Sweet Potato Varieties
To grow sweet potatoes you have to start with young sweet potato plants, variously called slips, draws, poles or transplants. These are simply tall sprouts grown from sweet potatoes kept from the previous crop. You can call these sprout-producing sweet potatoes "seed potatoes". One potato will produce many slips or plants.
You can grow your own plants, or buy them from a local garden center or a mail-order company. Most home gardeners purchase plants locally or through the mail. Shop for "certified" plants, since these are grown under carefully controlled conditions and are virtually free of diseases and pests. Good slips will be stocky, 6- to 9-inches long, and have at least 5 leaves, tough stems and healthy root systems.
If you order certified plants through the mail (an easy way for northern gardeners to start sweet potatoes), be sure to specify the date you want to receive them -- when your soil has warmed up and the danger of frost is past.
When you receive the slips, unpack them right away. Damaging heat can build up in a tight package of plants. The slips may look limp and pale, but they'll usually be fine. Sweet potato plants are tough. Even ones that smell a bit off can come back and give good results. To revive them before planting, stick the roots in water for a day or so, and they'll perk up. You can store the plants for a week or so if you must wait before planting them. Just pack the roots in damp peat moss or soil and keep them moist.
Sweet Potato Varieties
There are two basic types of sweet potatoes: moist- and dry-fleshed. Most of the popular varieties are the moist-fleshed types; these types convert more starch to sugar during cooking, making them sweeter to eat. The dry-fleshed types have a mealier texture when cooked and aren't as widely grown. Below are some of the most commonly available varieties to home gardeners.
'Beauregard' (90 days); Red-orange skin covers orange flesh. This new, quick-maturing variety produces high yields with little cracking.
'Bush Porto Rico' (110 days); Copper skin covers sweet, moist, deep orange flesh. An excellent baker and a good space-saving variety.
'Centennial' (100 days); Copper-orange skin covers fine-grained, soft orange flesh with tapered roots. Leading variety grown in the U.S.; high yielding and a good keeper.
'Georgia Jet' (90 days); Red skin covers moist, deep orange flesh. Extremely fast-growing type; good for the North.
'Jewell' (100 days); Copper-skin covers moist orange flesh. Vigorous vines produce shapely roots that are good keepers.
'Vardaman' (110 days); Golden yellow skin covers deep red-orange flesh. Bush variety with unique purple foliage.
'White Yam' (100 days); also called 'White Triumph'. White skin covers dry white flesh. One of the oldest sweet potato varieties; tubers grow on compact vines.
This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes / Getting Started.