Sweet Potato Propagation : tips for Backyard Food Growing

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propagating sweet potato plants

Growing sweet potato is something that we enjoy because the plant is tough, it is easy to grow, and it can be very generous with edible tubers.

While we have a fair few years of experience growing this crop behind us, we understand that this is not the case for many people. So to help get people started in growing this plant, we have put together a list of methods and techniques to propagate sweet potatoes at home for growing in your backyard garden.

There should be a method below that will serve you well, so read on to work out what that is.

How is sweet potato propagated?

There are several ways to propagate the sweet potato vine, and they are all effective. Some require more work and monitoring, while others are straightforward and can care for themselves.

The list below shows the propagation techniques that we know of and rely on to have an annual supply of suitable plant material available to us.

  1. Whole tubers in soil.
  2. Cut tubers in soil.
  3. Slips in soil.
  4. Starters in water.
  5. Left in ground to spread.

Propagation methods.

1. Whole tubers in soil.

This method of growing new plants is one we use when a sweet potato that we have stored in the house for food has begun to sprout. It is a way to still benefit from that tuber even if it goes past the edible stage.

The complete tuber is buried with just the young growth tips above the soil surface, and a light cover of mulch to help prevent sunburn of the growth tip is all we do. Water it, and then leave it alone. The occasional watering is required if rain is not around.

2. Cut portions of sweet potato tuber.

This method is where a sweet potato has sprouted at one end, and the rest of the tuber is still acceptable for eating. By cutting off the end with fresh growth, you can make a new plant with it.

Sweet potato propagation
This will grow roots either in water or straight into soil.

The section cut from the tuber can be planted in moist soil, and over the next few weeks, roots should form at the cut, which then becomes a new sweet potato plant.

The section can also be kept indoors in a moist warm location, which can also produce the roots. We have not used this method as our soil is almost always warm enough to plant all year round.

3. Planting slips directly into soil before the roots show.

This is a simple method because we are in a prime sweet potato growing climate. As we are well versed in this method, we have a dedicated article on sweet potato starters for more detail on this method.

It allows for the relocation and extension of a growing area for the sweet potato vine with a simple cut of the vine tip, the leaf removal, and then a short trench and cover over.

The vines are often already rooting as they spread across the garden surface, so the fresh cutting is already prepared for the process. This propagation method is the most reliable method that industrial growers use to start a new crop.

4. Sprouting Sweet potato slips in water.

This method is beneficial if you have some reason why the plant will be at risk in the soil at that particular time. It could be garden space-related, or it could be seasonal weather conditions or temperatures. There are good reasons to get the slip to root in a jar of water indoors.

sweet potato slip with roots showing
Early roots on a sweet potato starter slip in water.

4. Leaving sweet potato in the ground to regrow.

This method is an accidental crop because it often happens when we fail to harvest all the sweet potatoes in a raised garden bed or in the corner patch where our best sweet potato grows.

You dig up the bed or garden and think that you have all of the sweet potato tubers out from it, but the following season, up they come, and away they go again. One detail of this method is we regularly mulch this area. “Do sweet potato vines need mulch?” shows how we go about it.

When you think about it, this is how the sweet potato would probably grow in a natural environment, season after season. It allows you to go and dig up a couple of tubers now and then during the year.

This method is ok if you don’t have a ground animal challenge to battle because they will likely beat you to the tubers over time. Once these critters discover the crop, they will continue to revisit the crime scene until the crop is done.

What propagation method is best for sweet potato growing?

There is no best method to propagating sweet potato vine.

The listed methods above show how you can propagate sweet potato plants; while they all work, there should be one that stands out and suits your situation. To help with what method may serve you, A beginner’s guide to growing sweet potatoes in raised garden beds may be of benefit.

It is not a matter of any method being superior to all others but is more a choice that you make to fit your climate and growing space when you start with propagating sweet potato plants.

If you look at a cold spell like the last few seasonal touches of frost, it is probably best to start the sweet potato indoors with water. If the temperatures are already warm, it could be best to plant the starters straight in the ground. The only suggestion we recommend is just to start.

Can sweet potato be grown from food scraps?

The only way to grow sweet potatoes from scraps is as described in #2 above. The sweet potato needs a chunk of tuber to draw nutrients from to grow shoots and new roots.

If the chunk is too small, the young shoots may starve. It is also a requirement that the piece has at least one growth node, and the image below shows what to look for.

growth node on sweet potato
Growth node starting to shoot.

Some people like to peel their potatoes before cooking them, and these peels cannot grow into fresh plants as far as we know, at least not in a kitchen setting, maybe in a lab, but not in the typical family home environment.

Can sweet potato vine be used as a house plant?

Sweet potato can be grown indoors during the cooler months if you are in a colder climate. This method allows you to keep a few plants going so you can be ready to plant out when the warmer weather arrives.

The sweet potato will likely grow slowly in these conditions and will need good light to survive. The plant dislikes cold temperatures so keep this in mind.

Will sweet potato grow tubers indoors?

It is doubtful that a sweet potato will grow tubers of any consequence when being grown indoors.

This is different from growing in sheltered situations like greenhouses and poly-tunnels. Indoor growing can limit the size of the plant and generally limits the amount of light it gets, and both of these items are favored by the plant in a natural setting in the garden.

Conclusions.

So now you have all the information we can give you on propagating sweet potatoes. We are self-sufficient in this root crop and have several varieties we grow here. We know that if we can do this, so can many other people.

All the information above is relevant to all edible sweet potato types, so all you have to do now is to get started. It really is a wonderfully simple vegetable crop to grow.

Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.