top of page

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Sweet Potatoes

growing sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes, scientifically known as Ipomoea batatas, are versatile root vegetables cherished globally for their sweet, earthy taste, and nutritional value. Although they are native to Central and South America, these vibrant tubers are now grown and consumed worldwide, adding a splash of color and sweetness to a variety of dishes.

Sweet potatoes come in a range of colors, from the commonly known orange variety to purple, white, and yellow types. The orange type is particularly renowned for its high beta-carotene content, which gives it its bright color, while the purple variety is packed with anthocyanins, potent antioxidants.

Beyond their culinary versatility, sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and several B vitamins, as well as being a good source of dietary fiber and potassium. Their high antioxidant content helps combat oxidative stress and inflammation.

Growing sweet potatoes in your garden can be a fulfilling endeavor. You'll not only have a steady supply of this nutritious root vegetable but also enjoy the ornamental value of its heart-shaped, lush, green vines.

Optimal growing conditions for Sweet Potatoes - Climate, sunlight, and soil requirements Optimal

Sweet potatoes are versatile plants that thrive in various conditions, but there are a few key factors to consider for optimal growth. Here, we'll explore these conditions, from the perfect climate and sunlight requirements to the best soil for their development.


Sweet potatoes are tropical plants that prefer warm weather. They grow best in temperatures ranging from 70°F to 85°F (21°C to 29°C). Although they can tolerate cooler temperatures, growth is significantly slowed below 60°F (15°C), and frost can be damaging. This makes sweet potatoes ideal for growing in the summer months in most regions.


When it comes to sunlight, sweet potatoes are sun lovers. They need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day to develop properly. More sunlight contributes to higher yield and better-quality tubers. Therefore, choosing a planting site that gets full sun exposure is key.

Soil Requirements

Sweet potatoes aren't very picky about soil, but for optimal growth and tuber formation, they prefer a well-draining, sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH of 5.0 to 6.5. The soil should be deep and loose to allow for the development of the tubers. Heavy clay soils can cause misshapen potatoes and slow growth, so it's recommended to amend such soils with compost or other organic matter to improve their texture and nutrient content.

Remember, a successful sweet potato harvest starts with the right growing conditions. By ensuring the proper climate, sunlight, and soil for your plants, you're setting the stage for a bountiful yield of this nutritious and versatile root vegetable.

Step-by-step Guide to Planting Sweet Potatoes

growing sweet potatoes

When to Plant – Best time of the year for planting Sweet Potatoes

Determining the best planting time is crucial for successful sweet potato cultivation. Here, we'll guide you on when to plant these nutritious tubers to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Ideal Planting Time

Sweet potatoes are a warm-weather crop and extremely sensitive to frost. As such, they should be planted in the spring, once soil temperatures reach a consistent 60°F (15°C) and the threat of frost has passed. This usually corresponds to late April or early May in most parts of the U.S, or about 2-4 weeks after the last spring frost date.

Keep in mind that sweet potatoes need a long growing season of at least 100-120 days of warm weather to mature. In cooler climates, where the growing season is shorter, consider using black plastic or mulch on the soil to trap heat, and opt for varieties that mature more quickly.

Importance of Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is an important factor in planting sweet potatoes. A soil thermometer can be a valuable tool for ensuring conditions are right for planting. The soil should be warm, at least 60°F (15°C), before planting slips. Colder soil temperatures can slow growth and potentially harm the plants.

Timing your sweet potato planting properly can significantly improve your chances of a successful harvest. Remember, sweet potatoes need warm soil and plenty of sunshine, so be patient and wait for the right conditions to arrive

Seed Selection – Choosing the right seeds for your garden

When it comes to sweet potatoes, the term 'seeds' can be a bit misleading. Unlike most vegetables, sweet potatoes are not typically grown from actual seeds, but rather from 'slips' or 'cuttings'. These are small pieces of mature sweet potato vine that contain a bud and are capable of producing a whole new plant. In this section, we'll guide you on how to choose the right slips for your sweet potato garden.

