Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sweet Potato Growing

Sweet Potato Growing

At FitzGerald Nurseries we have pioneered the introduction of a wide range of sweet potato varieties to Europe and brought sweet potato production in Europe to a new unprecedented level. We have been working on this crop in collaboration with breeders at Louisiana State University who are breeders of these wonderful varieties we promote. We are now selling sweet potato all across Europe and have developed virus free stock and expertise in the development of this crop in Europe for both gardeners and farm scale availability.

Sweet potato (Ipomea batatas) is a semi tropical plant that grows best between 20C and 30C requiring a minimum of 120 days of frost free growing conditions. Plant growth is restricted below 10C and plants physically damaged at 1C. Optimum growth occurs between 20C and 30C, and optimum root swelling (they are not tubers) occurs during shortening days. In Northern Europe production is made much more possible through plug production as this method gives fast establishment and a head start to the plant. See section on Sweet Potato from Plugs.
N.B. Gardeners in Ireland and UK are strongly advised that best results are got in greenhouse conditions. While it is possible to get some positive results outdoors in warm sun trap locations this isn't usually the case.

Soils:-Sweet potatoes grow best on well drained sandy loam soils. Heavy soils should be avoided. The pH of the soil is ideally 6 to 7 in saline free soils. Cultivate the soil to provide 20-30 cm of well worked soil. Additional sub soiling will be needed if soil compaction is present to improve drainage and root shape. Ridged beds will aid harvesting.

Planting Material:- Sweet potato have been traditionally and are still propagated from cuttings called slips. These slips should be well watered before planting and kept at high humidity's to encourage rooting. In Northern European Climate this method has its challenges and pre-developed plug or pot production is evolving as a the best alternative.

Slips are planted by hand, with 5 cm to 7 cm of tip exposed. It is best to plant the cuttings half horizontally to the ground rather than vertical. Plug or Pot grown plants can be planted in a similar way but close attention to root spiraling should be observed as once roots start spiraling they will give distorted edible roots, however this is just a visual issue and these roots are perfectly fine for processing or chopping.  Row sizes vary depending on climate and potential yield, but in good cropping areas rows should be 100 cm apart and plant 30 cm apart in rows. However in commercial field production if mechanical harvesting is planned bed spaces will vary- ridges 1.2 m apart can be formed, with double rows 30 cm apart and 50 cm apart within the row.

Sweet Potato Burgundy grown up a tripod in
greenhouse then used as an ornamental feature
once sufficient foliage mass achieved.
A method well worth trying in greenhouse conditions is to grow Sweet Potato vines in the same way as tomato i.e. up a string. Some fantastic yield results have been achieved in trials using this method. We have also grown them on tripods in containers or ground like beans.  These methods maximize light exposure on the leaf surface and also prevent this rampant grower from being too invasive in the greenhouse. If growing like this in a container you will need at least 15 liters of substrate.

When planting in containers 2/3 fill the container and plant, once vine grows clear of the top of container by 10 - 15cm fill remainder of container with potting soil. This encourages maximum yield potential in good greenhouse conditions. In prefect growing conditions yields up to 5 Kg have been achieved on some varieties and typical yield using this method is 3.5 kg per plant assuming good culture maintained.

Irrigation:-Sweet potatoes do not like too wet conditions, however at planting it is important the soil is kept moist to ensure good establishment. Yields and quality are seriously affected if the crop is stressed when the harvest roots develop. Over watering though will cause rotting and skin cracking. Sweet potato can crack wide open and become corky in extremes of drying out and wetting dues to surges in growth.

Fertilizer:-Sweet potatoes require less fertilizer than other vegetables. Individual recommendations will vary depending on previous cropping and soil analysis before planting. In garden conditions it is important to avoid excessive nitrogen so a balanced feed with low nitrogen fertilizer is desirable.  Sweet potato lend themselves to use of non chemical fertilizers but if using organic matter, such as grass clipping or other green waste it is essential it is well composted before working into soil and low in nitrogen. 

Weed Control:- Sweet potatoes are ideally suited for mechanical weeding assuming no serious perennial weeds are present. During early crop growth, shallow cultivation between rows and hand weeding will control weeds. Once plants cover the ground, the crop tends to smother further weed growth.

