Landscape Spotlight: Sweet Potato Vine, ‘Ipomoea batatas’

Posted September 27, 2018 in Plant and Tree

I know we have said before that other Landscape Spotlight plants, like Daylilies and Astilbe, were our favorites, but with so many beautiful plants in the world, we just can’t narrow it down to one!  These plants are our favorites for so many different reasons, and the sweet potato vine definitely joins this elite, and seemingly ever-growing, list.  Just one look and we guarantee you will fall in love.

Why, you ask?  Well, funny thing is, this plant isn’t grown for its flowering ability, especially not in NEPA.  While the sweet potato vine will produce flowers resembling its cousin Morning Glory in southern gardens that experience hot daytime and nighttime temperatures, we know this beauty for its foliage!  Varieties come in a few select colors, but all are standouts within the landscape.  This winner can be found in stippled brown, bronze, variegated pink and white, near black, purple and chartreuse.  The leaves vary but range from thin and finger-like to hardy and heart-shaped.

Being that this plant is known for its leaves rather than its flowers, you can enjoy it all season long, rather than watching it go in and out of bloom.  As one of the most versatile plants around, sweet potato vine can be grown in the sun or dappled shade, in container gardens, as border enhancers or within your garden or trailing down a rock-sloped landscape.  Our favorite application, without a doubt, would be as a filler plant for containers.

This classic “spiller” has long vines that seemingly spill over the edges of containers and resemble organic waterfalls down the sides.  Imagine how impactful a long and flowing chartreuse cascade could be at your home’s front entry or welcoming you into your backyard outdoor living space!  Introducing this draper into planters with other complementing yet diverse plantings will surely give your space a designer feel.  We suggest pairing the sweet potato vine to act as a cover up for the “bare knees” of plants such as canna lilies, into planters that you use for vertical interest with plants such as elephant ears, or mixed in with plants of similar growth requirements like impatiens or marigolds.  However, whichever variety of sweet potato vine you select, be sure to pair them with their stark color opposite.  For example, match the electric lime green vines with plants that have purple foliage, and pair the nearly-black variety with anything that is bright!  The contrast will be dramatic, but exactly what you are looking for when you are going for the wow-factor.

Let’s get into the conditions that make this landscape spotlight happy, shall we?  As mentioned before, this plant thrives in areas of partial shade to full sun.  While not being particularly picky about their immediate environment, it does require that the soil be well-fertilized, well-draining and it will also need enough room to be itself.  A typical ornamental sweet potato vine will grow to 6 inches in height and 5 feet in length!  We told you that this plant is dramatic, yet so worth it!  Side note: being as resilient as it is, if the plant does happen to get a little too out of control for you, don’t be afraid to prune or clip back the foliage, it can take it.

As an added bonus, all varieties of the sweet potato vine are deer and rabbit resistant!  Living in NEPA, we all know that if deer and rabbits are hungry enough, they will eat just about anything.  However, even though this vine does produce small tubers underneath the soil, like common sweet potatoes or yams, they are definitely not tasty.  Because the vine had been bred to have a variety of unique and colorful foliage, the storage roots that fruit have slowly died back.  This plant evolution has transferred the sole purpose from producing food to spending more time focusing on propagating vigorous, healthy and showy foliage that stores its nutrients for later use.

Since this plant is only classified as perennial in zones 9-11 (find your zone here), you will need to purchase and replant this beauty again.  However, if you are willing to give a little TLC, you can over-winter some clippings, to be reintroduced back into your outdoor planters or landscape once the threat of frost is gone!  For those willing to give this a shot, inspect your existing vine to find one of two of the healthiest branches and take a cut.  From this cut, remove all leaves on the stem except for the top 3 and place in a glass of water.  Be sure to keep an eye that the cutting is always in contact with the water.  You may also introduce the cuttings into an indoor planter full of soil, but you will need to make sure that the soil is always moist.  Place the glass of water or planter with your cuttings in a sunny window, and in about 6 weeks you will see the cuttings come to life!

Whether you decide to incorporate this lovely landscape spotlight into a pot, box, bed or bin, it is certain to please with colorful, ample and flourishing foliage.  If you are looking for more landscape design advice or are ready to explore all options to make your property your very own outdoor oasis, reach out to MasterPLAN Outdoor Living!  Specializing in creating, construction and implementation of structure and landscape, we love to partner with our clients to create custom outdoor living spaces perfect to fit their property, their family and their lifestyle!  It’s time to live your best life outdoors!

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