A DIY Guide to Growing Sweet Potatoes.

It doesn’t matter if you have a huge vegetable garden or just a pot on an apartment balcony – you CAN grow sweet potatoes. I’m going to show you how and March is the time to start thinking about growing them.

A pile of dirt covered, freshly dug sweet potatoes from a home garden.

For years I’ve been teaching you how to grow sweet potatoes.   How to produce slips, how to plant them, how to keep them pest free, when to shake your fist and swear at them and when to just give them a sideways glance.  

Today I’m bringing ALL that information together so you have a start to finish resource for growing these suckers. Because even though growing sweet potatoes is easy – it’s a bit of a thing.

When I first started learning about growing sweet potatoes around 2010 there really wasn’t a lot of information out there on the big, bad Internet about how to grow them.  At that time, growing sweet potato slips was a closely guarded secret in the farming community.  

It was a mystical, mysterious process much like how to perform a sleight of hand 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 I was growing sweet potatoes in Ontario, Canada. Not exactly the warm climate they’re known for growing in.

To clear up any confusion, sweet potatoes don’t grow like regular potatoes. A regular potato is a tuber, a sweet potato is a root. Regular potatoes are grown from whole “seed” potatoes. Sweet potatoes are grown from sweet potato sprouts. Otherwise known as slips.

It all starts with the sweet potato slip.


Sweet potatoes grow from something called “slips”.  Those are the green vines that grow out of a sweet potato when it sprouts.  They’re taken off and planted in the ground to create a new sweet potato plant.

**The decorative Sweet Potato Vine you buy in the bedding plant section of the nursery isn’t the same thing – but it will grow a tuber and it can be propagated the same way I show you here**

Sweet potato graphic showing how 1 potato can easily produce 30 pounds of sweet potatos.

A single sprouting sweet potato can provide you with at least 15 slips (that’s a low estimate). Those 15 slips create 15 plants, which will give you around 30 lbs or 60 individual sweet potatoes.

Once a slip is a few inches it can be pinched off of the sweet potato and rooted in water or planted directly in the ground.  

Some seed stores, nurseries or online stores sell sweet potato slips however, you can just grow your 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’ve established your very OWN crop of sweet potatoes you can use your own sweet potatoes for producing slips year after year.


  • If you want to try growing sweet potato slips from grocery store sweet potatoes, check for cold damage on them.  Cold damage doesn’t show up until a few days after the sweet potato has been exposed to below 55 degree temperatures.  On the inside (which you can’t see) the sweet potato will have dark spots.  On the outside the sweet potato will have dark discoloured spots and lesions.

A chill damaged sweet potato showing signs of dark spots and blemishes from being too cold.

Sweet Potato with cold damage




Sweet potatoes suspended over mason jars of water with toothpicks, growing lots of roots and a plethora of slips.

Slips are those vines growing out of the sweet potato. Each individual slip get plucked off the potato and planted in the ground.

Growing Sweet Potato Slips the Old Way

With this method you’re generally safe to start your slips 6 weeks prior to when you want to plant them out.

This is how I grew my Sweet Potato slips for the first 10 years of growing them:

  • Place sweet potatoes in a glass jar of water.  You want half of the sweet potato under water and the rest not. The part under water will grow roots and the part above water will grow sprouts (known as sweet potato slips).   If your sweet potato is too skinny you can use toothpicks to keep it from falling right down into the  jar of water.
  • Put the jar with the sweet potato somewhere WARM.  Over 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. And the warmer the better.  I have a dining room cupboard that’s next to a heat vent. I know the cupboard always gets warm because of the vent so I put my sweet potatoes in there.  At this point the sweet potato doesn’t need any light.  Just warmth.  Now just leave the sweet potato and wait.
  • It could take as long as a month or more for the potato to start growing “slips”.  Just keep checking them every few days to see if they’ve started to sprout.
  • They might grow roots before they grow slips so check for those too.   Depending on the mood of the sweet potato, slips will start growing out of it in anywhere from a week to two months.

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 gets old fast. 

So a few years ago 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.


Sweet potato slips being grown in a soil filled pan.

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.

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.  

 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.

The slips can either be planted directly into the ground or left to root in water until the weather warms up.

