Ornamental sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) are classic "spiller" plants for container gardens. This beautiful, easy-to-grow herbaceous perennial has long tendrils that tumble over the edges and down the sides of containers. Sweet potato vines are available in a wide array 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 edible tubers, and the vines from these plants make them look more like a morning glory or clematis than a member of the potato family.
While the leaves of the edible sweet potato are delicious and a delicacy—especially when they are young and tender—eating the leaves of ornamental varieties is not recommended; they're not dangerous, 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||6 to 16 inches tall, 3 to 6 feet wide, vines up to 10 feet long|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, part sun|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-draining soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5|
|Bloom Time||Most ornamental varieties do not flower|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 11|
|Native Area||Tropical regions of the Americas|
How to Grow Sweet Potato Vines
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. More sun typically means better leaf color.
These plants prefer moist, well-drained soil of medium fertility. They can rot if the soil stays too wet, so make sure containers provide for drainage.
Sweet potato vines are considered drought-tolerant, though they will grow vigorously with frequent watering. Water as needed to keep the soil consistently moist but not overly wet. 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 the soil doesn't dry out. They thrive in many humid climates but don't need high humidity, like many tropical plants do.
Feeding sweet potato vines is typically optional, based on how much you want them to grow. A weekly feeding during the growing season will boost their growth, but given their naturally robust habit, you may find that feeding also increases the need to cut them back.
Propagating Sweet Potato Vines
Sweet potato vines are easy to grow from existing plants. Simply break off a branch with several leaf nodes. Remove all the leaves on the bottom few inches and submerge the stem in water. In a few days, you should see roots. This 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.
These 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 vermiculum 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 before planting, as needed, making sure each tuber has at least one eye.
Varieties of Sweet Potato Vine
Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline’: Popular as a ground cover; available in five different colors, including light green, yellow-green, bronze, purple, and red; leaves are shaped somewhat like maple leaves
Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ or ‘Marguerite’: Mounding habit but can be trained as a climber; foliage is a bright, light green or chartreuse when grown in full sun, and a darker green 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
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 other pests that feast on sweet potato vines. The sweet potato looper is a caterpillar that chews on the leaves. The sweet potato whitefly can drain the plant of nutrients and stunt its growth. In some areas, sweet potato weevils may pose problems as well.
These vines are 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.