How To Care For Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

Ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) makes an excellent addition to any garden. They do well in traditional flowerbeds, in landscaping and are wonderful container plants.

They can also be kept as house plants. In this article, we will share some smart tips and information to help you grow these lively, colorful plants successfully in any setting. Read on to learn more.

Sweet Potato Vine

Ornamental Versus Edible Sweet Potato Vine

Both ornamental and traditional food crop sweet potatoes are edible; however, the tubers of the ornamental plant are small, tough and not at all tasty. Another difference is that ornamental sweet potatoes bear abundant foliage in an array of dazzling colors; whereas the foliage of the food plant is attractive and abundant but only comes in bright green.

Both types of sweet potato plant produce trumpet-shaped lavender or pink flowers; however, these are not large or showy. On the ornamental variety of plant they may be entirely obscured by the large, colorful leaves.

If your Ipomoea batatas plants are doing especially well, you may see a few flowers in the late summer or in the early autumn. Generally speaking, the real attraction of ornamental sweet potatoes is in the leaf coloring and shape.

Ornamental sweet potato vines are also excellent climbers. Their stems are vine-like and can grow like potato ivy or philodendron. The are a fast-growing vine, robust and tolerate drought exceptionally well.

These qualities make them a good choice as landscaping groundcover, pergola plants, and attractive plants on a trellis, in a container or hanging basket plants.

It’s Easy to Grow Ornamental Sweet Potatoes!

Here’s how to grow a sweet potato vine.

You don’t need to buy sweet potato seeds. Instead, you can propagate your own plants from cuttings or from the tubers. You are probably already familiar with the tuber method as it is a traditional preschool gardening exercise.

To grow ornamental sweet potatoes from tubers, you simply use toothpicks to prop up your section of tuber in a glass of water leaving the top third of it exposed to air. Place it in an area with bright, indirect light and you will soon see roots and shoots beginning to grow.

To grow from sweet potato slips, simply place the cuttings in a container of water in an area with bright, indirect sunlight. Roots will start growing soon and the plant will begin to thrive.

For either propagation method, be sure to change the water every couple of days to prevent fungal and bacterial growth. It’s best to use room temperature water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours. This ensures chemicals will have dissipated.

Once roots are established by either the tuber method or the cutting method, you can use pot soil or plant your burgeoning charges.

Whether you plant them in containers or outdoors in the ground, be sure to use a light, airy and well-drained soil.

If you plant in pots, it goes without saying that the pots must be well-equipped with good drainage holes.

Brighten Your Home

If you keep these hardy, colorful plants indoors year-round, you can take care of them just as you would ivy or any other vining houseplants. Here’s how:

  • Keep your indoor sweet potato plants near a window that faces west or south. The plant should not be too close to the window as it may get too cold.
  • In addition to bright, indirect natural light you should supplement with fluorescent lighting placed about one foot above your plants for 12 – 18 hours daily.
  • Keep the temperature in the room between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Protect your plants from drafts and extremes of temperature.
  • Keep the air humid through use of a humidifier or by placing a humidity tray below the plants.
  • Water deeply once a week (or when the plant begins to wilt) using water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours. Morning watering is best.
  • Use a balanced houseplant liquid fertilizer twice a month from early spring to mid-autumn.
  • Pinch off dead growth and prune diligently to encourage attractive, bushy growth.
  • Mist occasionally and wipe down the leaves with a soft cloth to remove dust.
  • Separate and repot your plants when they become root-bound. Every couple of years is probably fine, but keep a close eye on your plants. If they seem crowded, go ahead and repot. This is best done in late winter.
  • Be sure to used peat-based, well-drained potting soil.

sweet potato vine

Taking Care Of Your Ornamental Sweet Potato Plants In Containers

Container planting can be especially attractive on your patio or deck because ornamental sweet potato is such a lively grower that it spills over the sides of containers and hanging baskets with great abandon. Its wide variety of colors and enthusiastic growth can provide interest and even shade to your outdoor container garden settings.

Follow these steps to planting and raising these hardy, cheerful specimens successfully in containers. Here are some organic sweet potato vine care tips:

  • Choose a generously sized planting container with holes in the bottom. A clay container will have better air circulation for the roots than a plastic container.
  • Be sure to line the bottom of the pot with some gravel to improve drainage and to prevent soil from falling out through the drainage holes.
  • Use a standard well-drained potting soil rather than garden soil when planting ornamental sweet potatoes in containers. Garden soil is too heavy and will become compacted.
  • Make sure that your plant receives ample sunlight. Ornamental sweet potatoes outdoors in containers enjoy either partial or full sunlight. In areas where the sunlight is punishing (e.g. Texas) full morning sunlight with afternoon shade is preferable.
  • Plants in containers outdoors may dry out more quickly than those in pots indoors or those planted in the ground. Be sure to check your container plants daily by poking your finger into the top inch of the soil. If it feels dry, you need to water. Generally speaking, a deep watering once or twice a week should suffice for outdoor container plants.
  • Fertilizing is really not necessary with these lively and vigorous growers; however, if you want to you can fertilize once a month before watering. Water immediately after so that the fertilizer will be evenly distributed to the roots of the plant. Use a water-soluble, general, multipurpose fertilizer.
  • Prune regularly and enthusiastically to remove dead and dry leaves and to encourage healthy growth.

