Indoor plants are a great way to produce without battling the elements. It’s also a lovely way to capture the verdant greenery inside, where you may spend a lot of time, especially in cold winter months. That being said, have you ever thought of growing a sweet potato vine indoors?
Because there are so many sweet potato varieties, you could grow multiple types of sweet potato plants in your home, inviting different leaf shapes and splashes of color here and there. But a sweet potato vine needs care and space. So what are the best ways for growing these plants indoors?
Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. Whether you’re interested in sweet potato vines that produce sweet delicious tubers, or you want to grow ornamental sweet potato vines purely for the look, there are so many ways to incorporate this colorful foliage into your indoor container garden.
A sweet potato vine isn’t hard to get started. Each of the available varieties root easily. But they may not survive the harsh cold winter. So let’s discuss what you need to garden sweet potatoes indoors and you’ll have tuber producing plants even in harsh winter months.
Ways Of Growing Sweet Potatoes Indoors
Before we get into the particulars, you may wonder if sweet potato leaves are pet safe. The answer is no. Much of the plant is unsafe for pets (although the tubers themselves are fantastic once cooked!). While humans can eat the leaves, out of an abundance of caution, it’s best to avoid feeding the leaves to your pets. The seeds and the vine itself are the most toxic parts if ingested, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. So if you live with a pet, keep your sweet potato vine well away from munching mouths. Those with curious pets should grow these outdoors away from the animals.
When you grow your own sweet potato vine, make sure you have enough room. People grow these in kiddie pools and large grow bags (like the Root Pouch bags we have in our shop!) when they’re not planted in the ground. Indoors you’ll need a container that is at least 10 gallons. We’ll pinpoint some specifics of growing later. Also, remember to use an organic sweet potato as the source. Non-organic sweet potatoes may not produce as easily as some companies dip them in chemicals that prevent sprouting. This prevents a lovely harvest of edible greens and tuber.
Grow sweet potato vine in a sunny location. If growing the vine for food isn’t an option due to your space situation, no big deal. The vine will grow profusely in a smaller pot too. Sunny windows are great when growing equipment is unavailable, and sunny windows make great spaces for rooting sweet potato vine slips. Remember to place your vine in indirect light in a south-facing window if you live in the northern hemisphere and the north in the southern hemisphere.
Grow lights act as a light source where the sun isn’t available. This may be better for some who live in areas where sunlight is scarce. Especially if you grow a sweet potato vine indoors in winter, grow lights feed your plant where it would otherwise be dormant outdoors. Grow lights have a huge range of specialties, too. The basic form of grow light is a shop light. There are highly specialized lights too. Some lights are expensive, though.
Grow tents may be the best option for indoor sweet potatoes. Because you control all the climate specs (temperature, humidity, light, etc), you ensure optimal conditions for your sweet potato vines. However, grow tents at the appropriate size for sweet potato production are expensive. They take up quite a bit of space too. Before you get into this growing method, ensure you have at least 2 by 4 by 6 feet of room.
When it comes to hydroponics, there is debate as to whether a good yield is possible. Few studies cover the needs for growing sweet potato vines in soilless media. What may be more appropriate for sweet potato plants grown hydroponically is rooting. Here you can either prep your tuber for planting after the threat of frost has passed, or simply root slips to grow a lovely vibrant houseplant. Here, it’s up for debate whether or not a full hydroponic setup is appropriate. In that case, this growing method is very cheap. All you need is lukewarm water, a glass jar or vase, and a light source.
Caring For Indoor Sweet Potatoes
Let’s discuss the particular needs of your indoor sweet potato vines within each of the growing methods covered above. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are so fun to grow, especially if they have what they need to thrive.
Lighting & Temperature
Sweet potato plants thrive in full to part sun. They need at least six hours of full or indirect light daily. In a warm sunny window, make sure this is available to your sweet potato vines. If necessary, supplement with a grow light. In the process of growing sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) give the container a good quarter-turn daily. This gives your sweet potato leaves the light they need to pop, and roots the strength they need to survive.
If you’re using grow lights, ensure they’re high intensity and contain at least 3 fluorescent bulbs. After a few days with the grow light, if it isn’t warm enough for growth, change the settings on your light, or extend the time the light is on. The same goes for a grow tent. Adjust the lights as needed, and make sure those lights are bright enough.
Because sweet potato vines are sensitive to heat and cold, growing them indoors provides optimal growing temperature. They need at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit for good growth, which is great for most homes. A warm 75 degrees is the most optimal temperature. If you lose power in a winter frost or hot summer, find a way to shelter the plant. Keep your growing setup away from HVAC outflow. Too much cool or heat can damage the foliage, and the dryness of most home air conditioning units dries out the soil quickly.
Water & Humidity
In the ground, sweet potatoes need even moisture and consistent watering at about 1 inch per week for a good harvest. In containers, they’ll need more. Soil should remain moist, but not wet throughout growth. Especially if you’re growing for food, do not let the soil dry out completely. You’ll miss out on those tasty edible tubers. Instead, test the top 2 inches of soil. If they are dry, add water. Also, if the plant has leaves that are wilted, add water. Note that bright grow lights in any kind of setup can add heat and evaporate moisture more quickly.
