Are sweet potatoes hard to grow in the UK? Gardening experts reveal whether it’s worth your while

Everything you need to know about growing the potato in our neck of the woods

A bowl of sweet potatoes in a kitchen sink
(Image credit: Getty Images/piyaset)

Sweet potato is sometimes considered the more sophisticated sister of the humble spud. But sadly, being native to solely tropical parts of the world, it is also a lot more high maintenance when it comes to them being grown at home. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, in case you’re wondering whether you can grow sweet potatoes in the UK.

If you’re wanting to start growing your own vegetables, then sweet potatoes may not the best starting point. ‘Beginner gardeners may prefer to start with easier crops such as salad leaves, radishes, potatoes and tomatoes,’ suggests Fiona Jenkins, gardening expert at MyJobQuote.co.uk.

But if you’re a more experienced gardener with the right tools and conditions (which we’ll get into shortly!) then you could indeed successfully grow sweet potatoes, according to gardening pros. So let's discover those tools and conditions, shall we?

Sweet potatoes

(Image credit: Getty Images/YinYang)

Are sweet potatoes hard to grow in the UK?

Growing sweet potatoes is very different from how you grow regular potatoes. This is largely because, as a tropical plant, sweet potatoes require constant warmth.

‘It's quite difficult here in the UK to grow sweet potatoes, just because they require warmth to grow and that's sadly something we lack,’ says Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench.

They also need regular tending to as they develop which is another reason why it’s not the easiest vegetable to grow if you’re a beginner.

Steve Chilton portrait
Steve Chilton

Steve is a passionate and knowledgeable garden expert with several years of experience within the field. As the director of LeisureBench, an industry-leading garden furniture company, Steve has developed strong expertise for all things nature and plants. 

What you’ll need to grow sweet potatoes

If you still want to give growing sweet potatoes a go, then there are a few things you’ll need to know and need to invest in. 

1. Choose an appropriate location

As we've explained, sweet potatoes love their warmth. So their best chance of survival in the unpredictable and ever-changing British weather is being grown indoors.

‘They do prefer warm temperatures, so a greenhouse or conservatory is the best place to grow them,’ Fiona says.

Fiona Jenkins
Fiona Jenkins

Fiona Jenkins is a UK-based landscaper with over twenty five years of experience in the industry. As a gardening expert for MyJobQuote, one of the UK's top trades-matching sites, Fiona offers her expert advice to MyJobQuote's tradespeople and homeowners, and has also been featured as a gardening expert for a range of reputable publications.

A bowl of sweet potatoes in a kitchen sink

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

2. Buy a sweet potato plant

Unlike traditional potatoes, sweet potatoes are grown from plants, either slips or plug plants, rather than seeds.

‘It’s best to grow sweet potatoes from slips,' advises Fiona. 'These are small shoots that will need placing in water and then planting up, to help them develop roots. You can also buy larger plug plants that already have an established root system.'

3. Provide support

Another major difference between regular potatoes and sweet potatoes is that the latter is a climbing plant. Therefore you’ll need to provide the climber with sufficient support.

‘Unlike regular potatoes, they’re a climbing plant, so they’ll also need an obelisk or some canes to grow up,’ Fiona says.

Sweet potato plant in a pot

(Image credit: Getty Images/mgfoto)

4. Get a big enough pot

Even though sweet potatoes can be grown in the ground or in containers, you'll likely have to grow them in a pot because growing them outdoors in the ground will probably prove too cold for the warmth-loving root vegetables.

‘If growing in a container, get a pot that is about 30 centimetres wide,' Steve recommends. 'Fill it with all-purpose compost, then plant one of the young plants in the middle. Water the plant well and put it in a greenhouse. Remember, keep the plant warm.'

FAQs

How long do sweet potatoes take to grow?

Compared to how long it takes to grow potatoes, sweet potatoes take a while to grow. While it takes 12 to 16 weeks for regular potatoes, sweet potatoes take a few months to grow.

‘The best time to plant sweet potatoes is from late spring to early summer,' says garden experts Steve. 'Sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested when the leaves have turned yellow and fallen off. This will usually be in autumn.'

Sweet potatoes

(Image credit: Getty Images/Penpak Ngamsathain)

Do sweet potatoes like to climb?

Yes, sweet potatoes are climbing plants and therefore it’s important to provide them with support in the form of canes or an obelisk.

The bottom line is that it’s not easy to grow sweet potatoes in the UK due to the climate. But if you’re up for a challenge and have greenhouse space, then come this autumn, you could have your very own sweet potatoes to cook with.

Sara Hesikova
News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home and interiors. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.