Growing a Sweet Potato Vine


I love sweet potato vines trailing out of my hanging baskets in the summer and fall. (See my hanging baskets.) Rather than buy them this year, I thought I would grow my own. After all, it’s easy.


All you need is a sweet potato, some toothpicks, a jar, and some water.

Stick some toothpicks on one end of the sweet potato and stick it in a jar of water. You only want the bottom of the potato in the water. I made four. I was ambitious.

Put your jar(s) some place with light and wait for roots to appear. Once you have roots, cut off slips and put them in some soil to grow.

Only I never got that far. Six weeks of waiting and changing the water and keeping the cats out of it and even replacing one jar when the cats dumped it over and broke it and–

NO SWEET POTATO VINES. Nothing. Nada! It should work. But, for me, alas, no.

A reader took pity on me when I wrote about my sweet potato vine tribulations in the January CITR newsletter. Art from Winfield, West Virginia, starts his sweet potatoes this way:

“Cut your sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and lay the pieces cut side down in aluminum cake plates (or any low shallow pan) filled with moist peat moss. Put a shallow covering of moist peat moss over the potato pieces and wrap the whole thing in a plastic bag. As soon as the slips appear take off the plastic bag and place container in a sunny window. When the slips get a few leaves just pull it off the slips and stick them in some soil. Each slip makes a separate plant.”

Of course, I have no peat moss. However! I decided to attempt Art’s method with some moist potting soil, using a tin foil loaf pan.

I even bought a new sweet potato.

By the time I get some sweet potato vines going, I’ll have spent so much I could have bought twice as many sweet potato vines already started at the garden center. But. I’m on a mission! I can’t be stopped! It’s winter, and this makes me feel like I’m gardening.

Here we go.

I hope none of the hungry people around here mistake that for dessert.

P.S. See how my sweet potato vines using Art’s method turned out here.


  1. Karen Anne says:

    Some non-organic potatoes are treated with something that prevents sprouting. Perhaps the same is done to sweet potatoes.

  2. Val says:

    Oh Boy…this brought back some memories!! I did this AGES ago and had the most BEAUTIFUL green vine. I had it going up my pole lamp (remember THOSE?) and across my curtain rods in the living room. I bet that vine must have been 60 feet long! Then suddenly….it just DIED. I was devastated. Maybe they only live so long….I don’t know. I think I may do another one…it was so pretty. But the funny part of it is….when I first heard about this and tried it…I stupidly used a REGULAR potato! All I was getting was eyes and weird looking growths that weren’t green at all. A neighbor clued me in on the right kind of potato to use. (I felt so DUMB….and I was also a newlywed at the time…so I had a LOT to learn back then). Needless to say I was kidded about it for quite some time.

  3. Peggy says:

    I remember we has beautiful sweet potato vines growing in our kitchen window one year, but the next year they would not grow. My Dad would try to start sweet potatoes in sand to have slips for the garden. Some years they grew others they didn’t, even with his own home grow sweet potatoes. Who knows why and why not the growth.

    I had sweet potatoes in the kitchen that kept trying to grow and I kept taking off the little leaf buds. Usually I have problems with them drying up. I only have one left. They were kept out in the open in a room that always has a light on because we are in the basement with limited windows. They were in a plastic lined basket. When I first bought them they were really fresh and moist. Now the one I have left is drying, so maybe the new method will work. That potato looks really moist and the rest of the conditions are similar to what caused mine to grow.

  4. Carol Langille says:

    Good morning Miss Suzanne…I’ve never heard of cutting the potato in half but maybe that would work. I’ve always started the vines the way you first tried with one exception….the toothpicks went in the upper part, sticking out from the potato and resting on the top of the jar. The bottom of the potato was in the water but not with holes in it from toothpicks. I’ve never had any trouble starting them this way and I’ve done many of them!
    Good luck with however you do it…I love the vines, too. My mama always had a sweet potato vine growing.

  5. joycee says:

    I am so doing this project! I love the sweet potato vines in baskets, trailing off of rock walls and even in flower beds so I buy them every year. Mom always started them in water in the dead of winter when nothing else was green, winter makes you crave gardening! Happy Valentine’s Day sweetie!

  6. leavesofthefall says:

    Carol L’s suggestion is what I was going to send to you as well. My mother, a retired first grade teacher, always had sweet potato vines growing in her classroom…

  7. Carmen at Old House Kitchen says:

    You’re brave! I don’t think I could get them going. I’m interested in seeing how they turn out!