Carefully pulling off one slip from a sweet potato plant that's producing at least 20 slips.

Because sweet potatoes are the heat loving little things that they are you can’t put them out in the garden until it’s warm out. For me in zone 6b that means I don’t plant my sweet potatoes out until June 1st.

If your sweet potato has plenty of slips but it isn’t warm enough to plant them out yet, pull them off the sweet potato and let each slip root in water.

A mason jar filled with rooting sweet potato slips on a burlap backdrop.



Sweet potatoes will be one of the last things you plant in your garden. They must go in later than peppers, tomatoes and other heat loving plants because sweet potatoes need more than just warm weather. They need warm soil as well as warm air.

You can speed up your soil warming by laying a layer of black thermal plastic in your garden bed. I use biodegradable plastic made of cornstarch that just decomposes on the soil by the end of the season. 

It will heat the soil up by as much as 10 degrees which means you can plant sweet potato slips 1-2 weeks sooner than if you don’t use plastic.

Newly planted sweet potato slips in a garden bed covered with biodegradable thermal plastic.

1.  Lay black thermal mulch (plastic) on area for planting 2 weeks before setting out. Sweet potatoes need full sun so make sure your area has that.

2.  Cut a circle in the plastic and push one slip in.  Make sure the slip has contact with soil all around.

3.  Plant 1 slip per square foot.  They can be planted with 1 foot between rows, but 16″ is better if you have the room.

4. Keep the sweet potatoes well watered throughout the summer. Using the plastic eliminates  the need to weed.

5.  Harvest sweet potatoes before the first frost.  Once the weather cools down they won’t grow anyway.

Planting the slips closer than 1′ together will reduce your yield and produce much smaller sweet potatoes. 


A woman's hand holding a sweet potato slip over a plastic mulch covered garden bed ready for planting.



Voles, moles, mice and other things that tunnel, burrow and generally bother are more in love with sweet potatoes than you will ever be. And one tiny little vole family will eat every single sweet potato you grow if you don’t protect them.

You can protect sweet potatoes from pests in two ways.



Sweet potato plants growing in 60 L plastic pots.

60 litre pots that measure 60 cm across. Planted with 2 slips per pot. 

  1. Grow them in very large pots where rodents won’t have access to them. Which is also a perfect way to grow sweet potatoes if you only have a sunny apartment balcony or limited space. You’ll notice in the photo above that even I even use black plastic to warm the soil when growing in pots.


You can 1/4″ hardware cloth from most hardware stores. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon carries it. 

Hardware cloth stretched and stapled across the wood frame of a raised bed to keep rodents out of sweet potato patch.

2. Cover your sweet potato bed with 1/4″ hardware cloth. Grow your sweet potatoes in a raised bed with wood sides. After laying your plastic down, staple hardware cloth around the edges of your bed. To plant the slips you have to punch a hole into the plastic with a pencil and push the slip through the hardware cloth, plastic and into the soil.  THIS IS A PAIN. But it eliminates 100%  of rodent damage.

The first season I did this I was worried the voles would tunnel under the raised beds to get to the sweet potatoes, but for whatever reason, they don’t.


Near the end of their growing life sweet potato vines will start to yellow. This is a GOOD sign! They’re ready to harvest.

Harvest your sweet potatoes once the weather gets cool in the fall. In my zone of 6b I generally dig them up in the first 2 weeks of October.  Don’t water the sweet potatoes for 1 week prior to digging them  up. This allows them to dry out and come out of the ground cleaner.

If the vines get touched by frost and start to turn black the sweet potatoes can rot quickly so dig them up right away!

  • Cut the tangle of vines away, leaving only a few stubs to let you know where the plants are.
  • Using a shovel or digging fork, dig em up!  Honestly, the most fun crops to grow are the ones that grow underground because you have NO idea what you  have until the day you dig them up.
  • Be careful when you’re digging them and pulling them out. Sweet potatoes bruise easily.

This video shows my sweet potato harvest in 2016 after I tried using the hardware cloth the first time in a raised bed in my 40′ x 40′ community garden plot. In this video I’m using regular thermal plastic, not the biodegradable plastic.


