Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
Sweet Potatoes are always successful in my garden even if the deer have eaten the vines to the ground several times over the summer season. Sweet potatoes aren't started by seed like most other vegetables, they're started from slips. Slips are shoots that are grown from a mature sweet potato. You can order slips from most seed catalogs or you can start slips from a sweet potato you buy at the store or one from your last years garden. I have had difficulty finding sweet potato slips locally which is why now I just start my own.
You will need a healthy sweet potato, usually I have to resort to getting one from the local grocery store. Now this may not always work depending on if they have sprayed the sweet potato with chemicals which prevent it from sprouting. Now is the time to start looking for a few good potatoes, each sweet potato can produce 12-20 slips so you don't need many mature potatoes. I have had success with our local grocery stores providing the mature sweet potatoes for this process.
When you get your sweet potatoes home, carefully clean them and then cut them in half or into large sections. To start your slips, you need to place each section in a jar or glass of water with half of the potato below the water and the other half above the water. I have used toothpicks stuck into the sides of the potato to hold it in place above the water. In order for the sweet potato to start budding it will need light and a warm place. A window sill that is close to a heating source is a good choice. In a few weeks your potatoes will be covered with leafy sprouts on top and roots on the bottom. Like the picture above.
Rooting The Slips:
Once your sweet potatoes have sprouted and the sprouts (slips) are 8-10 inches long, you need to root the slips.To do this, you take each slip and carefully twist it off of the sweet potato. Then lay the slip in a shallow bowl with the bottom half of the stem submerged in water and the leaves hanging out over the rim of the bowl. Within a few days roots will emerge from the bottom of each new slip. When the roots are about an inch long the new slips are ready to plant. 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.
Planting Your Slips:
Sweet Potatoes are a warm weather crop and need the heat to get going so don't plant them until the ground temperature is warm. Recommended planting dates for our area is from May 1st to May 20th. They can't tolerate below 55 degrees for extended periods of time. Sweet Potatoes like loose soil and that's certainly an issue in most of our gardens. If you're going to plant them directly into your garden loosen the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches.
With a hand trowel, dig a hole about 4" or 5" deep and space 12-26 inches apart. Place one slip in each hole carefully covering all the roots and leaving the top leaves exposed. Fill the hole with soil and press the soil around the plant to get good contact with the roots and to remove any air pockets. Water your newly planted slips everyday for the first week then you can reduce the amount of watering. Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant once they are established.
Taking Care Of Your Sweet Potato Vines:
Deer and Rabbits love sweet potato vines and will chew them to the ground if you don't have them protected with a fence of some sort. You will probably still get some sweet potatoes but not a bumper crop if the deer and rabbits eat them back several times over the summer.
Submitted by Tamara Carl
Home Gardening Series University of Arkansas (FSA6018)