Ornamental sweet potato vine: the morning glory’s cousin

Cuttings from fall.


The ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) has been one of the most popular additions to the container garden over the last few years. It has impressive lime-green, heart shaped leaves or dark-wine, cut-leaf foliage. This relative of the morning glory, just like the familiar moon flower, adorns our window boxes and cement urns with thick wondering stems that produce fast growing, bold and beautiful cascading foliage that spills over planters and weaves around its neighboring plants. Its vine-like stems resemble that of the philodendron plant. Gardeners plant these ornamental beauties in planters along with geraniums, impatiens, and a host of other colorful annuals; but it can also make a splash planted all by itself. It can also be used as a groundcover because it spreads quickly.

The ornamental sweet potato vine is the actual sweet potato, or root vegetable, that we eat; but growers have initiated this species for their bright and fancy leaves. Although it’s grown for its ornamental foliage; it is a sweet potato and it is edible. Some say it doesn’t have much taste, some say it’s bitter, and others think they taste just like the common sweet potato. The very small purple bloom looks like a tiny version of the morning glory, if you even notice them at all. There are four main varieties of the sweet potato vine; Blackie, with large dark purple to black cut-leaf foliage, and the first ornamental sweet potato on the scene; Margarita, with large lime green heart-shaped leaves; and Tri-color, boasting bright green, pink and white leaves. There are fairly new and exciting varieties such as Sweet Caroline red, with red, green, and bronze colored leaves; Blackheart, almost pitch black, and Sweet Caroline bewitched purple which is an incredible powdery purple. There are also new variegated varieties showing up in the garden center with pink, cream, green, purple, and maroon splashes that look as though the leaves have been splashed with paint.

This vine fast growing Ipomoea vine originates in the tropics such as Central America and the Pacific. It’s hardy in zones 9-11, but it’s grown as an annual in our zone 6. They love summer heat and full sun; but they’ll wilt if they get too dry, so keep them moist. If they’re in a planter in full sun, they must be watered almost everyday. If they wilt, don’t worry; once you water they will perk right up. They also do well in partial shade. Slugs love this garden delight; so if you can keep them off the ground, the slugs won’t get to them.

Soon, if not already, gardeners will be pulling out their worn out annuals from their planters. The weather will soon be too cold for sweet potato vine to survive outdoors. But wait, don’t just pull them out of the planters and throw them away! The tubers can be lifted from the pots to overwinter for next year. Pull them gently out of the ground and you’ll find the tuber; it’s the sweet potato that grows a sweet potato. Store tubers for the winter, and in spring, instead of buying new vines, you can plant the tubers right along with your annuals in the planters and watch them grow together. You can also grow a sweet potato vine indoors that will last all winter long in your window; and again, take them outside to plant in spring. And finally, you can also grow them indoors by taking cuttings from the vine now before frost arrives. Whether indoors or outdoors; If the sweet potato vine gets too long, cut it back a few inches to force the vine to grow fuller; then take the pieces of vine that you cut off and root it in water or moist soil. Ornamental sweet potatoe vines like a bright and sunny window and need the same basic care as the houseplant ivy.

You can have fun growing ornamental sweet potato vine right now and throughout the fall and winter by either using a sweet potato from the market, take cuttings from an existing vine in your planter and root it, or by harvesting the tubers to start growing now, or store for next spring.


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