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Sweet Potato Varieties: Learn About Different Types Of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Varieties: Learn About Different Types Of Sweet Potatoes


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

There are more than 6,000 different varieties of sweet potatoes worldwide, and growers in the United States can select from more than 100 different types. Sweet potatoes are versatile veggies that may be mild or extra sweet, with flesh of white, red, yellow-orange or purple. Skin color of sweet potato types vary widely from creamy white to rosy red, tan, purple or yellow-orange. If that isn’t enough to think about, sweet potato vines can be compact, vigorous, or semi-bush. Read on to learn about a few of the most popular sweet potato varieties.

Varieties of Sweet Potato

Here are some common sweet potato types:

  • Covington – Rosy skin with deep orange flesh.
  • Darby – Deep red skin, deep orange flesh, vigorous vines.
  • Jewel – Coppery skin, bright orange flesh, semi-bush.
  • Bunch Porto-Rico – Yellow-orange skin and flesh, compact bush.
  • Excel – Orange-tan skin, coppery orange flesh, average to vigorous vines.
  • Evangeline – Rosy skin with deep orange flesh.
  • Heartogold – Tan skin, deep orange flesh, vigorous vines.
  • Red Garnet – Reddish-purple skin, orange flesh, average vines.
  • Vardaman – Pale orange skin, reddish-orange flesh, short vines.
  • Murasaki – Reddish purple skin, white flesh.
  • Golden Slipper (Heirloom) – Pale orange skin and flesh, average vines.
  • Carolina Ruby – Deep reddish-purple skin, dark orange flesh, average vines.
  • O’Henry – Creamy white skin and flesh, semi-bush.
  • Bienville – Pale rose skin, dark orange flesh.
  • Envy – Pale orange skin and flesh, average vines.
  • Sumor – Creamy tan skin, tan to yellow flesh, average vines.
  • Hayman (Heirloom) – Creamy skin and flesh, vigorous vines.
  • Jubilee – Creamy skin and flesh, average vines.
  • Nugget – Pinkish skin, pale orange flesh, average vines.
  • Carolina Bunch – Pale coppery, orange skin and carrot-colored flesh, semi-bush.
  • Centennial – Medium-large, semi-bush potatoes with copper skin and pale orange flesh.
  • Bugs Bunny – Pinkish-red skin, pale orange flesh, vigorous vines.
  • California Gold – Pale orange skin, orange flesh, vigorous vines.
  • Georgia Jet – Reddish-purple skin, deep orange flesh, semi-bush.

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Read more about Sweet Potatoes


I lived on this island off the Southern coast of China for 3 months, and I survived in large part on sweet potatoes (in addition to salted duck eggs, roasted duck, and fresh fish!).

One of the things that always bothered me when living in China was I couldn’t tell what type of sweet potato I was buying. My friend, who is living in Okinawa, expressed the same problem.

So, when we discussed our favorite types (I know, it’s the sort of geeky conversation foodies indulge in!), we’d resort to laborious descriptions of what the skin looked like, what color the flesh was, how it tasted, etc.

So, when I spotted these 5 varieties of sweet potatoes in Whole Foods the other day, I decided to document them with photographs and notes!


How to Grow

Climate

Sweet potatoes grow best in warm to hot climates. Plants can be damaged by temperatures below 50ВєF. The roots mature in 4 to 5 months.

Sweet potatoes grow best in all soil types provided they are fertile, moist, well drained and nutrient rich. Centennial is a clay tolerant variety.

Soil Preparation

Before planting, determine fertilizer needs with a soil test and use the recommendations given with the test report. If fertilizer applications are warranted, work the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil. If you fertilize with compost, apply no more than 1 inch of wellcomposted organic matter per 100 square feet of garden area. Work complete fertilizers into the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Then form 8-10 inch tall raised beds to provide good drainage and a place for root development to occur.

Plants

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips, which are plant sprouts from the root. They can also be grown from vine cuttings. If you only need a few plants, grow your own slips from a root suspended in a container of water. To grow more plants, place several sweet potato roots about one inch apart in a hotbed and cover with 2 inches of sand or light soil. Add another 1 to 2 inches of sand when the shoots begin to appear. Keep the soil in the bed moist throughout the sprouting period, but never allow it to become waterlogged. Maintain a soil temperature of 70-80В°F. The slips are ready to pull in about 6 weeks (when they are rooted and 6 to 8 inches tall).

Planting and Spacing

Slips are planted in the field after the danger of frost is over. Plant slips in rows 36-48 inches apart, spaced 12 inches apart within the row. A good slip should have 4-5 leaves and a healthy root system. Water regularly after planting to help the plants establish.

Mulches

Use of mulches will conserve moisture and reduce weed problems. For early sweet potatoes, plant through black plastic mulch up to ten days before planting in uncovered soil. Use floating row covers for additional frost protection.