It’s smart to keep on top of pruning for both indoor and outdoor container plants because doing so will encourage your plants to grow in a bushier and more attractive form. If you neglect pruning, your plants can become overgrown, leggy and unattractive.

When you prune, be sure to keep your cuttings to start new plants for your own use and to share with your fellow gardeners.

Add Color To Your Landscape

Ornamental sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to your summer flower garden. They love hot weather, and you can add them to your garden any time throughout the summer – even in the very hottest months.

To use ornamental sweet potatoes in your garden setting, you have a number of choices. They make excellent groundcover and low growing bedding plants.

Ipomoea batatas are also excellent climbers and can provide quick shade to newly built arbors, trellises and pergolas. Once established, they tend to take off may take over your yard if you’re not careful to prune them regularly.

sweet potato cylinder epcot 11302016
Sweet Potato vine grown as a “cylinder” at Disney’s Epcot roughly 9 feet tall – Oct 2016

Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Are Attractive, Colorful & Varied

You’ll have lots of choices when you decide to plant this colorful and hardy plant in your garden setting. Here are six of the most popular types of ornamental sweet potatoes that you are likely to encounter:

Blackie is a vigorous grower that has attractively shaped dark leaves that are almost black.

Sweet Caroline Light Green – Sweet Potato Vine Ipomoea – Heat tolerant, works well in containers or annual ground covers. From Proven Winners

Marguerite makes an excellent counterpoint to Blackie with its bright chartreuse, heart-shaped leaf.

The Sweet Carolina purple sweet potato variety has very small tubers and abundant, deep purple foliage. This is a suitable choice for small containers because it’s growth is not quite as rampant as some other varieties.

Illusion Emerald Lace is also a compact choice which boasts bright green leaves and tends to grow more in a mound than to spread out. It grows to approximately 10 inches high and spreads about four feet wide.

Tricolor sweet potato vine is another excellent container choice. It grows less vigorously than Blackie and Marguerite and produces leaves that are small and pointy in variegated shades of white, pink and green.

Another compact choice is Illusion Midnight Lace which grows to a height of 10 inches and a width of four feet. It’s foliage is deep purplish black.

Pay attention when you purchase your specimens. Read the labels and select the growth habits that best suit your situation.

As mentioned, some types (e.g. Marguerite) are not such vigorous growers and will not tend to take over so rapidly; however, if you do have lots of space to cover, you may want a variety that grows very quickly.

Other Ipomoea Varieties:

Be Sure Your Plants Get The Right Amount Of Light, Nutrients & Water

You should also pay close attention to the light requirements of the plants you select. As mentioned, most types of ornamental sweet potato like full or bright partial sun. Marguerite can tolerate more shade than some of the other varieties, so if your setting tends to be shady, this may be the best choice for you!

Note also that partial shade may affect the color of your ornamental sweet potato plants. If these plants have too much shade, their coloring may not be fully vibrant.

Be sure to wait until all danger of frost is passed before planting outdoors. These plants do well in heat, so don’t expect a lot of growth or activity from them until your temperatures are reliably in the 80s.

Plant your sweet potato tubers or young plants 3-6 feet apart in nutrient-rich soil that has been amended with natural compost. Generally speaking, amend the soil as you would for a vegetable garden. You may also wish to apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once a month to enhance growth and performance.

Be careful not to overwater. Generally speaking, a weekly deep watering should suffice. Of course, you should keep an eye on your plants and adjust your watering schedule if the soil seems excessively dry or if they show signs of distress.

sweet potato vine grown as baskets at Disney World Oct 2016
Sweet Potato vine grown as as large hanging baskets at Disney World – Oct 2016

Is The Sweet Potato Vine Perennial or Annual?

In warmer climates, ornamental sweet potatoes are perennial. They grow back from sweet potato vine tubers year after year. If you live in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, you will not need to take special precautions. Your healthy sweet potato vines will act as perennials in these zones and will simply return every spring with little or no effort from you.