  8. Leslie says:

    My mom always did it the way Carol does….we always had the prettiest vines in the kitchen window….think I JUST may have to start one now!! 🙂

  9. Phyllis says:

    Isn’t it interesting that something so simple is difficult, and yet the birds drop a seed or two and instant sunflowers. Sweet potatoe vines are beautiful so I hope yours will work. Keep us informed.

  10. Linda Goble says:

    I always saved mine that I bought to put in pots by taking them out before frost and store them like you would dahlia’s and re pot in the spring. They grow fast.

  11. Java Mama says:

    What is the difference between the sweet potato plants you can buy to grow and the vines you all are talking about? is there a way to start the plants to grow in your garden from a sweet potatoe?

  12. Brenda E says:

    I’m really interested in seeing how this works. I’ve never had any luck with it either. When I was a kid we did this all the time with no problem but for some reason today’s potatoes don’t work for me. I really hope yours works so I can try this as I buy a bunch of these every summer. I love the vines – they grow so fast and so beautiful.

  13. Clare says:

    I don’t know if it makes a difference, but in my part of the country we call what you have pictured a yam. Maybe yams don’t sprout the same? Here, a sweet potato is a white root. Just sayin’. Good luck!

  14. Ramona says:

    Good luck with them. I’ve never started any, but sometimes they do it on their own.

  15. Joanne says:

    Just wondering, will these be sterile vines or can we expect to find a treasure in the fall under the vines we enjoyed all summer in the window boxes. I sure like them too, how about those dark purple vines?

  16. Mary Ellen says:

    Suzanne, I think you needed to have more of your sweet potato in the water. We used to alway have sweet potato vines in the kitchen and we usually had at least half of the potato in the water. Much like Carol was saying. Good luck.

  17. Gail says:

    Good Morning Suzanne. I am still fairly new to the site, and can not compliment you enough. So many kindered spirts in one place. Just keep brining it on m’am You are awesome. I started sweet potatoes in the jar with the tooth picks the first of Jan. and they have just started growing little purple tipped leaves, I have found it a very slow process, but it works. Just a lot of paitence. Also in the fall I will take slips and stick them in an old ball fruit jar and sit them in a sunny window. they will root and the vines will fill the window chgthe water weekly. Take cuttings from these vines the first of Jan. when they have well established roots pot them up for the growing season.

  18. Merlin says:

    I see what your problem is. Just like one commentor said, it’s where you put the toothpicks. The toothpicks in the picture the way you had it probably will not work because that’s where the roots would grow and the toothpicks are probably what’s preventing the roots growing right there. Instead, (as one commentor said) put the toothpicks around the top half of the sweet potato,lay the toothpicks that are on the top half of the sweet potato on top of the jar and the other half of the sweet potato is in the water. That’s how my mother and I did it, and we never had problems growing vines. However, I agree with you, when the vines grow, they are so pretty! Good Luck and Happy Valentine’s to you!!

  19. Tammy says:

    I slice off about 1/3 of the potato. Put toothpicks into the sides and balance them on the lip of the jar, cut-side of the potato in the water. I’m the farthest thing from a green thumb and it always works for me.

    Thanks for sharing your farm, Suzanne. I really enjoy it!

  20. Whaledancer says:

    I agree with Karen Anne: a lot of supermarket sweet potatoes are chemically treated so that they won’t sprout. I bet that was the problem. You may have better luck if you can get organic sweet potatoes, maybe at a farmers market. Or if you know anyone with a sweet potato vine, you can take a slip and stand it in water to root it. That’s the recommended way to do it if you want to grow sweet potatoes in the garden.

  21. Runningtrails says:

    Interesting idea!
    I grow them with toothpicks in water but it does take a very long time – 2-3 months. I used to think it just took that long but now I think it takes heat too and it’s the middle of cold winter on a droughty windowsill when I start them. They don’t root until it warms up some in March.

    I was going to start them on a heat mat this year, until Buck chewed the plug off the end of it! I might try your method as well and see which one works first.

  22. Runningtrails says:

    I have read that it depends on the variety too. Some newer varieties have been bred to take longer to sprout and sometimes they are sprayed with a retardant that prevents sprouting too.

  23. Eunice Moore says:

    Sweet potato vines are so pretty in hanging baskets especially with a purple flower which contrasts so well with the lime green leaves. Must pick up some sweet potatoes next time I shop.

  24. Ereline says:

    I was just thinking the other day about starting some vines. I haven’t done this for a long, long time but they are so pretty and fairly easy to start and maintain. Thanks for the reminder!

