The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is an easy-to-grow food crop that grows on trailing vines. It is often confused with the yam, but the yam is an entirely separate tropical species. Cooks bake sweet potatoes, use them in pies and turn them into soups. Gardeners plant sprouts called "slips" in the spring and harvest these starchy underground vegetables in the fall.
When to Grow
Slips should be transplanted after the last frost and as soon as the soil warms up to at least 65 degrees F. Always buy plants grown from certified disease-free roots.
How to Grow
Sweet potatoes thrive in well-drained, loamy or sandy soil. If you grown them in heavy clay soil, they most likely will be smaller and misshapen. Plants should be placed 12 to 18 inches apart, 4 inches deep on a wide, raised ridge 8 inches high. Space rows 3 to 4 feet apart. After planting, water them with a high-phosphorus starter fertilizer.
Weeds can be kept to a minimum with black plastic mulch or by cultivating regularly when the plants are young. Once the vines spread and cover the ground, you will not need to weed much. Water after the plants are established only if there is an extended drought.
Choose your cultivar carefully. Clemson University Extension recommends cultivars including 'Beauregard,' which has light rose skin, deep orange flesh and is resistant to many diseases, but not nematodes; 'Excel,' which has copper skin with orange flesh and is excellent for baking and canning; 'Jewel' also has copper skin and deep orange flesh with good wilt and nematode resistance; and 'Sumor,' which has yellowish-tan skin and white-to-yellow flesh that can be prepared like a regular white potato.