Purchasing Slips

Firstly, choose certified disease-free slips from reliable nurseries. Commercially produced slips are generally safe, disease-free, and available in many varieties. Some popular types of sweet potatoes include Beauregard (known for its quick maturation), Jewel (famous for its orange flesh), and Purple Passion (renowned for its striking purple skin and flesh).

Growing Your Own Slips

Alternatively, you can grow your own slips from a mature sweet potato. Select a healthy, mature sweet potato free of cuts or bruises. Submerge one end of the potato in a jar of water. Place it in a sunny window, and in a few weeks, green shoots will start to sprout from the top of the potato. These can be removed and planted once they are about 6 inches long.

Variety Selection

When selecting a variety, consider your local climate and soil conditions, as well as your personal preference for color, texture, and taste. If you're in a cooler climate with a shorter growing season, look for varieties that mature quickly.

Consider disease resistance too, especially if sweet potatoes have been grown in your garden before. Some varieties have been bred to resist common sweet potato pests and diseases.

Choosing the right slips or seeds for your sweet potatoes is the first step towards a successful harvest. In the next section, we'll discuss how to prepare your garden or pot for planting sweet potatoes.

Site Preparation – How to prepare the garden bed or pot for planting

Planting sweet potatoes in a properly prepared garden bed or pot is crucial for successful growth and bountiful harvest. The soil conditions, space, and overall location significantly impact their development. Let's discuss the essential steps in site preparation for planting sweet potatoes.

Choosing the Location

Sweet potatoes thrive in a well-draining location that receives full sunlight for at least five hours per day. Avoid locations with heavy clay soil or where water tends to collect, as these conditions can lead to rot.

Preparing the Garden Bed

Start by clearing the selected site of any weeds or grass, which could compete with your sweet potatoes for nutrients and water. Then, turn the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches using a garden fork or rototiller. This breaks up compacted soil and makes it easier for the sweet potatoes' roots to grow and expand.

Adjusting Soil Conditions

Sweet potatoes prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil, with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, amend it with lime or sulfur, respectively, as per the package's instructions.

Next, improve the soil's fertility and texture by mixing in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure. This not only adds essential nutrients but also improves the soil's water-retention and drainage capabilities.

Preparing Raised Beds or Mounds

For optimum growth, consider creating raised beds or mounds about 8 inches high and 12 inches wide. Planting in raised beds or mounds promotes better drainage, a vital factor in growing sweet potatoes.

Preparing Pots for Planting

If you're growing sweet potatoes in a container, choose one that's at least 12 inches deep and 18 inches in diameter. Fill it with a well-draining potting mix, and ensure it has enough drainage holes to prevent water from stagnating.

Site preparation may seem laborious, but it is a one-time task that will significantly boost your sweet potato harvest. In the next section, we will guide you through the planting process.

Planting Process - Detailed Steps on How to Plant Seeds or Seedlings

growing sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are unique; rather than being planted from seeds or typical seedlings, they are grown from "slips" – young shoots that emerge from a mature sweet potato. Let's break down the process of planting these slips to ensure the successful growth of your sweet potatoes.

1. Generating Slips from a Sweet Potato

Choose a Healthy Sweet Potato

Opt for an organic, disease-free tuber from a local farmer or nursery. Avoid those from grocery stores, as they may be treated to prevent sprouting.

Submerge Half the Sweet Potato

Place your sweet potato in a glass or jar filled with water, with half of it submerged. Use toothpicks to keep the top part of the potato above the waterline.

Wait for Sprouting

Keep the jar in a warm, sunny spot. Within a few weeks, you'll notice green sprouts emerging from the top part. Once these sprouts or slips are 4-6 inches long with a few leaves, they're ready to be planted.

2. Removing and Rooting Slips

Twist Off the Slip

Gently twist and pull the slips off the sweet potato.

Root in Water

Place these slips in a shallow bowl with the bottom ends submerged in water and wait for roots to grow, which usually takes a week.

3. Planting the Slips

Prepare the Soil

Refer back to the "Site Preparation" section to ensure your soil is ready.

