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How to Start Sweet Potato Slips to Grow in Your Garden

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Start your own Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients and are a wonderful addition to your root veggie garden.  You can buy sweet potato slips online, but I love experimenting and trying new things. So, I decided to learn how to start sweet potato slips for planting in my vegetable garden. Starting sweet potato vines – or slips – is a lot of fun and is very easy to do yourself using just a few basic tools. 

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What are Sweet Potato Slips?

Growing your own sweet potato slips is very easy.  When a sweet potato tuber (the part we eat) is partially submerged in a jar of water, it will eventually produce leafy shoots.  These shoots are called “slips”.  With a little bit of time, the slips will develop a root end. Once the slips are several inches tall, it’s time to remove them from the potato and place in water. Roots will continue to grow and develop until you have a well-established sweet potato plant. Once the new plant has a healthy root system, simply transfer to a large pot of soil or plant in the ground!

Guidelines for Starting Sweet Potatoes

The best time to start your own slips is late winter to early spring, depending on the last frost date in your planting zone.  It’s important to know the appropriate planting time for your particular location.   Sweet potatoes also require a long growing season – usually about 4 months from planting till sweet potato harvest time.  They love warm weather, so it’s a good idea to wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting outdoors.  Ideal conditions for sweet potato growth is a soil temperature consistently at or above 60*F to and full sun exposure.  Loose, sandy soil is also recommended. 

First Step: Place Your Sweet Potatoes in Water

There are many different varieties of sweet potatoes.  The basic instructions of sprouting sweet potatoes will be the same regardless of what variety you choose.  I used organic stokes purple sweet potatoes that I purchased from the grocery store.  But, you could check your local garden center to see if they have any sweet potatoes for planting in stock.  

To start, gently scrub the outside of the potatoes with a scrub brush under warm running water. Then, dry them with a towel. Next, it’s time to place them in water.  I’ve said it before, but I LOVE a good mason jar. We use them for everything from drinking glasses to home canning, and everything in between! These 8oz jelly jars are the perfect container for starting sweet potato slips!

My first sweet potato leaves sprouted in under a week. However, I’ve heard other varieties can take much longer for a new sweet potato sprout to appear.  Be patient!  With enough time, warm conditions, and a sunny location (or near grow lights or a LED lamp), your potato should eventually sprout new slips.  I chose to start my sweet potato slips in my kitchen near some grow lights.  Any warm spot in your house is a good place to try this experiment.  Starting your sweet potato slips in a warm room is important.  If you live in a cold climate, you may need to invest in some heat mats.

When starting sweet potato slips, it’s important to pay attention to the water level in your jar. You want about half your potato to be in the water, and half out. You can use toothpicks, cut bamboo skewers, rubber bands, or cotton string to secure your sweet potato at the right height. I’ve heard it said that the best way to reduce waste (and, in turn, unnecessary expenses!) is to use what you have. So, I used a 3-inch section of bamboo skewer and rubber bands in my experiment.

I seriously turn into a kid at Christmastime when I see plants starting to grow. These potatoes sprouting were no exception. Over the course of about two weeks, much to my surprise and delight, the potatoes developed copious root systems and slips!

Once the slips start to grow, they will grow rapidly and get visibly taller by the day. Once the slips are about 5-6 inches tall, it’s time to remove them from the potato to continue rooting in water. Depending on what kind of root system each slip has, you might be able to transplant the slips directly into dirt. But, for this particular gardening experiment, I chose to root them in water until they have a well-developed root system.  

How to remove slips

Removing slips from your sweet potato mother tuber is easy, but needs to be done with care to prevent unnecessary damage to the little sprouts themselves.

Some slips will have fairly well developed root systems when you remove them from the potato, and others may have hardly any roots at all.

To remove the slips from the potato, firmly grasp the base of the slip between your fingers and twist slowly but firmly until the slip breaks away from the potato. There’s a fine balance between twisting too hard and fast and being too gentle when you remove the slips.

If you’re too gentle, you’ll just wind up mutilating the slip near the base. If you’re too firm, you might wind up breaking some of the roots or tearing the slip from the roots. Just experiment until you find the right balance of gentleness and force.

Once your sweet potato slips have been safely removed from the potato, just put them in jars of water under a grow light until they’re ready for planting. Because my experiment was rapidly successful, I currently have a window ledge full of sweet potato slips rooting in jars. Chances are high that I’ll wind up moving some planters indoors for the next growing phase! Stay tuned…

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve been wanting to grow sweet potatoes for years now – this is a great post explaining it all, thank you! Looking forward to seeing the next phase! xx

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