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Sweet potato

Sweet Potato
Perennials, Vegetables, Vines


This genus includes many ornamental twining vines as well as the edible sweet potato.

Sweet potato

Not a potato, but the thickened root of a trailing tropical vine closely related to morning glory (Convovulus, Ipomoea); scientific name is Ipomoea batatas (see that entry for ornamental varieties of sweet potato). Bush and short vine varieties are also available. Needs long, hot, frost-free growing season; easiest to grow in the South and Hawaii. Also requires well-drained soil (preferably sandy loam) and plenty of room. Start with certified disease-free slips (rooted cuttings) from a garden center or mail-order nursery. Look for disease-resistant varieties. To avoid buildup of disease organisms in the soil, don’t grow sweet potatoes in the same location 2 years in a row.

There are two classes of sweet potatoes. One has soft, sugary, yellow-orange flesh (examples are ‘Centennial’, ‘Jewel’, ‘Kona-B’, ‘Vineless Puerto Rico’); the other has firm, dry, whitish flesh (examples are ‘Onokeo’, ‘Waimanalo Red’, ‘Yellow Jersey’). The sweet yellow-orange type is incorrectly sold under the name “yam” in grocery stores. Most varieties of both classes are ready to harvest 110 to 120 days after planting. Plant in late spring, when soil temperature has warmed to 70°F/ 21°C. (You can plant year-round in frost-free climates, but spring-planted crops mature faster.) Work in a low-nitrogen fertilizer before planting; too much nitrogen produces leafy growth at expense of roots. Set slips so only stem tips and leaves are exposed; space 1 ft. apart, in rows 3 ft. apart. To ensure good drainage, mark off rows and ditch between them to form planting ridges. Row covers provide added heat and keep out many pests.

Harvest before first frost; if tops are killed by sudden frost, harvest immediately. Dig carefully to avoid cutting or bruising roots. Flavor improves in storage (starch is converted to sugar). Let roots dry in the sun until soil can be brushed off; then cure by storing 10 to 14 days in warm (about 85°F/ 29°C),humid place. Store in a cool,dry environment (not below 55°F/13°C).

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