A New Way to Grow Sweet Potatoes Slips

Starting sweet potato slips in pots.Show Me Oz – I have been growing my own sweet potatoes for years, but I always do it the same old way and with varied results.  The most common method of starting sweet potato slips is to root a whole sweet potato in a jar of water.  The sprouted shoots are then pulled off the mother tuber and rooted in potting soil before being set in the garden. (see Start Your Own Sweet Slips). Yet, I always seem to have trouble getting the tuber to root and send up enough shoots during the cold winter months to have the slips ready by planting time.  And I never seem to get enough slips.  So, this year I tried a new and very simple method of producing an abundance of sweet potato slips with a lot less fuss and muss.

First of all, I decided to skip rooting the sweet potatoes in a jar. I’ve had so many potatoes rot while using this method that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Plus, the water in the jars can get smelly and slimy, and constantly having to fuss with them was just too much.  And again, even when I root multiple sweet potatoes, I never seem to get enough quality slips by the time I’m ready to plant them out in the garden.

The solution came to me quite by accident. Thanksgiving was coming up, so I was sorting out the sweet potatoes in the pantry trying to decide which ones I would cook for our meal and which I should hold back for slip production. It had been a long wet summer here in Oz and our sweet potato harvest had been marginal. I didn’t want to waste a single large tuber on sprouting slips. It was then that I noticed a number of small 4″- 6″ long tubers that were already beginning to sprout. Suddenly this crazy idea took root in my brain….

Small sweet potatoes are perfect for pot culture of slips.

What would happen if I planted a couple of these tiny tubers in a pot of dirt right now and let them grow ALL winter long in my little windowsill garden right alongside the aloe and the petunia that I always winter over for spring cuttings? Surely, the tubers would root and have plenty of time to grow a healthy amount of vegetation by early spring.

I love it when things work out as you imagine them. And to my delight, the tubers sprouted eagerly and within a month or so multiple vines were beginning to sprawl over the edges of the pot.  And by January, two of the vines had grown so long, that I had to wind them around the pot to keep them from twining around the other plants in the window.

Cutting long sweet potato vines into pieces for rooting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time I was ready to start rooting the slips in early March, there were a half dozen vines that were several feet in length.  I cut the vines from the mother plants, leaving 6”- 7” of mature vine on the mother tubers. And though they did not have a single leaf left on them, I had hopes that they would very soon. and set about cutting these into pieces that

So, I set about cutting the vines into small pieces;  each piece had at least one leaf and one or two buds beneath it.  Each piece was then planted in soil up to the first leaf and spaced no more than an inch apart before being deeply watered.

Being the pragmatist that I am, I decided to do another experiment with one of the vines.  In another pot, I laid the entire, uncut vine on top of  the soil, coiling it around and around until the entire vine was laid down. Then, I covered the vine with just enough soil to hold it in place and watered it deeply.

Both pots were then lightly covered with a plastic bag and kept out of direct sunlight for a few days to help maintain leaf moisture and prevent wilting.  And then I waited.

And then I waited.

Spring is a busy time and three weeks flew by.  By now, I could clearly see that the first pot with the cut stems was putting on new leaves at the leaf joint.  The coiled vine pot didn’t seem to be producing any new leaves, but clearly had grown roots from each and every leaf joint.  I should have let it go – for experiment’s sake – but I finally decided to unearth the mass and have a look.

Healthy, well-rooted sweet potato slip.

Indeed, each leaf joint had set down healthy roots. But what surprised me were the teeny tiny new leaf buds that had just begun to form at each leaf joint – even at joints that had no leaf present !  Since I already had the mass out of the pot (which would be difficult to put back in the pot correctly at this point) I went ahead and cut the vine into pieces as I had done with the other vines.

This time, though, each piece consisted only of a single leaf and the roots from that one leaf joint – except of course the pieces that had roots, but no leaf. These I went ahead and planted as if they did have a leaf – because most of them appeared to be sprouting leaves from the node.  All of the pieces were planted in a pot, just as I had done with the others. Within days, I could see new leaves beginning to emerge from each piece!

With one pot holding two very small sweet potatoes, I managed to eek out approximately 40 sweet potato slips with very little effort or input.  All 40 of these slips are now rooting in two 6” pots that fit nicely on the windowsill (which is good, because that’s all I’ve got for sunny spots in my house!).

New slips growing from the mother plant.

The bonus? The leftover few inches of vine that I left on the mother plants have sprouted new leaves from every single leaf node, giving me at least 14 more potential sweet potato slips!  That’s what I call a sweet deal!

If you have ever wondered if there was an easier, neater, and more productive way to start sweet potato slips, the answer is “Yes, there is!” I hope you’ll try my winter-sown method for  your own sweet potato slips and be sure to let me know how it works for you!

Until then, happy gardening!
Jill

More sweet potato articles from Show Me Oz:
Rooting for Sweet Potatoes
Start Your Own Sweet Slips

© 2016 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


The Garden Seed Saving Guide by Jill HendersonThe Garden Seed Saving Guide
Seed Saving for Everyone!

Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds!  This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and
A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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8 responses to “A New Way to Grow Sweet Potatoes Slips

  1. Thanks, Jill, another informative and enjoyable article. I appreciate the time you take to share your knowledge with us. Blessings to you, Brum

  2. Janice Brooks

    I love it when happenstance works out for the better Jill!! Way to go!
    Personally, I’ve got an experiment going also, with Sweet Potatoes!
    I had two HUGE Sweets, that I bought FOR Thanksgiving last year. I managed to get sick for Thanksgiving, so did not use them. But, when I DID go to get them to make dinner, a week or so later, lo and behold, they had sprouted from BOTH ends! I decided to move them over by my desk, where they would get indirect morning light, just to see what would happen, as I too did not like the water method of producing slips either.
    As of today, I have a veritable JUNGLE growing over on my file cabinet!! And the mother ‘sweets’ are still doing fine! I’m going to do the snip and plant trick, like you did, and see what happens!! 😀

    • Sprouting on both ends! That doesn’t happen all the time. Normally it’s one or the other… I am very happy to have found this method. I’m sure I’m not the first, but I’ve never seen it mentioned elsewhere. You should really try it. Especially since you have a plethora of vines in your jungle!! lol
      I enjoyed having the greenery in the windowsill, too. Such a pretty plant – and tough, too. Please let me know if you try it. I’m excited to hear about others experience!

  3. It might taste pretty good.

  4. Great article Jill! One year I overlooked a couple of great big sweet potatoes from a mess that Pat H had given me. When I found them they had sprouted a dozen sprouts each and some were a foot long. I broke them off and rooted them in a jar of water and they lasted fine until growing season when they were planted. I think sweet potatoes are one of the best and easiest things to self propagate – obviously in several different ways!

    • Sounds like you got the bonus round, Sarah! It’s hard to keep good tubers from doing their thing. After I pulled the very last bit of vines from my two little sweet potatoes and pulled the tubers out of the pot, they were in perfect shape – so we ate them!! Now, that’s what I call a win, win!

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