Sweet potatoes are definitely one of the best crops you can add to your backyard vegetable garden. They are not only tasty and nutritious but also relatively easy to grow.
But how many sweet potatoes can you expect to harvest per plant? Is it worth the hard work to plant these tropical perennial vines? Let us find out!
Why grow sweet potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are one of the many versatile and tasty vegetables you can grow at home. They come in different varieties – purple, white, yellow, and orange – so you can grow your preferred variety in the backyard for when certain varieties become unavailable at your local grocery store.
The great thing about including sweet potatoes in your diet is that they contain loads of essential vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants – especially the purple ones. Sweet potatoes are not only good for weight loss; they also promote gut health, improve the immune system, and help reduce inflammation and cancer risk.
If you are a big fan of sweet potatoes, you might be considering planting your own crops at home. The good news is that sweet potato plants are low-maintenance and can easily be grown in your garden. Just water them regularly and provide lots of sunshine, and in a fairly short time, you will have your first harvest and enjoy your spoils!
How many sweet potatoes do you get per plant?
If you have considered growing your own sweet potatoes, you might be wondering how many you will be able to harvest off each plant.
On average, sweet potatoes can produce five to ten tubers per plant, depending on the variety. For example, short-season varieties like Beauregard and Covington can produce three to four tubers per plant, while some long-season varieties can have at least eight tubers per plant.
No matter the variety, you can expect a yield of at least one pound per single plant. However, the long-season varieties can give you more since the tubers can grow continuously until the frost starts. On the other hand, the short-season and bushy varieties will likely produce less, making them ideal for growing in containers.
And how much yield can you expect per square foot? Generally, sweet potatoes can produce around 288 pounds of tubers per 1,000 square feet, assuming the plants are spaced 18 inches apart. Even if you have a smaller garden, you can still expect the same yield per square foot if you follow the same spacing.
You might also be wondering about how many slips you can grow per tuber. If grown in water, a tuber is expected to continuously produce slip sprouts, up to approximately 10 to 30 slips. Once they reach about two inches long, they are ready for planting to produce new sweet potato plants.
Aside from the variety, there are other factors that can affect the actual yield of your sweet potato plants:
1. Climate and temperature
Sweet potatoes generally prefer to grow in warm temperatures. Although they can tolerate extreme heat or light frost, maintaining a soil temperature somewhere above 55 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal to achieve the best yields. This means that you might need to harvest your sweet potatoes a bit early if winter is looming, even if it means the harvest will be smaller or fewer.
2. Growing conditions
Caring for sweet potato plants is no different from most vegetable crops. The minimum requirements for growing sweet potatoes include well-draining and slightly acidic soil, sunlight exposure of between eight and ten hours a day, and at least one inch of water every week.
Well-established sweet potato plants are not terribly picky when it comes to soil quality, as they can tolerate dry soil pretty well. Just remember to stop watering them three to four weeks before your harvest so that the mature tubers do not split.
3. Spacing between slips
Surprisingly, the space between the plant slips can affect the yield and size of your sweet potatoes. Wider spacing is usually desirable if you prefer to grow larger sweet potatoes. The closer the plant slips are, the smaller the potatoes will be. Growing the plants too close to each other might also limit their growth.
In general, the ideal spacing between slips should be 10 to 18 inches, in rows, and the rows should be spaced 36 to 42 inches apart. Make sure that your slip sprouts are proportionally spaced to achieve the best size of sweet potatoes.
How to grow your own sweet potatoes?
Planting your sweet potatoes begins by growing sweet potato slips, and these are the steps:
- Choose a sweet potato variety that you want to grow – preferably one that will thrive in your local climate. You can buy your sweet potatoes from the grocery store to start growing the slips.
- Once you have a handful of sweet potatoes, cut them into sections. Root the seed potatoes by suspending them in a glass filled with water. Insert toothpicks into the potato to support it on top of the glass, so that just its bottom touches the water. Do not submerge the entire potato, as this can lead to rotting and stinky smells.
- Place these potato sections in a spot that has access to sunlight. The shoots should start to grow within a few days.
- When the shoots have grown between four to six inches, remove them from the tuber with a gentle twisting motion.
- Immerse the shoots in another container of water, again submerging only the bottom half. In a few days, you should see roots growing.
- Wait for the roots to reach about an inch or two. By this time, the sweet potato seedlings should be ready to plant.
Now you have your sweet potato slips ready, you can start planting them in your garden. Like any potato plant, sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow and care for. Just remember to plant them at the right time of the year – preferably after the last frost – as they are extremely sensitive to freezing temperatures.
To plant your sweet potatoes in the garden, follow these steps:
- Before transferring the slips to your garden, make sure that the chosen spot receives enough daily sunlight – preferably around eight hours. Sweet potatoes prefer to grow in full, direct sunlight.
- The soil should be warm – about 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit – to optimize the growth of your plants. You can warm up the soil in your garden by adding black plastic mulch after the last frost.
- Place your sweet potato slips into the soil, preferably about four to six inches deep. Press the soil gently without burying the leaves or the entire stem of the plant.
- Add a layer of mulch to the soil, about two to four inches thick, to help retain the soil’s moisture.
- Lastly, water your sweet potato plants regularly. As mentioned, sweet potatoes need about an inch of water per week, or more, depending on the weather and temperature.
- Most sweet potato varieties will need about 90 to 120 days to be ready for harvest, so be patient!
How to harvest and store sweet potatoes?
Harvesting the fruits of your labor is the most rewarding experience! But how do you know the best time to harvest your sweet potatoes?
The most common indication that your sweet potatoes are ready is when part of the vine starts turning from deep green to yellow. However, if the first frost is approaching and the vines are still green, it is best to harvest them regardless.
Most gardeners recommend using a fork to harvest the potatoes, in order to avoid damaging the plant. Carefully loosen the soil with your fork, making sure you do not pierce the tubers. Once the soil is loosened, gently remove the tubers by hand. You can also cut the more vigorous stems of the plant before harvesting, for convenience.
For the best taste, the newly harvested sweet potatoes must be cured for about ten days in a warm, dry location. Once this period is complete, you are ready to enjoy your harvest. There are many ways to eat sweet potatoes – you can boil, bake, fry, or add them to your main dishes.
If you do not intend to eat the potatoes right away, you can store them in a cool, dry, and dark place, at a temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity between 75 and 80 percent. Under these conditions, your sweet potatoes should remain fresh for up to six months. Do not forget to check them regularly to prevent mold and rotting. It is a good idea to store the sweet potatoes separately to reduce the risk of any disease spreading and spoiling your entire harvest!
Growing and harvesting your own sweet potatoes can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it takes a bit of knowledge and skill to truly reap the best yields of this amazing crop.
So, how many sweet potatoes can you expect to harvest per plant? Although the average is about five to ten tubers per plant, the harvest will be influenced by several factors, such as the sweet potato variety, the growing conditions, and how the plants are cared for.
As long as you provide these tubers with the right growing conditions, you should be rewarded with a plentiful harvest in a matter of months. Do not forget to toss the bad ones and save the healthier tubers for next year’s planting!
Image: istockphoto.com / piyaset