  25. Pat Smith says:

    Please keep us posted as to how your sweet potatoes grow (or not, whichever the case may be!). I’m not sure about the, “When the slips get a few leaves just pull it off the slips and stick them in some soil” part of the instructions. I absolutely LOVE your daily blogs! When I log onto the computer, your blog is always the first thing I look at!

  26. Flatlander says:

    I would be very interested in vines to start growing my own sweet potatoes.
    Will that work too, or is this just for decoration?

    Here in Canada we have SHORT summers, so I need to start indoors for sure, but ohhh growing my own sweet potatoes….

  27. Jan Alexander says:

    Well, I have to show my “dumbness” What are the slips and where do you cut them? I’ve only grown the white potatoes with the kids etc. Use whole ones and tooth pics.

  28. Paula Clark says:

    I’ve done them before using the glass and toothpick method. You do have to have a lot more of the sweet potato down in the water. I always rinsed out my glass and added fresh water every few days to prevent mold from starting. They make a cheap pretty house plant too. I have never tried to plant them to make sweet potatoes. I always ordered slips for that.

  29. Karen Anne says:

    Jan Alexander –

    from another website to save typing –

  30. lilac wolf says:

    lol – you need to get video of that if they do. Is there still a funny video show?

  31. Darlene in North Ga says:

    Are sweet potatoes like a lot of stuff we grow? Is there a stem end (where it attaches to the plant) and a blossom end (where the end of the flower was)? If so, then you may have put the wrong end into the water.

  32. Jan Alexander says:

    Karen Anne,
    Thank you so much for the info. Very interesting. As we speak, I’m on my way to the store to get several sweet potatoes.

    I was in Oklahoma several months ago and saw some beautiful hanging baskets. I asked what they were and they were sweet potato vines. I asked if they were from growing a sweet potato and was told no they purchase them from a nursery. Is this the same thing? I’m confused…..


  33. Phyllis says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    This will be fun to do with my granddaughter, Alissa Rose.

    I ready the story about the slanted house and am envious. I was born in Parkersburg, WV many years ago. It is a beautiful piece of heaven on earth!

  34. Linda says:

    I have been thinking of doing this also… mother just put a sweet potato in a jar filled mostly with water (no toothpicks) and she always had a beautiful vine. Good Luck!

  35. Jenn says:

    Great reminder! I will start some, too:) I can’t wait to check back in and see how yours are doing… Keep us posted! Fun fun fun…

  36. ad black says:

    I know this will sound like a silly question, but I’m trying the sweet potato thing and I actually have roots!!! But, what is a slip? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to cut it and how long I let the roots grow in the water.

  37. GrammieEarth says:

    I did the planting a few days after this post.
    I watched.
    I waited.
    I dithered.
    A bounty of white roots (good thing) but no sprouts.

    Repeat the watching, waiting and dithering.

    Yesterday I noticed several itty bitty leaf structures!! ( 1/4 inch) IMHO they are too little to leave their mama at this time.

    When should I pluck n plant for them to coerced into hanging beauties???


  38. JanetJenson says:

    It does not have to be that hard. To ensure that the potatoes are not ruined by chemicals just look in the bottom on the bin and see if any have already started sprouting. If so, good. Buy from that bin and just put the sweet potato on a countertop somewhere until more shoots form. Just leave it alone and soon the whole thing will be covered with leaves. You don’t need moss or dirt or anything. I just cut all the little clumps of leaves out and put each one in a bottle cap filled with water under a bright light. Roots will form in a day or so. When the roots are a couple inches long and the leaves are big enough not to fall through the opening, just stick each one these new little plants into a glass bottle of water. You want a bottle neck big enough to let air in, but small enough so the plants don’t fall through into the water. You will have a whole bunch of new vines in just a few days.

    BTW, the tender young leaves are edible. Very good sliced in an omelette, soup, or sauteed with potatoes.

    To make the plants fuller, start pinching them back and of course root the cuttings in water. You will easily get 30 or 40 new plants from just one sweet potato. If you want to take the plants outside to grow in a pot of dirt, they have to be hardened off. That means you baby them a bit after they first go in the dirt — no strong winds, no bright sun, not too wet, not too dry for a couple weeks, taking them in and out of the house so that they get used to the outdoors gradually. If you want the vines to produce leaves they like nitrogen (like eggshell), if you want tubers, then don’t give them nitrogen. Happy growing!

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