If you enjoy sweet potatoes, have you considered growing your own? Sweet potatoes are tubers that are native to South and Central America. They are delicious when roasted in the oven or mashed, and are full of vitamin A. Want to know how to grow sweet potatoes in the UK? The good news is that now they are easier to grow in the UK, thanks to the hardier varieties that are available.
Getting Started with Sweet Potato Slips
Growing sweet potatoes in the UK is different from how you’d start off with garden potatoes. To successfully grow sweet potatoes, you begin with a cutting, rather than as seeds or sets. Sweet potato cuttings are called ‘slips’.
Slips are small pieces of rooted sweet potato tuber. They are available to buy from any good garden stockist, and a good time to plant them is from May onwards, when there no risk of a late frost.
When you receive your sweet potato slips, you must soak them in a bucket of water overnight to rehydrate them. The plant them in a tall pot, using a good quality compost and an equal amount of sharp sand. Keep them in a warm place.
Pot the sweet potato slips into bigger pots when you begin to see while roots poking out of the bottom of the pot.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes Outside
Sweet potatoes can be grown outdoors, but you will need a sheltered and sunny position. Fertile soil that is on the sandy side and is free draining is preferable. Prepare the soil in advance by digging in some organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure.
Warm the soil before planting out in April. A cloche place over the soil will warm it well, or you can use polythene.
Before you plant out your sweet potatoes, they will need to get used to the outside temperature. Harden them off by putting the pots outside for increasing amounts of time over a week to ten days. After that, they can be planted into their growing positions, either under a cloche or planted through holes in the polythene.
Sweet potato plants should be planted approximately 1 foot apart. The foliage grows like a vine, and can be trained to grow over canes or trellis, or it can grow along the ground. Once the stems reach approximately two feet in length, pinch out the tip so the plant can use the energy into developing the tubers.
Growing Sweet Potatoes Indoors
Sweet potatoes prefer temperatures between 21°C and 26°C, so often growing them indoors in a greenhouse can be a better option. Pot them on into larger containers as required.
Caring for Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes need consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. However, it is essential to avoid overwatering, as sweet potatoes prefer slightly drier conditions.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
If planted in April, sweet potato should be ready to harvest in August and September. The leaves turning yellow is a good indication that they are ready. Carefully lift the tubers with a fork.
Once lifted, brush off the excess soil and leave in a warm place for a week to allow the skins to harden.
Sweet potatoes do not store well for long, so eat them fairly quickly.
Find out more about growing a variety of vegetables in Smallholding, A beginner’s Guide to Raising Livestock and Growing Garden Produce.
Do you have a preferred method of growing sweet potatoes? Please share in the comments!