How To Grow And Care For Sweet Potato Vines

Beautiful trailing, spilling, and ground cover plants.

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

Closely related to real sweet potatoes, sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) don't form edible tubers. Their eye-popping foliage quickly creates a splash of dramatic color. This easy-to-grow plant works well as ground cover or spilling from container pots—sweet potato vines sprawl across garden beds, borders, and compact selections. The leaves can be dark shades of black, red, and purple or bright chartreuse shades of lime and yellow greens and even variegated. They can be three-lobed, heart-shaped, or deeply cut like a Japanese maple leaf. As self-propagating plants, the sweet potato vine can quickly become invasive in areas.

Plant Attributes

Plant Attributes
 Common Name:  Sweet Potato Vine, Ornamental Sweetpotato
 Botanical Name:  Ipomoea batatas
 Family:  Convolvulaceae
 Plant Type:  Perennial, Groundcover, Vine, Herbaceous
 Mature Size:  6-10 ft. long, 6-12 in. wide
 Sun Exposure:  Full, Partial
 Soil Type:  Moist, Well-drained, Rich
 Soil pH:  Acidic (5.6 to 6.5)
 Bloom Time:  Spring, Summer
 Flower Color:  Purple
 Hardiness Zones:  Zones 9-11 (USDA)
 Native Area:  Central America, South America

Sweet Potato Vine Care

Sweet potato vines need ample amounts of heat and direct sunlight. The more they get, the better they do. These plants will grow in light shade, but their colors will be duller. Give them moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Spray plants in containers with a liquid fertilizer every two weeks. They're winter hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11. Some varieties, such as 'Margarita,' form large tubers you can dig and save over winter in colder zones, but the others do not. As an invasive creeping plant, sweet potato vines will spread rampantly as a groundcover if not trimmed.


Sweet potato vines thrive best when receiving at least six hours of daily sunlight. Some will grow in partial shade, but the foliage will be richer, more vibrant, and vigorous when planted in the sun.


Well-draining soil is essential for sweet potato vines as it is prone to root rot. These plants will tolerate most soil pHs, but slightly acidic to neutral is preferred. Choose an all-purpose potting soil with nutrients or organic matter if growing in containers. Amend the soil outside with compost.


Sweet potato vines should receive at least an inch of water weekly through rainfall or watering. Keep the soil moist but well-draining even though these plants are relatively drought-tolerant once established. Proper water care helps sweet potato vines to produce vibrant foliage and prevents wilting. During the summer or extended periods of heat, water more frequently.

Temperature and Humidity

Wait until the last frost passes before planting in the spring or early summer. Sweet potato vines require nighttime temperatures above 40°F to prevent damage. Extended periods of lower temperatures, around 55°F, can slow growth. Like other tropical plants, sweet potato vines thrive in warm, humid climates but don't require high humidity levels to survive. During prolonged periods of heat, water more frequently so the plant does not dry.


Use a well-balanced and slow-release fertilizer during planting and throughout the growing season. To increase the foliage vibrancy, add a water-soluble monthly fertilizer, such as a 5-10-10. This fertilizer will increase sweet potato vines' natural growth and vigorous nature.

Types of Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato vines are easy-to-grow annuals used as container spillers or ground cover. They are vigorous growers and can easily conquer other filler companions, so use big containers or cut them back when they get out of hand. Some varieties have a more compact-growing series for a tidier look. Here are some sweet potato vine varieties:

  • 'Margarita': Bright chartreuse 'Margarita' (also called 'Marguerite') 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 highly vigorous and can grow eight to 10 feet in a single season.
  • 'Ace of Spades': 'Ace of Spades' has heart-shaped, purple leaves. It's a little less rampant than 'Margarita,' although six feet of growth in one season is still possible.
  • 'Goldfinger': 'Goldfinger' has three-lobed, bright chartreuse leaves. A vigorous option but still spreads 24 to 36 inches.
  • Sweet Caroline 'Raven': Sweet Caroline 'Raven' has dark purplish-black foliage with a deep-cut, three-lobed leaf shape. It's bushy and compact, growing only two to four feet.
  • Illusion 'Garnet Lace': Illusion 'Garnet Lace' has five-lobed leaves in a reddish-purple color with splashes of green. This one spreads two to four feet.


