The Complete Guide On How To Start Sweet Potato Slips: From Tubers to Thriving Vines

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Sweet potatoes, with their delectable taste and incredible nutritional benefits, are a fantastic addition to any garden. One of the most rewarding ways to add this delectable food to your garden is to start sweet potato slips from a sweet potato. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the reasons why sweet potatoes are grown from tubers and walk you through each step of the process, from simulating growth on the tuber to planting the slips.

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How Does A Sweet Potato Grow?

Before delving into the specifics of sweet potato growth, let’s explore the anatomy of the sweet potato plant. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are renowned for their unique tuber characteristics, especially in the way they form and develop. The tubers, often referred to as sweet potato roots, play a crucial role in storing nutrients, enabling the growth of slips, and eventually yielding a bountiful harvest. The sweet potato plant undergoes distinct growth stages, starting from the sprouting of slips or vines, progressing to flowering, and ultimately leading to the development of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato tubers develop underground, originating from the base of the plant’s stem. As the plant grows, it directs energy and nutrients to the formation and expansion of these tubers. As sweet potato slips grow, the adventitious roots extend horizontally, exploring the surrounding soil. This horizontal spread is advantageous for the plant in terms of nutrient absorption and stability

Growing from Tubers:

  • Formation of Slips: Sweet potatoes primarily reproduce vegetatively, with tubers serving as storage organs containing nutrients and energy. The growth process begins by initiating slips or shoots from the eyes of the sweet potato tuber.
  • Genetic Consistency: Growing from tubers ensures genetic consistency, as the slips produced are clones of the parent plant. This method preserves desirable traits and is a reliable way to reproduce specific varieties.
  • Energy Reserves: Tubers act as a nutrient reservoir for the emerging slips, providing them with a head start in terms of energy and nutrients. This gives the slips a better chance of establishing robust roots and shoots.

Growing from Seed:

  • Seed Formation: While sweet potatoes do produce seeds, they are not commonly used for propagation. Seeds develop within the flowers of the sweet potato plant. However, growing from seeds introduces genetic variability, and the resulting plants may not necessarily retain the characteristics of the parent plant.
  • Longer Growth Cycle: Growing sweet potatoes from seeds is a longer process compared to using tubers. It involves germinating seeds, nurturing seedlings, and allowing them to mature into plants before harvesting sweet potatoes.
how to start sweet potato slips

Check out these 25 Sweet Potato Varieties to grow in your garden!

How To Start Sweet Potato Slips

Growing sweet potatoes from slips is by far the easiest way to add sweet potatoes to your garden! There are just a few points to keep in mind when starting your sweet potato slips, in order to ensure thriving and healthy sweet potato plants!

  1. Selecting high-quality, organic sweet potatoes that have not been treated with pesticides or growth inhibitors is crucial. These potatoes provide the healthiest starting point for your sweet potato slips.
  2. Before initiating the slip-growing process, ensure the tubers are healthy and free from blemishes. Clean them gently with a soft brush to remove any soil or debris, and allow them to air dry.
  3. Do not use any potatoes that already have soft spots, if the potato has already begun to decompose, there’s really nothing you can do to stop the process and it will rot on your counter before producing any slips for you.
  4. There are two efficient ways to grow sweet potato slips from a tuber, either with water or in soil.
how to start sweet potato slips in water

Growing Sweet Potato Slips: Water vs. Soil Methods

There are two primary methods for initiating slip growth: using water or soil. Each method has its own set of pros and cons, and the choice between the two depends on various factors such as convenience, available space, and personal preferences.

Growing Sweet Potato Slips in Water

Pros Of Growing Sweet Potatoes In Water

  • Visual Monitoring: The transparency of the water allows you to closely monitor the development of slips, making it easier to observe root formation.
  • Ease of Observation: It’s straightforward to notice any signs of issues such as rot or disease, allowing for timely intervention.
  • Educational Value: Growing slips in water can be an engaging and educational activity, particularly for children or students, as they can witness the entire process.

Cons Of Growing Sweet Potatoes In Water

  • Risk of Rot: If water becomes stagnant or if the tuber is not properly positioned, there is a risk of rot developing on the sweet potato.
  • Transplanting Stress: Moving slips from water to soil may cause temporary stress, and careful handling is required to ensure minimal disturbance to the developing roots.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Sweet Potato Plants In Water?

Generally, slips start to emerge from the mother tuber within 2 to 4 weeks after placing the sweet potato tuber in water. It takes an additional 1 to 2 weeks for significant root development before the slips are ready for transplanting.

