Growing amazing sweet potatoes that are the envy of your neighbors is very possible. Follow these tips to start, grow and harvest a plentiful crop of sweet potatoes in your home garden.
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Sweet Potatoes are a hot summer crop to plant after your spring garden. They like it hot, so they are a good match for south Texas’ hot and humid summer season. They also have a long (100-140 day) growing season.
There are several varieties that row well in Texas Zone 9:
- Orange flesh: Beuregard, Jewel, Excel, Hernandez;
- Gold flesh: Shore Gold;
- White flesh: Sumor, White Delight
You can get botanical information on several varieties of Sweet Potato here.
The soil should be light and sandy. Clay soils or rocks will inhibit the tuber growth. Make sure the soil is well-drained and amend with compost. Add fish emulsion to the soil when planting. Too much nitrogen in the soil produces leaves at the expense of the tubers. Sweet Potatoes need full sun.
Planting Sweet Potatoes:
Sweet Potatoes are grown from “slips,” which are rooted cuttings. You can grow your own slips, but most gardeners buy them from organic gardeners.
Plant them outside after the soil and night temperatures are above 60 degrees. They need about 120 days to grow to maturity after they are in the ground. Set the slip about 2-3 inches deep, and 12-18 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until the slips begin to grow.
Growing Sweet Potatoes:
About two weeks after your vines begin growing, weed the area. After this time, the vines wil shade the ground and suppress the weeds. The vines can grow to 20 feet. You can grow sweet potatoes in containers if you use the semi-trailing varieties. Some varieties to try are Porto Rico, Carolina Bunch and Vardaman. A tip for container growing: the plants may have become root-bound in the pot, which will inhibit tuber growth. To remedy this, cut the plant off above the soil line, then replant without roots. The plant will form new roots, and allow well-formed tubers to develop.
Common pests include aphids, flea beetles, leaf hoppers and wireworms. Other pest can include nematodes and hornworms.
They are also susceptible to root rot and fungal diseases. Practice crop rotation to minimize these problems.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes:
Tubers grow underground from the vine’s central shoot. The vine will also root where the vine touches the ground. This spot will not produce tubers, and can take away from actual tuber production. You can let the vines cover the ground and suppress weeds, or you can train them up a trellis to shade other plants
Stop watering 3-4 weeks before harvest to keep the mature tubers from splitting.
Harvest sweet potatoes when the plant has reached its days to maturity mark; the leaves will begin to turn yellow and wither. You can leave the tubers in the ground for longer periods. They will grow bigger, but will stop growing when temperatures drop to about 55 degrees.
They are easily bruised or injured, so gently dig or lift them out of the ground. Harvest before the first frost. Let them cure in the sun for 3-4 hours. Then place them in a dark humid place for 10 days to sweeten. Finally, store in a dry, cool place for 4-6 months.
So, growing amazing sweet potatoes is entirely possible for the home gardener. You can grow your own slips, but this will take some time, and is best done early in the season.
You can start now by buying slips from these providers:
- Sweet Potato Blessings has several online and offline providers.
- George’s Plant Farm.
- Steele Plants.
- Sand Hill Preservation.
You can but slips, or start your own. Either way, a sweet potato harvest will be a sweet fall reward for your summer effort.
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