How to Grow Sweet Potatoes


Sweet Potatoes and Yams are often viewed as two names for the same vegetable. On the contrary, they are two different vegetables. Sweet Potatoes are a crop in the U.S., grown primarily in the south. Yams are a sub-tropical plant, native to the Caribbean and Asia, and imported into the U.S. and other countries. This guide on “How to Grow Sweet Potatoes” is your starting point for growing your first crop of “Sweet Spuds”.

While yams are a vining crop that requires almost a year to develop, sweet potatoes grow in about 100 – 150 days. As a result, they are more common in southern gardens with longer growing periods.

Sweet Potatoes Versus Yams

People often get confused between these two tubers. They look and taste different. Here are the major differences:

  • Sweet potatoes, as their name implies, are sweeter than yams.
  • Sweet potatoes have smooth, thin skin. Yams have rough, scaly skin.
  • Yams are more cylindrical in shape.
  • Sweet potatoes grow about the size of other potato varieties.
  • Yams commonly grow from potato size to five pounds. And they can grow to 100 pounds.
  • Yams can take up to a year to produce. 

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes are grown similar to regular potatoes. They require much more growing time. They grow best in soft, rich soil. The plants can be grown in many other soils. Potato root development is enhanced, by adding lots of compost and loose material into the soil. When preparing your soil, add compost, straw and other amendments Work it into the top three to six inches of your soil.

Fertilize every two to four weeks. Fertilizers high in nitrogen will result in a leafy, green plant at the expense of root development. A good fertilizer for sweet potatoes contains low levels of Nitrogen, and high levels of phosphorus. 6-24-24, or 8-24-24, are good fertilizers for sweet potatoes.

Ideal Soil pH: 5.5 – 6.5.

Also, see:

Plant Problems

Soil Temperatures – Ideal germination temperature by vegetable.

Insects and Pests

The plants are susceptible to a number of pests. Among the most common are potato maggots.

A homemade recipe: Rhubarb juice seems to work well for potato bugs, just boil the rhubarb and let it cool. Then, pour it and around the plants. 

Garden Insects – identify common garden insect pests and how to control them.

Plant Disease

The plants suffer from some of the same blight and mildew problems as tomatoes. Fungicides will help with fungus diseases. If the plant becomes too bushy, air circulation will be impaired and increase the chances of disease. Do not hesitate to thin a bushy plant to increase air circulation.

Plant Problems – Diagnosis, causes, and cures for many common plant disease problems.

Harvest Time

Days to Maturity: Sweet potatoes: 100 – 150 days, Yams six to twelve months.

Lift potatoes out of the soil with a shovel or pitchfork. Use care to avoid piercing the skin with your work tools. Wash, dry, and store in a cool, dry place.

Did You Know? Sweet potatoes are most commonly consumed during the holidays. However, we encourage you to eat them all year long!

Plant Hardiness

The plants are highly susceptible to frost and freeze. Yams require up to a full year of frost-free weather and heat. As a result, they are only grown in tropical and sub-tropical areas.

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