The poor potato vine plant (Solanum jasminoides or S. laxum) ought to sue the person who saddled it with its misnomer. Despite most people's assumptions, this is not a plant children grow by sprouting a potato's eyes. Rather, it is a vine that grows up to 25 feet long that boasts an almost perpetual display of showy blue-white blossoms. The potato vine plant is a decorative climber of walls or fences and ideal for a special spot in your garden, covering a lattice.
Potato Vine Plants
Potato vines may sound like they grow from lumpy potatoes, but they are not actually potato plants at all. These woody evergreen vines do happen to be in the nightshade family, like potatoes, which accounts for its common name. The species comes to us from the jungles of Brazil.
Potato vines grow very rapidly. Their slender stems with long, bottle-green leaves quickly cover their support, whether it's a column, wall, trellis or lattice. The delicate vine provides a dramatic backdrop for the showy, star-shaped white and blue flowers. Spring is the time the potato plant puts on its most glorious floral show, but the vine produces blossoms year round in mild winter climates.
Gardeners are not alone in admiring the flowers, as they also attract bees and hummingbirds. If the flowers get pollinated, dark blue fruits can develop.
Growing Potato Vine Plants
Potato vines are almost as easy to grow as potatoes in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones nine and 10. You can grow the vine from seeds started indoors or from young plants purchased from the garden store. In either case, plant the seedlings or clipping in average, well-drained soils. Select a location in full sun, like a south or west- facing fence or wall.
Assuming you're planting a potato vine in the ground, shovel out a hole that is twice the size of the container the potato vine came in. Remove the plant with its root ball from the container. Set it in the hole at the same level with the soil and back-fill it with soil. For multiple vines, space them about two feet apart from each other.
Regular irrigation is important for these vines. Water potato plants frequently during the first growing season. This helps the vines establish a deep, extensive root system that will keep the plant vigorous. Once it is established and strong, change your irrigation pattern and water deeply and less frequently.
Care and Feeding of Potato Vine Plants
Feed the vines with an all-purpose fertilizer once a year. Apply it according to label directions.
Remember that potato plants are vines and require a support to grow up. You can plant them near a trellis or arbor, or train them to grow up a fence, wall or tree. Twine them up as they begin to grow, then remove the twine once the roots take hold and the vines begin supporting themselves.
Pruning is also important to keep these vines a manageable size. Bring out the clippers in autumn after the summer flush of blossoms has passed.
Keep your vine watered and moist throughout the growing season. Fertilize it using an all-purpose fertilizer. Choose a granular slow-releasing fertilizer so you only need to do it once in the spring. Otherwise, you will need to fertilize once every few weeks during the spring and summer months.
Cut back your potato vine in the late winter, just before spring. Cut it close to the ground. A potato vine will grow back fuller with more blooms by pruning it each year.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.