GROWING SWEET POTATO VINEAdd an exotic touch to your garden with these easy, quick-growing annuals
Sweet Caroline Bewitched Green with Envy™ sweet potato vine and Rockin® Deep Purple salvia. Photo by: Proven Winners
One of the easiest ways to create multi-seasonal interest in the garden is to use plants with interesting foliage. Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), named for its edible cousin, is an ornamental warm-season annual grown for its attractive leaves and vining habit. The foliage lends a tropical feel to the garden and comes in a range of colors and varying forms.
The vigorous vines can reach up to 10 feet long and are most often used as a trailing accent in containers. They can also be used as a ground cover or grown up a trellis. Newer varieties have been bred for disease resistance, a wider range of color and leaf shape, as well as compact sizes that are suitable for containers and small spaces.
- THE BASICS
- CARE AND MAINTENANCE
- HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SWEET POTATO VINE
- LANDSCAPING TIPS
- BONUS DIY TERRA COTTA PLANTER WALL
Annual, perennial in Zone 11
6 to 16 inches tall, 3 to 6 feet wide, up to 10 feet long
Best with at least 6 hours of full sun, they can take some shade.
Flowers are insignificant, with little to no bloom during summer.
Color and characteristics:
Plants have a mounding, trailing habit, with foliage in shades of chartreuse, gold, bronze, brown, red, purple and nearly black. Some have variegation or mottling. Leaves are heart-shaped, lacy or deeply lobed, similar to maple, ivy, or philodendron. Color is richest in full sun. Lavender or pink tubular flowers appear primarily on older varieties, though rarely.
Tubers are edible but not meant for consumption. Leaves contain the same principal ingredient as LSD, and can be highly toxic to pets if ingested. Call your veterinarian or poison control center immediately if your pet exhibits symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, or hallucinations.
Illusion® Midnight Lace sweet potato vine combined with Supertunia® Royal Velvet® and Superbells® Miss Lilac for a ‘Truly Elegant’ container. Photo by: Proven Winners.
When to plant:
Plant in spring or early summer when all danger of frost is past. Nighttime temperatures should be above 40 to 45 degrees to avoid cold damage. Minimum nighttime temperatures below 55 degrees can delay growth.
Where to plant:
Choose a sunny site with rich, well-draining soil. They prefer hot, humid conditions similar to their native habitat and may fail to thrive in dry desert climates. In cooler regions, boost performance by planting in a warm location such as a south-facing wall or heat-absorbing patio.
How to plant:
Carefully remove the plant from the container, being careful not to damage the delicate stem. Gently loosen the roots if potbound. Dig a planting hole twice the diameter and depth of the container and place the plant at the same level it was in the container. Gently tamp down soil around the base and water well. Spacing will vary, from 6 to 12 inches for smaller varieties and up to 2 feet for larger specimens.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Pruning and deadheading:
In ideal conditions, they can quickly outgrow a space. Lightly prune or shape as needed.
For containers, plant in a high quality all-purpose potting soil. If using as a ground cover in a garden bed, amend soil with rich compost and make sure it is well-draining.
Amendments & fertilizer:
Keep plants moderately moist, watering once a week, or more during hot spells. Don’t overwater or allow plants to dry out.
Diseases and pests:
When kept healthy, plants are resistant to most pests and diseases. Possible insect problems include sweet potato looper, whitefly, aphids, thrips, slugs, flea beetles, and weevils. Overwatering and poor drainage can cause fungal problems such as fusarium wilt, root rot or tuber rot.
Sweet potato vines can be overwintered indoors from tubers or cuttings. Plants can also be brought indoors and treated as houseplants. Store dormant tubers in a cool, dry place and replant in spring. Take cuttings several weeks before your average first frost date and place in water. Once roots have formed, cuttings can either be left in water until spring, or potted up.
Plants are generally considered resistant to deer grazing, though some gardeners have experienced damage.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SWEET POTATO VINE
With so many varieties to choose from, here are some tips to consider:
For bedding displays and borders:
Choose mounding and semi-compact varieties for the edge of a border, or larger trailing types that will quickly fill in larger areas.
For containers, hanging baskets and window boxes:
Select smaller, more compact varieties that won’t overwhelm other adjacent plants.
For slopes and walls:
Larger sprawling varieties will quickly cover large areas and drape down a slope or wall for a dramatic effect.
‘Margarita’ (or ‘Marguerite’) — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 4 to 10 inches tall, 4 to 5 feet wide, and trailing to 6 feet long.