Harvesting sweet potatoes doesn’t end with digging them up.  Once you dig them up you have to let them dry in the sun for a few hours.  Then they need to be brought inside and cured for 10 days, and then cured some more for another month or so.


Why do you have to cure sweet potatoes?

  • Curing toughens the skin so they keep longer and it develops their distinct sweet flavour.

A sweet potato dug straight out of the ground won’t taste sweet at all! Try it.

The optimal conditions for curing sweet potatoes are in an 85 degree room at 85 percent humidity.  Um …  sure.

Don’t worry. All you need to do is get as close to the idea conditions as possible. You can do this relatively easily believe it or not.

  • Put your sweet potatoes in a rubber bin with the lid offset so it isn’t completely sealed off. Store this near a heat register, wood stove or sunny spot. This will create conditions as close to perfect as you can get in most houses. DO THIS FOR 10 DAYS.
  • After the initial 10 day curing period move your sweet potatoes to an area that is between 55-60 degrees for one month. This develops their flavour.  After 1 month they will have developed their sweet potato flavour which will get even stronger as time goes by.


Store sweet potatoes in an area that doesn’t get below 50 degrees in a container that breathes like a slatted wood box or a burlap sack.

Sweet potatoes spilling out of slatted wood crate.


  • Start sweet potato slips 6 weeks prior to planting out.
  • Rooted AND unrooted slips can be planted directly in the soil.
  • Speed up how quickly you can plant your slips outside by laying down thermal plastic
  • To prevent vole/mole/mouse damage either grow sweet potatoes in very large pots or grow in a raised bed with wood sides and 1/4″ hardware cloth across the top.
  • Dig up sweet potatoes when the weather cools in fall.
  • Cure sweet potatoes at 85F and 85% humidity for 10 days.
  • Cure another month at 55-60F allowing potatoes to develop sugars.
  • Store long term in vented crates or burlap bags at no colder than 50F
The Start to Finish Guide to Growing Sweet Potatoes.

The Start to Finish Guide to Growing Sweet Potatoes.

How to successfully grow sweet potatoes whether your garden is big or small.


  1. Start sweet potato slips 6 weeks prior to planting out.
  2. Rest a whole, undamaged sweet potato in soil and set on a heating mat. Slips will start to grow in around 2 weeks. When around 5", break slips off of sweet potato and plant out or root in water.
  3. Rooted AND unrooted slips can be planted directly in the soil.
  4. Speed up how quickly you can plant your slips outside by laying down thermal plastic
  5. To prevent vole/mole/mouse damage either grow sweet potatoes in very large pots or grow in a raised bed with wood sides and 1/4" hardware cloth across the top.
  6. Dig up sweet potatoes when the weather cools in fall.
  7. Cure sweet potatoes at 85F and 85% humidity for 10 days.
  8. Cure another month at 55-60F allowing potatoes to develop sugars.
  9. Store long term in vented crates or burlap bags at no colder than 50F

Once you have a whack of sweet potatoes that you’ve grown yourself, if stored in good conditions, they’ll last you into March or even April. 

You can turn them into my personal favourite guaranteed crispy Sweet Potato fries with a Sriracha/mayo dip, Sweet Potato soup or sweet potato casserole (this Preppy Kitchen one is INSANELY good).

And just like that ALL the card trick has been revealed. I’m like the Penn and Teller of the sweet potato world. Now go forth and grow.


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A DIY Guide to Growing Sweet Potatoes.


  1. Rob Halsall says:

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve tried your technique for a few weeks now and all my sweet potatoes are throwing roots out like mad, but I don’t have a leaf (or even a green slip) yet. Is there a chance I’ve missed something? Last week I tried taking one out with its roots and placing it in the glass of water, but the roots are just carrying on growing. Maybe this is normal and I need to be more patient. :-) Any comments are greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

    • Karen says:

      HI Rob. This is perfectly normal! Just let them do their thing and make sure they have heat. They’ll eventually start putting out slips. It can take a while. :) ~ karen!

      • Jeff says:

        It is 3 June, is it to late to start to grow snips from a sweet potato and harvest in the fall?

