Sweet Potato Vines — The Best “Spillers” Ever

June 29, 2016 | By | Comments (5)
'Margarita' sweet potato vine

‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine with coleus and ivy in Charleston window boxes. Photo: Steve Bender

Anyone who’s gardened in containers for long knows the magic formula — for an effective container, you need a “thriller” (upright, showy plant), “fillers” (mounding plants on the sides), and “spillers” (trailing plants that cascade over the sides). And there can be no doubt that the most popular thrillers of all are the many selections of sweet potato vine.

Closely related to real sweet potato, sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) don’t form edible tubers. But who cares? Their eye-popping foliage creates a splash of bright color faster than just about any plant I know. The leaves can be yellow, chartreuse, burgundy, nearly black, red, light green, or variegated. They can be three-lobed, heart-shaped, or deeply cut like a Japanese maple leaf.

If memory serves, the first two selections offered were the bright chartreuse ‘Margarita’ (‘Marguerite’), above, and the deep purple ‘Blackie.’ These extremely vigorous plants grow 8-10 feet or more in a single growing season, so you often see them planted as a seasonal ground cover. Next in line came ‘Ace of Spades,’ featuring heart-shaped, purple leaves.

'Ace of Spades'

‘Ace of Spades.’ Photo: garden.org

It’s a little less rampant than the first two, although 6 feet of growth in one season isn’t out of the question. I like it a lot more than ‘Blackie.’

These first three selections need pretty big containers, lest they conquer and kill pretty much all of their thriller and filler companions. Fortunately, there are options, like this one.

'Goldfinger' sweet potato vine.

‘Goldfinger.’ ymkergreehouse.com

‘Goldfinger”offers deeply cut, bright chartreuse leaves. It spreads only 24-36 inches. And thanks to the breeding work done at North Carolina State University, we now have the compact-growing Sweet Caroline Series and the Illusion Series as well.

Sweet Caroline 'Raven.'

Sweet Caroline ‘Raven.’ Photo: proven winners.com

How do you like Sweet Caroline ‘Raven?’ It’s bushy and compact, growing only 2 to 4 feet. This is such an improvement over the older ‘Blackie’ that ‘Blackie’ should go into voluntary exile before it is sent by force to North Korea.

Illusion 'Garnet Lace'

Illusion ‘Garnet Lace.’ Photo: extensionmsstate.edu

How about Illusion ‘Garnet Lace?’ Wow! I love the color. I love the finely cut leaves. But I do not love it more than my wife. That would be wrong of me. This one spreads 2 to 4 feet.

How To Grow
Sweet potato vines like heat and sun. The more they get, the better they do. They’ll grow in light shade, but their colors will be duller. Give them moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Plants in containers should be goosed with liquid fertilizer every two weeks. They’re winter hardy as far north as USDA Zone 8. ‘Margarita’ and ‘Blackie’ form large tubers you can dig and save over winter in colder zones, but the others do not.

The most common problem people experience with sweet potato vines is discovering leaves riddled with holes. This is the handiwork of the sneaky golden tortoise beetle. ‘Margarita’ is its favorite. To control this pest, plant a different selection or spray your plants according to label directions with neem oil or spinosad.

 

COMMENTS

  1. Mary Kay

    Often wondered if there is any variety of edible sweet potato plants (which are quite cheap) that could be grown as ornamentals.

    July 22, 2016 at 11:10 pm
  2. Vicki Spratt

    I planted sweet potato vines in 2 separate container on my patio and they were doing great and two days ago one of them just dried up and look dead. The other one looks great. Any suggestions so that it doesn’t happen to the other container

    July 17, 2016 at 5:40 pm
  3. Angela Culpeper

    Is there a source for seeds to start these? They’ve become more expensive as they’ve become more popular.

    July 6, 2016 at 9:39 pm
  4. Mr. Bill

    Very nice article. Very informative good pictures too.

    July 1, 2016 at 3:25 pm
  5. Sissy

    Love reading your articles. Always very fresh.

    June 29, 2016 at 4:52 pm

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