HOW TO GROW SWEET POTATOES IN NORTH FLORIDA

By: FrontYardFarmer , 11:37 PM GMT on March 29, 2010

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A warm, honey-sweet aroma fills the house when homegrown sweet potatoes are baking in the oven. Only their unbelievable taste surpasses the deliciousness of the rich, homey fragrance. Like so many other vegetables, sweet potatoes from a home garden explode with flavor. Oh, what great sweet potato pies they make for Thanksgiving!


Beauregard sweet potatoes
harvested from my front-yard
garden in Niceville in 2007.

And get this: Sweet potato plants love poor, sandy soil. What’s more, they experience few pest problems, require little regular tending or fertilizing, and thrive in our summer heat!

In North Florida, we plant sweet potatoes March through June. They grow best in hot weather, so I generally do not plant sweet potatoes until May or June. I begin harvesting them in November, or earlier for some varieties or for “baby bakers.”

I enjoy having sweet potatoes growing in my garden during the summer because they have such lush green foliage to look at when most everything else is dead or dying.

According to the University of Florida Extension, the recommended varieties of sweet potatoes for Florida are Porto Rico, Georgia Red, Jewel, Centennial, Coastal Sweet, Boniato, Sumor, Beauregard, Vardaman. Beauregard, or “Mississippi Red,” is a favorite of many local gardeners and is the one we like best. I have also grown Vardaman, Centennial and Georgia Red sweet potatoes.

Purchase sweet potato slips (sprouts cut from tubers) from local farm supply stores or from suppliers on the Internet, such as Gurney’s or Burpee.

Set plants 12 to 14 inches apart in mounded rows that are 8 to 12 inches high. A higher row allows more space for the potatoes to develop. The rows should be about 48 inches apart.

You can mix in a little low-nitrogen fertilizer before you plant, such as a 2-8-10 if you can find it. Many growers believe the potatoes are even sweeter when grown without fertilizer.

You will probably only have to weed once or twice, when the plants are young. As the plants get larger the dense foliage helps to shade out weeds.

Don’t have much garden space? Try growing sweet potatoes in a large container. A container about the size of a bushel basket works for one plant. Just fill it with some sandy soil and keep the plant watered throughout the summer.

Your sweet potatoes will be ready for harvest in about four or five months, after the plants begin to yellow. They can be harvested earlier if you prefer smaller potatoes.

Carefully dig out the tubers, removing them from the soil by hand. The skins are tender and should not be damaged. Put them in the shade to dry for a few hours if the weather will allow. Dry them indoors for about 10 days to toughen the skin.

For more, please visit my blog at FrontYardFarmer.com.

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5. FrontYardFarmer
1:24 AM GMT on April 07, 2010
Hi all,

Thanks for your comments.

Good luck, spathy. Hope the article helps.

ricderr, those same sweet potato varieties can be grown in South Florida but should be planted Feb-June.

Hope you had a wonderful Easter, peaceriver. I did.

stormygace, very interesting. Which county?
Member Since: December 15, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 11
4. stormygace
2:38 PM GMT on April 02, 2010
Check with your county ag extension service before ordering slips. We are not allowed to grow sweet potatoes in back yard gardens in our county because of the risk of bringing in root maggots which can be dispersed for MILES to farmer's fields - they decimate sweet potato crops. If spotted, the county will plow up your entire property (they did it to a little old man who had 3 rows of sweet potatoes in his front yard - all the way from the road to his foundation). We are not allowed to grow cotton or tobacco in residential gardens either.

It's too bad because our beach loamy sand would be perrrrfect for sweet potatoes.
Member Since: September 7, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 1107
3. PeaceRiverBP
2:20 PM GMT on April 02, 2010
HAPPY EASTER!

I'm not sure if I'll have much time to send Easter greetings over the weekend, so I'll take this opportunity to say I hope you all have a lovely holiday!

Member Since: November 16, 2002 Posts: 72 Comments: 7415
2. ricderr
11:52 PM GMT on March 29, 2010
Hey, I always love your blog and I have a question....is there a good variety of potato for south florida in a raised bed enviroment and when should it be planted?
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 676 Comments: 22276

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About FrontYardFarmer

Dennis Gilson, the Front-Yard Farmer, shares information, local insight and advice about growing vegetables, berries and fruit trees in North Florida