Pests and Diseases: - The sweet potato crop is relatively free of pest and disease problems. Following a good rotation and hand weeding there should be no need for use of pesticides as many biological control methods are available. However Fusarium is the main cause of root rot, which increases in cold wet soils. It can progress rapidly within the root, so early harvest in warm condition should be encouraged. Planting material selection

is the key to controlling virus and disease. Our stock is all from our own elite stock maintenance program, maintained in our own laboratory. All our varieties are maintained virus and bacteria free and mother plants replaced each season. This control of parent material is key to achieving best yield of healthy foots for our customers. Care should be taken against rodents including field mice as in late Autumn they can do extreme damage especially in crops planted through plastic film as they will have perfect shelter and go undetected.

Harvesting: - Remove vines before digging the potatoes. The sweet potato is very sensitive to bruising. As such all harvesting and handling must take place with extreme care. In dry sunny conditions sweet potato can be placed on surface of ground in a poly-tunnel similar to how onions are but this should only be done in warm conditions avoiding temps below 10C.

Storing Roots:-Do not wash roots intended for storage. Sweet potatoes must be cured by holding them at high temperatures (plus 25C) with a high relative humidity (90%) for upto 2 weeks. This cures the roots by healing the wounds, keeps shrinkage and weight loss at a minimum and improves the culinary qualities of the tuber by converting starches to sugars. 

Bon Apetite  


Skin Colour: light rose skin, fades in storage; slightly more red than Beauregard at harvest
Flesh Colour: Intense deep orange Flesh
Specialty: Evangeline produces 40% more Beta carotene than Beauregard
Susceptible/resistance to common diseases:
Soil rot: Intermediate – resistant
Root knot: highly resistant
Fusarium wilt: resistant
Rhizopis soft wilt: resistant
Sclerotial blight: Susceptible
Fusarium root rot: resistant
Skin Colour: light tan skin with a pink cast at harvest, fades in storage
Flesh colour: white with a tinge of yellow
Speciality: Unique nutty flavor – ideal for baking. Uniform and good performer.
Susceptible/resistance to common diseases:
Soil rot: Intermediate
Root knot: highly resistant
Fusarium wilt: intermediate - resistant
Rhizopis soft wilt: Susceptible
Fusarium root rot: Susceptible
Skin Colour: dark purple skin
Flesh Colour: white flesh
Speciality: Very well suited for boiling and not so sweet than the other varieties, but needs a longer growing time of 120-130 days. 
Susceptible/resistance to common diseases:
Soil rot: Intermediate - resistant
Root knot: highly resistant
Fusarium wilt: resistant
Rhizopis soft wilt: highly resistant
Fusarium root rot: resistant
Skin Colour: light rose skin 
Flesh Colour. Orange flesh with an intensity similar to Beauregard
Speciality: Highly uniform production of storage roots
Susceptible/resistance to common diseases:
Soil rot: Intermediate - resistant
Root knot: susceptible
Fusarium wilt: resistant
Rhizopis soft rot: resistant
Bacterial soft rot: Susceptible (same as Beauregard)
Fusarium root rot: resistant
Burgundy. New!
An outstanding flavoured variety full details soon this variety is wooing anyone who tastes it and is a very special flavour.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Irish Primrose at Bloom 2013

American Garden Writer Association member and regional
director Ginger Aarons at Bloom receiving her Innisfree.

Bloom 2013 The Gathering of Gardeners.

What a year for this show, one hundred and ten thousand visitors passed through and enjoyed Bloom this year in splendid sunshine. Despite years of recession, doom and gloom the show is blossoming into one of Irelands leading summer attractions.  What a wonderful location for this national event for the people by the people and in the peoples park! Despite the tremendous crowds attending each day there was minimal disturbance and no more than expected traffic delays encountered. This is truly a wonderful public occasion and a combination of right time, right place right spirit, long may it continue.

Go mbeire muid beo ar an am seo aris!

This year it was my great honour to have grown thousands of Irish Primrose Innisfree as gifts to thousands of visitors who visited Bloom from outside of Ireland.  The Gathering of Gardeners was promoted through various garden and media publications in Ireland and UK, such as Gardens Illustrated, BBC Gardeners World Magazine, Cara and other publications in print and online. Together with An Bord Bia and the Gathering we presented "A Gift from Ireland" at Bloom.

This unique Irish Primrose is part of our now well travelled dark leaved Kennedy Irish Primrose range which itself is part of our wider Irish Primrose collection.  We were delighted with the reception this primrose and the other varieties in the range has got not just in Ireland but around the world. For more on that you can click here and see whats been happening during the year gone by.  Just scroll trhough the dozens of pictures to get a real feel for these gems of the spring garden. I have loaded pictures of their progress through the early part of this year.

