Top 5 Pro-Tips to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Florida

Top 5 Pro-Tips for Growing Sweet Potatoes in Florida
By Marissa

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 them.

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,
Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

12 responses to “Top 5 Pro-Tips to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Florida”

  1. sueroghair says:

    OMG love that photo of you Marissa! 🙂

  2. sherri cox says:

    I am in central FL, where is the best place to get slips?

    • Marissa Byrum says:

      Hello Sherri! What part of Central Florida are you in? If you’re close to Tampa, we may get a few extra bundles with our order and you can buy one from us. Otherwise…I actually have no idea. You might try local farm/feed stores to you. We’re the only ones I know of in our area to offer these. Other people grow the slips from their “expiring” sweet potatoes from the grocery store, but those have been sprayed with growth retardants…so the potato sits until that spray breaks down/wears off, it could take awhile to sprout! Let me know if we can help 🙂

  3. Bart says:

    Great timely blog article on growing sweet potatoes in Florida. I started my own slips on a sweet potato about a month ago when I couldn’t find them locally (St. Augustine). I just pulled off a few of the slips with the longer roots and planted them in 4 inch pots hoping to get them off to a good start before putting them in the garden. It appears like you can take slips right off the the side of the sweet potato and place them directly in the garden. I’ve been wrestling with wether to grow them in rows or hills/mounds. I’m leaning towards the hills. Thank you for your diagram showing how to do this!

    • Marissa Byrum says:

      Hey there Bart! You’re quite welcome, I’m happy to help! Yes the weather has been a little weird this year, hasn’t it? The sweet potatoes love the heat so those vines will grow for you all summer. Did you know that you can eat the young leaves in salads as well? They’re also good as wilted greens (like you would do with kale or spinach). Yum! And as far as how to grow them, I’d say they’d do good with either hills or mounds, they key for full tuber production is that the soil is not compacted. A “hill” I would think would give our tubers more room to fill out. If the soil isn’t loosened down 12-18″ under the surface, your tubers will come out like fingerlings…still delicious but not quite the typical sweet potato experience we think of, you know? Good luck, and keep me posted. We’re waiting for our slips to come in right now!

  4. Anne says:

    Do you still have sweet potato slips? Can I grow them on a trellis, or do they prefer to run on the ground?

    • Marissa Byrum says:

      Hello Anne! Actually, no we sold out last month. We start pre-orders for our slips in January and they usually arrive in April. We got them mid-month and distributed all the ones ordered, and we had a few extra that sold out. You can definitely grow them on a trellis, however, if you let them roam on the ground (which is ok) just know that every place the vine touches the dirt it will put down roots and grow a tuber…this takes away from growing the main tubers at the place of planting and makes all the tubers a bit smaller. Some people like the small “fingerling” potatoes and purposely let them run wild for that reason. But if you want grocery-store sized sweet potatoes, you’ll need to limit the running to a raised bed and then trellis the rest of the vines up. The trellised vines will act sort of like a solar charger – the plant will continue to make food from the sun and soil and will just keep depositing it into your sweet potatoes under ground (which like a battery on a solar charger, if you continue the metaphor!). You’ll know when it’s time to harvest because the vines will start to yellow and die back. Also, you can eat the younger leaves on the sweet potato like you would spinach.

  5. Sheila says:

    I would like to add that you can eat the sweet potato vine leaves, either cooked or in a salad. I got tired of store-bought salad greens going bad before getting eaten so now I grow sweet potatoes for a ready supply of fresh greens. A bonus is that the leaves are rich in nutrients.

  6. D Dodge says:

    Good morning, and thank you for such great information. I’m wondering… any pros/cons to starting a new plant by simply planting a whole, fully grown tuber? Also, other than “yellowing leaves”, how might I know when to harvest my “raised planter” sweet potatoes? Thank you in advance for your continued assistance.

    • Marissa Byrum says:

      Hello! Thanks for writing in. The way I tell if they’re ready to harvest is usually the yellowing of the leaves/dying back of the vines. BUT, you can also very gently dig down with your fingers and inspect the tubers in your container(s) and see what size they are. I do this if I’m hungry, most of the time, to see if I can eat it. 🙂 Also, for planting, you don’t need to plant the whole tuber. If you have a whole tuber that has eyes that are growing, you can cut off a portion of the tuber where the sprouts (they’re called slips) are growing and just plant that part. In this way, if you have more than one area sprouting, you can have multiple plants. Also, if you have vines, you can cut a piece of vine and root it in water, and then plant that rooted piece. It will grow just like a slip would. I hope that helps!

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