Ornamental sweet potatoes are popular warm-season annuals for adding foliage color to the summer landscape. The original varieties include plants with leaves that are chartreuse-lime green (Marguerite), blackish purple (Blackie, Black Beauty, Ace of Spades) and tricolored (Pink Frost).
New ornamental sweet potato varieties recently introduced have various leaf shapes and growth habits in addition to new foliage colors. These sweet potatoes have been selected for shorter stems between the leaves and smaller roots. They are more compact than most other ornamental sweet potato varieties.
Some of the new sweet potatoes are more conducive to trellising and for being “spiller” or “filler” plants in containers when compared with older varieties. Some of these new varieties may produce significant flowering during summer through fall, while others seldom flower.
The Sweet Caroline series of ornamental sweet potatoes is a newer group. This series has varieties with green-yellow, red, light green, bronze and purple foliage. The Sweet Caroline Sweetheart series (with heart-shaped leaves) is available in light green, red and purple, while the stand-alone Bewitched variety has maple-leaf-shaped, purplish-black foliage. The best foliage colors come when plants are in full sun. They will have less colorful foliage in a shaded or partially shaded location.
An ornamental sweet potato series introduced in 2009 is Sidekick from Syngenta Flowers. This series is available in black, black-heart and lime colors. The lime-colored variety is lighter in color than the chartreuse-lime green foliage of Marguerite, and the growth habit is low-growing and less spreading.
The new Illusion series from Proven Winners is probably the best of the new introductions. They have thread-leaf foliage and are smaller-growing and much less vigorous than any others on the market. Illusion colors are available as Emerald Lace, Midnight Lace and Garnet Lace.
There is also the Desana series of ornamental sweet potatoes in addition to the new Sweet Georgia, South of the Border and Bright Ideas varieties.
Ornamental sweet potatoes in the landscape are easy to plant and care for. They do best when planted later in the spring and seldom need irrigation or fertilization. Lightly prune them during the season to control growth on the most vigorous varieties.Rick Bogren
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