Growing Sweet Potato Plants in Pots

  • 01 of 07

    How To Grow Sweet Potato Plants and Sweet Potatoes

    Starting sweet potato vines
    Starting sweet potato vines. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Each lowly sweet potato holds a secret inside it—the capacity to reproduce. Even if you aren’t interested in growing the tubers to eat, simply sprouting sweet potatoes is also a great project. Historically, people sprouted sweet potatoes and used them as houseplants. You can also eat the tender and delicious shoots and leaves that emerge from the potato.

    If you want to grow sweet potatoes for harvest, you will need to start them by sprouting as well.

    Note: There is a difference between ornamental sweet potato vines and sweet potatoes for consumption. Ornamental sweet potato vines are common in gardens and especially containers. They are sold at nurseries as annuals in most zones. Ornamental sweet potatoes, though they are from the same plant family, have been bred to maximize the beauty and color of the leaves as well as the size and shape of the plant. While ornamental sweet potato vines can grow tubers, they are not meant for eating and can be very bitter.

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  • 02 of 07

    What You Need

    Sweet potatoes ready to sprout
    Sweet potatoes ready to sprout. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    ​Here's what you need to get started:

    • Sweet Potatoes: Look for firm sweet potatoes without any major bad spots. It's better if they haven't been refrigerated. If they are organic, your sweet potatoes are more likely to sprout. Some conventionally grown sweet potatoes have been sprayed to retard sprouting. However, most sweet potatoes will work fine.
    • Toothpicks: You only need three per potato, but it’s a good idea to have extras because the potatoes can be a little hard and some of your toothpicks may break.
    • Glass Container: Look for a clear glass jar, such as a Mason jar, or a drinking glass with an opening that is a little bigger than your potato. If you can find a container that the sweet potato can sit in with the bottom half or third of the potato resting in water, that will work, too. Then you don't need toothpicks.
    • Sunny Spot: Your sweet potatoes will sprout faster if you put them on a warm and sunny windowsill.
    • Fresh Water: Most tap water is fine for sprouting, but if you find that your potatoes don't sprout, it may be because your water has additives. If so, you might try bottled water.
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  • 03 of 07

    How To Start Sprouting Sweet Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes beginning to sprout
    Sweet potatoes beginning to sprout. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Locate the middle of each sweet potato and insert the toothpicks; they should go about half an inch to an inch into the potato. Each toothpick should be pretty evenly spaced around the circumference of the potato. It can be a little difficult to insert the toothpick, so you may break a few. If it's too hard, you can make a hole with a thin nail or metal skewer, then stick the toothpick in it.

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  • 04 of 07

    Setting Up

    Here's how to set up your potatoes once you've inserted the toothpicks:

    • Once you have three toothpicks sticking out of your sweet potato, rest them on the edge of your glass or jar with the pointed end of the potato facing down.
    • Fill your jar or glass with enough water so that it covers the bottom half of your sweet potato.
    • Put it on a sunny windowsill and change the water every couple of days.
    • It may take a few weeks or even a month before you see sprouts, but once they start, the vines and roots grow quickly.
    • When the leaves have started to sprout, you can pick off a few and taste them.
    • Once the plants get bigger, you can eat the leaves and shoots when they are tender and young. They have a mild, yet slightly spicy flavor, and they're used extensively in recipes around the world. In addition, According to nutrition data provided by Self magazine, sweet potatoes are extremely nutritious. Self reports that they are a "good source of protein, niacin, calcium, and iron, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.”
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  • 05 of 07

    Sweet Potato Slip

    A sweet potato slip
    A sweet potato slip growing on a potato. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Once your potatoes have sprouted, you can either continue to let them grow in water, or you can plant them in a pot or container. The container you choose will depend on whether you want to 1) treat the vines like houseplants or 2) plant them outside and grow sweet potatoes.

    Whichever way you want to grow your sweet potatoes, you will need to plant “slips.” These are the sprouts that grow out of each sweet potato. One potato can produce lots of slips, and each slip can grow to be a plant.

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  • 06 of 07

    Preparing Sweet Potato Slips

    A sweet potato slip that's been pinched off
    A sweet potato slip that's been pinched off a potato. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    It is very easy to break or pinch off slips where they connect to the potato. They will usually take any roots they have grown with them. If they don’t or you have a sprout that doesn't have roots yet, put them back in the water and roots will grow quickly.

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  • 07 of 07

    Planting Slips

    Rooting sweet potato slips in a glass of water
    Rooting sweet potato slips in a glass of water. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    How to plant your slips and do everything you can to ensure they make it:

    • Put your slips in a clear glass jar, drinking glass, or dish, and place it in a warm, sunny spot. Within a few days, you should begin to see roots appear at the bottom of the slip. When the roots are large and established (a bit of guessing is OK here), your slips are ready to plant.
    • If you want to grow your sweet potato vines as houseplants, find a small container with good drainage and fill it with high-quality potting soil until the surface of the soil reaches about an inch below the rim.
    • Mix a slow-release fertilizer into your potting soil. You can do this before you put it into your pot or after. Whichever you do, make sure to mix it in thoroughly so that the fertilizer reaches the bottom of the pot.
    • Make a hole in the center of the soil deep enough to cover the roots of your slip.
    • Gently put one or two slips into the hole and pat the soil firm around them. You want to make sure that there are no air pockets near the roots.
    • Water thoroughly. After watering, you may find that the soil has settled, and if it has, you may need to add some more soil.
    • Put your pot in a sunny spot and keep the soil moist, not wet. To see if your plant needs water, stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels dry, add water. If it's moist at your fingertip, wait and try again in a day or two.
    • Your plant may grow very quickly. Depending on the size of your container, you may have to pot again or prune the roots of your plant if it becomes rootbound.
    • If you want to grow sweet potatoes in your garden or in containers, they will need a long and sunny growing season. It takes at least 100–140 days for sweet potatoes to mature, depending on the variety. In some parts of the country, that means you will have to start the sprouting process about six weeks before your last frost date.
    • If you want to grow sweet potatoes in container gardens, you will need a container with good drainage and good potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer mixed in. Smart pots are perfect for this, but any large container with drainage will also do.
    • Sweet potatoes like warm weather, so make sure all danger of frost has passed before you plant your slips outside. Also, make sure to harden off your slips before you put them in full sun outside because they will need time to acclimate to the elements or there is a good chance they won’t make it.
    • Keep your container soil moist, not wet. You can harvest your sweet potatoes at any stage and they will be edible. Depending on the variety, though, it will usually take 100-140 days for them to fully mature. Make sure to harvest before the first frost.
    • To get the most flavor from your sweet potatoes and to extend their shelf life, you will need to cure them in a warm, dry place for 10 days to two weeks. Then enjoy really delicious, nutritious sweet potatoes.