Materials Needed To Grow Sweet Potato Slips In Water

  • Container: A glass jar or a clear plastic container that allows the sweet potato tuber to be suspended in water.
  • Toothpicks: To suspend the tuber, preventing it from touching the bottom of the container.
  • Water: Regularly change the water to prevent stagnation and ensure slips have access to oxygen.

How To Grow Sweet Potato Slips In Water

  • Fill a jar with water (doesn’t matter what kind) about 3/4 full.
  • Use toothpicks to suspend the tuber in the jar, only about 1/4 of the tuber touching water.
  • Change the water regularly to prevent stagnation.
  • Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight. (The top of my fridge is a great place for me because it is the warmest spot in the house)
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Growing Sweet Potato Slips in Soil

Pros Of Growing Sweet Potato Plants In Soil

  • Sturdier Roots: Slips grown in soil tend to develop sturdier roots, providing a more robust start for the plants.
  • Less Risk For Rot: Slips grown in soil are typically less prone to rotting.

Cons Of Growing Sweet Potato Slips In Soil

  • Limited Visibility: Unlike water, soil doesn’t offer the same visibility, making it harder to monitor the initial stages of slip development.
  • Potential for Improper Watering: There is a risk of overwatering, which can lead to issues such as root rot, making proper drainage crucial. Additionally, not watering the tubers enough could cause them to wither and not be able to support the growth of roots and slips.
  • Increased Chance of Soil-Borne Issues: Growing slips in soil may expose them to potential soil-borne diseases and pests.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Sweet Potato Plants In Soil?

Similar to the water method, slips usually begin emerging within 2 to 4 weeks after planting the sweet potato tuber in soil. Because a majority of the tuber is touching soil, the slips typically begin putting off their own roots pretty early on. This allows for earlier transplant into the garden or separate pot.

Materials Needed To Grow Sweet Potato Slips In Soil

  • Pot or Container: Use a well-draining container with enough space for the tuber and emerging slips.
  • Potting Soil: High-quality potting soil with added organic matter for optimal slip development.
  • Watering Can: Maintain consistent moisture without overwatering, ensuring the soil remains damp but not waterlogged.

How To Grow Sweet Potato Slips In Soil

  • Use a long, shallow container and place the potato horizontally. This gives maximum soil contact and leaves both ends (pointy sides) to sprout the slips.
  • Use well-draining, loose potting mix.
  • Water the soil thoroughly and place in a warm and sunny location.

Ultimately, the choice between growing sweet potato slips in water or soil depends on personal preference, available resources, and the level of engagement you seek in the process. Whether you opt for the transparency of water or the natural environment of soil, providing the right conditions and care will lead to healthy slips ready for the next stage of sweet potato cultivation.

Ensure the temperature is around 75-85°F (24-29°C) no matter what method you decide to use. Sweet potato slips will sprout a lot faster if they maintain the right temperature.

I personally have tried both and prefer to grow in water. It takes up less space, is a lot easier to see what’s going on, and I found the two methods take about the same time to produce slips.

Growing Out Sweet Potato Slips

Once sprouts emerge, allow them to grow to a length of 6-8 inches. These sprouts are your sweet potato slips.

Gently separate the slips from the tuber by wiggling them side to side. Be cautious not to damage the roots or the slips during this process. Trim any excess leaves or roots, leaving a healthy section for planting. This encourages energy allocation towards root development in the next stage.

Rooting the Slips

Before planting the slips, it’s essential to encourage root development. This can be done through two methods, water or soil. If you sprouted your mother tuber in water, it doesn’t matter if you continue the process with water or switch to soil, and vice versa.

For water rooting, place the trimmed slips in a jar of water, ensuring that the bottom portion is submerged, but no leaves touch the water. Roots will start to develop over the next few days.

For the soil method, plant the slips directly into pots filled with well-draining soil. Water them lightly and keep the soil consistently moist until roots develop. Moisture is very important to continue the sweet potatoes growth so make sure you stay on top of it.

Planting the Slips

Once the slips have developed roots in a majority of the pot (they may start peeking out the bottom), they are ready to be planted into their final growing location.

Prepare the soil in your garden bed by amending it with compost for enhanced fertility. Sweet potatoes thrive in well-draining, loose soil. Plant the slips at a depth of 4-6 inches, leaving the leaves above the soil surface. Space them about 12-18 inches apart to allow for proper vine expansion. Water the newly planted slips thoroughly and provide consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Mulching around the plants helps retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

how does a sweet potato grow

Starting sweet potato slips from tubers is a rewarding journey that culminates in a bountiful harvest of this nutritious and delicious vegetable. By understanding the reasons behind this method and following the detailed progressions, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating thriving sweet potato vines in your own garden. Happy gardening!

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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