Lovely to Look At

Those first three ornamental sweet potatoes Blackie, Marguerite and Tricolor came into the market 30 or 35 years ago. I spent half an hour Web-searching looking for the precise year, but nobody said anything about it. They just wrote about how they skyrocketed in popularity. Well, duh. We all knew that already.

Two of those three (Blackie and Marguerite) grew like kudzu, so you had to plant them in large beds. Tricolor, by comparison, was mannerly and could be used as a spiller plant in large patio pots.

Ornamental sweet potatoes can brighten almost any sunny location in summer. Click image for larger view.

Plant developers got busy and found us dozens of “new and improved” types with different leaf shapes, richer and varied colors – and much more compact growth. Ornamental sweet potatoes have become even more mainstay in our Texas landscapes.

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I could write lots on what I found in my research for this story, but let me just hit a few high spots.

  • Ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
  • Hot-weather annual for most of Texas. Perennial only along the South Texas Gulf Coast. Even there it’s probably best to treat it as an annual and restart with new transplants each spring.
Lime green ornamental sweet potato provides beautiful contrast with the maroon foliage, flowers and fruit of hyacinth bean in the fall.
  • Can be planted anytime from mid-spring into the summer. Handles heat and sun well. Light green and variegated types benefit from some afternoon shade.
  • Plant into highly organic soil that can be kept uniformly moist. Use as a low, bordering annual groundcover or trailing plant over a large planted or pot.
  • Few insect and disease problems will show up on your ornamental sweet potatoes. Let your Texas Certified Nursery Professional help you pick the appropriate control should any problem develop – it probably won’t.

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Don’t be surprised if your ornamental sweet potato also blooms. A few varieties do flower, and breeders will no doubt be bringing us more.
  • When the season is over you will find large sweet potato roots that have developed beneath your plants. Everyone wants to know if they’re edible, but folks who have tried them report back from the bathroom that they’re very bitter and unappealing. It’s best to buy regular sweet potatoes from the grocery or grow your own.
  • Named a Texas Superstar Plant in 2021. “Ornamental sweet potatoes are one of those plants that should have been a Texas Superstar already. We want to highlight them as a wonderful option for landscapes and as a filler or spiller in planters and containers.” Those were the words of Dr. Brent Pemberton, Texas A&M AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist and Texas Superstar executive board member, Overton.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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