How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

There is nothing better than growing something new and having it work. In early spring I wanted to try growing yams and sweet potatoes but it was very difficult to find the slips used for growing. I knew then I would have to try rooting some myself.

How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

I bought a selection of yams and sweet potatoes from various sources, some organically grown and some not. I was able to find some super sweet California yams, regular yams and sweet potatoes. I grabbed my mason jars and filled them with water so that each half of a potato would be touching the water. I used toothpicks to support the potatoes along the side of the jar. What was interesting is one end of the potato roots better than the other which makes sense. At some point they were grown with one end as a root end and the other attached to the plant. They grow just like regular potatoes forming tubers as they grow. Conditions need to be warm out before they can go outside. The yams and sweet potatoes rooted quickly sending their roots deep into the water. Once they were rooted I potted them up in a pot of soil in the greenhouse until they could go outside.


Here yams and sweet potatoes are planted outside in June when the soil is warm. I actually broke slips off the potatoes as they grew and planted them in separate pots. The original plant continues to make slips all season long. They root within a week. The rooted plants were transplanted outside to a raised bed in early June. I chose an area on the south side of the greenhouse guaranteed to get reflected heat from the greenhouse windows. It worked! The photo above was taken at the end of June. Did you know sweet potatoes are a member of the morning glory family? I planted the rooted cuttings about 12″ apart. They need a loose soil so they do well in raised beds where you can amend the soil easily.

How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

This week I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to see how the plants were doing. I gently dug around the outside of the plants and was surprised to see how far they grew underground. They came up as a large clump and all kind of curled together.I am not sure if that is normal as its my first time growing them. The photo at the top of the page is what I harvested from two plants. They are not huge like grocery store yams but still okay to eat. You can see how tiny new yams are hanging down below the clump so if we had a longer growing season I would have left them in the ground to mature.

How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

As the plants grew, they set roots into the soil as they spread along the soil surface. You can see above how roots formed to create new plants. So will I grow them in 2017? Yes, but I think I will try to plant them a couple of weeks earlier and maybe warm up the raised bed with a layer of black plastic for a couple of weeks. When harvesting you need to remove as much soil as you can from the tubers so they store well. I brought these yams into the kitchen to dry and they have done well sitting in a  bowl on the counter. I have since found out that sweet potato and yam slips are not sold here as this crop does not store well. The rest of my crop is still in the ground and will be harvested in the next two weeks.

Update: After a reader comment earlier I thought it would be fun to see if you really know your yams and sweet potatoes. Most grocery stores don’t sell real yams but they are named yams just to confuse us. I am not sure why that is. Anyway, here is a link that somewhat explains the differences.

2 thoughts on “How to Grow Yams and Sweet Potatoes

  1. You are not growing yams, just sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) incorrectly called yams. Yams (genus Dioscorea) are not grown in the US. Sweet potatoes are often mistakenly called yams but the two are quite different plants.

    1. I agree, but this is what they are called here in the stores. I saw a photo of real yams and they look so different from what we buy. Funny as I worked in retail and had to know the difference between yams and sweets and it was wrong all those years. I won’t tell a cashier they aren’t yams or they will think I am crazy. I am in Canada so I was happy to even get a small crop of potatoes.

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