Dig a Hole

For each slip, dig a hole about 4-5 inches deep, ensuring the holes are spaced about 12-18 inches apart, with 3-4 feet between rows.

Plant the Slip

Place a slip into each hole, covering it so that the leaves remain above the soil. Gently firm the soil around each slip.

Water Thoroughly

Give them a good watering right after planting to settle the soil and provide hydration.

4. Caring in the Initial Stages

Consistent Watering

For the first week after planting, ensure the slips are well-watered to help them establish in their new environment.


If you anticipate any late frosts, consider covering your young plants with a frost cloth or a light blanket to protect them.

By following this comprehensive planting process, you'll give your sweet potatoes the best start possible.

Care for Growing Sweet Potatoes

growing sweet potatoes

Watering – How often and how much to water the plants

Proper hydration is crucial to the health and productivity of sweet potato plants. Since they're typically grown during the warmer months, monitoring their water intake is essential to ensure robust growth and a hearty harvest. Let’s navigate through the watering needs of sweet potatoes

Initial Growth Phase

Objective: To establish strong roots and shoots.

1. Frequency: For the first 3-4 weeks post-planting, maintain consistent moisture. Water every other day if there's no significant rainfall.

2. Amount: Aim for the soil to remain moist up to 6 inches deep. This usually means applying about 1 inch of water weekly.

Mid Growth - Tuber Development

Objective: To support the growing tubers without over-saturating them.

1. Frequency: As the plants progress and tubers start to form, scale back the watering. If the weather remains average, a weekly watering session should be adequate.

2. Amount: Continue ensuring that the top 6 inches of soil remains moist but allow the surface to dry slightly between waterings.

Late Growth Phase

Objective: To let the tubers mature without splitting or rotting.

1. Frequency: Once you notice the vines starting to yellow or wither, it's a sign that the tubers are maturing. Diminish your watering schedule further during this period.

2. Amount: Lightly moisten the soil, being careful not to overwater. Excessive moisture late in growth can cause the tubers to split or decay.

Pro Tips for Effective Watering

1. Use Drip Irrigation: This method ensures consistent soil moisture and minimizes water wastage.

2. Mulching: A layer of organic mulch around the plants (about 2-3 inches thick) aids in moisture retention, reduces the growth of competing weeds, and shields the tubers from direct sunlight exposure.

3. Monitor the Soil: It's always beneficial to routinely check the soil's moisture level. Adjust your watering practices based on observed conditions and the weather forecast.

By understanding the specific watering needs of sweet potatoes at each growth stage, you can optimize their development and maximize your harvest. The subsequent sections will provide further insights into other facets of sweet potato cultivation, making your gardening journey even more successful.

Fertilizing – The type of fertilizer needed and how to apply it

Sweet potatoes thrive when given the right nutrients at the correct stages of their growth. Fertilizing sweet potatoes doesn't only promote healthy tuber development but also ensures optimal yield. Let's delve into the ins and outs of fertilizing sweet potatoes

Understanding Sweet Potato Nutrient Needs

Primary Nutrients:

1. Nitrogen (N): Essential during the early stages of growth. It promotes healthy foliage and vine development.

2. Phosphorus (P): Vital for root and tuber development.

3. Potassium (K): Supports overall plant health and boosts resistance to diseases.

Secondary Nutrients and Micronutrients: Magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and trace minerals like boron are also necessary in smaller quantities for optimal growth.

Choosing the Right Fertilizer

1. Complete Balanced Fertilizer: A balanced fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 (N-P-K), is generally recommended at planting.

2. Low Nitrogen Formula: As the plant matures, switch to a fertilizer with reduced nitrogen but increased phosphorus and potassium, such as a 5-10-10 formula. This shift supports tuber development over foliage growth.

Application Process

1. At Planting: Mix the balanced fertilizer into the soil before planting your sweet potato slips. About 2-3 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet is a good starting point.

2. Side-Dressing: Once the plants are well-established (about a month after planting), side-dress with the low nitrogen fertilizer. Gently work it into the soil, taking care not to disturb the roots.

