Sweet Potato Tips & How to Start Your Own Slips
Back when I first grew sweet potatoes, I was unable to figure out how to start slips for myself and bought a TON online. If you ever get frustrated as a beginning gardener, just know that we have all been there at some point. One day you’ll look back and chuckle at yourself—-I mean, I couldn’t grow my own sweet potato slips despite watching numerous YouTube videos and tutorials! Today I’m here to share my favorite sweet potato growing tips, curing updates, and how I collect and root my own slips for FREE!
Related article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California
To begin, this post is an update to Sweet Potatoes! My First Attempt at Growing & Curing Sweet Potatoes where I shared the struggles and thoughts from my first year growing sweet potatoes back in 2020. Growing in Southern California (zone 10b) is different because technically the sweet potato vines never die back to signal it’s time to harvest. Also, the process of curing and storing harvested sweet potatoes is a little more difficult because of our random temperature swings during Fall/Winter. Most Southern California homes don’t have basements or root cellars and my home is about 700 sq feet—-so I also don’t have a pantry to house homegrown food.
But I’m here to say it’s absolutely possible, simple, and budget-friendly to have homegrown sweet potatoes! I don’t think I’ll ever go without sweet potatoes in the garden again, and I’ll also never need to buy slips (sweet potato starts) again. Read on for my basic process, sweet potato tips, and more!
Make Your Own Sweet Potato Slips
Sweet potatoes grow from “slips” although you could just toss a whole sweet potato in the ground and let it be. With a second year under my belt—growing completely from my own stash—it’s about time I share my tips for how you can have FREE slips to plant in your garden for the next Summer!
What are sweet potato slips? A sweet potato “slip” is a plant shoot that has been grown off a mature sweet potato. It is clipped from a mature sweet potato and then rooted in water or soil to create a sweet potato plant.
Do I need to make slips? Will sweet potatoes grow from just burying a whole sweet potato? This year my mom and I decided to experiment in her backyard. I gave her some slips I rooted myself, but she also buried a WHOLE sweet potato under the soil to see what would happen. Well, she did indeed get a sweet potato vine from her buried potato, and it did produce some sweet potatoes! The only downside to this method is the high possibility that the sweet potato could rot or never sprout. It’s just feels safer to have slips that are rooted and ready. If you are curious, she said she buried the sweet potato in the garden and covered with about 1″ of garden soil.
How to Make Your Own Sweet Potato Slips
STEP 1: Obtain sweet potato plant cuttings
The first step to making sweet potato slips is to obtain cuttings or the leafy sprouts off a sweet potato. From observing in my own garden, there are several ways to get cuttings from your homegrown sweet potatoes like:
♦You might remember from my first sweet potato article that we don’t really get a frost in zone 10 that kills the vines completely. This is nice because you can simply take some cuttings off your sweet potato plants before you harvest. Depending on your weather or microclimate, you’ll need to figure out a way to continue these cuttings’ growth throughout the cold season until it’s time to plant slips in May or June. This could mean planting indoors or in a warm area of your garden, etc. once they have rooted. This method is not my favorite because they root so fast and then you’ll have MONTHS to keep them alive.
Related Article: Top 10 Flowers for a Potager Garden~ Calendula made my list!
♦ Leave a sweet potato (or two or three) on accident! I stumbled upon this zone 10 perk after noticing that sweet potato vines were sprouting up in my garden bed months after I had harvested what I thought was all of them! Apparently I had left some sweet potatoes in the ground and they sprouted on their own. They are kind of sheltered under a tree, so they continued to grow and grow! This means that, in early Spring, I can snip some cuttings off and root them to prep for planting.
♦ Use sweet potatoes that have rooted in storage to start some slips! While I did my best to have ideal storage conditions for my sweet potatoes, some did sprout in storage as time went on. You can put those in a dim area of your kitchen and snip off the sprouts as they get larger and put them in water to grow roots. I like my cuttings to be between 4-6 inches long.
♦ Get your own sweet potato to sprout! This method was most diffcult for me as a beginner, but once I used one of my homegrown sweet potatoes, it went flawlessly. You have probably seen gardeners suspend sweet potatoes over water with toothpicks or bury the sweet potato halfway in soil that is kept warm over a germination mat. Well, the soil method worked best for me, and I made a short video on how I did it (watch it here). Most importantly, you’ve got to keep the soil moist during this process.
Rooting Sweet Potato Cuttings in Water
STEP 2: Take your sweet potato plant cuttings and get them to root!
However you obtain sweet potato vine cuttings, I personally like to root them before they can be planted in the garden. Like I said before, I like my cuttings to be between 4-6 inches long.
Remove the lower leaves that would otherwise end up under the water line.
Place stems in a mason jar or vase filled with water.
Keep your jar in a bright light location. Mine sits on our kitchen island in front of a north facing window. The light is bright, but not direct.
Watch for roots to form! No kidding, my homegrown cuttings rooted in about a week. It was such a difference from any of my previous tries that I felt embarrassed that I had problems for so long. Haha!
Looking back, I ask myself ‘why did I struggle so much to grow my own sweet potato slips at first?’ Personally, I suspect a couple things: First, the quality of my sweet potato. Despite trying to sprout a sweet potato in both water and soil, mine never did a thing. I’m pretty sure my regular grocery store potato just wasn’t ideal.
Second, water quality and location of vase. Our home water tends to create mineral build-up, and I’ve always struggled to propagate certain plants in water (I discuss this in more detail in How to Propagate). Despite possible water quality issues, I found the perfect location on my counter to root plant cuttings. It’s a location that is on the kitchen island where there is bright light from the window, but not direct sun.
I can say this: once I grew my first sweet potatoes in my own garden climate, the rest just became really easy! So, if you’ve been struggling to grow sweet potatoes, maybe purchase some sweet potato starts/slips from a reputable grower and know that this will likely be the last time you’ll need to!
Additional Sweet Potato Growing Tips
We just finished up another season of homegrown sweet potatoes, this time from our own slips! They still perform best in full sun and don’t over-fertilize! Sweet potatoes grow so well when slightly neglected. I’d still follow the same timeline I did before, planting out slips in May/June (read the full process in Sweet Potato Harvest! My First Attempt at Growing & Curing Sweet Potatoes).
Should I bury the vines, train them vertically or nothing? Some gardeners train their vines up vertically because the idea is that wherever the sweet potato vine touches the ground, it will root and result in more small-sized potatoes versus one crop of larger sweet potatoes. We have just been letting our vines grow wild (at both my mom’s and my garden) and I haven’t noticed any patterns that would lead me to confirm or deny this. The biggest benefit to training your vines vertically would be space-saving if you need it.
Be careful around trees with shallow roots. We learned this the hard way. We planted under a tree with shallow roots, so we left quite a few sweet potatoes in the ground at harvest time because we were too worried about damaging the tree.
I’m making sweet potato pie!
This year I was able to harvest and cure my sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. The slips I planted at my mom’s are not ready to eat yet (she’s in zone 10a), but we harvested them last week. I’ve never eaten a sweet potato pie, so we are going to try one for Thanksgiving! Well, I think I’ll be making a mixed sweet potato/pumpkin pie and do a solely sweet potato pie for Christmas. There is nothing like a homegrown, well-cured sweet potato my friends. I hope you grow some next Summer with me! Don’t forget to read up on how I learned to cure my own sweet potatoes because it really results in the sweetest, most delicious sweet potatoes!