American gardeners have been planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day for generations, but if this is your first spring season in a KB Tampa new construction home, you’ll find that growing potatoes is a whole new experience. For traditional potatoes (russet, Burbank, Kennebec and the like) you should start your plants around mid-February or aim for a fall crop by planting in late August to mid-September. It’s not too late to grow this spring if you can find some already developed seedlings. The trick with traditional taters is to avoid the heat of summer, they just don’t do well in that hot summer sun. But since you’ve moved to the Sunshine State, why not try a new crop?
Sweet potatoes may share the same name with their waxy, starchy, or mixed cousins, but they are a completely different plant than potatoes and have totally different growth habits and garden requirements.
Sweet potatoes differ from other potatoes in a few key ways. Here are the most important ones:
- Sweet potatoes grow on a vine, they are NOT a tuber that forms as part of a buried stem like other potatoes.
- Sweet potatoes love the heat! Regular potatoes don’t do well in the hot Florida summers, but sweet potatoes thrive.
Here are the most important things to remember when growing sweet potatoes:
1. Deep Grow Beds
Sweet potatoes need a moist, deep garden bed to grow well. Unlike traditional potatoes that have to be mounded up with dirt to produce tubers, sweet potatoes grow more like a carrot. They need a deep bed to form the root that you will harvest.
2. Plenty of Sun
Sweet potatoes need a lot of sun. You can get away with a half day of sun, but no less than that. They can be raised in beds near a wall or fence where the warm from the sun can radiate back to them after the sun has gone down.
3. Grow from Slips
Sweet potatoes are best grown from “slips”. These are green plants grown from another sweet potato plant. If you’re starting later in the season these slips are your best guarantee of getting a crop. If you want to grow your own slips just cut a sweet potato in half, bury halfway in dirt and keep moist until the new green growth is about 6 inches long. Separate each new stem from the sweet potato, plant in dirt and keep moist until roots form and then transplant in the garden.
4. Lots of Room
Sweet potato plants need lots of room. Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family so their growth habit is to send out runners along the ground. These runners are essential because where they attach to the ground they will grow another sweet potato tuber. You want LOTS of these.
Mulching around the base of the plants, before the runners get too long, will help to keep the plants moist and free of weeds during the growth period.
6. St. Patrick’s Day!
Plant your sweet potato slips outside in the garden about one month after your last frost date. For Tampa Bay gardeners this would be be right around St. Patrick’s Day.
Whether you’re a new gardener, an old gardener in a new place, or a long-time Tampa gardener, give sweet potatoes a try and harvest some of the best food you’ve ever grown.
Image from: rampages.us