Quote from opening of Bloom 2013 by President Michael D Higgins.
Bloom 2013 has been dubbed ‘the gathering of gardeners’ and many additional international visitors are expected at the show. Working with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia has reached out to UK gardening families and the Irish online community of Bloom fans, which now amounts to 20,000 gardeners. They have been encouraged to use Bloom as the ideal event for a gathering of friends and family. To ensure that the international visitors have a memorable experience Bord Bia have commissioned an Irish plant breeder to supply a Bloom memento, a new Irish Primrose called ‘Innisfree’. All those who travel from abroad will receive this as a free gift. These unique plants will be accompanied by a book mark plant label printed with Yeats’ poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’.

Children from Thomastown Presenting gifts to
President and Mrs Higgins.
Earlier in the week on Wednesday just a day before the Bloom official opening we had the honour of having President and Mrs Higgins at our parish school in Thomastown Co Kilkenny. President Higgins unveiled a special work of art in the school grounds. We had the great honour of having one of our most recent and yet to be named Irish Primrose selections presented to Mrs Sabina Higgins and a glass decantor made by our neighbours Jerpoint Glass.

Close up of our most recent Irish Primrose selection
This new jack-in-the-green Primrose has yet to be named and flowers are green white and gold in keeping with our national colours. This new variety will be released in Spring 2014 with the Irish Primrose full Spring collection

Pat meeting President and Mrs Higgins
So all in all its been another eventful week for our Irish Primroses which are gaining worldwide attention for their striking and unique flower / foliage colour contrasts combined with hardy and resiliant old world charm.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Irish Primrose Trials

Irish Primrose Garden Trials.
Primula Avondale
Spring has come very late in 2013 and indeed not fully arrived even yet. Our new primroses have weathered this most unusual and unprecedented cold March.  Having been hit by sleet, snow, frost and continuous dry cold winds they are looking very perky indeed. Leaf colour on the dark leaved forms in fact is far better in cold conditions like we have now.  The most interesting thing evolving that really make these forms of Primrose of great value to the Spring garden is how the flowers are remaining fresh and vivid by comparison to many of the poylanthus and large flowered winter bedding forms.

These new varieties from very old lines dating back to at least early 1900's have been slowly bred totally in out door conditions over a period of 38 years. The methodology applied is resulting in very tough genetics which ultimately is good for gardeners everywhere. Reports coming in from all over the world are so far positive. Remember these primroses are not meant to be just show pieces to look good in a pot for a fancy picture these plants must be gardeners plants. These primula are intended to last as perennials and give value to gardeners and can be divided up every few years to spread around the garden or re potted to make great flowering containers or mixed combos.

Primula Moneygall
Reports are coming in from USA as far North as Alaska and South to Dallas, as far East as Tokyo Japan and in Southern Hemisphere Melbourne Australia and Auckland New Zealand. Drumcliff, Innisfree and now many others are being put through their paces in Germany, France, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, UK and other countries. Of course here in Ireland we are putting them through their paces also. So gardeners, nurseries and garden centres can be assured these plants are being tested for endurance as well as for their eye catching attributes. Up to now reports coming in are very positive and garden writers and experts around the world seem to like the surprise element of these beauties. Myself and Joe Kennedy are very grateful for the positivity shown towards these Irish Primroses and as they say in show biz, we think, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Primula Drumcliff
What counts for me is that these plants work for the gardener, give something special to horticulture and stand the test of time.  Knee jerk reactions to how one perceive, good or bad are never of value, it can take over 5 years to really know if a group of plants like this are of value.  The process of breeding selection and final testing before release can and has in the case of these beauties taken a lifetime.  You can keep up to date with images and news about our Irish Primroses on which links for now to Irish Primrose facebook page, in due course a new website will be launched. oDOnt forget you can check all the other Irish Primrose stories in previous posts below.

Enjoy the pictures! :) .

Primula Dunbeg

Primula Drumcliff

Primula Innisfree
Primula Claddagh
Primula Tara

Primula Dunbeg

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St Patricks Day special on the President Obama Moneygall Irish Primrose

This week to highlight the launch of our Primula Moneygall out national TV station RTE 1 came to visit our micro-propagation laboratory.  You can see the link to this radio piece here

I hope you enjoy learning a little about how these plants are produced.

You can see full story on the Moneygall Primrose going to USA White House here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A New Irish primrose for The Whitehouse garden.

