DIY Sweet Potato Slips Questions

soilent_greenDecember 10, 2013

It is my understanding that sweet potatoes in the produce aisle at grocery stores have an anti-growth agent applied to them. Makes sense to me because I have tried using them to produce slips with very poor results. What I am wondering is if sweet potatoes in the organic section would have some kind of "government approved for organic use" anti-growth agent applied to them or would they have nothing applied to them because they are suppose to be, you know, organic?

Also, it seems like the best or at least the most common varieties to successfully grow around here are Georgia Jet and Beauregard, yet those varieties are never available for purchase at the grocery stores (assuming they are labeled or anyone at the grocery store even knows the varietal names of the stuff they are selling - blank stares often result from such inquiry). I have tried acquiring specimens at local farmers markets during harvest time but they never keep long enough. My only solution there would be to immediately start rooting them and then baby the slips through the entire winter season, which seems like a lot of involvement and effort just to get some home grown sweet potatoes. I do not have any problem investing three months in the task, but nine months just seems pointless to me unless a person could perhaps grow it indoors like a potted vining houseplant and then take and root cuttings from that houseplant at the proper time - that would be a cool idea if it would work. Any thoughts?

Another question: What would keep the water from getting so funky and the wet/dry line of the sweet potato from getting moldy. If the best solution is to change the water every day then so be it, I can do that. I am hoping for some suggestions for some household product that can safely be used, or maybe something that I could wash or dust the sweet potato with before starting the process - anything that might increase my chances of success.

Last issue: Would applying growth hormone powder in some manner aid in rooting and slip production? If yes, how to apply?

My grandfather and father grew their own slips all the time and I want to get back to doing the same, plus it is an issue of self-sufficiency to me. I will skip planting sweet potatoes rather than purchase those overpriced mediocre-quality mail order slips, and I am not aware of a reliable local supplier come planting time. Growing your own slips is supposed to be an easy thing to do, and I remember doing it successfully for science classes back in grade school but I have been failing at it time and again over the last couple years. I like a challenge but I loathe failing repeatedly and not being able to figure out why - especially at something gardening related. ;-)

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for any help or suggestions.

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...growth hormone powder... - I meant rooting hormone powder.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 1:43PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

yes shop stock generally has been treated, but you can use stuff from organic shops.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens growing sweet 'taters and pineapples

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 2:38PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I have planted store potatoes many times. Never have used seed potatoes. And, I have just used non-organic ones. Never had any sprouting problem.

I believe that, you should not have any problem with organic sweet potato slips. Though, I have never planted SP. So I could be wrong.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 3:02PM
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Almost all the sweet potatoes grown in NC are Covington or Beauregard, so if you can get the produce person to look on the box, you may be looking at what you want and not know it. Choose some small ones, get them warm and grow them out. In my experience, the larger the tuber, the longer it wants to stay dormant.

You are right that you will never see GA Jet in stores, because it's not uniform enough for commercial production and nowhere near as pretty as Beauregard and Covington.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 8:13AM
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I have been buying Bonnie, Beauregard' SP plants at all the usual big box garden centers here in N.E. Ga for the past 4 or 5 yrs.. They are great producers in my red GA clay. Seems like I paid about $23 for a flat of 54 plts.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 3:54PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

We have white seed potatoes available here, but I never saw sweet potatoes like that. I had a store bought one grow over two feet long. I took a few slips from it and stuck it in the ground. I was totally surprised at harvest time! The one nearest the stalk was about the size of a small football. I got 25 total sweet potatoes. Much redder than the mama plant. Very sweet too.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 4:37PM
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This update is mainly for my fellow sweet potato-rooting newbies who may be struggling with success. I have been failing at this for years, IMO it is not as easy as many folks suggest. I think this is due in large part to the fact that it is hard to find decent stock to start out with.

Soon after I started this thread I was able to find an organic grocery store that had two kinds of sweet potatoes. I had success with the Asian variety with purple skin/white flesh. The one with brown skin/orange flesh rotted. Of course nobody at the store knew the actual names of the varieties so I will not know if I have a bush type, short viner, or long viner until I grow out the variety.

