Apr 16, 2018

Top 5 Pro-Tips to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Florida

Sweet potatoes are an amazing vegetable. You get the best of both worlds from them. They not only grow sweet, nutritious tubers under the ground, but also have beautiful foliage (and flowers!) above the ground. They’re also a great choice for our Florida summers.

You can grow them starting in mid-Spring and the vines will flourish during the heat of Summer while growing wonderful treats underground to harvest in the Fall and early Winter. Here’s our Top 5 Pro-Tips for growing Sweet Potatoes here in Florida.

Pro-Tip #1: Work the soil loose down deep, then build a “mound” about 12” high.

Soil prep is best done in advance, so that when the slips are brought to the garden they are ready to pop right into the ground. Work the soil loose down deep so the sweet potato tubers grow long and smooth. I always recommend working Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 into the mound as you work because it helps create a natural, bioavailable nutrient source for hungry plants.

You’ll want to sink the “slip” down far into the mound, but not so far that the bud (the vine stem) is covered by dirt. This is usually about 6”. Poke a hole in the mound, pour a little water into the hole, place the slip, then firm up the soil around it.

Pro-Tip #2: Plant them as soon as you receive the slips.

It’s important that when you pick them up from the store you plant them as soon as possible. While sweet potato slips are pretty tough little things, they do need to quickly get to growing like they were born to do. You’ll get the best results planting right away, but even if they sit around and become slimy and stinky, they will STILL do fine if you get them in the ground. Delaying planting means it will just take them a little longer to get going.

For some reason sweet potatoes intuitively know the weather. They will grow best when they are set in the ground in the late afternoon on a sunny day that is NOT windy. If it is windy, you’re better off waiting until the next afternoon. Don’t ask me how they know. They just do.

Pro-Tip #3: Keep weeds & grass cleared from the rows/beds until the vines cover the ground.

Young sweet potatoes are using every ounce of energy to put up leaves that will generate more energy through photosynthesis. To keep them as nourished as possible, you’ll need to keep the area free of any other competition that would steal the precious nutrients they need. Ideal spacing is 10-18” between each slip as you plant.

Once the vines are established, they are naturally multipurpose! They act as a natural mulch, shade the ground, and choke out the competition, while harboring moisture the plants need to grow strong and healthy. Many folks find it helpful to mulch the 3’ space between rows/beds to help the leaves in their efforts to keep weeds from encroaching on the grow mounds.

Pro-Tip #4: Don’t overwater or damage the vines

Sweet potatoes don’t require a ton of water. They only need about 1” of water once a week if it hasn’t rained. In fact, they do their best work in soil that isn’t heavy with water. Lots of water can even encourage fungus, which any Florida gardener know is an enormous problem for any garden plants.

Try to avoid disturbing the vines as much as you can. They easily damage (even a strong wind can hurt them!) and that can be an invitation for pests and disease to enter the plant and wreak havoc. The only time to fuss with the vines is to lift the vine “elbows” out of the soil. Those elbows, if left in the soil, will set new plants, which will set new tubers.

This will take nutrients and effort away from the main tubers you are growing back at the original planting hole, making those smaller. They won’t hurt your plant but could affect the tasty harvest you’re hoping to grow!

Pro-Tip #5: Let harvested sweet potatoes dry to thicken their skin

Once you’ve harvested your sweet potatoes they will need to dry in a well-ventilated and shaded area to grow a thick skin. The process takes up to 10 days. This skin is essential for storing your sweet potatoes for any length of time.

Most of us here in Florida don’t have root cellars so we usually store them in a cool dark spot. Remember to keep them away from onions and garlic which can make sweet potatoes rot quickly! I don’t recommend storage in the refrigerator either, because any temperature below 55 degrees Fahrenheit changes the starches and sugars in the potato and degrades a lot of the nutritive value of this very tasty tuber. And after all that hard work, you don’t want to do that.

Those are the top 5 Pro-Tips I have for sweet potato growing. When you buy from us, we give you a guide that is provided to us straight from the grower. You can also find more information I’ve put together from my research on our website here.

For the crafty. there is one more fun thing you can do with sweet potato slips beyond tasty garden treats. Grow a lush beautiful vine from a bottleneck vase (or a glass soda bottle!) as a houseplant. Place a slip in the vase, add some water, and place in a sunny spot. Soon you’ll have a gorgeous decorative vine!

Growing sweet potatoes is an adventure, and we hope that you will dive in and have fun with it!
Thanks for reading,

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