How to Grow the Sweet Potato Vine

Posted on November 19, 2018

The sweet potato vine is an extremely flexible and durable ornamental plant that makes an excellent garden filler, border plant, or spill over vine for chic retail stores, restaurant foyers, or even boxed container gardens. A close cousin to the morning glory, and similar in appearance, the long tendrils of the sweet potato vine are great for draping out over the edges of containers. These hardy and beautiful vines are available in a wide variety of colors and leaf shapes and are extremely easy to grow which makes them perfect for commercial settings. Here are a few tips on how to grow the sweet potato vine for your next commercial planter design project.

What is the Sweet Potato Vine?

Sweet Potato Vine growing in a modern planter outside.

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First, what is the sweet potato vine? From the same family as edible sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), sweet potato vines are bred for the stunning appearance of their leaves, rather than for their tubers, and their vigorous foliage contains the bulk of the nutrient growth. While they still do produce small tubers, they aren’t as tasty as edible sweet potatoes, and their leaves, though considered a delicacy by some, are not intended for eating and tend to be bitter.

Aesthetic Variety

Sweet Potato Vines in a commercial outdoor setting.

Modern Elite Planter - Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld

The appeal of sweet potato vines comes from its many interesting visual varieties, as well as its ease of growth. While usually used as an accent plant, the sweet potato vine can be used as a focal point on its own. The many shapes, sizes, and colors add a great accent to a garden or pot. Every year new varieties are being created, with different features being valued over others. There are vines with denser leaves, and which grow less aggressively, making them better for container gardens. The traditional chartreuse and purple hues of sweet potato vines have expanded to include bronze, pink and white variegated, brown, and dark leaves that are almost black. These darker ones have subtle mottled colors in them, and in the bright direct sun can look purple, gold, and green.

These color variations are usually broken into four breeds:

  • Sweet Carolina ‘Purple’, which has dark purple foliage, smaller tubers, and is better for containers as it is a less vigorous grower.
  • Blackie, which has nearly black foliage with deep cut leaves.
  • Marguerite features chartreuse green foliage with heart-shaped leaves.
  • Tricolor has small pointy leaves that are multicolored and variegated in shades of green, pink, and white, and is less vigorous.

  • Growing the Sweet Potato Vine

    Sweet Potato Vines placed in front of a commercial property.

    Modern Elite Planter - DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld

    Learning how to grow sweet potato vines is easy. To start from existing plants, break off a branch, making sure there are several leaf nodes. It is recommended to use a sterile knife or clean clippers for cutting plants, as it prevents the spread of disease between them. After removing the leaves on the bottom few inches, submerge the stem in water for several days, until you begin to see roots. In addition to taking a cutting from an existing sweet potato vine, you can also grow one directly from an edible sweet potato by taking small rooted pieces from the eye buds. Simply place your tuber in a glass of water with the top third exposed by suspending it on toothpicks, and roots will grow similar to the vine cuttings. This is a great activity to have kids help with to learn more about how tuber plants grow.

    Once roots begin, the vine slips can be placed in a moistened soil mixture (half peat moss, half potting soil), with at least three inches below the surface. The plant is grown primarily for its tropical feel and foliage, and grows best in the sun and heat, but can be planted in partial shade, particularly in hotter summer climates where the intense summer sun can dry out the soil. Sweet potato vines prefer moist, well-drained soil, but be careful of over watering, which can cause rot. If placed in a container garden, be sure that it is a modern planter that has proper drainage for extra water to escape.

    The sweet potato vine is a vigorous plant, and as a ground cover can spread four to six feet, filling in larger flower beds and landscapes when encouraged to do so. In containers, they can take over, however, pushing out other plants, and may require regular pruning or clipping back to keep them in check. Old-fashioned varieties, in particular, can grow quite large when happy, and many gardeners choose the sweet potato vine for its ability to grow as well as its visual appeal. Though they rarely need much help growing, sweet potato vines can be fertilized monthly as desired for even more vigorous growth.

    Sweet Potato Vines placed in front of a modern commercial property

    Modern Elite Planter - Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld

    Like any plant, pests can target the sweet potato vines, primarily the golden tortoise beetle, which will munch holes in the leaves. Other pests can include caterpillars, another leaf chewer, and whiteflies, which drains the plant of nutrients. 

    Depending on your climate, sweet potato vines can often come back as a perennial, as long as the root survives. You can also save or propagate sweet potato vines indoors for the following season by digging up the tuber in the fall—before the first freeze—and storing it in a cool, dry place. You can also overwinter young cuttings in water, where they will last all winter. In the spring, take either the young cuttings, or pieces of the stored tuber after it beings to sprout, and replant the pieces.

    Overall, the sweet potato vine is a flexible, hardy, and easy to grow plant that adds visual interest to any garden. Learning how to grow the sweet potato vine is simple and not too time-consuming, which makes it a great plant for commercial designers to utilize for their projects.

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