A green space for urban gardeners

A sweet, potato project: Lazy, drizzly day perfect for vine time

Sweet potato vine is a staple in my garden.

Sweet potato vine is a staple in my garden; I've already picked up two for my planter boxes.

‘One potato, two potato …’ I was thinking of the children’s rhyme today when I compared two sweet potatoes that had been languishing in my larder since Easter.

One looked much like it did when I bought it, while the other had several sprouts jutting from it — purple sprouts. And, what’s more, a closer examination revealed what looked to be tiny purple leaves extending, in turn, from them.

Dig the tiny purple leaves

Tiny purple leaves jut from the sprouts of my sweet potato.

The garden is great for awakening a sense of wonder. Even if it’s a long time coming. I’ve used sweet potato vine in my planters for several years now, but only recently started to ponder their relationship to, duh, sweet potatoes.

A little online research gave instructions on how to grow vines from potatoes. And, since it was a gray, dreary day in Chicago — the kind that makes you want stay inside and curl up with a good book or dvd — I figured why not use some of the shut-in time for a quick, rainy day project: starting a sweet potato vine. (After all, this particular potato was just begging to fulfill its potential.)

It was almost too simple: I cut the bottom portion off my potato (meaning the portion that didn’t have as many sprouts), suspended it using toothpicks over a jar filled with water, then sat it in a sunny location. And, voila, in a few weeks, according to what I read, I should have the beginning of sweet potato vines.

A sweet potato is sharing a windowsill with African violets.

A sweet potato extended over a jar of water is sharing a windowsill with African violets.

Many of you may have experimented with this as a kid, but my posse didn’t do gardening. (I did grow some mean sugar crystals on a string, though… And in college I think I tried sticking toothpicks into an avocado seed in hopes of growing a houseplant; It didn’t work.)

My internet research also confirmed what I had always suspected: sweet potato vine is related to Morning glory (they have look-alike  leaves). What I didn’t know was that in some climates it produces a flower similar to Morning glory. Alas, not in Zone five.

Since I’ve already purchased my two sweet potato vines for the season, the fate of my container garden doesn’t hinge on the success of this project.

But it’s great for a day’s diversion.

[Please leave a comment telling me about your experience growing sweet potato vines, and if yours has flowered.]


  Stephanie wrote @

Hey this is a very good, low cost and fun experiment! Sorry I am just learning (have not done this before) about this method from you now. They produce yellow flowers? Btw, today I bought Portulaca and Livingstone Daisy seeds. I hope to plant them soon 🙂

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

The flowers that I saw pictures of online were white with purple centers, but I’m not sure if that is the only color possibility. [Hopefully, someone will comment and tell us.] They don’t flower here, but I think in your climate they should. Maybe this is one you could try for your flowering plants. Take care!

  Helen at Toronto Gardens wrote @

My mother often used to have a sweet potato vine growing in a vase that looked like a large brandy snifter. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, that’s what I used to think sweet potatoes were for — not for eating!

They are very pretty as a houseplant. Plus, you can start them early and pop them in your containers. Sweet growing.

  RainGardener wrote @

That is super – I always wondered too. I like to put one or two in my pots for a different color. I’ve had them a few times over the years but never knew they bloomed until last year. Maybe I’d better buy a couple sweet potatoes and try the experiment. Great information. I swear I learn everyday blogging. Oh and I did the avocado once and it worked too but I didn’t keep it growing I don’t think – it was so long ago.

  Chicago Garden wrote @

I’ve only ever had the ornamental sweet potato vine flower for me.

MrBrownThumb @ Chicago Garden

  Kathleen wrote @

I remember doing that avocado trick. too ~ it actually worked for us ~ maybe we got lucky? I just learned last year (on another blog) that the potato vines flowered. I haven’t ever seen it myself tho (and I’m in zone 5 too). In February (I think) I pulled some potatoes out of my brugmansia pot (that I was overwintering in the basement). Now I wish I’d kept them so I didn’t have to purchase them this summer. They are a staple for me too. I like every variation.

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

I think it was my ineptitude as much as anything else with the avocado 😉 From what I gather from my online research, the sweet potato vine tends to flower in the tropics where there are fewer daylight hours. I wonder how that all fits in with the Morning Glory factor, being that the flowers are similar and both seem to bloom according to its own relation to the sun. I’ll try to get more info from an expert…

  Nicola wrote @

We are always trying to find new things to grow and this may be our next project. I’ll have to do a bit of research to see if they’ll grow over here. Thanks for the inspiration.

  Tiffany @ NOH wrote @

We tried to grow sweet potatoes here two years ago in large pots. Starters were purchased frin a garden store online which were basically just a couple leaves.

The plants did pretty well in our greenhouse (we’re in Germany so it wouldn’t have been quiet warm enough for them otherwise) and had some nice growth but never any flowers and they didn’t seem to produce anything either. But to be honest, we kinda lost interest in our garden somewhere along the line that year. I nearly killed everything with ammonia (trying to banish slugs but getting a mixture WAY too strong from the internet for what I was wanting to do) and things just sorta went downhill from there.

I can’t recall us thinking, “oh man, we had huge potatoes in here” when we dumped the pots, though, so I’m not really sure they did well with us at all. Absolutely beautiful plants though.

  Liz wrote @

I’ll be interested to see how you get on growing your sweet potatoes. I’d love to have a go at growing them but on the whole it is not warm enough here in Manchester, UK

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

The vines that you grow from the potatoes don’t require the same heat it takes to grow the potatoes themselves. I’m attempting to grow it inside on a windowsill in Chicago, so you could surely do the same in the UK. Cheers!

