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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Yes, you can eat sweet potato vine tubers, but there's a 'but'

Eating the tuberous roots of ornamental sweet potato

Eating the tuberous roots of ornamental sweet potato vine won't hurt you, but it might offend you. Photo Credit: Laurie Blom

DEAR JESSICA: During the summer I planted vines that I bought at the garden center. When I was cleaning out my flowerpots recently, these potatoes where there. My question to you is: Do you know if these are edible? I thought these vines were only ornamental and I was surprised when I dug up the potatoes.— Laurie Blom, Mount Sinai

DEAR LAURIE: You’re right: the vines you planted are ornamental. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t edible. Many varieties of sweet potato are hybridized to favor strong aesthetic traits, like colorful foliage, and are sold as “ornamental” plants, but, in the end, they’re still sweet potatoes. The difference is that they’ve been bred for appearance rather than taste.

The same goes for ornamental kale, cabbage and peppers. You can eat them, but you probably wouldn’t want to.  

DEAR JESSICA: I have a question regarding a tree in my yard that was gifted to us around 2000. The tree was planted on a north side yard and was originally around 5 feet tall. In late summer this year, I noticed the branches were looking somewhat distraught, so I kept watering it and raking out weeds below the limbs and added Hollytone. I am not happy with the way it looks this fall, which is somewhat concerning. What causes this and what can I do to keep it from getting worse? Or is it beyond its life span?— Nick Koridis, Rocky Point

DEAR NICK: I can’t tell from your photo if your tree is dead, but the browning can be due to winter injury or a fungal disease called Swiss needle cast, which can take three years to show symptoms after initial infection. I recommend you call an arborist to assess your tree or take a branch cutting to the Cornell Cooperative Extension plant diagnostic clinic in Riverhead (631-591-2314) or East Meadow (516-565-5265). Call ahead for hours and information.

As an aside, fertilizing a stressed tree or plant is never a good idea, as it forces the tree to direct energy into producing new growth when it should be using it to recover. The result is often a further-stressed tree.

DEAR JESSICA: We have a fig tree that has about 20 green figs on it. Can green figs ripen off the tree?— Mary Ann Marriott, Syosset

DEAR MARY ANN: I’m sorry, but there’s really nothing you can do. Figs need to ripen on the tree. Off the tree, they’ll soften but not sweeten, so you wouldn’t want to eat them.

Hard, green figs are a common lament of growers on Long Island, and they're usually due to some sort of stress. Keeping fig trees consistently well watered and fertilizing regularly during the season should help next year.

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