        • Karen says:

          Hi Jeff. It depends on how quickly you can grow them, but at this point you’d be better off running around trying to find pregrown slips. It’s not too late to plant, but it is getting late to try to grow slips. ~ karen!

    • Elaine R Finch says:

      Hi, I hope by now you have your sweet potatoes growing well but if not, I always add a little hydroponic nutrients to the water I have my sweet potatoes rooting in and they have grown huge green slips.. ready for the garden.

  2. Diane says:

    I have read an abundance of the comments. I love Yams, I know there is a difference between the sweet potato and the yam, and the regular potato. Here you speak about sweet potato, I am looking for the yams, are they grown the same way? Thanks Diane

    • Margaret K. says:

      True yams are tropical and are unrelated to sweet potatoes. They are not often grown in North America because they don’t like our climate. Also, they are pretty blah in taste. What some Americans call “yams” are sweet potato varieties that have a firm, comparatively light-colored flesh. Sweet potatoes actually come in many colors. Some of the ones that have been developed in Asia have purple or white flesh.

      You grow the “yam” type of sweet potato just like Karen describes here. But I like the ones with a really orange flesh best.

  3. Geraldine Winterhalter says:

    Hi, I live in a country where sweet potatoes are considered very exotic, only for foreigners like me and far too expensive for the local population. I tried growing slips in water and nothing happened. Then my sister-in-law came to visit and explained that they had probably been sprayed with an inhibitor to prevent them sprouting. Any ideas how I can get past this problem.


    • Karen says:

      Hi Geraldine. Unless you find someone there who also grows their own sweet potatoes then using store bought sweet potatoes is your only route to getting slips. Even if a potato has been sprayed with inhibitor you can get lucky and find one that will sprout. You can also try my method of sprouting in soil. Don’t forget it can take a long time for them to sprout if they’re being particularly stubborn. If you just stick it out for one year and try everything possible, you’ll have your own crop which will make sprouting every year after that MUCH easier. ~ karen!

      • AJ Kamradt says:

        I grew sweet potatoes in a pot last year but all I got were roots and exactly 1 sweet potato. I live in Az so heat wasn’t the problem, nor water. The plants were absolutely beautiful and they were all over the place but no potatoes
        Any idea why the roots never developed into potatoes

        • Karen says:

          It depends on how many sweet potatoes you put in and how big the pot was. They do NOT like to be crowded. I don’t know how they know, but they do. One slip per pot unless it’s really BIG. Like the size of a half whiskey barrel. That would be my first guess. The next would be making sure the soil in the pot had fertilizer in it and wasn’t years old and depeleted. ~ karen!

    • Margaret Gove says:

      Sweet potatoes come from America, and they are irradiated to prevent shooting. Unless you are lucky, and can find organic ones, we are out of luck!

      • Michelle says:

        Not true at all. Wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water. Let them dry before you put them in the soil. Once dried, lay the sweet potato in the soil..lighty water them, cover it, and place heat mat underneath it. And wait. It takes a while but will grow the slips to your desire. Believe me! I did it. My sweet potato wasn’t organic either.

      • Barbara B says:

        I tried an organic and non-organic sweet potato. The non-organic didn’t do anything after six weeks except get mushy while the organic one has produced slips (the water method). Next year I’ll try the soil/heating pad method.

        • Rinny says:

          I read somewhere they recommend using organic when trying to start from a store bought, as the non organic sprays with something to prevent it from sprouting.

  4. Amie says:

    Thank for all the info! I started a sweet potato in soil and one end started to rot and get mushy. Can I just cut the end off and leave it or do I need to replace it with a new potato? Thanks!

    • JPB says:

      If one end started to rot, you had the soil too moist. Cut off the rot and place the tater in soil that will drain, you can even have some of the tater exposed to sunshine to encourage growth.

  5. carla says:

    Question about the soil…I did one in soil and one in water last year. The soil one grew slips just fine, but I got gnatty sort of maybe fruit fly like bugs bugging my sweet potato soil. Any tips for how to keep the bugs away?

    • Christina says:

      Those are fungus gnats. Put a thick layer of vermiculite on top of the soil to keep them from being able to lay eggs.