Humidity isn’t a huge concern for sweet potato vine. Something in the mid-range for your grow tent is just fine. You won’t need to provide a water pan for ambient humidity, and you won’t need to adjust the humidity as much as the light in your setup (that is if you’re working with a setup of some kind outside of a window).
Growing Medium & Container
Unless you are cultivating sweet potato leaves for their colorful foliage alone you need enough room to grow potatoes. Containers for potato production should be at least ten gallons, and larger is better. Grow bags are great because they offer the right amount of room with adequate depth and width. They also allow water to drain out and through the pot. Plastic containers are good too. Make sure they have drainage holes and at least 18 inches of depth. You can simply grow a sweet potato vine as a hanging houseplant in a smaller container where your plant with beautiful lime green foliage can spill out, and enjoy eating sweet potato leaves as well. Containers also need a trellis to help the vines move upward rather than outward as they spread all around your home.
You need good organic well-draining soil to grow a tuber or two, and extend the life of your plant. Use good potting soil, with added sand or perlite to ensure good drainage, or make your own potting mix. A mix of 50% coconut coir or peat moss combined with 50% compost works, but you may want to add perlite if it doesn’t drain adequately. Sweet potatoes like slightly acidic soil.
If you’re growing slips or using cuttings you won’t need soil at the beginning. Simply use lukewarm water, a glass jar, and some toothpicks. The toothpicks prop the tuber tip just slightly in the water and encourage the roots to grow down. Soft water contains too much salt and will prevent sprouting. If you know your tap water is soft, use distilled water. Change the water every few days. In a few weeks, you’ll have roots. Once those roots form, you can transfer them to your indoor or outdoor garden into an area adequate for potato production.
This plant will grow in poor soil, but fertilizer is nice, especially if you want to extend its life. With a good fertile soil base, add a well-balanced full spectrum slow-release fertilizer at the onset, then fertilize with a high phosphorous mix every few weeks in the growing process. Plants that grow tubers love phosphorus-rich organic fertilizers. Bone meal, sea kelp, and green sand are great options. Especially for indoor situations, using dry fertilizers may be best. It keeps the mess away!
To grow these plants purely for their foliage (whether aesthetically or to eat the greens) a high nitrogen fertilizer will help fortify those stems and leaves.
Because the vines of this plant are profuse, you’ll need to prune regularly. This goes for an indoor and outdoor garden. To promote a mound-like plant, snip a few areas where a pair of leaves exist. This will encourage the vine to split. When you prune the vine, you can consume the edible leaves as well, just like you would other greens. They’re pungent and spicy raw. They can also be cooked in butter with a little salt to even out the flavor. Pruning promotes stronger development of stems and tuberous roots. This goes for plants that are trellised too. Overall, prune and eat the green leaves as needed.
There are a couple of different ways to sprout your sweet potato vine. Sprout them from slips to be transferred into your garden, or root a whole potato. For slips, allow an organic sweet potato to grow eyes by storing them in a box with sand or peat moss over winter. Then cut the sprouts from the tuber in spring or summer and plant them in your indoor garden. Once the leaves and stem grow to four inches tall, you’re ready to treat them as you would a mature vine.
To root whole potatoes, use toothpicks to prop tubers above water in a clear jar and allow roots to grow down for a few weeks. Change the water every three to four days, and plant the entire potato when roots have formed. From the potato, green leaves will grow into a large vine.
Alternatively, take cuttings from a vine, place them in a clear jar with lukewarm water, and allow roots to form for a few weeks. Remove the leaves at the base where the water will be before immersing them in water. When adequate roots form, plant the cuttings in starter pots and then transfer them to a larger pot when they’re at least four inches tall.
Make sure to give each of the green cuttings and sprouts enough room. They’ll need at least 24 inches between plants. If you want veggies large enough and edible greens ample enough, space is the way to ensure you’re doing well.
Sweet potatoes are spring and summer-loving plants. If they get too cold, they’ll brown and die back. Too warm, and they’ll scorch. If you see browning on the leaves, it could be a sign your temperature is off. Remove damaged foliage and adjust the temperature.
Even in the outdoors in spring tubers of this kind will experience root rot when they’re too wet for too long. This is more likely when you propagate from slips. Remember to provide media for drainage, and don’t water until the top two inches are dry. If you find your plants have a soft and browning stem, remove the damaged parts, and try to transplant them into a new, dry medium.
Fungus gnats could be an issue in plantings that are too wet for too long. To prevent these, use indoor plant sticky traps, or use a homemade organic vinegar trap to lure gnats in where they can’t get out. If they’ve infested a plant, remove all the planting media and replace it with fresh soil. Applying Mosquito Bits or a liquid form of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a natural soil bacteria, can also help reduce problems with fungus gnats.