Richard Bogren, Huffstickler, Kyle, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.
Ornamental sweet potatoes are a popular warm-season annual for adding foliage colors 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 stem lengths between the leaves and reduced root size. 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 in the landscape during summer through fall, while others seldom flower.
The Sweet Caroline series of ornamental sweet potatoes are 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.
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 during the season to control growth on the most vigorous varieties.
Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse or www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.Rick Bogren