  6. Alanna Farmer says:

    I found an overlooked sweet potato that had sprouted and stuck it in the window to see how it would fare. I have used the toothpick and water method but I think I like this one better. The sweet potato is starting to desiccate so I think it’s time to introduce it to a bit of dirt. Thanks for writing this – enjoyed reading it

  7. Mike says:

    If my store bought sweet potato is already sprouting can I cut these off with a slice of the potato & start these as slips in water? Will such slips produce sweet potatoes or just vines and do I have to produce slips from blind shoots not yet formed?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mike! If you have slips growing from store bought sweet potatoes they’ll grow just fine. You can either root them in water or put them straight into a pot with soil. Either way they should do well. Then all you have to do is keep them alive until spring or whenever you can plant them outside depending on where you live. ~ karen!

    • Shellie says:

      In regards to the vine question, I saw someone bury part of a vine in an adjoining container, and it rooted and grew sweet potatoes in that pot too. Once it firmly rooted, they cut the new vine away from the mother plant, just like with strawberries, but with big fat sweet potatoes instead. Can’t wait to try it myself. I plan to keep one growing all year in a container and harvest the greens for salad to keep them in check. Karen, any experience with that? How much root or greens can you harvest without overly stressing the plant?

  8. Paulina says:

    I had to look up how to *plant* the slips that accidentally sprouted in my pantry, and yours came up, alongside the more science-y version, and a bajillion varieties of sweet potatoes, including the hardy short season kinds that grow most everywhere in the United States and parts of Canada at https://www.sandhillpreservation.com/sweet-potato-growing-information

    The latter, for someone like myself, who is trying to start growing enough food to sell at my farmers’ market, is a lot more in-depth, but this post opened a rabbit hole of a time sink for me. I’ll have to spend days browsing articles now. Thanks a bunch. /s

    I’ll enjoy it. :)

  9. Diane says:

    Just found this will be trying the new way this year it sounds so much better thanks. Cheers Diane. France

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I realize it’s an old post but…the story about starting slips being a ‘closely guarded secret’ made me BUST OUT LAUGHING. I was fortunate to grow up in the Carolinas and everyone, I mean EVERYONE with any garden know how could tell you how to start slips. I was raised watching my grandmama start them for the garden, then keep one and put it in a jar hanging in the kitchen window and it made the prettiest vine in the kitchen all summer. A shame people in other regions didn’t inherit that information.

    • DLee says:

      Yes, NC is the sweet potato capital of the western hemisphere. We grow 60% of the total US production, thats 50% more than the other 49 states combined. There are multiple potato warehouses in my region, one of them can store 2 million bushels of sweet potatoes. You can even pick your variety, if you know what you like. I like Murasaki and Bonita (both are white sweet potatoes). Covington is one of the more popular orange potatoes.

  11. Hugh Holland says:


    After you have the slips, what do you do with them after you break them off? I guess the choices would be to plant in the garden, put them in water until they develope more roots, or pot them until they have roots.

    The weather isn’t good enough where I live to plant them yet.


    • Karen says:

      Yup, those are all your options, lol. And all of them work well. I honestly haven’t noticed any difference in production regardless of how I start the slips. I usually stick them in a mason jar with water to root until it’s warm enough out to plant them out at the beginning of June. It takes the least amount of room and is faster than potting them all up. If the plant is still producing slips at he beginning of June (and it always is), I take any of the last slips off of the sweet potato and plant them directly in the garden. ~ karen!

      • Hugh Holland says:

        I had a few very long slips that I broke off and put in water. They are producing roots but keep wilting badly every time i put them in the sun and it’s only low 70’s here. When i put them in the dark them perk back up

  12. Andrew says:

    I started your method about 10 days ago. I haven’t noticed any change yet when I just checked the sweet potatoes they seemed soft on the bottom, almost as if the potatoes were rotting? Is my soil too moist?

    • Karen says:

      It could be. It could also be that the potatoes you’re using have been cold damaged. It can take longer than 10 days for them to start to sprout though so I wouldn’t give up on them yet. The soil (especially in the beginning) just barely needs to be wet. ~ karen!