I kept the tubers whole and submerged each one halfway in water. I do not know whether correct or not but I placed the round stem end in water and the pointy end was oriented up for slip development. It worked. I used sterilized and filtered water from snow which worked great, the water never got funky (though I checked it every day just in case). I added water as needed due to evaporation.

The tuber started root development after five days and started developing shoots after four weeks. Once there was healthy root development I wrapped the clear jar with a piece of dark paper, don't know if it matters or not but I do not like the idea of roots being exposed to light. Nine days ago I took the tuber out of the water and potted it to the waterline depth. I have been placing it in the sun ever since it was potted. It appears to be quite happy.

The photo was taken yesterday which is six weeks since the start of the project. At last count the tuber has six slips on it. If I am supposed to count each stem as a slip then it actually has nine slips. Two slips are just starting development, the oldest slip is 4 inches tall.


1.) Using the water rooting method, if the tuber has any hint of a bruise it will rot well before producing slips. Choose your stock at the store very carefully and handle carefully from then on.

2.) I suspect rooting in soil in a pot has a far better chance of success than rooting in water first. I am going to try this method next, burying the tuber only halfway into the soil. I will plant one pointy end up and plant another one sideways, to see if one way is better than the other.

3.) Trying to succeed with this project in a cold winter house is problematic. If the water feels cold to the touch that is not a good thing. The tubers in water need to be kept consistently warm. I ended up placing them in an enclosed space - the cabinet under the sink where I could redirect a heating register to keep it nice and toasty. I still put the potted tuber into that warm place every night and bring it back into the sun in the morning. Seems to be working.

4.) I am not interested in using artificial grow lights for this experiment, so I am using natural sunlight. I purchased a large piece of heavy glossy white paper which I found in the crafts aisle at a certain big box chain store and wrapped it around the back of the pot to add some reflectivity which should aid in slip growth. Doing this also helps warm up the pot and plant, which I think it likes.

Couple of quick questions. Bear with me if they sound silly, remember I am a sweet potato newbie and I am still learning this process. :-)

Question #1: I chose small tubers because they were easier to work with. Was that correct or should I have chosen larger ones? Perhaps it does not matter?

Question #2: One of the slip "nodes" has produced a group of four stems. Is each stem in that cluster considered a slip, meaning each one can be separated and rooted when the time comes?

Question #3: Timing. Approximately when should a person start this project in order to have slips ready for mid to late June planting? I suspect I started this a bit too early, but it was an experiment and I was not expecting it to succeed.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 11:56AM
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Another GWer in northern MI told me she's always had good luck with Georgia Jet, not so much with others. I think she plants the end of May. She orders slips from Steele in TN, I think they will send them when they're ready to be planted for your zone.

(From old email so prices could be higher): "The sweet potatoes I got from the Steele Plant Company, 202 Collins Street, Gleason, TN 38229. Telephone 1/731-648-5476. They have the orange Georgia Jets and Beauregard, and also the white Nancy Hall and O'Henry. The white sweet potatoes didn't grow so well for me.
Anyway, 12 plants are $12.25 of one type or $17.25 for a mixed dozen. 24 plants are $19.99, 36 are $25.25, 48 are $34.99, 100 are 45.25 and 500 are $65.00. Wanna go for the 500? (grin) * went for 24 and got a LOT of sweet potatoes."

I also noticed that Sand Hill Preservation has slips.

Sorry I don't know anything about starting your own, but maybe if you contact Sand Hill they could tell you, being in same (or close) zone? Good luck - I never did try these myself.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 6:42PM
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Thanks for your comments.

I already have my sweet potato slips ordered from Sand Hill Preservation. :-)

I have been attempting to start my own slips for the simple reason of learning how to do it. When it comes to gardening I feel it is always good to learn new things, plus the day may come when mail order ceases to be an option. I do not give up easily. When I fail at something, especially something that is supposed to be simple, I have a tendency to dig in my heels and keep at it until I succeed, a trait I inherited from my father and grandfather.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 7:22PM
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Hey Tom.....