  Martyn Cox wrote @

My attempt at growing sweet potatoes this year has sadly failed. I purchased some slips (cuttings) from an online nursery, but they sat in the post office for several days before I could pick them up and the contents were looking a bit limp. Still, I duly potted them up, but they failed to take root. Better luck next year I guess.

  Jo wrote @

I’ve never attempted to grow sweet potatoes. Might put that on my list of things to grow next year.

  Megan wrote @

So you can just grow them yourself? Crazy. I noticed that I pulled up potatoes at the end of the season, but I just tossed them, assuming they were different. I wonder if the ornamental vines produce edible potatoes? I’m going to have to try growing my own, since I have such sporadic luck getting my sweet potato vines to grow well. I had one good year, but most years they just sit there. If I could grow my own, I could try out different timing and locations and figure out what the secret is.

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

What zone are you in? My sweet potato vines always do well, although one year I planted a purple one that didn’t get as long as the green one.
I never noticed a potato sprouting from my vines, but it kinda makes sense that it would work in reverse. And now that you mention it, when I cleared my pots a few weeks back there was something a little mushy in a couple pots that I couldn’t identify… hmmm. Maybe other readers can weigh in and enlighten us. Thanks for making us think!

  Lynne wrote @

Now that’s a project for ya!! so how’s it progressing?

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

It’s too soon to say much about the sweet potato, but the leaves do look like they may be a bit bigger. I’ll write a post later when there’s more to report. Cheers!

  Karen wrote @

I have learned to grow sweet potatoes from slips in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have clay soil which I’ve loosened up quite with large quantities of compost over 3-4 years. I dig a trench about 8 inches deep each spring, to loosen the soil and then put the soil back in the trench with lots of compost which I get free at a county recycling site. Heap the soil about 8 inches above the surface of the ground, Cover the “heap” with black plastic (garbage bags work great). Lay a soaker hose on the heap and let the plastic cover it. Get a soil test done, and add proper amounts of fertilizer every spring. I got into this as a result of a challenge by a friend who thought it was too cold to grow sweet potatoes in Minnesota. This last year, I grew my own “slips”, using last year’s tubers. Buried a few tubers in clean soil in an old 9×13 inch pan, covered with clean sand. Kept that in the basement till mid-March. Then stuck the tubers in jars of water (65 is a good temp). Got vines? Oh, boy, do I have vines right now! And yes, I DO get tubers, I succeeded at the challenge. The black plastic cover was a real “must” for this far north. Also, pick a sweet potato variety with a short growing season. Georgia Jet is best. Growing your slips is best because you can have nice-sized, healthy slips to pop into the soil. I need to wait till June first in Minneapolis to do that, and therefore, a variety with a “short” time to grow is important. That’s why I go with Georgia Jet

  Karen wrote @

If you are very interested in growing sweet potatoes in the north, try this book, it’s great: “Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden” by Ken Allan, Publisher: Green Spade Books, Price $20. The author grows sweet potatoes in Ontario, Canada. You will probably need to Google to find him and the book. As I recall, I ordered a copy of the book directly from the Author. He was a real pleasure to do business with, and answered several questions by E-mail.

  City Diggity wrote @

Hi Karen,
Thanks for the tips on growing sweet potatoes. I know all the blog viewers who have the space will enjoy the challenge. I only have room to grow the vine as an ornamental from a single potato, but I’m sure the ones that come up with the potatoes from your tubers are awesome! I actually made a sweet potato soup last Thanksgiving that was a big hit, so I’m sure you’ll prepare some nice recipes from your harvest. Cheers!

  Aaron wrote @

Hey there! I bought some “oriental” sweet potatoes at the grocery store a few weeks ago here in Brooklyn, NY. I would have bought the usual orange kind, but I decided to try these potatoes because they were vivid purple, with vivid purple leaves coming out here and there. I saved one to plant and made fries out of the rest. My family loved them, but I thought that this kind of potato was too tough and dry (I could barely slice into them with my best steak knife). I was also surprised because the inside of the potato was bright white, while I expected it to be purple. Did the purple leaves on your potato stay purple, or turn green? if mine turn green, I’ll be very disappointed.

  City Diggity wrote @

They turned green eventually!

  Aaron wrote @

and about those avocados, they take a long while to sprout, at least for me. they started splitting after maybe 2 or 3 weeks (a good sign, although I initially expected otherwise), and about 3 months to push the slightest hint of a root. I left mine in water from early June to last week, so I got fed up of waiting and tossed the three of them into a large pot, and figured to hell with em whether they sprouted or not. A few days ago, I dug one up out of curiosity, and it finally had an inch long root sliding out from the bottom, but still no leaf sprouts from the top. I think a better investment would be pineapples- twist the leafy top of the pineapple off, pull off 10 leaves to expose the root cells, and stick the thing in a 6-8″ pot. It’ll grow roots in a few weeks and be on its way to giving you a homegrown fruit in little over a year, which is more than can be said for these avocados! If you try the pineapples though, don’t let even a drop of water get into the leaves, because you’ll rot the thing out. Instead, water around the plant, but only once a week to keep the soil just slightly moist

  City Diggity wrote @

Thanks for the tip… I’ve never tried pineapple before. Will have to give it a shot!

  Alison wrote @

Did you know that you can eat potato vine leaves and the small stems in salads and stirfrys?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: