Sweet Potato Vine: Grow and Care for Ipomoea Batatas

Ed Wike
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Sweet Potato Vine Overview

Ipomoea batatas, also known as sweet potato vine, sweet potatoes leaves, sweet potato leaf, morning glories, or twining vines, is a vine native to the tropical areas of the Americas. Today, it is grown worldwide.

The sweet potato vine is a member of the Convolvulaceae family, a relative of morning glory, and morning glory is what the young leaves of the sweet potato vine generally resemble. Although the mature leaves of the sweet potato vine can look quite different than the morning glory leaves, sweet potato vine is often mistaken for morning glory.

Sweet potato vine flourished during the colonial period in the Americas when the settlers discovered that sweet potatoes could be grown and harvested in the same areas in which sugarcane had been the primary crop. Sweet potato vines made it possible to grow the sweet potato and sugarcane in the same fields. Sweet potato vines provided a ground cover for the soil between the sugarcane rows, keeping weeds to a minimum and conserving moisture. And when the sweet potato was harvested, the sugarcane could be harvested too.

Types of Sweet Potato Vine

There are two types of sweet potato vine: Ipomoea batatas and Ipomoea alba. The batatas is called “sweet pot” and is the type grown for food while the white sweet potato vine is grown as an ornamental. You can grow them both outdoors here in the U.S. if you want. The white one blooms with small, delicate flowers.

The batatas is more common and is grown for food all over the world. There are many cultivars of batatas, some purple inside, some with small sweet potatoes, some with a light red skin, and some with white sandy skin with a white flesh.

The sweet potato can also be grown from a cutting. Start with an already established plant in your garden and let it grow until it’s about 18 inches tall. You can then transfer it to a pot to grow or take a cutting from a vine and let it grow in the ground.

Planting Sweet Potato Vine

Plant sweet potato vine in a full-sun location as a specimen, attractive groundcover, or edging plant. Once established, it is drought-tolerant as well as deer- and pest-resistant.

Sweet potatoes are tropical; they require a tropical climate with abundant water, but not overwatering. During the summer, water weekly, and less frequently during the winter. If the sweet potato vine seems to need watering more than once a week, the soil may be too dry.

When to Plant Sweet Potato Vine

Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato vine) is definitely an interesting plant. It is a perennial vine that can grow over 25 feet long in one season. It produces beautiful pink flowers that are fragrant and look like a tropical orchid. The sweet potato is somewhere around 1/2 to 1 pound and the inside is orange and very sweet and tasty.

Sweet potato has climbed the charts in the last couple of years. People are growing it as a vegetable for harvest as well as for ornamental purposes in the garden. There are a couple of varieties that are purple or yellow. Most gardeners plant it in the spring and harvest it the following fall. But it can be grown throughout the growing season if you live in an area with mild winters.

The sweet potato vine is a perennial so it will come back every year. Unlike some plants it has nice green leaves all the time and does not change to brown and fall off when the days are short. The flowers are very fragrant and you will have no trouble attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden with them. They reseed themselves so you do not have to plant them each year.

Where to Plant Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas is an old-world tropical plant. You can either grow it indoors or outside. However, it grows best where it can get some sunlight. To give your plant the best light possible, some have suggested planting the vines outdoors. Indeed, whether cultivated outdoors and cultivated indoors are both viable and healthy ways to grow this plant. It just depends on your convenience.

Outdoors

You can grow sweet potato vine outdoors. Some people grow it in their own vegetable gardens. Most of the time, sweet potato vine does not need a lot of care and attention. You just need to make sure that it is in the right place at the right time. Plant your sweet potato vine around the first of May. This plant grows best when it is relatively warm. Otherwise, it will die when the weather is too hot, or too cold.

Your sweet potato vine can grow up to 6 feet tall. It can be placed in the front or back of your garden. As for the soil, you can use anything that works well for digging. Alternatively, you can use compost and manure to help your plant thrive.

Caring For Sweet Potato Vine

The sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas, is a lovely climbing vine that can grow up to 25 feet in length. Sweet potato vines are relatively easy to grow, although they will require a bit of pampering in their first year or so. Once they are established, however, they can make a reliable, attractive, and rewarding addition to any garden.