Additional Tips

1. Soil Testing: Before fertilizing, conduct a soil test. This test will provide insights into the existing nutrients in your soil, allowing you to adjust your fertilization strategy accordingly.

2. Organic Alternatives: If you prefer organic gardening, consider using composted manure, bone meal (for phosphorus), and greensand or wood ash (for potassium).

3. Avoid Over-Fertilizing: Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen-rich types, can lead to excessive vine growth at the expense of tuber development.

Remember, while fertilizing plays a crucial role in the cultivation of sweet potatoes, it's essential to balance it with other care practices. By providing your sweet potatoes with the nutrients they crave, you're one step closer to a bountiful and tasty harvest.

Disease and Pest Control – Common diseases and pests that can affect Sweet potatoes, and how to manage them

Sweet potatoes, although hardy, aren't immune to pests and diseases. Ensuring a successful harvest means keeping a vigilant eye on potential threats and addressing them promptly. This section will guide you through the common pests and diseases that target sweet potatoes and how best to manage them.

Common Diseases in Sweet Potatoes

1. Sweet Potato Black Rot: Caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fimbriata, this disease manifests as dark, depressed spots on the tuber's skin.

  • Management: Practice crop rotation and use disease-free planting material. Remove and destroy affected plants.

2. Fusarium Root Rot: This fungus results in yellowing and wilting of vines, with roots developing rot.

  • Management: Ensure well-draining soil and avoid over-watering. Using disease-resistant varieties can also help.

3. Southern Blight: Recognizable by the white, thread-like growth on the soil surface near the plant's base.

  • Management: Crop rotation and deep tilling can help reduce the risk. Fungicides might be required for severe infestations.

Pest Problems and Their Control

1. Sweet Potato Weevil: The most significant pest, adults cause pitting on the tubers while larvae burrow into them.

  • Management: Regularly inspect plants and remove affected ones. Use sticky traps for adults and practice crop rotation.

2. Wireworms: These larvae can burrow into and eat the tubers.

  • Management: Tilling the soil exposes them to predators. Crop rotation and natural predators like beneficial nematodes can also help.

3. White Grubs: Larval stage of certain beetles, they feed on the roots.

  • Management: Introduce beneficial nematodes and ensure good garden hygiene by removing plant debris.

General Tips for Disease and Pest Management

1. Healthy Soil: Keeping your soil healthy and well-draining reduces the risk of many diseases. Consider adding compost or organic matter regularly.

2. Crop Rotation: This practice prevents soil-borne diseases from becoming a consistent problem.

3. Resistant Varieties: If you're in an area prone to certain diseases, consider planting resistant sweet potato varieties.

4. Regular Monitoring: Regularly inspect your sweet potato plants for signs of diseases or pest damage. Early detection often makes management more straightforward.

5. Natural Predators: Encourage beneficial insects, like ladybugs and praying mantises, which can help keep pest populations in check.

By following the above practices and being observant, you can mitigate most challenges that sweet potatoes face from pests and diseases.

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

growing sweet potatoes

When to Harvest – Identifying signs that the Sweet potatoes is ready for harvesting

Sweet potatoes are one of those crops where timing the harvest is crucial for optimal flavor and texture. Harvesting too early might result in smaller tubers, while waiting too long can expose them to pests or frost. This section will guide you through the tell-tale signs that your sweet potatoes are ready to make their way from the garden to your table.

Growth Duration

1. Typical Maturity Time: Sweet potatoes generally require 90 to 170 days to reach maturity, depending on the variety. Mark your calendar from the day you planted to help anticipate the harvest period.

2. Check the Plant's Foliage: As the sweet potatoes approach maturity, the vines and leaves will start to yellow and wilt. This natural process indicates that the plant is reaching the end of its growth cycle.

Tuber Size

1. Ideal Size: Gently dig around the base of a plant with your hand to feel the size of the tubers. They should be large enough to eat—typically 4 to 6 inches in length and at least 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

2. Avoid Oversize Tubers: If left in the ground too long, sweet potatoes can become overly large, making them more fibrous and less palatable.

