Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Favorite or New Plant
Sweet Potato Shoots
Sweet potato was a favorite childhood plant, with its pretty foliage growing from a potato propped in a canning jar and filling a north-facing window. Get started now growing shoots for food production, to be planted outside in May. Place small to medium-sized tubers in a container that drains well, and cover them with light, sandy soil or potting mix. Keep the soil damp but not soggy and place them in a 70- to 75-degree location in bright light. Sprouts will be ready for transplanting in four to six weeks.
An easy way to start sweet potato sprouts -- and give yourself an ornamental plant at the same time -- is to sprout a tuber in a glass or a jar filled halfway with water. Shoots will sprout from the top half, and root from the bottom half. You may even decide you like the foliage so much you want to keep it growing as a houseplant, perhaps stringing the vines around a window.
To plant the sweet potato shoots into the garden, carefully pull or cut the 9- to 12-inch shoots from the starter root, retaining attached roots. Plant these 12 inches apart in sandy, well-drained soil. Water them in well with a half-strength solution of a balanced fertilizer, and shade them from the hot midday sun for a week.
Clever Gardening Technique
To make deep-watering containers, bury liter soda bottles with their bottoms cut off, gallon or 5-gallon plant containers, or other plastic buckets with holes in their sides and bottoms into the soil up to their rims. Leave the hose running in them while you weed or harvest. Let water move into the soil, and fill again. This will direct water to plant roots a foot deep to sustain them even during really hot weather. For added nutrition each time you water, add a shovelful of manure or compost into the container.