How to Start Sweet Potato Slips

Snow is beginning to melt.  Temperatures are on the rise.  Now is the time to start sweet potato slips.  There are many ways to start sweet potatoes, but in this tutorial, we will show you a simple way that produces great results and can be done with resources already available in your kitchen.

Start with organic sweet potatoes from the store or from a previous harvest.  If you purchase conventionally grown sweet potatoes, they may have been irradiated to prevent sprouting.  A quick note about products labeled as yams – all products marketed as yams in the United States are technically still sweet potatoes. The “yams” you find in the store are usually a variety of sweet potato known as ‘Jewel’ – a selection with moist, orange flesh and orange-reddish skin.  The other variety, which is marketed as a sweet potato, is usually either ‘Jersey’ or ‘Hannah’.  Both Jersey and Hannah are characterized as having white or creamy, dry flesh, and creamy skin.  If you are fortunate enough to have access to a decent organic food co-op or natural food store, you may find other varieties as well. 

Organize your sweet potatoes and gather enough jars or glasses.  Plan on using one jar for each medium- to large-sized sweet potato.  Multiple smaller potatoes can be placed together in one jar. Pint-sized mason jars work well.

Carefully insert toothpicks into your sweet potatoes, three per potato, spaced evenly around the circumference of the sweet potato.  You want the toothpicks to keep the sweet potatoes suspended above the bottom of the jar.  Depending on the size your potatoes, they will end up being about halfway down the length of the potato. 

Place the sweet potatoes into jars, label your varieties, and add water.  Add enough water to cover the bottom few inches of each potato.

Place your sweet potatoes in the warmest spot in your house.  We place our jars on top of a seed heat mat.  Changing out the water every few days helps prevent the potatoes from rotting.  If you notice part of a potato rotting, cut off the rotten part.

Within a week you should start to see roots.  We first noticed roots forming on this potato within 4 days.

Soon you will notice vines starting to grow.  When any of these vines grow to about 5-6 inches, carefully remove it from the sweet potato and place in a jar of water.  The vines grow out of many different nodules on each potato. Once a potato starts producing slips, it frequently becomes extremely prolific.  You can continuously pick off slips from one potato for a long time.

The slips will soon start to root out.  Once they have a good set of roots, they are ready to plant.  We keep ours growing indoors until we are ready to plant.

Once the soil has warmed up in your garden, you can plant out your sweet potatoes. Here where we live, in Zone 7, we try to get all of our sweet potatoes planted in the last part of May or first part of June.  They need a long and hot growing season to be successful and produce good yields.

Looking for different, unusual varieties or don’t want to start your own slips? Sandhill Preservation offers an amazing selection of sweet potato slips and a bounty of information about growing sweet potatoes:

So on your next shopping trip to the store, pick up a few organic sweet potatoes and get them started for a fun new crop in the garden this season.

~ threemealsfarm

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I bought sweet potato slips on-line last year, in order to experiment with growing sweet potatoes.  What a great tutorial on how to grow them ourselves!  Thanks for sharing!
I live in a colder zone, zone 4 or 5, so I don't think I have a long or hot enough growing season for sweet potatoes.  But I did try an experiment with them last year.  I tried one raised bed with sweet potato slips covered tight with clear plastic to let the solar heat in to warm up the earth, but then hold it in (I saw on a youtube video; I'll add the link later if I can find it).  As a "control" to the experiment, I tried another raised bed with no plastic covering the soil around the sweet potato slips.  The sweet pototoes in the bed with the tight clear plastic did noticeably better than those in the bed that was not covered (which did not do very well at all).  

Overall, even the ones that did better were not that big; the biggest was as wide as a  big carrot, maybe. -About the size of the smallest ones shown in the 1st picture above, in the top-left pile. So I don't know if they are worth my while here, in the Northeast US.  But if others have had better luck, I'd be interested to learn about it.  All part of trying to learn what kind of food staples do well in our own neck of the woods!

Sweet potatoes are one of the more popular vegetables with my kids as well as one of my favorites.  I ordered some slips to try this year in my garden.  I'm in zone 5 in southern Maine.  Looking at the instructions here which say soil at 60F, I won't see that until well into June.  I'll be sure to put as many as I can in cold frames to get enough growing season.

They also say to store sweet potatoes above 50F.  Sounds much like how you harvest and store winter squash.  In contrast, regular potatoes should be kept much cooler, just above freezing, and can stay in the ground until just before it freezes.

Thank you for this informative article. My fiance and I are learning a lot about gardening and have been wanting to try sweet potatoes for a while. We live in Florida. Given the 60 degree soil temp Woodman mentioned (also very helpful), we should be good to go. I better get started!

I wonder if you use the leaves too? In Asia, sweet potato leaves are enjoyed in different cuisines. They make a great stir-fry…and in South-east Asia we also use them in soupy stews, mainly vegetarian and using a bit of coconut milk.

prana - much thanks for letting us know about using the leaves.  I did a little more background research and true to your comment - sweet potato greens are highly under utilized and can make a great addition to your food source.  High in vitamin K and A.  Lots of people use it as sauteed green and I even saw a reference to substituting spinach in a saag paneer dish.  Very exciting.  Time to figure out how to get more sweet potatoes in the ground. 

its an very sweet dish and made with potatoes and i like it whole method of making this sweet potato slips mentioned in this post sweet messages text

What a great way of doing this - I just put pieces of sweet potato in the ground the last two years with so-so results, but i can see this working even better.
Please learn from what we did wrong with our sweet potatoes during the first year I gardened in the South! One mistake to avoid - too much compost. We found that sweet potatoes sort of need to push against sandy soil. They became mishappen in a raised bed full of compost, sort of like long, thin snakes. Our biggest yam that year was three feet long, and a half-inch wide!