Soil and Weather Conditions

1. Soil Cracking: As sweet potatoes grow and expand, they may cause the soil to crack around the base of the plant. This can be an indicator of mature tubers below.

2. Weather Watch: Keep a close eye on the weather forecast as the harvest time approaches. It's vital to collect your sweet potatoes before the first frost. Cold temperatures can damage the tubers, affecting their taste and storage capability.

Testing a Sample

  • If you're uncertain, dig up a single plant to assess the size and condition of the tubers. This can give you a good idea of whether the rest of the crop is ready.

Tip for the Patient Gardener

  • While you can harvest as soon as tubers reach a desirable size, waiting until the end of the growth cycle can yield sweeter potatoes. This is because the plant converts more starches into sugars as it matures.

By following these cues and relying a bit on your gardening intuition, you'll be able to determine the perfect time to harvest your sweet potatoes.

How to Harvest – Techniques for harvesting Sweet potatoes to prevent damage to the plant and fruit

Once you've determined that your sweet potatoes are ripe for harvesting, it's time to unearth those golden treasures. The manner in which you harvest is crucial to prevent any damage to the delicate tubers. Proper harvesting ensures longer shelf life and, of course, a more delicious bite. This section provides a step-by-step guide to help you seamlessly harvest your sweet potatoes.

Choose the Right Day

  • Weather Matters: Aim for a dry day with no expected rain. Wet soil can be challenging to work with and might cause the tubers to get dirty or damaged.

Gather Your Tools

  • Use a Spading Fork: A spading fork, with its flat tines, is ideal for digging around the tubers without piercing them.

  • Gloves and Bucket: Wear gloves to protect your hands and have a bucket or basket nearby for collecting the dug-up tubers.

Gentle Beginnings

  • Start Wide: Begin digging about a foot away from the base of the plant. This reduces the risk of accidentally slicing into a tuber.

  • Dig Deep: Insert your fork 8-10 inches into the soil, as sweet potatoes tend to grow downwards.

Lift with Care

  • Leverage Technique: Once the fork is deep enough, gently use it as a lever to lift the soil and loosen the tubers. It's okay if you don't get all the potatoes in one go; it's more important to be gentle to avoid damage.

Hand-Pick the Tubers

  • Delicate Touch: Use your hands to pull out the sweet potatoes from the loosened soil. This minimizes the risk of bruising or cutting the skin.

Brush Off Excess Soil

  • No Vigorous Cleaning: Gently brush off large clumps of soil, but resist the urge to wash the tubers immediately. Any moisture can make them more susceptible to rot during storage.

Curing Process

  • Essential Step: Once harvested, sweet potatoes benefit from a curing process. Place them in a warm, humid area (around 80-85°F and 85-90% humidity) for about 10-14 days. This helps heal any minor cuts or bruises and improves the overall flavor by converting more starches to sugars.

Tip for Small Gardens

  • If you're working with limited space or container gardens, you can simply tip over the container and sift through the soil to collect your sweet potatoes.

In the act of harvesting, always prioritize the integrity of the sweet potato over the speed of collection. Being gentle and methodical will reward you with a bountiful, damage-free harvest ready for immediate consumption or storage.

Post-Harvest Care and Storage – How to store and preserve Sweet potatoes for maximum freshness and longevity

Once you've delicately harvested your sweet potatoes, the journey doesn't end there. Proper post-harvest care and storage techniques can significantly enhance the freshness and longevity of these delicious tubers. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that every sweet potato harvested from your garden remains as flavorful and fresh as the day it was unearthed.

Curing Sweet Potatoes

  • Why It's Essential: As mentioned earlier, curing helps heal any minor damages on the skin, reduces the chances of rotting, and sweetens the tuber by converting starches to sugars.

  • Ideal Conditions: Place the harvested sweet potatoes in an area with temperatures of 80-85°F (27-29°C) and 85-90% humidity.

  • Duration: Let them cure for 10-14 days.

Gentle Cleaning

  • Wait Before Washing: Hold off on washing your sweet potatoes immediately after harvesting. Water can introduce moisture, leading to rot.

