JoAnne Skelly: Celery butts and other fascinating plant surprises

Sweet potato start

Sweet potato start

My friend Millie is a plant explorer. She experiments getting groceries to grow. When she told me she was growing celery from the butt-end of what you buy from the grocery store, I was fascinated. How? In water? In soil? She went on to say she also grows sweet potatoes. I had tried that in high school, so that didn’t surprise me. But when she showed me a picture of her sweet potato plant I was impressed.

She calls the sweet potato plant a “non-traditional” houseplant. It sprouted in her cupboard before she could cook it, so she planted it. She started by cutting it in half to preserve the most sprouts and simply placed it in water until it rooted. After it had roots, she let it go a while longer in water, then planted it in potting soil. Her first plant is now six months old and it’s lovely. She’s conducting a test to see how long it will look nice in a pot and has no plans to transplant it to the garden.

Millie did the same thing with a russet potato, but after transplanting it to the ground, it “conked out” according to her. However, even though the plant was small and unhealthy when she dug it up, it still had several small potatoes under it. Potatoes do grow from “eyes” but I had never heard of starting one in water, then putting it in the ground.

I followed Millie’s instructions when I next had a celery butt. Instead of throwing it out, I put it in water just deep enough to reach the junction of the butt with the base of the stalks. It only took a few days to start showing roots and for small leaves to come out of the top. I put a drop or two of liquid African violet food into the water to give it a boost. After about two weeks, the leaves were nicely developed and the roots looked strong, although small. I just transplanted it into potting soil and I’m waiting to see what happens. The only hard part was finding a place to keep it in the house while it was growing in water. The cats liked to drink the water! I may plant it in the ground at some point, but I will have to find a way to keep the ground squirrels, rabbits and deer from eating it.

Anybody remember growing mini-avocado trees in water?

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email


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