Prune sweet potato vines as necessary throughout the spring, summer, or fall. Remove dead, damaged, or diseased vines with sterilized pruning shears. Use pruning as a way to curtail vines from spreading beyond its boundaries. When grown in direct sunlight and with proper care, sweet potato vines need trimming to avoid overcrowding and potentially overtaking other species. Alternatively, pruning is one way to encourage more vines to emerge. Use garden shears to cut about one-fourth of an inch above the leaf node to stimulate new growth.

Propagating Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato vines quickly propagate using cuttings from existing plants, or in some varieties, by dividing the tubers in the spring. Some types are patented, meaning you are not allowed to propagate. Here is how to propagate sweet potato vines using cuttings: 

  1. Select a vine at least six to 12 inches long in the spring or summer, containing several leaves, or you can wait until autumn as long as it is before the first frost. 
  2. Using sterilized pruning shears, cut below the leaf node and then use your fingers to remove the leaves from the lower two-thirds of the cutting. 
  3. Fill a container with peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite—Water soil mixture.
  4. Use a pencil or your finger to make holes in the potting soil. Before placing a cutting in each space, dip the cut end into a rooting hormone to stimulate growth. 
  5. Pack the soil around the cuttings and cover the entire container with a plastic bag to increase the humidity. 
  6. Pack in indirect light while roots emerge and mist with water to moisten the soil until the following spring. 
  7. Gradually introduce the vine to colder temperatures before transplanting it outdoors, or continue growing it in a container.

How to Grow Sweet Potato Vines From Seed

Growing sweet potato vines from seeds are challenging. Sterile varieties don't have seeds—growing from cuttings or tubers is much easier. It is still possible, so here is how to grow sweet potato vines from seed:

  1. Place seeds in warm water for at least 12 hours to start germination. 
  2. Use a seed-starting tray and spread the seeds every few inches. Cover with a seed-starting soil mixture. 
  3. Keep the tray warm, mist the soil to keep it moist, and use a plastic bag or container to increase humidity. 
  4. Move the container into direct sunlight when seedlings emerge. Transplant as soon as possible to its final location, whether a container or garden bed. If moving outdoors, gradually expose seedlings to colder temperatures before planting. 


Depending on your climate, cold-hardy sweet potato vine tubers can go dormant in frost-free areas, sprouting new vines to replace the dead vines in the spring. If your area experiences temperatures below 40°F, moving sweet potato vine cuttings indoors or storing tubers helps to start plants the following spring. Leave cuttings in water until the spring, or transplant them into a container to grow throughout the winter.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The most common problem with sweet potato vines is discovering leaves riddled with holes. Holes are the handiwork of the sneaky golden tortoise beetle. To control this pest, plant a different selection or spray your plants according to label directions with neem oil or spinosad. Depending on your location, other potential pest infestations include aphids, caterpillars, whiteflies, and weevils. 

Fungi like verticillium wilt or fusarium can infect the soil surrounding sweet potato vines. These fungal infections, starting with yellowing leaves at the base, spread and cause crown rot. 

Common Problems With Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato vines are prone to pests and fungal infections, but proper care and early detection can help eliminate and treat many of its issues. Here are a few problems that impact sweet potato vines:

Curling Leaves 

Underwatering causes sweet potato vines' leaves to curl. Keep the foliage vibrant by watering deeply every time, making the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Also, if the leaves appear filled with holes, a tortoise beetle or other pest might be present. Use soapy water or neem oil to restore the leaves.

Leaves Turning Black/Brown

Sweet potato vines' foliage will turn black if experiencing frostbite or fungal infection. If the weather isn't the cause, root rot likely caused the black leaves. Starting with yellowing or browning leaves, sweet potato vines will start by wilting, usually from overwatering. Treat fungi by always using proper water drainage and spraying with fungicides. Maintain good airflow between the vines and plenty of sun exposure.

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