Sweet potatoes are not only a delicious starchy root vegetable, but their vines are also beautiful, fast-growing plants that add a punch of greenery to any garden. While sweet potatoes are typically grown from slips or store-bought tubers, did you know you can also grow them from cuttings?
To grow a sweet potato vine from cuttings, take a cutting from a healthy sweet potato vine about eight inches long and cut it just below a leaf node. Pinch off the lower leaves, stick the cutting in a glass of fresh, warm water, and change the water every few days. Roots will appear after a week.
Once the roots are about an inch long, you can plant the cutting in a pot filled with a well-draining potting mix. Read on as I discuss in detail every step of how to grow a sweet potato vine from cuttings. Let’s get started.
Supplies You Need
Before I jump into the step-by-step guide, here is a list of supplies you need to grow a sweet potato vine from cuttings:
- A sharp knife or scissors.
- A glass jar.
- Fresh, warm water.
- Well-draining potting mix.
- Sterilizing solution (rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution made of 4 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water).
1. Source a Cutting From a Healthy Plant
As I mentioned, you can grow a sweet potato vine from cuttings taken from a healthy plant. If you have some sweet potato plants in your garden, you can take the cutting from there. Alternatively, you can source it from a friend, a neighbor’s garden, or even a local nursery.
Look for a healthy plant that has plenty of lush green leaves. Avoid any plant that looks sickly or has brown, withered leaves. The success of your cutting will depend on the health of the plant you take it from, so choose wisely!
When taking the cutting, ensure it is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) long and has at least three leaves. It is best to take the cutting from a young, actively growing vine instead of an older, woody one. Cut the vine just below a leaf node with a sharp knife or scissors. A leaf node is a point on the stem from which leaves grow.
Use a clean, sharp knife or scissors to make the cut. This will help prevent damage or infection to the plant. You can sterilize your cutting tool beforehand by dipping it in rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution.
2. Remove Lower Leaves and the Leading Bud
Once you have your cutting, it is time to prepare it for rooting. The first step is to remove the lower leaves and the leading bud. The leading bud is the first bud that will grow into a new shoot.
It sends hormone signals to other buds on the vine, telling them to remain dormant. When removed, you eliminate the hormone signal, halting the dormancy of the other buds. This encourages them to grow into new shoots, resulting in a fuller, bushier plant.
Removing the lower leaves also helps to prevent the plant from rotting. When these leaves are in contact with water, they can quickly develop mold or mildew, which can spread to the rest of the plant and cause it to rot. It also exposes the section with nodes that will sit in the water. New roots will grow from these nodes, so it is essential to keep them submerged.
To remove the lower leaves and the leading bud, simply pinch them off with your fingers. If the leaves are particularly large or tough, you can cut them off with a sharp knife or scissors. Ensure you sterilize your cutting tool before and after use to prevent the spread of disease.
3. Place the Cutting in a Glass of Fresh, Warm Water
With the cutting prepared, it is time to start the rooting process. Fill a glass jar with fresh water and place the sweet potato cutting in it. Plant roots hate the freezing temperatures of cold water so make sure the water is warm, but not hot.
It is important to use fresh, clean water as opposed to reused or stagnant water. Stale water can contain bacteria or other contaminants that can harm your cutting.
Place the glass of water in a spot that receives indirect sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can overheat the water and damage the cutting. A good place to put it is on a windowsill or in a spot where it will receive indirect sunlight from a nearby lamp.
Change the water every 3-4 days to keep it fresh. You will know it is time to change the water when it starts to look cloudy or murky. Wash out the glass jar with fresh, warm water and replace the old water with new.
4. Wait for the Cutting To Grow Roots
Now, all you have to do is wait for the cutting to grow roots. This usually takes about one to two weeks. During this time, keep an eye on the water level and ensure it doesn’t fall below the nodes. If it does, the cutting will dry out and die.