Water

Sweet potatoes are quite drought tolerant but grow best when provided with ample water after planting, and as they grow. As plants mature, water with moderation as late watering can cause root cracking.

Fertilization

In addition to the fertilizer applied at planting, sweet potatoes should be side dressed with additional nitrogen fertilizer at ВЅ lb. (21-0-0) per 100 square feet in early July for optimum vine growth and tuber sizing.


How to Grow Sweet Potatoes: Sprouting Your Own Slips

Growing sweet potatoes is a year-round adventure, with lots of activities to keep you busy even in the winter and spring. They’re also an easy vegetable to seed-save and grow again each year. It’s fairly simple, with a bit of knowledge and work, to produce your own sweet potato slips (sweet potato vines) for transplanting. And if you sprout your own roots, you’ll get 2-3 times more slips per sweet potato. That’s a lot of extra taters.


Sweet Potato Types - Growing Different Varieties Of Sweet Potatoes - garden

Very often what grows in a garden are those fruits and vegetables we enjoy eating. Though, sometimes our gardens may exceed our appetites. After growing fifteen kale plants, my family determined, we probably could live off of two. And ten cherry tomato bushes were nine too many. One vegetable, my family does enjoy regularly is sweet potato. Baked, boiled, or fried – sweet potatoes are used more often than potatoes in my home, making it a good candidate for the garden. Let’s examine what it takes to grow sweet potatoes in our Central Illinois climate.

Sweet potato (Ipomea batatas), is a tender vegetable native to Central and South America that requires a long frost-free growing season to mature. Sweet potatoes are not true potatoes. What is harvested from the sweet potato is a tuberous root as opposed to a white potato which is a tuber.

Early spring is the time to start sweet potatoes from plants called “slips”. Order slips from a reputable seed company or make your own. Slips can be started by taking a disease-free, fully grown sweet potato from last year’s crop or the supermarket, and bury the bottom three-quarters in moist sand. In my house, we start slips by using toothpicks to suspend the sweet potatoes in a cup of water. Make sure to change the water routinely as it will turn foul after about a week. Within a couple of weeks, the sweet potato root will sprout slips, which are green shoots with exposed roots. Carefully remove the slips and plant them in the garden once all danger of frost is clear. Our family enjoys growing sweet potatoes in large containers. I’ve even grown them in hanging baskets.

If you plant sweet potatoes in the ground they should go into a mound of loose loamy soil that reaches eight-inches high. Give sweet potatoes plenty of room as these vining plants prefer to spread. At a minimum, space sweet potatoes 12-inches apart and three-feet between rows.

Little care is required once the sweet potato vines establish themselves. It can take a few weeks for the plants to establish. During this time keep on top of weeds sprouting in the garden bed. After establishment, the vines will take off in growth and ultimately cover the exposed soil in the garden bed. Where leaf nodes touch the ground, the plant sends out roots that can eventually yield more sweet potatoes. Much of my summer maintenance is redirecting sweet potato vines out of walking paths and back into the growing bed.

Ensure even irrigation however, don’t keep the root zone constantly wet. Do not water during the last four weeks before harvest to protect the developing roots from splitting.

The biggest issue for my sweet potatoes is rodents. Voles and other small critters enjoy the taste of sweet potatoes as much as me. The best option I found is planting in containers, which provide an effective physical exclusion from these pests.

Ideally, wait until after the first frost to harvest sweet potatoes- this concentrates the sugars in the roots. Once frost hits, harvest immediately to keep any decay from spreading aboveground to belowground. If there is a long stretch of cool weather (below 55°F but above freezing) it would be a wise decision to harvest, especially if the plants show cold weather damage. Cure sweet potato roots by allowing them to dry on the ground for two to three hours, and then place in a warm room for 10 to 14 days with a temperature of 85°F and 85% relative humidity. To keep humidity high, wrap individual sweet potatoes in perforated plastic bags or newspaper. Cover the sweet potatoes with a plastic sheet or cloth. After curing, store in a cool (55°F), dry location. Basements work well. Properly cured sweet potatoes should keep the entire winter.

One sweet potato plant will yield at least two pounds. Sweet potatoes are graded based on their size. Some of the tuberous roots are bigger than my head. In my garden, this is common to have one of these large sweet potatoes per plant and commercially these massive roots get sent to processing plants to make sweet potato fries. The medium-sized roots make their way to grocery store produce aisles. You’ll undoubtedly get some small sweet potatoes. I like to call these fingerling sweet potatoes and they taste just as good as the big ones.

