I like to experiment in my vegetable garden, whether with new varieties of tried and true veggies or new types of vegetables to grow. Most of the time, these newbies are successful, but that wasn’t the case when I tried to grow sweet potatoes.
Growing Sweet Potato Slips in Water
In our circle of friends, most of us know a good-hearted cat person. While the image of a gray-haired granny feeding the neighborhood strays comes to mind, I’m talking about any cat lover who goes out of their way to help a feline. I’m this way, except with plants.
I can’t resist stray plants. These could be volunteer tomatoes that I transplant to more appropriate areas of the garden, or flowers that somehow manage to pop up in the middle of the yard. So naturally when I saw my unused Thanksgiving sweet potato sending up sprouts in midwinter, I couldn’t resist rescuing these wayward plants-to-be.
Not having anything to lose, I carefully snapped off the slips and plopped them in a glass of water. Having absolutely no experience with growing sweet potatoes in Ohio, I had no idea if this was the correct way to root slips. Luckily, my plant intuition proved to be right.
My rescues soon grew roots. I eventually got around to planting them in the garden, but the vines never took off. They exhibited lackluster growth and when I dug them up in the fall, only a few roots contained pencil-thin enlargements. With this disappointment under my belt, I didn’t try again for a few more years.
Try, Try Again
I attributed my failure to the long sweet potato growing season. Most varieties require 90 to 120 days to reach maturity. Statistically, we have enough frost-free weather in Northern Ohio, but I’ve seen late frosts in June and early frosts in September. Realistically, growing long-season crops in my area is a gamble.
Yet, there is something about a failed effort to grow a plant that doesn’t sit well with me. I simply don’t like Mother Nature telling me what I can and can’t grow. So I gathered up my gardening courage and tried again. This time, I planted earlier in the season and covered the newly-planted slips with cut-off 2-liter soda bottles.
This gardening hack did the trick. That fall, I harvested quite a few large sweet potatoes. I have since tried growing sweet potatoes in pots with equal success. When my store-bought sweet potatoes sent up shoots, I placed the slips in water and potted them up as soon as they had 2 inch (5 cm.) long roots.
I kept the planters in a sunny spot in the house over the winter. I admit their growth wasn’t very impressive inside the house. But come spring, I began hardening off the vines like I do the veggie seedlings I start indoors. By the time the nights were warm enough to leave the sweet potatoes outdoors, the plants were well under way.
I was impressed by my harvest of container-grown sweet potatoes. Plus, I realized the benefits of harvesting sweet potatoes grown in a pot. I simply dumped the planter. No marred skins from digging tools and no overlooked potatoes. Lesson learned!
If at first we don’t succeed as gardeners, there’s always a new growing season next year!