You will see white root hairs forming at the former leaf node locations. These will eventually grow into full-fledged roots that anchor the plant in the soil. Some potato vines grow rapidly and can produce roots in as little as a week, while others take some time. So, don’t be discouraged if yours takes a little longer.
Once the roots are about 3 inches (7 cm) long, they are ready to be transplanted into the soil or planting pot.
5. Transplant the Cutting Into Soil or a Planting Pot
With the roots already grown, it is time to transplant the cutting into the soil or a planting pot. This helps ensure your sweet potato has the space it needs to grow and prevents it from becoming root-bound.
Since the sweet potato vine is a tropical plant, it’s extremely sensitive to frost and should only be planted outdoors once all danger of frost has passed, usually 4 weeks after the last frost date in spring.
Transplanting Into a Planting Pot
One of the easiest and most fun ways to grow a sweet potato vine is in a planting pot. This is especially helpful if you live in an area with a short growing season or lack the space to plant it in your garden. Besides, you can buy a planting pot that matches the décor of your home. You will need:
- High-quality, well-drained potting mix (not garden soil as it will be too dense).
- A planting pot that is at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep and has drainage holes.
- Slow-release fertilizer.
To transplant the sweet potato vine into a pot, simply follow these steps:
- Fill the planting pot with the potting mix until it is about two-thirds full. Add vermiculite to the potting mix to improve aeration and water retention.
- Carefully remove the sweet potato vine from the glass of water, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Place the sweet potato vine in the planting pot and fill in around it with more potting mix. Tamp the soil down around the base of the plant.
- Water the sweet potato vine thoroughly, and then apply a slow-release fertilizer according to the package directions.
- Place the planting pot in a spot that receives indirect sunlight.
Transplanting Directly Into the Soil
If you have enough space in your garden or live in an area with mild winters, you can transplant the sweet potato vine directly into the soil. Remember, sweet potato vines need rich, well-drained soil to thrive. You will also need:
- A spade or trowel.
- Organic matter such as compost, manure, or peat moss.
Follow these steps to transplant the sweet potato vine into your garden:
- Loosen the soil in the planting area to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm) using a spade or trowel. This is essential for the sweet potato vine to spread its roots and grow.
- Mix in organic matter in the top few inches of soil to help improve drainage and aeration. Sweet potato vines need well-drained soil to thrive.
- Dig a hole twice the width of the sweet potato vine’s root ball.
- Carefully remove the sweet potato vine from the glass of water, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Place the sweet potato vine in the hole and fill in around it with the loose soil. Gently firm the soil down around the base of the plant.
- Sprinkle a layer of slow-release fertilizer over the planting area according to the package directions and water thoroughly so the nutrients leach down to the roots. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged to avoid root rot.
6. Properly Care for Your Sweet Potato Vine
Like all plants, the sweet potato vine needs proper care to thrive healthily and produce a bountiful harvest. Neglecting even one of these care requirements can cause the plant to become stressed, which makes it more susceptible to pests and diseases.
Here are the basic care requirements for sweet potato vines:
Water Deeply and Less Frequently
Water is essential for the sweet potato vine to grow and produce a bountiful harvest. The plant needs about an inch (24 cm) of water per week from rainfall or irrigation. During dry weather, water every 1-2 days so the soil stays moist but not waterlogged.
Water the sweet potato vine deeply so the water penetrates down to the roots. This encourages the plant to grow a deep root system, which is necessary to survive periods of drought. Watering deeply and less frequently also helps to prevent root rot, a fungal disease that can kill the plant.
Avoid getting water on the plant leaves to prevent fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spot. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are the best way to water sweet potato vines.
Sweet potato vines are heavy feeders and need regular fertilizer feedings to produce a bountiful harvest. The best way to fertilize sweet potato vines is to side-dress them with compost or manure every few weeks.
Avoid fertilizer with high nitrogen levels, as this can cause excessive foliage growth at the expense of root development. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much fertilizer to apply, as too much can burn the plant’s roots. It’s also essential to perform a soil test to determine the nutrient levels in your soil and amend accordingly.