  • Brushing Over Rinsing: Use a soft brush to remove any clinging soil. If washing is necessary, make sure to dry the tubers thoroughly before storage.

Preparing for Storage

  • Inspect for Damage: Before storing, examine each sweet potato. Set aside any with visible damages for immediate consumption; they won't store well.

  • Keep Them Whole: Avoid trimming or cutting the tubers, as this can expose them to diseases and reduce storage life.

Optimal Storage Conditions

  • Cool and Dark: Store sweet potatoes in a dark, cool place, ideally at temperatures between 55-60°F (13-16°C).

  • Maintain Moderate Humidity: The ideal humidity level for storage is around 60-70%. Too much humidity can lead to mold, while too little can cause the tubers to shrivel.

  • Ventilation is Key: Make sure the storage area is well-ventilated to prevent moisture buildup. Consider using slatted crates or mesh bags to store the tubers.

Regular Checks

  • Rot Prevention: Every couple of weeks, check your stored sweet potatoes. Remove any that show signs of rotting to prevent it from spreading to healthy tubers.

  • Maintain Consistent Conditions: Ensure that the temperature and humidity levels remain stable throughout the storage period.

Long-Term Storage

  • Shelf Life: When stored under ideal conditions, sweet potatoes can remain fresh for up to 6 months.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long does it take for sweet potatoes to grow?

Sweet potatoes typically take about 90 to 170 days to grow, depending on the variety and the growing conditions. Most common varieties are ready for harvest in about 100 to 140 days after planting.

Recap and Final Thoughts: Time to Start Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Sweet potatoes

As we wrap up this comprehensive guide on "How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Sweet Potatoes," let's revisit the key takeaways:

1. Optimal Growing Conditions: Sweet potatoes thrive in warm climates, requiring full sunlight and well-draining, loamy soil. Ensuring the right pH level (5.8 to 6.2) boosts their growth.

2. Planting Time: It's ideal to plant sweet potatoes after the last spring frost when the soil temperature reaches at least 55°F (13°C).

3. Seed Selection: Opt for disease-free slips or vine cuttings from reputable sources. The right choice sets the stage for a bountiful harvest.

4. Site Preparation: A raised garden bed or ridges can be beneficial. Ensure the area is free from weeds and has been enriched with well-decomposed compost.

5. Planting Process: Plant the slips, ensuring a spacing of 12-18 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart.

6. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the initial weeks post-planting. Reduce the frequency as tubers form to prevent them from becoming too watery.

7. Fertilizing: A balanced fertilizer at planting time, followed by a phosphorus-rich one during tuber formation, aids in robust growth.

8. Disease and Pest Control: Regularly inspect plants for signs of common pests like sweet potato weevils and diseases such as root rot. Prompt action ensures healthy growth.

9. Harvesting Time: Sweet potatoes are typically ready for harvest 90 to 170 days after planting, depending on the variety. Look for the vines starting to yellow as an indication.

10. Harvesting Techniques: Use a spade or garden fork, being gentle to avoid bruising the tubers.

11. Post-Harvest Care: Cure sweet potatoes for 7-10 days at 80-85°F (27-29°C) with high humidity. Store in a cool, dark place.

Embark on Your Sweet Potato Journey!

Having journeyed through the essential steps of cultivating sweet potatoes, the path is now clear for you to embark on this fulfilling gardening adventure. The reward? A pantry stocked with nutritious, homegrown sweet potatoes that offer versatility in the kitchen. From delicious pies to savory dishes, the possibilities are endless.

Remember, gardening is not just about the end product; it's about the joy of nurturing, the anticipation of growth, and the satisfaction of a harvest well-earned. So, roll up your sleeves, plant those slips, and soon, you'll be digging up your golden treasures from the earth. Happy gardening!

Establish Growers is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Establish Growers (14).png

Welcome to Establish Growers, we are an online haven, devoted to all aspects of gardening, microgreens, houseplants, and vegetable cultivation.

Your all-in-one guide to growing and savoring nutrient-dense microgreens at home.

5 eBooks (7).png

Follow Us:

  • Pinterest


Join our Newsletter to receive our latest posts about growing!

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page