Primula Moneygall
 Spring is in the air and some of the more brave wild Irish primroses are peeping through their winter foliage.

On St.Patricks Day 2013 a new primrose will herald springtime in Washington. A special Irish primrose has been named in honour of the maternal ancestral village of USA President Barack Obama. The first plants of the primrose named Primula Moneygall are already growing locally in USA and now waiting for their introduction to the Whitehouse garden. This new Irish primrose variety will be gifted to President and Mrs Obama during their state visit by An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Mr Enda Kenny and Mrs Fionnuala Kenny on St.Patricks Day 2013.

For millennia in Ireland flowering of the wild primrose has been one of the first natural signs of progression from winter to spring. The humble primrose has given rise to positive and varied primrose folklore. As my old secondary school motto says Hiems Transit (winter has passed) the native primrose gives natures silent testament to this fact.

Primula Moneygall has similar flower colour and habit as our native Irish primrose.‘Moneygall’ along with a number of new Irish primroses now available worldwide has been raised from old Irish varieties through many years of conservation, breeding and selection work by Joe Kennedy and Pat FitzGerald. Primula Moneygall with its natural simplicity and profuse combination of single, poly and hose-in-hose flower formations is a natural Spring treat in garden containers, borders or other planting situations. The Moneygall Primrose is ideal for mass planting in garden, park, village or town planting schemes. This new primrose variety can be planted in Autumn or Spring and will compliment spring flowering bulbs such as crocus and snowdrop.

We hope this selected variety heralds a new spring for us all in 2013 and enhances the joys of spring in the Whitehouse garden for generations to come. Primula Moneygall will be available as an addition to the current range of Irish primroses from Autumn 2013.

Kennedy Irish Primrose display at
Arboretum Garden Center
 Check for the Kennedy Primrose range in your local garden center now they are truly unique.

For further news keep up to date at

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Irish Primrose Claddagh wins international perennial award

IPM Essen 2013 January 22nd to 25th

FitzGerald Nurseries exhibited at the international plant trade show IPM Essen for the eight year. The company entered its new introduction Primula Claddagh, part of the Kennedy Irish Primrose range, in the perennial category. IPM Essen is the worlds largest commercial ornamental horticulture show.
Primula Claddagh was awarded best new perennial at this years show. Below were the judges comments about Primula Claddagh.

Judges comment

"As IPM novelty 2013 in the perennial category a new Irish bred variety was awarded: The Primula hybrid 'Claddagh' from Fitzgerald Nurseries. The red leaved, fully winterhardy primrose has convinced the jury with its natural appearance. The wild character of the plant with the honey yellow flowers is ideally suited for natural garden designs."

Show visitors feedback
Visitors to the show were very interested in the whole Irish Primrose range exhibited on our stand in Hall 2. Orders from various parts of the world were very strong. Modern Primrose breeding has taken the humble Primrose to dizzy heights of flower colour, size and form. All thisintensive breeding in the direction of more bedding type production brings the Primrose a long way from its original origin in European gardening. Possibly for this reason our collection of Irish hardy perennial Primroses will help to change focus for future consideration of the Primrose and bring it back into the perennial garden with more frequency.
General background to Irish Primroses
Primroses were perhaps the first garden plants deliberately raised selected and named in Ireland. (Charles Nelson) There are records going back to 1735 of auricula and polyanthus types grown and selected in the Earl of Meath’s Garden in Kilruddery Co Wicklow. A list of these Primroses is collated in A Heritage of Beauty by Charles Nelson.
Nelson tells us that later in the 19th Century the image of the old garden tended by a ‘little old lady'. During this period around the late 1800’s these lady gardeners were the custodians of these old old cultivars preserving them by dividing them and passing them around their circle of friends. Who in turn passed them to theirs and this was mainly how cultivars, species crosses and re-crossed the Irish channel between England and Ireland. Around this time and into the early 1900’s saw the rise of small commercial nurseries in many cases attached to the estates of landed gentry. Nurseries like Lisadell, in County Sligo in Yeats country, Newry Nurseries, Daisy Hill, Slieve Donard,Rowallne Nursery Co Down, Ballawally Alpine Nursery Dublin, Ballyrogan Nursery, Annesgrove Nurseries etc .
Visitors to Ireland with the gardening or Primrose bug at this time were spoiled for choice and picked up many of these old fashioned cultivars preserved by what became known as the Little Old Primrose ladies of Ireland. Charles Nelson again in his book A Heritage of Beauty makes the point that modern society and other pastimes gave cause for a decline in these wonderful plant. I am inclined to agree with him in the opinion that this was an unfortunate trend and the gardening world is the poorer for it. However we have what we have and we must learn from this decline and make the best of what we have.
This was my greatest inspiration to embark on my Primrose path and try to conserve the old and develop the new cultivars bred by the stalwart of modern Irish Primrose cultivars Mr Joe Kennedy. Joe is one of the greatest remaining links between our Irish Primrose heritage and todays modern garden. My collaboration and friendship with Joe is deep rooted.

