Ornamental sweet potato vines are a classic "spiller" plant perfect for container gardening. This beautiful, fast-growing herbaceous perennial is native to North America and best planted in the spring once temperatures consistently stay about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It has long tendrils that tumble over the edges and down the sides of containers. Sweet potato vines are available in a wide variety of colors—from almost-black to chartreuse—and there are several different leaf shapes from which to choose.
Ornamental sweet potato vines are in the same family as edible sweet potatoes and are in fact the same species. The ornamental varieties are simply cultivars of the species plant. They are bred for the beauty of their leaves rather than their edible tubers, and the vines from these plants make them look more like morning glory or clematis than a member of the potato family.
While the leaves of the edible sweet potato are a delicious delicacy—especially when they are young and tender—eating the leaves of ornamental varieties is not recommended; they're not dangerous, but the leaves and tubers of these plants have a bitter taste.
|Botanical Name||Ipomoea batatas|
|Common Name||Sweet potato vine, ornamental sweet potato vine|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||8–10 ft. long, 5–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Does not flower|
|Flower Color||Does not flower|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Sweet Potato Vine Plant
Sweet Potato Vine Care
Ornamental sweet potato vines are versatile plants that are equally suitable for filling outdoor containers, spilling over a wall, or covering ground in a landscape bed. They also are popular as indoor plants and can be grown inside year-round or just during the cold of winter. Like many rooting vines, they can be vigorous growers in the right conditions and may need frequent trimming to stay in check. The parts you trim back can be used to propagate the plant elsewhere.
Sweet potato vines love the sun but will also grow in part shade and sometimes in full shade. The more sun the plant gets, the more vibrant its leaf color will typically be.
These plants prefer moist, well-drained soil that's fairly nutritious thanks to organic matter. They can easily rot if their soil remains too wet, so make sure that the container you choose has ample holes for drainage.
Sweet potato vines are considered drought-tolerant, though they will grow more vigorously with frequent watering. Water enough to keep the soil consistently moist but not overly wet. You may notice that the leaves wilt when the plant is thirsty.
Temperature and Humidity
These vines like sun more than high heat. In hot climates, they may do best with some shade, and they should be watched carefully so their soil doesn't dry out. They thrive in many humid climates but don't need high humidity as many other tropical plants do.
Feeding sweet potato vines is typically optional based on how much you want them to grow. A weekly feeding with a well-balanced fertilizer during their growing season will boost growth, but given their naturally robust habit, you may find that feeding also increases the need to cut them back.
Is Sweet Potato Vine Toxic?
Sweet potato vine is widely regarded as toxic to small animals, including dogs and cats. The vine has toxic ingredients similar to those found in LSD, which can impact the kidneys, brain, heart, or liver. If you notice your pet has eaten sweet potato vine or is exhibiting any of the below symptoms, contact a vet immediately.
Symptoms of Poisoning
- Dilated pupils
- Drooling or salivation
- Difficulty swallowing
- Irritation around the mouth
- Increased urination
Varieties of Sweet Potato Vine
There are a number of different types of sweet potato vines available on the market. The most notable difference between them is seen primarily in their color, though sometimes in their leaf shape as well. They include:
Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline’: Popular as a ground cover, this varietal is available in five different colors, including light green, yellow-green, bronze, purple, and red. Additionally, its leaves are shaped somewhat like maple leaves.
Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ or ‘Marguerite’: This varietal of sweet potato vine is mounding but can be trained as a climber. Its foliage is a bright, light green or chartreuse when grown in full sun, and darker green if grown in shadier locations.
Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’: Dark purple, maple-like leaves; sometimes flowers with purple, trumpet-shaped blooms
Ipomoea batatas 'Ragtime': One of the varieties with narrow, divided leaves; coloring is a pale purple with some attractive natural variation
Propagating Sweet Potato Vines
Sweet potato vines are easy to grow from existing plants. To do so, break off a branch that has several leaf nodes. Remove all the leaves off the bottom few inches and submerge the stem in water. In a few days, you should see roots. This strategy is a good way to overwinter sweet potato vines because they will last all winter in the water and be ready to plant in the spring.
Sweet potato vines are tuberous plants, so you can save tubers for the next season. Dig up the tubers before the first frost, let them dry, and store them for the winter in peat or vermiculite in a cool, dry place, such as a basement, crawlspace, or root cellar. In spring, the tubers will sprout and can be planted after the last frost. Divide them as needed before planting, making sure each tuber has at least one eye.
Common Pests and Diseases
Sweet potato vines can become victims of the golden tortoise beetle, which looks like a teardrop of molten gold. While interesting to look at, the beetle will munch holes in your leaves, making them look like Swiss cheese in a very short amount of time.
Depending on where you live, there are a couple of other pests that feast on your sweet potato vines. The sweet potato looper is a caterpillar that chews on the leaves, while the sweet potato whitefly can drain the plant of nutrients and stunt its growth. In some areas, sweet potato weevils may also pose a problem.
Sweet potato vines are also prone to leaf fungus, particularly if they are planted in the same place for multiple seasons. Minimize this problem by varying the planting locations from one season to the next.