  13. Sara says:

    A couple weeks ago I started my sweet potatoes in jars with water. Just read this article and wish I had tried the soil method! Maybe next time. My question is – a few of the jars have started growing some green stuff on the bottom and the water has a green tint. The roots are a little green but the sweet potato above seems to be growing a couple slips. Perhaps the green stuff is algae?? Should I change the water? Leave it? Or just throw away those potatoes? The other jars water seems to have remained pretty clear.

    • Karen says:

      Hmm. I have no idea what that is, lol. Sounds like it is just algae. I’d rinse everything under water (the potato roots, the jar) refill it and forge ahead. There’s no reason to throw them out. :) ~ karen!

  14. Mia says:

    Do you know anything about how many seasons you can grow from the initial slip you planted? I heard that sweet potatoes these days originated in universities and that you can only grow them for 2 or 3 years before you need to get a new slip from the universities due to the potato loosing quality and flavor.

  15. Kelli Silvestro says:

    Glass jar/ water method I have always used because of limited space but I’m anxious to try the pan method. It sounds like you’re laying them down lengthwise?

  16. Hugh says:

    Works great, thanks. The slips started in 2 weeks and are very healthy. I will never use water again

  17. Karen says:

    HI Karen! I’m a Karen too! Question – I am trying this method for the first time. Got an aluminum roasting pan and put gardener’s gold (our local compost) and seed starter mixture in it and placed the organic sweet potato right smack dab in the middle – it looks like a submarine when it’s docked! Got the seedling mat under it but am afraid to leave it on all the time – is that safe to do? Also, it’s not in direct sun but gets indirect light. Finally – when I water it, should I moisten the whole pan of dirt or just the dirt around the potato? Around the potato is what I have been doing since I planted it three days ago. And I do have a second roasting pan under the first because I poked holes in the first for drainage and wanted to catch any drips. Thanks in advance for your advice!

  18. Chrissy says:

    Hi Karen, it’s a Cold Winter day and I’m thinking Spring to stay warm. 😆 My best luck with growing a Sweet Potato Vine – when the potato shows a white sprout, cut a slice of potato including the sprout, lay it sprout down on top of planting soil and watch it grow. I put 2 slices in this hanging planter outdoors, in the sun. The prettiest Vine ever.

  19. Wendy Spatcher says:

    HI Karen, I’m in zone 6b and one of my sweet potatoes from last crop is sprouting nicely, but a little early in morning d January! I plan in setting it in soil at end of February. Do you think it will matter if some sprouts are a couple of inches long already?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Wendy, that’ll be fine. When the sprouts get to be around 5″ long you can snap the off and plant them in individual pots if you like. :) ~ karen!

  20. Laurel D says:

    Does anyone know if I can just plant cut pieces directly in the ground

    • Karen says:

      Hi Laurel D. That’s how you would grow a regular potato, not a sweet potato. Sweet potatoes need to grow from slips that you prestart. ~ karen!

  21. Lilly says:

    Hiya Karen, I’ve started 3 sweet potatos hurried halfway up the side in good potting soil/compost mix, in an aluminum pan holes poke in bottom in a tray and on a heat mat. After 2 weeks they are rooting under the soil yet nothing on top. I do water from the bottom by filling the tray with water. I live in Washington state across the Columbia from Portland, today is April 30th, do I keep waiting?

    • Karen says:

      Yup. Keep waiting. :) You can also try sticking in another sweet potato in case those ones aren’t viable, but it’s quite difficult to tell. ~karen!

  22. Jo Cedergreen says:

    Sweet potatoes caught my attention this year, and even though I’m in zone 6b, I thought I’d give them a try. So, last month, I dutifully gave a couple of them little toothpick arms and set them in my east-facing kitchen window. Nice and bright. I never considered the icy, 27-degree F temperature on the other side of the glass would have any impact. Only roots, so far. Then, tonight, Karen, I stumbled upon your initial articles from 2015 and began to suspect the window was not the best location. Better yet, I read this latest update about using a warming pad. Ingenious! I can’t wait to try this.

    • Karen says:

      Good luck JO! I’m in 6b too. Make sure you read all my sweet potato posts for all the tricks about warming the soil and how to cure them after you dig them up. And yes, get a heating pad! Mine are growing like crazy right now. ~ karen!