Mulching your sweet potato vines is an excellent way to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the plant’s roots cool in hot weather. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch such as straw, hay, or shredded leaves around the base of the plant.
Keep the mulch a few inches away from the plant’s stem to prevent rot. Over time, the mulch will decompose and add valuable nutrients to the soil. You might need to replenish the mulch every few months to maintain the desired thickness.
Weeds compete with sweet potato vines for water, nutrients, and sunlight. They are also a great hiding spot for pests and diseases, which can quickly spread to your plants. That’s why it’s essential to remove weeds regularly to keep your garden healthy.
The best way to remove weeds is to pull them by hand, ensuring to get the entire root so it doesn’t regrow. You can also use a hoe or trowel to carefully remove the weed without damaging the roots of the sweet potato vine. Add the weeds to your compost pile, or discard them in the trash.
When is the best time to remove weeds? Can you pull them immediately after it rains? Check out my other article: Can You Pull Weeds Immediately After It Rains?
Keep an Eye Out for Pests and Diseases
Pests and diseases can quickly decimate a sweet potato vine crop if left unchecked. Common pests include aphids, sweet potato weevils, and whiteflies.
Aphids have specialized mouth parts to suck the sap out of plants. This can cause the plant to become stunted and the leaves to yellow and curl. They also secrete honeydew, encouraging the growth of sooty mold and attracting other pests such as ants.
To control aphids:
- Blast them off the plant with a strong stream of water to dislodge them.
- Apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill them. They work by suffocating the pests.
- Encourage beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps to control the population.
Sweet potato weevils are tiny beetles that can destroy a sweet potato vine crop in weeks. The beetle’s larvae feed on the plant’s roots, causing tunnels and burrows. This weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to disease. The adult beetles feed on the vines and leaves of the plant, causing them to turn brown and wilt.
To control sweet potato weevils:
- Apply systemic insecticides such as diamides at planting time.
- Use pheromone-baited traps to capture adult beetles before they have a chance to lay eggs.
- Encourage beneficial predators such as nematodes, parasitic wasps, and ladybugs.
- Destroy affected vines and roots to prevent the spread of the infestation.
Whiteflies are tiny, winged insects that feed on plant sap. They are commonly found in hot, humid climates and can quickly decimate a sweet potato vine crop. Like aphids, they also produce honeydew, which can encourage the growth of sooty mold and attract other pests.
To control whiteflies:
- Apply yellow sticky traps to catch adults before they can lay eggs.
- Encourage beneficial insects by planting nectar-rich plants such as marigolds, calendula, and cosmos.
- Apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill the pests.
Sweet potato virus disease (SPVD), a combination of feathery mottle virus and chlorotic stunt virus, is the most severe disease of sweet potato vines. It is spread by aphids and whiteflies and causes deepening of the veins, mottling of the leaves, and stunted growth. The plants are also more susceptible to drought stress and root rot.
To control SPVD:
- Remove and destroy affected plants. Avoid composting them as the virus can survive in the compost.
- Use certified virus-free seedlings for planting.
- Encourage beneficial insects to feed on aphids and whiteflies.
Harvest Sweet Potatoes
After 90-170 days, the sweet potato vines will be ready to harvest. The leaves will be dark green, and the roots will be plump and yellow-orange. To harvest:
- Carefully dig around the roots with a shovel or trowel. This makes it easier to lift the plants without damaging the roots.
- Gently pull the plants out of the ground and shake off any excess dirt.
- Place the sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place and allow them to cure for two weeks. This helps to improve their flavor and storage life.
After curing, the sweet potatoes can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to six months. Enjoy them roasted, mashed, or in any of your favorite recipes.
Growing sweet potatoes from vine cuttings is a great way to produce a bumper crop of this tasty root vegetable. Start with healthy, disease-free cuttings and use clean tools to avoid spreading diseases.
Water the plants regularly and protect them from pests and diseases. You will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest of delicious sweet potatoes with a little care and maintenance. Happy gardening!