Decorative Sweet Potatoes as
 House Plants and Ground Cover

Bill Devlin
Adams County Master Gardner

The sweet potato was unknown to Europeans prior to Christopher Columbus’ voyages of discovery. Since he sailed at semi-tropical latitudes, the plants he brought back were most suitable to Portugal and Spain, but not necessarily to more northern latitudes. Over the years, cultivation of the sweet potato has moved north however, by over wintering tubers in temperate storage.

While sweet potatoes were originally utilized for food, varieties have been developed for their ornamental qualities. A variety of colors are available. These colors range from dark, the Ace of Spades – a dark purple, Blackie – a more colorful purple, La Lady Fingers – a delicate green, Margarita – the color of the namesake drink, to Pinkk Frost – a variegated pink, green, and cream foliage, the later two being of a light color.

These plants can only be purchased as cuttings. Unlike its cousin, the morning glory which is easily grown from seed, sweet potato vines are propagated by stem cuttings that develop in just four or five weeks. They will not withstand frost, so some method of over wintering is desirable. Before hard frost, take cuttings, and root them indoors. Also, tubers can be dug after first hard frost, dried, and keep in a dry cold storage area until spring. The cuttings will be more vigorous in the following spring however.

Tubers can be supported with toothpicks and rooted in a largemouth jar partially submerged until roots form and then potted. After last frost, they can be moved outdoors. I southern climes in the United States, they can be grown year round.

Sweet potato vine is a tropical plant grown as an annual in our area. Though full sun is preferred, it will grow in partial shade. Keep the soil moderately moist at all times or the vines will clearly let you know they are thirsty by wilting with limp flagged leaves. Fortunately it is a very forgiving plant that will quickly perk up once thoroughly watered.

The unique foliage and forms make ornamental sweet potato vines popular as ‘spillers’ in a container and ‘sprawlers’ in border flower areas. One sweet potato vine in a container will quickly fill in around the rim of the pot and spill over the edges. In the garden, sweet potato vine is an impressive, fast growing annual ground cover that should be planted no closer than two feet apart. This vine also seems to thrive in summer heat, but can easily be trimmed when it outgrows its boundary or strays too far from its container.

Sweet potato vines are ‘chameleons’ that emphasize and enhance the flowers and foliage of nearby plants. ‘Blackie’ and ‘Marguerite’ bring out the burgundy and green in coleus and contrast beautifully with both variegated plants and bright colors. The pink hues of ‘tricolor’ leaves appear bolder and more visible when planted with pink and fuchsia-colored flowers.

I would like to credit a variety of internet sources for information presented in this article, including Iowa State University Extension, Papa Geno’s Herb Farm, and Martha Stewart’s Living.

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