While the sweet potato was first introduced to the UK way back in the 1500s, this root vegetable did not become incredibly popular until much more recently. While they originated in Central and South America, sweet potatoes are in high demand around the world.
Believe it or not, farms on British soil have only developed a successful growing technique in the last few years with the first British grown sweet spuds going on sale in 2015. With this in mind can you grow sweet potatoes in the UK if you are gardening from home?
Sweet potatoes require warmer temperatures to thrive, ideally between 21-26ºc. The UK weather doesn’t often give us these temperatures consistently but it may still be possible to grow sweet potatoes in the UK if you use the correct method and mimic their natural growing conditions.
In this short guide, we will be giving you all the information you will need to successfully grow sweet potatoes in your garden, giving you an ample supply of these delicious and healthy veggies.
What Type Of Sweet Potato Should I Grow?
Sweet potatoes come in a huge range of colours. The skin and flesh can vary from anything from purple to orange. If you are looking for a veggie to brighten up your plate then sweet potato is an excellent choice.
Moreover, sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy and have as little as 90 calories per 100g serving. They also contain high levels of Vitamins C and A as well as a healthy amount of fibre.
The great thing about growing sweet potatoes in the UK is that there are several varieties that will prove to be successful. However, it is widely accepted that the California Ruby variety is particularly good for growing in this country.
While it is called a potato, this name is rather misleading since these vegetables are not potatoes at all but are more closely related to the climbing plant known as Morning Glory. One of the most notable things about this relationship is that it enables us to see where the sweet potato gets its vigorous spreading growth from.
How To Grow Sweet Potatoes In The UK – Where To Grow Them
One of the first things that you will need to consider when thinking about growing sweet potatoes in the UK climate is where you will plant them. Typically, sweet spuds need to be grown between 21 and 26 degrees celsius but they also need plenty of growing room owing to their long stems.
If you want to be successful, it will be best to plant your sweet potatoes either in a polytunnel or greenhouse where the temperature can be better controlled. However, if the weather in your area tends to be milder, you may have some success in growing them outdoors.
However, in this case, you will need to use a sheet of black polythene to keep the weeds at bay and warm up the soil. Many UK growers will use a plastic cloche or a plant fleece and have noticed some impressive results in doing so.
These vegetables prefer to be in full sun and in well-drained soil. It is important that the soil is fertile and nutrient-rich. You’ll need to make sure that you plant each one with at least 12 inches of space on either side.
If you are planting in rows, these should be at least 30 inches apart. That being said, if you are pushed for space, it is possible to grow the sweet potatoes in a container.
Tips For Growing Sweet Potatoes In The UK
Once you have got your sweet potatoes in the ground, there is the small matter of caring for them until they are ready to harvest. These plants do require quite specific care and lots of it but the end result will be more than worth your effort. Take a look at these tips to get the most out of your growing experience.
- Sweet potatoes like the soil to be well-drained but this isn’t to say that they do not like regular watering. Giving them around an inch of water at least once a week will yield the best results.
- While watering is essential, it is advisable to avoid giving water during the last few weeks of growth. This will prevent any mature sweet potatoes from splitting before they are harvested.
- It is important to offer your sweet potato plants a good amount of airflow and ventilation. For this reason, if you are growing them in a greenhouse or other indoor structure, you must leave the doors open during the daytime to let air circulate through.
- Since sweet potatoes have a tendency to trail, it can be a good idea to tie the stems if you are keeping them in a greenhouse to keep things looking a little tidier and in control. Once the stems reach 60cm, you should pinch these out to encourage lateral growth.
- Applying an all-purpose fertiliser every three weeks will get the best growth results and provide you with a healthy crop.
How To Harvest Sweet Potatoes In The UK
Sweet potatoes take between 90 and 120 days to fully grow so by this time, we are sure that you will be eager to harvest your crop and enjoy the fruits of your labour. There is an important and very clear sign that it is time to harvest your sweet potatoes, so look out for this during the late summer.
When they are ready to harvest, the sweet potato stems will turn a deep yellow colour before wilting and dying back. This is your cue to take action and dig up your crop. If you want slightly larger veggies, you can leave them a little longer. However, you should make sure that you have pulled them up before the first frost sets in, save destroying them.
Storing The Sweet Potatoes
If you have a large crop, you may not be ready to eat them all right away. The good news is that sweet potatoes will keep for a relatively long time. You will need to let them rest in full sunlight for a few hours before storing them in your greenhouse for ten days to cure the skins.
After this, they will then keep in a cool, dark place for a few months. However, it is important to make sure that they are kept dry if you want to maximise their shelf life.
What are the Benefits of Eating Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a wonderfully healthy and easy to prepare food. It’s been shown that sweet potatoes may be linked with cancer-fighting properties, as well as promoting gut health due to their fibre content; this can also help those who suffer from constipation problems!
Sweet Potatoes contain antioxidants that promote heart wellness, protect against eye disease like cataracts, and even aid in brain function.
Furthermore, they provide wonderful benefits for the immune system by providing supportive nutrients such as vitamin C or potassium – some of these minerals have been found through research studies to reduce inflammation within cells which helps prevent cell damage caused by free radicals!
Sweet potatoes are an incredibly healthy and versatile root vegetable that has become very popular in recent years. While they are native to Central and South America, sweet potatoes can be grown in the UK, if the grower provides them with the right conditions.
Garden Doctor Tips
“At home in the UK, it is best to grow your sweet potatoes in a greenhouse!”
“Ensure to cure your sweet potatoes so they will last you until you need them!”
“Lift as soon as the stems become a deep yellow colour!”
“Leave your greenhouse door open during the day to let the airflow naturally around your plants!”
Frequently Asked Questions
What month is best to plant sweet potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a difficult vegetable to grow, but they’re worth the effort. You have to wait for at least 4 weeks after your last frost date before you can plant them – and then allow 150 days of warm, moist weather in order for it to produce well.
Can I grow sweet potatoes from supermarket?
An organic sweet potato from the supermarket will work just fine. Sweet potatoes grow from seed but rather from a sprout that forms off of old ones! Wait until they’re about 3 inches long before you harvest them by gently pulling them away at their base.
Can you eat sweet potato raw?
Yes, you can eat sweet potato raw. However, it is not as sweet as when it is cooked. Additionally, the nutritional value of sweet potato diminishes when it is eaten raw.