Sweet potatoes have many different varieties. Beauregard does well in Northern parts of the US and is the only one I’ve grown. Here are some selections to investigate for your garden:

  • Beauregard (100 days to harvest, light purple skin, dark orange flesh, extremely high yielder from Louisiana State University)
  • Bush Porto Rico (110 days, compact vines, copper skin, orange flesh, heavy yield)
  • Centennial (100 days orange skin, flesh good keeper resistant to internal cork, wilt)
  • Georgia Jet (100 days, red skin, orange flesh, somewhat cold tolerant)
  • Jewell (100 days, orange flesh, good yield, excellent keeper)
  • Sumor (ivory to very light yellow flesh, may be substituted for Irish potatoes in very warm regions)
  • Vardaman (110 days, golden skin, orange flesh, compact bush type, young foliage purple)

My favorite way to prepare sweet potatoes is to bake them in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the size). Place your sweet potato in a cast iron skillet to keep the drippings from making a mess in your oven. After baking, I cut open the potato, sprinkle a pinch of salt, and add just a drop of honey to bring out the sweet flavor.

Oh, and just so we can clear this up, sweet potato is not related to the yam, though in the marketplace the two names are often used interchangeably. The true yam, Dioscorea sp., is an entirely separate species that grows only in the tropics. Ken Johnson dives into this topic to help you settle any botanical argument. Over Thanksgiving dinner, when someone asks to, "Pass the yams," you'll be ready. Check his article here What's the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams?

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Planting and Care

Sweet potatoes can be planted in the spring through the end of June. They grow well in sandy soil and don't require much fertilizing.

Sweet potatoes are typically started from transplants called "slips." Slips are baby plants that sprout from a mature sweet potato. While you could grow sweet potatoes slips yourself, it is always a good idea to start out with certified disease-free plants or vine cuttings from a reputable garden supply. Sweet potato weevils can be a serious problem and starting out with certified-free transplants can help you avoid issues.

Look for transplants that are about 6 to 9 inches long. Plant your sweet potatoes in rows spaced 48 to 54 inches apart with 12 to 14 inches between each plant. Sweet potatoes will do best when they receive a consistent supply of water often inconsistent watering can cause your sweet potatoes to split while growing.

You can keep your sweet potatoes going throughout the season by using vine cuttings to create new plants.

Right plant, right place

Nematodes can sometimes be a problem in Florida, so consider having your soil tested before you plant. You can reduce disease problems with your sweet potatoes by having a two-year rotation between your crops. Rotating where you plant can help prevent problems with a major pest, the sweet-potato weevil (Cylas formicarius).

For the tastiest sweet potatoes, always dig up the previous crop and start a new planting. While sweet potatoes can be grown in tropical regions year-round, plants that are left to grow for too long can encourage pest populations, and the sweet potatoes eventually become too large and tough for most people's tastes.

Pick Florida-friendly varieties

'Centennial' and 'Beauregard' are two varieties that grow well in Florida gardens. Gardeners with less space should consider 'Vardaman', a bush type of sweet potato that's great for smaller gardens.


Ornamental Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips rather than seed potatoes. Source: snaphappykate

Ornamental sweet potato vines have long been grown for their beauty. While they grow from actual sweet potatoes, these varieties certainly are not food. While they won’t kill you, their taste may just turn you off of actual sweet potatoes for life!

These vines have been bred for their beautiful leaf shapes and colors. Some vines are prolific and meant to cover great areas as a ground cover. Others are small and compact, great for growing in small areas or in containers. Ornamental sweet potatoes can come in green, purple, red or bronze colored leaves.

Blackie

A fast-growing deep purple cultivar with a maple shaped leaf, this vine will grow well in warm weather. Unlike many other ornamental vines, this vine will flower, producing a light violet trumpet shaped flower.

Margarita Sweet Potato

This fast-growing light green vine is a great way to quickly cover walls or open areas. If grown in the shade, the leaf will turn a deeper green color.

Sweet Caroline ‘Bewitched with Envy’

This bright lite green vine with spade-shaped leaves is a heat-tolerant variety that performs well both in full sun and partial shade. A fast grower, be sure to keep it from smothering small slow-growing plants nearby. It may need to be trimmed back occasionally to control growth.

Desana

This multicolored purple-silver vine is a true showstopper. It grows up to four feet across and produces an array of maple shaped leaves in different shades of purple.

Medusa

With wonderful maple shaped leaves looking like it’s right out of New England, this is a great addition to an ornamental garden or small balcony or patio. It is very easy to care for needing less water than other varieties and does well in both full and partial shade. Given its mounding instead of trailing tendencies, it would do well in hanging baskets.

About the writer, Elizabeth Cramer:

Elizabeth Cramer is a chef, plant lover, and potter. She loves teaching others how to cook and grow their own food. A California native who spent her childhood within earshot of the San Diego Zoo’s orangutans, she now lives by the beach where she battles powdery mildew and farmers’ tans.

Her love of food and where it comes from stems from her time spent living in Spain as an adolescent where she lived downwind from an olive oil factory, biked to school among olive and orange groves, and ate fresh local food. Right out of college she joined community gardens and really began to really fall in love with watching plants grow. A plant obsessive, she’s recently begun canning in an effort to meet her goal of living 100% off of her own land.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:


Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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