Nixa Hardware

Don’t give up on sweet potato vines after first frost

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"Margarita" or "Marguerite" sweet potato vine introduces a bright chartreuse into a landscape. There are a multitude of sweet potato vines available; even their tutors have bright colors; just don't eat them.

“Margarita” or “Marguerite” sweet potato vines introduce a bright chartreuse into a landscape. There are a multitude of sweet potato vines available; even their tutors have bright colors; just don’t expect to eat them. They are nasty bitter and nearly pure starch.

If your ornamental sweet potato vines are still flourishing as cooler fall temperatures arrive, don’t count them out just yet. This is one versatile vine you’ve nurtured and watered all summer.

Sweet potato vines have a multitude of uses, and are one of the easiest plants to grow. Use them as a ground cover, as foliage in flower boxes, planters and even hanging plants, and don’t hesitate to snip off a start to move them into an expected bare spot. They root in days, but our advice is to get them started well before you need them, and then you’re ready. Dig it?

Although sweet potato vines are tender above grow, don’t give up if they get nipped. Given a few warm, sunny days, they are likely to sprout new growth, and you’re on your way again.

Sweet potato vines can even go completely dormant, over-winter in the ground, and come back next spring if we have a mild winter. Our advice is to add a thick layer of straw or mulch and don’t give up. When ground temperatures begin to warm, they will likely grow again, and you may get ground cover like the spread in the photo above

In addition to “Marguerite,” or “Margareita,” other popular choices include “Blackie,” with deeply lobed dark purple to almost black leaves, “Tricolor,” with light green, pink and white foliage and the “Sweet Caroline” series. Colors in the series are green, bright lime green, purple and bronze. “Sweet Caroline Bronze,” with its coppery-bronze on top growth and violet underneath.

Ornamental sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are a true sweet potato grown for their  incredible foliage instead of edible tubers. Although theoretically edible, they are almost pure starch, bitter tasting and not suitable unless you happen to be stuck on a desert island.

Sweet potato vines are tropical plants that tolerate the intense heat and humidity and should not be planted until daytime temperatures reach the 80s. While they grow best in full sun, they can handle light shade, but won’t grow as vigorously. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. Limp plant leaves will tell you when they need water and vines will perk quickly after watering.

Few pests bother ornamental sweet potato vine, other than the sweet potato looper that can chew holes in the leaves. Since the vines grow so quickly, a few holes in leaves are hardly worth treating.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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