By Mike Thayer
Ornamental sweet potato vines are quite popular, with both the margarita and purple varieties adding a nice punch of foliage color in containers, borders and hanging baskets. Easy to grow, they also make great houseplants!
I'm partial to the margarita variety myself, I love the chartreuse color and how the foliage drapes off the side of a pot or container. Versatile, these plants are low maintenance and drought tolerant. They thrive in moist but not wet soil and despite the ornamental tag, the tubers are also edible, but I've heard they're bitter tasting compared to their traditional sweet potato cousins. I'm not going to do the tasting thing, I'll save the tubers for replanting.
Often grown as throw-away annual plants and disposed of once that first hard frost hits, you can actually save the tubers and over-winter them for spring planting, or move the plants inside before the first frost and make them house plants.
Buying three margarita sweet potato vines at a clearance discount at Walmart back in July, I planted them in a small raised bed container I purchased to dress up my front porch. The color contrast matched up well with plantings of Vinca flowers and Dragon's Breath.
After temperatures dropped below freezing last night, the potato vines suffered, with two of the three plants severely wilted. Time to harvest the tubers!
In digging the plants up, I was surprised to see very little tuber development, but then again, the vines didn't get a full season of unrestricted growing, being planted in July. I'll be storing what tubers I did harvest for spring planting, and transferring the one plant without tubers to a small pot in making it a houseplant. Luckily, the tuberless plant is the one potato vine that didn't wilt with the low temps last night.
To store the tubers, cut away the greenery and lightly brush off any soil. Place the tubers in a cardboard box filled with peat moss and keep in a dry, cool location where the tubers won't freeze. In the spring, replant those tubers in your garden or outdoor containers after the last frost and in no time you'll have those great foliage colors popping up - no need to buy new plants from the garden center!
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