Growing Bush Sweet Potatoes

Do you have a small garden and a yen for yams? Bush sweet potatoes will let you fulfill it while taking up less space than normal vine varieties.

| January/February 1979

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    The bush sweet potato produces luxuriant growth which won't overrun every other crop in your garden. The "bush" breeds (the most common is called "Porto Rico") are available through most seed outlets.
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    Homegrown yams are sweeter and more colorful than the store-bought kind.
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    Your yams will be ready to harvest after the first frost blackens and kills their leaves. Use a shovel to bring in your potato crop, and remember that these roots extend straight down from the plant's crown.

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Sweet potatoes are easy to grow (and, of course, delicious) but, because these plants sprawl out in vines of up to 16 feet long, they're often ignored by gardeners who have a limited space to work with.

Fortunately for all of us fans of the golden roots, however, there are several sweet potato varieties that produce a bush-type growth that won't overrun every other crop in the garden. And — best of all — the "small-topped" species yields tasty, full-sized tubers!

These "bush" breeds (the most common of 'em is called "Porto Rico") are available through most seed outlets. The Burpee Seed Company (, the Gurney Seed and Nursery Company (, and the George W. Park Seed Company, Inc. ( all carry bush sweet potatoes. The price, from any of these firms, will start at about $12.00 for 25 plants, and any potatoes that you order will be delivered as soon as the weather is warm enough (usually around mid-May) to allow the young sprouts to survive the trip.

First Prepare, Then Plant

If your garden has a sunny area that's already rich in organic matter, a thorough workout with a rototiller will be about all the "sweet potato preparation" you'll need. Average soils, however, will require plenty of compost or well-rotted manure, as well as bone meal (for potassium) and wood ashes (for potash). Avoid nitrogen fertilizers, though, unless your soil really needs them, because too much of this element will produce plants with enormous tops and spindly little potatoes.

When your small "bushes" arrive, soak their roots in water for a few hours, and then plant them at three-by three-foot intervals in the ground you've prepared. The potatoes will spread enough to fill that much space and will produce bigger tubers if you don't try to crowd them.

Weed, Water, and Don't Worry

Once the plants are in the ground, just give 'em a deep watering once a week (especially if your area's rainfall is unpredictable) and keep the weeds down. Then, you can simply let these hearty vegetables take care of themselves!

David Pabon
12/3/2011 4:33:33 PM

Hi, I live in the tropics and planted a few vines a friend gave me. They have spread all over in several months. How long should I wait to dig them up? Is there a way to tell when they mature? They are a white variety and very sweet.

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