In addition to being a certified herbalist and aromatherapy consultant, Gina finds the unrelenting allure of gardening very strong.
How Do Sweet Potatoes Grow?
To make new sweet potatoes, you will start with an old sweet potato—an organic sweet potato (the non-organic sweet potatoes may be treated with sprout-suppressing chemicals). Sweet potatoes don’t actually grow from seed but rather a slip, or sprout, that forms off of old sweet potatoes.
Ideally, you’ll start with a locally grown organic sweet potato, because then you’ll know that variety will thrive in your region. But, don’t sweat this step too much. A sweet potato from the grocery store should also work just fine. Just, really, buy an organic one.
A Quick Look at How to Grow Slips
There are a few ways of growing the slips. The method I like is to partially bury the potato in some growing medium. Others poke a small sweet potato with three toothpicks and put the skewered potato atop a glass so that the bottom (fatter end) is hanging into some water.
Whichever method you choose, within days, the potato will start to sprout little white roots at the bottom and develop sprouts at the top. Wait until the sprouts are a few inches long, then pull them from the base and free them from the potato. Stick the sprouts into their own jar of water and, once they form their own roots, at least a couple of inches, they are ready for planting.
It’s also possible to buy slips from a garden center, but that would take a lot of fun out of the process.
What You Need
Starting your own sweet potato slips is easy, and it's an interesting process to watch. To get started making your own sweet potato plants, you need the following items:
- A healthy sweet potato
- A pot or two
- Some soil
- A knife
When Should You Start the Slips?
You will want to plant your slips in the spring when the threat of frost has passed, so you will have to start your slips about six weeks prior to ensure that they are ready for planting when spring arrives.
It takes about six weeks to get sweet potato slips that are ready to be planted, so plan back accordingly from planting time in your area. It may take six weeks, but your time and effort is very minimal, and the results are well worth waiting for.
Why Do You Start Them So Early?
Well, because, if we want sweet potato seedlings to be ready for the spring, we need to start our sweet potato slips around February or March, depending on where you live. I live in Central Florida. We still have very warm days even in January, but in those cases of a cold day or days, I can bring my slips inside to avoid the frost.
How to Start the Slips
To start your slips, you need several healthy, clean sweet potatoes. Each sweet potato can produce up to 50 slip sprouts.
Step 1: Pick Good Potatoes
Select a good-sized sweet potato that is firm and solid. You can simply get one from the produce aisle at the grocery store or, better yet, a local farmer's market. I just use one that I did not use and had started to sprout.
It doesn't necessarily need to have the beginning of shoots coming out of the stem end.
Step 2: Wash, Cut, and "Plant" the Potatoes
To create sprouts, carefully wash your potatoes and cut them either in half or in large sections. Place each section in a container with soil mixture. You can leave some of the potato to show above the soil.
Step 3: Put the Container in a Warm Spot
The slips need warmth, so put them on a window ledge or on top of a radiator. In a few weeks, your potatoes will be covered with leafy sprouts on top and roots on the bottom.
Step 4: Watch for Sprouts
Depending on your sweet potato’s mood and the heat of your climate, you should begin to see green leaves within a few weeks—or earlier if your potato was showing signs of sprouting anyway.
When Do You Remove the Sprouts From the Potato?
Once your sweet potatoes have sprouted, you have to separate them into plantable slips. To do this, you take each sprout and carefully twist it off of the sweet potato.
Do this when the sprouts are about five to six inches long. This usually takes three to four weeks from the time that you start the process.
Place Them in Water
Place all of the sprouts in another glass jar full of water, and leave them in the same sunny place. In a very few days, you will begin to see little white roots begin to form and grow from the sprouts. These roots will grow very quickly and soon fill the jar with roots.
To keep your slips healthy, be sure to keep the water fresh and discard any slip that isn't producing roots or looks like it's wilting.
After Two Weeks: Ready to Plant
After about two weeks, your sweet potato slips will have developed enough roots that they are ready to plant. Personally, I like to pot mine in individual pots with potting soil first then plant in my garden a bit later. Pot or plant them so that at least all of the developed roots are covered. There's no harm in planting them a bit deeper than that.
Another Method for Starting Slips: Potatoes in Water
To start slips, it is good to use potatoes that are free from any mold or shriveling. If there are any potatoes that have sprouts already coming out, then you have a head start.
- Place the potatoes in a jar or container vertically and fill with water. Their bottom ends should be wet, but at least one to two inches of the tops need to reach above the water.
- Place this in a warm sunny window or a shelf in the kitchen that stays moderately warm.
- Be sure to add water when necessary. Changing the water occasionally is important, too, because rot can occur. If you notice a potato rotting, remove it and either dispose of it, or cut off the rotten part.
- Soon vines will start to grow. They will grow out of many different nodules on each potato. When any of these vines grow to about 5–6 inches, pick it off at the base and place in a jar filled with water. It is amazing how quickly these little guys will root.
When a potato starts producing slips, it usually becomes very prolific, and many slips can be picked off of one potato! Once the ground is warm and the slip has a good set of roots, you can plant them. We usually get all our sweet potatoes out in the last part of May.
Videos of Both Methods
Enjoy Your Sweet Potato Bounty!
Sweet potatoes love to grow in the heat of Florida summers. At a time when many other crops are struggling, the sweet potato vines spread vigorously.
You can buy sweet potato slips, or you can grow them yourself from a sweet potato. Each potato could get you about 10 slips. Each slip could result in about five pounds of sweet potatoes. I am sure you can see that each potato could yield up to 50 pounds of sweet potatoes at harvest. That's quite a bounty.
© 2017 Gina Welds
Jaimee lim on November 12, 2019:
They are edible. So good in soups
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 19, 2017:
No, I've never eaten sweet potato leaves. I didn't know they're edible.
I have a couple of trellises inserted into my hugelkultur bed (I grew black limas and cucumbers in it last summer), so they'll have room to climb.
Gina Welds (author) from Tampa, Florida on January 18, 2017:
Hi Shauna. Yes, you can use soil mixed with compost to start your slips. I will be planting my slips in a large container, and I will train the vines over a trellis,... but the hugelkultur bed will also work. Keep in mind that the vines will roam freely.....but if you don't mind that, go for it.
Do you eat the potato leaves? The young leaves are great.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 18, 2017:
I love sweet potatoes. This looks easier than I thought. I like the stick-it-in-a-pot-and-forget-it method. You mentioned you put the potatoes in a pot of compost. Can I use a mixture of soil and compost?
I'm looking forward to part two. I'm curious to see if I can plant them in my hugelkultur bed.