Sweet potato vines are thought to be native to South America, although they are now also native to Polynesia, tropical Africa, and Florida. Vines will flower in September, producing brightly colored purple or pink flowers. Sweet potatoes are normally harvested in June and July.

You can eat the leaves of sweet potato vine, or you can remove them when the plant is young so the vine can grow. This is entirely your choice. The vines can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have a mild flavor, and are edible raw, but they can be poisonous if cooked.

Sweet potatoes should be planted in your garden where they will get at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. They prefer to be planted in raised beds or containers with very rich soil.

You can get vines that have already been growing and growing for some time, such as a live sweet potato vine, or you can start with seeds. Most people prefer to start by starting with seeds, but you can also start by cutting a sweet potato vine that is already growing from the sweet potato plant.

Sun

The sweet potato vine is an ornamental vine that produces purple, pink, red, and white sweet potatoes. Ipomoea batatas has a long, cylindrical growing habit that is able to climb up to 16 feet. This vine thrives in full sun, making it great for in the backyard or on a patio. While the sweet potato vine prefers warmer weather, it can grow in temperatures as cold as 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

The sweet potato vines are green with light purple veins. Sweet potatoes produce pretty white flowers that grow between five and 10 inches long. These flowers are followed by banana-shaped green seedpods, which turn orange when ripe. In the fall, you’ll see a burgundy red color in the leaves. The sweet potato vines can grow longer than 16 feet, so you’ll want to keep them in a space where they have ample room to climb.

When growing sweet potato vines, you’ll want to keep the soil warm and well drained to ensure that the vines will grow to their full potential.

Sweet potatoes like their soil to be raised with plenty of sunlight.

Prepare your sweet potato vine bed the same way you would prepare a garden bed.

If you plant your sweet potatoes in pots, a gallon container will be a good choice for growing them.

Soil

IPOMOEA batatas, the sweet potato vine, is one of the most attractive vines. Some people confuse this vine with Morning Glory. Do not worry, it comes with small flowers, but they are not overbearing.

This vine is shown in the veggie department of some markets, and plant nurseries sell it as a vegetable.

The leaves are used as a spinach substitute, and the leaves are edible.

If you live in South Carolina, the chances are that you grew I. batatas in elementary school.

It is a native of the Americas, Native Indians used the roots for food.

You can also grow and eat the young leaves if you want to.

This vine grows better than the beans that most people grow and the best thing that you can do is to plant sweet potato vine seedlings in a bed where it will have full sunlight. If possible, plant it in a slightly raised bed.

The vines will grow up to 15 to 20 feet, so give it plenty of room.

The vines spread out a couple of feet from a short stake. The leaves resemble spinach leaves and taste like spinach.

If you are growing the vines in an area that is not sunny, you can use a grow light.

This vine will grow in warm weather. Plant young vines where you want them to grow.

Water

When you are growing sweet potato vine, you must take good care of it to ensure it thrives. It is not difficult to do, though – just make sure that you water effectively and give it the support it needs.

You can begin planting sweet potato vine during the late summer. When you plant it, dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the tuber. If you are planting the vine in the ground, make sure that you plant it in a spot that is well-drained. If it is planted on top of a slope, make sure that the roots are not near the base of the water run off.

Make sure that you water this plant deeply once or twice a week to keep it moist. You will want to water it less frequently during the fall and winter as the vine goes dormant. This is because it will be taking in less water from the soil.

Pruning

Some commonly grown varieties of sweet potato vines include Candy Cane, Fireworks, and Dragon's Blood. They can grow up to 30 feet.

Pruning is not usually necessary, except for the removal of broken or excessively long branches. Excision of sucker growths (see below) may be done to achieve the desired size and shape of the plant.

During the growing season, the vines should be checked for aphids and whiteflies and treated with an appropriate organic control. Animals can be a problem in some areas. Deer in particular have been known to do a number on these plants, so a good fence to protect against this is a good idea. Additionally, any time night temperatures start to drop below 50°F, the vines should be harvested to prevent the soil from freezing in the roots as well as to prevent any crop damage that may come from the effects of freezing soil. During the fall, the plants should be cut just above the soil surface to prevent problems with rotting.

Propagation

Vine plants are propagated by the seeds or cuttings of the main vine. Sweet potato vine cuttings are best taken when the vine dies back in the fall. Cuttings should be taken from vigorous young vines, preferably with at least two nodes. The young vines should be about two to three feet.