Snap the larger vines from the 'tater and place their ends in the same jar/water.....they will quickly grow complete root systems.....leave the small developing slips to continue to grow on the sweet potato.....

Vines grow too big? Cut them and root the cuttings......


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 7:54PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Hi Tom. Sorry I didn't see this earlier. First, the store sweet potatoes are Beauregard because it often says it on the box they come in.
Second I have grown slips fine from store potatoes, not organic.
Third you did start too early. They go very fast. Meanwhile you will have nice houseplants akin to pothos or you can eat sweet potato vines or your cats can nibble them too (which is one reason I buy mine now).
Fourth, I grew 300 last year and will be growing 350 this year but it is cheaper to buy 500 than 350! So if you want some of the plants I have extra we could work that out.
I also might order a small order from Sandhill to get some different ones. I know people say Beauregard is just ok tasting but they grow best here and to me after a couple months in the basement those things are like candy! You hardly have to add sugar when baking.

Oh and yes, change the water pretty often but otherwise just think of them like an avocado pit.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 8:31PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 8:32PM
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Found this on MOFGA website - HTH

Neighbor grew them a couple of years ago, I didn't see any last year. Of course 2012 was very hot and dry here. 2013 we had a heat wave in July but June and August were very wet, if he had any maybe they rotted? Looks like they need a really long growing season (90-150 days) plus can't be planted until soil is 65 degrees (sometime in June), dug before it falls to 60 degrees, plus curing at 80+ degrees and 80+ humidity - not easy up here. I think I'm going to stick with Irish potatoes, much as we love SP it's more cost effective to buy them in grocery store.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing Sweet Potatoes in Maine (and NH)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 7:48AM
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More info from CT Ag Experimental Station

Here is a link that might be useful: How to grow Sweet Potatoes in CT

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 8:01AM
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Thanks for the links, they are very informative and quite helpful. Learned that sweet potatoes are not tubers, did not know that and I stand corrected.

As suggested, soon I will remove the largest slip and try rooting it to see how that goes.

little_minnie - Cute photo. 350 slips, wow that is a lot! Regarding your extras, thanks but I already have enough ordered for my needs. Perhaps you can give away or sell your extras locally (but then I guess that might cut into your sweet potato sales later on).

"...I have grown slips fine from store potatoes, not organic." - Every non-organic store-bought sweet potato that I have used has failed.

"I know people say Beauregard is just ok tasting..." - Personally, I have never met a sweet potato I did not like but of course some are better than others. I never consider flavor to be my top priority, I rank it equally with productivity and storage life. Beauregard is the variety most commonly planted around here, people seem to be happy with them. It is one of the varieties that I have on order.

If this current experiment ends up being a houseplant that is fine with me. I am happy just having some success after all the failures. I am going to try different rooting methods through the next couple of months anyway and if any of them succeed I can use those slips for planting (although I will not really need them).

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 1:49PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Personally I only like moist sweet potatoes.

Also make sure your home is warm enough to grow them.

Here was what I planted last year. I harvested boxes full by hand.

On the left.

I am investigating having the tubers dug this season with a potato digger.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 5:18PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Little Minnie,

What's growing in the orange bags? What kind of bags are they? What soil/media are they growing in? How did the crop do?.....I have some heavy clay soil and wonder if adding something like this for a crop or two would be good.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 12:31PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

They are not grow bags but sort of greenhouse bags made for tomatoes.

