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 incorporate 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, which lends a tropical feel to the garden. The foliage comes in a range of colors, from bright gold to nearly black, and in varying forms, from lacy to heart-shaped. These vigorous vines can reach up to 10 feet long. They are most often used as a trailing accent in containers, though they can also be used as a groundcover or grown up a trellis.

Sweet potato vine originates from Central and South America, and was introduced to home gardeners in the 1990s. 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.

On this page: The Basics | Planting | Care | Choosing the Right Sweet Potato Vine | Pictures | Landscaping Tips

SWEET POTATO VINE BASICS

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

6 to 16 inches tall, 3 to 6 feet wide, up to 10 feet long

Exposure:

Though sweet potato vines can take some shade, they grow best when receiving at least 6 hours of full sun.

Bloom time:

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.

Toxicity:

Tubers are edible but not meant for consumption, as the taste is bitter or bland. 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.

HOW TO PLANT SWEET POTATO VINE

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. Sweet potato vines prefer hot, humid conditions similar to their native habitat. They may fail to thrive in dry desert climates. In cooler regions, boost performance by planting in a warm microclimate such as a south-facing wall or heat-absorbing patio.

How to plant:

Carefully remove the plant from the container it was bought in, so as not to damage the delicate stem. Gently tease out 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.

SWEET POTATO VINE CARE

Pruning and deadheading:

When planted in ideal conditions, sweet potato vines can quickly outgrow a space. Lightly prune or shape as needed.

Soil:

For containers, plant in a high quality all-purpose potting soil. If using as a groundcover in a garden bed, make sure soil is amended with rich compost and is well-draining.

Amendments & fertilizer:

Apply a timed-release fertilizer at the time of planting according to package instructions, or use a water-soluble fertilizer monthly.

Watering:

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.

Overwintering:

Sweet potato vines can be overwintered indoors from year to year 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.

Deer resistance:

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.

SWEET POTATO VINE VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ Buy now from Proven Winners
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Mounding sprawling habit, 6 to 16 inches tall, 3 to 4 feet wide, and trailing up to 5 feet long.

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Bright chartreuse in full sun, greener with light shade

The 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.

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Blackie’ Buy now from Proven Winners
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Sprawling habit, 6 to 10 inches high, 4 to 5 feet wide, and up to 6 feet long.

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Blooms in summer, producing more flowers than many other varieties.

Color:

Deep purple to nearly black foliage, pale lavender flowers

An older popular standby, ‘Blackie’ has deep-cut foliage resembling maple leaves. The large mature size makes this a good choice as a groundcover edging in a bedding display, or in a hanging basket or window box. Plant by itself or in a large container so that companion plants aren’t overwhelmed.

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Lime’ Buy now from Proven Winners
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Compact trailing habit, 6 to 16 inches tall, 20 to 36 inches wide, and trails to 20 inches long.

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Lime chartreuse, becoming greener in light shade

This more compact variety is suitable for containers and small spaces. The endearing heart-shaped foliage combines well with mounding Phantom petunia and upright purple fountain grass.

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Margarita’ (or ‘Marguerite’) Buy now from Proven Winners
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Sprawling habit, 4 to 10 inches tall, 4 to 5 feet wide, and trailing to 6 feet long.

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Chartreuse gold, becoming greener in light shade

This older variety with slightly lobed leaves can reach 6 feet or longer. The 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.

Photo by: R Ann Kautzky / Alamy Stock Photo

Sidekick™ Black
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

Semi-compact trailing habit, 12 to 14 inches tall and up to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Dark purple foliage that is nearly black.

This semi-compact variety with deeply lobed maple-shaped leaves is suitable for containers, hanging baskets or edging in a border. Provides season-long color and thrives in hot humid climates.

Photo by: Rock Giguere / Millette Photomedia

SolarPower™ Lime
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

Mounding spreading habit, 10 to 12 inches high and 2 to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Pinkish burgundy with hints of green

One of the best performers in hot climate, SolarPower™ Lime has dense branching and deeply cut, finger-like leaves. Use in containers, hanging baskets, or as edging in a landscape.

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Tricolor’
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Trailing habit, 6 to 12 inches high and 1 to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Foliage is pale green, with irregular streaks of pink and white

Less vigorous and more sensitive to cooler temperatures than other varieties, ‘Tricolor’ has delicate, ivy-shaped leaves. Combine in a container with Juliet™ Pink diascia, Petunia Easy Wave® Pink Passion, and spiky dracaena for a classic look.

Photo by: Proven Winners

‘Black Heart’
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Mounding spreading habit, 10 to 12 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Deep purple to nearly black in full sun; green undertones in partial shade

One of the darkest varieties, the heart-shaped leaves combine well with nearly any other color. Plant in a window box with ‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Lime’ sweet potato vine, Million Bells® Crackling Fire, and ‘Red Roof’ coleus for a sizzling pop of color.

Photo by: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia

‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

Annual, perennial in Zone 11

Height/Spread:

Trailing spreading habit, 8 inches tall and 5 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

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.

Photo courtesy of Rush Creek Growers, Inc.

Sweet Georgia® Bullfrog
Ipomoea batatas

Zones:

9-11

Height/Spread:

Compact mounding habit, 8 to 12 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Few to no blooms in summer

Color:

Deep purple with irregular green splotches

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.

SWEET POTATO VINE LANDSCAPING TIPS

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 at your home’s entrance or on a deck or patio for a compelling focal point. Combine a smaller variety with other warm-season annuals that tolerate the same amount of heat and water.
  • 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 window box that gets plenty of sun with trailing varieties that will spill over the edge. Combine with heat-loving annuals with upright structure 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.
  • Sweet potato vine combines well with a wide array of warm-season annuals. Possible companion plants include: 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.

Discover more DIY garden projects

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Annual Flowers to Consider for Your Garden
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