Make a straight cut on the stems about eight to 12 inches. Gently bend the stems into water and place in a warm place to callus. The stems will do best in a clear glass or jar. In a few days roots appear. Then the stems are ready to be planted in a pot and placed in a warm place. It is very important to keep the humidity level high until the roots have the system well anchored, as the stems will wilt quickly. The roots of the sweet potato vine grow very fast so be sure to check the base of the stem for new growth. Once the vine has rooted, the stems can be transplanted to a larger pot and moved into a sunny spot in the garden. The vine should be planted at least eight feet apart.

Pests and Diseases

Sweet potatoes are plagued by many of the pests and diseases that affect other vegetable crops. If you’re careful to maintain good garden hygiene and clean up plant debris, you can ward off these pests quite easily. Here’s what to watch out for with your “sweet” harvest.

Yellows diseases, including common blights and rusts, tend to be more prevalent in hot, dry climates and in areas where air pollution is high. These diseases result in low yields or rotting tubers, and are spread by airborne spores. If symptoms appear on the tubers, remove the diseased portions and destroy them.

The following diseases can infest sweet potatoes in the garden:

  • “Damping off,” a soilborne fungi that attacks the tips or roots of tiny seedlings
  • Phytophthora blight, which kills the tips of sweet potato shoots, leading to rot
  • Sweet potato weevil, which can damage roots and tubers
  • Bacterial soft rot, which attacks ripe tubers
  • Fluke, which causes yellowing of leaves and stunted growth

Insect pests that attack sweet potatoes include:

“Cutworms,” which cut through stems and leaves, preventing plants from growing

Pests

While the sweet potato vine is relatively pest free, it does occasionally attract mites and various types of beetles.

The first line of defense against pests is proper plant care. Keeping the soil moist, but not wet, while providing proper nutrition helps prevent pest problems. Always dispose of old leaves that fall from the vine and use a stiff hand pruner to snip off any leaves with brown spots.

The key to a healthy sweet potato vine is an abundant supply of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These nutrients are depleted quickly, especially nitrogen, so you'll need to supplement with a high nitrogen plant food during active growth.

Feed the vine at least once a month, and twice a month during active growth.

The best time to apply fertilizer is just before watering. Apply fertilizer at one-half the recommended strength and water the soil thoroughly to allow the fertilizer to be fully absorbed by the roots.

Diseases

In the United States, the sweet potato virus causes the most problems. It is spread by aphids and can severely stunt the plant. It can also stunt growth, making the roots rot and the leaves turn yellow and wilt.

The only way to treat sweet potato virus is to remove the infected plant. You can also try spraying neem oil on the plants to act as a repellent, but there is no sure way to completely cure this plant virus.

Growing Partially Sideways

One issue with the sweet potato vine is that it tends to grow partially sideways. Because of this trait, it only grows well in a hanging basket or a container with support in which you can tie it to one side. If left untethered, the plant will quickly outgrow the basket and the vine will hang down from the top.

The second challenge with this plant, is that it is slow growing. It can take a year and a half to produce a flower, so you'll need to be patient while providing proper care.

Sweet potatoes do grow in the ground, but only up to about 90 degrees. If you live in a zone that gets hotter than that, or if you want to harvest the fruits sooner, you'll have to grow your Ipomoea Batatas in partial shade or in a container.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Will Sweet Potato Vine Grow?

A sweet potato vine will reach a maximum height of about 20 feet. However, in most cases, it will grow to about six to seven feet and will stop its growth at that point.

How Large Will the Sweet Potato Vine Get?

Older sweet potato vine plants can get very large and will need to be pruned. Although it is not recommended for edible sweet potato vines to get much taller than seven feet, it has been known to occur. When they reach that height, they should be regularly pruned. Pruning them will also encourage new vines to grow.

Do I Need to Prune Sweet Potato Vine?

Pruning a sweet potato vine is recommended even if it is not older. Pruning a sweet potato vine will encourage new vines to grow and will make it easier to remove the sweet potatoes.

How Do I Prune a Sweet Potato Vine?

To get rid of vines that are dead or that get in the way, just grab the vine and pull it off of the plant.