A sweet “superfood”

On the radar of nutritionists everywhere, sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. They're not only delicious and healthy, they're also fairly simple to grow. North Carolina is the largest commercial producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, with most grown in the Coastal Plain and parts of the Piedmont. Though sweet potatoes are often called yams, the two are not related--the yam is a very large, starchy tuber that doesn't grow in temperate climates. Sweet potatoes go into the garden as "slips," which can be purchased or propagated from the previous season's roots. They should not be planted until all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed above 65 F. Sweet potatoes require a long growing season, taking about four months to mature. Now is a good time to research and plan what varieties you might want to try this spring. Look for varieties with good disease- and pest-resistance qualities, and choose those that are recommended for your growing area. The Web site http://cuke.hort.ncsu.edu/cucurbit/wehner/vegcult/sweetpotato.html describes more than 70 named varieties and their characteristics. Sweet potatoes with dark-orange flesh are typically moister and sweeter than those with paler flesh. Most sweet potatoes have long, sprawling vines that can overwhelm small gardens, but a few bush varieties are available.

Hort shorts

  • Monitor hemlocks for the presence of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an aphid-like pest. Cotton-like tufts (the insects' egg sacs) at the base of the needles are a sure sign of infestation. This non-native insect is ravaging native stands of wild hemlock as well as ornamental plantings in the home landscape. Visit www.saveourhemlocks.org.
  • Don't rush to prune tree branches after a winter storm. Sagging or bent branches may rebound on their own. Prune any broken branches right away.

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