  23. Nana999 says:

    .THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I’ve been trying to grow sweet potato slips in jars with toothpicks for 2 months with no results. Now I’m going for the potting soil and heat mat.

    • Karen says:

      Keep in mind it *could* be the sweet potato. If it got touched by cold then it won’t sprout no matter what you try to do to it. Most grocery store sweet potatoes sprout just fine, so buy a few that look firm with no scars or discolouration and try both methods with them. :) ~ karen!

  24. Tina L. says:

    Hi. There was no reply to Emma’s question of 4/17 as to putting the tray in light or dark. Which is best? Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tina L. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve had slips sprout while in the dark (in a cupboard) or while in the light. I keep mine in my basement with natural light from a single window until they start to sprout and then I put LED grow lights on them for 13 or so hours a day. ~ karen!

  25. Chrissy says:

    Hi Karen, thank you for the quick reply. It is loaded with roots but no sprouts anywhere. It is on the Hot Water Heater in the sun. It looks pretty healthy. Guess I’ll wait a couple more weeks to see what happens. Do you, or anyone else have any experience with Sugar Beets ? White Sugar Beets ?

  26. Chrissy says:

    HELP, my sweet potato has all roots and NO slips, or sprouts, or leaves. Should I plant the whole potato in dirt ?

    • Karen says:

      That’s OK Chrissy. Just give it time. :) There’s no predicting sweet potatoes. But if there are roots there should eventually be slips. Make sure it’s in a warm spot (they like heat). But yes, occasionally a sweet potato just up and rots. That usually doesn’t happen if it has rooted though. ~ karen!

  27. Michael says:

    No one seems to mention the temperature of the heat pad? Mine are adjustable. Normally set for 80 to 85 degrees to sprout a variety of garden seeds i.e. tomatoes, peppers. So what is the recommended temperature for sweet potatoes?

    • Karen says:

      It doesn’t matter Michael. As long as it’s warm. Most seed starting mats generally warm to 10 – 20 degrees (F) warmer than the ambient temperature. So yes around 80 – 85 would work well on your matt. ~ karen!

    • Nana999 says:

      Also, if you can find heating pads that don’t have utomatic shutoff, they are cheaper than heat mats. Sunbeam makes one.

  28. 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?

  29. 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?

  30. 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.


  31. 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!

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. Linda in Illinois says:

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

  36. 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?

  37. 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.

  38. 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!

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

        • Shellie says:

          This may apply to ornamentals, but not sweetpotatoes grown for consumption… see the aspca website… they say non-toxic for dogs, cats, and horses.

  41. 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!

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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

  46. Suzanne Reith says:

    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.

      • Hi Karen,
        I really enjoyed your story. I couldn’t figure out how to write a comment to you so here it is…. I live in Pennsylvania near Philly and I tried growing sweet potatoes in the bro-under with zero luck. I think the warm soil season was just too short. Since I moved to a small house and was not sure how long I would stay here I decided to have an experimental garden plabnted into hay bales thus avoiding building containers which I prefer to garden in. The theory is that you feed the bales with high nitrogen fertilizer for a few weeks before growing season watering them generously not encourage the growth of compost producing bacteria. I did just that and had a fabulous productive vegetable garden that was also low maintenance. BUT the problem I ran into was I outlined my little south-facing cement porch with bales of hay, hoping to grow flowers in them. The seeds sprouted but disappeared so the bales were bare. I noticed a sweet potatoe on my kitchen table had sprouted so I cut it into 4 chunks and dug them into the bales out front expecting the vines to make a lovely statement while disappearing the unsightly bales. They did the job quite quickly and covered the whole porch. Good Job! When the first hard frost came I thought I must remove the vines before they discolored the porch cement. Low and behold! When I started pulling up the vines along came oodles of sweet potatoes! There were about 7 of them as large as a football. It’s was easy and amazing. I probably harvested 50 lbs of sweet potatoes from that one potatoe without having to plant sprouts. And they were so easy to harvest from the bales since they were not locked into the soil. I think the secret to my success was the heat absorbed from the sun beating on the bales. EASY!

  47. 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!

  48. 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. :)

  49. 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!

  50. 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.

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