Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet PotatoesNative to Central and South America, sweet potato is one of the most important food crops in tropical and subtropical countries. Growing sweet potatoes, a tender, warm-weather vegetable, requires a long frost-free growing season to mature large, useful roots.

Factoid: More than 40% of the national supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina.

Site Preparation:

Sweet potatoes are not truly potatoes, but a thick root of a tropical vine. They need full sun, well-drained soil (preferably sandy loam) and plenty of room to thrive. Sweet potatoes are not heavy feeders, but they do require a good balance of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Work in a low nitrogen organic fertilizer before planting; too much nitrogen produces leafy growth at the expense of the roots.

How to Plant:

Plant in late spring when soil temperatures have warmed to 70 degrees. Set root bearing stems, called slips, 1 foot apart in rows spaced 3 feet apart. In raised beds, space plants 1-1/2 feet apart. Soak slips in compost tea for five minutes prior to planting to help reduce disease problems. Use row covers to add extra heat and keep out pests.

Harvesting:

Harvest before frost, after foliage starts to yellow. Use any damaged potatoes as soon as possible. Cure healthy potatoes for two weeks in a warm place. Allow 70-100 days to reach maturity.

Insects and Diseases:

To prevent diseases, plant varieties with multiple resistance, use certified  plants and rotate sweet potatoes’ location in the garden. Mice may become a problem, as they burrow into the mounds and eat the nutritious roots.

Seed Saving Instructions:

Sweet potatoes are perennial vines that are propagated vegetatively, either by shoots or from tubers. They are not grown from seed.

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