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11 Sweet Potato Growing Mistakes That You Can Avoid

11 Sweet Potato Growing Mistakes That You Can Avoid

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Sweet potatoes, with their delicious taste and high nutritional value, are a rewarding crop for gardeners. However, like any plant, they have specific growing requirements that, if not met, can lead to less-than-stellar results.

As an expert gardening blogger, I have seen a variety of mistakes made in the cultivation of sweet potatoes.

Let’s walk through these common errors so you can grow healthy, abundant sweet potatoes in your own garden.

1. Starting with Low-Quality or Diseased Slips

A critical step in growing sweet potatoes is starting with high-quality, disease-free slips (young plants). A common mistake is using slips that are weak, diseased, or of poor quality.

This can lead to a slow start, poor growth, and a reduced yield. It’s important to source your slips from a reputable supplier or garden center.

Healthy slips should have vibrant green leaves and firm stems, indicating they are ready to thrive when planted.

2. Planting at the Incorrect Time

Sweet potatoes are warm-weather crops and sensitive to cold temperatures. Planting them too early in the spring, before the soil has warmed up, or too late in the summer, can hinder their growth.

The ideal time to plant sweet potato slips is a couple of weeks after the last frost date when the soil temperature is at least 65°F.

This ensures the slips won’t be shocked by cold soil and will have enough time to mature before the first frost of fall.

3. Ignoring Soil Preparation and Drainage

Soil preparation is key for growing sweet potatoes, but it’s often overlooked. Sweet potatoes prefer well-draining, sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH.

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Heavy, clayey, or rocky soils can impede root growth and lead to misshapen potatoes. Before planting, it’s advisable to work in plenty of compost or aged manure to improve soil fertility and structure.

Additionally, consider creating raised beds or ridges to enhance drainage, as sweet potatoes do not thrive in waterlogged conditions.

4. Overcrowding the Plants

A frequent mistake in growing sweet potatoes is planting the slips too close together. Overcrowding can limit air circulation and sunlight exposure, leading to poor root development and smaller sweet potatoes.

It’s essential to space the slips about 12-18 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart. This spacing allows each plant enough room to spread out and develop a healthy root system, leading to larger and more plentiful sweet potatoes.

5. Inadequate Watering Practices

Water management is crucial for sweet potatoes. Both overwatering and underwatering can be detrimental to their growth.

Sweet potatoes need consistent moisture, especially during the early stages of growth and when tubers are forming. However, too much water can lead to root rot and other diseases.

Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. As harvest time approaches, you can reduce watering to help harden off the potatoes for harvest.

6. Neglecting Pest and Disease Control

Sweet potatoes can be susceptible to various pests and diseases, and failing to manage these can significantly impact the yield and quality of your crop.

Common pests include sweet potato weevils and wireworms, while diseases like fusarium wilt and root rot are also concerns.

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Regular monitoring, using organic or appropriate chemical controls, and employing preventive measures like crop rotation and proper sanitation can help keep these issues at bay.

7. Harvesting Too Early or Too Late

Harvest timing is crucial in sweet potato cultivation. A common mistake is harvesting either too early, which results in undersized tubers, or too late, which risks damage from frost.

Sweet potatoes are typically ready to harvest 90 to 120 days after planting. Look for signs like the yellowing and dying back of the foliage as indicators.

Harvesting at the right time ensures the tubers have reached their full size and flavor potential.

8. Improper Curing and Storage

After harvesting, curing sweet potatoes is a step that’s often overlooked but is essential for enhancing their sweetness and extending their shelf life.

Cure sweet potatoes by keeping them in a warm, humid environment for about 10 days. This process heals any skin damage and prepares them for storage.

After curing, store them in a cool, dry place. Mistakes in curing and storage can lead to reduced flavor and spoilage.

9. Forgetting to Rotate Crops

Not practicing crop rotation is a mistake that can lead to increased disease and pest problems in sweet potatoes.

Growing sweet potatoes in the same soil year after year can accumulate pests and diseases specific to them.

Rotating sweet potatoes with other crops can break these cycles, reducing the risk of soil-borne diseases and pests. Crop rotation also helps maintain soil health and fertility, which are crucial for a healthy sweet potato crop.

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10. Failing to Use Mulch

A common oversight in growing sweet potatoes is not using mulch. Mulching provides multiple benefits: it helps retain soil moisture, suppresses weeds, and can regulate soil temperature.

Organic mulches like straw or grass clippings are ideal. They not only keep the soil moist but also add nutrients as they break down.

Not mulching can lead to a harder soil surface, increased weed competition, and fluctuating moisture levels, all of which can negatively affect sweet potato growth.

11. Ignoring Soil Fertility

Sweet potatoes require nutrient-rich soil to produce their best yield. A mistake some gardeners make is ignoring the fertility of the soil before and during the growing season.

While sweet potatoes can tolerate poor soil, they thrive in soil that is rich in phosphorus and potassium. Conducting a soil test before planting can guide you in properly amending your soil.

Using well-rotted compost or a balanced fertilizer can greatly enhance soil fertility and, consequently, the health and productivity of your sweet potato plants.

By avoiding these 11 common mistakes, you can enjoy a successful and rewarding sweet potato growing experience. Happy gardening, and savor the delicious and nutritious bounty of your harvest!