Growing Sweet Potatoes
Georgia Jet Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are a warm season vining crop that produces edible tubers. There are two primary types of sweet potatoes, white fleshed varieties and orange fleshed types. White fleshed sweet potatoes generally have a firmer
texture after cooking, while orange fleshed types have a smoother, softer texture.
Sweet potatoes are a fairly long season crop and generally need a minimum 90 to 110 day growing season. Early maturing varieties are the best choice for cold climates. Early maturing varieties best for northern climates include: Beauregard, Centennial, Georgia Jet, and O'Henry.
How To Plant
Choose a full sun location with moist, well-drained soils for sweet potatoes. Planting in raised beds is recommended, as raised beds help the soil to warm up earlier, improve drainage, and are usually looser textured, which leads to better root growth and larger roots. Raised beds can be covered with black plastic mulch 3 to 4 weeks before planting to warm the soil. This helps to improve establishment and promotes rapid early growth after planting.
Sweet potatoes are started from rooted vegetative cuttings commonly called “slips”. Our sweet potato slips are shipped directly from our grower, who specializes in sweet potatoes. Plant slips as soon as possible after receiving them, and minimize the amount of time they are held before planting for best results.
Because they are such tender plants, sweet potatoes should be planted outside only after the soil has warmed to 65°F, which is usually 2 to 3 weeks after the last spring frost. In addition, sweet potato plants must be protected from temperatures below 55°F.
Slips can be “heeled in” in a sheltered, protected spot outside or in a cold frame if they cannot be planted immediately in the garden. To heel in slips, plant entire bundles of slips (not separated) in a shallow trench and protect them with a row cover, cloche, or hot cap. Slips can also be planted in pots if weather is too cool for them to be planted outdoors when they are received. Use a well-drained potting medium for growing in pots.
Slips are best transplanted in the evening and watered in with a liquid fertilizer solution higher in phosphorous and potassium than nitrogen, such as 4-6-8. Space the slips 12 to 15 inches apart in rows, with 36 to 42 inches between rows. Plant the slips deeply, with just the upper leaves above ground.
Water stress will reduce yields and produce smaller tubers. Sweet potato plants need about an inch of water per week through the growing season. Watering can be reduced in the last 3 to 4 weeks of growth before harvest.
Sweet potato plants are shallow rooted, so avoid deep cultivation around plants when weeding. Using mulch will reduce the need for cultivation to control weeds and also help to keep the soil moist.
Harvest sweet potatoes in late summer to early fall, before soil temperatures drop below 55°F. If exposed to low temperatures, the tubers will be damaged and not store well. Dig when the soil is dry and be careful when harvesting, as uncured tubers have thin skins and are easily nicked, cut, or bruised. A spading fork is
a good tool to use when harvesting sweet potatoes.
Place dug roots in a shady area so they can dry, but do not wash them. Shake or brush off excess soil gently. Proper curing after harvest, followed by a period of storage, are both needed to bring out the full flavor of sweet potatoes.
Curing is a process that allows nicked and cut tubers to heal and also promotes good coloring and the development of enzymes that convert sugars to starches, making the roots sweeter. Cured sweet potatoes resist moisture loss and have an extended storage life.
The best environment for curing sweet potatoes is a warm (80 to 85°F), dark, humid (80 to 90% relative humidity) area with good ventilation. Keep tubers in this environment for 5 to 10 days. Do not allow any condensation to form on the tubers during curing, as this can lead to rot. If cooler temperatures (75 to 80°F) are used, curing generally takes 10 to 14 days.
Store at 55 to 60 degrees in a ventilated area. Storing for 6 to 8 weeks after curing allows roots to develop their full flavor.
Sweet potatoes are a moderate feeders that benefit from regular fertilization. Fertilize at planting and again 3 to 4 weeks later to ensure vigorous growth. Use a formula higher in phosphorous than nitrogen, like ALGOplus Tomato 4-6-8 liquid fertilizer or Purple Cow Organics BioActive All-Purpose Fertilizer 4-6-4.
Sweet Potato pests include Japanese beetles, wireworms, white grubs, and flea beetles. Use Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew to control insect pests feeding on top growth. Milky Spore Powder can be helpful in controlling white grubs in the soil.
Other crops with edible tubers are Jerusalem artichoke and potato.
Weed Control Porous Film Mulch can be used to warm the soil before planting. Floating Row Covers can be used after planting to provide a warmer environment and help protect plants from cold.
Sweet Potato Facts
Sweet potatoes are classified as Ipomoea batatas and are related to flowering annual morning glory. Although often called a yam, sweet potatoes are not related to true yams (Dioscorea species).
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