History of the dark leaved Irish Primrose

Mr Whiteside Dane lived just outside Naas in County Kildare in a townland called Garryard at the end of the 1800’s. He is reputed to have produced a Primrose called Garryard Appleblossom. It is assumed that this may have been a mutation this plant resembled the wild primrose in habit, leaf and growing preferences. It had strong dark leaves over which was carried pink and white flowers. Cecil Monson a Primrose breeder from Co Roscommon documented the story of how his grandmother when moving house in 1898 brought all her treasured Primroses with her. He relayed that in this collection was the only Garryard in existence at that time. He recalled that in 1935 he first saw another Garryard variety called Guinevere in the garden of a Mrs Page-Croft and this variety was raised by another important Primrose lady Mrs Johnson of Kinlough he also records the names of another Primrose lady Miss W.F Wynne of Avoca Co Wicklow.

After WW2 when Cecil Monson returned to Ireland from England he records there were many more of these dark leaved Garryard forms about so the Primrose people had been busy breeding. He mentions many varieties but one of most note bred this time by a Mr Champernowne from England called Enchantress which he says was the closest to the original Garryard that he had seen. Since this time these true dark leaved beauties have been crossed with many cultivars of julianas and alticas. Like many stories of plant history this account of the first dark leaved Primrose known as Garryard is contradicted by the very eminent plant historian Dr Charles Nelson who suggests that the first true Garryard did not appear on the scene in Ireland until 1935. Which ever is the true time of origin it is accepted that Ireland was where the first of the dark foliage forms originated. The original Garryard Appleblossom is said to be a cross between P. Juliae and P. vulgaris. Thanks to Joe Kennedy these foliage traits have been preserved and crossed into various hose in hose and polyanthus type Primroses.  This work has given rise to what is a new and exciting future range of Primroses originating from the work of the many amateur gardeners and breeders who took interest in this wonderful simple plant through the last 150 years of Irish gardening history. But for the wonderful book by Dr Charles Nelsons A Heritage of Beauty many of these old varieties and descriptions and stories of where these varieties originated may be long forgotten and was the source of my original interest in the story of the Irish Primrose. Like Joe my first encounter with native flowers was through the wild Irish Primrose. My work as an Irish nurseryman has been to try and bring these gems to the gardening world having been saved for posterity by Joes and previous Irish gardeners good work.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Kennedy Irish Primroses at National Ploughing Championships

We are delighted to announce that FitzGerald Nurseries and County Wexford Garden Centre, Beechdale Plantsplus Garden Centre two local South East nursery businesses have teamed up to bring to this years National Ploughing Championships   a whole new range of Irish bred and Irish grown hardy perennial Primroses.
Kennedy Irish Primrose plants can be purchased exclusively as plug plants from the Beechdale stand all days through the Championships and are in easy to carry plug form just for this one time only exclusive offer.

Visitors to the show have plenty opportunity to buy a wider range of these wonderful traditional and dark leaved Primroses for the first time ever.

These uniquely Irish Primroses have been setting gardeners heads turning around the world and have been featured in many international magazines and journals.

Beechdale Plantsplus Garden Centre will be in Block H Section 2 Stand 235

You  can visit this link to see news of other exciting happenings with these Old Irish gems

For your viewing you can see a clip from the recent BBC Gardeners World featuring Irish Primroses and Primrose breeder Joe Kennedy taken on our farm and in the local Irish Famine Memorial Garden.

If you would like more information please do not hesitate in contacting me directly.

Kennedy Irish Primroses

Dark Foliage Varieties

Primula Avoca First Release 2012 /13

Primula Claddagh Not available in numbers until 2013

Primula Drumcliff 2011 Release

Primula Innisfree 2011 Release

Primula Dunbeg First Release 2012 /13

Irish Cottage Garden Varieties

Primula Avondale First Release 2012 /13

Primula Carrigdale First Release 2012 /13

Primula Glengarrif First Release 2012 /13

Primula Tara First Release 2012 /13