Adams County Master Gardner
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
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
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
Read other articles on house plants
Read other articles By Bill Devlin