Growing Sweet Potatoes from Slips

Learn how to organically and responsibly grow sweet potatoes in your garden with nothing but a bit of soil and some fresh slips.


  • The flowers of sweet potato readily identify this crop as a member of the Convolvulaceae, or morning glory family.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Sweet potato slips grow best if planted when soil temperature is above 65°F (18°C).
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Sweet potatoes are vining plants that scramble vigorously along the ground. Varieties should be labeled and planted far enough apart from each other to prevent the accidental mixing of varieties during harvest.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Filled with advice for the home gardener and the seasoned horticulturist alike, “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving” provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type.
    Cover courtesy Seed Savers Exchange

The Seed Garden (Seed Savers Exchange, 2015) by Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro and edited by Lee Buttala & Shanyn Siegel brings together decades of research and hands-on experience to teach both novice gardeners and seasoned horticulturists how to save the seeds of their favorite vegetable varieties.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Seed Garden.

Sweet potato plants can flower and produce seeds, but gardeners and seed savers typically propagate sweet potatoes vegetatively by planting slips. As with any form of asexual reproduction, planting slips results in plants—and in this case, a harvest of edible roots—that are genetically the same as the plant from which they were produced. Saving and storing roots for slip production is a common practice that most gardeners can easily manage.

Crop Types

Varieties of sweet potato are classified by the color of their edible roots: skin color can be white, yellow, brown, red, or purple; and flesh color can be white, cream, yellow, orange, or less commonly, reddish purple. They are also categorized by their growth habit, which may be either compact or vining, and the texture of their cooked roots, which ranges from soft and moist to firm and dry. While this crop grows well in the hot climate of the American South, some varieties, such as ‘Centennial’, are well suited to growing in the North.



Sweet potatoes are often marketed in North America as yams, but in most other regions of the world, the word yam refers to two other species: Dioscorea rotundata and Dioscorea cayennensis.

History

The center of origin for sweet potato is most likely in Central America. From there the crop trav­eled south to South America by 2500 BCE and was brought east to Oceania by 1000 CE. How the sweet potatoes traveled from the Americas to Oceania is still a matter of debate, but some scholars postulate that birds carried sweet potato seeds over the Pacific. Recent extensive genetic and linguistic studies, however, lend weight to the hypothesis that Polynesians or other ocean-going voyagers may have transported the crop.






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