogs. I have a cat, and I’m always careful to look up any plant before I bring it into my home, to make sure it’s safe. It’s easy to look it up with Google. The ASPCA list is the most complete. They give info for cats, dogs, and horses! They also provide lists of NON-TOXIC plants, which is very reassuring, since if you don’t see a plant on the toxic list, how do you know if it’s really safe, or if they just omitted it accidentally? I’d advise putting the plants up high or in a room the pet can’t enter= and don’t let leaves fall off, to the floor!

  11. Kathy says:

    You sound really excited and then so am I so I need to plant sweet potatoes. I really like eating them so that’s good. But I buy sweet potato vine plants because I like the light green foliage so will I get a beautiful vine and potatoes? I suspect the store bought vine is something different.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kathy! Yes, sweet potato vine that you get in the nursery is different than an actual edible sweet potato. I’m with you though, I love the lime/bright green foliage on the nurser ones! When you dig the ornamental ones up at the end of the season they do in fact produce some type of sweet potato, but it’s not the kind we produce for eating. (although it could very well be edible) ~ karen!

      • Beth says:

        The ornamental sweet potato vines are non-toxic for people. But they are poisonous for cats, dogs and horses. However! Their seeds ARE toxic for people. So don’t eat the seeds. And don’t let pets nibble on the vines.

  12. Elaine says:

    As one of your other readers said, Karen, I enjoy reading all of your posts … even when it’s something I can’t do. I’m in a condo now that faces north and north-east, receiving sunlight until around 1:30 p.m. However, I LOVE seeing things sprout and have a very green thumb so I might try this purely for decorative purposes. Maybe my balcony pots will display sweet potato vines instead of Boston ferns this Summer! Thanks a lot!

  13. Vaalerie says:

    In lieu of a plant heating pad, just a question. Do you think an ordinary heating pad set on low and on a heat resistant surface such as the top of my stove would be an acceptable alternative? I have two (people) heating pads and hate to purchase a plant heat pad if I don’t have to.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Valerie. I can only recommend personally, the seed heat pad since that’s what I’ve used. But I can say I definitely know people who use a waterproof heating pad on low. You have to be careful that even on low it isn’t too warm, and also that your heating pad doesn’t automatically turn off every few hours. Many of them do as a safety feature. ~ karen!

    • Chrissy says:

      Vaalerie, I put Christmas lights under my seedlings using an overturned tray that I place the seed pots on top of. You can’t use LEDs, only the older ones that produce a little heat. I keep a thermometer nearby and adjust the temps by using a timer with the lights so I don’t bake the plants. Works very well if you don’t want to spend on a seed pad.

      • Gilly Bean says:

        Clever! I love that. Thanks. <3

      • Gilly Bean says:

        Would this work for NOT sweet potatoes? I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes but, would like to grow some other varieties of potato that aren’t the regular brown and white ones….on the other hand….maybe I could give one to the family member that is inviting me to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner…. 😉 …well, two in that case. Probably more if I grow them successfully. Either way I’d like to try to grow other types of potatoes and wonder if this method would work for them too.

        • Karen says:

          Hi Gilly Bean. Growing like this wouldn’t work for other potatoes. Sweet Potatoes aren’t actually a potato and in fact are a member of an entirely different plant family. Sweet potatoes like heat. Regular potatoes do not like heat at all. Regular potatoes are planted outside as early as March while sweet potatoes can’t be set outside until June at the earliest. ~ karen!

  14. Terri J. says:

    Still having trouble reading your posts. Putting something so wonderfully originally funny such as “Pinterest people” at the beginning of your post makes me ROFL (had to use that even though I really hate those inital things) so hard it delayed my reading the entirety of your writing. BTW keep up the good work.

  15. Marti says:

    So… on the “please be my stooges who find a cool chair for me” post, there was a video on the side.

    But on this post, it’s gone again? I had almost gotten accustomed to hearing you talk to me while I was trying to read that entire post. But it was a “one-time-trial-event”?

    I quite liked it, but think you might goose the audio just a little more. I have really good hearing, but even with the sound on this chromebook all the way up and the sound on the link all the way up, it was having to strain toward it.

    How many slips do you get per potato?

  16. Linda in Illinois says:

    I have never grown sweet potatoes, do you just purchase one from the grocer and then plant it?

  17. Thandi says:

    I accidentally got sweet potato slips once. Apparently the back of my grocery cupboard was not only a great place to lose a sweet potato, but also a very comfy place for that sweet potato to send out some happy little tendrils. I kept it on a saucer in my kitchen window, named her Sweety Potato, and misted her every few days. She was a great friend, dear old Sweety Potato, enthusiastically growing on her little saucer in the sun. But then we went on holiday and when we came back she was no longer with us. I miss that silly cupboard plant.

    In other news, my husband has suggested that I stop bloody well naming things, because I get emotionally attached to weird stuff.

  18. Paula says:

    So you use actual soil and not the ‘soilless’ mix used for seeds? This maybe a dumb question but I would rather check now before I start the process.

  19. Kelly says:

    I can’t wait to get started! Just need to pick up a heating pad. We typically grow potatoes here, but two of us have a nightshade allergy and eat sweet potatoes instead. Do you have any advice on how many slips or how many square feet of garden to use for a family of 4?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kelly. It all depends of course on how many time a week/month you’re going to eat them, but I would say growing a 4’x 4′ plot of them, which amounts to 16 slips would do you. I have however, found if you plant slightly less in a 4′ x 4′ area (12 slips instead of 16) you actually end up with bigger sweet potatoes. ~ karen!

  20. Kelly says:

    A few more questions! Would setting the tray on a heating vent in my house work in lieu of a heating pad? House is set to 70F. Have you ever tried growing Carribean sweet potatoes (purple skin, white flesh)? Not sure if our weather here in Hamilton would support that variety??

    • Karen says:

      You can give it a shot, but the problem with a heating vent is it’s inconsistent. If that’s all you have though, then by all means give it a shot. I also worry the heat that comes out of the vent would actually be to warm and would also dry out the soil in the pan very quickly. If you’re in Hamilton, Home Hardware sells the seedling heating pads. I think they’re about $20. ~ karen!

  21. Jen Topp says:

    So, when I’m ready to grow them for real in the garden, do I cut the potato into pieces so that each one is one slip? I am new at this kind of potato planting.

    Thanks!

  22. Emma Followes says:

    This might be a dumb question but should the sweet potato tray on the heating pad be in the light or in the dark until the slips grow?

  23. Linda says:

    I don’t know where I went wrong, this is my first time growing anything I used the water and toothpick method like I did in elementary school, after about 5 days the potato turned to mush, what happened?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)

  • About Karen

  • My Latest Videos

93 Shares
Share29
Pin64
Tweet
Buffer
Flip
SUBSCRIBE if you like to sweat, swear and do stuff.
x
The Art of Doing Stuff