Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Growing Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines - Propagation

The deeply lobed leaves of the sprawling vine of the Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) continue to be quite a show stopper in the garden. It's a great way to add a tropical feel to even the northern gardens.

They are considered to be perennial in Zones 10A through 11B. In Zone 9 and north, they are grown as an annual plant that needs to be propagated or overwintered to last year to year. The vines grow to 6” high and have a recommended spacing of 18” apart.

Types of Ornamental Sweet Potato Vines

The two most popular leaf colors of the ornamental sweet potato vine are chartreuse, like in Margarita and Bright Ideas Lime, and the deep purple to black leaves of Blackie and Bright Ideas Black. Red and tricolored leafed varieties are also available, but for my money, the combination of chartreuse and deep purple can’t be beaten.

Caring for your ornamental SPV

Sun/Heat Requirements

Ornamental SPV can be planted out after outside temperatures reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The optimum growing temperature range is 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

They can grow in full sun to part shade, though their leaf color will vary depending on their siting. During the hottest days of summer, the SPV will thank you for some respite from the hot sun.


Any well-draining healthy soil will do, however, they are intolerant of highly alkaline soil.


Fertilize the SPV once in the spring and once in the summer with a balanced fertilizer at half the strength to keep them healthy and happy. Be sure to fully water the plant after fertilizing to get the fertilizer to the roots.


Moderate watering is fine with well-drained soil. Just be sure not to leave the SPV roots too soggy as they are prone to root rot.

SPV in Containers

The Sweet Carolina series of ornamental SPV were bred for container use.  This variety has smaller tubers for less vigorous growth.  It comes in several colors including yellow, green, red, purple, bronze and lime green.  But any variety of SPV will spill over a window box or hanging basket nicely.

Here are a few care tips for container plants.

  • Fertilize once a week with a balanced fertilizer at 1/4th strength.
  • Check the soil for dryness daily.
  • Remove dead or dried out leaves.
  • Trim the vines back as needed.

If you want to get a mounding pattern or you want the plant to branch out, make a cut just above a pair of leaves to encourage it to split and branch off.


By Seed

Because SPVs don’t produce many flowers, they don’t produce many seeds, and the seeds they do produce may not be viable. Rooting cuttings is the preferred method of propagation as it's easier and faster.

Roots Growing where leaves pinched off

By Cuttings

Snip off 6 inches of a branch right below leaf nodes.  (I will note that in my experience, cuttings much longer than 6" are more difficult to pot up in 3-4" pots later.)  Then pinch off the leaves of the lower two to three rows of leaves. This is where the new roots will grow.

Submerge the cuttings in lukewarm water making sure the stems are submerged but not the leaves which will rot in the water. Roots will start to grow in four or five days. As the roots grow, keep them under the water. Change the water every two to three days.


Place the rooted cuttings in indirect sunlight or a windowsill. If the leaves begin to turn brown and crinkle on the edges, they are getting too much light. Filtered light is the best.

Cuttings can also be planted in a pot of soil to root. They can even be planted right in the ground. However, the cuttings will root faster in water. Ornamental SPV cuttings can live indoors with a grow light or sunny window during the cold months and be ready for the spring growth spurt.

SPV tubers ready to overwinter

By Overwintering Tubers

Like edible sweet potatoes, the ornamental sweet potatoes vines form tubers underground. To save them year to year, you can dig up the tubers making sure not to slice into them. Brush off the excess soil and place them in peat moss, sand, or vermiculite making sure the tubers don’t touch each other. Store them in a cool, dry place. In spring, watch for sprouts.


Very few garden plants are so beautiful yet so easy to grow and care for. The fact that they’re so easy to propagate can give any gardener a lot of bang for their buck. And that’s just a few of the reasons why ornamental sweet potato vines remain so popular!


Where to go next!

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Monday, September 30, 2019

You Have Winter Sown Seedlings! Now what?

So you’ve tried the winter sowing method and found out that it’s easy and it works. Mother Nature woke the seeds out of their sleep and now you’re getting lots of little seedlings popping up in their snug, cozy containers.


Winter Sown Lettuce Seedlings

So now what?

Although winter-sown seedlings at this stage are already much hardier than seedlings grown indoors simply because they have already been acclimated to the outside temperatures, there are ways now to ensure that your seedlings not only survive but thrive in their container until they’re ready for transplant.

Here are some of the most important considerations.


Winter Sown Containers in Sunnier Early Spring  Area

In Early Spring

It wasn’t critical where you placed the winter sowing containers in the winter while the seeds awaited Mother Nature’s cue to germinate, but now that some of your babies are “hatching” (usually seeds of cold-hardy plants will germinate first,) container placement becomes more important.

It can still get pretty cold in early spring, especially at night, so a south-facing area that gets some sunlight to warm up the container is ideal.


It’s important now to check the soil to be sure it’s draining properly and add more holes to the container if necessary. Above is the amount of holes I normally drill into the milk jugs.  Young seedlings’ roots are small and can rot in soggy soil. At this time, the containers will only need watering if the soil is very dry.

Early Spring is also the time to be cautious about late unexpected freezes, frosts or just unusually cold temperatures. Throw a blanket or cardboard over the containers overnight for extra protection if colder weather is expected.


In Mid Spring

As the warmer weather begins, your seeds of heat-loving plants are beginning to germinate. The soil begins to dry out more quickly now, so caution now turns to making sure you check the soil for dryness. It may only take some top spritz of water early on to keep the seedlings happy.

Moving the containers to a half shade/half sun area is ideal now.


Tops off and bottom watering

In Late Spring, Early Summer

As the heat of summer arrives, if the seedlings are not ready for transplant, it’s a great idea to open up the container for more airflow. You can do this in a variety of ways. Cut out a little window in the front or sides or cut the top off completely.

The soil will need more water now, too. If the seedlings are still small, top watering could dislodge the seedlings from the soil. If you have several containers, a great way to water them is to bottom water several containers at one time. Let the containers soak in a few inches of water for ten or fifteen minutes, then take them back up.



If the potting soil you used has some starter fertilizer in it, you may not need further fertilizer while they’re in the containers. If you used something without starter fertilizer and the seedlings look weak or are struggling, you can give them a feeding of one-fourth strength balanced fertilizer for a little boost. 

Whether you need fertilizer or not will also depend on how long you keep the seedlings growing in the container before they’re transplanted.


Cucumber Seedlings Ready for Transplant


When the seedlings look healthy and are strong enough to be handled by their stems, you can transplant them into their final garden space. If you’re in doubt about whether they’re ready for that, let them grow on.

As different plant types grow at different speeds, there is no general recommendation for transplanting time. Seedlings of cucumbers and other cucurbits grow quickly, whereas seedlings of Basil and lettuces grow slowly. As long as the seedlings are happy and healthy in the container, there’s no rush to transplant.


Transplanting on a cool, cloudy day is always best. If it’s a sunny day, you can always put a cardboard tent over the transplants which give them respite from the sun and is still open at the sides for airflow. I have left this shelter on for over a week at times.


So that’s it. Really nothing to it once you get the hang of it.

With some careful attention during the first stages of growth of your winter-sown seedlings, you can ensure those seedlings will grow into healthy plants that will be a great addition to your garden!



Related Articles

Winter Sowing 101
Winter Sow Your Vegetable Seeds

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