In very cold climates, they can be treated as annuals, and you can simply take cuttings and replant them each year. Another alternative is to keep them in a cold frame outdoors if you live in an area that does not freeze but does experience temperatures of lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overwintering The Sweet Potato Vine

It is also possible to overwinter your plants indoors and place them outdoors again when the weather warms up. Note that overwintering is different from keeping these plants as houseplants. You are not trying to encourage growth in this process. If you choose to do this, here are the steps you should follow:

  • In early autumn when the weather begins to cool, prune your plants back dramatically. You should do this about a month before first frost. Use clean pruning shears to cut your vines away almost completely. Do leave three sets of mature foliage per plant so that the plants can enjoy healthy photosynthesis through the winter.
  • To dig your ornamental sweet potato out of the earth and transplant it into a pot, measure a five-inch radius around the plant’s. Mark this radius and dig down sharply with a trowel to a depth of one foot all the way around.
  • Pry the sweet potato root ball up from the ground and transfer it to a container that is slightly larger than the root ball. Fill in the space around the root ball with a light, airy potting blend consisting of one part perlite, one part peat moss and two parts loam.
  • Place your sweet potato vine in its pot near a window that faces south. Your plant should receive good, indirect light for at least eight hours a day.
  • Turn the pot once weekly so that your plant will get equal sunlight on all sides.
  • Be sure to keep the temperature in the room at a comfortable level. Between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit will keep your plant alive without encouraging excessive growth.
  • Take care to keep your plant shielded from excessive heat or cold in the form of drafts or blasts from heater vents.
  • Water your plants once a week to a one-inch depth. Be sure that the soil is completely dry before re-watering to avoid the growth of bacteria or fungus.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChxUw5pJA98
 

Is Overwintering A Good Idea?

It’s easy to see that overwintering is rather a labor-intensive process. Unless you have a strong, sentimental attachment to your individual plants, you will probably be better off just starting anew with cuttings or tuber segments.

There is a simpler alternate overwintering method you may want to try. Just dig up the tubers and brush off all soil. Place them in a container of dry sand in a cool closet or pantry or in your basement. They should overwinter in a dormant state and be ready to replant in the springtime.

You might also experiment with mulching your outdoor beds heavily through the winter (in addition to keeping some cuttings or tubers as backup).

Your heavily mulched ornamental sweet potatoes might surprise you by making a comeback on their own in the spring. Even if they don’t, you can’t go wrong with mulching.

Sweet Potato Pests

For the most part, ornamental sweet potatoes are resistant to pests; however, occasionally typical potato pests may hone in on your plants. Look out for the sweet potato looper, which is a leaf chewing caterpillar.

If these caterpillars infest your plants, many sources recommend the use of typical poisons and insecticides to deter them; however, you must keep in mind that these types of poisons are bad for the environment in general.

Even though this kind of sweet potato is strictly ornamental, there is no reason to spread poison throughout the environment in its care.

You are far better off to encourage friendly fauna such as birds, terrapins, toads and lizards to help you control caterpillars.

Additionally, you can use natural deterrents such as garlic, sprays of neem oil and herbal concoctions. See our article on Make Your Own Natural Pesticides Easily And Affordably.

Sweet potato whiteflies are another common problem. They look like very tiny moths and congregate on the undersides of leaves and have an effect that is similar to aphid soot on leaves.

They remove sap from plants, creating a sooty mold and honeydew along with spreading disease.

Purple sweet potato vine plants also attracts flea beetles and potato wireworms. Between early May and June, these pests come out of the ground to feed on the foliage.

The field will serve as their breeding ground and their eggs will fall just beside the plant. When they hatch, they will dig deep down the soil and come out once they become adults to feed.

You can deal with them by cutting away infested portions of the plant and bagging these immediately in a plastic bag to be placed in your trash, well away from your garden.

A strong blast from the hose to knock off any remaining pests can be followed up with an application of natural pesticide.

Encourage Natural Pest Predators

Remember that keeping a good natural balance in your garden is a great way to deter pests. Be sure to include bird feeders and bird baths to attract avian friends.

It’s also wise to provide a water supply for ground-dwelling critters such as toads and terrapins. Providing habitat for these friendly, beneficial allies in your garden is a great way to minimize pest invasions and enjoy nature.

Beneficial insects and fauna like the predatory praying mantis and green lacewings can help you control your sweet potato whitefly problem (along with a wide variety of other pests).

These, along with aphid-eating lady-bugs, damsel bugs, pirate bugs, and beneficial soldier beetles are often available for purchase from good nurseries and garden centers or online.

Ornamental Sweet Potatoes Add Interest To Any Setting

It’s easy to see that these rugged, fast growing, colorful plants have something wonderful to offer in most settings.

As a houseplant, in containers, as a ground cover or as a provider of privacy and shade for your trellis or an outdoor pergola, these versatile plants can fulfill a wide variety of gardening needs beautifully.

Image: source

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