Here is a link that might be useful: red tomato bags

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 8:40PM
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Sorry I didn't see this sooner. I have bought common, everyday sweet potatoes from the grocery, used the toothpicks to submerge a small bit of them under water in a jar and have had slips grow with no problem. I tried getting the organic sweet potatoes, but they weren't available in our groceries and the one farm store I went to didn't know if they'd been treated. Nope, not a real farm store or they'd have known. Regardless, I've never had problems with them sprouting and growing, even in a cool room. I break off the sprouts when they get to be about six inches or so and put them in another jar of water, then they develop roots and just thrive. Good luck with your new adventure.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 12:11PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

They just played a Community rerun where the group had a sprout a yam contest in class and someone murdered their yam.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 7:46PM
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bcskye - This is what has been so frustrating to me. You and many others have no problems while I failed over and over until finally achieving success. I even failed at rooting sweet potatoes I bought from a local farmers market and sweet potatoes that were grown locally by my closest neighbor. It is not failing that bugs me so much, it is not being able to figure out why I have been failing. If I have been doing something systematically wrong I would think that sooner or later I would have screwed up in reverse and succeeded. Maybe that is what finally happened. ;-)

Update: My sweet potato slips are doing wonderfully, growing fast now. Potted plant looks like a little sweet potato shrub.

That "Community" episode sounds pretty funny...

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 11:45AM
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Thought I would post an update.

I ended up with six plants that I transplanted out to the garden around the July 4 holiday. Made two hills and planted three plants per hill.

Plants grew nicely in spite of having a rather cool summer. Initially after planting out some unknown insect creature did serious damage to the foliage but it stopped, never reoccurred, and the plants recovered. I know deer love browsing on sweet potato vines so I placed the hills inside my electric fence to protect them from this potential issue.

Dug up plants yesterday, harvested 16 pounds of sweet potatoes. I was very happy with the results considering it was a rather cool summer.

Biggest mistake I made was that the potted plants got root bound, with roots circling inside the pots. Really had no choice as I could not plant sooner due to heavy rains and cold temps in June. I broke the roots up as best I could when I planted but still got a few goofy shaped tubers, which is no big deal to me.

Had sweet potatoes for dinner last night, they were nice but a bit on the bland side. Was not surprise at this because last winter when I bought the original one for rooting I bought a few extras to try and thought those bland as well.

Was the whole thing worth it? In the end probably not, but it did not take much effort and it was a fun experiment. It was the first time I succeeded in rooting a store bought sweet potato. I am still against purchasing slips mail order, so if I cannot purchase slips locally at the proper time then starting them myself is the only option.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2014 at 2:08PM
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I started my slips from store bought sweet potatoes. Two of the three starters were from organic stock and had the farmers label. I looked up each of the farmers on-line and they each only grew one variety. That made it easy to figure one was Beauregard the other Covington. The third was not organic and a red variety.
I tried the water method of growing slips, slow with poor results. So I 1/2 buried the SP length ways in a shallow storage pan. Kept them moist and they grew slips like crazy. The non-organic took a long time but eventually grew slips.
I haven't harvested any yet but will be digging them up soon.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 7:58PM
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I am going to use the water method again, but I plan to also try out the method of planting 1/2 deep in a pot.

With the 1/2 burying method is it best to place pot in full sun, indirect light, or total darkness? For initial sprouting is heat (keeping pot warm) more important than light?

Here is a photo of some of the harvest.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 10:02PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I took slips from a grocery store sweet potato last year. I got 27 sweet potatoes. I used the biggest one from the crop for at least seven plantings this year. I can hardly wait to see how many taters I get this year. That sweet potato still looks as fresh as ever. I guess I gotta cook it soon.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 10:13PM
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jimla(Z6 PA)

I picked Jewel sweet potatoes yesterday and they turned out nice. I have a few plants that I planted late in the season and they are well behind those just harvested. Can I keep then buried through the winter and use them as a source of slips for next year? Will they last? Any special protections beside a thick mulch?

    Bookmark   October 6, 2014 at 12:21PM
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Tom -- I think generally sweet potatoes are not very good when first dug, especially from a zone 4 or 5 garden. (in NC I've had them fresh dug and sweet.) I believe that if you cure the potatoes (80 degrees and high humidity) for a couple weeks, then store in a cool place, they will get MUCH sweeter. I actually have to keep my sweet potatoes more at room temperature after curing because if I put them in cold storage they get too sweet.

I'm glad you resurrected this thread--good info. I'm determined to grow my own slips this year -- I always end up with the mail order ones half dead before I can plant them.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2014 at 9:15PM
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