Color: Chartreuse gold, becoming greener in light shade
Its large mature size and vigorous growth makes this a good choice as border edging or in a hanging basket. Plant along a rock wall and let it sprawl along the top and over the sides, or train up a trellis.
‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Lime’ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 16 inches tall, 20 to 36 inches wide, and trails to 20 inches long.
Color: Lime chartreuse; greener in light shade
A more compact variety suitable for containers and small spaces. Heart-shaped foliage combines well with mounding petunias and upright purple fountain grass.
‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 16 inches tall, 3 to 4 feet wide, and trailing up to 5 feet long.
Color: Chartreuse in full sun, greener with light shade
Deeply lobed, maple-like leaves light up the garden with bright lime-green color. Combine with Supertunia® Picasso in Purple® and Wizard® Rose coleus for a powerful punch.
Proven Accents® Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Jet Black™ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 16 inches high, trails up to 30 inches
Color: Nearly true black
Adaptable to sun or shade conditions, with colors being deeper in full sun. Loves heat and humidity; cooler temperatures make them stay more compact.
Proven Accents® Sweet Caroline Raven™ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 16 inches high, 20 to 36 inches wide
Color: Deep purple-black foliage
Deeply-lobed and dark foliage makes for great contrast when paired with other foliage or flowering plants in containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets.
Sweet Caroline Upside™ Key Lime — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 3 to 6 feet tall, 1-1/2 to 3 feet wide
Color: Chartreuse foliage
This variety features a unique climbing habit that is a twist on the usual trailing habit of sweet potato vines. Pictured with Sweet Caroline Upside™ Black Coffee.
Proven Accents® Sweet Caroline Bewitched Green with Envy™ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 10 to 16 inches high, spreads 18 to 30 inches wide
Color: Lime green foliage
Pair with other heat-loving flowering plants, such as angelonia, calibrachoa, or petunias, for a bright and cheerful combination.
‘Blackie’ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 10 inches high, 4 to 5 feet wide
Color: Deep purple foliage, to nearly black; pale lavender flowers
Deep-cut foliage resembles maple leaves. This variety produces more flowers than others. The large mature size makes this a good choice for ground cover edging or alone in a large container.
‘Tricolor’— Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 12 inches high and 1 to 3 feet wide
Color: Foliage is pale green, with irregular streaks of pink and white
Less vigorous and more sensitive to cooler temperatures than other varieties. Combine in a container with purple fountain grass and dark purple alternanthera.
Proven Accents® Illusion® Emerald Lace— Buy now from Proven Winners
Height/Spread: 6 to 10 inches high, 24 to 36 inches wide
Color: Yellow-green foliage
Provides both color and texture contrast to combinations in baskets, beds, and borders.
‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’
Trailing spreading habit, 8 inches tall and 5 feet wide
Brownish orange with green undertones
The deeply lobed leaves and long, trailing habit make this a good choice for hanging baskets, as a groundcover on a slope, or at the edge of a garden bed.
Sweet Georgia® Bullfrog
Compact mounding habit, 8 to 12 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide
Few to no blooms in summer
This novelty variety has an unusual mottled color pattern and deeply cut leaves. Plant by itself in a container or in combination with other warm-season annuals in the same color palette.
Featured in: Garden Design's Top 10 Garden Trends for 2022 ("Designing with Dark Foliage")
There are many ways to incorporate this semi-tropical accent into any landscape. Here’s how:
- Plant a larger variety along the top of a rock wall and allow it to spread vertically along the top and spill over the edge.
- Mass bigger varieties along a barren slope for a quick burst of color.
- Place a decorative container in your entryway or on a deck or patio for a compelling focal point.
- Train a longer variety up a trellis or arbor and combine with firecracker vine, scarlet runner bean, morning glory, or other quick-growing annual flowering vines.
- Plant a sunny window box with trailing varieties that will spill over the edge. Combine with upright, heat-loving annuals such as coleus or dracaena.
- Plant sprawling varieties along the front of a mixed border for easy pops of summertime color.
- Combine with other warm-season annuals in a hanging basket and place on a shepherd’s hook that can be moved around the yard when you need color in a particular area.
- Mix with a wide array of warm-season annuals, including coleus, petunia, calibrachoa, cordyline, ‘Bonfire’ begonia, lantana, ‘Profusion’ zinnias, cuphea and purple fountain grass.
BONUS: DIY TERRA COTTA PLANTER WALL
Maximize garden space and create a living backdrop. The plant list for this project includes 'Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Lime' sweet potato vine, along with a mix of Superbells® calibrachoa, Supertunia® petunias, African daisies, purslane, verbena, and other flowering annuals. Check out this time lapse video to learn how to build one for your garden.