DEAR AMOR: Sometimes I impulse-buy plants without prior research. So, I bought two cells of sweet potato starters. Can I break this plant up into multiple slips and plant, or is this one plant? I’m going to plant this in a half-cu,t 55-gallon barrel. Any concerns with that or any other information and tips? — Steve
DEAR STEVE: Through the years I have always raised sweet potatoes. But in my case, I raised them specifically for their leaves. I do know that a single new sprout, also called slip, can be planted separately with or without roots as long as the slip has at least three mature/hard nodes. Roots will grow from those nodes and will become a healthy food-bearing plant below and above ground.
Although sweet potato is a very common food in this part of the globe, I do wonder why its tender shoots, or tops (leaves and stems), are not taken advantage of as food, like spinach kale and other nutrient-laden leafy green vegetables.
Blanching or steaming sweet potato leaves for salad, sautéed on their own, or as additions to soups has been done in other countries through the ages. Recipes, which actually are just clicks away, are a benefit to us if we desire to venture out and learn more about this less-known, but otherwise one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables around.
Sweet potato “storage roots” are rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, beta carotene and carbohydrates. Sweet potato leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, K, B1, B2, B3 and B9, and minerals (calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc).
Since sweet potatoes can be harvested from 85 to 120 days, locations that can provide warm sunshine throughout its growing season are good places to grow them. Otherwise, this plant is easily killed by frost.
Sweet potatoes can be very productive with a pH level of 5.8 to 6.0.
In Barrel Planters
Use a good potting soil with the right kind of pH and enough drainage. Harvesting root crops is easier when the soil is not compacted, eliminating bruises or cuts.
Starter cells with multiple slips means many prospective plants. Plant them separately to spread out the soon-to-be root bounty under the vines so they can grow to their full potential size.
Because of a limited area and overcrowding possibilities in a barrel planter, smaller-size root crops may be expected.
Provide enough drainage. It is important that the roots are not soaked in water, which can cause root rot or cracks on sweet potatoes.
In Ground Gardens
Plant rooted slip separately and equally distanced from other slips. Because of its vining and spreading habit, one foot apart should be ideal. More than that will result in hard-fleshed, very large roots. If that happens, it’s nothing to panic about. This hard-fleshed sweet potato is then perfect for French fries, drizzled with caramelized sugar.
A rootless twig or stem can also be planted. It should have at least three nodes for it to successfully grow roots.
Sweet potato plants will become vigorous growers when watered adequately per their needs.
Toward the end of the growing season when Jack Frost comes nipping by with temperatures below 55 degrees, harvest your sweet potatoes all at once and store them properly.
Crop rotation needs to be taken into consideration to avoid or minimize plant diseases that could overwinter in the soil.
Amor Chamness Cook is a Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate. Email your garden questions for “Dear Amor” at [email protected].