Sweet Potato Vines—The Best "Spillers" Ever

Sweet Potato Vine Hanging Container Basket
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Lydia Pursell

Anyone who's gardened in containers for long knows the magic formula—for an effective container, you need a "thriller" (an upright, showy plant), "fillers" (mounding plants on the sides), and "spillers" (trailing plants that cascade over the sides). And there can be no doubt that the most popular spillers of all are the many selections of sweet potato vine.

Sweet Potato Vine's Variety of Colors and Shapes

Closely related to real sweet potato, sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) don't form edible tubers. But who cares? Their eye-popping foliage creates a splash of dramatic color faster than just about any plant I know. The leaves can be dark shades of black, red, and purple; bright chartreuse shades of lime and yellow greens; or variegated. They can be three-lobed, heart-shaped, or deeply cut like a Japanese maple leaf.

Types of Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vines are easy-to-grow annuals that can be used as spillers in containers or as ground cover. They are vigorous growers and can easily conquer and kill pretty much all of their thriller and filler companions, so use big containers, or cut them back when they get out of hand. Thanks to the breeding work done at North Carolina State University, we now have the compact-growing Sweet Caroline series and the Illusion series for a tidier look.

'Margarita'

Bright chartreuse 'Margarita' (also called 'Marguerite') (pictured above) has heart-shaped leaves, and as one of the first sweet potato vines offered, it's become a classic annual spiller in containers. 'Margarita' is extremely vigorous, and can grow 8 to 10 feet in a single season.

'Blackie'

'Blackie' has purplish-black, three-lobed leaves, and like 'Margarita,' is extremely vigorous, growing up to 8 to 10 feet per season.

'Ace of Spades'

'Ace of Spades' (pictured below) has heart-shaped, purple leaves. It's a little less rampant than 'Margarita' and 'Blackie,' although 6 feet of growth in one season isn't out of the question.

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'Goldfinger'

'Goldfinger' (pictured below) has three-lobed, bright chartreuse leaves. A less vigorous option, it spreads only 24 to 36 inches.

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Sweet Caroline 'Raven'

Sweet Caroline 'Raven' (pictured below) has dark purplish-black foliage with a deep-cut, three-lobed leaf shape. It's bushy and compact, growing only 2 to 4 feet.

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Illusion 'Garnet Lace'

Illusion 'Garnet Lace' (pictured below) has five-lobed leaves in a reddish-purple color with splashes of green. This one spreads 2 to 4 feet.

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How to Grow Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vines like heat and sun. The more they get, the better they do. They'll grow in light shade, but their colors will be duller. Give them moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Plants in containers should be goosed with liquid fertilizer every two weeks. They're winter hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11. 'Margarita' and 'Blackie' form large tubers you can dig and save over winter in colder zones, but the others do not.

Sweet Potato Vine Pest Control

The most common problem people experience with sweet potato vines is discovering leaves riddled with holes. This is the handiwork of the sneaky golden tortoise beetle. 'Margarita' is its favorite. To control this pest, plant a different selection or spray your plants according to label directions with neem oil or spinosad.

Sweet Potato Vine Gardening Ideas

If you're inspired by these sweet potato vine selections for your next container garden project, there's many thriller-filler-spiller ideas for spring, summer, and fall where you could insert this versatile, easy-to-grow plant. Beyond pots, sweet potato vine works great in garden beds and borders as a ground cover with its variety of sprawling and compact selections.

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